Monthly Archives: June 2010

Don’t judge a book by its cover


Hush, Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick: Nora Grey lives with her mother in a country farmhouse. She is strongly attracted, yet frightened, by Patch, her new biology partner at school. Nora and best friend Vee speculate about the true nature of Patch, while flirting with Elliott and his friend Jules. Patch turns out to be a fallen angel and Jules the descendant of a Nephilim (a cross between a fallen angel and a human). A romance will develop between Nora and Patch, while Nora is submitted to a series of supernatural events.

The premise is interesting, even if not new: Fallen angels have replaced vampires in the teen romance genre, and books on the topic are appearing on every bookshelf. However, the story disappoints with too many unrealistic aspects. To name a few, Nora being left to her own devices by her recently widowed mum, the lack of surprise from Nora at supernatural and freaky events, the illogical sequence of events, and Nora’s unexplained ancestry. Finally, characters are far too one-dimensional to spice the story enough to make it interesting. Pass.

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Sex and the City (I)


Last night I watched  Sex and the City, but hey, only the first movie! I know, I’m late… Everyone is talking about the second movie at the moment. Which is probably why I watched the first one. A friend of mine was talking about going to see the most recent installment, and since she had a DVD of the first one, she lent it to me so that I could see it and decide for myself whether I wanted to venture out and watch Sex and the City II. Truth is, I have never watched a single episode of the TV series. What a dinosaur, I hear you say! I just don’t watch much TV at all, and even less series, so I suppose it explains why. Anyway, I didn’t want to feel stupid, so I did end up watching the movie (The DVD was a cheap copy, the quality wasn’t great, but it’s not as if this is the kind of movie you have to watch on a wide-screen).

The story is not new: relationships that come and go, how to be happy, to marry or not to marry, to forgive or not to forgive, can one be happy without a relationship…. Four stereotypical characters, the filthy-rich sex maniac, the career woman, the happy mum, and the writer who’s successful but doesn’t know what she wants out of life, except being happily engaged/married/in a relationship. Where does that leave us? A weak story and plot, little emotion, boring scenes, and a movie that seems to never end. It should have been cut. The mid-movie climax is so much bigger than the final one that you can’t help feeling cheated. For a bloke, the whole wedding preparation episode is excruciating, but then again that’s the whole point. The real highlight for me is the friendship between the four protagonists, four women in New York City. It’s just another kind of relationship, of course, but one that I find is not celebrated often enough. Four women, united across their differences, geography and beliefs, is a strong basis for a story. It couldn’t – and wouldn’t – happen anywhere else. New York is the quintessential city for this kind of refined, posh, meet-at-the-restaurant, gossipy relationship. It wouldn’t happen in France: girls compete with each other in the Hexagon, they don’t bond in the same way. Have you ever noticed how French girls seldom go out together? In any case, almost never more than two at a time. In Australia, girls do build strong bonds and support each other against the male hegemony, so it doesn’t feel so out-of-place, although the level of sophistication would not reach what is depicted in the movie. Can it happen in New York? Can four women who are so different keep meeting and loving each other, discuss their affairs, one or two kids at their side, keep a job and remain sane at the same time? I doubt it, but this is where the magic of fictions kicks in and where the series/movies find their strength. The guys don’t matter, the relationship with the male species, so coveted, is not really what’s at stake here. The cornerstone of the story is the love between these four women. Dot point. 

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A great launch


D-day came faster than I expected! The Wings of Leo Spencer was successfully launched last night at gleebooks in Sydney. I was genuinely surprised by the size of the crowd and thrilled to see so many familiar faces in the audience. I was surrounded by friends for the launch: Jane Malone, playwright, writer, producer and co-founder of the inclusive theatre company The After Party Project was MC for the night; Caroline Conlon, deaf director, actor and writer launched the book and entertained the crowd in true Caroline-style; and Andy Carmichael was the Auslan interpreter. Hearty laughs echoed throughout the night, which for me is the best sign that people truly enjoyed themselves. I took the opportunity to share some of my experiences in interacting with secondary school students, one of the highlights in my life as a writer. A big thank you to all my friends and supporters.

I’m posting a few photos and a video of the event below for those who are interested.

Video extract from the launch

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Jackhammering, sniffles and gum chewing


I’m in the office trying to write a report – not my home office (sigh), but the real one, the one where I’ve been spending every single working day over the last three years. Actually, I’m lying. We have moved into brand new offices two weeks ago; in fact they’re so new that they’re not even finished! The carpet has been laid down, we have beautiful shiny new desks, and a pedestal each for storing things. Okay, the meeting room doors have no handles yet (I love watching staff knocking on the window to be let out when the door’s closed on them), we don’t have the big screens we were promised, and the pedestals are so small that our files don’t fit in (They’re not supposed to anyway: we’ve entered the paperless era – drum roll). There is a lot of light in these new offices – I’ve said good-bye to the dungeon I used to sit in… but also a lot of noise! Jackhammering, sawing, polishing, dusting, hammering and many undefined “finishing” noises. To be fair, the jackhammering noise originates outside the office, but it feels as if it were right under my desk. It sounds bad, but this is nothing compared to the variety of noises that have been bothering me over the last three years.

I have nothing against my colleagues. They’re all great people and we get along tremendously. But you should experience them when you have a complex report to write and a looming deadline. I’m sure you’ve all experienced what I’m talking about here. There’s the sniffler. I have counted as many as twelve sniffles per minute at the height of it. The problem is, he’s got allergies (The sawing and dusting doesn’t help, of course.) so it’s hard to hand him over a box of tissues. Then there’s the one who sounds like a pig in pain and a whistling lawn-mower when he eats at his desk, which he does at least five times a day, including the fried sausages at 10am.  The noodle soup is deadly too – I can’t stand the spluttering that goes with it. But it’s nothing compared to the cooing over the phone: fifteen times per day at a minimum. It’s either the wife or the six month old baby who is the recipient of all this cooing, plus the whole floor of course. Then there’s the gum ruminator; the phone screamer; the one who guffaws for anything and everything; the nervous wreck who keeps tapping  her nails on the desk; the loud farter; the one who sighs every half hour as if he were carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders; the joke teller; and many more.  I’m not even going to get close to the loo topic.

That report suddenly sounds a lot harder to write than it was initially. Of course I could bring my Ipod but it wouldn’t be very social, would it? And after all, isn’t it part of the fun of working in an open plan office? I forgive them all – except the “sniffler”. He makes me wish the jackhammering were louder.

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New Moon, Stephenie Meyer again


I’ve just finished reading New Moon, the Twilight sequel by Stephenie Meyer. It’s definitely getting better. The plot is more intricate, the writing tense, and there is action. Bella is still annoying at times – in fact, some of her behaviours are really not credible – but she strikes a chord. There is a lot of dialogue in the story, but this sits well with me. I have often come across heavy criticism of novels with a lot of dialogue, but I find that, if sounding natural and well built, they will speed the story along, bringing colour to the action. I’ll give Stephenie Meyer a rest for a while, though. While I’m still in angels and demons mode, romance-style, I’ll start Hush, Hush from Becca Fitzpatrick. I will let you know what I think, of course.

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Reilly: the case for literary fiction


I thought it was my lucky day: a friend of mine recently came back from Europe and gave me a book, which had been let behind on the seat of a plane. The Six Sacred Stones, by Australian author Matthew Reilly. I had never read any of Reilly’s books, in spite of his huge success, and I was kind of curious about them. I started reading…. and stopped. There was no way I would ever be able to read the book. I did insist though, and read a few more pages, but by then I was feeling sick and had to put it down.

If I want to watch a movie, I’ll go to the cinema or hire a DVD; I don’t need to read a book. I found the writing style – is there one? – painful, and even for someone like me who enjoys action, there is too much of it. I won’t rant about the book any further: I haven’t read it. But this led me to think again about genre and literary fiction. Maybe there is something to be said for literary fiction after all? I like literary fiction – in fact I love it – but I’ve always hated the need to pigeonhole everything, books and writers included, as I’ve mentioned in one of my recent blogs. However, when I see the rise of genre fiction such as Matthew Reilly’s, I can’t help wondering if keeping literary fiction as a separate genre, or even outside the genre categorisation, is such a bad thing. Maybe it doesn’t matter, as long as we know what’s on offer in a book? I couldn’t help feeling relieved when two friends of mine, neither of them an avid reader, told me they also had to put the book down after only a few pages. They’re safe. For the moment.

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Twilight


I’ve finally read the first installment of the teen romance that’s taken the world by storm, Twilight. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but I just had too many books to read first, and too many things on my to-do list.

I was pleasantly surprised by the writing style. I had heard and read many negatives comments about it, but I found it easy to read, fluid, and not drawing attention to itself, one of my pet hates. The premise is very interesting, although not new, and how could anyone come up with a new premise with a vampire story anyway? It reads well and has all the elements of a good story: arresting characters (at least some of them), structure and plot. I also really like the clever use of setting to enhance the mood and plot. It’s smart, and the contrast between Phoenix and Forks works superbly. I’m not surprised it’s hit the mark with the young adult audience.

I found the story a little too slow for my liking. It takes forever to get started. To be totally honest, I really started liking it when James, the hunter vampire who wants to kill Bella, turns up and forces the plot to accelerate. Of course, this is romance after all – not my favourite genre – so you can’t expect it to happen at two hundred kilometres an hour. The sequel, New Moon, which I have just started, has a faster beginning. I hope it keeps its promise.

I found that the James episode ends too easily. It builds up nicely but falls back down like a cheese souffle… It’s done too quickly, it uses dreams again (Dreams are an easy device in writing), and we don’t really get to see it or even get a feel for it. The two vampires don’t even look they’ve had a terrible fight.

My bigger criticism, however, is Bella’s character. I find her plain, flat, boring, and even slightly annoying. Okay, she is depressed, but her depression colours the book just a little too much. You feel like you want to shake her and tell her to smile – if only once in a while. Her passivity really gets on one’s nerves after a while. Other than that, definitely a good read.

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Bedroom Farce


A friend of mine took me to the Darlinghurst Theatre to see Bedroom Farce, of Sir Alan Ayckbourn, which was written in the mid 1970s and has enjoyed huge success over the years. It is the story of four couples, an elderly one, Ernest and Delia, and three young couples, including Trevor, the son of Ernest and Delia and his sick-in-the-head wife Susannah, who’s definitely got the most interesting role in the play. Trevor and Susannah’s tempestuous relationship will throw havoc upon the others for one amazingly short night. The play is simultaneously set in three bedrooms, a very clever setting.

There are very funny moments, for example when Ernest and Delia, who behave quite unlike people of that age today, decide to have sardines on toast in bed (how decadent!). I love the moment when Delia complains about crumbs on the sheets and wishes they hadn’t had their “crazy” moment. Some of the situations are also highly comedic, especially anything involving Susannah. However, I found the play dated. There’s too much exposition to start with. The first dialogue between Ernest and Delia feels contrite and is there solely for the audience. Couples like Ernest and Delia still exist, but not that many. As  for Nick, confined in bed with a sick back, I found his character (or maybe it was the acting) excruciating.

The best part was still to watch Jeanie Drynan play Delia. Drynan is best known for her role as Muriel’s mother in “Muriel’s wedding”, or in “Soft Fruit”. She is a wonderful actress and doesn’t disappoint. Ayckbourn is a fantastic playwright, but plays, especially contemporary ones, stop being contemporary after a few decades, and lose their relevance. I won’t rush to see it again.

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Writing for the deaf and the hearing


A friend of mine and I are taking on a new challenge: We’ve decided to write a play suitable for both deaf and hearing audiences, but without any interpreting, captioning or voice over of any kind! On stage today there is a variety of plays that are presented to a mixed deaf/hearing audience. Visual theatre, without any words spoken; “normal” plays, with sign language interpreters on each side of the stage (or sometimes what is called “shadow interpreters”) or captioning; or mixed plays, with spoken and sign languages used, where actors sign and speak simultaneously – or at different times during the part (My play “My Sister’s Choice” is an example of such play).

The problem with a lot of them is that they never feel totally real – more often than not, the hearing or the deaf audience suffers. They have to crane their neck to see the interpreter and watch what’s happening on stage at the same time, they struggle to read words disappearing too quickly, the transcription does an okay job, but just an okay job, etc. This is why we thought we would try a slightly different proposition. The play we are writing will have hearing actors who will speak (and hear!) and deaf actors who will sign. The hearing audience will listen to the hearing actors speak and watch the deaf actors, while the deaf audience will watch the deaf actors sign and see the hearing actors struggle with communication. Of course the play is about transmitting messages, and it will be fun to watch actors from each side try to communicate with “the other side”. Having said that, we have built a real story , with unexpected twists and the usual clashes. We’re trying to make it meaningful, fun to watch and listen to, smart, and educational. Watch this space!

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A kiss or three


I’m learning Cantonese. Yes, you’ve read right, I’ve decided to learn a language that most people deem to be among the hardest to learn. Why? I do spend a lot of time in Hong Kong for a start. And I’ve always been a lover of languages. I know, English is widely spoken in the Island City, even if slightly less these days with the increasing number of Chinese migrants from the mainland who speak only Mandarin. The grammar is not too hard though, it’s more the pronunciation and the seven (or nine, according to some linguists) tones that prove to be a challenge. Anyway, I asked my tutor about greetings last week, and she didn’t know what to say. In Cantonese, there’s a word for good morning (Jouhsan) and a word for G’day or Nice to meet you (Neih hou). To be sure to understand how to use them properly, I asked her what you said to a taxi driver. She stopped to think. After a few seconds of intense reflection, she admitted that you don’t greet taxi drivers in Hong Kong: you just tell them where you want to go, and that’s that! None of these silly formalities. Then she added in all seriousness, “There’s too many people in Hong Kong, you can’t waste your time saying Hi to everyone.” I had to laugh, but the Hong Kong greeting etiquette took me many years back, when I was growing up in France.

Every morning, at school, we had to follow the same routine: Boys shook hands (of friends and students from the same class) and kissed girls on the cheek (discrimination, discrimination!). Girls didn’t shake hands, they simply kissed everybody, whether boys or girls. Needless to say, it took a long time to do the rounds, and I didn’t like it. To tell the truth, it took forever. You also had to be smart and find ways to avoid kissing girls you didn’t like or who had a cold on a particular day, or who you simply wanted to ignore. All in all, it was a big kissing, hand-shaking fest every morning, and the same thing would happen again at the time of parting, after class. Did I mention it wasn’t one kiss, but two kisses? One on each cheek, for balance. That’s because I grew up in North Eastern France. In other regions, they do it three times - a lucky cheek gets two kisses and the other one only one. It’s important to start with the right cheek or you end up nose to nose (the way Eskimos greet, according to my mum).  It was easy at school, because everybody came from the same area and kissed exactly the same number of times. But when you met someone for the first time, you didn’t know where they were from and how many kisses you were supposed to give: one, two, or three (very rarely have I seen four). The result being that more often than not ,you ended up thrusting your head forward stupidly, only to meet empty air as the other person pulled their head back. It made for comic situations, to say the least.

Now I live in Australia, and things are different of course. Not too much kissing, but a lot of hugging, which suits me fine. Often a general wave to the audience will be enough. There’s still a bit of kissing of course – people you know well – a quick peck on the cheek or on the lips. It took me a while to get used to the kiss on the lips. In France, people squirm at the idea of kissing friends on the lips. How unhygienic! The famous French kiss is for lovers, and is much more complex anyway. My French friends and family believe we Australians are quite cold. Without kissing and skin to skin contact, the world is not worth living, according to them. I can’t help thinking that a good hug, heart to heart, body to body, is in fact much warmer than a quick peck with no body contact, but you’re not going to change their minds. I visit my parents in France every year, in July or August. And every time I brace myself: after a year of not seeing each other (other than on Skype of course) all I get is two light kisses, one on each cheek. I tried to tell them, only to be met by blank faces… After spending twelve years on the other side of the world, I know where I belong…

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