Monday, November 11, 2013

Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Well l have a slightly awkward confession to make. The first Star Wars movie came out in 1977, when I had both the means and the interest to see it. I was very quick to go watch Star Wars I when it came out and have seen bits and pieces of the various Star Wars movies as they have shown up on TV. Throughout my life, I have participated in countless conversations in which there have been Jedi, Princess Leia and R2D2 references and "may the force be with you" has taken on a life of its own. I have not, however, sat down and actually watched any of the Star Wars movies except for the first prequel. Time, I think, to rectify the situation.

Starting in the middle of a shootout, I can already see that a sequel could be useful to provide a backstory as to what is going on between the Imperial Forces and the Rebels - we are obviously supposed to be with the Rebels. When Darth Vader comes on the scene, it becomes obvious the men in white are after the deathstar plans, but I do think Darth Vader needs a more manly voice. I am impressed by the sharpness of the images - no doubt there has been some digital trickery. R2D2 and C3P0 (not that anyone seems to ever refer to him by name) make an unlikely pair (almost a squabbling couple) to send on an important mission - it is comical and a bit sad when R2D2 is shot by the Jawas and falls over! Luke Skywalker is surprisingly petulant and whiny when we meet him. But he quickly grows on me, when he and C3P0 chase after R2D2 and meet up with Obi Wan Kenobi - and there goes the Jedi light sabre.

The quest is now on, to get Princess Leia's message to her father, and have Luke learn his heritage, knowledge of the force. It is a big thing: Darth Vader has to warn the Imperials that no matter how good their tech, the force is stronger. But like most people in power, they think they are impregnable. They prove it by blowing up a planet with no defences at all, Princess Leia's planet. Killing Luke's guardians now means it is game on. The Force:it has a strong influence on the weak minded - so Obi Wan Kenobi can easily get past the Imperial security droids. Discrimination shows its ugly head when Luke and C3P0 go into the rough bar replete with criminals of every strip but gentle droids are not welcome. Han Solo: so nonchalant "sorry about the mess"! Is it really safe for Luke to be trying out his light sabre inside the space ship? Certainly isn't safe to fire a weapon in a sealed garbage storage unit. 

About an hour in, there's a significant change of pace: sure, there have been the occasional skirmishes, but now they are sucked in to the Death Star and, even though they can't be found, they're prisoners. And there it is - "the force will be with you". Nice big shoot out, rescue mission and now Luke meets Leia - all precursors to the showdown between Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi. She's sassy and not grateful to guys who rescue her without any proper plans - even Han Solo likes her. "One thing's for sure - we're going to be a lot thinner". More humour when C3P0 thinks they're all dying but are actually jubilant at surviving. "this big walking carpet" = Chewbacca. So many Imperial forces and yet they hit no-one.

Escape turns out to be surprisingly quickly achieved - I was sure we'd see most of the hour used up on it, but all the fighting is in short bursts. But now there's space fighters and Leia is now willing to hug the carpet. Think she's disappointed with Solo - but the overall mission is a success, in that they find a way into destroy the Death Star. But why is R2D2 flying along with Luke in Red5? They really needed a squad of fighters to protect the fighters going in for the kill - they're being picked off by Darth in the rear. Luckily the commander's sense of invulnerability hasn't left him yet, which is what makes the Death Star vulnerable. Up to you Luke, with your bush pilot skillz. But three minutes to go and Darth right on his tail and the Rebel base in range of the Death Star - the force is with him. Up she goes. Missed Solo coming in to help. Poor old R2D2 not looking so hot.

So, the last 30 minutes turned into a pretty tense sort of fight and I have to say that for a movie nearly 40 years old, it is holding up pretty well, with the tech looking good. I don't watch many modern movies of this ilk, but my impression is that they tend to make fights into long drawn out melodramas: the fighting here was all taut and short and sweet.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

NZIFF 2013: Best Three

I recently saw about 20 or more movies over the course of a couple of weeks: before my memory fades completely, I am recording some impressions. There are only two I wish I didn't see (I'll get to them) and a handful I wish I had seen, but there's a limit to what can be done. Being realistic, I know I won't write a separate post for every movie, but maybe creating little groups is more viable? These three movies were all very different, but they all worked on me in the same way, to make them my personal favourites of the festival. In order of seeing them:

Sheen of Gold   

This movie made me all sorts of nostalgic for things I never actually experienced. It was almost a hagiography of Palmerston North punk band, the Skeptics and its main man, David D'Ath who died of leukaemia in September 1990. I did not move there until the mid 1990's: they formed while in school in 1980 and moved on to the bright lights of Wellington in 1985. Much was made of their uniqueness and isolation in the Palmerston North of the early 1980's, of how they had to start their own club to get any sort of scene going and then to start their own studio. Oddly enough, it made me wish I had been there myself in those days (even though it sounded quite horribly conservative) and to have had mates at school with whom I could have started a band (something I have never wanted until I saw the movie). It also made me wish I had actually paid more attention to the Skeptics while it was still possible: they played a couple of gigs in Auckland while I was living there and I think I was back in the country when they had their magical last gigs at the Gluepot (just a matter of days before he died).

The movie was largely made up of interviews with the surviving members, about life in the band and the technicalities of making music Skeptics-style, and footage of gigs. One of their songs gained some notoriety, as it was shot in a freezing works: not to make any particular point, but because it was very Kiwi. Oddly enough, even though they said they spent the last months before David died facing up to his death, there is no footage of him, apart from performing in the band. I thought they might have turned a camera on him. Their early gigs were in a school library (a band member's dad worked there): they were untutored (their sound engineer said he found something very "primitive" in their music, it reminded them of deep blues music in that respect) and experimental (we see Robin Gauld trying out bringing his electric razor close to his guitar, to see what sort of effect is created). The thing is that these guys all managed to find each other and create something (even if Nick Roughan was scared to replay the music made all those years ago). The movie ended on a very sweet note: with Chris Knox experiencing the music, and being moved to dance. DVD is due out before Christmas: I'll be in for a copy. In the meantime, here's Agitator.

There is a nice history and a copy of an obit written by Chris Matthews (who also showed up in the movie) at

Mud (directed by Jeff Nichols)

This movie shared something with Sheen of Gold in that it evoked a time and place I will never know, but not one I fancy joining. Its a slice of Americana, set primarily in a riverboat (I'd have called it a house boat but they didn't) on the Mississippi in Arkansas, and told through the eyes of 14 year old Ellis (Tye Sheridan). It is a life under threat: his parents' relationship is going through a rough patch, mainly because mum wants a more regular life. It seems the authorities want to do away with riverboats: mum is owner of the boat but if she gives it up, she can't sell or gift it to anyone; the boat will be set adrift. His dad looked like the kind of guy you're not going to trust or think very much of
but he turned out to be a decent guy, trying hard to protect his son from the relationship breakdown and very invested in river life.

But all of this is in the background: the main story is concerned with Ellis and his mate Neckbone. They find a boat stuck up a tree
and think its a cool place to hangout. Unfortunately, it has an inhabitant (Mud - Matthew McConaughey) who is on the run - from the law and the family of a guy he's killed.
He's hiding out on this island, hoping to re-connect with the love of his life, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), and has a big plan to get the boat back into the water and escape the river with her. Yep - he's quite the manchild, and leans heavily on the two boys, both to rebuild the boat and his relationship with Juniper. Ellis in particular idolises Mud, Juniper and their relationship although (of course) all is not as it seems. So Ellis learns more truth then he can cope with.

The odd thing about the movie is that it takes so long for the guys after Mud to actually catch up with him, but this I think was a deliberate ploy to let the story cook: the movie hits a critical point where the guys are lying in wait, the perception has been generated that Mud is a no-good coward, Ellis has lost faith and Mud has to act decisively to, quite literally, save Ellis's life and put his own at risk to do so. And so there's a showdown, with bullets a-plenty (including from across the river: as soon as it was revealed that there was retired master sniper living in the boat across the river, I knew he had to have a function in the movie).
Like Father, Like Son (Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda)

I liked this movie so much that I decided not to go to the one after it so it would be the last of the festival for me. The basic story is quite simple: parents find that through sheer malice of a nurse, their son was switched at birth with the son of a different family. Maybe I'm a sucker for a happy ending, but the movie ended so sweetly, it brought a tear to my eye.

Of course, the families are as different as possible. Keita's dad (Ryoto) is very driven, and wants his son to be a success - in business, in playing the piano, in anything he sets his mind to. We also get to see what Ryoto's own father was like and thus see old patterns being repeated. They live in an obviously expensive apartment but, well, dad has put hard work and financial success ahead of a meaningful relationship with his son. I don't think this was done in any sort of critical spirit, it was just presented as the way things were, the way things are for many families. Ryusei's parents, Yudai and Yukari, are poor, honest people - Yudai works in an electrical supply shop at the front of his house but seems to only sell minor items like light bulbs. He's a bit of a joker and great with kids. They have three other children and are very happy, playful and engaged with each other.
But when Ryoto finds out Keita is not his actual son, his first impulse is to think that is why Keita is simply not very good at following in his footsteps, so that surely Ryusei will work out differently (the kids are only 6!). His second impulse is that there is no way that Yudai and Yukari can give any boy a decent start in life, so schemes to get custody of them both (until his wife intervenes).

So what they decide to do is have the boys visit their proper families for a while, to see how things take, and to ultimately have each boy return permanently to his real parents and break all ties to the family he had grown up with. Keita gets the better part of this deal, as it is rather a lot of fun to be with Yudai, and having siblings is quite a revelation. Poor Ryusei is a bit lost - Midorino (his mum) works hard but he is not used to having an absent father or no siblings and living in an upstairs apartment with no local play areas. But his expectations for Ryoto to be more like the dad he knows help to get Ryoto into a more playful mood. I guess it helps that Ryusei is even worse than Keito at the things Ryoto expected them to succeed at but ultimately, Ryoto finds that he misses Keito.

Of course, Ryoto has some ground to make up (Keito is never given any explanation as to why he has been sent to live with this family of amiable strangers) and, as with Mud, I wondered if Ryoto was actually up to the task.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Bright Star, a movie by Jane Campion

In the three years before his untimely death in 1821, John Keats was in love with Fanny Brawne: he saw her as "the very symbol of beauty, the reconciliation between real life and his poetic". Although there are those who say that it is impossible to write well while in the throes of deep emotion (Thomas Mann for example), Keats probably needed this emotional life in order to flower as a poet: his last poems are often said to be his very best.

This movie shows these last three years, although the primary point of view is that of Fanny: we are never with Keats without her, and when he goes away (to the Isle of Wight and then, ultimately, to Italy) we stay in Hampstead with Fanny. Indeed, there are a couple of suggestions made that Fanny is the Bright Star of the title, and for Keats she probably was, but is she the Bright Star of the poem?

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.

It seems more like he himself wants to be the Bright Star, which given his illness and the death of his brother at about the time he wrote it, makes sense.

Anyway, the movie starts with Fanny, we see her at her work in which she takes a good deal of pride and seems to be very skilled
It soon gets to their meeting. Although there is talk of Keats as a bit of a joker, the movie seems content to make this point by having him play an initial joke, but then tends towards the serious and sombre. One other moment of humour comes in these early scenes. Keats has just published Endymion. To make the point of its lack of commercial virtue, a bookseller moans that he has ordered 20 copies when he is unlikely to sell any. Fanny sends her sister in to get one, so that "she can read it first to see if he is an idiot or not". Of course, there is plenty of poetry recited, as well as talk of how poetry is: Keats basic take is that it must come naturally or one is not a poet.

Poor old Keats: at about half an hour in, he says he is not sure if he has the right feelings towards women, is suspicious of his feelings, is attracted to Fanny without knowing why, says "all women confuse me" has in reality only ever loved his sister.

This idea of Keats having no money is a constantly repeated motif: he and Fanny's mother seem agreed that since Keats can't provide for Fanny, they cannot marry. Mum thinks that, really, they should not spend so much time together, as people are talking. Keats' apparent best friend, John Brown, also thinks they should be apart, but his concern is that she will interfere with his writing.

He might have his own aspirations where Fanny is concerned: although he tends to run her down and joke at her expense (such as her liking of Milton's rhymes in Paradise Lost: he later makes the point there are no rhymes), he does send an ill-advised valentine, which seems to catalyse things between Fanny and Keats.

But this episode makes things clear for Keats: he talks in terms of a holiness of the heart's affections and they take on the quality of an established item from that time on, taking nice walks on the heath and doing what comes naturally.
Keats goes away to the Isle of Wight to earn some money: Fanny gets a right grump on, is totally miserable without him or any letters, can't get out of bed for five days
"Is this love ... so sore I believe I could die of it". But he redeems himself, writes a letter in which he confesses he wishes they were butterflies, to live but three summer days with her would have more delight than fifty common years could ever contain. He does get a bit heavy: says she has destroyed his freedom, can't enjoy himself properly as weighed down with memory of her and her absence but this doesn't seem to trouble her - she fills her room with butterflies. I think this scene shows a lot with no words being said: Fanny brings her work into Keats' workspace and just placidly sits down, despite the concerns raised about her attachment and its unsuitableness.
(Not that Brown stays long or Keats stays working long! It is no time after that that Brown has Abigail (the maid) pregnant.) But well, it is not to last: Keats comes in out of a storm with a chill, and I knew enough of his history to know that this marked the final act of his life (about 40 minutes from the end) - he gets packed off to Italy for the summer and never returns. Of course, Fanny is as much help to him as she can be, can't give up on him (Brown gets in the way somewhat) and, if only it were possible, would have gone to Italy with him (not even Brown does!). Had a wee tear: at his last meal in London, mum says "Come back, live with us, marry our Fanny" even while wondering if mum knew it was a fairly safe thing to say. Keats is more aware "I doubt we will see each other again on this earth". Pretty sure Fanny suggests they spend this last night together: he is all "I have a conscience". It is kind of nice that this is the last we see of them

The record of Fanny's appearance has her as blue eyed, sallow, somewhat thin in the face - Abbie Cornish doesn't look much like her,
but I could fully get that he'd fall fer her. There is a point at which Fanny is playing outside with her family, with Keats looking out at them:
I fully shared the simple joy and pleasure he took in the scene. I also felt some of her grief when she finally got the news which had to come.
She looked absolutely stunning in mourning, but:
To have her walk the heath reciting his Ode to a Nightingale seemed the absolutely way to finish this marvellous movie.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

I loved this movie; I found it completely satisfying and well rounded. It started off on a disconcerting note; a schoolboy of 11 or 12, Simon, 

takes the daily milk for his classmates to the classroom, and finds his schoolteacher has hanged herself in the schoolroom. M Lazhar is obviously a man for the main chance: before the position is advertised, he has presented himself for the job, referring to 16 years of teaching in Algiers as his main qualification. His background is fed to us throughout the movie: suffice it to say that he has a traumatic in Algiers and is seeking asylum in Quebec. That is in the background, however: the focus is on him fitting in to the new environment

and of the kids and their teachers dealing in their own ways with Martine's death. He is very old-school, makes the pupils do dictation and, what's worse, from an author as outmoded as Balzac. Apparently there has been a sea-change in grammatical terminology: one pupil takes to chiding M Lazhar for talking about possessives and pronouns. 

He is also told in no uncertain terms by his principal that touching of pupils, whether to give them a clip round the head, a hug or to apply sunscreen on a school outing. This becomes a major notion in this film, as several kids clearly come to need the comfort of a hug. It is also used to round out one of the minor characters, the PE teacher, Gaston, who comes across as a whistle-blowing moron - but the whistle has become a symbol for the inability to touch students: as he says, it isn't much help to him when he has to assist a pupil on the pommel horse.

But the two key characters are M Lazhar and Alice. 

No, this is not one of those movies where something dodgy happens. He is a very courtly gentleman, dealing in an incredibly dignified way with hos own troubles, troubles he never shares with anyone, least of all his pupils; she is a young girl dealing with the grief of a dead teacher and an absent mother (she is an airline pilot; there's no mention of a father). The relationship which develops between her and M Lazhar is pure and beautiful, just as you might hope it would be between a kid just starting to deal with the adult world and her teacher. Simon is in there is well; he and Alice are friends and the only two pupils who actually saw Martine hanging, but things are more complicated with him, as he carries a heavy burden of guilt for Martine's death. There is no tidy end to this movie: it ends as things end in life, with some good stuff happening and some not so good stuff.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Hour with Anthony McCarten (Auckland readers & Writers Festival 2012)

I've never read anything by Anthony MCarten, hardly even heard of him, but the sound of one of his books drew me in. He had a brilliant quote, one which could have gone down well in the session on the future of the novel: "Writing is about working out the music people dance to". Apparently he sells much better in Germany than in New Zealand: he has been compared there to Gunter Grass and he won a youth literature prize in nearby Austria. He's an interesting looking fellow, I could somehow see that he was once someone who desperately wanted to be a rockstar
The book that won him the Austrian prize, Death of a Superhero, is about a teenager facing death and who copes by drawing a comic featuring a superhero.
It was set in New Zealand, but when it came time for the movie, funding arrangements meant that the film was set in Ireland. The book was then re-published with the setting moved to England. There was simply no audience for him in New Zealand so, as he frankly admitted, he shifted the action to make some money. He finished his session with the wry comment that there are more people in the room than have ever bought his books: I for one was in the room and have now bought one. I'm not that fussed about reading this first one, to be honest, but I want to read the sequel so will take a look. McCarten was at the Festival because he has two books out this year, and they really couldn't be more different from each other.

The first of his two books, Brilliance, is a non-fiction work. It was originally over six hundred pages but he couldn't get anyone to publish it.McCarten says he loved it so much he screwed it up. Oddly enough, doing a stage version led to him finding a 150 page version which has been published:
It is the story of the relationship between Thomas Edison and JP Morgan.Edison was, of course a genius and a man of ideals - the book explores the fragility of ideals: McCarten describes him as a living saint who brought so much to the world, but also a very complicated man, as he brought us the electric chair along with the light bulb and gramophone. Apparently he was somehow complicit in the death of five men, through the electric chair, but showed no moral concern: McCarten's project is to "impose a sense of guilt on him".

At the same time, he points the finger at Morgan for subverting Edison's purity, by commercializing his impulse to create. Morgan is a "superstar of usury" but also someone who apparently genuinely believed in the redemptive powers of bankers, and thought they should rule the world! But then he did organise the banks to stop a run in 1907. Wikipedia has a good story:
In the early days of the American Civil War Morgan financed a scheme, known as the "Hall Carbine Affair", that purchased 5,000 dangerously defective carbines being liquidated by the U.S. Government at a cost of $3.50 each. The rifles were later resold to the government as new carbines lacking the safety flaw at a cost of $22. The audacity of the scheme included not only the $92,426 loss by the government and the selling of weapons known to maim their operators to an army in need of firearms, but the guns were also sold prior to ownership, thus the guns were paid for with money from their sale back to the government.
He's a complicated fellow: along with a desire to make it unnecessary for Americans to leave the country, he endowed museums and a hospital (although this was apparently so a girlfriend could get an abortion).

McCarten spent a fair amount of time talking about Morgan's nose, not for business but his actual nose, which was purple and deformed, "hugely ugly". He refused to have it repaired, as it served as a useful litmus test for people's opinions of him: he wore his nose with a "mad bravado". The nose apparently saved him millions. Instead of mirrors, he surrounded himself with very attractive young men to serve as a more appropriate reflection.
His other book out this year, In the Absence of Heroes, is the sequel to Death of a Superhero. The Listener says it is "damned fine",  "witty, humane and dazzlingly clever" with a strong plot and superb dialogue (reflecting McCarten's prior life as a screenwriter, no doubt). It is the father's response, a year on, to the death of one son and the disappearance of another into a virtual world. Dad despairs at a world in which its chief architect seems not to have a clue. The son has become an online entrepreneur and owns a virtual strategy game of some sort. To get close to his son, dad has to play the game, fight his way through the ranks. The irony is that McCarten is a virtual "loser" who always gets knocked out of contention in the first round. He didn't say much more about the book, but reviews reveal that the Mum also takes off on a virtual grief-spree, so Dad has to work out to bring her back as well. As other authors at the Festival have said, while this is an essentially sad story, there is humour and comedy, because that is realistic.

One inspiration was technology, how we have gone from books as friend replacements to computers, and particularly the consumerisation of technology, how we are told to want things we don't need. He called this a "gigachange" and explores what impact these new toys have on our lives. One suggestion is that teenagers have forsaken sex and flocked to facebook, which is "industrialised friendship". It is not all bad, however: the time kids spend in online gaming environments means they are gaining real skills, in problem solving and co-ordination. Another is that technology allows us to do what we always wanted to do. He also postulated an amusing reverse scenerio, in which Gutenberg invented the iPad in the 15th century and then Apple in the 21st century invented the hardcopy, paper based "iBook".

The session finished on an odd note, with a question from the audience as to why he is so popular in Germany. Rather than answer himself, McCarten passed the question to a group of German journalists - they said it was (a) because McCarten bothered to tour there and (b) they found the book "touching".

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Future of the Novel (Auckland Readers and Writers Festival 2012)

This was another session featuring Emily Perkins, in which she was joined by Jeffrey Eugenides to talk about how the novel is faring. Jolisa Gracewood was chair and kicked things off by describing The Marriage Plot as an "ultimately compassionate" novel, but recursive in that it is a novel about love for those who love novels. There is, of course, also a character (Madelaine) reading books about love ans writing a thesis about it: Eugenides said he had tried to put extracts in the novel but found it hard to write anything "that bad but smart" so gave up. Later in the session, he said that James Woods had described him as "hysterically realistic": apparently not intended as a slight, but not clear as to its meaning. I think it is just a reference to the heightened sense of reality you get in his novels: I still remember his descriptions of Detroit in Middlesex. As for Perkins, Jolisa said she is a sharp and experimental writer, "Katherine Mansfield on Ecstasy".

As is to be expected, there was a fair amount of talk about the place of marriage: Eugenides said that when Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina, if a marriage came to an end, that would have enormous significance, and thus marriage could form the basis of a novel. Today, Anna would just move to Santa Barbara and become a therapist. That takes a lot of the sting out of marriage, but desire remains a central moving impulse, which sets up the sort of dramatic tension that gives life to a novel. He spoke of a student who had tried to write a piece involving an asexual person, but had to give up the project because it is impossible to create dramatic situations without desire (I have reason to think otherwise). Emily's take was that sadness and regret are important, as they turn into desires which will drive the novel along. Both spoke of how comedy will often come out of any great tragedy, there's a kind of seamless transition between the two in life, and a good novel will do the same. I was thinking of this in a later session, where Rhys Darby seemed to suggest that comedians had some sort of monopoly on funny writing.

In her earlier session, Emily had said that she like to be experimental but in this one, talking about how novels function, she said you can't take this too far, as you still need to hold out a hand to the reader, provide us with narrative: the experience will be best if readers enter into the life of the novel and find it better than real life. This resonated with something Charlotte Wood had said about her first novel, that it had lots of landscape and images and no plot, which made it unsellable. Emily teaches writing: she used a couple of phrases I can imagine her using in the classroom, saying that a novel involves "hot noticing", so that it conveys sensation and creates an environment for the reader.Eugenides chimed in to talk about the need for characters to have passions, so readers can identify them, which can make it tricky for the author as he or she might have quite a lot of learning to do to portray that passion (in his case, he had to bone up on cell biology).

Both revealed an interest in theory: despite his satire of the dominance of theory in the 1980's, Eugenides would love more academic readings of his work: he prefers investigation to "journalistic simplicity". He did take a crack at the theorists' views as to the death of the novel, saying that novels keep coming out, current students are not pre-occupied with its death, although the future of the novel does appear to be unpunctuated.

There was a fair amount of talk about technology, both their individual use of technology and how technology might be affecting the form of the novel.Eugenides said his dad was keen to help his career as a writer get started, so bought him a very early form of a word-processor, a Kaypro II:
He only used it to humour his dad, but it did mean he was an early adopter. He mentioned how he now works in an office with no internet: Emily said "they can see you working, sitting on the other side of the internet". Well, I thought it was funny. She had an odd tale to tell, she wasn't even sure if it had happened, but apparently her mum had been a secretary, and when she got married her first act was too throw her typewriter away, off a bridge. Emily herself actually still uses a typewriter - when she went to London, she was off to Camden market to get one. Now, she uses one to get started. She finds a sense of authenticity in using analogue writing tools, typewriters, sharp pencils, paper.

With computers, description is more dense, as they make rewriting so much less laborious. Asked what the future shape of the novel might be, they were a bit stumped, but jokingly suggested a sort of crowd-sourced wikinovel which would never be finished (and thus the novel would never die). An audience member wanted to know what the novel would be like for the Twitter generation: Eugenides "I'm getting depressed". Ultimately they both said that people are still engaging with the written word, although Eugenides mused over whether we now have the opportunity to get so bored that we get absorbed in a novel.

The session finished with a laugh. Eugenides said something about the hort story being the ultimate post-colonial form, allowing everyone to write as if prime minister of their domain. Perkins chipped in: "I am sure we are all looking forward to John Key's stories".

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An Hour With Roddy Doyle (Auckland Writers' Festival 2012)

Everyone knows who Roddy Doyle is: he has been in my life ever since The Commitments, and I have read several of his books as well as seen the movies. This didn't stop me frantically acquiring copies of several books after seeing him (Paula Spencer and Bull-Fighting are both new to me and it can't hurt to get reacquainted with the Barrytown Trilogy and The Woman Who Walked into Doors.
He opened his session with an answer to Brian Edward's question about his 10 rules for writing - this picked up on a piece in the Guardian where this question was asked of several authors (I see Geoff Dyer, who is in the Auckland Festival this year, was also asked). A couple of his rules relate to temptation: you don't want a photo of another author in sight, because (a) you don't want to romanticise writing which is a tough game and (b) they might be an inspiration to drunkeness or madness (in the Guardian, he specifically mentions suicidal authors) but you do need to allow limited temptations: a few websites, going out to hang out the washing (also important because these sorts of daily tasks will also be the daily life of any character). In a very quotable comment about a potential biography, he said he divides his time "between Dublin and confusion". I liked what he said about a thesaurus: while it is an obvious writerly tool, it ought not be too accessible, for two reasons. First, you need to back yourself and find your own words and second, often you don't need the variety offered by a thesaurus. There was quite a lot of discussion of the technical aspects of writing and of editing - possibly reflecting Edwards' own interests.Unlike Sebastian Barry, he has no problem with critics, they're part of the job, but he does draw the line at writing endorsements of books which have yet to be written.

But there was also plenty of book talk, going back to The Commitments, which he had wanted to call The Partitions but that would have had local resonances and meant nothing elsewhere.There had been an earlier novel, Your Granny is a Hunger Striker (a title he borrowed from a heckler) which is still in a drawer, never to be published, because it was "shite". On the other hand, he captured the voice of women in The Woman Who Walked into Doors so well that a woman from a domestic violence survivors group accused him of getting inside her fecking head. There was a question about Paddy Clark's violence: it is because he is a boy, so things like torturing animals and setting brothers on fire comes naturally: they're not boys if they're not kicking cats, sticking fireworks up the rear end of dogs, bullying or being bullied. He was not your normal boy, however, and survived boyhood by being the jester (something he shares with Rhys Darby, it seems).

The reading was one of the short stories in Bullfighting, all of which feature men of a certain age, going through mid-life angst. One stands out as being something of a departure for Doyle, "Blood", which led him to say he'd love to write a mad, big vampire book - inspired by the fact he walks past Bram Stoker's house every day.  

The story he read, "Animals", is a dark wee tale involving the family pets which ended with a bit of a snap, which all good short stories ought.On the way through, there was plenty to laugh at, particularly the various substitutions made for certain short-lived fish and birds.