August 2007

Dave EggersLast night was the opening of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival at the Town Hall. Clive James delivered the keynote speech, and as I suspected he might, it was more a comedy routine than a public address.  I don’t know what the organisers thought they would get: frivolous fun? Well, they certainly got it. James can still turn a phrase, but, after half a century of reading and writing, I wonder why you would want to go the long way around an hour and a half to arrive at a few apt observations and hollow jokes. I think like most who attended, I still want to read Cultural Amnesia, I just hope it doesn’t leave me bemused and unfulfilled like last night.


On the other hand, Dave Eggers was refreshing — self-deprecating, but not for effect — and more interested to talk about his community projects than his books. Unsurprising really, as he has written two memoirs; his own and that of Sudanese Refugee Valentino Achak Deng. Tony Wilson directed some good questions to keep Eggers talking, and read passages from his debut, A Heart-breaking Work of Staggering Genius, as well as his latest, What is the What, which segued nicely into the question of Eggers’ evolution as a writer. Before I started reading What is the What I associated Eggers with McSweeny’s post-modern wank. Not saying that it’s not (and the more I read the less I think it is), but it’s clear that Eggers’ heart, his purpose, is in a different place with projects such as 826 Valencia and What.


Rainbow Bird Eva Sallis at Australians Against Racism:

Sunday is the anniversary of the day the MV Tampa rescued over 400 people at sea, only to give John Howard the wedge by which he not only won the 2001 election, but tormented and harmed men women and children from then to now with the mandatory detention regime.

We are publishing Rainbow Bird on the 26th of August to mark Tampa Day. Written and illustrated by 14 year old Adelaide teenager Czenya Cavouras, Rainbow Bird is a picture book that is thought provoking, disturbing, and inspiring.

We hope Rainbow Bird will stir, enrage, and move people. We hope it will be a powerful memento of these dark times. We hope people will treasure it as a beautiful work of art.

Please forward this email as widely as you can. The more people to have this book in hand the better, because it will also help us to say collectively on election day: ‘Never again’.

Rainbow Bird is available now in bookshops and from Wakefield Press.

Profits from Rainbow Bird go to Australians Against Racism. All who worked on the Rainbow Bird project volunteered their time and skills.

Last night I attended Platform Papers launch of Lee Lewis’ essay on Cross-Racial Casting.

Alison Croggon from theatre notes officially launched the book.

As someone who isn’t a regular theatre-goer it was great that the forum put the essay and the issue in a historical context. There were perceptive opinions and pertinent questions from the audience regarding the artistic implications for Non-White, as well as White theatre practitioners; who the main-stage companies actually represent; and why there is a perceived inability to initiate change.

Reading the essay in full today it became clear the argument for cross-racial casting has as much to do with artistic endeavour as to create, and therefore represent, a true national identity on the mainstream stages.

The idea of ‘Australian theatre’, the search for the next ‘great Australian play’, and the always popular insistence on ‘telling Australian stories’, are all nationalist enterprises which are already racially constructed to support a future White-imagined community. Intended to generate positive energy with their nationalistic fervour, especially when they appear in grant applications and media releases, these phrases cannot help but imply exclusivist racial outcomes.

If anything, reading Lee’s essay helped identify how uncomfortable people are with implicit racism, and the subsequent choices we make. However, I’m hesitant to embrace any form of positive discrimination to rectify a problem. Lee suggests informal legislation, such as has been tried in the past through funding distribution or company policy to cast cross-racially, serves only to make people follow by word and not in spirit, making the choice meaningless.

Please, go buy the book. Otherwise, read Matt, Ming or Alison‘s response to the essay and join the conversation.

To the final post?

The Man Booker longlist was announced. No surprise that I haven’t read any of the titles. But for someone who lives in bookshops on Sunday afternoons to not recognise any of the titles, bar McEwan’s, shocking. It’s nice to see I’m not the only one.

Just two short months to get reading if you want to debate the final winner. Even though he is the short priced favourite, I predict McEwan won’t make the short list. If I were a betting man (a dangerous way to start a sentence) I’d be backing Consolation by Michael Redhill. I haven’t checked the form guide and I don’t know the book from any of the others; I just have a feeling. But how do you know which book is suited to the Booker track conditions?

Sooner or later, probably sooner, the contemporary character becomes aware of the worthwhile mystery, and sets out to solve it. And the fairly historically accurate historical characters, with all their past-is-another-country pungency and profundity, bumble about creating and revealing the worthwhile mystery. By the end, the contemporary character will have semi-solved the mystery – while at the same time suffering some emotional damage and achieving a moderate redemption.

But betting on the Booker, or any prize for literature, come on, really?

Darkmans by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
Self Help by Edward Docx (Picador)
The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon)
The Gathering by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies (Sceptre)
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (John Murray)
Gifted by Nikita Lalwani (Viking)
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, (Jonathan Cape)
What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn (Tindal Street)
Consolation by Michael Redhill (William Heinemann)
Animal’s People by Indra Sinha (Simon & Schuster)
Winnie & Wolf by AN Wilson (Hutchinson)


Hello, and welcome to jotter notes.

This is my second blog. My first was frenetic, angry, desperately seeking attention, whether good or bad — at least in the first 500 or so posts. I came to blogging too early in life, hormones racing, with very little idea of what I wanted to keep private and public; it took a while (after enough books, conversations, experiences, etc.) to realise I didn’t want to put everything on record. When I look back on old posts I wonder who those words belong to, and how long a shadow they will cast. The choice is regrets or no regrets, something or nothing. For as many cringe-worthy moments, and there are many, there are some that I am genuinely in love with. It was just time for something different.

So, once again, welcome.

On the Chaps Elysess

Gaul couldn’t do without pain: pain was his motor. It’s a mistake to leave it up to the facts to tell themselves.

The Rider, Tim Krabbe

What is it about the Tour de France? It has a similar feel to Test Cricket: long periods where nothing much happens, interrupted by short bursts of excitement. Where a cycling stage or race differs is the culmination of events. There’s no draw, no stoppage for rain delays. The finish line may be at the end of a stage, perched up on top of a hill, but there is an end point in everybody’s day where their body either has a hunger for the pain or has had a gutful. It appeals to my sensibilities of watching sport; appreciating the contest on a level where bare facts such as time, points totalled, or an overall place don’t tell the story. It doesn’t touch on the heroic failure of a champion going round for the last time, a man who sacrifices his race again and again for his team leader, or the unfathomable power of a debut rider, with no style on the bike, striding up a mountain. These are moments within the stories of Alexander Vinikourov, Yaroslav Popovych and Juan Moritizier Soler-Hernandez, respectively. Only moments – summations – of hundreds of hours in the saddle.

But what happens when the efforts seen are a falsehood, enhanced without effort? When the drama is prescribed by the use of performance enhancing drugs? It can bring about a bi-polar response: exhilaration as the winner crosses the line; scepticism, when they give a press conference – after five hours in the saddle – looking as fresh as the French country-side sunflowers. Even the staunchest supporter would admit doping scandals leave the Tour open to looking like a motor-race; cyclists the drivers, their body’s engines that just need a pit-stop and quick tweak of the engine.