Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Welcome 2009... and it's about time!

Sir Terry Pratchett!

After his having written the most amazing collection of fantastic - in the literal sense - books, I can only applaud his 'elevation'. He's a Sir I can respect. So in the coming year, I will be teaching Sir Terry Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. Has a nice ring, don't you think?

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Regarding Coraline

I love it when good characters get good blogs - see here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hitting the to-read pile

For those finding it difficult to justify the purchase of new books, Sam Jordison in The Guardian examines a good suggestion - hitting your to-read pile. Most of us have such piles. I think I have several, all teetering like the Tower of Pisa in various corners of the house. I say 'I think' since I am, naturally, in deep denial about the extent of the to-read pile. But when you have people constantly suggesting books you should read to be better informed, it's the inevitable conclusion.

One of the books on one of the to-read piles.
Started, stopped, do plan to start again.

Keeping in mind the economy drive, however, I will clarify here that I'm fine with students borrowing books from libraries or obtaining second hand copies, whatever edition they be. I often feel a pang of guilt as I consider the current bookshop cost of reading lists I put out. There are alternatives to bright shiny new books and it doesn't hurt to check out a library copy before deciding whether it's a book you'll want to keep. Particularly if you're on a budget.

Incidentally, The Guardian also has a clip of Philip Pullman reading Paradise Lost here. As most of you know, Paradise Lost was a major influence upon His Dark Materials. It's worth a listen.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Human Rights for Cartoon Characters

This morning I was checking Neil Gaiman's blog - as I do - and wouldn't you know it? I discovered something rather disturbing that was happening here in Australia. You can read the post here. My initial laughter about requiring ethical clearance to analyse animated lions (back when doing my PhD on Disney) was perhaps not so warranted.

Of course, working in the field of children's literature, issues of sexuality are a constant minefield, but they are there, and we need to treat such issues intelligently, rationally and with great sensitivity and respect. I do fear that treating fictional characters as real children is seriously problematic in maintaining the kind of intelligent, rational debate required. Of course, I don't know everything about the case and I'm just going on the one article (and we all know that sometimes the media doesn't quite correctly represent what is actually said or done), but such apparent outcomes do make continued research in any field related to children difficult.

Added note: Someone later pointed out that the judge's opinion was based on representations of real children, not that the fictional characters were the same as real children. Some of the wording still raises questions that will need to be faced down the line, though.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Is Twilight bad for you?

Having just mentioned Twilight, I thought I'd draw your attention to an excellent piece in the Guardian about it here.

Yes, Buffy (from Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is a much better example for girls. Well, most of the time. Buffy wasn't perfect and if she were, we probably wouldn't have found her nearly so interesting. She made bad choices, allowed herself to be occasionally sacrificed to someone else's angst, and she had to die a couple of times.

While I do enjoy the first couple of books of the Twilight series, I'll add... I don't want to be Bella (that should go without saying). I do not see Bella as a good role model. Well... unless it be as a role model for melodramatic, teenage, romantic angst, in which case I think she outdoes even Juliet. Part of the delight of the first couple of books for me was how wrong Bella gets it.

In more intriguing news, I learned today from Meg Cabot's blog that there's a ferocious unicorns versus zombies debate. One of the leaders of the unicorn movement is Holly Black.

It's not just about the knitting...

All over the internet, bloggers have been popping up with special Coraline boxes. Some of these bloggers are knitting bloggers, like Amy, the wonderful person behind Knitty, who blogged today about her box. Yes, it's all about promotion of the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman's fantastic tale of black button eyes and singing mice, but it's wonderful promotion. (It's also a wonderful book and graphic novel.)

I've also been noticing that patterns for the knitwear appearing in Twilight are popping up all over. And yes, I do have plans to see the film. Possibly while I knit a pair of mittens or something. Reviews by Twilight fans have been mixed. We shall see.

Friday, November 28, 2008

In the Blink of a Book 1

Of course, as someone who spends her life thinking about, teaching about, writing about and actually writing books, it makes sense to talk more about books on this blog. So I thought I'd start my own 'In the Blink of a Book' segment. We'll see how it goes. The idea is basically to share two books each segment. One academic book - because I'm an academic - one fiction book.

Marina Warner's From the Beast to the Blonde
In many ways, this is the book that made me an academic. Seriously, everyone knew I was going to be an academic by the time I was about twelve. But I rebelled. Me? An academic? Never! Until I read From the Beast to the Blonde. "This is what I can do as an academic??? This isn't so bad..." The book is about fairy tale. The book captures the feminine spirit of fairy tale. The book gamely celebrates the importance of good hair days in fairy tale. This is a book that is both creative and scholarly. Warner writes in the spirit in which fairy tales are told, and that makes her that much more insightful. One of my favourite quotes from the book? "The enchantments also universalize the narrative setting, encipher concerns, beliefs and desires in brilliant, seductive images that are themselves a form of camouflage, making it possible to utter harsh truths, to say what you dare." (xvii) Can't you just imagine saying that with a flourish and courtly bow?

Jim Butcher's Dead Beat
I picked this book up because I loved the cover and the neat juxtaposition of detective pot boiler and magic... complete with a wizard called Harry. It's half way - or so - through the series, but that didn't bother me. The reason I include this? The introduction. "On the whole, we're a murderous race. According to Genesis, it took as few as four people to make the planet too crowded to stand, and the first murder was a fraticide. Genesis says that in a fit of jealous rage, the very first child born to mortal parents, Cain, snapped and popped the first metaphorical cap in another human being. The attach was a bloody, brutal, violent, reprehensible killing. Cain's brother Abel probably never saw it coming. As I opened the door to my apartment, I was filled with a sense of empathic sympathy and intuitive understanding. For freaking Cain." (1) Beat that, "It was a dark and stormy night," or even "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." There's also a scene with a dinosaur that shouldn't be missed, if I can get away with saying that much. This is not high literature, but it is fun.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Neil Gaiman on Christmas

You can check out a video here in which Neil Gaiman (and other authors including Gregory Maguire) talk about their family Christmas traditions.

You might also get a hold of a copy of "Nicholas Was," the story Gaiman wrote for his Christmas cards one year (Dark Horse had actual cards to sell with an illustration - I didn't say it was a cheery story). I love the idea of giving cards printed with your own Christmas story. One of these years, I'll feel creative enough to maybe do that...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Who are you?

In Children's Lit., we study Winnie-the-Pooh. I've never understood why more Children's Lit. courses fail to study this amazing work of literature. Or, in fact, why more English Departments don't include it in the curriculum - although, I do know of someone who professes to recite some of Pooh's hums in his poetry class.

Of course, now I'll find all the Children's Lit. subjects running Winnie-the-Pooh. But before I do, I came across Jeremy Clarkson's reflections on Milne in The Times here. (And, yes, I'm a Top Gear fan. I like watching them try to destroy the Toyota pickup on stressed-out days.) I think Clarkson (Tigger) is onto something. So, if you find yourself agreeing that everyone in the world can be categorised as a Milne character - and you are willing to ignore all the complaints in the comments section about pigeonholing people - you can try this quiz. I always personally felt more of a Piglet (Hammond), but apparently, according to this quiz, I'm Pooh...

Oh well... I always enjoyed the Tao of Pooh.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Downloading Princesses

Meg Cabot's first Princess Diaries novel is available to download for free. For those who have been wary of the Princess phenomenon, this is a good book to try out. It's not like the Disney films, either. As much as I secretly (or not so secretly now) enjoy the films, the novels have a much better balance that is closer to a Bridget Jones' Diary's form of fairy tale. Mia does not get a makeover to turn into the prettiest girl in school, for instance. She does get a makeover, but it's rather funnier. And her grandmother is far more hilarious in the novels - not a scrap like Julie Andrews (whom I also like, but... the grandmother in the novels is a treat not to be missed with her missing eyebrows and little, stressed-out dog).

Her blog entry about the free novel also includes one of her many drawings from high school. I love her series of romantic and fashion drawings, all executed during Algebra or other subjects in which she was not paying attention. She drew, I wrote. May those tales never see the light of day! They are hopefully long gone in tossed away geography notebooks. I do love school books, though, for their revelations of secrets and gossip and daydreams. And the study of such marganalia is an academic pursuit. Some view it as 'book abuse', of course, and others will repine that it effects the value of the book, but the history of readers revealed in the margins is fascinating and long may the practice continue. It may be one of the downfalls of the non-paper book. Much as we're losing the early drafts and manuscripts of novels, because writers are often simply editting on screen, we may lose the marganalia of readers as they read on screen.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Rats 1: I seem to have a schedule filled with meetings. Rats 2: Other than that, a very helpful source supplied me with a news item of an - obviously - ratty nature. If you know of any Pied Pipers, let the council know.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cats and Authors

Since the title of this blog does reference cats, I couldn't not point you here, to a piece in the Guardian about authors and their cats. The author of the piece already caught my thought about Neil Gaiman. Before the dog came on board, there was much cat-talk on his journal. Meg Cabot is also given to cat-talk on her blog, as in the case of Henrietta's obsession with drinking out of bottle caps that can be read about here. Even non-cat authors like J.K. Rowling (well, you could guess that - Sirius and Lupin?), have cat stories. But there are other options to cats and dogs. Tim Rice (lyricists count) lists his interests: history of popular music, cricket, chickens. We know Beatrix Potter loved rabbits. Emily Gravett had pet rats (okay, her daughter did - I'm stretching).

Why do authors expose their personal relationships with their pets? Do their pets give some insight into their writing?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Title For Your Academic Book

There was an interesting piece here in The Guardian about titling non-fiction. In particular, about the nature of the subtitle and how titles will grab - or not grab - the average reader. The comments section includes a particularly interesting discussion about the nature of the colon in the title and how the PhD thesis possibly promoted its use. I've always used the colon as a matter of course, though it has been occurring to me lately that it's a habit and not always necessary. Just as an earlier article talked about the need for plain titles that enable people to find your article through a simple keyword search, this article makes me think that perhaps we do need to rethink how we title our theses, articles and books. Perhaps we don't need to change at all - but it's worth looking at.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More Fantasy Knitting

A friend, currently doing her PhD while valiantly ploughing through loads of teaching, the other night brought up Eragon. I still haven't read it. But she did point out that there was a character I'd like in the form of Angela the Herbalist, primarily because she likes to knit with her own yarn. And today my friend pointed out that Christopher Paolini features here in the Yarn Harlot's blog, holding, what else, the famous sock in progress (perhaps not so 'what else' to those unfamiliar with the online knitterly universe). Perhaps I should get around to reading it.

Although, right now I'm reading The Graveyard Book, shortly to be followed by The House of Many Ways and Inkdeath. Yes, the teaching is over, the grading of papers is almost over, so I can breathe once more and catch up on the brilliant new releases. The good thing about my job? It is kind of research!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tonight's viewing

The Hobbit Enigma is on ABC1 tonight at 8:30. I like to think of this as retrospective mythology. Tolkien creates the myth of the Hobbits, science finds a very small skeleton and dubs it a Hobbit. The ABC blurb:

The Hobbit Enigma forces us to ask the most difficult question of all - what does it mean to be human?

There has also recently been Dracorex Hogwartsia, a new dinosaur species whose name is inspired by the Harry Potter series.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Hilarious Novel

While studying literature - and, admittedly, film and drama - one thing always struck me. This is an awful generalisation, but rarely did I have have a chance to study a text that was funny. You would get the occasional break. Jane Austen is funny. Indeed, so is Charlotte Brontë - as when Jane calls Rochester a Vulcan, albeit, not the alien sort with pointy ears and a lack of emotional maturity. By and large though, there were a lot of serious books, films and plays. Indeed, even when, on my own, I discovered Byron and how funny he is, I found that most academic writing about him was... well... serious. I mean, Byron found a way to use a phrase like 'very spacious breeches' in a poem! That remains my favourite line of poetry to quote. So perhaps it isn't simply the texts, but the way we study them?

I was disappointed, though, when I read in The Guardian a piece about the lack of women authors on a funniest novelist list in the New York Times. As pointed out, even the comments section of the original article largely cites male authors.

I do agree with those who offered Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm, though. If you haven't read it, you really should consider it. It is Jane Austen meets Emily Brontë - and Jane comes off best. Plus there's Seth.

And one comment-maker also remarked that children's literature is the real mine of hilarity in terms of the novel. Indeed - have a look at picture books like Emily Gravett's Spells (naked prince with interesting tatoo) and Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish (very funny sibling squabbling combined with a very unobservant father).

I wish I could teach an entire unit on picture books...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Very brief cover story

A blog, called Bookninja (got to love that title), challenged readers to redesign the covers of the classics. The results are in. Seriously, I can't pick a favourite.

Question is, do you think the cover effects your reading experience?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Writing, whether it's fiction or fact

Joe Fiennes sporting Shakespearean inky fingertips

A couple of comments about writing today.

First, academic writing always goes through periods of change. Today, the realities of how people conduct research has an impact on how academics publish their work. This leads to the topic of a piece in the Guardian about online journals 'narrowing study'. Academics are increasingly acting in parallel ways to journalists and there's good and bad to this. When doing my Masters, I was told to stop writing like a journalist, a habit I happily revived in my PhD - and it didn't hurt me. I won a medal. (Yes, even academics can win medals.) How was I writing like a journalist? I tried to be catchy, to inject humour, to keep up with current trends and events, all while juggling a thesis-load of theory and critical analysis. However, at times, the constant need to publish in a timely fashion is stressful and there are moments when I sit at my desk passionately wishing I could take a decade to refine my ideas before publishing. This is a luxury that has all but disappeared.

On the bright side, journalists are also feeling increasingly pressured to produce content quickly. It's just the way it is today. The Internet has its downside for those of us in the writing professions.

But, then, it also offers a support network. Moving on to fiction and next month is the beginning of NaNoWriMo. While it's American in origin, it's worth having a look at for those of you interested in writing novels. Authors like Neil Gaiman and Meg Cabot support it and even go on the journey. There are many tips available on the site. The important thing for creative writers is to write. This is the spirit of NaNoWriMo. I may even unofficially participate.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I get to blog about shoes!

Okay, I'm sort of excited about that. I'm not really that much of a shoe-person, but I still find shoes interesting. Particularly from a fairy tale perspective. Cinderella, after all, is all about reminding us about just how long women have been thinking about shoes.

So, when Sur La Lune branches out into this, I just have to report it. I just really want a pair.

Writing for children

I caught this comment by Neil Gaiman:

"I don't think about age groups when I write, although I think if I know I'm writing for Children I'll be a bit more ambitious, and think more about every word, because I know that they pay closer attention when they read than adults do."

The full interview transcript is here. Why do I love this comment? Because it stresses that writing for children isn't about 'dumbing down' or 'teaching'. Thankfully, that perception really is waning.

By the way, he has another great journal entry today. Take particular note of his comment about the science fiction genre and have a look at the video from the National Book Festival - I have some students who would be amused by the Rushdie appearance.

Inkdeath is finally out. I'm really looking forward to it, although... I wish I could have this edition.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Words: Out of Obscurity

New words are always interesting. I often think I should collect all the new words invented in seminars by myself and students. We'd easily have a dictionary-worth. Although, I've been trying for ages to have 'stuff' accepted as a theoretical concept, too...

But this just makes me happy. The Yarn Harlot is queen of knitting bloggers. She is seriously wonderful. And she invented 'Kinnearing'. You can see her invent it here. You can see The New York Times validate it here. And then you can see Greg Kinnear talking about Kinnearing here. Oh the joys of the internet!

In other news (okay, yes, originating from Neil Gaiman's journal again), in an interview with Neil Gaiman, Euan Kerr notes: "While posting his work for free viewing raises questions about potential copyright infringement, the author says the biggest problem facing authors is not piracy, but obscurity."

I think that's one to jot down in one's memory. Often new writers are very obsessed about people stealing their ideas. They should be more obsessed about people reading their ideas to begin with.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

No one's keeping score, right?

Because I'm about to direct you all over to Neil Gaiman's journal again for his "Ethel the aardvark..." entry. The reason I direct you all there is that it's an interesting insight into how authors are using the internet to manipulate the sales of their books. I mean this 'not in a bad way.' Also, in teaching fantasy and children's lit., I often query students on where they found their copies of The Eyre Affair or The Book Thief. We speak a great deal of genre, but watching genre work in practice, upon the bookseller's shelves, is often enlightening and a little... well, mad at times. So I'm thoroughly delighted with the madness occurring around The Graveyard Book. Only, now I'm trying to fathom if I have any space in the curriculum for The Graveyard Book... I don't think I do... unless... oh I know! There is one unit where I'm not currently teaching any Neil Gaiman...

After that little tangent, the appeal of the madness to me is that I teach what is often labelled 'genre fiction'. The label annoys me. It provides too many people with an easy out with which to dismiss the bubbling energy of the fiction that occurs beneath the label. Likewise, it readily biases value judgements of genre fiction against literary or general fiction (and if you think about it, literary fiction is a redundent label). The greatest irony is, of course, that most of the great works of English literature (and I'm revealing a Western bias here) would be categorised as genre fiction today. Of course, that's so evident an argument, it's hardly worth making. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your genres (sorry).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Today's entry courtesy of...

...Neil Gaiman's latest journal entry. Either from this entry or from You Tube itself, you can access the HarperCollins trailer for The Graveyard Book. Trailers for books? Not that unusual these days. In fact, let me know if you find a particularly wonderful trailer. Cross-media promotion of books is intriguing, since books are, of course, one of the older forms of media. More research is needed into how books are branching out, so to speak, into new media.

While at You Tube, I found the film trailer for Inkheart. Inkheart is a wonderful book by Cornelia Funke (and doesn't she just sound like a children's author?). It is a book for lovers of books, written originally in German (the second book, Inkspell, is Inkblood in German). I wrote about it in an essay that has been published pretty recently in Haunting the Borders. The film comes out next year, I think, and stars Brendan Fraser, which is fitting, because Cornelia Funke was thinking of his voice when she wrote the character, Mo. And that's not the only reason I like the book.

Back to Neil Gaiman's journal, one of his readers pointed out the list of top 100 books in The Sydney Morning Herald. American Gods appears! I'm still very amused that Harry Potter tops the list, followed - relentlessly - by Twilight. Followed by - inevitably - Pride and Prejudice. A special cheer for The Book Thief at seven, though! I thoroughly recommend Zusak's book (particularly if you plan to take Children's Lit. with me). It's... amazing. I can not say more. Although, I have. In Script & Print (31,2 if you're interested).

Neil Gaiman also draws attention to a recent incident involving a reader of manga. I won't go into detail here, because I'm not up to speed on the facts, but the implications appear to be worrying. Very worrying.

The Booker

We've just wrapped up teaching The Fiction Industry... it's kind of a shame we finished before the outcome of the Booker prize was announced for this year. The Guardian has had excellent coverage though.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


This piece about the future of libraries in the UK caught my eye today. Akbar's article neatly encapsulates some of the tension in book circles. Should books maintain the centuries of tradition that have accumulated around them? Or do we allow books to sink or swim in the commercial environment (I was tempted to write 'pool')?

Personally, I wouldn't be adverse to a coffee shop in a library... after all, I notice people often use Borders in much the same way as a library. And I always found the silence in libraries just a bit unnerving. Which may be why I enjoy the New York Public Library scene of Ghostbusters so much. However, I can see the other side of the argument... I mean, imagine finding that someone had spilled their latte all over the copy of Pride and Prejudice that you just borrowed? (Mind, imagine not owning a copy of Pride and Prejudice?)

One of the things I have noticed is how picture book authors and illustrators are reproducing the look of the library book. It's a curious twist. Shaun Tan's Tales From Outer Suburbia and Emily Gravatt's Little Mouse's Book of Fears are two examples. Wonderful, amazing books, both. Both are sold to readers (and sometimes their parents). Yet both look like old-fashioned library books with stamps and lending cards.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Political Yarn

I'll occasionally drift onto a knitting tangent, but one of the benefits of being an academic is that you have plenty of excuses to think critically about the things you love, which means you can - guilt-free - give yourself more time to contemplate the things you love. Like knitting, in my case.

With the election going on in the US, the knitting community has been abuzz with its own often perplexing, often really very amusing takes on the political agenda.

Over at the Panopticon (that's one for those of you now familiar with Foucauldian theory), there's a campaign in swing for Dolores, the sassy sheep. The Yarn Harlot has a different campaign in mind, involving candidates being photographed holding a sock in progress. She was inspired by another blogger's success with Barack Obama. Seriously, the photos are wonderful. Says the Yarn Harlot: "I'm not sure why this moved me so much, but I just can't stop thinking about it. Perhaps its because I think that politics sometimes does more harm that good in the world,or perhaps it is that the image of a person out to promote their own purposes being asked to momentarily have to serve ours - frankly, just charming. Perhaps it is simply the juxtaposition of a candidate for Head of State holding a sock is just so wholesome, that I am amused to no end. Perhaps it is simply that there is a part of me that really enjoys seeing powerful people befuddled and confused by a handknit ...." (October 4, 2008) Perhaps participants should be knitting their socks with these yarns from Schaefer Yarn. Yes, a range called 'sock the vote' that celebrates the women of the campaign, Cindy, Hillary, Michelle and Sarah. Personally, I love the Michelle colourway - make of that what you will.

The point is, many, many knitters are constructing their own political agendas and opinions with their needles, to stretch the obvious metaphor. There is much talk of limitations of niche media and while the online knitting community may be 'niche', I think it illustrates, too, the potential richness of such niches as they participate in - and even pervert - mainstream channels of communication. I really hope at one point there will be prime time coverage of a candidate holding a sock in progress!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Virtual Tour/Reading

I am really looking forward to reading Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. In the meantime, you can catch Neil on tour doing readings from the book - even if you aren't physically there. The videos are fantastic (even if I can't get used to his hair...) and I'm personally a fan of listening to an author read his or her own work. Since Gaiman is an amazing storyteller, it's natural to hear and watch him deliver his tale.

Although, admittedly, some of us do have trouble setting aside a time just to curl up and listen to a good story. But give yourself that time! The best way to learn about story and storytelling is to read and listen to as many stories as possible. Don't mistake pleasure in a story for idleness or laziness. It should never be a luxury, but a necessity.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We can thank Bridget Jones for female excellence in universities

Isn't this a great cover?

I'm still blinking over this piece from the Guardian. I decided for this blog post to suitably rewrite the headline to highlight the apparent implications of what is being said. I have also given myself a pat on the back (not 'bat' as I was just typing - it's early and I haven't had enough coffee) for putting Bridget Jones's Diary on the Honours curriculum this year.

Check out that cover though! I love books that reproduce themselves on the cover - or, in a sense, construct themselves from the experience of the text. In this case, the text has become Bridget, looking suitably surprised by her predicament. At least, I hope that makes sense. It isn't even 7am. Academics, according to common folklore, don't function before midday. I need more coffee...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Can one write for children?

The Guardian has a piece by Michael Rosen about writing for children. It's good, but I don't know that I necessarily, fully, absolutely agree these days. So much advice about writing for children keeps 'the child' front and centre. Yet, there isn't really a child, just as there really isn't an adult. Furthermore, as Rosen indicates, it's not the actual children who will decide whether or not your children's book is published. That'll be up to the adults in their proverbial suits. They have boxes to tick that have more to do with what's selling well now rather than what will sell well tomorrow (hence the battle to find the next J.K. Rowling, which oddly led, rather, to the discovery of teen angst in the form of sparkly vampires, a short-lived, perhaps, but interesting movement in itself).

C.S. Lewis indicated that it was more about a genre, which means, in effect, that the possessive - children's - is more distracting than helpful. Then again, do we really want everyone to stop paying attention to that possessive? If they did, they'd realise just how messy, subversive, merry and outrageous the genre actually is.

I think - at this point in time - that the trick to writing for children is to, as Lewis and Rowling and others indicate, write for oneself. It simply requires you to have a particular sort of mind. Not childish. I resist references to 'kidadults' and such. It's just a certain mindset that has been largely associated with children's literature and has for a while flown under the radar of 'serious literature' (sorry about the metaphors - it's early as I write!). Think about it. Fairy tale was the great genre of the storyteller - a place to sort out the battle of the sexes, ambition, greed, lust and all kinds of other virtues and vices. It has spent quite a long time in the nursery, but those of us reading fairy tales know they aren't really 'children's' fare... exclusively, at least.

If you get a chance, also check out Neil Gaiman's blog entry 'typing clunky'. As he says of his absence from the list of this year's most banned books, "I suspect that I'm not trying hard enough." Meg Cabot will be disappointed too.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fairy Tale Laundry

Washing day with a fairy tale theme. I picked up the T-shirts from Sur La Lune's Cafe Press site.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Paranormal Symposium Struck By Lightning!

On Friday, after a day of exciting papers on vampire romance, the Japanese Studies Centre was indeed struck by lightning while most of us were enjoying wine and cheese and a variety of Lindt balls. Who could make that up?

I'm just back from the Saturday sessions and am tired, weary (because it requires reiteration), but oddly, very upbeat about doing more vampire research, which is the ultimate sign of a successful symposium, I think. Seriously, we had many interesting papers looking at everything from vampire deviancy to vampire child-raising. This is a new area - relatively - in terms of scholarly work, but there's already really lively, entertaining debate. We hope to have most of the papers available as podcasts. Keep your eyes open.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't Panic

Eoin Colfer

In news today, Eoin Colfer is to write the sixth Hitchhiker's novel. Normally I am a little unsure about an author taking over another author's series. However, in this case, it looks like Colfer is set to approach the novel as himself, which is a good sign. In the Guardian, he says it's "like suddenly being offered the superpower of your choice." I teach Colfer's Artemis Fowl in the Children's Literature unit (I'm hoping next year to offer students the choice to study the novel or the graphic novel, but don't quote me on that yet). It's a great book for turning notions of morality and evil on their heads. And then, of course, there's the fact that it's enormously funny. In fact, Colfer rates as a comedian as well as an author. For a taste of his humour, try the Guardian podcast. His Gollum story is priceless.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Spreading the Meta-Romance

One of my research interests involves chick lit. In the excellent Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction, Juliette Wells writes in her essay, "With one notable exception, which I will discuss shortly, chick-lit novels also imitate their predecessors in avoiding the subject of the development of women's literary talents, an evasion that is particularly remarkable in light of the overwhelming popularity in the genre of first-person narration and the prevalence of heroines' careers that involve some kind of writing" ('Mothers of Chick Lit?', p56). Wells makes the point that rarely do the heroines of chick lit themselves become successful novelists.

Meg Cabot to the rescue! I was thoroughly delighted by Princess and the (Green)Peace Press Release. Yes, Princess Mia is going to be a published author with her own historical romance, Ransom My Heart. For those who haven't ever read the Princess Diaries - and they are quite, quite different to the films - Mia's great ambition is to become a writer. And in a metafictional stroke, she will be! What I particularly enjoy is that she is writing historical romance. As much as I loved Anne of Greengables and Little Women growing up, I was always just a touch disappointed that the heroines were discouraged from writing what they really enjoyed and encouraged to write 'what they knew'. Louisa May Alcott didn't really pay much attention to this advice herself, as is evident from her more thrilling scribblings, but the fact it was there always seemed a slap on the wrist to girls who wanted to write outlandlish romances. And I wanted to write outlandish romances.

If you read on in the entry in Cabot's blog, you'll also note what I love about this author from a feminist perspective. Although chick lit and its junior division are often derided by feminists, there is a strong - indeed, overt - feminist slant. What is particularly distinctive about this slant - apart from the shoe fetishes and pink - is that it is aware of faults and flaws not only in patriarchal ideologies, but in feminist ones, too.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Academic Art of Procrastination

I was reading about writer's block yesterday in The Independent. This is something that strikes all writers, even the writers of essays, theses and... say... welcome speeches for a symposium that's coming up in less than a week.

This morning I caught myself claiming to be searching for inspiration while watching episodes of Buffy and knitting a sock. Actually, sometimes this tactic works. And even if I don't have a speech to show for it, at least I have part of a sock... and it's a pretty wild looking sock, don't you think? It's made from yarn that's known as Socks That Rock.

Seriously, the only real way to defeat writer's block is the less than appealing 'sit down and actually start writing.' Everyone wishes there were an online store selling inspiration, but there isn't. You just have to sit and try out different combinations of words until you find a combination that works. There's a tip there, too, in that often the first few combinations won't work and you'll have to start all over again. Don't be afraid of that. It's part of the process and the best writing often comes from a fertile bed of composted combinations-that-didn't-work.

One of the biggest mistakes I think students make is to go with the first combination that comes to them. Is there a fear of wasting words by deleting them? Don't worry, you can recycle them into a better piece of writing.

Speaking of recycling, it's time for me to go back to my half-written speech and do a bit of composting myself. It's just not working as is. It's time to just sit down and start trying out some new combinations.

Forgive mangled metaphors.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Excuses to make chocolate cupcakes

My reading group, the Sìdhe Literary Collective as we're known, has been going for over a year now and we're about to put on our first symposium (see the poster in earlier entry!). Reading groups are wonderful. I'm a big supporter. They're opportunities not only to take part in 'serious academic discussion', but they are support groups, too. When I was overwhelmed with marking and several members had theses due, we took to watching episodes of Xena and Buffy, followed by lively debates on who was the mightest female role model of all. We went through a baking phase where the sharing of recipes and baked goods went along with sharing of Derrida and Butler. It wasn't perhaps the best thing for our waistlines, but it was a thoroughly delicious period of scholarly endeavour. In recent weeks, as I juggle teaching two units and supervising students with trying to keep up my publication output, I've been sitting quite cheerfully in my chair, knitting socks. No one minds. I can relax and yet still engage in a good critical debate.

If you are at university and you long for those dreams of tight knit groups sitting around, pouring over Joyce or Baudrillard or Rowling (hey, I do teach Harry Potter!) while drinking coffee or sipping cognac (or eating pizza and drinking beer), reading groups are a good way to go.

The best way to go about it is to decide on a main focus for the group. My first reading group focussed on pop culture. We became Henry Jenkins groupies and met at cafes all over Melbourne (okay, generally in the vacinity of Clayton). This current group began as a feminist group, but the supernatural bent got the better of us. Nonetheless, we do have heated e-mail exchanges over various newspaper articles (many oddly about a certain S.N.). It's great for letting off steam.

It's also a good idea to approach lecturers who have an interest in your focus area. They may be able to suggest other students or postdocs who could be asked to join. If you can get people at a variety of stages in their academic careers together, you can get the best of all worlds.

And if you find someone who is a good baker, that's just heavenly...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Every now and then, it's worth just stopping in the day to read a fairy tale. This morning, I began re-reading a version of Sleeping Beauty from Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book. I'd forgotten all about the good fairy and her seven league boots, borrowed from a friendly dwarf, and the princess's lovely dreams as she slept. Don't you wonder what she was dreaming?

Although, the fact the princess and prince called their children Morning and Day puts into perspective some of the more recent, odder names for celebrity children!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Horror of the slush pile?

Speak to anyone who has worked in a publishing firm and they will probably go pale and regale you with horror stories of having to dip into the piles of unsolicited manuscripts. I'm sure there are many bad, bad manuscripts, but since I've also read any number of - at least to me - bad published novels, I'm not sure the unsolicited manuscript pile is the source of all the evil. And, after all, how many times do we hear about a favourite author who practically wall papered their house in rejection letters and so delight in the image of all those editors kicking themselves for having dismissed what would be a bestseller? Like, let's say, Harry Potter?

There was an interesting piece in the Guardian about this.

It might be a nice tonic for all those who are hoping to publish some day.

Neverwhere, neverway

A while ago, Neil Gaiman's American Gods was made available as a free download for a short period. Now his Neverwhere has been made available as a free download - again for a short period. Neverwhere was the first Gaiman novel I read and I enjoyed it hugely - though I never looked at the London Underground in the same way ever again! Gaiman's reflections on the free downloads are also worth having a look at, particularly if you have an interest in how fiction is produced and marketed today.

As a side note, some of you know that I have an interest in knitting. I was delighted to discover The Lord of the Rings sock club. Just the club for those who think hobbits need socks.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Symposium news

We're holding a symposium later this month on vampire romance. If you're interested in vampire novels, film or television, you might well be interested in this event.

Inspiration versus motivation

Today I was visiting Meg Cabot's blog. I follow her blog regularly - both for a fix of writerly insight and for fun (okay, also for the fact that I can totally relate to her reflections on being a teen in the 80s!). Today (Sept. 2) she wrote:

"I think some people, when they’re asking authors about inspiration, are actually mistaking the word inspiration for motivation, ie, “What motivates authors (motivation = willingness to complete a sometimes onerous task) to sit there and keep their butt in a chair for so long that they’re able to finish a whole book?” If authors were really being honest, they’d admit there are only three things that motivate them to finish their books. They are, in order of motivational effectiveness:
–Chocolate (any kind, cheap, expensive—doesn’t matter)
–Just wanting to get the damn thing finished so they can get on with their lives
–Panic over inability to pay their mortgages if they don’t get paid"

That is one of the best responses I've read to the question! And terrific advice for pre-publication writers. Coming a close second, though not in response to that precise question, is Neil Gaiman's reflection on the best writing advice he'd ever received.