Love Stories, by Trent Dalton

4 November 2021
Love Stories, by Trent Dalton, book cover

Don’t we all love a great love story? Especially when it’s ours? (I walked into a bar one night. That was lucky because I hardly ever walk into bars…) But walking is what Brisbane based Australian journalist and novelist Trent Dalton did as well. He walked the streets of Adelaide and Brisbane, looking for stories: stories of love.

He’d set up a portable table somewhere, place an old typewriter – left to him by the late mother of a friend – on it, and then stop passers-by to ask them to tell him a story. Maybe you saw him. Did he ask you to tell your story? Would you, if he’d asked? Of all the things you could ask a total stranger at random, I get the feeling it’s a question a lot of people would be happy to answer. Because who doesn’t like telling a story of love? The fruits of this labour, which sometimes saw Dalton at his mobile workstation for eight hours a day, is Love Stories (published by HarperCollins, 27 October 2021).

They say truth is stranger than fiction, and I could only imagine how wondrous, raw, inspiring, and even heartbreaking this collection of stories is. Dalton was recently a guest on Words and Nerds, a podcast show hosted by Dani Vee, where he talked about Love Stories, and what prompted him to write the book. It’s a heart-warming discussion well worth listening to.

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The word of the year for 2021 is VAX

3 November 2021

I don’t know how many times I’ve used the word in the last eighteen months, but I’m sure happy its use has been sanctioned by the Oxford English Dictionary.

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Saving the roof of Jane Austen’s Hampshire cottage

3 November 2021

Good news for Jane Austen fans who like, or are one day hoping, to visit the house in the English village of Chawton, Hampshire, where she spent the final eight years of her life, and wrote several of her novels… funds have been raised to repair the roof of her old cottage, which was built in the seventeenth century.

The roof was last refurbished in 1948 before the House opened to the public. Over 70 years on and over a million visitors later, major repairs are required to ensure the watertightness of the building and preserve the museum collection.

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Rock Paper Scissors, by Alice Feeney

3 November 2021
Rock Paper Scissors, by Alice Feeney, book cover

Amelia and Adam have been married ten years. Each year, on their anniversary, they exchange gifts in accordance with the occasion. Paper, leather, sugar, what have you. But there’s one gift Amelia has made for each anniversary that she never gives to Adam. Every year she writes him a letter, describing her feelings about him, and their marriage. Without giving too much away, Adam is a workaholic, more devoted to his screenwriting job, than his marriage to Amelia.

On the occasion of their tenth anniversary, being tin, Amelia wins a holiday to a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, in a workplace raffle. By this point, both partners recognise the marriage is struggling, and both see the holiday away from the distractions of home and work as an opportunity to revive their flagging relationship. But something doesn’t quite feel right. Might it be their accommodation, a chapel of all places? Or might it be the power failure just as they arrive?

And why have their phones suddenly stopped working? On top of that, a snowstorm traps them in the old chapel. And then there’s the minor detail about the holiday itself. Winning it seems not to be as random as it looked… Rock Paper Scissors (published by Harper Collins Australia, August 2021) is the latest novel from English author Alice Feeney, and if you’re a fan of domestic thrillers, with what seems like a touch of things going bump in the night, this might be the book for you.

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Going Down, a 1982 film by Haydn Keenan

2 November 2021

Made in 1982 and filmed on a micro-budget over the course of a few days, Going Down, directed by Australian filmmaker Haydn Keenan is a gritty, no holds barred, slice of life glimpse of a night out on the town in Sydney. While the pacing and narrative technique reminded me a little of something like American Graffiti, Going Down is far more in your face.

Karli (Tracy Mann) is about to fly to New York. Her friends Jane (Vera Plevnik), Jackie (Julie Barry), and Ellen (Moira MacLaine-Cross), take her out for one last night of revelry before she leaves. The result is chaotic. Parties and bars are gone to, drugs are taken, sex is had, and a large sum money is lost. In the middle of it all, one of Karli’s friend’s tries to find sex work, as the girls, individually and collectively, make their way around the inner suburbs of a now barely recognisable Sydney.

Check out a snippet of the film here (NSFW: profanity, drug references).

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The Other Side of Beautiful, by Kim Lock

2 November 2021
The Other Side of Beautiful, by Kim Lock, book cover

A traumatic workplace incident several years earlier has left Mercy Blain, a former doctor, housebound, in The Other Side of Beautiful (published by HQ Fiction/HarperCollins, July 2021), the fourth novel of South Australian based author Kim Lock. For two years she has not left the safety and security of her home. But when the house burns to the ground one night, Mercy has no choice but to step out into the world.

Her first port of call is her former husband’s place. But he is living with someone else, and Mercy is on the move once again. This time though she goes all out. She buys an old – an incredibly old – campervan, and leaving her hometown Adelaide, in South Australia, with Wasabi, her sausage dog, Mercy makes her way north to Darwin.

But then things begin to change. As Mercy continues towards Darwin, she begins to experience a catharsis of sorts, and she starts to see a way around the anxieties that have kept her shut away behind closed doors. All seems to be going well until she is required to return to Adelaide to resolve a legal matter, where even the mere thought of being back causes to her anxiety to come to the fore again.

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The Metaverse, one step closer to the Holodeck

1 November 2021

Last week Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the social network company he co-founded in 2004 will be known as Meta. Later, in his keynote presentation at the company Connect event, he unveiled a raft of technologies in development that have the potential to change the way we live and work.

The Star Trek geek in me could not help but make comparisons to the Holodeck, a room on the Enterprise that allowed the crew to realistically create, or re-create, almost any situation they could imagine. If you have a spare eighty or so minutes, check out Zuckerberg’s keynote. Tech analyst Ben Thompson interviewed the Facebook CEO shortly before the keynote, and if you have another forty-five minutes to spare, it’s a conversation well worth listening to. It’s a fascinating time for those of us with an oblong obsession.

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House of Gucci, a film by Ridley Scott

1 November 2021

Ridley Scott has put together a star studded cast including Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Salma Hayek, Jared Leto, Al Pacino, and Jeremy Irons, for his adaptation of House of Gucci (trailer), based on the 2002 book by Sara Gay Forden. Not that a star studded cast really makes much difference to whether I see a film or not.

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It’s November 2021, that means it’s NaNoWriMo 2021

1 November 2021
NaNoWriMo image

It’s November and that means NaNoWriMo is upon us. NaNoWriMo? It’s an acronym for National Novel Writing Month, an annual writing event established by Chris Baty, a freelance writer, in 1999. And if you think you can knock out a mere fifty thousand (50,000) words by the end of the month, you too can take part. As of 2020, over half a million people worldwide were participating in various NaNoWriMo projects.

Originally held in July of 1999, the event later switched to November, a move intended to take people’s minds off the approaching winter, tricky for people south of the equator though gearing up for summer. But heck, summer arrives in December down-under, so why worry? An impressive collection of NaNoWriMo works have gone on to be published, so it’s something worth checking out if you’re an aspiring author.

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A very SETI Halloween

30 October 2021

Happy Halloween for tomorrow. Do you enjoy the prospect of an Alien invasion? Better look the other way at A No-body Problem from SETI then. I’m not sure which is scarier… what happens here, or the chance SETI may find extraterrestrial life. Because, you know, has no one been watching Invasion?

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Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black enhanced by Spotify

30 October 2021

It’s been fifteen years since the release of late English singer Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black album. Holy moly, fifteen years. To mark the occasion Spotify have accorded the defining release the enhanced treatment:

Spotify worked with Winehouse’s label and estate to create a bunch of content for the playlist: video clips but also new ‘canvas’ looping videos, ‘storylines’ lyrics analysis snippets, and video of other artists talking about how they’ve been influenced by Winehouse and the album.

Check it out here on Spotify.

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Passing, a film by Rebecca Hall

29 October 2021

We’re all passing for something, aren’t we? Passing (trailer) is the directorial debut of British actor and filmmaker Rebecca Hall, and is based on the 1929 book of the same name, written by late American author Nella Larsen. Clare (Ruth Negga) and Irene (Tessa Thompson), are old school friends who meet again by chance years after leaving school. While both women are mixed-race, Irene identifies as being African-American, while Clare’s light complexion allows her to “pass” as being white. But their obsessive interest in each other threatens to unravel both their lives.

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Book of the Year Award 2021 shortlist announced

29 October 2021

The shortlist for the Small Press Network 2021 Book of the Year Award (BOTY) was unveiled on Monday, 25 October, 2021. Previously the award was known as the Most Underrated Book of the Year Award, but the name was changed in 2020. The Small Press Network represents small and independent publishers in Australia, and the winner of the 2021 BOTY will be announced in late November. Do check out the work of the shortlisted authors, these are titles I seldom see on Bookstagram.

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Boundless writers festival 2021

29 October 2021

Boundless, a Sydney based festival of Indigenous and culturally diverse writers, is on from today, Friday 29 October until Sunday 31 October. A number of panels and workshops will be presented online, including Should I? Ethical Questions for Screen Storytellers, which touches on the topic of who can tell, and profit, from publishing certain stories. Writers of fiction might also find themselves asking similar questions, in regards to how much they can draw on the lives and experiences of people they know, in their work.

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Loner, by Georgina Young

29 October 2021
Loner, by Georgina Young, book cover

It’s a difficult path to walk, the journey to becoming the person we want to be. There’s the frequent self-doubt, and the sometimes futile attempts to appease those around us, who expect our lives to take a direction more in suiting with their preferences. How many of us have been in, or are in, such a place? At least Lona, the twenty year old protagonist of Loner (published by Text Publishing, August 2020), written by Melbourne based Australian author Georgina Young, knows what she doesn’t want.

But then the arts student decides one day a life in the arts isn’t for her. Nor the dead-end jobs she calls work. Lona goes from having some direction, to having almost none. All that seems to fulfil her are books, a part-time gig as a DJ, and photography, an interest that requires her to sneak into her old art school to access the dark room to develop her pictures.

Loner is one of the titles shortlisted in this year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, and in addition to her other woes, it seems to me Lona also has to grapple with being an introvert. Choosing to be in her own company, or perish forbid, enjoying being in her own company, is another source of self-doubt for Lona, since some of the people around her probably feel she is lacking as a result. It’s kind of difficult then. Trying to find out who you are, while others are expressing disapproval at what you are.

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The Younger Wife, by Sally Hepworth

28 October 2021
The Younger Wife, by Sally Hepworth, book cover

The Younger Wife (published by Pan Macmillan Australia, October 2021) by Melbourne based Australian author Sally Hepworth, has been popping up a lot recently on the Oblong Obsession Instagram feed, and yesterday I finally decided to take a closer look. The title screamed the suggestion older person marries younger person, leading me to think I might be reading about an older person perhaps making a new start in life following a divorce, or the death of their last spouse.

Not quite. And nor could the mid-life crisis label be applied either, despite appearances. Stephen announces his engagement to his adult daughters, Tully and Rachel. But the two women have little regard for his wife to be, Heather. For one thing, she’s practically their age, to say nothing of their suspicion that Heather is a gold digger. But the main point of contention is Pam, their mother, who is neither dead, nor divorced from Stephen.

But Stephen has an answer to that. Pam is afflicted with dementia, and resides in a care facility, and he figures she’ll offer little resistance to a divorce. The idea enrages his daughters, and I’m hazarding a guess things will not end well. But in learning more about Heather, Tully and Rachel discover she indeed has secrets. As does their father. But that is only the beginning. Tully and Rachel, it seems, have a few things to hide themselves. I get the feeling this will not end well for all involved…

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I Am Belmaya, the story of Belmaya Nepali

27 October 2021

Growing up in Nepal, Belmaya Nepali found little support – to put it mildly – for her ambition to become a filmmaker. Her inspiring story of overcoming all manner of obstacles and setbacks, is told in I Am Belmaya (trailer), a feature she co-directed with London based documentary maker Sue Carpenter.

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In the Time of Foxes, by Jo Lennan

27 October 2021
In the Time of Foxes, by Jo Lennan, book cover

I can’t say I’m thankful for everything the Australian Prime Minister may do, but the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards I can place in the positive category. Not only do the awards send some much needed recognition the way of Australian writers, they’ve also put some titles I was previously unaware of before my eyes.

In the Time of Foxes (published by Simon & Schuster, May 2020), by Sydney based Australian writer Jo Lennan is one such example. Somehow I seemed to miss seeing this title on the bustling Bookstagram, but it has been shortlisted for this year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Foxes are perceived to be devious yet shrewd, traits the characters featured in this thirteen short story collection share. But each of them needs more than street-smarts as they attempt to navigate the places and circumstances they find themselves in.

Places ranging from Hackney, in London’s East, Tokyo, and a cafe in Sydney. In nearly every story foxes make an appearance in some way, though perhaps they are absent in the tale set on Mars, as in the red planet. Here a journalist seems to be in trouble of some sort, and in the absence of a nearby fox, possibly needs to think like one, if he is to survive.

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Last Night in Soho movie poster

26 October 2021
Last Night in Soho, movie poster by James Paterson, book cover

I don’t know what the film itself is like, but Last Night in Soho (trailer) by English actor and filmmaker Edgar Wright (think Shawn of the Dead) brings the London of the swinging sixties in all its west-end nightclub glory to the big screen. But isn’t the vintage style movie poster, designed by British artist and portrait painter James Paterson, stunning?

Also: a selection of Edgar Wright’s favourite fan artworks based on his films.

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Marilou Is Everywhere, by Sarah Elaine Smith

26 October 2021
Marilou Is Everywhere, by Sarah Elaine Smith, book cover

Fourteen year old Cindy leads a brutally unhappy life. Her parents are elsewhere, leaving Cindy in the care of her older brothers, who have little interest – to say the least – in looking after her. But when another local teenager, Jude, goes missing, Cindy perversely sees an opportunity to improve her lot, in Marilou Is Everywhere (published by Penguin Books Australia, 28 September 2021), the debut novel of American author Sarah Elaine Smith.

Jude’s mother Bernadette, afflicted by alcoholism and mental illness, seems unaware her daughter vanished on a camping trip with friends, and unwittingly accepts Cindy as a surrogate. While Cindy is fully aware her charade is all shades of wrong, her longing for the presence of a loving parent, and a happy, stable, family life, is far more compelling.

Michael Schaub, writing for NPR, describes Marilou Is Everywhere as “a novel of stunning emotional intelligence, and Cindy an unforgettable character, but it’s Smith’s writing that’s the real star of the book. Her language is hypnotic and enchanting, with lines that read like poetry.” Sometimes it’s not so much the story, as the way it’s written, that draws me to a book, so this is a title I look forward to reading.

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