Saturday, 29 December 2007

Avenue Q

I went to see this muppet musical with a couple of friends on the Friday before Christmas (hello John and Nick!) and had a thoroughly good time.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it when the first puppeteer (dressed in grey to indicate that you’re not meant to pay him any attention) appeared on stage, moving orange-skinned new college graduate Princeton into Avenue Q. But once Princeton’s packing boxes joined him in singing What do you do with a BA in English? I knew that these were fabric people I could identify with. Poor Princeton, looking for a purpose, having studied literature, I do so relate.

It’s a very enjoyable show – you’ll like it most if you remember the Cookie Monster – here converted into Trekkie Monster, with an addiction for porn instead of cookies – and Bert and Ernie – here revealed in all the fullness of their sexual confusion (come on, admit it, you always had suspicions about Bert!) and Gary Coleman. It’s a show with a story, crazy as it might seem, about how we live now. There were times I just about cringed. Sometimes when someone has a crush on you, Kate Monster sings, they’ll make you a mix tape to give you a clue. What woman can’t see herself in that? And then there is the cheery truth recognised in songs like Everyone’s a little bit racist, real pathos in the Bert-character’s insisting that he has a girlfriend, who lives in Canada, and perhaps funniest of all, the Bad Idea Bears (two pastel-coloured teddies who pop onto stage with suggestions about what Princeton should do with the last of his money – spend it on beer – and in one outrageous scene, playfully waving a noose at him and sulking off when the temptation is rejected.)

And silly as it might seem, there’s real character growth from the opening song It sucks to be me to the finale where puppets and humans together realise that all their problems are only for now. I’d recommend it to anyone.  

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

September seems to have gone missing...

I've been busily working on my new manuscript!

Meanwhile, it's October, so it's time for:

Chestnuts roasting at the greasy spoon,
JD nips that someone pours,
Yuletide carols being sung out of tune,
And folks dressed up like Santa Clause.

It’s all because
A breakup or a family fight
Adds to Christmas stomach ache.
Tiny tots with their greedy eyes bright
Call out for new toys that soon break.

They know that Santa’s on his way,
He’s loaded but he’s still flying in his sleigh,
And every mother’s child is gonna cry,
Demanding toys she can’t afford to buy.

But now I’m offering some words of cheer
To kids from one to 98
Although you feel cold and see flying reindeer
It’s only something you ate.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Edinburgh and books.

I've recently returned from Edinburgh where I went to holiday, and attend the Book Festival and catch up with friends. One of those lovely breaks from reality. I'll have more to say about some of the writers I saw speak, later. Meanwhile, I'm doing my bit for the book trade by reading as many of the Booker Prize longlisted titles as I can find/afford/muster any interest in, so I'll be putting some reviews on my book review pages. Here's a start (though I have to apologise for the jagged line the images make going down the page, I've spent as much of my life as I am willing to spend trying to get them into a straight line)...

Nicola Barker: Darkmans

Brilliant and exhausting and all but impossible to review, all the same I made an attempt here:

Peter Ho Davies: The Welsh Girl

A beautiful though flawed book, which I found very moving. Lengthy review here;

Ian McEwan: On Chesil Beach

I read this lovely book earlier this year and some of my thoughts are now here,

Catherine O'Flynn; What Was Lost.

An excellent first novel, reviewed here;

Mohsin Hamid: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Not a bad book but far from brilliant. Mini-review here;

Friday, 3 August 2007

I think therefore I... something.

I've been reading Jonathan Letham's Vintage Book of Amnesia after Joyce Carol Oates' recent review, and today came upon a fascinating article by Oliver Sacks ('The Last Hippy') telling the tale of a young man indoctrinated into the Hare Krishnas in the early 70's. The man's massive, ultimately mind-destroying tumour was camouflaged by the group's belief that his symptoms, from failing eyesight to increasing passivity, were manifestations of enlightenment. By the time he was rescued by his parents, various neural pathways allowing the creation of new memories had been completely destroyed. He was no longer able to comprehend even his own blindness, and was bewildered at the suggestion that he try learning braille. From the remaining clues available to it, his mind must have been assembling something that passed for vision. What horrifying things cults are, and how amazing the capacities of the human mind.

It's interesting to read about amnesia because of the writing I'm doing at the moment, and because I had an odd encounter with my own memory while shopping today. Looking for a new perfume, a careless spray of Chloe Narcisse sent me into a timewarp (perhaps the scent of particles is more interesting than their acceleration?). I was glad to emerge back in 2007 (with a bottle of something quite different*) before facing the rest of my day. I would have wasted a lot more time without access to several incontrovertible facts I've learned in years since I used to wear it; that the only skirt length that will ever suit me is 22 inches; that flat shoes aren't as comfortable as they look; that items reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffanys -- however apparently desirable -- will really only suit small, skinny, graceful girls. Writing it like that, it doesn't seem a lot to have learned, not a long list of reasons to be glad my consciousness hasn't been eaten alive by a cult. I wish I knew more about life by now; maybe all I've really learned is that I'll never know much at all.

(I'd intended, here, to make some further connection to the amnesia article, but I've forgotten what it was.)

* speaking of cults, this is how the marketing people describe the fragrance I chose; a wondrous fairy tale, come true through the magical force of believing in your dreams. Sui Dreams is an emotional energy that breeds inner strength, transforming a single fantasy into a million realities. Awaken to Anna's powerful world of possibilities... a world rooted in her remarkable originality, creativity, and of course, her heart. A fragrance as haunting in its complexities as your dreams. Rich and sparkling, sweet and transparent. Keep your dreams with you all day.
But I bought it anyway, because it smells nice.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

water water everywhere

A successful day today. I have a title, I have (oddly, as it turns out) reasonably complete drafts of chapters 1,3,5 and 7. I was able to get some work done, plotting in the cafe at Foyles, before prowling around looking for books about water (I think I can understand the attraction of sharks to the author of The Rawshark Texts (which I haven't yet read, though reviews suggest it is also about memory) after seeing a shelf of marine biology books that was populated with toothy images.

And then a walk down Charing Cross Road, where I only fell over and dropped my shopping once (though I once thought Londoners would laugh, I now suspect someone could spontaneously combust without provoking interest, so that was no big deal) and, after getting some ideas from a magazine (how memories are laid down -- what could be more important to a first person narrative about what we remember, and why we forget, could there be?) over a salmon roll for lunch, I was into the National Gallery looking for paintings that feature water. It's a much easier place to look around once I'm looking for something in particular. Of course, I still got lost but that's half the fun.

I wish I could paint. Or even draw. The visual arts bring artist and audience more closely together than the literary, because brushstrokes reveal the hand of the artist at work. The printing press is brilliant, of course, but removes this closeness from readers. The properties of water seem more poignantly revealed in the impressionist paintings than in earlier artwork although early naval battle scenes are frighteningly impressive in sheer scale, reminders of the difference in size and power betweeen what we can build and what forces the ocean can throw at it. Other paintings show water being bridged, forded, fought over, identified, measured. All those temptations to imagine it is under control! To gaze at certain of the Dutch paintings is, as the text beside them claims, to feel as though standing beside a river. I love rivers. Despite the delights of writing the strength of the ocean in its tides and surges, there is something so purposeful in the winding and the coursing of a river. The ocean simply is, vast and pulled by the moon, but you feel like you can understand a river. (I have already written a river story, however, and must move on.).
Again it is the genius (I do believe in genius, however unfashionable) of Van Gogh that struck me more forciably than any other artist. I won't post any images here because there are already too many copies of them. The museum gift shop seems likely to collapse beneath the weight of sunflower-painted mugs, and collapsible wooden sunflowers, and sunflower-decorated pens and notebooks and magnets. Some of the aura must preserved! Though the banal chatter around the originals was even more striking. Why do so few people have anything interesting to say? Has it all been said? The dullness of others made me glad I had no one to talk to. Although there has to be something original under the sun, to say about these works of genius that are all originality themselves. Half the people there prefer their guidebooks to the actual art, many of the others simply stare blankly into the crowd, or at their feet. Then I left the gallery, walking down to the real river, crossing the Thames (dark swirling water, various vesssels churning thickly through it, connected to the floods not far from here.) If I'd been travelling with someone else, I might have had a better visual record of mysef being a part of my day than this,

which I took at a fountain near the Royal Festival Hall, holding my phone as far off as my arm can reach. And on the way back to on the tube, one thing that I will always remember as a brilliant oddity of England, books advertised at railway stations. I'm not sure Ian McEwan needs to be advertised, but it's an idea we could certainly do with at home,

Monday, 23 July 2007

Harry Potter and the Disappointed Readers.

NB to save space, I've moved most of this rewiew here

The book is not all disappointing. Although, after the exuberance of the early books, imaginative possibilitis seem to occur with pitiful rarity, here we do have dragonpox leaving pock marks and green hued skin, and Hermione has perfect answer to tiny evening bag problem in her. extension charm. It seems literally anything can fit into her beaded purse from invisibility cloaks to tents to paintings and a library of books. For first time since flying broomstick, I think I want one of those. And the book explains some mysteries of muggle tragedy that we attribute to ordinary bad luck, negligence or misadventure, transferring them to a world where such accidents are granted meaning. For example, wizard-caused deaths are seen as train crashes and gas leaks. Shifts in cultural mood can be attributed to the presence of dementors, whom muggles can’t see though we can feel their despair.

The three children are on a quest for three objects, as on a grail quest. Perhaps most interestingly, Rowling disconnects the grail from the cup imagery and returns it to the stone it is in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival I wonder if Rowling might have been laying the groundwork for a more interesting story that she later abandoned? Because Percival is also the name of the oldest Weasley child, who separates from them but comes good in the end, prodigal-son-like. It is Ron who withdraws the sword from the lake. It seems as though they were being set up to be revealed as the rightful kings. But this story is not pursued.
Here are just a few of my main objections:
Bewildering lack of drama: TOo much chatter, not enough action!Other people, and occasionally elves, pop in to fill in yet more of the backstory. Annoyingly, we don't see what would have been far more interesting scenes; Ginny trying to steal the sword, the fall of the Ministry of Magic. Instead, we watch never-ending chatter and hand holdings. Which brings me to:
nauseating romantic relationships: dressing her couples in the literary equivalent of matching sweaters, Rowling can never resist an opportunity to point out who is with whom. All weddings are boring but this one is tedium infinitum (or it might be if there were a spell to create it, but why would anyone bother?) Worse still are
inconsistencies in Rowling’s conception of death: Rowling doesn’t seem to have a strong idea of what death actually means in her imagined world. She can't hold back from over-simplified expressions, for example, death is like a nightmare she writes at one point, which is utterly ridiculous, the image stripping the ultimate crisis of meaning and dignity. Later, despite continuous warning that death is the end and you can’t bring people back, when ever they are needed, the deadest of characters manage to turn up.
Repetition, especially, of Polyjuice potion: This transforming potion was refreshing when first used but it’s past its use by date now, becoming a virtaul much of a get out of jail free card. Disappointments: for instance the domestication of the main characters. Fleur, who once represented her country in the tri-wizard tournament is last seen worrying about dirty dishes and about where her houseguests should sleep. No, Fleur, no! Be haughty and superior and French and don’t do this! Please, JK, have something better in store for Harry, Ron and Hermione! (The ‘nineteen years later’ bit stuck at the end seems almost tragic).

Another most adult image that sits very oddly with the tediously juvenile romances is the phallic symbolism of the wand, which is almost blush-worthy. Voldemort demands Lucius' wand and compares its length to his own, a foe conjures a white handkerchief from end of his and came quietly. For his birthday, Harry receives a book from Ron: how to charm witches and proclaims with all the excitement of adolescent discovery, that ‘it's not all about wandwork'. Later, wizards boasting of their wands. Why would a woman write this? Could it be an expression of penis envy? I doubt it. Freud may have been to attatched to his own to realise this, but most women are rather like Seinfeld's Elaine who on learning about shrinkage 'I'm glad I don't have one of those'> But by the end, there has been so much discussion of wands, of what wood and which hair they are constructed from, that I couldn’t help but thinking of Tom Cruise’s character in Magnolia. To misquote; Respect the power of the wand. JK, how could you?

(image is from a medieval manuscript of Wolfram's Parzival)

Friday, 20 July 2007

my barbaric yawp -- why I love Walt Whitman

Because I find, 20 years after university, that his words are more alive in my head than then. Because we are both 37 though he is also much older and dead. Because he wrote this;

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

and continues, asking

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much?
have you reckon'd the earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

Writers who follow nature rather than generic conventions, who try to stay true to rhythms of their own, mean much to me at the moment. I'm stuck in full second novel crisis mode and need to find my own path, and to accept being lost for a while. (If only it were as easy to feel comfortable about as it is to type!)

Saturday, 14 July 2007

written in water.

Now that I've realised I was mistaken in trying to make my fictional Australian tragedy centre on a bushfire, and have it at the beach instead, my ideas are just... flowing. I remember reading some years ago that the Australian idea of ourselves as people of the bush is really just a myth, we are coastal dwellers. As a writer, I certainly seem to need water more than the other ancient elements. I can never work properly with narrative until I know precisely where it is set and have experienced and imagined all the sensory aspects of it. I worked out most of The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies while walking down the stretch of the Brisbane River that curved around my old house and am writing the backstory of my current WIP whilst immersing myself in as many memories of Australian beaches as I can conjure from a cold summer in Middlesex. Water presents me with so many images to consider that I’m glad to be working with it again.

I've been flicking through artwork of various water spirits (mainly just on Wikipedia, the good thing about creative research is your sources can be crap and don't need to be reliable at anything except inspiring you) and found a whole lot of different ideas I can use -- I'm writing in a realist mode, not horror, but it's still good to have lots of images available. One picture I found of a water spirit was so like the creepy Sadako in Ringu that I suspect one of the reasons she’s so frightening is because she represents some archetype of fear. Some archetype that connects fear to water and women and childbirth to drowning. As humans, our first practice breaths are in salty fluid, being born is in some respects like coming out of the sea -- as our long ago ancestors did. And going back to Ringu there is something uterine about the enclosure at the base of the well, where the evil spirit gestates, something natal (is that the right word?) about her exit from it that I shiver to consider this connection. Because while childbirth is amazing it is also scary as hell. At this early stage of writing I tend to make connections all over the place, or try to. I won't be using a well. But I want to be able to frighten people, so it helps to untangle what frightens me. Who knows what I'll end up using? I do seem to have caught a current of ideas, though. Yay!
(The picture included with this blog is Norwegian artist Theodo Kittelsen's 1904 painting, N√łkken -- a creepy image and archetype. Will this be useful to me?)

Saturday, 7 July 2007

chapter one

This is actually a good time to start a blog, because in my other writing I'm working on Chapter One as well. Admittedly, it's the first chapter of a manuscript I wanted to finish last year, and that already has a chapter 2,3,6,7 or 4,7,9,12 (pick any selection of random numbers) with various file names in various places on my computer. But I've made great progress recently. This is the story I was first describing to people back in my One Book One Brisbane days -- back in 2005 -- but the good news is I now know how it starts and how it ends. Real progress. I've completed an entire manuscript based on completely different material whilst agonising over those two crucial moments.

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, I've had decorators in, painting for the last three weeks and they are finally gone. Its been really hard to work, with strangers popping in and out of the house and appearing, brush in hand, at different windows whenever they're least expected. But now I have a beginning, an ending, my initial long-courted idea, some quiet space, and I'm ready to be off!

Thursday, 5 July 2007

my briar kestrel

All right. I need a title for this blog. I don’t want to go for anything plain or common or obvious, or use a quote that might sound pretentious, like I’m borrowing from some other writer to compensate for my lack of inspiration, so what I’ll do is be clever and see what anagrams I can get a computer program to come up with for Kimberley Starr.

Ooh, this looks promising. This might work. I quite like Sky Tier Rambler although, on deeper thought, meaninglessness probably does count against it. My Briar Kestrel loses out on the same grounds. Ye Skirt Rambler sounds right for the sort of naughty log I don’t want to write. And Me Library Treks sounds authentically Australian, but I pronounce the y in my, honest. At least I think I do.

There are no other promising suggestions for Kimberley Starr. What then of anagrams for Kimberley Starr’s Blog? I’m quite keen on including the word ramble -- except that most choices I’m then offered include unpleasant sounds or images like brisket and gerbil. Looking for an anagram title that includes the word remarks (I think, how appropriate!) brings me a long list of options concerning slobbery bellboys and bigotry. Gerbils make a repeat appearance, this time accompanied by giblets.

Abandoning the hope to include specific words I fancy, I ask the computer for any three words from any combination of my name and other appropriate others like writing and blog. Something meaningful might yet turn up. But honestly, I don’t want anything about bakery monsters. And Try Berserk Globalism might have been interesting if I was considering discussing politics. But I'm not -- though now and then, it might get a passing mention.

A long time later and I’m not getting anywhere with any variations and I’m finding it increasingly easy to be distracted by emails. I’ll give it one more go. This is the best I get. Grim knits literary brew. It’s only superficially appealing. Looks like I’ll be sticking with this for a while. Kimberley Starr’s Blog.

edited 14 July because I was flipping through the pages of Aspects of the Novel and finally found something that both sounds right for the sort of blog I want to keep, and goes some way towards summarising my own feeling about writing. Thankyou, E.M.!

Welcome to my blog.

Well, here I come staggering into the twentyfirst century. I'd been promising myself I'd get a blog going when my new book was finished but that's taking a while, so I've changed the order of things a bit.

Fantasy Worlds at the Brisbane Writers Festival

This will be exciting! Appearance at the Brisbane Writers Festival  with Garth Nix, Amie Kaufman and Jay Ktistoff!