During my train adventures in late October, I spent a few days in Sydney, taking in the MAAS Museum and its excellent Large Hadron Collider exhibition, the splendid production of My Fair Lady and a marvellous little shop called The Martian Embassy.
The Martian Embassy is the Sydney equivalent of the The Time Travel Mart literacy project I visited in Los Angeles in July this year. (The Melbourne version, The 100 Story Building, doesn’t have an entertaining shopfront, sadly, but does the same good work with young people.)
The Martian Embassy is filled with bizarre and entertaining ‘Martian’ exhibits and artefacts for sale, which makes it a fun place to visit and shop. The proceeds all go to the programs run by the organisation behind the Embassy – the Sydney Story Factory.
Those programs are aimed at assisting young people in the area to changte their lives through literacy, creative writing and storytelling. The seating and tables at the back of the store host workshops, and there’s a library for attendees to use.
When I was at the Time Travel Mart, I bought a little booklet of stories written by the kids who did the workshops. The Martian Embassy offered the same chance to support their project here. Whelp contains stories, poems and essays by young people from Sydney.
Its forward is by one of my favourite writers, Benjamin Law. The stories are hugely varied, full of flair, humour, imagination and, from time to time, startling insight. Some of the tales are downright Kafka-esque! It’s fabulous to read the result of the project’s work with young people.
Next time you’re in Sydney, drop in to The Martian Embassy at 176 Redfern Street, Redfern NSW 2016. In the meantime, you can:
Tucked away on West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, in an area called Echo Park, is a very special little shop. Time travellers, whether planning to visit the distant past or the distant future – or to bounce around between the two – will find anything they need at the Time Travel Mart. Era-appropriate facial hair; jars of nanobots; barbarian repellent; communist soap; viking odorant; robot emotion chips; or tins of mammoth chunks. The Time Travel Mart has it all.
The Mart is a vastly entertaining location, filled with items sourced from toyshops but also made especially for them. No opportunity for a witty time-travel joke is wasted, so you’ll find delightful warnings and notices posted up all over the space, in between the cans of Primordial Soup, candles for the patron saints of time travel (Hawking, Einstein and Mallett), robot milk and leeches.
Of course, like all the best odd, time-travel-related emporiums, the Mart is just a front for another organisation!
In fact, The Time Travel Mart in Echo Park (and its sister store in Mar Vista on Venice Boulevard) are both fantastic little fundraisers and workshop spaces for 826LA, a non-profit literacy organisation, which supports school students from six to eighteen with writing skills.
The Employee of the Month board at the back of the store is full of fake pictures and dates, but the names are real: backers of the Echo Park Time Travel Mart have included JJ Abrams, Judd Aparatow and the late Melissa Mathison.
It’s a wonderfully funny and imaginative way to raise funds for a program to encourage and nurture writing. It’s doubly fabulous that the students taking part in 826LA get their work collected and published in little booklets sold within the store.
I picked up Vinyl has Aged Over Time and So Have We, a collection of poems, short stories, film reviews and essays by a 2016 class of students from the tutoring program. It includes the poem from which the title is taken, written by Michelle Garcia, and the entertaining An Era of Decay by Javier Hernandez, set in 2025 in which Superior Clinton has banished the consitution in favour of the Rights of Man, Woman and Child, and got rid of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and the Kardashians while she’s at it.
As if the Time Travel Mart wasn’t delightful enough, the 826 project operates similarly entertaining shopfronts throughout the USA. In Brooklyn, there’s a superhero supplies store; Boston has supplies for Bigfoot hunters; San Francisco can outfit pirates and in Chicago there’s the Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Company.
If you’re in Australia and cursing your inability to get to the US to take part in the fun and support literacy, the good news is that you really only have to get as far as Sydney. Martian Embassy is the shopfront supporting the Sydney Story Factory, which runs free creative writing and storytelling workshops for kids aged 7 to 17.
Looks like I have a new shop to check out next time I’m in Sydney!
In the meantime, if you want to support the project, visit the Time Travel Mart’s online shop.
Clan Destine Press is putting together a new two-volume anthology of adventure stories! And Then… the Great Big Book of Awesome Adventure Tales is exactly what it says on the tin. A big book full of tales of derring do, swash and buckle, rockets and railroads, guns and swords, action and heroics and ALL THE EXCITING ADVENTUROUS THINGS!
My story, Virgin Soil – set in Melbourne in 1851 and full of dark magic, strange family, gold fever and a shapeshifter who can’t remember if he started as a man or a rat – has been accepted to the anthology!
I’m there in excellent company. Other great Australian writers appearing include Kerry Greenwood, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Alan Baxter, Mary Borsellino, Jason Franks, Jason Nahrung, Jack Dann, Amanda Pillar, Sophie Masson, Lindy Cameron, Jane Clifton, and Peter M Ball – for starters!
All the stories have some kind of Australian/New Zealand connection, and it promises to be two volumes of a rollicking good time. The stories will be illustrated by Vicky Pratt, whose art for one of the stories appears above.
Clan Destine Press is running an Indiegogo campaign to fund costs for author fees and illustrations – and it would be so wonderful if you could be part of that.
You can support the project for as little as $2, and there are a few stages (including rewards of 50% off the books) before the first where you are guaranteed an e-copy of the book at $20.
Of course there are higher levels of pledges too, which include choosing other Clan Destine titles, getting the And Then... volumes in paperback, getting And Then... merchandise, and for the highest levels – And Then… in hardcover, and special writing tutorials from writers like Alan Baxter, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Jason Nahrung, Kelly Gardiner and me!
Please support this great project – and the writers and artist included in it – with your love but also, if you can, your dollars. You’ll get something amazing in return. I promise.
You can find out more about the writers for the anthology, how funds raised will be used and all the different levels at which you can support the project at Indiegogo – just follow the link.
And thank you in advance for supporting Australian writers, artists and publishers (or at least thinking about it!