At the Byron Writers Festival this weekend a late-afternoon session titled “This Book Changed my Life” incited considerable discussion about the influence of story. Chaired by Adam Suckling with Tracey Spicer, Susan Wyndham and the vivacious Barry Jones, each panelist in turn presented pivotal books from their childhood and adult-hood, followed by a recommendation for the Prime Minister, and then a tome they believe changed the world.
Amongst the socio-political manifestos and megaliths of literature, dystopian novels featured more than any other single genre, both in the panel and in contributions from the audience after. Surprising? Perhaps not. In recent years there’s been a noticeable trend toward dystopian narratives, in fiction, graphic novels, cinema and television. Classic masters such as Phillip K. Dick, Margaret Atwood and George Orwell are returning again and again to centre stage with screen adaptations, political goofs, and a growing suspicion that these fairy tales are not so far removed from reality as we think.
No enigma…no dignity, nothing classical or poetic…only this.
Lately I’m researching expressionism for my work. The turn of the twentieth century saw some of the most incredible advances in the arts, sciences and technologies. At the peak of the industrial revolution, with the convergence of breakthroughs in communication and social evolution, suddenly the world was not such a big place. Instead of the global stage being dominated by Western progress and exploration, trans-oceanic cross-fertilisation inspired a fusion of worldwide knowledge and appreciation.
Mercutio: I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind
Romeo & Juliet, Act 1, Scene 4
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Romeo & Juliet. I was young, and despite knowing the outcome of the tragic love story I was unprepared for the realness of the characters, the truth of their emotions, and the stark, gut-wrenching inevitability of the climactic scene which left me breathless and shaken to my core, unearthing emotions I hadn’t encountered in my short life but which, somehow, I understood.
So I’m reading Martin Amis, because we all have to at one point or other. For some reason considered part of today’s ‘canon’, his name gets thrown around with the likes of Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes, company that should already set the alarm bells ringing.
At the moment I can’t seem to get away from thinking about the barriers people erect against their own intrinsic desires, and I find myself returning to this idea constantly as I write and think and observe the people around me. What I see, mostly, is the main barrier to people’s happiness is themselves.
In another long list of ill-informed ‘facts’ about Millennials, today’s edition of The Weekend Australian leads the front page with an article declaring that Gen Y would rather bow to the queen than a republic, or something like that (I would link to the article but it’s beyond their paywall because, you know, their rock-hard research is so valuable).
In this glowing age of equality us literati still happily overlook one of the more entrenched and obstructive ideological discriminations that, if we’re honest, is now largely irrelevant: the cold war between literary and genre fiction.
It’s a strange war indeed, a war waged most enthusiastically by certain mass-media critics, awards juries and pseudo-intellectuals, clans seemingly ignorant of the fact that the rest of the world has moved on without them. In reality, the strangely-evolved notion that internal monologuing and odd pronouns are superior in some way to an active plot is beginning to lose traction.
Guest post from author Jane Abbott
Over the past few months, three friends I consider to be prolific readers have asked me, ‘Speculative fiction? What’s that?’ And I have to confess that with every asking my response has mutated by degrees from faint incredulity to scathing exasperation, made worse when they respond with a haughty sniff and a muttered, ‘Oh, you mean sci-fi,’ following it with the more dismissive, ‘But it’s not real literature, is it?’ and ‘Yeah, I don’t read that stuff.’ Because, yes, often it is and yes, they probably do. And while sci-fi is speculative, speculative fiction is not restricted to works of sci-fi.
The Palace Cinemas recently hosted a German Film Festival at their locations around Australia. The full program consisted of a staggering amount of films, almost fifty, all of which were produced within the last few years and demonstrated a vast range of genre and narrative. While I expected to be impressed I was nevertheless genuinely surprised at the quality and diversity of the films on offer, featuring remarkable performances, tight scripts, and exceptional production quality.
Let’s get down to it. If you want to be a writer chances are you’ve wanted to be a writer since before you can remember.
It was probably about the time you experienced your first really good story — you know, the moment when the hairs on your arms stood up and you forgot where you were and who was with you, and you got the feeling that there was a lot more to this grand old life than most people realised.