Archive for April, 2012

Chirruping

Posted in Writing on April 28, 2012 by ladyredjess

So.  I have joined Twitter.  Which I disparagingly referred to as Twatter before I signed up to see what was going on with the Qld Premier’s Awards fracas and stepped into a crowd of smouldering writers of withering wit, and couldn’t understand why I hadn’t done it before.  Here were my people!  Such clever, funny, witty writers having convos with each other, posting wry merriment and links aplenty to interesting articles, and (cutely) going a bit nuts during qanda.  It was like Facebook but with brains.

It was recommended that I shouldn’t sign up while I was writing because it was distracting.  To a degree, that was useful advice. However, while I spent two lonely weeks glued to my desk doing a rewrite of my novel while all my friends were cavorting on their Easter hols, Twitter saved me from going mad.  There were other writers out there, also stapled to a table, also checking Twitter in their tea breaks!  That made me feel better.

While Stephen Marche charts the ambivalence towards social media in this article, I wholeheartedly endorse it.  But then, I’m deaf and rarely use the phone, so Facebook is how I keep up with my friends.  Likewise, as someone who finds it difficult to network (also because of said deafness), and isn’t properly affiliated with an academic institution though I still inhabit the academic world, Twitter is probably the first time I’ve ever felt connected to a community of thinkers and writers.

Should you be of the feathered kind, or if you’re new to Twitter and would like to take flight with the flock, I can be followed here: @ladyredjess, or click the link at the top right of this page.

Advertisements

A Jaunt to Sydney

Posted in Books, Frocks, Queensland, Writing on April 10, 2012 by ladyredjess

Recently I was invited to fly to Sydney to attend the ceremony for the Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship awards, as I had put in an application for the prose category.  The Scholarships, valued at $20,000 each, are awarded annually to artists age 35 and under in nine categories, which are offered over alternate years.  This year there were applicants for architecture, ballet, instrumental, poetry and prose.

It was, to my delight, a cocktail event held at the Museum of Contemporary Art.  I zipped up my long, sweeping Sacha Drake silk halterneck which makes me feel like a heroine in a 1940s black and white film when I gather up the skirts, lashed on some red Dior lipstick, and wrapped my grandmother’s pearls around my wrist.  Despite having packed a hairdryer that took up most of my suitcase, I didn’t have time to use it because the plane had been delayed by bad weather, so I still looked bedraggled.

The rain continued, so the view of the Opera House and the bridge from the MCA’s terrace was somewhat grey, but it was a lovely event.  As I went on my own I met new people, including Rachel Quigley, who won the prose section a few years ago; Kate Middleton, the Sydney city poet; Bernadette Brennan of the University of Sydney, who was one of the judges for prose (along with Stuart Glover of UQ and Sue Martin of LaTrobe) and who I had passed at ASAL conferences but never met; Michael Barraclough, who won the architecture section and was off to the Architecture Association in London which, being affiliated with the London Consortium where I did my PhD, was where I sometimes passed boozy evenings in the bar; and Emma Schwarcz, an editor who had chucked in her job to write and who, along with myself, was shortlisted in our category.  Christopher Currie, author of the extremely polished The Ottoman Motel, was the well-deserved winner.  He was currently unavailable, Bernadette explained, because he was on his honeymoon and had no reception.  And then more connections emerged: Emma used to work for my publisher when they were at Hamish Hamilton, and I realized I’d had dinner with the wife of the poetry winner, Michelle Dickinoski, one cool evening in Auchenflower when strawberries were in season.

I stayed on at B&T’s in Surry Hills for a few days, looking after their pair of korats while B&T went on some insane bike ride in Canberra.  Being seven months old, the cats were still full of kittenish exuberance, which extended to chewing my hairbrush, jumping on my back and defecating in the tools beneath the staircase.  However, they were forgiven when I stumbled home extremely intoxicated after dinner with a friend and passed out ill in bed, and one of them curled up against my sore tummy and, when he finally finished his toilette, went to sleep.

I lived in Sydney for four years before I went to London, and was at Wollongong for three years before that and was often travelling up to visit my sister or friends, so I know the place well.  This was the city where I first fell in love, then left the man behind to go to London.  For years afterwards whenever I flew back, the places where we had been still breathed with memories of him.  This time, watching the good-looking men and stylish women in Surry Hills, and walking through Federation Way which I’ve always loved, with sunlight shining starkly through the Port Jackson figs and my forebear Patrick White’s old house just down the road, and being loved by so many good friends who are also overachievers and make me feel normal, I was sorely tempted to move back.

I was also delighted to find that the model for the abovementioned London Consortium has been picked up by the Writing and Society Research Centre of the University of Western Sydney to create The Sydney Consortium.  Their MA in Cultural and Creative Practice, taught and overseen by the superlative staff of the Writing and Society Centre,  is designed to create a dialogue between writing, the arts, and theoretical approaches to culture. This blend between the creative and critical is also the cornerstone of much of what I produce so I applaud the initiative.  It also signals a willingness to use writing to address, and become involved with, Sydney’s culture — an approach which Queensland’s premier clearly considers redundant.

I love Brisbane’s old Queenslanders, the gorgeous blue sky, lush palms and bougainvilleas, and the jacarandas opening in early summer and lining the river.  After working like a dog for some fifteen years, this is the city in which I have finally learned to relax and socialise (not something that necessarily comes easily to a deaf person).  I’ve always loved the arts scene here too – it seemed to symbolize the brightness and openness of the city, that it was a place that was moving forward.  But now the premier, having stripped our writers of their awards and foreboding the promise of more cuts to the arts, has signaled we are to become a cultural backwater again.  Of course the writers and artists of Brisbane will not be defeated and already my beloved Avid Reader is rallying to do something about it.  And at least, as I said to H., we are not in Stalinist Russia, where Nadezdha Mandelstam memorized her husband Osip Mandelstam’s poetry to preserve it, as to write it down was too dangerous, but still, I am so disheartened.

The Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards (or lack thereof)

Posted in Books, Writing on April 5, 2012 by ladyredjess

I’ve been extremely unsettled lately, and have contemplated moving interstate more than once (basically I will go to anyone who can give me a postdoc).  With our premier having, as his first move in government, signaled his utter disdain for writers by axing the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, this impulse has only strengthened.  In an attempt to address a budget deficit of approximately $4.6 billion, Campbell Newman has recouped $244,475 – the equivalent, as author of young adult fiction James Roy notes, of 5 cents in a thousand dollars.  Newman’s rationale is to ‘revitalise frontline services and lower the cost of living for all Queenslanders’.  However, TLC Books in Manly points out that the savings represent 18.3 cents per person in the state.  How, exactly, a saving of nearly 20c per person might help Newman’s proposal to lower the cost of living is a little beyond me.

And what will Newman do with this meagre pouch of coins?  Plant some shrubbery and fill in some potholes, perhaps?  Do a little rebranding of logos?  Pay for some PR for damage control after having pissed off a community of writers who, when angry, tend to, uhm, vent through their writing?  Their ire had the topic trending on Twitter yesterday evening, blogs aplenty have sprouted, while Sharon Johnston has arranged a petition to have the awards reinstated, which I urge all to sign.

To sum up some of the blogs and articles I’ve been canvassing, Ben Eltham, writing in Crikey, notes that the move had little to do with money, and much to do with politics (namely, sticking two fingers up at his predecessors), while his sister, Queensland Writers’ Centre Chief Executive, Kate Eltham, indicated that his government has, in the same breath, broken an election promise.  Matthew Condon, author of Brisbane, writes that this will repeal the efforts of Queenslanders over the past 25 years to transform the state from a laughing stock into a vibrant literary and arts community.  Stuart Glover, University of Queensland academic, discusses the history and usefulness of the awards, concluding that Newman ‘has signalled that he doesn’t understand the way artists and writers help us make a civilized society, and the way they help us discuss and negotiate who we are.  Newman may not like to read, but he is mistaken to think that we should not encourage others to do so.’ Meanwhile journalist and author Andrew Stafford offers some much needed light relief.

James Roy also discusses the response from the public at large represented in the comments sections of online articles and shows that many perceive writers to be bludgers and that the money should be put towards something more ‘useful’.  As he points out, ‘these views reveal a gross misunderstanding of how difficult it is to survive as a writer’.  Only a handful of writers can afford to live from their work, and often forgo the assumed trappings of middle-class life (car, house, superannuation and, god forbid, a regular income).  Literary awards, as Kate Middleton observes, may not seem like much, but for writers they represent a fortune.  This is why Newman seems so mean-spirited, and this is why I’m angry: $250,000 might cover the cost of one high-ranking staff member in his office, but it denigrates the aspirations of thousands of people who slog their guts out to produce stories that might, heaven forbid! be read by Newman’s frontline staff at the end of a long day.  It also stings that ‘no other events had been identified for the LNP Government’s cost savings program at this stage’, most likely because, as John Birmingham has rightly indicated, Newman wasn’t going to lose any votes by attacking the arts community

However, the ramifications are far wider.  As Condon puts it, ‘What Premier Newman doesn’t seem to comprehend is that the awards are worth infinitely more than their dollar value. They speak to children dreaming of a career in books and writing, to working artists, to readers, to a community’s cultural health and to a national creative agenda.’

Writers don’t expect much.  We write because we love what we do, and because we can’t exist any other way.  To take away a set of awards that encourages us to write about who we are, to help others dream, to establish Queensland’s identity, to offer solace and pleasure, to give us some recognition that those long and lonely hours with next to no remuneration might be worth something, is a mean and hollow move.

And for me the dream is this: packing a suitcase so I can skip town to a place that values its writers more than a stretch of tarmac.