Last weekend (12-14th April) I had the pleasure of participating in the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre ‘Festival of the Asian-Australian Voice’. The event kicked off on Friday evening with an Open Mic event at Darlington Hall, just around the corner from KSP. My job was to collect one of our special guests, YA writer and comedian Oliver Phommavanh, (whose titles include Thai-riffic! and a whole swag of others) from KSP and bring him the short distance to Darlington Hall. How hard could it be, right? A few wrong turns later we arrived safely, and then we were treated to readings not only from Oliver but a host of other talented Open Mic-ers, not least among them the WA poet Jackson, whose performance was amazing. The event was hosted by up-and-comer Jake Dennis, who sings astonishingly well in addition to his numerous other talents. One of the other readers was the second of our special guests for this festival, Lily Chan. Lily is the author of the memoir Toyo and she’s a talented author in her own right. We also had readings from Maj Monologue winner Nadine Browne and a host of others. I’m not an Open Mic-er myself but I was really enthused by the talent on display. ‘Twas a good night.
Saturday saw me hosting Oliver at KSP as he presented his workshop ‘Humour: It’s Not That Ha Ha Hard.’ Under normal circumstances I have an aversion to ACTUAL WRITING EXERCISES which involve me ACTUALLY WRITING WHEN TOLD TO but Oliver effortlessly cut through all that. He’s a teacher himself and an old hand on the workshop circuit, and I guess he’s used to mollycoddling recalcitrants like me. Flicking over the notes I made in my journal now, I find to my surprise that I took no less than five whole pages of words of wisdom! Oliver was chock full of acronyms: MAP (Material, Audience and Performer); THREES (Target, Hostility, Realism, Exaggeration, Emotion, Surprise!) and the three Ps (Profession, Personal and Private). The guy knows his stuff. More than that, he can actually teach. I’m sure we all left Oliver’s workshop more knowledgeable about how to write comedy than when we started. I know I did.
Then it was time to get ready for the main event, the literary dinner at the Cadaceus Club at Gloucester Park. Before that I had the pleasure of meeting the delightful Benjamin Law, author of The Family Law and Gaysia. At the dinner itself, my wife Georgie and I were lucky enough to be seated with KSP’s Chairperson Renee Hammond, Oliver and Benjamin. That was where the action was, let me assure you. Oliver, Benjamin and I spoke for what must have been hours on topics such as Amazon’s recent acquisition of Goodreads and a whole host of other Secret Writers’ Business. I was delighted to buy a signed copy for The Family Law from Benjamin, and he was delighted for me to buy one too for it meant he could afford to buy himself a drink (he’d misplaced his wallet somewhere). After his commanding performance in his half-hour keynote address, people were queuing up to buy books from Benjamin, presumably allaying any concerns he may have had about his ongoing beverage needs. I don’t use that word ‘commanding’ lightly here. Benjamin spoke passionately and articulately (hard to do at the same time) about what it was like to grow up Asian-Australian on Pauline Hanson’s stronghold Sunshine Coast. I was sad, finally, to have to leave.
All in all, it was a great weekend. I met a whole swag of talented writers, something that I find just keeps happening when you hang out at KSP. I didn’t make it to the Sunday events (I was starting my Emerging Writer-in-Residency gig at KSP the next day) but I heard that went well too. There was a livestream of the event so I had a look at keynote speaker Yan Zhang explaining the subject of her PhD. Thanks not only to the writers mentioned above, but also to KSP’s Management Committee ably led by Co-ordinator Shannon Coyle. I can’t wait to see what we’re planning for next year.
As part of my upcoming Emerging Writer in Residence stint at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in Greenmount, WA, I’ll be hosting two events: a publishing workshop and a literary dinner. Details to follow.
So your novel, play or book of poetry is written and raring to go – where to next? Should you send your manuscript to the traditional publishers, most of which are located in Melbourne and Sydney? (If they even accept unsolicited manuscripts, that is.) Maybe you could try your hand at major literary awards like The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award or the T.A.G. Hungerford Award? Should you opt for a smaller print-on-demand publisher? What are the benefits and drawbacks of this form of publication? Maybe you should go it alone with self-publishing, or perhaps you could become part of the digital revolution and forego print publication altogether? Maybe you should consider a Manuscript Assessment or Mentorship first?
All of these options and more will be discussed in “Set Sail into Publishing: Charting a Course for Your Writing Career” with WA writer Guy Salvidge. Participants will navigate the treacherous waters of modern publishing and chart a course forward for themselves and their creative work.
Costs: $30 for KSP members and $45 for non-members. Booking and payment in advance is essential. You can book online here.
Guy Salvidge will read from and talk about his work at this literary dinner. Bring your favourite drinks to complement the three course meal, meet Guy and mingle with local authors.
Costs: $25 for KSP-members and $30 for non-members. Booking and payment in advance is essential. You can book online here.
Given that I’m fresh out of Raymond Chandler books to read, I thought I should give Dashiell Hammett a try. I’ve had a copy of his novel The Maltese Falcon sitting around for some time, but I hadn’t got around to reading it until I picked up a copy of the film on DVD the other day. Well, the film is just fabulous. I was astounded by the quality of Bogart’s acting and the pure malevolence of the character of Sam Spade. He is such a jerk in a way that Philip Marlowe never was: he bullies, extorts, slaps a man around and tells him that he’ll like it, betrays his clients to the police, and more. The Maltese Falcon is an amazing film and one that I’ll want to watch again soon. I liked it so much that I’ve started hunting down DVD copies of other Bogart films: so far, Casablanca, The Big Sleep and Beat the Devil.
Anyway, the novel is similar in terms of storyline, except that, if anything, Spade is even more of a jerk in the book. There’s a scene, depicted on the novel’s cover above, in which Spade forces a woman to strip naked to prove that she hasn’t stolen money from him. Needless to say, the scene didn’t make it into the 1941 film. The dialogue is much the same as in the film – surely this is the novel’s greatest asset. The storyline, in which various nefarious characters try to get their hands on a priceless ‘maltese falcon’, does seem a little contrived, but not overly so. It’s the prose itself which I found a little wanting. It isn’t, I don’t think, up to the standard of Raymond Chandler’s best work. Chandler said so himself in one of his letters (I’m reading The Raymond Chandler Papers currently). Chandler’s other allegation against Hammett in general is that his books ‘lack heart’ and that ‘he never cared for his characters.’
Having read The Maltese Falcon, but none of Hammett’s other work, I’m inclined to agree. Sam Spade is NOT a sympathetic character in the slightest, but nor are any other characters either. There’s nothing of Philip Marlowe’s humanity in Sam Spade. Marlowe is forever refusing to take money from clients, refusing to sleep with various dames, getting himself beaten up unnecessarily and charting the movements of various tiny insects living in his office. I find most of this very endearing. Whereas there’s little positive to say about Sam Spade in this regard. Watching the film, I was astounded at how nasty Spade was, but it’s all there in the book, and then some. I also noticed in the novel that there’s absolutely no interior monologue from Spade’s perspective. We know what he does, and what he says, but not why. To me, this works better in film than on the page.
So there it is. I’m not saying that Hammett is a bad writer. His novel was published in 1930 after all, and it reads pretty well today. For all I know, the prose may be better in his other works. But I’m yet to be convinced that he is anything like as good as my beloved Chandler. Bogart the actor, however…
I just got home from this year’s KSP Speculative Fiction Awards, which is held annually and has become one of Australia’s premier competitions for speculative fiction. I was lucky enough to receive a Commended certificate for my story “The Remembery”, which came as something of a surprise as it was the first story I’d written in four or five years. Can you believe I’ve been working exclusively on novels for all of that time? I also had the chance to catch up with my old uni buddy Daniel Simpson, whose story “The Red Marble” also received a Commended certificate. The winner of the Open (i.e. adult) section was Denis Bastion, a Victorian writer whose story “Wolves, Sheep and I” was read to us by KSP Chairperson Paula Jones. And what a story it was. Definitely a worthy winner. This year’s judge was Peter Mcallister. Attendees to this year’s awards were also treated to a reading of a short story from WA author Juliet Marillier, which was particularly enjoyable.
You can read the Judge’s Report here on the KSP website.
And here’s a list of winners in all three categories (Open, Young Writers and Under 13s):