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what swerves

Updated: 2018-03-07T11:09:20.687+11:00


Picture books in France - SLPJ 2014


From vengeful rabbits to playing with guns, the picture books given to French children have a reputation for being uncompromisingly scary – further proof that the French do not coddle les enfants, even at story time.While it’s true that the French embrace topics and styles that more timid Anglophone picture book publishers would reject, right now, France is producing some of the finest books for children in the world. The best – and there are many too choose from – are visually sophisticated, quirky, funny and daring. And at the Salon du livre et de presse jeunesse in Montreuil, which I was fortunate to visit in November 2014, you can see it all. Timothee de Fombelle (seated, right)When it comes to promoting of books and reading there is nothing in Australia like the SLPJ. This bustling six-day program of book market, exhibitions, author appearances, signings, panels, debates, projections and more attracted 160,000 visitors, most of them children and teenagers. Celebrating its 30th year, the Salon brings plenty of attention to children’s book at exactly the right time of year and does so with a mighty bang - with 450 exhibitors.Casterman, just one of 450 exhibitors. Publishers also retail from their displays.Every publisher worthy of their colophon exhibits here: the big like Flammarion, Gallimard and Casterman (publishers of Tintin); the edgy independents like Editions Thiery Magnier and Editions Fourmis Rouges; and icons like l‘ecoles les loisirs (celebrating 50 years in 2015) and Albin Michel Jeunesse. There are specialist art book publishers (yes, for children) and specialist human rights publishers (yes, also for children); and the national library promotes its programs for professionals. This is the epicenter of French book publishing for children and teenagers. (A full list of exhibitors here.)Saturday crush for 'une dedicace'Authors appearing included Quentin Blake (also featured in large and beautiful exhibition), Meg Rosoff, Cathy Cassidy and local heroes including Pénélope Bagieu and Timothee de Fombelle, author of the brilliant Toby Alone. de Fombelle's new novel, Le livre de perle, won Best European YA novel in the Salon's awards. Hundreds of authors appear, and even more illustrators, since having your book ‘signed’ with original artwork, une dedicace is de rigueur. But there is something just as important as the commercial and cultural side to the Salon, and which gives the event its soul: that is the connection to community. The strong relationship between the Salon du livre et de la presse jeunesse, the local government, the national government and the publishing industry that makes the event so successful. This is the second major French book festival I have attended, and Australian publishing could learn a lot from this kind of integrated planning and promotion that makes SLPJ so successful. It was also striking to see how warmly the publishing people I met embraced the Salon: they genuinely enjoyed being a part of it, meeting their customers and their colleagues. Thirty years on, this one has a lot energy and purpose.Posters appear in all the Metro linesMontreuil is in the east of Paris and just beyond the peripherique, that sometimes real, sometimes imaginary line that marks the start of the banlieue, the suburbs. So imagine a book festival in Braybrook or Dandenong or Blacktown. The Seine-St Denis local government, which supports the SLJP, is among the most left-wing districts in Paris. It’s home to many thousands of Malian migrants (it’s sometimes called Little Bamako), with more than 100 languages spoken.Outside SLPJ, Montreuil, in Seine St Denis“Montreuil is always a fight”, one foreign rights agent confided to me. What she meant is, that it is always a fight to get respect, to get the resources, to get the media coverage for this major celebration. In director Sylvie Vassolo, the Salon has a leader prepared to stand up for children’s books. Politics is in her blood and her training: prior to leading SLPJ, Sylvie Vassolo headed the national union of Communist[...]

In search of a word


When this song popped out of my iPod last night, I was in the next room. Something about the tone of the music carried and made me hear for the first time. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Having never really understood the text, I went looking for a translation. A quick scan of the google pointed only to the French lyrics, which was handy but only took me so far as my French could flatteringly be described as beginner to immediate. There is sure to be an English version of two (million) out there, but translating and playing around did keep me from the TV and a documentary about an over-rated Australian pub band that somehow had a bunch of hits. It seems the title is something of a paradox, and resists literal translation. (The lyrics of Je t'aime moi non plus don't make much literal sense, but nobody complains about that.)Fuir le bonheur de peur qu’il ne se sauve was written by Serge Gainsbourg and sung by Jane Birkin. The song was written in the wake of their break-up, a parting gift, and released in 1983.Like its title, Fuir le bonheur de peur qu’il ne se sauve resists surrendering its passport to English pop. What is it? (Let's not call it a certain je ne sais quoi.) The bittersweet quality of the lyric is in the DNA of the song. The tension between the song and the singer is part of it: the lover telling the loved to flee, run away. An abject, adolescent response (a fear of intimacy?), might be all that such a stance could offer turns transcendent. If the song has a counterpart in English, then perhaps something like Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen might come closest. To my ears there is an intensity to the melody and the lyric that all Serge.Catherine Deneuve read the text at Serge Gainsbourg's funeral. Serge Gainsbourg died in 1991.There are numerous versions of Fuir le bonheur on YouTube, filmed over many years. In a late version, the television audience stands when Jane Birkin enters the studio, and again at the song's end. I saw Jane Birkin perform at the Recital Centre in 2012. She sang this song, accompanied by a Japanese quartet. Wonderful.I have no doubt taken taken liberties with the translation. Apologies for the clunks. Fuir le bonheur de peur qu’il ne se sauveSerge GainsbourgFlee happiness lest it should disappearThat the azure sky turn purpleTo think or move on to other things,Would be better.Flee happiness lest it should disappearAnd say there is an ‘over the rainbow’Always higher than the sun above.Glorious to believe in the heaven, To believe in godsEven when all seems terrible to usAnd in our hearts are blood and fire.Flee happiness lest it should disappear,Like a little mouse in an alcove cornerSense the tip of its pink tailIts eyes ablaze.Flee happiness lest it should disappearAnd say there is an ‘over the rainbow’Always higher than the sun aboveGlorious to believe in the heaven, To believe in godsEven when all seems terrible to usAnd in our hearts are blood and fire.Flee from happiness lest it should disappearTo see, sometimes to wish, to be safe from cryingWho knows the depth of things is unhappyTo believe in heaven, To believe in godsEven when all seems terrible to usAnd in our hearts are blood and fire.Flee from happiness lest it should disappearTell me you love me, again, if you dareI would like that you find other things, Better thingsFlee from happiness lest it should disappearAnd say there is an ‘over the rainbow’Always higher than the sky above Glorious.(translation, Mike Shuttleworth)Fuir le bonheur de peur qu'il ne se sauve(Words and music by Sere Gainsbourg)Fuir le bonheur de peur qu'il ne se sauveque le ciel azuré ne vire au mauvepenser ou passer à autre chosevaudrait mieuxfuir le bonheur de peur qu'il ne se sauvese dire qu'il y a over th[...]

Bedsit disco queen


Late in 2012 I was asked by the good people at Readings to review Bedsit Disco Queen, Tracey Thorn's memoir of a life in music. The brief was to review it 300 words. For What Swerves I have added some links to videos, interviews and websites. A wonderful book - buy it!Bedsit Disco QueenTracey ThornVirago pbk $32.99Picture this. You’ve just had your breakout album and the career trajectory looks set for the stratosphere. Out of the blue, the management of U2 wants you to support them on a stadium tour of the USA. Would you take it? Tracey Thorn, one half of Everything But the Girl, never wanted to be a pop star. Starting out in the immediate post-punk era when the destroying the joint was de rigeur, fame was not the point.It is this moment of temptation that provides the pivot for Bedsit Disco Queen, Thorn’s skillful examination of her long career, the post-punk period, the pursuit of success, and what life feels like when success goes away. While Tracey Thorn doesn’t shake the cabinets like Adele, she remains one the finest voices British pop has produced in the past 50 years. And that voice has been there, like a fingerprint, since her first recordings with the Marine Girls, (sessions recorded in a garden shed), through six EBTG albums and the tracks with Massive Attack that reset her musical compass. Bedsit Disco Queen coolly examines her inner-life, her ‘tomboy looks’, bouts of stage-fright, and her development as an artist. The memoir is also crammed with stories. Such as when Paul Weller rang the young Tracey and Ben to arrange to play at their gig at London’s ICA*. They were still at university in Hull and didn’t own a telephone. So they waited for Weller - who was then about as famous as he would ever get - to call them at a phone-box on the corner. Spinal Tap, Thorn contends only half-joking, is more a documentary than a comedy. Thorn holds steadfast to post-punk values of the personal-is-the political, yet stops short of being sentimental about it all. Readings do a great mail order: you can buy the book here.Ian Wade at The Quietus has a wonderful interview with Tracey and Ben, to mark the reissue of the first four Everything But the Girl albums. Well worth reading.Tracey Thorn's website.Bedsit Disco Queen revisits key periods of her Thorn's life and career. Below is a selection of my favourite songs.Plain Sailing appears on Tracey's solo album and The Marine Girl's Lazy Ways. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />These Early Days from the Idlewild album: Tracey in fine voice, Ben in a shocking pullover that even he seems embarrassed to wear. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />In soul queen mode: Love is Here Where I Live allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Everything But the Girl could always swing a good cover version: Simon and Garfunkel's Only Living Boy in New York. Film clip directed by Hal Hartley. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />With Massive Attack.  allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Safe at home: the solo years. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Happy days!*The miracle of the internet[...]

And the beat goes on


This time last year I translated a summary of annual bande dessinée sales activity in France. Lo and behold, the good people of have posted the 2012 report by the Association of Bande Dessinee Journalists and Critics (l'ACBD).It would appear that despite the stalling economy of France, and of Europe more generally, activity in graphic novel publishing, buying and reading remains reasonably healthy, though the stagnant economy is not without implications for the industry.In the interests of spreading the word about bande dessinée to English language readers, here's my translation of the toutenbd summary. If you would prefer the original text, you can read it here in French.Bande dessinnee 2012: proliferation and polarisationThe annual meeting of the Association of Critics and Journalists of Bande Dessinée has again noted the increased number of books published but also that four publishers largely dominate the sector.The traditional annual report from the general secretary of the Association of Critics and Journalists of Bande Dessinée (ACBD) Gilles Ratier, has been handed down for 2012. For the seventeenth consecutive year the number of books (albums) published has increased: 4.28% growth from 2011, to 5,565 books published in 2012, of which 4,109 were new titles.The growth of new titles is in four distinct areas: Franco-Belgian bande dessinée; manga; American comics (genre comics); graphic novels and experimental books, creating a more complicated arrangement of titles and presentation of albums in bookshops, Gilles Ratier reported.Eighty-nine series or complete works of authors succeeded in selling more than 50,000 copies (ten less than for 2011) and providing the industry's core sales. The five highest sales are: one million copies of volume 13 of Titeuf by Zep (published by Glénat); 450,000 sales for the fifth Lucky Luke by Daniel Pennac, Tonino Benacquista and Achdé (Lucky Comics); 440,000 copies of Largo Winch, volume 18, by Jean van Hamme et Philippe Francq (Dupuis); 440,000 copies of Blake and Mortimer, volume 21, by Yves Sente and André Juillard; and 350,000 sales for XIII, volume 21, by Yves Sente and Iouri Jigounov (Dagard Benelux). In regard to manga, it's no surprise that Naruto, with three new titles each selling 225,000 (Kana); One Piece with five books between 135,000 and 165,000 (Glénat) and Fairy Tale's six titles each selling 85,000 (Pika).As in previous years, the report notes a strong segmentation within the market: four groups - Delcourt (Akata, Tonkam, Soleil Manga and Quadrants), Media-Participations (Dargaud, Kana, Le Lombard, Dupuis, Graton, Blake and Mortimer, Lucky Comics, Fleurus/Edifa/Mame, Mediatoon Publishing, Huginn & Muninn, Urban Comics), Glénat (Comics, Disney, Mangas, Treize étrange et Vents d'Ouest) and Gallimard (Casterman, KSTR, AUDIE/Fluide glacial, Jungle, Denoel Graphic and Futuroplis) - dominating the production and activity in the sector with 44.87% of production, and that 326 publishers and/or imprints published bande dessinee in 2012 (against 316 in 2011).Once again, development around digital publishing of bande dessinee is very cautious, so that those concerned with digital publishing more concerned with creating digital imprints (Iznéo, digiBiDi, etc) than the creation of purely digital content (Plumzi, for example).The legal access progressed less quickly than the pirate copies (10,000 titles are easily accessible according to the l'Observatoire du livre et de l'ecrit en Ile-de-France) with hardly 6,000 available. On the other hand, crowd-sourcing is established with Sandawe (28 projects drawing together half-a-million euros), My Major Company (17 projects, 172,000 euros) and Ulule (14 projects, 26,000 euros) who come together and are launching print publications.Buzzcomics draws on the l'ACBD report to show the extent of events for Franco-Belgian comics,  including festivals, fairs, markets. They note that in francophone Europe in 2012,[...]

Krakow Bound


I wasn't planning to go to Poland. But about eight weeks ago the opportunity came up to attend a conference as part of Reading Malopolska, exploring Cities of Literature networks. Krakow, Poland's 'second city', after capital Warswaw, is bidding for UNESCO City of Literature status. Melbourne was awarded this title about three years ago.So last week I spent three days in Krakow, in the company of City of Literature representatives. I went wearing my Melbourne Writers Festival hat, to see about developing contacts with other cities and people as part of this group. You can see a nice video summary here.Now there are six Cities of Literature: Edinburgh, Melbourne, Dublin, Iowa, Reykjavik and Norwich. Almost all English language cities, I'm sure you noted. But here comes a new wave of applicants from cities including Krakow, Naples, Heidelberg, Tartu and Prague among them.What is most interesting about the Cities of Literature is the different responses that each makes to the brief. In Melbourne thus far it has been mostly "top-down": the establishment of the Wheeler Centre being the flagship. But in Edinburgh, Dublin, Iowa and elsewhere, leaders have taken a vigorous grass-roots approach to the promotion of reading and to spreading an awareness of each city's literary heritage.Which brings us back to Krakow. Because if the city can boast anything, (though boasting isn't the style of this quiet, historic city), it's literary backstory. Krakow is home to two - count 'em - Nobel laureates, Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska, and a heritage stretching back a millennium at least. The challenge for the city's cultural workers is figure out how to move forward without dispatching this extraordinary heritage. A country whose own political heritage has been so disrupted might well be anxious how 'modernisers' try to re-define Polish literature to the world. The conference organisers were acutely mindful of such anxieties, or the potential for such. But culture that exists only in a glass case is either dead or about to be so, and the opportunities for UNESCO recognition are an opportunity to revive the heritage, and take it outside the country. It might also be a platform for new writers to engage new audiences, at home and abroad and validate new endeavours.Krakow is a city of extraordinary cultural riches, not just literary. For one, there is a da Vinci painting Lady With an Ermine that you can see, relatively uncrowded, in a medieval castle. For two, there is the biggest medieval market square in Europe (beneath which you can wander in the 13th century foundations). And for three, there is the 14th century gothic altarpiece by Veit Stoss. A truly extraordinary work of religious art, with a backdrop of towering stained glass.Krakow is also the departure point for anyone wanting to go to Auschwitz, about 40 kilometres from the city. While I have absolutely no objection to anyone wanting to go the site of the concentration camp, I have no desire myself. I feel there are plenty of ways for me to understand and examine the realities and legacies of the genocide, but physically going there is not something I want to do. So it was quite some coincidence to discover a few days later in a bookshop (Foyles, in London), the graphic novel We Won't See Auschwitz by Paris-based Jeremie Dres. The book is a straightforward account of a trip taken by the writer and his brother to Poland in search their family's past. The illustration style appears simple, though it's nuanced and economical. I like the documentary approach. It's not without a few lighter moments, and the journey is presented without complication or need for artifice.Dres is relatively un-conflicted about not visiting Auschwitz, (spoiler alert: the title is not ironic, there is no surprise twist), since he discovers amid the suspicion of lingering anti-semitism, a new wave of endeavours to bring Jewish heritage and culture back to Poland. there are people working on hum[...]

Last words on Angouleme


This is an edited version of my report to the Copyright Agency Limited Creative Industries Career Fund. If you are an Australian working in the literature field, the CAL fund is well worth a look. Hey, they supported me!(The post was originally written in February 2011.)What is the Angouleme Festival?Any mention of comics and France inevitably leads to the same response: “Ah Asterix! Ah, Tin Tin!” The Festival International de la Bande Dessinee d’ Angouleme is Europe’s biggest comics event, attracting between 200,000 and 250,000 visitors, over four days. I went to the festival to see how comic book culture is presented and promoted in France. Angouleme, a large regional centre, is 2 ½ hours from Paris by train. Perhaps not coincidentally the SNCF, France’s national railway, is a major sponsor of the festival. It is the French comics industry’s major event and 2011 was the 38th festival. Marketing and public awarenessThe festival is both a celebration and a masterful promotion of la bande dessinee. (Bande dessinee means, literally, drawn stories.) Prizes highlight a wide range of themes and audiences, and are awarded on the final night,. The shortlist of 51 titles in a range of categories are heavily promoted in bookshops and beyond. The national retailer FNAC (think JB HiFi meets Borders meets Ticketmaster), is a major sponsor, devoting considerable shelf space and marketing muscle to the Prix d'Angouleme. National newspapers and magazines across the political and cultural spectrum run cover stories and some offer quite lavish supplements as tie-ins with the festival. Radio staion France Info broadcasts from the festival. The industry, its artists and readers, are taken seriously. News that Art Speigleman was this year’s Grand Prize winner, and therefore next year’s festival president, was widely reported in press and online.Angouleme is not a convention, or a fan-meet. In addition to major exhibitions of French and international comic book artists, there is also a rights market; meetings with artists; film screenings and projections, book signings; book sales (oh, my suitcase), and an incredible buzz throughout the town. Add to that an exhaustive schedule of in-conversations, panels and debates. 'Is Temeraire a little Nazi?'; 'Teaching BD in art school'; 'Lesbians and bande dessinee' 'Violence and manga'; 'Mainstream or indie - is it necessary to choose?' The signature event is the series drawing concerts, or Concert de Dessiné, where major illustrators draw live in concert with well known international music acts. The drawing concerts that I attended were strongly supported and appear to be an excellent way to broaden the audience for comic books and illustration. Four days was not enough to see and do everything this event has to offer.Being thereThe town of Angouleme is taken over by the festival. It impossible to forget why you are there unlike, say, a writer’s festival in a major city. Hotels are also impossible to obtain as they are reserved each year for publishers, exhibitors and professionals. Visitors to the festival can stay outside the town and ‘commute’, or do as I did and stay with a local family, booking via the tourist bureau. Staying with a local family actually proved very enriching - though I can see the potential pitfalls.So, where are the Australians?Despite the challenges of accommodation I urge and encourage other Australians to go to this festival. There appeared to be very few Australians at the festival. One young French publisher I spoke to believed that Shaun Tan is an American, despite the fact the Tan had won the Angouleme Prize for best album (book) in 2008 for The Arrival. An Australian stand in the Nouveau Monde marquee would be an excellent opportunity to display Australian output in comics and graphic novels. I believe it would be an opportunity for Australian comics producers to see what the rest of the world is doing. I [...]

There and back again


There and back again within a week. Usually a trip to France involves years of idle dreaming, months of detailed planning and weeks of anxious anticipation. But this one was different. This time, it was the festival organisers to whom the planning and anticipation fell. For me, it was mostly a matter of turning up and keeping my eyes an ears open. I was invited to represent the Melbourne Writers Festival at meetings for the Word Alliance, a network of major writers festivals, of which Etonnants Voyageurs is a part.The Word Alliance was embraced warmly by Etonnants Voyageurs, reflecting as it does, many of the values of the St Malo festival. The local media reported on the visit and canvassed that issues discussed at meetings.Michel Le Bris, Etonnants Voyageurs director, centre left. (Pic annual St Malo literature and film festival, Etonnants Voyageurs, is unlike any other. It is certainly a major event, pulling around 60,000 people over the four days (including a schools program that I missed) to it's broad offering of panels, readings, exhibitions, screenings, book market and more besides. And given the absolutely perfect weather that arrived in time for the long weekend. The spring that stubbornly failed to appear for months unrolled itself in one glorious long weekend of blue, blue skies and gentle breezes.At least, unlike any that you would find in Australia. I came away from the three days with the sense that this is very much an auteurs festival, auteur in the sense that the festival director firmly controls the direction of the event. As pointed to in the previous post, this festival takes as its purpose the task of widening the boundaries of 'French writing', which it redefines around the idea 'writing in French'. This immediately opens up the definition to include the many Francophone countries and cultures, and implicitly challenge the Paris as the bastion and tastemaker of literature. The 6th arrondissement is not the be all and end all of French writing.The idea of 'la France pluriel', multicultural, multi-ethnic France, is central to the festival's agenda. I discovered that Rennes, the nearby city and capital of the Brittany region, recorded the highest socialist vote, and lowest vote for far right candidates, in the recent election. A politically progressive literature festival has found a good home in the region.Like any good festival there was far more happening than one could hope to see. The main venue held a number of exhibitions, including a selection of grueling images under the banner Le bande dessinee speaks to the world. I could only describe the images as uncompromising, showing the violence and consequences of war and conflict in places like Chechnya, Rwanda and Cambodia. If you ever doubted that graphic novels could handle serious subjects here was a show to banish the doubt.Poets in French, Arabic, Spanish and Flemish were heard; novelists in French and American, humorists, travelers, photographers, directors, essayists, memoirists and more were on stage. The variety of venues, both in the conference centre and the theatres, cinemas and schools of St Malo gives the program a nicely varied and authentic quality. It was also a good excuse to explore the narrow streets within the walls.My trip was supported by the Institut Francais and the festival. Thanks to Emmanuel, Michel Le Bris, the logistics team and Word Alliance colleagues, from whom I learned a very great deal.And that amazing beach, once more. [...]

Grand amateur


Last year I was very fortunate to attend the comics festival in Angouleme. This year I am heading to St Malo for a few days to attend the Étonnants Voyageurs (Amazing Travellers) International Writers and Film Festival.

The event in Brittany is held over four days, including a schools day, from May 25-28. The Melbourne Writers Festival is part of a group called the Word Alliance, a network of leading literary festivals that includes Edinburgh, Toronto, Jaipur, Beijing and St Malo. My trip is to meet with the directors of other festivals (although I am a program manager, not the director!), and to plan ways that we can work together to create stronger programs and increase international participation.

It's fair to say that I am just a little bit excited. St Malo looks like an amazing place. It's the area where A Summer's Tale by Eric Rohmer, one of my favourite films was shot.

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St Malo is a few kilometers from Mont St Michel. Which I won't have time to visit. Dommage.

And the festival looks amazing! It's held within the walls of St Malo, great solid granite walls that were substantially damaged in WWII, but have been restored. The program naturally has a very French flavour, though it's agenda is to challenge and extend the boundaries of what constitutes 'French' writing.  Lauren Elkin writing in The White Review gives a pretty perceptive take on the issues at stake and how the festival responds to them. Anyway, I am fascinated by the idea of a festival having an argument of sorts with its literary culture. So it will be more than interesting to see how this is played out. I look forward to meeting with the organisers of Étonnants Voyageurs and other Word Alliance festival folk.

The festival website provides bios for all people participating, and to my surprise, my name is there. But don't worry French people, I won't be giving any talks. Your ears are safe. But it is funny, sort of, to see myself described as 'grand amateur'. Quoi?

Bande dessinée by numbers


The excellent, the French website dedicated to all things French graphic novels, recently posted the annual health check of the industry. Despite the economic straits France finds itself in, the comics industry continues to grow. While the overall picture seems quite healthy, a closer look reveals a more interesting picture. And students of the Australian publishing sector will certainly draw some parallels with our colleagues francaise.Being on holiday and at something of a loose end, I have written a translation of the article, and added links. were contacted for permission but have not yet replied. You can read the original version at the website.In the meantime, allons-y!Bande dessinee is 2011: the boom of the sure thingThe annual meeting of the Bande Dessinée Critics Association (Association de critiques et tournalistes de bande dessinée) noted again this year the growth of the production of albums (books) -- but with the caution that publishers are supporting the safe bets.The traditional annual report from Gilles Ratier, the general secretary of the Bande Dessinée Critics Association (ACBD) has been delivered for 2011.For the sixteenth consecutive year, the production of albums has increased: 3.04% against 2010; an increase of 162 titles, for a total of 5,327 albums. However the report noted "the economic conditions are hardly favourable for industry, which for three years has lacked a strong engine. Hence, we have a general climate of watchfulness, highlighting safety first and anxiety!"Watchfulness in effect because of the 5,327 albums only 3,841 are strictly new (of which only 1,577 originated in francophone Europe). The traditional publishing sector (le secteur patrimonial) is fully expanded, with 1058 new releases, compilations or bind-ups (980 in 2010), 224 woks dating from more than 20 years published finally in album and 31 francophone series reprised or continued by new creators.Watchfulness also because in 2011 on 99 "sure things" (valuers sûres), had sales of more than 50, 000 copies and bestowing the bulk of sales on this sector. At the head of these 'locomotives' are: XIII (500,000 copies); Kid Paddle (360, 000) and Boule et Bille (253,000). Counting manga, ten series (from five publishing houses) provided 50% of sales, Naruto at the head (250,000 copies of each of three titles in the series).Looking at publishing houses, 310 publishers produced bande dessinée in 2011. And yet the trend towards concentration is again confirmed: four groups accounted for 43.6% of production. With the acquisition of the majority share of the publisher Soleil by Guy Delcourt, Delcourt became by far the biggest producer of albums with 840 titles, being 15.77% of production.On the economic graph, the prize nevertheless gos to Médias-Participations group (Dargaud, Le Lombard, Dupuis, etc).The report noted the strong success of the bande dessinée blogs, which have become a "fishtank" (un vivier) for the print publications. On the other hand few were seduced by the e-book. And bande dessinée is always well exposed in the news stands, with 76 specialist journals.FINSo, thanks again to ACBD and ToutenBD. And apologies for all infelicities in 'la traduction'.[...]

Viewpoint again


The latest issue of Viewpoint: on books for young adults, includes my review of two recent graphic novels. Neither book fits easily into the received notion of 'graphic novel', which is probably why I like them so much. Thanks to Pam Macintyre and the team for publishing the reviews.A Taste of ChlorineBastien Vivès (Jonathan Cape, hbk)andRadioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie A tale of love and falloutLauren Redniss (It Books/HarperCollins) hbkA Taste of Chlorine (Goute de Chlore) by Bastien Vivès, the young Parisian writer/illustrator won the Revelation Award for best first book at Angouleme in 2009, Europe’s biggest comics festival. Simply put, A Taste of Chlorine is the story of a teenage boy ordered by his doctor to swim regularly to repair a damaged spine. At the pool, he comes into contact with a young woman who offers him advice on swimming technique and companionship. As their tentative relationship develops, companionship leans towards attraction.Most of the action takes place at the pool and in the water. Bastien Vives delights in depicting the body’s curves and lines in all its various positions, shapes and poses. What, after all, is swimming, if not contorting the body into striking shapes? All those aquatic blues and greens lend the book a certain cool mood, punctuated by the black ribbon of the lap lanes. The minimalism of the colour and location allows the viewer to attend more closely to the emotional exchanges, since below the surface however and emotional drama of subtly and force plays out. In this regard A Taste of Chlorine is a remarkable debut, a book where the artist shows us what he can do within the tight confines of setting. Vives exploits perspective and point of view with some authority. It is also a book that is long on visuals and lighter on text, but that doesn’t mean that viewers will simply skim the book (The act of swimming is not a language-based activity, so why not remove all but necessary language from the pages?) The drawing sometimes appears simple, even at times rudimentary, but this is somehow in keeping with the story’s unaffected emotional tone. One reads this book as one watches a film, where the dynamics of space and gesture are all important. Vives also neatly exploits the use of the ‘frame’ or panel as a way of isolating his characters. There are points where the panel behaves like the lanes of a pool, bringing the swimmers closer yet exquisitely resisting the shared moment so desired by the young man. A Taste of Chlorine does not give up its secrets easily. Perhaps it doesn’t need saying that the book will not be to everyone’s favour. But this quiet, deftly told drama challenges some received ideas of the graphic novel. The ending is enigmatic, open, and will have keen viewers returning again and again, to tease out the elusive relationship at the heart of the story. A Taste of Chlorine is also an example of the innovation that the French graphic novel, la bande dessinee, is capable of achieving, as artists and writers explore the creative potential of the form.Radioactive works differently. It’s a book relatively long on text and strictly speaking, is not really a graphic novel. Well, insofar as it does not use the panel structure to tell its story, and avoids speech balloons. But the life of Marie Curie, the remarkable scientist, is passionately communicated through sophisticated picture-making and bold page design. Again, the drawing style has a slightly ungainly, improvised manner, which is belied by the confident use of colour to shape mood and emotional response in the reader. After all, an account of a scientist whose major work was more a hundred years ago, may not immediately hold great interest for the reader today. That this world is remote gives way at the first glance of the endpapers. (Doubt st[...]



Libraryland is the result of Oslo Davis's creative fellowship at the State Library of Victoria in 2010.

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The subscription model - patrons underwriting a book's production - is just about as old as publishing itself. But, thanks to wonders of social media, pre-pub support has become a whole easier.

Oslo's comics in the Age always bring a chuckle or three around the kitchen table. More about Oslo here.

And more about State Library of Victoria creative fellowships here.

Dream of the thylacine


Two years ago I took a plane to Hobart and then a drive down to Huonville, there to meet Ron Brooks, one of Australia's finest book illustrators. I travelled with Sarah Brenan, Ron's editor. At the time Ron was finishing his memoir Drawn From the Heart, which covers his life in books. I wrote about that visit here.Throughout this year I have been contributing book reviews to Viewpoint, a quarterly magazine on young adult literature. The current issue includes this review of The Dream of the Thylacine, the latest collaboration between author Margaret Wild and illustrator Ron Brooks. In recent times it almost seems Ron Brooks’s picture books have been offered as rations, the patient readership grateful that there one more book is added to the canon. There is the generous, revealing and invaluable memoir Drawn From the Heart. And if it has been a while between picture books, still have the inexhaustible legacy of those books that made Brooks’s name and reputation as Australia’s finest picture book maker. The Bunyip of Berkeley Creek prepares to celebrate 40 weird and wonderful years, while John Brown, Rose and Midnight Cat (both texts by Jenny Wagner) remains as mysterious and affecting after 35 years. Children may grow up quickly, but great children’s picture books endure.For Fox (Allen & Unwin, 2000) Brooks created a set of searing images to depict Margaret Wild’s story of trust, betrayal and hope. Likewise, Old Pig, again the text by Margaret Wild, speaks not only of the vulnerable child, but to the knowing adult and to all readers that have lost a parent, a grandparent.“Who in the world am I?” wonders Alice as she navigates life down the rabbit hole. The bunyip echoes with a question of his own: “What am I?”What kind of creature was the thylacine? The unfortunate animal is no longer here for us to ask any such probing, so such questions will remain forever moot. Dream of the Thylacine sits somewhere between the lyricism of Old Pig and the raw power of Fox. Indeed the book swings between two worlds: the Edenic landscapes of Tasmania where the thylacine made its natural home, and the stark, punishing world the zoo, where the last known thylacine died in captivity. Either way, score one more masterpiece into a catalogue crowded with them.The thylacine is the most lamented, ironically the most celebrated, of Australia’s extinct fauna. We have a right to feel angry about this slaughter, not just misty-eyed. It’s pleasing the Brooks’s treatment of the story invites the reader to feel raw emotions, not merely the approved emotions. But what animals will pass from sight in our lifetime?                        Trapped am I,                        in a cage of twisty wire, cold concrete.                        PROWL                                    RAGE                        HOWLBrooks has not only created vivid, bristling landscapes. He has also set the text, re-built the simple words so that they grab the reader as pulsing Beat poetry. I like the way the text has been condensed, thickened up, made strong, in this design. It would have be too obvious and too easy to parcel those couplets evenly acros[...]

Carrying on


One of the many wonderful things that has come out of my visit to the Angouleme has been the opportunity to work with Bernard Caleo. Mild-mannered museum program officer by day; by nights and weekends Bernard is a comic creator, teacher, publisher and raconteur.

Bernard is currently running What It Is, a monthly program at Readings bookshop in Carlton, exploring the nature and diversity of comics today. Last month I climbed aboard the What It Is express, to revisit Angouleme. This was no ordinary presentation, certainly not your standard powerpoint click and chat, or two fine gentlemen stroking their chins for an audience of bored academics.

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What It Is combines storytelling, conversation, performance and humour. Readings bookshop hosts the event - it's free to attend - and makes everyone welcome with a glass or wine or two. This one also included comic writer/illustrator Brenton McKenna, whose first book Ubby's Underdogs was recently published.

Events like What It Is bring people together. Despite appearances I am not really a comic geek. I got into this area out of frustration that there is too little local production of comic book publishing for young people. (Hence the need to go to france, obviously.)  I am really pleased to have been able to share my little experience with Melbourne's comics community. Details of the next What It Is can be found here.

Bernard's blog has more photos, including his kamishibai on Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Check it out!

Autumn music


It has been said that greatest hits albums are like political careers, since both tend to end in failure. Stephen Duffy turns this truism on its head.Launching himself on the charts as Stephen 'Tin Tin' Duffy, in 1985, Kiss Me was a top five hit in the UK and top 20 in Australia. I remember rolling my eyes that someone would be so desperate to call himself Tin Tin, as if he had any call on this name. I carried on listening to The Smiths/Go-Betweens/Triffids/Chills/REM/etc. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="" width="425">In 1989 I left for a little trip overseas and my friend Jim Payne, late of Dada Records and always of impeccable taste, made a me a C90 with all sorts of things on: Julie Cruise, Devine and Stratton, Kitchens of Distinction...and this one. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="" width="425">Which I had pretty much forgotten about until I received Stephen Duffy's career sampler Memory & Desire: 30 Years in the Wilderness. I have been playing the two-CD set constantly, breakfast, lunch and tea, for the past couple of months.Hearing 'Lost Girl' after 22 years instantly set my feet tapping, taking imaginary walks around autumnal Hyde Park, Streatham High Street at Christmas, through spring to Kew Gardens and Southbank. It's a song I had forgotten, buried under the leaves, I suppose.I came back to Stephen Duffy and the Lilac Time by a curious route. In France in early 2008 I read review of the Lilac Time's Runout Groove album. Intrigued, I poked around a few record shops there and in London hoping to find it. No luck. So I forgot them, more or less, but something about that review stuck in my mind. So before we returned to France this year, I went in search of Runout Groove at iTunes. And there it was, $16.99, and no need to leave my study. While I was in France earlier this year, I listened to Runout Groove all the time. It was almost as though the intervening years hadn't happened. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="" width="425">Alexis Petridis at the Guardian reviewed the album here in 2007. In 2009 Caitlan Moran interviewed Duffy for The Times.Runout Groove is apparently the band's lowest selling record in a three-decade career where under-performing sales became the Lilac Time calling card. The album is loaded with poignant, personal and exquisitely crafted songs. Influences of Nick Drake, Incredible String Band and the Beatles linger but have been turned into something new and lasting. In the 1980s the Lilac Time were darlings of the indie scene, but that doesn't shift units. Not like the 2005 eight million-plus sales of Robbie Williams' Intensive Care, for which Duffy wrote or co-wrote most of the songs. Is that not one of the strangest musical alliances ever? The money he made working for Robbie Williams paid for Runout Groove.Strange is the word that best describes Duffy's career. He left formed Duran Duran in 1978 and left just as they were getting their flounce on. Showed up briefly in the electro-pop period with a song leaning heavily on the Song of Solomon. Became a Peel favourite, swapping record companies like football cards, formed a band with violinist Nigel Kennedy, moved to Alaska, crashed, returned to England, wrote and toured the world with Robbie Williams, all the time piling up songs and albums that the world largely ignored. He even has an album titled Keep Going (1993). And many of the best songs are gathered up on Memory and Desire.Duffy reflects in the film Memory and Desire. "What would you call him? A maverick? An outsider? A cult? Or just a fai[...]

Three little gigs


Gig one:On Wednesday 4 May, I will be speaking with Meg Rosoff at the Wheeler Centre. It's a free event but bookings are preferred. More information here.I am a bit of a fan of Meg Rosoff. Her first novel how i live now is a landmark book and a stunning debut. Rosoff worked on and off in advertising for about two decades before changing track with this extraordinary book. Her latest novel, The Bride's Farewell, keeps the standards high. It's a taut, gritty historical novel about a girl who flees from an arranged marriage and survives, somehow, in the fields and farms in C19th England.UPDATE: The Wheeler Centre posted the video of our conversation here.Gig two:On Saturday 14 May, I am giving the final curator's floor talk for Look! The art of Australian picture books today.Detail of illustration by Leigh Hobbs from Old Tom’s holiday, Little Hare Books, 2002, ink, pencil and watercolour on paper, State Library of VictoriaGig three:Then at the end of the May, Monday 30th to be exact, I am talking at Readings with Bernard Caleo as part of What It Is. This monthly comics event is a kind of an ideas laboratory for all things to do with comics, graphic novels, or in my case, bande dessinee. So I will be talking about Angouleme and what I know about French comics. Shouldn't take long.Bernard Caleo is the publisher of Tango, a comics anthology. He is brilliant at making comics, talking about comics, and performing comics, so I am looking forward to that. It's sure to be a unique experience. Also speaking on the night is Brenton McKenna, Broome-based comic writer and illustrator, whose book, Ubby's Underdogs comes out very soon. I met Brenton last year when he still working on this book so I am dying to see the final results. As my conversation with Bernard is around creating Australian comics Brenton's experience should be fascinating.[...]

Heavy Trash unload in France


This post is dedicated to the team at Rock Town Hall.

One of the highlights of the Angouleme Festival de la Bande Dessine were the Concerts des Dessines. Here's a taste of Heavy Trash, led by Jon Spencer, getting down to business.

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Jon Spencer speaks not only the worst French you have ever heard, but forgets the name of one of the premier illustrators. But heck, c'est la vie, c'est la pierre.

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The dignified guy with the silver hair is Baru, festival president. I have fallen just a bit in love with his work, which depicts working class men and their lives in an un-sentimental way, like the love child of Raymond Briggs and Paul Kelly. I like the way he draws, very tentative, feeling his way through to the character, nothing formulaic. Baru is joined by Chauzy and Flao.

Tour Baru's fantastic exhibition here.

But there is nothing stopping Jon Spencer, and when it all comes together at the end, well, it is indeed a very rock and roll moment. Or as the French say, un pur moment du rock and roll.

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This year the festival presented three concerts with drawing. I was lucky enough to see all three. Fatoumata Diawara, the Malian singer and her polished, nimble band appeared with illustrator Clement Oubebrerie, his gentle watercolour and ink pen lines occasionally showing something stronger and darker.

There is more video and Concerts des Dessines at the festival website. Areski Belkacem, sorry - I'm drawing a blank, led a band through a story titled Coup de Foudre (a sudden blow to the heart/falling heavily in love) that involved masked wrestlers, femmes fatales and cross-dressing to audience heavily loaded with school kids. Who loved every biff and clinch. The music was a slithery, rhythmic set that offered endless twists and surprises, a kind of rootsy, moorish funk.

Comics and music: who knew they could be so damned groovy?

Streets of Angouleme


Not all the artwork is found indoors, in galleries or in books during the Festival International de la Bande Dessinee.Here's a selection of street art and a couple of festival surfaces. Most of the street art was taken late on Saturday afternoon during a little walk through the town's narrow, winding streets. Even with the buzz of the festival, Angouleme is an attractive historic town. Limestone is the dominant building material and its widespread use makes the town feel ordered and calm. For me, having grown up around Fremantle, I found all this limestone quite evocative.Let's start with the big one. Rue Hergé is the main street of the town. Here's the man it's named after.Cheating a bit here as the illustration is part of the festival imagery, but part of the flavour.Again, the festival uses BD images to good effect.This one on a postbox appeared to be permanent. But not all course not all of the artwork is state approved.Someone I met while walking the ramparts.Another rampart dweller.Artists' studio doorsPaste-up on the window of an empty yard.And another, part of a cluster of paste-ups.This is found near the corner of Rue Froid and Rue du Soleil. At night the limestone walls of the Hotel de Ville became a giant projection screen.[...]

Careful, they might hear you


It's always a little anxious-making when I am being interviewed for radio. I'm never sure what crazy thing I might be tempted to say, what crazy kite I'm trying to cut free. Luckily being interviewed is an infrequent event.

Late last year I was interviewed about Look! by Sarah L'Strange for the Book Show on Radio National.

At one point I told her that I didn't read much adult fiction because it was so boring. Thankfully this piece of wisdom was left on the cutting room floor. What did go to air is a really good 20 minutes about the pleasure and process of picture books. Also interviewed are Ann James, Shaun Tan and a couple of parents and their children.

You can hear the program via the Book Show website.

Welcome to Angouleme: world comics capital


Just one of the many marquees, or bulles, that are part of this massive festival. Photograph taken from the roof of le Hotel de Ville, looking onto le Noveau Monde marquee.Imagine the crowd at the MCG, the AFL grand final. Double it and then add a few thousand more.More than 200,000 people turned up for the 38th Angouleme International Festival de la bande dessinee. And like an AFL grand final, people come from all levels of society.  Angouleme, two hours by TGV south-west of Paris, is indisputably the home of BD in France. Don't be put off by the term 'la bande dessinee': literally it means 'drawn stories' and encompasses comics, graphic novels and sometimes picture books. Saturday afternnon in Angouleme: packed!Diversity is at the heart of this extraordinary festival. Across four days and nights, the festival caters to all tastes. Exhibitors, artists and publishers also come from all over the world.I met French, Romanian, Belgian, Finnish, French, Spain, and Hong Kong publishers, writers and producers. Australia however, is largely invisible. In 2008 Shaun Tan won the festival's Best Album prize for Là où vont nos pères, or The Arrival. The young independent publisher I spoke to this weekend thought Shaun is an American. We are the great unknown, and Australians could learn a great deal by coming to this festival. Why more, or indeed any, Australians don't go there is a mystery to me.Highlights included:This year's festival president, Baru, is renowned for autobiographical depictions of the French (and migrant) working class, beginning in 1982 with Quéquettes Blues. The exhibition that honoured Baru's work was generous, imaginative, sympathetic, just a delight to explore and experience. Baru's exhilarating exhibition Debout les damned de la terre (translating roughly as Showing the damned of the earth) is a journey through working class lives over fifty years. Baru's massive body of work was smartly curated, displayed with real panache, and a great introduction to this artist.Part of the marvellous Baru show that also included video, a documentary film, juke-box, old cars, boxing, rock and roll and original examples from his huge body of work. Kaleidoscope: a history of bande dessinee in Hong Kong produced by the Hong Kong Arts Centre succinctly, elegantly and engagingly explored a turbulent past and present. The show - designed for touring - touched on the political, economic and technological changes that have driven Hong Kong's diverse visual comics  culture. But it looked so good that it could easily stand as a permanent exhibition. I would love to see this show in Australia. Kaleidoscope world: Hong Kong's classy comics historyKaleidoscope was housed in a former 'cave', a storage space for wine and grain.The design of the Hong Kong show was museum quality - built in road cases and designed for travel.The varied, diverse and distinct thematic marquees, ranging from the big (really packed) commercial houses to the edgy and innovative (Pavillon Jeunes Talents). If you want to see what is happening in comics internationally, this is a great way to see it. Angouleme is not just French and Belgian comics: it welcomes the world. The French remain famously relaxed in matters of sexuality.  Vie de Merde is a raunchy, very funny slice of teenage life.And finally, Les Concerts des Dessins. I saw three, each very different in flavour though using the same ingredients: live music matched live drawing. Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara was coolly complemented by illustrator Clement Oubrerie. On the other hand, Jon Spencer's[...]

The French, they do this comic book thing differently


The main reason for going to France at this crazy time of year is be at the Angouleme Festival International de la Bande Dessinee, from January 27-30. I have my four day pass, I have accommodation, I have the train ticket booked from Paris. This year, it's Hong Kong in the spotlight, along with much more. The exhibition design hits a high standard and I am really keen to see this year's work for myself.  

The Copyright Agency Limited provided me with an airfare to travel to France and see this festival. I was thrilled to receive this funding because it supports research into graphic novels and I look forward to sharing what I learn when I return. In youth literature there is much talk of young people and their interest in comics and graphic novels, which may be true. But in Australia we produce so little of our own material. Artists like Shaun Tan don't come along every day - so how can Australia's book industry nurture the graphic novel culture? I am hoping that Angouleme might provide a few hints. After all, a festival in the middle of winter, hundreds of kilometres from Paris, where accommodation is at a premium, but still attracts nearly 250,000 people, must be doing something for readers.

Counting down


In just under three weeks time my wife, daughter and I will be heading to France for four weeks. After our visit nearly three years ago we are keen to get back.

We must be keen: the weather looks like being absolutely arctic. On the plus side, the dollar is more than pulling its weight against the euro. And January-February is not exactly peak tourist season. So museum and gallery queues are unlikely to have us standing out in the sleet for an hour or two. But accommodation is cheap - especially compared to what you pay in Australia. We've booked apartments through the excellent Homelidays website. We've stocked up on thermal clothing, gloves, scarves, hats and boots. For coats we are hoping to pick up something in the soldes. And I am hoping to do a little of this.
What else should we do? Is there anything on the *avoid* list?

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Ca glisse à l'Hôtel de Ville
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Say it with pictures


The New York Times recently ran a story about the sharp decline of picture book sales in the United States. There are many reasons why this could be so, not least is the nearly 10% unemployment and declines in library services through years of tax cuts. What the situation is in Australia sales-wise I couldn't say. But there are many reasons what sales might decline. Children of course are introduced to what is called (somewhat euphemistically I think) screen culture at an early age. So they become very dexterous with their thumbs, less so perhaps with their vocabulary.I also wonder to what extent parents are keen to demonstrate their child's reading skills. What better way than to kick away the ladder that pictures provide.  Since reading has become one of those fought over issues, does this also feed our anxiety? And why are we so concerned with measurement and less troubled by questions about the transmission of cultures, the sharing and propagation of stories?In regard to the prospect of children being rushed onto chapter books, I wonder to what extent parents are anxious to show how well their children are reading? Do they know what they are missing? And being able to decode a word should not be confused with understanding or even enjoying a story. Many books have gone back on to the shelf that simply have not arrived at the right time. The Tale of Despereaux is one that waited on the shelf perhaps twelve months before going on to become a firm, enduring favourite. Some schools impose the policy that students in free-reading time must read 'to their literacy level'. I often wonder how they measure a child's imagination. Of course, reading independently also absolves parents of reading aloud at bedtime and at other times. Last week a picture book exhibition opened, which I had the privilege to curate. Reading with my daughter was an immense influence on the stories and pictures selected. Put it this way: I would not have understood these books in the way that I do, as stories and images connected to a real child's life, her imagination, her growing and changing, without seeing the stories through my daughter's eyes. Picture books give such immense pleasure. Lauren Child's early books were powerful shapers of her worldview: the word play, the sideways view of the people close to us, the sense of quiet mischief and seriousness in the pursuit of the things we hold dear. These are powerful and important values, yet strange how the resonate in that humble medium. Today as we came up the path I remarked on how beautiful our neighbour's trees are. Our neighbour is old and frail and may not have another summer left in her in that hot, little house. And then what of her trees? "I'll being chaining myself to them", said my daughter. Said it in a way that reminded me of the Lauren Child book, What Planet Are You From, Clarice Bean? about eco-warriors who camped in a tree, turned the family upside down and got themselves on the television news. All of this was long ago, before she really took notice of the news or wondered about global warming or the floods in Pakistan. And yet somewhere in their the imprint was made. A way of looking at the world. Whether we chain ourselves to the trees is another matter entirely. But in a book, we learned about what was important in the world.[...]

Everything old


At Moonee Valley racetrack last Saturday, Daryl Braithwaite was whipping the crowd up with his 1991 hit Horses. No finer music critic than Drew Morphett observed that ’20 years ago Darryl seemed gone for all money, and yet here he is, the crowd in the palm of his hand’. Later that night Ricki Lee Jones, the writer of Horses, was doing similar at the Myer Music Bowl, lacking only Darryl’s equine anthem. Ms Jones joined Sinead O’Connor and John Cale, others whom we might say did their best work in another generation, or two, or three. An appearance from Archie Roach was cancelled due to his suffering a stroke a week prior. Only the indigenous quartet - Dan Sultan, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Ursula Yovich and Leah Flanagan - could be said to be of more recent or current times. The occasion was the closing night of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.(Dan Sultan, delivering the goods.)The theme of this geezer jamboree was transcendence. A topic those of us greying at the temples, thin of pate and/or thick of waist, might easily turn to. The artists’ brief was simple: select and perform seven songs ‘to leave behind’. Which is, I guess, an elaborate version of the parlour game: ‘what song would you have played at your funeral?’ Each performer also chose a Leonard Cohen song. (Had Leonard been in attendance the average performer age would have risen by at least a decade.) John Cale, who could make a case for popularising Cohen’s anthem Hallelujah, evaded time's tidemark with a bent version of Heartbreak Hotel. This stratagem seemed like the novelist dabbling in historical fiction, a neat sidestep around more current concerns. Like Moonee Valley, the Myer Music Bowl was packed, even if those on the lawn could be forgiven if they huddled for warmth. But given the audience paid around $110 each to be here, this gig was as much about their involvement with transcendence. What songs you would leave behind; what songs you would take with you? Perhaps such questions are the luxury and privilege of middle-age. Surely twenty-somethings are too busy living, than to sit on a freezing hillside contemplating their eternal soundtrack.A slightly different version of this post appeared on the Wheeler Centre website.(Thanks to George Dunford.)[...]



Yep, time for a change. Recently I resigned from my job after nearly nine years. I have been unemployed in the past - and I don't much like it. So volunteering for the cause wasn't something that I was planning for.

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The State Library of Victoria and the Centre for Youth Literature are wonderful places to work, but last month I reached a point when I filed notice. I am working up until Christmas, will have a holiday, and re-load in the new year. Nine years is personal best by some margin, so on that score I'm satisfied, but also know that I need new challenges.

Youth literature is a fantastic field to work in. There are a lot of smart, passionate, creative people: writers, editors, publishing people, booksellers... YA fiction remains wide open to innovation and change, the boundaries are ever being tested. (Just like it is with teenagers.) And I liked the sense that we were working for teenagers, to support and to challenge them.

More recently I have been working on exhibition of recent Australian picture book illustration, which opens on 3 December, my wife's birthday. I am enjoying working with the exhibition team at the State Library of Victoria; they are like watchmakers, every fine tooth of every cog in its perfect place. There is some wonderful artwork in the show and I hope that people young and once young will get a lot out of the show.

When I was offered the job at the Centre for Youth Literature I remember being a bit speechless. I honestly did not expect to be offered it. All things considered it has been a wonderful experience for me. But I don't believe in hanging on for the sake of it.

Whatever comes next I hope that it won't be far from the world of books and young people.

But, who knows?

Superhero guide to New York


Earlier this year my wife went to New York with her mother. Mother was keen to take in the nightlife of the city that never sleeps. And since their apartment was next door to nightclub things pretty well lived up to billing.

But in the daylight hours she was on the trail of New York's superheroes and comic book culture.

You can read the account of her New York experience here, published today in The Age.