Here Be A Story

Some days it’s me and the pixels, typing things and making stuff up. On some rare days, it’s me celebrating some good news. Today is that day. Yes, indeed, it’s that time again everybody, when I get an electronic communiqué to inform me a lil thing I wrote has found its home in the world and it’s ready. Ready for the world to see it. Thus, I thought I would let the world know too. Seems fair, doesn’t it?

Y is for yay yay yay yay yay, I've had a story published.

Y is for yay yay yay yay yay, I’ve had a story published!


Should you wish to read my newly published short story, entitled Vena Cava, (because why not?) please visit the new online journal and its very first edition here via this link Heather. I dare ya. I double dare ya, to misquote Kiefer in Flatliners in a totally unrelated way.

Thanks and enjoy.

EDIT: I have since discovered that an entirely different story was republished in the current edition of The Stray Branch. Note to self to check all email folders more thoroughly and regularly. Double happiness.

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Review: this is what’s so civil about war

If you’re going to make a film where the conflict is self-created like in Avengers: Age of Ultron, that’s ok, but to up the emotional intensity and the battle of principles, then Captain America: Civil War is a better deal.  Perhaps, the recent elegiac seriousness of Batman vs Superman just highlights the interpersonal stakes, as well as the whimsy, humour and emotion of Civil War. This latest Marvel film is a family feud, where the ‘enemies’ are friends who play on each other’s flaws and foibles. Dawn of Justice was a slow build up grudge match refereed by tech wizard Jesse Eisenberg and crashed by Wonder Woman and a hybrid Tolkien space orc. Civil War’s build up was purposeful, never slow and luckily it featured no mutants from a different story franchise whatsoever.

Very early design for Ant Man.

First designs for (Flying) Ant Man.

After Ultron, though, I was worried. That film felt visually messy and dealt with too many characters in a perfunctory fashion. This time around, characterisation is a strength. Yes, there’s plenty of action and it was painful as well as funny, but what they did with characters shows a way forward. As a franchise, you could expect every character to appear, but instead of crowding each scene with them all, or making lame excuses for their absence, Civil War made certain missing persons  the motivation for the ones left.  And this is how it should be, instead of flippant reasoning for some in Ultron, plot and character are intertwined. Because this is how well told stories actually do work.

Introducing Puffin Girl in Civil War was seen by Marvel execs as a step too far.

Introducing the new Puffin Girl in Civil War was seen by Marvel as a step too far.

In fact, this is the theme: how personal motivations and principles are shaped by loss and absence. It’s about how the legacy of the past infects the present day, poisoning everything.

Being a Captain America outing rather than an Avengers story, principles and politics and the past were always going to be in the mix, and they are, just not in the way you may think.  It was less WWII epic and more cold war. Just when you suspect everything is about to be resolved one way, it ‘heads south’ to quote the Cap. It’s definitely cold and stings, but is satisfying enough until the next episode. Yet, even as we all know there is another story, and another ad infinitum, this film still functions as a complete story, with emotional development and resolutions and everything.

Robert Downey Jnr out acts everyone, but then he’s given the meat to chew on in terms of motivation. Chris Evans, as Steve Rogers, wrestling with the past and weight of moral compassdom also manages to get in a some sweet and funny moments that lift the film. His character is always in danger of being too wooden, or too right, but the vulnerability makes it work. The Black Widow has some truly awesome action sequences and as the character that sees all sides, she is no one’s hero and everyone’s point of view. Yet, again Scarlett Johansson presents another case for her own BW film.  Do it Marvel. Just do it. And did I mention Black Panther? So much yes for this character.

Civil War also manages to explain much of the missing past for characters, while it also moves the story forward for others. Best of all, everyone gets to have a reason to be there, even Spider Man. Since I haven’t seen a Spidey film since Tobey left, this was a positive re-intro. And while I have yet to see Ant Man, I really, really want to now.

I could say more, and I’m sorely tempted, but that’d mean spoilers.

From the Marvel Archives. Fossil evidence of earliest super heroes.

From the Marvel Archives. Fossil evidence of earliest super heroes.

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Something weirder this way comes?

I’m in two minds about the use of historical people and spiritual concepts in fiction. On the one hand it seems disrespectful to tear precepts and practices from their cultural contexts to insert them at will into stories. Then, on the other hand, that’s what writers do and have always done. I used the poetry of John Donne for instance, for a dark tale would have scandalised the poet in his sermonising latter years. But since he can’t neither complain nor recommend me for the stake, I persisted and it was published.

Perhaps, if writers do take stuff they need to go large. Instead of just an Arabic word here or a Himalayan backdrop there, or a karate move now, or a Buddhist robe then, for white, angst-ridden, men of means to act out in, maybe writers should dig deeper into their own histories and backgrounds?

Sometimes they go large, but go wrong,Star Gate was reasonably cool, except for attributing the Egyptian gods and pyramids to aliens. Um no, that’s a bug bear of mine.

Anyway, as indicated previously, what I’m tired of is the shortcut for mystery and mysticism being Middle/Eastern Pastiche. Although, there is an argument that Western culture and history is one long pastiche, vis a vie syncretism.

However, the West, for what it’s worth, has an equally mysterious legacy of mystics and alchemists and cults, but few people seem to be using it as a source of popular entertainment. Sure, there are novels about John Dee and Nicholas Flamel, and novels about alchemy and esotericism from Umberto Eco and his cheaper imitation Dan Brown, but a comic-book like superhero story and subsequent film franchise would be inspired.

What I want I haven’t seen yet. Like a action adventure set in a world described by CS Lewis in The Discarded Image. Like an action version of Foucault’s Pendulum, or a version of The Librarian or Warehouse number what’s-his-name that’s not about collecting and hoarding artefacts in America. Like SHIELD but more historical. A bit like Buffy, but with an immortal Giles heading a band of occultists maintaining the harmony of the spheres instead of staking (or making out) with vamps. A bit like X Files, but it’s as if Mulder and Scully are Wyrd. Like Thor, but not in space. Like Supernatural, but from the immortal perspective  rather than that of the flannels.

My super heroes are the centre of their pre-Copernican universe.

My super heroes are the centre of their universe.

Neil Gaiman achieved some of what I’m looking for through Sandman, and American Gods, and there’s Hellboy, but basically most of this runs alongside a faux-Christian theology of dark versus light that is done to death. I want to peel that back. I want less demons and more daimones. A bit His Dark Materials but not based on Milton. Like Percy Jackson, but less American teens as the offspring of Olympian gods. Like Paulo Coelho’a works, but with actual alchemy. And yes there’s Harry Potter, but I don’t need villains who work to school term timetables, and I do want more of the context to the classical references.

I’m going to have to write this aren’t I?

The thing is, I don’t have to invent my characters nor refer to other fictions. Western history is full of powerful,wealthy and/or intelligent people messing about with tinctures, spells, chants, weapons, fey folk and sigils, to achieve all sorts of ends. I have the resources, and now I have a list, divided characters into specialities, and named their locations. I can see it, and I know their leader. Forget Batman and Dr Strange, forget Thor and his space bifrost. They don’t far enough and their worlds are too much our world.

I want something weirder.

I want something new that is very old.

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Foots the Bill?

There’s a new companion in the Tardis, if you haven’t already heard. Pearl Mackie. She’ll play Bill. I’m not about to judge her debut from two minutes on screen.

I posit the main difficulty with a completely new companion, is explaining. Most of the audience is familiar with The Doctor and his world and this new person is being introduced to it. The writers have to balance the needs of the viewers with the requirements of the story, without being overly didactic or repetitive. In this situation, the weight of the first episode falls on the new character, and how she inflects what’s going on and responds to The Doctor. That’s what will make it new to the viewers after yet another introduction to, say, Daleks.

Says Mackie:“I thought Bill was wicked. Fantastically written, cool, strong, sharp, a little bit vulnerable with a bit of geekiness thrown in.”

This first episode is the companion’s opportunity to demonstrate what makes her unique and also what makes her suitable. It sets up the tone of the program, while her perspective on what happens is the thing that will be the comparator to those she follows. It’s about whether she’s fearless or ironic, mutable, or challenging or curious or a bit geeky, given the adventures she is about to embark upon, in addition to her circumstances and background.

Let’s hope the writing does her justice.

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Ugly House

Close to where I used to live, there was the ugliest house in its long street. It was a small square single storey weatherboard, marooned on a slightly bigger square of uneven, greying concrete that filled up almost the entire empty yard behind a rusting wire fence knit with straggling weeds.

There are plenty of well proportioned, pleasingly designed neo-Classical buildinsg in Melbourne. This is one of them. The Ugly House was not that.

Melbourne features many well proportioned, pleasingly designed neo-Classical buildings. This is one of them. The Ugly House: not that.

That old home, with its shabby curtains and ancient window air con unit, always remained itself. I might not have noticed it, except it was painted a toxic, off-lime green that verged on neon, but grimier. The entire building, from ground to roof and it’s garage where painted so they couldn’t be missed. In summer, it looked like it radiated heat such was the colour of it in the sunshine.

Where its double brick neighbours reclined into their anonymous frontages of balanced facades in browns, serious greys, and muted blues, or hid behind rambling gardens, the ugly house was loud and bold from its small space on the street.

The house was not even interestingy ruinous or abandoned. It was ugly, and lived in and gardenless.

The house was not even interestingly ruinous or abandoned. It was ugly, lived in and garden-less.

Unkempt, and unlovely, it was also unabashed. It proclaimed its flaws.

And I loved it.

Recently, I had cause to go by there again, but this time it was gone. The ugly duckling had been torn down, and in its place, two perfectly suitable and modern swans houses had been slapped up.

Of course, it was always going to happen like this, the house was nothing and the land everything, financially. However, the street is no longer memorable, the brick two storey town houses that replaced the Ugly House are everywhere. The street is now any street in almost any suburb of Melbourne, instead of somewhere. Sure, the house was hideous in an organic, amphibious way, but it made the area unique. It was jaunty in a way that belied its uncared for status and that made it intriguing. It was the eccentric uncle at family events. You knew where you were, when you saw the almost-but-not-quite lime painted and peeling Ugly House.

I think there’s lesson in this about writing and creativity and life.

You can work them out. I’m tired now.


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Review: lessons on appropriation

The Dandenong Ranges, just on the edge of Melbourne, is full of Devonshire tea, tourists and the tallest flowing plants in the world. The other day I visited a particularly green and serene bit: William Ricketts Sanctuary. For decades this artist lived on the side of a mountain and dedicated his art and life to the environment and the Indigenous peoples of Australia.

The art is small scale, the forest is not.

The art is small-scale, the forest is not.

His twin obsessions resulted in his art becoming one with the sanctuary, which is barely touched tree-fern and mountain ash country. His clay sculptures are fused with the natural rock formations and are embedded into the landscape. Where they stand out, they offer a particularly primal window through which to see and understand his mission. He was not Indigenous, but time spent in Central Australia saw him identify with the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte whose traditions and culture inspired his sculpture. 

He clearly depicts an idealised version of himself in his sanctuary work, but mostly his sculptures are of Aboriginal men, women and children. Sometimes, he uses Christianity to convey the idea that the land, its animals and people and advocates like himself, were crucified to a world represented by a bullet crowned figure whose clawed hands wield guns.

William Ricketts definitely had his own aesthetic.

William Ricketts definitely had his own aesthetic. A critical one.

These days there are valid concerns about cultural appropriation. However, Ricketts was not appropriating Indigenous culture. His art was his own aesthetic, and he had his own invented symbolism, but he used it to highlight the central place of Aboriginal peoples and their cultures should have in Australia, for a mainly non-Indigenous audience. For some visitors, his works might have been the only valorised and heroic depiction of Aboriginal people they had ever come across. The sanctuary continues to exist as a reminder that Australia once needed this. And still does.

Protective and inclusive.

Protective and inclusive.

When Ricketts moved to the Sanctuary in 1934, the last frontier massacres of Indigenous people had just occurred the year before, so it’s not unreasonable to suppose when in Central Australia he might have encountered the stories of survivors. To Ricketts,  I imagine, how people relate to each other and the land were matters of life and death.

Portal to an artists world.

Portal to an artist’s world.

Ricketts sets an example. This is how artists should engage with cultures. It shouldn’t be about taking what is pretty or *mysterious*and co-opting it out of context and making white people the best exponents of aspects of it. Inter cultural exposure should result in engagement, rather than theft. But pop culture mainly presents us with theft. At most what’s presented is Mystic Eastern Pastiche as interpreted by someone like Liam Neeson in Batman Begins, or his slight look-alike in Arrow, and now in Dr Strange, with Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One of Tibet, a Diotima to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Socrates. Sure, a woman, yay for diversity, but nay for white washing.

In mining their 20th century cache for new films, DC and Marvel bring back plenty that’s worthy, entertaining and clearly successful, but also a heap of unexamined colonialism, racism, sexism and cultural appropriation. It might be easier to write new heroes and villains and drop the baggage unless they want to alienate a proportion of their (new potential) audiences. This is one reason Deadpool appeals. I didn’t have to examine how I felt about anything except violence. There was no faux-Eastern setting for an encounter with a white martial arts wizard after an angsty lone trek around the world. Wilson was a dude who underwent bad stuff and became badder in exactly the opposite way to how William Ricketts travelled and worked, but with neither appropriating anything.

An original kind of hero.

A hero with side kick, exactly where he belongs. 


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Poiesis-ly speaking

Poïesis is derived from the ancient term which means “to make”.

First I decided to attempt art for the Sketch Book Project. In (re)making the book it sent out, albeit  a 16 page one, I made space for further creativity. Yes, there was commentary, yes there are sketches and doodles over water colours, and collages and colouring in, but the combination demanded more.

As some kind of art, it is messy and naive but it is my mess.

As some kind of art, it’s messy and naive but it’s my mess. You’re welcome to make your own. 

This word…was first a verb, an action that transforms and continues the world.

The first task was to cover the blank space, or rather, to transform its small white pages into its own world, which is also a result of and a continuation of a version of my world. The acts required for this included the purchase of second-hand books, the collection of water-colour pencils and my Zentangle supplies, the selection of blank pages from old books and sketch books, and the selection of printed pages and my own water colours. It was both deliberate and random.

Neither technical production nor creation in the romantic sense, poïetic work reconciles thought with matter and time and person with the world.

This process meant poetry was delivered as a way of reconciling myself with the task of illustrating a page with the time and abilities and supplies available to me. It wasn’t intended. What happened was the act of being creative by arranging colour and paper on the page opened the door to be creative in another way through words. I should have remembered this: it’s why I have a tumblr account and take photos. Perhaps, it was due to fear of the blank page, or trepidation about trying to draw, but poetry happened and I can’t take it back now.

My work to a professional must look like 18th Century renderings of the Milky Way to NASA today.

My stuff to a professional must look like 18th Century renderings of the Milky Way to NASA today. Gold star for effort, but…

I’m not saying I’m making great art, as the execution is rough and there are many flaws. Neither do I claim the same for poetry, although I think the poetry is some of the better stuff I’ve done of late. The point is I’m happy to have achieved something, even if it’s a very small thing. And anyway, too late now. but for a final once over, it’s complete.

In the end, any of my concerns or thoughts about worth or quality, such as whether the art or poetry therein contained by my little project are any ‘good,’ are unhelpful.

Good is not the point. Others will judge. I will do.

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