Never say never (almost)

13186868_sA long time ago now, I spotted a post on Twitter from a bookseller who had overheard a male customer saying “I would never read a book by a woman”. It struck us as an odd thing to say. Why cut yourself off from half the books in the world, regardless of quailty or subject, because of the (apparent) gender of the writer?

Another contributor to the discussion added the amusing story of a man who said who never read fantasy by women but only by men – men like Robin Hobbs.

Oh, how we laughed and laughed.

The discussion moved on, however, to declarations of the books we ourselves might never read, and some fairly blanket terms came up, culminating in: “I’d never read a book by a footballer!”

I thought about this. I’m not very interested in sport, and might have declared I’d never read a book about football – but I had enjoyed Angela Pippos’s Goddess Advantage – One Year in the Life of a Football Worshipper. It was funny, clever, insightful and, yes, about football, but much more about family and community and one person’s life. But it also made me quite like football, through her eyes.

Would I refuse ever to read a book by a footballer, I wondered? I couldn’t imagine what they might have to say that would interest me, but that was just about being selective about what I read in my limited reading time.

I had decided a while back that I wouldn’t read books by certain authors because I found aspects of their very vocal opinions (one a rampant homophobe, another a convicted violent criminal) so repugnant that I was reluctant to contribute to even the price of a cup of coffee for them from my purchase. But there are maybe three writers on that list.

But that’s not a blanket ban on a type of person or on any particular subject. There’s always the chance that a good writer, or a good story, can come from anywhere.

So… as an experiment, I tried to find a book written by a footballer that I might like to read. My call for assistance ended in a friend lending me a copy of Jason McCartney’s After Bali (co-written by Ben Collins, who is credited in the fly-leaf, though not with his specific role in the creation of the book).

That was maybe two years ago. I’ve been putting off reading it in favour of books I was much more committed to reading, in my relatively limited reading hours.

This weekend, I finally opened it and gave it a whirl.

The book is written interview-style, with Jason McCartney’s story of being caught up in the bomb blasts in Bali in October 2002, his injuries and recovery, interspersed with quotes from family, friends, medical staff and others.

I tried and tried and tried to like it.

Half way through, I gave up. I just don’t have the time to keep reading books I’m not enjoying.

I feel bad about it. McCartney endured much, suffered much, achieved much, and it’s a rude of me to want the account of his experiences to be more articulate or more insightful or more… something. But the truth is, I found the writing awkward, repetetive and ultimately a bit dull. I wish him and his well, I do, and I feel awful that I was not sufficiently ‘engaged’. But I wasn’t.

What do I conclude from this experiment?

It isn’t that I will never read a book by a footballer. It isn’t that I will never read a book about personal suffering and endurance, or one about football, or any of those things.

I conclude mainly that not every writer or every subject or every writing style is my cup of tea, and that’s okay. I may choose not to continue a book, or not to read particular authors because I don’t particularly enjoy their work (or their personal politics) or because there are just so many other books that engage me much more at the time.

Never say never, or at least almost never, is what I conclude. I don’t want to close myself off from books and ideas that may be unexpected and brilliant, or at least educational.

But I’ll continue to be discerning in my choices, because I only have so much time, and there is ever so much in the world to read!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

[Image by ponsuwan at 123RF.com)

Where there’s a Will… there’s not a Reading

29819633_sMany years ago (many many many years ago) I worked for a government department in Western Australia that managed deceased estates. The Public Trust Office also wrote up Wills for people. I learned a lot about the technical side of such things, and even more about human nature.

People can behave quite strangely and unpredictably in grief, and also when they are not in the slightest bit griefstricken, sometimes for very good reason. As a human being, it was often sad, distressing or even distasteful. As a writer, of course, it was fascinating fodder.

One of the oddest things that happened, though, was the number of people who thought they would have to come in to the office for the Reading of the Will. So many believed it was an official and even legal part of the proceedings.

It isn’t.

Television, theatre and cinema are of course partially to blame for this misunderstanding. (I lay rather a lot of it at the feet of Agatha Christie and other crime writers.) When you see this event dramatised, it’s a theatrical device so you can see the shocked/smug looks on everyone faces when they are cut off without a penny/inherit all grandpapa’s wealth.

However, as with most things fictional, the idea has its antecedants in fact.

These days the beneficiaries of an estate will generally just get a photocopy of the Will in the post to inform them of their upcoming legacy. In the past, though, it wasn’t so easy to get a copy of the Will to the beneficiaries – handwritten copies would have to be sent out, and those done by hand might potentially contain errors.

It might also have been the case, in the past, that the beneficiaries were not very literate. They might need to have the terms of the Will explained in greater detail. It’s likely that some beneficiaries couldn’t read at all. In that case, everyone gathering at the solicitor’s office or in Grand Uncle Bulgaria’s musty library for a reading made a lot of sense.

Will readings were very much a practical matter, then, addressing problems of literacy and accurately conveying the contents of a Last Will and Testament, rather than any kind of legal requirement.

Nobody has a family gathering for the Reading of the Will anymore. Well, unless they have an overdeveloped sense of the pointlessly dramatic and the time to spare for such theatrics.

It’s almost a shame, really. Who doesn’t want to see the look on Cousin Dorothy’s face when she discovers Grandpappy Hubert has left everything to a Cats’ Home with a small legacy for a one-legged seaman who was once kind to him at the train station, or to see blustery Uncle Cedrick, with his bulbous red-veined nose, leaping from his chair with a hoarse cry and a tirade at mousey family outsider Marigold becoming an unexpected millionairess followed by the ominous phrase: “You haven’t heard the last of this, you little tramp!” (and maybe later, either Marigold or Cedric turning up dead at the Mechanics Institute reading room, with a dagger of oriental design plunged into the side of their neck)?

But let’s face it, loss and its aftermath are often dramatic enough, and sad enough, and human enough, without that kind of broo-ha-ha.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

[Image by Brian Jackson at 123RF.com]

Support your local writer

12840582_sSo. A friend of yours – maybe a close friend, maybe just an acquaintance you quite admire, maybe an actual relative – has just had a book published. Perhaps their first. Perhaps their latest.

It’s entirely possible that you love this book. It’s entirely possible that you will buy it, hard cover, hot off the stands, read it and tell everyone you love it, etc etc etc.

It’s also entirely possible that you won’t like it much. That it’s not really your genre, not your cup of tea, not what you love in a book.

But you love that person, or like that person, and you want to be supportive somehow.

Here are some tips on how to support the writers you love, and the books they write (which you may also love).

Buy the book

mgapcoverThis is one of the first, best things you can do. Support your writing friend by putting your money where your mouth is. Buy the paperback, or buy the ebook (or buy both). And if it’s not really your thing? Psst. You don’t really have to read it.

I mean, yes, of course, read it. Books are written to be read, and the writer in your life hopes you’ll read it, and hopes you’ll love it, or like it, or at least not hate it. But if it’s really not your thing, you’re at least helping to boost the signal. It’s still worth something.

I can’t afford to buy the book; and it’s not my kind of book; and isn’t buying it and not reading it a bit shifty?

Well, yes, there are reasons both financial and personal that can bar you from buying your friend’s book. But there’s a really cool standby technique for this:

Get your library to buy the book!

thedaytheymetIf you lack funds, or bookshelf space, there’s a cool thing you can do that will support that writer with sales (and therefore income) and still give you a chance to read the book (or not read it, as the case may be).

GO TO YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY AND REQUEST IT.

In fact, I’ve just done that with The Day They Met. (Despite the fact I already have the e-book and have the paperback coming!)

I went to my local library, found out how to request books, then I logged in and I asked for that book! I used all the necessary details I could find on Amazon (Full title, publisher, publication date, ISBN etc) and put that in the system and said HIT ME UP WITH THIS AWESOME SHERLOCK HOLMES BOOK, IT’S WHAT MY TAXES PAY FOR BABY, GIMME GIMME GIMME. Only in more formal language.

NilByMouthYou can even do this if you already own the book, because it’s a great way to help people who do not know and love your friend to be exposed to their work. This can be especially important if their book is not your cup of tea – people who really love that lapsang souchong stuff are out there this minute, scouring libraries for their delicious beverage of choice!! HELP THEM FIND IT!!

Hell, if you can, go to your siblings’ libraries, your parents’ library, your school or uni, GO TO ALL THE LIBRARIES AND ASK THEM TO GET IT IN FOR YOU.

This sells books for publishers and authors. This exposes books you love to wider audiences who may not hear of it otherwise but might see it on the shelf or in a search.

Feedback Do’s and Don’ts

Of course your writer friend would love to know that you loved the book but… yeah, sometimes you don’t. What to do?

Well, don’t lie. Dishonesty isn’t a great thing, and it’s a downhill road for a friendship. (Especially when you might feel you’re expected to support your gushing with quote from favourite bits.

(And here’s a word of advice for writers – don’t ask people what they thought of the book. If they love you but they don’t love your book, it puts both of you in an awkward position. Here is the only occasion on which Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell is an acceptable policy.)

However, you can say how proud you are of your friend, or comment on how great they must feel. Comment on the effort if not the words in question.

And for goodness’s sake, if you spot an error in the text, a typo or a factual error in the final published work, DON’T SAY ANYTHING.

There will be plenty of people who have no emotional investment in the personal relationship who won’t hesitate to bring those things up. The thing to remember is that you are supporting a friend here, and errors that have slipped through the editing and proofreading and all those things to be in the final product are there for keeps now. The book has been published. It’s too late to fix them. You can’t recall the entire print run to fix a bloody typo! Leave it to those whose job it is to review and critique to do that. Chances are your writer has already seen that goddamned typo on page 47 and is praying like billy-o that no-one else has noticed. Don’t be the one to burst their hapless bubble.

Reviews!

If, on the other hand, you really really loved the book, and you have honest to god things to say about it – by all means, give some  encouraging feedback or, better yet – write a review. On Amazon, Goodreads, on your blog, whatever site is selling the book. Reviews help people who are, once more, looking for their particular literary beverage, find that book and decide whether or not to buy it. You don’t have to write a long analysis, though if you feel it’s in you, go for it.

(I should add here that there are many books I’ve loved but not reviewed because my time is finite, so lack of feedback on my part is not necessarily lack of literary love. Just lack of literal time.)

Support means you get new work by writers you love!

f2m The Boy WithinAnd whether or not you know the writer, if you love a book, support it. Spruik it and review it and share the love, because the noise-to-signal ratio out there is high, and every little boost helps. Very few of the thousands of writers out there make a living out of writing fiction. Help a few of them at least make enough to buy a celebratory cupcake.

More importantly, good reviews and good sales will encourage them to write another book, and encourage publishers to publish it as well, so you can enjoy a new book by the writer you love! EVERYBODY WINS!

In short – support every writer whose books you love. Especially new writers, those out there for the very first time.

SPREAD THE WORD.

SPREAD THE LOVE.

Some hot recommendations

devilThese are books by people I know, and like and love – and whose books I do, in fact, love. I’ve bought said books in paperback and in ebook form (and in both when they’re available sometimes). I’ve reviewed them on Amazon and Goodreads (or this blog) and I’ve asked my local library to get copies in. And now here I am, spreading the word and spreading the love.

And remember my motto – I may be biased, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong!

  • The Day They Met by Wendy C Fries – 50 short stories on alternative ways Sherlock Holmes and John Watson may have met. Each and every story a gem, and many that had me laughing madly on the tram to work.
  • Mind the Gap by Tim Richards – a fantasy action-adventure with Egyptology, dreamscapes and trains. Snappy pacing, real serial-adventure with cliffhangers stuff and engaging characters.
  • Nil By Mouth by LynC – one man’s experience of an alien invasion of earth. Thoughtful, unexpected, human, compassionate, horrifying and deeply humane in turns.
  • The Devil’s Mixtape by Mary Borsellino – Part horror story, part declaration of love for non-conformists, especially those who embrace being outside the norm.
  • f2m: The Boy Within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy, the story of a transgendered boy learning how to be true to himself.

Take this opportunity to support the writers you love and tell me your hot recommendations!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Review: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson – The Day They Met by Wendy C Fries

thedaytheymetBefore I begin my review of this book, a few confessions.

I adore Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I’ve confessed this before, so it’s probably not much to admit to here, but I’m naturally predisposed to look kindly on new Holmesian stories.

Wendy Fries is also a friend of mine, and I have loved her writing since I first read it. Her style is vivacious, funny and wickedly witty, and then she goes and stabs you right in the feels before kissing it better.  I find her work exciting in a similar (though not identical) way to the work of Mary Borsellino, of whom I have also waxed lyrical.

Fifty short stories is a lot to write, so Wendy asked people to throw prompts at her. I threw, she caught, she turned the prompt into something hilarious and perfect. I’m a bit delighted with the acknowlelgement in the back pages.

Those confessions being made, I neither embellish nor lie when I tell you how very much I loved this book, The Day They Met.

Produced by well-known Holmesian publisher, MX Publishing, these 50 short stories all retell the meeting of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson, in different ways, in different times. (Because surely, such a great friendship, which has endured and flourished in the 128 years since their adventures were first published, would always have been destined to begin, somewhere, somewhen.)

Each short story is a little delight: tightly written yet painting very clear, incisive pictures of the two men (and what’s more, the supporting characters) as they meet for the first time.

Some stories are filled with humour – I was caught giggling on the tram to work more than once – and others with a very human insight into loneliness, courage, need and pain. Holmes and Watson were, in Conan Doyle’s original stories, two lonely men in search of a companion and purpose, and Fries evokes those hidden, driving needs extremely well, in between the deliciously outré crimes and their discovered shared sense of humour.

Fries has a background in writing non-fiction – in health, high tech and personal finance – which means the hints of crime and strange cases carry a flourish of intelligence and knowledge that add weight to the airiness with which they are scattered into the tales. Adding to that anchor of plausible cases and causes for meeting, we have Fries’ undeniable love of language, which can result in something playful becoming surprisingly heartfelt, and of course the reverse.

The tales roll trippingly off the page – they are very spritely indeed – and are full of sly and clever references to canon, whether set in the 19th century or the 21st.

If I’m willing to admit to a fault to The Day They Met – and I’m reluctant to do so – it probably lies with the reader: the impulse to gobble down 50 short, sharp, rich treats at once is both glorious and a bit overwhelming. Anybody who has eaten an entire box of fancy chocolatier chocolates at a sitting will know the feeling. (Not that I have done any such thing. No. Not at all. Move along, there’s nothing to see here. Tra la laaaaaa).

Luckily, unlike wee chocolate treats, a book can be re-consumed. The Day They Met is beautifully built for this. If you have an inhuman constitution that can resist the read-at-a-sitting impulse, you’ll enjoy dipping in and out of the book as the mood fits. If you’ve bolted the boxful already, well, you’ll have the pleasure of revisiting this tome of treats at leisure, perhaps taking your time to choose the flavour of your adventure.

Shall it be this vintage piece set in 1883 where they meet arguing over who has the rights to a hansom cab; or that tale of a man with PTSD who needs a clever, understanding man to short-circuit the terrors invoked by an intrusive tannoy? This 1886 glimpse of Holmes and Watson as children, or that 2008 introduction to Watson’s propensity for terrible titles. This bittersweet morsel, or that tangy observation, or perhaps this faintly bizarre one that appears to contain a couple of nuts?

Whether a lover of original canon or someone new to the Holmesian fold through BBC Sherlock, Fries’ range of stories has something to offer you. There’ll be adventure, laughter, courage and even the solution of bizarre and cruel crimes, in 50 bite-sized pieces.

And always and forever, there will be the Great Detective and his Boswell by the hearth at 221b Baker Street.

Buy The Day They Met

Find out more about Wendy at:

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Storyteller: Flash Fiction

Storyteller NGVI’m not much into fashion, but I do like wearable art and the ways in which clothing and outerwear can express (or conceal) aspects of personality. The Jean Paul Gaultier exhibiton at the NGV in Melbourne is all about this, in fact, and was fascinating to see.

La Trobe University, which has an education partnership with NGV (and with whom I’ve been working on some related projects, including this blog post), had the 1dentities photo booth up on Friday nights. There, you had your photo taken while you said a single word you thought encapusalted your identity. The word I immediately chose was ‘Storyteller’.

A project to work with the university using these pictures and flash fiction didn’t quite come together, but I hated to abandon the sample stories I’d written. I can’t use the photos, except for my own, but here are some little stories inspired by the labels people chose for themselves as part of The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: from the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at NGV.

Storyteller

Some labels are windows and some are doors. Some are shields and some are prisons.  Every label tells a story, though it’s not always a true story. Or maybe the label is just someone else’s truth.

I’m a storyteller. I invent truths all the time. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that my writing attempts to wrap types of truth up inside fictions, inspired by the world I see. The 1dentity stories I tell aren’t true stories about real people. But maybe they will be true stories about being human.

Then again, maybe you’ll just learn true stories about me, wrapped up in the fiction of someone else’s label.

Resourceful

Everyone wants to be McGyver-resourceful: to cobble together a rubber band, three toothpicks and a wind-up toy into a terrific device to save the world.

Okay, so maybe some people want to be Jackie-Chan-resourceful: doing fast, clever things with chairs, pool cues, even a karaoke machine, to bamboozle the bad guys. Or Bear-Gryllis-resourceful. That’ll be how to survive the zombie apocalypse!

But there’s an everyday kind of resourceful, where you look at the world with wide-open eyes, and see each thing free of labels, not only as itself, but what it was, and what it could be.

Forget what it says on the tin. Crack open your notions. Reshape and revive a thing, an idea, maybe a whole life.

Go ahead. Be resourceful.

Enough

Katie wished that people would be more accurate with their words. “It’s enough,” they said, as though that meant that it was only just enough. Merely adequate.

But enough was more than enough. Enough was full and plump and replete with potential. Enough was ample and it was abundant. It was sufficient and also to the degree required for satisfaction.

So Katie knew that she was hopelessly human, that she was flawed and had so much still to learn about life; and she also knew that her flaws and the gaps in her knowledge didn’t make her less. She had strength enough, and heart enough, and brain enough to take on the world, if she had to.

Enough meant equal to what is needed, and Katie knew she was equal to any challenge.

Curious

Benjamin was curious, in all senses of the word. He wanted to know everything about the world. He wanted to open every lid, peer into every shadowed corner, lift every rock and know every secret. He wanted the universe to be known.

Mind you, he wasn’t bothered by the fact that the universe wasn’t known. Asking the question was the important part.

As a result, Benjamin’s friends sometimes thought he was other kinds of curious. As in singular. As in unconventional and offbeat. As in The Curious Incident of the Benjamin in the Nighttime, when he’d spent a night on a rooftop with a telescope and tracked a distant comet for hours and hours and hours instead of going to the post-match booze-up.

Benjamin just wanted to know what the comet looked like, burning across space and time (time, he explained to his brother later, because by the time the light reached his eye, the comet had long passed them; it was a kind of temporal trick, the speed of light).

Benjamin is curious about everything. Why do flavours have flavour? Why are smells nostalgic? Where is the love? But it’s okay that he doesn’t have the answers yet. The joy is half in the asking, and half in seeking the answer.

Unbelievable

“I don’t believe it.”

Rae’s mouth softened in what might have been a smile, though it was a curve made of irritation and challenge too. “Believe it or don’t. No skin off my nose.”

“You’re really a mechanic?”

“I said I was a mechanic when I was a kid. I worked in my dad’s garage all through university. I suppose you could say I still am a mechanic; I still have the skills, but of course I design machines these days. Well, aircraft to be precise. I’m an engineer.”

“My god, really? I don’t believe it!”

Rae sighed. “You really need to do something about your rigid belief systems.”


Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Aussie Culture, According to Film

25118545_sHello all, and welcome to 2015! The end of 2014 was full of non-internety things that made blogging impossible, but I’m back! (You may read that as Schwarzenegger-esque, The Shining-esque or simply as a cheery greeting. You be the judge.)

January is a month where many Australians consider their Australian-ness in some fashion. Australia Day is on 26 January, but that date is viewed as problematic as it also marks the date where Europeans landed in Sydney Cove and proceeded to disposses the existing inhabitants.

A lot of immigrants take up Australian citizenship on that date, too, swearing an oath and receiving a gum tree sapling (and some Vegemite I was wrong) as gifts to welcome them to their new home. The Australian of the Year is usually announced then too. Let’s not forget radio station JJJ announcing the JJJ Hottest 100 songs of the preceding year, which usually heralds a lesser but still vocal controversy about the diversity of acts (or lack thereof) represented in the voting.

Still, one way or another, many citizens of this wide, brown land spend at least a little time this month thinking about our history, our culture and what it means to be Australian.

Of course, it means many different things because ‘Australian’ is a broad label for a huge number of very different people who all happen to be citizens, by birth or by choice, of this giant island in the southern hemisphere. Nevertheless, certain ideas about ourselves as a nation tend to coalesce – though it has to be said that some of those ideas represent values that exist in many other cultures too.

Cultural labels that come to mind, though, are things like ‘laid back’ or ‘the fair go'; ‘mateship’ and ‘larrikinism’. Then we can have a whole other debate on what words like that even mean.

Taking another approach, though – I’ve had conversations from time to time about what films or TV shows I might give to someone who wanted to garner an idea of what it is to be Australian. (As an aside, the first feature film ever made was made in Australia – The Story of the Kelly Gang. Pretty Aussie, that.) My friend, Rod Sherwin, and I were discussing it once more over Christmas drinks and we decided to attempt to compile a list.

So, for what it’s worth, here is a suggested list of depictions of Australia which might give you a hint, whether you are from beyond these shores or if you are a born or naturalised citizen and still trying to work out what the hell it’s all about.

FILMS

The Castle immediately springs to mind. That feel-good film about the little guy versus bureaucracy; about people who love the lives they live, who celebrate suburbia and each other. A film about mateship and the fair go. It also features Eric Bana in a supporting role before he went off and got buff to play heroes and villains in Hollywood.

Picnic at Hanging Rock remains, after nearly 40 years, haunting and beautiful. It also echoes the European fear and distrust of the Australian outback which is evident from the earliest colonial paintings and epitomised by Frederick McCubbin’s painting Lost. It’s moody and disturbing, but much less terrifying than Wolf Creek, which does nothing to entice visitors to our shores.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – drag queens, road trips across the outback, a bus called Priscilla, and a cock in a frock on a rock. Australia’s not all football jocks, surfers and Crocodile Dundee. Australia is also queer, funny, vulnerable and finds love in unexpected places.

Gallipoli told the story of the failed battle that helped Australia forge an image of itself less than twenty years after Federation and when white Australia still largely regarded itself as essentially British. For some, the blood of Australian and New Zealand troops shed on that Turkish beach “washed away the convict stain”. However you see it, or the war in which it was one failed invasion attempt, it formed the basis of a modern mythology of what it is to be Australian.

Ten Canoes, directed by Rolf de Heer, is funny, moving, enlightening and beautifully shot. It’s also entirely in an indigenous language, Yolgnu Matha, with an English narration supplied by David Gulpilil.

Undead is the zombie film for lovers of horror, Australian-style. Made on the cheap, it’s also drily hilarous and contains one of my favourite movie lines ever. “In my day, children respected their parents. They didn’t eat ‘em.” The mix of Australian humour with a trope more associated with American films is a treat.

Strictly Ballroom was Baz Luhrman’s first big film hit and bears his trademark hyper-realistic style. It also, against a backdrop of ballroom dancing, looks a little at migrant experience, the value of blazing your own trail and the cost of abandoning your dreams. The dancing is also fantastic.

Crackerjack is another celebration of suburbia set around a bowls club, with that quirky humour that we so love.

Of course, there are heaps of other Australian films that showcase not only talent but different views of being Australian. Paperback Hero has Hugh Jackman as the sensitive outback guy who writes romance novels under the name of his best friend, laconic tomboy Ruby (Claudia Karvan) and touches on ideas of masculinity, if only briefly. There’s Mad Max and The Cars that Ate Paris and the recent, brilliant The Babadook for Australian takes on SF and horror. Comedies like Malcolm, Cosi and Muriel’s Wedding and musicals like The Sapphires and Bran Nue Day all have something to say about Australian people and culture.

TELEVISION

The Code, made in 2014, made Canberra – long disparaged as an ugly, soulless place – well, not beautiful. But intriguing, dangerous, and paranoid. Superbly written, directed and performed, this thriller draws together rural and urban communities and concerns, security, politics and provides a more modern view of Australia than we normally get on our small screen.

Janet King was also a brilliant and gripping legal drama/thriller, with a queer protagonist, terrific writing and motivations for crime that are complex and textured.

Kath and Kim is of course the quintessential Australian suburban comedy. It’s often been said that everyone knows a Kath or a Kim, but no-one will admit to being a Kath or a Kim.

Frontline, a comedy about a 60-Minutes-style news program, is perennially relevant. When it first came out, it altered the way some magazine format ‘news’ shows presented stories, because it so accurately and brilliantly skewered their tricks and habits. It’s probably time for a repeat, to keep the bastards on their toes.

We Can Be Heroes saw Chris Lilley play a wide variety of characters of different genders, ages and even ethnicities. It’s a bit of a minefield, that, but Lilley walked that line well and brought sharp observation and at times heart wrenching poignancy to his portrayals of a group of people all nominated for Australian of the Year.

Outland_S1 dvdOutland gave us a break from the relentlessly ‘realist’ direction style of so many Australian shows (at least until Janet King and The Code showed up), its visual style inspired by British shows like Spaced and The Book Group. It’s ostensibly about a queer SF fan club, but they’re mostly out and proud about their sexuality. It’s their nerdiness that’s mainly in the closet. Modern, funny and clever. And yes, it was co-written by John Richards, who is family, but as I often say – just because I’m biased, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Please Like Me was another comedy that was often more of a drama, written by and starring Josh Thomas. Another take on modern Australia and full of young, diverse characters and unexpected moments of heartbreak.

Mr Squiggle perhaps, like Vegemite, defies description. Maybe it’s something you just had to be born to. It’s a kid’s show where a little puppet man with a pencil for a nose comes to Earth in a talking rocket. He is given a series of random lines drawn on a white board that’s propped up on a talking blackboard, and he uses his nose to turn the lines into drawings (often the wrong way up). I don’t know what it says about being Australian, but for many generations it was an essential part of growing up (along with Dr Who, The Goodies and Monkey). Don’t knock it. That’s my childhood there, people!

Australian children’s television has also always been imaginative and clever, and much more likely to use fantasy or science fiction in its storytelling than films and shows made for adults. I used to watch The Girl from Tomorrow on Egyptian TV when I lived in Cairo in the 90s and Heartbreak High managed to get in characters from migrant backgrounds. The Silver Brumby was based on a series of books about wild horses (brumbies) that I ate up with a spoon when I was a child.

So there we go. A sort of ‘Australia 101 on Screen’ if you want to start to get an idea about what Australians are like, in all their diversity.

Naturally I’ll have missed stuff – so feel free to comment with your own recommendations!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

[Image via 123RF.com]

f2m: The Next Chapter

f2m The Boy Within

f2m The Boy Within

In 2010, Ford Street Publishing released f2M: The Boy Within, by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy, about Skye, born female but identifying as male, and his journey to transition to the male he knows himself to be.

The book met with some controversy but also huge support – including a short-listing for the internationally prestigious White Ravens best YA fiction award in 2011. The book was also praised by youth services as one that could help young people dealing with transition issues of their own – either by finding someone with a story similar to theirs, or by giving the book to others in their lives to help them to understand.

Now, the book’s life is extending into a documentary about Ryan Kennedy, whose experiences informed some of Finn’s story. A short version of the documentary by Kailash Studios is on YouTube – a discussion with Hazel and with Ryan, talking about the impact of the book and Ryan’s life.

 

If you’re interested in the full, 25 minute documentary, contact Kailash Studios for information.

Hazel has also written about what it was like to collaborate with Ryan on a book that has been the centre of so much praise as well as controversy.

Now available as an e-book – a move that makes it more accessible to some of the people to whom it is so relevant – f2m continues to generate conversation and, we hope, greater understanding.

Buy f2m: The Boy Within:

Ask your library to order it in for you or recommend it to your book group.

You can download a study guide here or from Hazel Edwards’ website.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

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