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Posts from the ‘Stuff’ Category

Festivalorama

BBWF2015_07_WebsiteHeader3I’ve had my head down working for a while, but over the next few months I’m doing a number of events around the country. First up is the weekend after next, when I’ll be at Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, where I’ll be in conversation with Wendy Were at midday on Saturday 8 August, and will be speaking about the limits of forgiveness alongside Sarah Armstrong, David Vann and Anneli Knight at 12:15pm on Sunday 9 August and about Climate Fiction with Mireille Juchau (whose much-anticipated new novel, The World Without  Us, has just been released) and Anneli Knight at 2:15pm. Tickets are available from the Festival office, by calling 02 6685 5115 or online.

A few weeks after Byron I’ll be at Melbourne Writers’ Festival, where the scarily smart Jane Rawson, Michael Green and I will be discussing whether climate change is the new apocalypse at 11:00am on Friday 28 August and Mireille Juchau and I will be talking about novels of ideas at 2:30pm on the same day. Tickets are available via the pages for the individual events.

And finally, the week after Melbourne I’ll be in Brisbane for Brisbane Writers’ Festival, where I’ll be appearing at the Cooper Plains Library as part of the Festival’s BWF in the Burbs program at 10:00am on Friday 4 September, reading at 2:00pm on Saturday 5 September as part of the R[E]AD Box series, discussing climate fiction with Deb Fitzpatrick at 4:00pm on Saturday 5 September, appearing alongside the brilliant Sjón (if you haven’t read The Blue Fox run, don’t walk, and grab a copy), the multi-talented Debra Oswald and others as part of the Letter To My Future Self event at 8:00pm on Saturday 5 September and speaking about Clade at 4:00pm on Sunday 6 September. Tickets for all events are available online.

I’ll have details for a couple more events soon, but hopefully I’ll see some of you somewhere in the meantime. 

 

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Sydney Writers’ Festival!

swf_bwrevlgIt’s only a few weeks until the main program for Sydney Writers’ Festival gets under way. This year’s program looks completely amazing, featuring writers such as Helen MacDonald, author of the frankly astonishing H is for Hawk, Daniel Mendelsohn (who will be in conversation with David Malouf about reading the classics on Thursday 21 May – be still my beating heart), Malcolm Knox (whose new novel, The Wonder Lover, is out now, and who was profiled in the Fairfax papers over the weekend) and many more.

If you’d like to catch me I’m doing a number of events in and around Sydney during the Festival. First up I’ll be in conversation with Geordie Williamson at the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba on Monday 18 May at 3:00pm, where we’ll be talking about Clade, climate change and writing the Anthropocene.

On Thursday of the same week I’ll be back in Sydney, this time at Randwick Library, where I’m speaking at 6:30pm. Tickets for this event are free, and can be booked online or by calling 02 9399 6966.

And then, over the weekend, I’m at two events at the main festival. The first is a panel at 11:30am on Saturday 23 May entitled ‘Imagined Futures’, chaired by Ashley Hay and featuring Emily St. John Mandel, David Mitchell, Jonathan Lethem. I’m incredibly excited abut this panel: I’ve been a huge admirer of Lethem for years, and as I said when I posted about my favourite books of 2014, I adored both The Bone Clocks and Station Eleven. Tickets for this one are $25 or $20 concession, and although there are still some available I suspect they won’t be for long.

The second, which I’m also very much looking forward to, is with Anson Cameron and David Schlosberg on Sunday 24 May at 3:00pm, and is entitled ‘Climate Change and the New Nature’. I think this should be a fascinating and quite provocative session. Tickets are $14.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll see some of you at some of these events. And if not, take a look at the full program: it’s an incredible line-up.

Immense Heaven

1024px-Milky_Way_Night_Sky_Black_Rock_Desert_NevadaOur sun is one of the approximately 300 billion stars that make up the Milky Way. The Milky Way is part of what is known as the Local Group, a formation of at least 54 galaxies galaxies spanning 10 million light years. The Local Group lies on the fringe of a much larger supercluster of galactic groups and clusters which contains more than 100,000 galaxies and spans some 520 million light years.

I’m not sure how many of us can really make sense of these sorts of numbers, or the idea that the universe is composed of a web of galactic clusters that shift and flow like water. Yet there’s something deeply fitting in the news earlier this week that the team responsible for identifying this vast supercluster have named it Laniakea, a Hawaiian word that means “immense” or “immeasurable heaven”, and was chosen to honour the Polynesian sailors who once navigated the great space of the Pacific by reading the stars.

It’s a name whose poetry extends beyond the obvious resonances with the ocean. It often seems there is something irresistible about our tendency to see the ocean infinite, immeasurable, trackless. There’s little doubt it’s an association that runs very deep, but it’s also at least partly a cultural construction, a legacy of Romanticism and the ways technology has progressively alienated us from the environment.

In fact the ocean is anything but trackless. As the achievements of the Pacific Islanders (and other pre-modern sailors) demonstrate, it is quite possible to read the sea, to learn to make sense not just of the stars but of patterns of wind and wave, the movement of birds and fish and driftwood (as several of the pieces in The Penguin Book of the Ocean attest).

The systems of knowledge, of fine-grained observation and remembered experience that underpinned this process were developed over hundreds and in some cases thousands of years. Yet because the cultures that encoded them were largely oral, they were also vulnerable, and as the Pacific was colonised, and its cultures disrupted and suppressed, they largely disappeared. Indeed the fact that persist at all is largely due to the efforts of people such as the late Will Kyselka and David Lewis, who worked to preserve and recover as much of them as possible.

That systems of knowledge acquired over thousands of years should have been lost like this is strangely ironic: after all, the colonial project was spearheaded by the scientific voyages undertaken by explorers such as Banks and Cook during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, voyages that were themselves part of the extraordinary project of discovery and description that underpins modern science, and which has led, more than 200 years later, to us being able to map the flow of galaxies through billions of light years of space with such sophistication that it is possible for structures such as Laniakea to be identified and understood.

Lanikea isn’t the first astronomical object to be given a Polynesian name: astronomers have already chosen to name two of the dwarf planets discovered in recent years in the outer solar system MakeMake (for the creator of humanity and god of fertility worshipped by the Easter Islanders) and Haumea (the matron goddess of the island of Hawaii), yet it’s certainly the most significant. Nor should we be so naive as to think giving Polynesian names to heavenly bodies will bring back what has been lost: as Victoria Nelson has observed, “the death of a culture, like the death of a star, lasts longer than anyone can possibly imagine. The sadness, the echoes and ambiguities, persist for hundreds of years”. But reading about the naming of Laniakea I found myself wondering whether it’s possible that by incorporating the language and poetry of the Polynesians into the scientific endeavour we begin to acknowledge the repositories of knowledge embedded in their cultures (and by extension other non-Western and indigenous cultures), and just perhaps, go some small way toward recognising the injustices that have been inflicted upon them.

Laniakea. Immense Heaven.

 

Charles Dickens as Morrissey

This is completely fabulous, especially if you’re a Dickens tragic like me.

And once you’ve stopped giggling, this piece about literary fakery and the strange story of the time Dickens didn’t meet Dostoyevsky is very worth a read.

Even Superman gets remaindered

Superman remainder

 

Literary Consolation Prizes

In the words of the immortal Homer J. Simpson, “it’s funny because it’s true”.

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For more (or to order a poster) check out Grant Snider’s wonderful Incidental Comics.

That was the year that was

Polar Bear

So, it’s December, and although I’m still scrambling to get some things locked away the year is pretty much done. I’m going to post something about the books I’ve enjoyed most over the past twelve months next week (I’m leaving it so late because I don’t want to preempt the picks I’ve made for The Weekend Australian and The Thought Fox, although if you want a preview you can check out my picks for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, which were published last week) and if I get really excited I might do a musical round-up as well (although I’m not going to make any big promises on that score).

Looking back over the past twelve months I’m sort of amazed by how much I’ve gotten done. I haven’t managed to write much long non-fiction, but I’ve written a lot of reviews, written and submitted my doctoral dissertation and somehow managed to stay on top of all my normal commitments (or at least mostly on top).

More importantly though I’ve written a lot of fiction, some of which is even good. I’ve knocked over most of the first draft of a new novel (or novelly thing – in fact it’s a discontinuous narrative made up of ten interconnected stories), and with luck I’ll have something deliverable by April next year. Although it still doesn’t have a title the opening section was published as a standalone story in The Big Issue earlier this year and I’m hoping two more sections will be published as stories in the new year. What I’ve got is rough but I’m really pleased with it.

As well as the novel I’ve written and published a number of stories. Some – like my Rapunzel novelette, ‘Beauty’s Sister’, which was published as part of Penguin’s excellent Penguin Specials series (and is available for KindleiBooksKobo and Google Play), and my alien invasion story, ‘Visitors’, which was published by The Review of Australian Fiction – have been published as in electronic formats only, others, like my zombies in suburbia story, ‘The Inconvenient Dead’ are available online and in print (you can pick up ‘The Inconvenient Dead’ in Best Australian Stories 2012 as well as Overland 206). In addition to the stories above I’ve got another two which will be published in the new year and several more about to go out, all of which I’ll link to as they appear.

I’m also pleased to say my essay about growing up in Adelaide, ‘The Element of Need’, was also republished as a Penguin Special a few months back. If you haven’t read it you might want to check it out: I think it’s one of the best things I’ve written in recent years. There’s a post with more details about it here, or you can buy it for KindleiBooksKobo, and Google Play. And staying with the creepy theme, you might also want to check out my essay about ghosts and ghost stories, ‘Encounters with the Uncanny’, which appeared in Meanjin earlier this year. I’ve also just finished a longish piece on 2001: A Space Odyssey that I’m really pleased with and will link to once it’s published in the new year.

At this point I’m hoping next year will be equally productive – I’ve got a pile of stories that need writing and at least two novels I want to get written once this one is done – but for now I’m just happy to have gotten so much done over the past twelve months. I hope you’ve all had equally productive years.

And, finally, because it’s summer in Australia I thought I might direct you to this piece I wrote about summer and the myths of Australianness a couple of years ago: it’s not new but I like it. Or you could check out my review of John Smolens’ Quarantine, which appeared in The Washington Post a few weeks back, or my review of Ronald Frame’s Havisham, which appeared in The Weekend Australian last Saturday.