Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday

I think I'm all set for the holiday season.

(Note: the tiara is for upcoming academic projects... not simply because I've always wanted to wear a tiara. Honest.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Odds and Ends Staring With Romance

I feel quite pleased with myself. In discussion with students, we decided that eBooks and romance novels would be the ideal partnership. According to Julie Bosman in The New York Times, we were dead right:

"Romance is now the fastest-growing segment of the e-reading market, ahead of general fiction, mystery and science fiction, according to data from Bowker, a research organization for the publishing industry."

Since Romance accounts for an enormous portion of the publishing industry, this is significant news.

I haven't yet been reading romance on my iPad, but I am reading Terry Pratchett and downloading many more books to read over my upcoming break. My only concern is that the price for many academic eBooks is still high. I'm not sure of the thinking behind that. Academic books do not generate large print runs or high sales figures generally and authors rarely receive more than a few dollars in royalties, so it seems to me that eBooks are an excellent opportunity to make academic books both cheaper and, thus, more readily available. Of course, this could impact academic libraries, but the ability to, for a small cost, download an academic book you'll be working with for a few months versus the inconvenience of repeated renewals of library loans (and the inevitable trip to the library to return and reborrow when you've used up your renewals) is tempting. Likewise, as I'm working on my own academic book, the inbuilt search facility of an eBook is much more convenient both for researchers (who may be looking up terms not considered for the index) and authors (who have to laboriously create their own indexes).

Earlier this morning, however, I was rather grumpy. I received another request for revisions for an article I'd submitted to a journal. Revisions in themselves are not bad things. You have a fresh opportunity to go over your work. Since the vetting process of most journals takes at least a couple of months, this is beneficial. You likewise receive suggestions and notes from referees and these can help you improve the article no end. However, one of the trials with academic life is that at times, you can appear to be in the 'Pit of Revision' (think 'Pit of Despair'). You long to work on a nice, new, pristine article, but instead, you're back revising something written months earlier. The previous pleasure of attaching a file and clicking send to clear your life of one piece of scholarship dissipates as the file comes winging back with referee reports attached.

Finally, I was reading one student's heart felt lament that a teacher who had encouraged them during a course had seemed to have forgotten who they were when they asked about their final grade. Speaking from experience, don't be too hard on teachers. After a couple of weeks living with a spread sheet, we forget who our nearest and dearest are at times. It's usually only after the horrified expression that we realise our mistake and the memory comes flooding back. If you say hello a month later, we'll know who you are. But during the final marking and grading push when everything has turned to percentages and codes... please be forgiving.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Will It Work?

I read in The New York Times this morning that a website has been set up to encourage teenage literary activity. The website encourages teens to upload their own writing:

"'We wanted people to be able to write whatever they wanted in whatever form they wanted,' Mr. Lewis said. 'We give them a piece of paper and say, ‘Go.’ ' He added that so far contributions had included fantasy, science fiction, biographical work and long serial novels. 'There’s a very earnest and exacting quality to what they’re doing.'"

I wish it success, although I'm always a little wary of the word 'earnest' and attempts in the area of what I'll refer to as 'organised encouragement.' Some organisation is a good thing, but there has to be room for users to participate in the evolution of the thing.

There are sites out there offering similar opportunities to adult authors.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fairy tales are more than texts

I've remarked before that you can usually spot a fairy tale scholar. They're much more likely to be wearing great shoes and to have a certain sartorial flare (this may also be true of Jane Austen scholars, but, then, she wrote one of our greatest versions of Beauty and the Beast, Pride & Prejudice). No, I'm not counting myself here... although I do own some great shoes.

I have recently discovered Pinterest, which is a source of wonderful procrastination and inspiration (it's terrifying how often the two are the one and the same thing). They have a special set for 'Fairy tales and secret stories'. I love the idea of 'secret stories' being linked to fairy tales. Fairy tales, as we know, are filled with little secrets. They're like those cabinets with secret drawers. They look like ordinary tales until you find just the right phrase or word to push, and then you discover the treasures.

Today, in 'Fairy tales and secret stories,' I saw an incredible image of dragon slaying by Boy_Wonder (Joel).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Context

It's always amusing when you take the long view of history and realise that we aren't the first to complain about students being distracted or unable to spell. Via Boing Boing this morning Ann Blair's Boston Globe piece, Information overload, the early years, noting: "The ancient moralist Seneca complained that 'the abundance of books is distraction' in the 1st century AD."

Perhaps more importantly for my line of work, Blair notes: "In the academic world, critics have begun to argue that universities are producing and distributing more knowledge than we can actually use." It is something that we're thinking about. Those articles we spend hours and hours writing and then revising? How many people actually use them? Are there better, more useful ways to discuss ideas? Are the means by which we place value on research antiquated?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Problem With Debates About Learning

Today I read a great piece in the Huffington Post by Don Tapscott: New York Times Cover Story on "Growing Up Digital" Misses the Mark.

What intrigues me about such debates - if you take into account the 'lively' comments section accompanying the article - is that these changes aren't really either/or propositions, nor are they really linked to human generations. Technological and media generations - yes. New technologies and media will prompt new responses. There's a strong temptation to claim that 'younger' generations, however, think differently because they use these new technologies and are exposed to new media. Yet, from my own experience, there are technologies and media I've picked up very quickly, because they suit the way I think and do things, not because I'm of the generation who grew up with them. I find the iPad helps me enormously, but I'm frustrated with mobile phones. I enjoy using Twitter, but I'm not really a gamer. These responses have nothing to do with my age or demographic and I haven't changed how I think. My use of the iPad and other media like Twitter reflects my early habits of reading several books at once, writing fan fiction and filking (before the latter were known as such). My dislike of mobile phones relates more to my general dislike of phones altogether (I do have a phone - it's a 1960s red bakelite phone that you literally dial) and just as I was never really mad about Monopoly, Scrabble, charades and games in general, I've not really been interested in gaming.

There are also, believe it or not, teenagers who have trouble working with technologies and media that are current. In terms of teaching, I notice all the time that students will respond in incredibly diverse ways to the techniques and approaches that I utilise. It's never a one-size fits all proposition. Technologies and media have simply highlighted a certain way of going about the processes of gaining and using knowledge and information. In a sense, it's enabled certain thinkers who were previously under a handicap when stuck with just textbooks and liquid paper.

Tapscott suggests: "Searching for information on the Internet is obviously a different exercise than reading a book. You read or scan until you have found what you wanted, and then you click on a keyword to hunt for more information. Unlike the journey you take when you read a book, no one is holding your hand or serving as your guide. You're on your own. But it requires the same skills you need to read a book -- plus the ability to scan, navigate, analyze whether information is pertinent, synthesize, and remember what question you're trying to answer as you click on the links."

Tapscott's comment reminded me of how I'd approach school assignments by taking information from random sources and putting it together in unlikely ways. I rarely utilised the books I was directed to absorb. I didn't have the internet, but I used books and magazines in much the same way I now use the internet. Of course, today when I happily click through google books, I remember my childhood of random library raids and think 'this is so much easier'. I'm enabled now. Just as alternative literacies have come out from under the shadow of the book.

In essence, I've not 'grown up digital'. I was just waiting for the digital age.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


A friend linked me this piece on "Invasion of the Aca-zombies" from The Australian.

Joseph Gora and Andrew Whelan begin with a curious observation of the current state of academia: "Universities are increasingly populated by the undead: a listless population of academics, managers, administrators and students, all shuffling to the beat of the corporatist drum." Happily, they also identify a resistance: "A tutorial here, textbook marginalia there, crack squads of indomitable postgrads, secretive cells of idealistic academics and even the odd public intellectual: all scattered signs that intelligent life persists."

Still, where's Lizzy Bennet when you need her?

Whelan, Chris Moore and Ruth Walker are putting together a book on the subject. The CFP can be found on their website.

One of my colleagues also blogged about this.

On a brighter note, I recently downloaded the iPad app for Jasper Fforde's new book, The Last Dragonslayer. Perhaps that's what we need in academia? More slayers...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Play Book Dominoes

Is it just me, or do I feel the odd desire to try this at the Matheson Library?

The link takes you (via Boing Boing) to an ad for a US bookseller, Bookmans, using books as dominoes. It's quirky and brilliant. And also gives me ideas about how to arrange my research books. It would give a whole new meaning to 'knocking down that bit of research.'

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chaucer Blogs

I've come across this blog, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog, previously, but thought it worth a mention, particularly as one of the recent posts reviews The Consolation of Philosophie the Vampyre Slayer and how can you not enjoy a line like, "Anon, Ladye Philosophie, who knoweth nat whethir she loveth Plato or Spyke moore, cometh to save Boece"?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Giving Scary Books

I think this idea from Neil Gaiman's recent post is great - basically, on Halloween, give someone - or many someones - a scary book.

It did give me pause for thought, though, as I realised most of my friends already read the books I read. Can I think of a scary book they haven't come across? Any suggestions?

It also occurred to me that many fairy tales count as very scary stories. Just check out the Baba Yaga tales and lines like:

"Then the doll's eyes began to shine like fireflies, and suddenly it became alive."

What could be better than a book of Baba Yaga tales?

And since Neil Gaiman suggested that some readers felt "that it's not proper blog post unless it has Dog Photos," I thought I'd use that as an excuse to include one myself. He's been threatening to eat the teetering pile of essays I have yet to grade.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Disney at the ACMI

One of my undergrad. students was quick on the mark and told me about an upcoming Disney exhibition at the ACMI: "Dreams Come True: The Art of Disney's Classic Fairy Tales" (18 Nov - 26 April). I did quip that it would have made a great field trip if only it had fallen into the teaching schedule for Fairy Tale Traditions.


I find myself having the oddest mixed feelings about it, however. I did my PhD on Disney animated and theatrical musicals. I spent a good three years entirely preoccupied with windy warthogs and singing teapots. I spotted the masterclass with Glen Keane and Roy Conli and thought about the hours I spent pouring over Glen Keane's artwork and any interviews I could find that gave me insight into how he approached the physicality of fairy tale characters. How odd would be it to actually see him?

I've been teaching Beauty and the Beast since then and I'm currently just easing myself back to my earlier work and expanding ideas about how Disney deals in fairy tale fashion.

Yet, as many fear, when you do a PhD, you can sometimes make it impossible to ever again look at the topic of your research. In part, I chose my topic knowing that I could survive three years of preoccupation with aforementioned windy warthogs and singing teapots (I'm not even going to think about what that says about me). Following the PhD, I couldn't look at Disney again for a good couple of years. I needed a break.


I am gradually reconnecting with that spark of curiosity. The one that made me wonder just how Disney managed to spin fairy tales on a global scale never before imagined. During my PhD, I had to challenge the almost overwhelmingly negative scholarship existent on Disney in order to really get to the heart of the storytelling and why it was working as well as it did. I just couldn't believe that merely exploitative storytelling would capture the hearts and minds of so many over so long a time and over so many cultures and communities.

What I found was a dynamic collaboration of storytellers and for better or for worse, they still intrigue me.

So I guess I'll be visiting the exhibition after all and that a PhD doesn't spell the end of one's fascination with any given topic.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Animating Books

I'll begin with this amazing animation of "Going West" from Andersen M. Studios. I have the oddest feeling I might have blogged it before, but it's worth repeating in any case. There's other fantastic animations and textual installments on their website.


I recently read a New York Times article about the decline of picture books with sadness. Julie Bosman reports: "Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools."

Those who know picture books know that this originates from the common misconception that picture books are 'easier' than chapter books to read. No, picture books aren't easier to read. Picture books are a different kind of book, but some of the most amazing, complex, mind-boggling narrative comes from picture books, not to mention the additional level of interaction between illustration and text, with text often becoming illustration and thus raising the interpretive bar. The problem is, many adults continue to endorse a world view in which pictures 'dumb down' text. This is odd, when you think about it. Graphic novels are gaining ground. Books shops are stocking more and more comics. This should mean that more space can be given to picture books, not less, as members of our literate society become more and more active in reading illustrated books.

Some scholars thinking about this news (I won't name names) have suggested that eBooks may also be to blame for the decrease in interest in picture books, but I think eBooks are going to, and are already developing stunning ways to present picture books. I've blogged the Alice App a couple of times and I recently downloaded the Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy App. I was really impressed by the level of interaction the App builds into its functions and that you can even colour in the book. I still like my material picture books, but the alternative options are looking good.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pasta Inspiration

Maybe it's the upcoming fairy tale unit in Italy (view details here), maybe it's simply that I love pasta and new ways of playing with text, but this video for Jacob Kennedy and Caz Hildebrand's The Geometry of Pasta had me at farfelle. What an amazing book, simply in terms of design. And it's marvelous to see book trailers evolve into such beautiful animation.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Authors and Their Covers

At a panel at AussieCon 4, the topic of authorial control over book covers came up. Authors, in general, have little or no control over the covers of their books. This often surprises students. It's often a source of great frustration to authors. It's also, it turns out, frustrating to illustrators who are often only given a brief and later find out that the brief doesn't really relate to the novel at all.

So, I love Ben Tripp's response. He wrote a novel about zombies, but wanted it to be accessible to a general readership. Unfortunately, the publishers decided on a cover that makes it very genre specific. His comeback? On his website, he's providing alternate covers you can download, print off, and re-cover your book with. I'm particularly fond of the cookbook cover.

There's an interesting dynamic emerging as publishing houses rely more and more on authors creating their own online presence, while at the same time, some authors are rebelling against the dictates of their publishers through this very online presence.

(Later note: On the other hand, there are other problems/opportunities in the academic publishing area. I was just reading a disheartening blog post at Savage Minds about the closure of Rice University Press. I'm not familiar with the ins and outs, but the post had some good points to make about the difficulties faced in academic publishing today.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Getting out from behind the lectern - and Joss Whedon

An academic friend and I have been debating the issue of fashion and the female academic. We were inspired by a blog post, "Mind over Malls or, Does Academia Hate Fashion." Minh-ha T. Pham notes:

"That fashion scholarship and fashion/style blogging seem to be mostly circling each other rather than interfacing is not so much the failure of academics as it is the evidence of the persistence of the beauty/brains division in academia in particular and society at large."

I think this is starting to break down. Just as geeks are becoming fashion forward, academics are finding new ways to express their research interests through fashion. It's actually quite entertaining popping along to a conference and trying to figure out an academic's area of expertise based on their dress. It can be as easy a giveaway as an ironic pop culture shirt to the more subtle beret and wrap that might mark an Austen scholar. At a very practical level, today I noticed a blog post in which a very practical reason for bright shoes was voiced:

"You had to know that I was going to wear a colorful shoe, right? I’ve realized that I am far less likely to hide behind a podium when teaching if I’m wearing a bright shoe. A bold heel deserves a bold presentation style."

Oh, and remember that I went to Joss Whedon's keynote speech at the Melbourne Writers Festival? There's a transcript available to look at now. This is one of my favourite moments from his keynote:

"Well, a lot of my writing is influenced by comic books, a lot of my directing is influenced by comic books. They make very iconic images, they know exactly, you know, where to put “the camera”, they do the storytelling in – they have to put everything in these panels to get from place to place, and when it’s done well, you really know, you really feel that flow. And but you also feel the “pop” of these moments, so you’re not just sort of [bumps the microphone] – oh excuse me. [realises] I just apologised to a microphone. I really do need to work on my self-esteem, huh?" (Min, omg - squee)

I also noticed another piece on the same website that made me click, "Authors are People Too" (Firefall). It's worth a look if you're interested in how fans are now influencing the work of their favourite authors.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Want to study fairy tale in Tuscany?

If you're a Monash student, here is your chance! My new Prato unit is up and official. You can find the details here. I'm very excited about it. I'm also wondering if shoe shopping in Florence can be worked in as a field trip...

Shoes, fairy tale... it all makes sense.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Understanding the place of fanfic in literary culture

Naomi Novik recently gave a great interview about how fan fiction is part of literary history ( via i09). A couple of times at AussieCon 4, Cory Doctorow mentioned his own well-known stance on fan fiction:

"And once readers model a character, it's only natural that readers will take pleasure in imagining what that character might do offstage, to noodle around with it. This isn't disrespect: it's active reading." (Locus Magazine)

I'll admit, I don't really read a lot of fan fiction. I read some of the fiction friends write, but I'm having enough trouble keeping up with the arrivals of comics, fairy tales, novels and such that then pile up. Nonetheless, I get frustrated with myself. I believe in fan fiction. Why don't I read more of it? Why do I let it reside at the bottom of the 'to read' pile? For that matter, why don't I write more?

Well, in terms of the latter, time is the easy answer. I did once write fan fiction, but it was scribbled into the back of geography notebooks and passed around friends. I went to high school before the Internet was around. But writing with established characters provided fascinating opportunities to explore how we all related to them and, indeed, opportunities to write for known audiences. I could use what I knew about my friends' interests to appropriately tweak my stories. As a writer, it provided vital practice in 'knowing one's audience.' Today's fan fiction writers are writing mostly to fan bases. They have to grapple with factions and theories and rumours in the fan community, not simply with the 'canonical' material. This offers a fascinating insight into how writers and readers engage and debate story.

If you're interested in the topic at an academic level, a great place to start is Henry Jenkins' Textual Poachers.

Incidentally, over at Silk for Caldé, there's a terrific post on AussieCon 4.

Genre Fiction

I found this little gem via a retweet this morning:

"At the bookstore later in the day, my son stood in front of the Sci Fi section and said, in a very loud voice: 'Mom, this is my new gender.'" (Original blog post here.)

I love that this gem comes from a writing professor, whose blog is titled Was Jack Kerouac a Punjabi?

AussieCon 4 is over. I have a new skill. I can say Raxacoricofallapatorius with ease. I had been displaying this skill in class this past week. I practiced hard to acquire this skill for my Doctor Who paper: Doctor Who - Humanity's Fairy Godfather or Prince Charming? I gave my paper to a packed audience (it was a small room, but packed with Doctor Who fans) who all applauded my feat of skill and laughed in the right places. It's all you can really ask for.

I saw many fantastic panels. My only moment of horror was when someone linked the word 'wholesome' with 'YA lit'. Still, for the writers, there was a terrific panel on establishing an online persona with the point that agents and publishers do now google perspective authors, looking for a public presence. If you are looking at a writing career, it's something to consider. There were great panels on the future of electronic publishing, book covers, paranormal romance, YA literature etc. There was a very funny keynote by Kim Stanley Robinson, during which he interviewed himself. There were many steampunk costumes, confirming that steampunk is enjoying a particularly high profile now, and the Girl Genius stand, with authors signing, sold out in a mere couple of hours. Girl Genius is one of the fantastic examples of how creative teams are working outside the industry and making cult fandom work for them - financially too. The financial aspect had always been the tricky part.

We had a great cohort of Monash students giving papers in the academic stream, all to good effect. I haven't permission at the moment to give their names - okay, I haven't asked for permission yet - but kudos to them all.

Right, now I'm going to try to wrestle my other shoe from my dog and try to get over this cough, which has been frightening both the dog and my students for the past week.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Little Bits

Yesterday before heading off to AussieCon 4, I caught a couple of interesting pieces in The Guardian.

Item One

A great interview with Terry Pratchett on the release of the last Tiffany Aching book (I admit here that the Tiffany Aching books are my favourites and I want to believe in the Nac Mac Feegles more than I want to believe in fairies). Here's an excellent snippet from the interview:

"Pratchett knows there are strict rules about making things so dark when you are writing for children – 'a child's instinctive grasp of narrativium [sic] is that this has got to end well' – but he is also very clear that, while his witch can take away physical pain (she draws it out into a ball, then dumps it), she cannot, and will not, take loss, sadness, or grief."

Aside from finding 'narrativium' to be an excellent word, I find it odd that this persists: that explanation of darkness in children's literature is required. Children's literature is built upon dark fears and dangerous things. Pratchett has it right. The trick of children's literature is that it will end well. There are ways to fight the darkness. The essence - indeed, the importance - of children's literature is this exploration of the overcoming of the darkness, whether it be in the slaying of dragons or the ability to face and manage depression. Some writers forget this. It's not about the darkness and the fear. It's about overcoming it.

Reading Positions

I also found Alison Flood's blog on an AbeBooks survey about the positions in which we read to be entertaining. Let's be honest, being involved in the study of literature, I read a lot. Position is important.

There are some areas of academic study that look at how people read - the physicality of reading can be just as interesting as the intellectual side of the exercise. If you're interested in pursuing that line of study, do get in touch with Monash's Centre for the Book.


I had a good day yesterday. First, Neil Gaiman and Shaun Tan at the Melbourne Writers Festival. Shaun Tan sketched on site a story about an angry moose in space. There were also technical difficulties bringing Neil Gaiman, sleepy but via live feed, to the session and he disappeared periodically, reemerging looking benignly upon us while drinking tea (the large screen above the stage had a rather curious effect in that respect - he was a little like the Cheshire Cat). The panel agreed that adults can read picture books. It's sad we still have to agree to this.

Then it was off to AussieCon 4 (the World Con). I caught the session, "Border Crossing: YA authors writing for adults and vice versa" with Bec Kavanagh, Marianne de Pierres, Pamela Freeman and Cory Doctorow. Curiously, the distinction between adult and young adult persists in terms of sex and swearing. Curious, since I'm pretty sure most young adults know about as much about sex and swearing as adults, yet there is still a perception it needs to be censored from YA and that this is the basis of the genre definition. Of course, it isn't really and the panel discussed this. There is a growing recognition that adults also read YA literature (and, in fact, not all adult books have sex and swearing in them, which is, essentially, the assumption if you turn the perception around). YA and children's literature does suffer from definitions that place undue stress upon intended readerships, readerships that are increasingly understood to be far more diverse than indicated. Much work is yet to be done on how these genres can be defined beyond readership age and censorship of sex and swearing. Likewise, these definitions are coloured by 'anticipated risk factors' where publishers and librarians and teachers etc think ahead to what might be considered unsuitable. Naturally, this leads to greater conservatism and is problematic for the boundary-pushing activity of the genre.

I also did like Cory Doctorow's remark that the prevalence of fan fiction is a sign that the writing is working - the characters go on living in the readers' minds, having further adventures.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How Did I Get Here?

This morning I was inspired by Wil Wheaton's blog post, "You may ask yourself, 'well, how did I get here?'"

The truth is, I've been feeling pretty positive about things that are happening around me, too. I have great students and I really enjoy teaching the kinds of literature I have the opportunity to teach and my postgrads are working diligently (mostly!) on fascinating projects.

Tomorrow I'm seeing Neil Gaiman (via skype) and Shaun Tan at the Melbourne Writer's Festival before heading over to Aussiecon 4. Having never been to a convention, I'm intrigued and psyched about the experience. I'll be there for a few days. Right now I'm refining my list of sessions to attend - I'm trying to catch some of the Cory Doctorow, Shaun Tan, Ellen Datlow and Paul Cornell sessions, among others. Oh, and on Monday I'm giving a paper in the academic stream. It'll be on Doctor Who and fairy tale. That's about all I can promise at this stage... as I feverishly attempt to finish it. Somewhat literally. I'm really hoping the loss of voice in this morning's class was not a bad sign.

In further positive news, it looks like there will be a fairy tale unit among the offerings for Monash's Winter Semester at Prato. That's right. Next year, I may very well be teaching fairy tales in Tuscany. Fairy tales, gelati, Italian shoes... dreams do come true.

Gustave Doré (adapted)

Keep an eye open for it!

But how did I get to this good place? The truth is, I spent the greater part of my student life avoiding becoming an academic. The irony is not lost upon me. I even ran away to London, where I became a temp from Chiswick (just like Donna Noble), in order to avoid becoming an academic.

It didn't last. I did a MLitt part time, while coming to the realisation that I didn't like working in corporations, and one morning before work, I went down to the food court for a coffee and toast and was planning an essay on the 'Beauty and the Beast' narrative in Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I remember exactly where it happened. I was crossing the road afterward, on my way to the office, and thinking about how Mr Darcy and Beast are pretty much one and the same thing, and it struck me. I could make a career out of thinking these things.

It took me another few years and a few degrees to realise that fairy tale really was 'my thing' (I know, I know... it was obvious from the start... I was blinkered), but now that I have, I'm no longer avoiding being an academic.

The trick, most will agree, is to find a job doing what you love. I love working with fairy tales. So even on days when I'm tired and grouchy because I've been ploughing through marking and paperwork, there is a little voice in the back of my head, saying over and over again:

"You have a career where you spend your time thinking about cats in boots, glass slippers, magic blue boxes, prince charming and falling stars."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Student Conferences

I'm a great fan of student conferences and we've had lots of involvement from students in the two small conferences I've helped to run (one on Harry Potter back in 2007 and one on vampires in 2008). So, this video, "How to get a lecture hall full of people to make Chewbacca sounds" ignited that enthusiasm once again. We are thinking of running a conference on female superheroes, but we still have some assessing to do of plans.

I went to see Joss Whedon's keynote at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Friday night and it was brilliant. There were Jayne hats in the audience, which always makes me glad, and a general buzz of enthusiasm and goodwill and Joss Whedon is a terrific speaker. I did like his advice to those who want a writing career: "Write." Best advice in the world. He also spoke to Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse etc - of course - and mentioned in passing the possibility of writing a novel. I want Joss Whedon to write a novel. He was introduced as god, but did add that he didn't believe in himself.

Leading on from the Melbourne Writers Festival is AussieCon 4. It's a busy couple of weeks. Which may account for the especially illegible writing I've been committing lately on graded essays.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fairy Tale window shopping

When I spotted this cute, red vintage suitcase, I just hoped the little girl wasn't going to meet a wolf.

Friday, August 20, 2010

International Read Comics in Public day - August 28

This is the kind of day I can get behind! If only the new Fables volume was out in time.

And if you're still looking for things to mark your spot in a book with, here's some great printable bookmarks from Wild Olive (via You'll note there's even a bacon bookmark! Now, what were we saying about not leaving bacon and eggs in your books?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Misuse of the English Language

I wasn't taught grammar and spelling at school - well, other than the basics. I did learn about verbs and nouns and I participated in spelling tests. However, because I read a great deal, I developed strong writing skills and so, when the teacher would gather the class for an intensive session on grammar, I'd be sent to the back of the room with a good book. I was perceived as possessing good skills already. There was no need to meddle with that.

Not that I always employ good grammar. (Shhhhh.)

However, I am always amused by the insistence on right and wrong ways to use the English language. The history of the English language seems to suggest that right and wrong ways are always changing, always evolving, making any certainty uncertain at best.

I wish I was in London to catch the 'Evolving English' exhibition at the British Library. Mark Brown at the Guardian picked up on one of the great exhibits: "If u really r annoyed by the vocabulary of the text generation, then a new exhibition at the British Library should calm you down. It turns out they were doing it in the 19th century – only then they called it emblematic poetry, and it was considered terribly clever." I hesitate to provide this information to students in English Lit. Think of the potential chaos if they all start using text language on exams and insist they're really just being super clever and using 'emblematic poetry'.

I'm not even smiling a bit as I write that. (There is more to emblematic poetry than its similarity to a text message, in any case.)

I always find Jasper Fforde to be my favourite go-to-person for grammar and spelling related issues - I like the idea of Verbisoids, Noun Fish and Converiblators.

In the end, though, it is important to get the language right according to current standards. It's something we all learn as we pursue careers in English Literature. Understanding how language works and is utilised is part of our business.

Gratuitous Shoe Blog

I was admiring someone else's gratuitous shoe photo in my Twitter stream today and they were nice enough to direct me to the Rivers online shop to get myself a pair. Don't they look like fairy tale shoes?

And they're red, which, as anyone knows, is the key colour of fairy tale footwear. Many have pondered the significance of the red. Is it aristocratic? It's often associated with the nobility - Louis XIV delighted in high red heels. Is it sexual? It's often associated with female sexuality, in particular, and carries many a Freudian Slip-per (sorry, I groaned at that too). Or is it simply that there is something enticing about red shoes? Many friends confirm that wearing red shoes makes you happy and confident. And how many have read Andersen's 'The Red Shoes,' and yet come away wanting red shoes? Despite the fate of the red-shoe-loving heroine?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What Authors Write In Their Books

I just found a blog post about the selling of David Markson's library. Markson recently passed away and his collection of - often heavily notated - books was given to a bookstore to sell. As Alex Abramovich notes, this was a"shock, in part, because Markson’s work relied so heavily on other books". Needless to say, then, the notes he makes in those books provide potentially valuable insights into his own fiction. Now they're being sold rather randomly and scholarship may lose potential insights into his writer's mind altogether.

I discovered the blog post thanks to a Guardian blog by Sam Jordison. Once again, it goes to the topic of what happens now since you can't leave things in eBooks, but I liked the response of 'freepoland': "It is important to leave things in books [...] I leave bus tickets, cinema tickets, invitations, letters, ideas notes and all sorts; that way your book collection becomes a diary or set of random aide memoires. [...] I do draw the line at leaving a fried egg or bacon as bookmarks." I agree, egg and bacon may not be quite the things you should leave in books, although I think the odd pasta sauce stain can be found in some people's books. I'm not naming names.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fashion and Literature

I loved this slideshow of the best dressed in literature - although, seriously, how could they leave out Jane Austen's heroes and heroines? Or better yet, Georgette Heyer's nonesuches and nonpareils? Or, best by far, D'Aulnoy's Finette Cendron, who can reduce a Prince to a pining wreck of a man over her red velvet slipper embroidered in pearls?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Books that Animate

Last post I mentioned again the Alice App. This morning on boing boing, video from the Smithsonian of The Animated Circus Book.

I'd love to see more of these. In fact, there is a project in old books with movable parts and how readily they lend themselves to contemporary technology. After all, the movable parts aimed at imitating life, the very cornerstone of animation, which is what we see on film and now on applications like Alice. The medias are not in competition. They're striving for the same kind of effects.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Marking your place

After seeing a selection of fantastic bookmarks with noses and hound dogs (you can download a template here) via, I got to thinking about how we mark our place in a book.

This week , I took my iPad with the Alice App (which is brilliant - I'm particularly fond of the floating cupcake page) to Honours class. Since I was taking the iPad and felt a little lazy about also taking my well-thumbed copy of Through the Looking-Glass, I downloaded the free eBook and took that instead (the use of eBooks will be tricky in terms of citation and reference, though I have to admit that finding early editions of Jane Austen on Google Books is exciting and may alter how we consider scholarly editions). However, there was one catch. Each time there was something I wanted to refer to, I had no worn page, no aging post-it note, no penciled scribbling to go by. I was without the marks of my previous readings.

Apps on iPads and Kindles etc are catching up. There are apps so that you can highlight and notate pdf documents. There are bookmarks in iBook. Yet, how often do we find our favourite place in a book by feel - by touch, in effect? There will be spots along the spine where the construction of the book itself has become accustomed to being opened and has consequently adjusted itself. Or has simply fallen apart. I have a copy of Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades that has finally given up and reverted to a pile of loose pages and tattered cardboard covers. Yet, I won't give that copy up. It contains my first reading experience of Heyer. It's wrapped up in ribbon and still read.

Will the iPad contain our first reading experiences so well? Even with electronic bookmarks and highlighted passages?

I do enjoy the iPad, despite the splash a recent survey caused. It's easy to use, it makes it easier to read lots of pdf articles and to search through Google Books (incidentally, if you do need a page from a Google Book, you can always screen cap. and then print that image), and it's suitable for quick typing and watching downloaded videos. I'm a fan. I'm currently debating whether to download Chuck on the iPad for weekend viewing.

On a final note, the academic programme for AussieCon 4 is coming together and there are quite a few Monash names associated. It should be good!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Makeovers

This week in Honours class (Writing the Child), the topic of Enid Blyton 'updating' came up. Oddly enough, today in The Guardian, there's an article about just this, specially, 'Enid Blyton's Famous Five Get 21st Century Makeover'. Alison Flood notes: "The intention, said Hodder, is to make the text "timeless" rather than 21st century, with no modern slang – or references to mobile phones – introduced."

Of course, replacement terms like "traveller" and "bookworm" are still very 21st century and the original terms of "tinker" and "awfully swotter" are half the fun of reading Blyton.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Libraries Are Cool

At least, it looks like libraries might be, to quote the article title, "the next big pop culture wave" (I followed the links via boing boing). Linda Holmes produces a great article, here, about how in a greener, more geek-friendly world, libraries are on the cusp of becoming really popular again. And, actually, I agree with her. There's a world of good to be said about libraries.

The Monash libraries, for example, now stock the deluxe editions of Hellboy and you can borrow all of Neil Gaiman's audio books, a host of Buffy and film DVDs. We do have a number of very friendly, rather brilliant librarians on the ground who are helping us stock up on our favourite authors and multimedia. If you have any suggestions for them, just let me know. And don't forget to go and check out the library catalogues - you'll be surprised what's lurking there between the more dry scholarly hardbacks.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Slush Pile

I'm in a little bit of a post-conference-attendance stupor. "To Deprave and Corrupt" was an outstanding conference with kudos to Simone Murray and Patrick Spedding from Monash's Centre for the Book. It was one of those conferences which inspired you to arrive home at the end of a long day and yet still switch on the computer to do just a bit of research. I'm finding myself more and more intrigued by the idea of research into who really was reading fairy tales in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. So many assumptions about reading habits are proving false in light of new evidence as old records become more readily accessible with digitalisation.

But for today, I'll leave the blog with this site, Slush Pile Hell, "a grumpy literary agent wades through query fails." Learn from the mistakes of others.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Slow Reading

I've just been at the BSANZ Conference, "To Deprave and Corrupt: Hidden and Censored Books," today and have been inspired by some great papers, but also horrified by the email that has piled up while I'm listening to such great papers...

Which brings me to an article I was just reading about, indeed, slow reading (Patrick Kingsley in The Guardian). There is much debate about the impact of the internet on our capacity to concentrate as we read. I do think there have always been people with shorter attention spans and those who skim and scan. The technology has simply caught up with them. I'm not entirely convinced students are reading less than previously, particularly taking into account that more and more students are juggling study with longer hours of work and other activities. Yet, I do find the notion of slow reading appealing and important. Sometimes we do rush too much and we don't stop to really absorb and think about the text we're reading. As with all things, balance is required.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Melbourne Writers Festival

A couple of events, in particular, caught my eye. A keynote by Joss Whedon and a session with Shaun Tan complete with video link to Neil Gaiman.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hypothetical Books and Real Conferences

I've been enjoying this blog series of The Hypothetical Library. With Jennifer L. Knox, Charlie Orr has come up with a YA book, Perplexed by a Porpoise. I like Orr's remark about the hypothetical YA series: "In other words, like all good YA books, they would teach the kids of today the values and skills they will need to navigate the 21st century." Of course, I wouldn't limit that to YA books. Part of the problem of focusing on the pedagogical aspect of children's and YA literature is that we forget that ostensibly adult books likewise provide readers with the values and skills to navigate life in whichever century they happen to be. In fact, sometimes I think the pedagogical aspect of novels for adults is ever more important.

Incidentally, this week, the BSANZ conference, "To Deprave and Corrupt: Hidden and Censored Books," begins. There's a couple of great panels on Friday about children's and YA literature, one of which I'll be chairing.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What do academics do on holiday?

Apparently, they go to Narnia.

Actually, I've just been in New Zealand, which, in effect, involves traveling through Narnia and Middle Earth. In fact, I've been riding horses through Middle Earth's many lands. One of my good friends even managed to get her hands on a Lord of the Rings horse, Sam, for one of the treks. He rode with the Rohirrim long ago. One of my horses, on the other hand, rode with the Barbarians in Hercules.

It's difficult to be in a place like New Zealand and not wonder what the Inklings would have made of it. It's a perfect setting for their tales. Likewise, physically experiencing such landscapes, whether on horseback, foot, or in a bus, provides one with fresh insight into these epic adventures. And a wish that one could make a case for field trips in literary studies. Imagine trekking all day and meeting around a camp fire to discuss the Tale of Tinúviel?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New Books

Needless to say, the news of this book's release made my day.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Catching up on reading

I've been catching up on Elaine Showalter's Teaching Literature (2003), a book I've been meaning to read for a while. Recently, as you might have noticed, I've found myself thinking more and more about how we define the types of texts dealt with in the study of English Literature. Showalter reflects on this too, repeating an anecdote from Terry Eagleton:

On the other hand, Eagleton admits, literature often uses a heightened and excessive language. "If you approach me at a bus stop," he quips, "and murmur 'Thou still unravished bride of quietness,' then I know I am in the presence of the literary." Of course, if your bus stop is not in Oxford, and if you are not a teacher of literature, the Keatsian murmurings that alert Terry Eagleton to the presence of the literary may well alert you to the presence of a nut-case. (21)
I love an academic text with a sense of humour!

It also made me think about how a quote from Neil Gaiman's Sandman, "It is a fool's prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak," had been misattributed to Shakespeare online. Amusing, yes. Upsetting? Not really. I can see the logic behind the error.

Science and the Arts

I've been thinking quite a bit about how geek culture is associated with the sciences, but not so much with the arts and disciplines like English Literature; and about why this is a pity, because science often draws on the material we work with on a day to day basis.

For example, scientists have named a pheromone after Mr. Darcy. I first read about it on Jane Austen's World, but the original article is available at BMC Biology. The naming may be tongue-in-cheek, much like naming a possible tenth planet for the solar system 'Xena,' but I like the idea that a good understanding of Jane Austen assists scientific thought.

Recently, I also came across a tweet that lead me to a BBC project, Jane Austen's iPod. It's a terrific idea. More and more contemporary writers are sharing lists of the music they're listening to while they write. Meg Cabot just gave her playlist for Insatiable. There may be a research project or two in the music authors write to!

And not just authors. Academics sometimes write to music too. I'm one of those who find it difficult to focus in silence (it's why I won't often be found tapping away at a paper in my office - my music would drive colleagues insane). Studying fairy tale, of late, I've been led in the oddest musical directions. Just the other day, I was researching male fashion and wound up investigating 'fop rock,' which led me to Adam Ant and his hit, 'Prince Charming.' The video clip is very very odd, but does indeed draw on the fairy tale in new and interesting ways!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fairy Tale Novels

There are a host of novels based on fairy tale. Too many for me to really explore. But I was reading about Jessica Day George's Princess of Glass on Sur La Lune's blog and I couldn't resist finding a copy that instant. I admit, it was predominantly because I read that it includes knitting patterns and I'm fascinated by knitting. But also because George reflects: "Then it occurred to me that dancing in glass slippers might possibly be just as bad: would the glass bend?" As I've contended with students, glass slippers are just silly. Much more likely are the red velvet slippers embroidered with pearls in Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy's Cinderella tale, 'Finette Cendron.'

Friday, May 14, 2010

Why Studying Fairy Tale is Awesome: A Seminar Paper

On June 1st, I'm giving a paper entitled 'Why Studying Fairy Tale is Awesome' as part of the English Lit. seminar series. It'll be on at midday in the ECPS library, level 7, Menzies Building, Clayton campus. Please do come along if you're interested in fairy tales - everyone is most welcome.

I'll be talking a bit about the field of fairy tale scholarship and the changes that are taking place in the field, including the impact of research into popular novels, comics and television, and then I'll give everyone a rundown of my own research. It'll be a little like those school presentations, 'what I did on holiday,' except I'll be talking about what I've been up to on research leave!

I was in two minds about the title - did it sound like I was trying to be 'too cool,' which can be incredibly painful? However, a random poll of my students reassured me that studying fairy tale is awesome and it should be stated.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Fan Fiction Debate

There's a great piece over at i09 by Catherynne M. Valente about authors and their response to fan fiction, in which she declines the urge to "holler about fan fiction being evil when I've made a name for myself at least in part by retelling fairy tales."

Anyone who knows and understands fairy tales will usually feel pretty comfortable with fan fiction. Fan fiction and fairy tale operate on a very similar basis. The best fairy tales don't simply retell earlier tales - they fill in gaps, twist the plots, upend characters, indulge in the odd bit of wish-fulfillment or revenge, and incorporate opportune bits from other tales.

Fan fiction is simply part of what makes the world of storytelling go around. It's not out of bounds to claim works like Geraldine Brooks' March are fan fiction. There are good and bad examples, after all. There is always a little trickiness around copyright - happily earlier fairy tale tellers didn't worry too much about that - and this has created angst and over-caution among some authors. It isn't that incredible in light of what can happen in the courts. Angst is probably also due to the reality that authors can access fan fiction thanks to the internet. Fan fiction was always being written, but the 'source' authors didn't generally see it until the proliferation of fan fiction sites. Curiously, television writers seem more apt at accepting and absorbing fan fiction, perhaps because much, even most, fan fiction is generated by serialised storytelling. Shows like Supernatural actively play to their fan base and you'll see the occasional wink to the fan fiction trends. Television shows also tend to have writing teams, with different writers working on the same stories, characters and arcs, pulling them this way and that as the series evolves. There is a different sense of proprietary rights involved, one a little more friendly to the generation of fan fiction. And most scriptwriters do spec scripts, which aren't a world away from fan fiction, either.

For myself, I think fan fiction is evidence of engaged, active, creative readers, readers who in turn become writers. I have nothing against having more writers in the world.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

This morning's post brough to you by the Bronte sisters

This is a fantastic fake ad for Bronte sisters action figures. I'd tell you about the coolest part, but that would be a spoiler.

I actually grew up thinking women 'owned' the novel. We once discussed in a women's writing class whether we'd noticed the gender of the writers we'd been reading up to that point. The outcome was intriguing. Most of the writers I thought of were women. The odd Dickens or Eddings, but even now, if I glance along the shelves, where there is a concentration of novels by the same author, it's far more often a female author (although there is a slight shift since I've been adding comics to the mix... where are the female comic book authors? I'll have to pursue that).

Students went home and had a look at their shelves and came back with all kinds of insights about their own reading and whether or not they'd noticed or even cared about the gender of the writers they'd been reading. It's worth reflection. We talk a lot about gender discrimination and its impact on literature, and our own reading is a useful place to start.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

'One Book, One Twitter'

If you know my curriculum-setting habits, you'll know I smiled at the first choice for the 'One Book, One Twitter' initiative (you can read about in here in The Guardian). The choice is for the big, rambling Neil Gaiman novel, American Gods.

It's not an easy or simple choice, so I'm fascinated that it won. The field included literary and science fiction heavy weights, too. In reading about the 'one book, one city' efforts that spurred 'one book, one twitter' on, what is exciting is that the novels aren't predictable. Apart from perhaps To Kill A Mockingbird in Chicago. Yes, I enjoy the novel, but it regularly crops up on 'to read' lists. From Russia With Love, chosen by Brighton, doesn't.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Genre Definition

Lincoln Michel is thinking about genre labels in The Faster Times. The article underscores the difficulty of working with definitions in terms of genre. Genre is slippery. It is meant to be. Solid definitions or labels simply shouldn't stick.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Neil Gaiman talking about fairy tale

It's here. It makes you wish there were radio interviews available with earlier fairy tale tellers. Imagine the potential transformation in scholarship.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Library Thing

Today in the mail, I received my copy of She & Him Volume Two. I had downloaded a couple of the songs on iTunes, but I do still like a really good CD in physical form, particularly if I like the artwork. And I do love the feel of the cardboard-packaged CDs in preference to their jewel-cased compatriots.

I opened the CD and found a little pocket with the insert, all done up to look like an old-fashioned library index card.

That's right - libraries no longer use such index cards. At least, the majority of libraries now work on digital systems, so your book is swished through a scanner and you can't snoop at previous borrowings and due dates.

In fact, I sometimes wonder if younger readers at all remember the days when library cards were in use? Which makes it particularly curious that many children's books likewise reproduce the nostalgia of library ephemera. Take Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia, seen above. The borrowers' slip records all the acknowledgements neatly. Emily Gravett's Wolves likewise reproduces such nostalgic touches (her website is worth a look). Such authors/illustrators incorporate the ephemera of snail mail and used books, deliberately aging their pristine works.

If you pop over to the Jingles for Juniors exhibition at the Monash Rare Books Collection, you can see an earlier example in the Japanese fairy tale series by B.H. Chamberlain et al., 1888, displayed.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Literary/horror Mash-Ups Continued...

I've been teaching Little Women in the Children's Literature unit. So, without further preamble, let me pass along news of the imminent release of Little Vampire Women. For some reason, I'm finding this one particularly intriguing. Perhaps in part because I think it would delight Jo March. Remember, she did like penning the odd salacious tale, a habit she had in common with Alcott herself, who wrote romantic thrillers for the magazine trade (a selection are available in this volume).

I also think Amy March would make an excellent vampire, although she would continue to have issues about her nose shape.

Now I shall eagerly await the first grad. student who feels the urge to understand this current phenomenon.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jane and Facebook

It's a little eerie how well Pride & Prejudice can be adapted to Facebook. However, it is to be expected. I do suspect that Jane Austen would have loved social networking sites. She would use every scrap of the page in her correspondence and was always hungry for gossip and eager to pass it along.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Future of Books Continues...

It's no secret I really want an iPad. And I want it so that I can read books on it. I'm curious to see how the technology will work and what it will mean for my reading experience. I love books. I love embossed and leather covers and pages that crinkle under my fingers. Yet I also love reading online and discover myself growing impatient when a book I want to explore isn't available for preview on Google books.

In light of technologies like those presented in the iPad, the future of publishing is being actively debated. I also just noticed it's being debated in the future. Today's the 21st and this New Yorker article is currently cited as the 26th.

Monday, April 19, 2010

To the writers

i09 features a useful post from Charlie Jane Anders, "4 Danger Signs to Search For, Before Sending Off Your Novel." It's good, solid, practical advice, although I tremble to imagine it applied to this blog.

Word of warning, the blog is written very quickly in between other tasks or it simply wouldn't happen. (There, that covers me, right?)

As I was copying and pasting in the link and considering a title for the blog post, though, I did initially hit upon 'to the creative writers.' And it struck me - why do we talk of creative writing? Surely all writing is creative (bad or otherwise)? When I set creative writing tasks for assessment, I always feel a little twitch of discomfort, as though it implies the critical task is not creative or vice-versa.

My creativity is constantly taxed in scholarly writing. I'm still inordinately proud of my observation that Voldemort concealed his identity in "an act of anagram" in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Drawing the reader in, amusing the reader, is just as important to me in terms of scholarship as in terms of creativity. The better I can capture the sense of the novel or play or short story that I'm writing on, the better I can explain how it works and why it is significant.

This also goes to the vexing problem that plagues academics of my interests. How can you write about vampire slayers, windy warthogs, little green gnomes etc in a serious scholarly work without it sound(ing - proof reading fail) just a bit ridiculous? The only answer is in extending your creativity in how you write about such matters.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Shakespeare wouldn't really roll in his grave...

...even if I simultaneously wince and laugh at this take on his work, "Such Tweet Sorrow." It's a contemporary, 'live' performance of a rewritten Romeo and Juliet, produced in a partnership of Mudlark and the RSC, and taking place on Twitter. It's only just started and the story will continue to unfold over the coming weeks. Ferris Bueller has already been referenced - never a bad thing.

It's a clever idea, though there are many characters from many tales currently sending out their tweets, including Richard Castle, whose novel, Heat Wave, I just finished. It's a fun, cheesy piece of writing. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fans make better scholars

Reading Henry Jenkin's comments on "reducing the world's suck" on Boing Boing this morning, I liked his wrap up of fans: "a community of readers, who compare notes, pool knowledge, and thus can deal with the scope and complexity of rich television narratives." However much we try to fight it, academia in the Humanities is still largely a solo experience. Conferences and symposiums help. Collaborating on articles and books brings us together. Yet these activities have to constantly defy a system that frequently keeps us apart. Often, if a few colleagues are found in the staff room, we remark on how unusual it is now to have an opportunity to share coffee and talk. Competing teaching schedules, individual deadlines, supervision and administrative meetings etc conspire against communal scholarship.

Yet I've been running reading groups and I constantly find these intellectually stimulating and reviving. Academics can work like fans. In fact, if you look at our rich history, we often do. And I'm not even thinking simply of the Inklings, who'd meet up at the Bird and Baby for Beer and debate.

In particular, as I'm researching 'the book', it occurs more and more to me that there are simply too many tales, too many variations, for one individual. Fairy tale requires a communal approach. It always has.

Incidentally, there were a couple of other interesting pieces on Boing Boing today. I like the idea they may have discovered evidence of the Doctor (they say it's a hipster, but the costume design of the Doctor has always been a little odd like that). And, now that I'm actively counting down to getting an iPad, this made my day. It's the little things. And another cup of coffee.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stitching Alice

As you may have noticed, I have a fascination for the collaborations of craft and tale-telling, so I loved this round-up of Alice embroidery designs on Feeling Stitchy. I particularly like the simple stitching on red linen in this design.

Of course, you can't always go passed the original.

(Later Note: A friend just showed me this. Alice for the iPad. I need an iPad now.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Vote on the best Austen covers

I just discovered this online poll for the top Pride and Prejudice cover via Twitter. I cast my vote for no. 8 - how could I not?

How is my research progressing today? Apart from taking some time out to put together a speech for tomorrow's opening of the Children's Literature exhibition at Monash University library, my research is looking a little like this:

Copyright's Birthday

Cory Doctorow has a terrific mini-essay up at Boing Boing about the 300th anniversary of modern copyright and the importance of copying.

It's true. We learn by copying. The best storytellers have learned by copying and expanding their favourite tales. We see it in the playgrounds all the time. We see it on fan fic sites. People learning and honing the trade of storytelling will always copy and then reinvent.

Copyright would have devastated the fairy tale. The fairy tale was enriched by copying, adaptation, reinvention. In more recent times, some have turned their noses up at what they perceive to be blatant copying of tales, repining, for instance, that Madame d'Aulnoy simply copied Basile. Yet she didn't. Her tales remain distinct even as she reinvented the tales that Basile possibly himself reinvented (much is lost in the unknown of the oral tradition, to the extent of not knowing if it was in turn an invention in its own right). Competing versions of tales were often the fare of the salons.

The notion of copyright draws very much on a notion of property. Yet ideas and stories aren't property. You cannot measure their boundaries, fence them off, place a sign declaring 'no trespassers'. Much as we try to own and sell ideas and stories, the stories refuse to be pinned down into the terms of a contract.

There must still be fair play. It's only in our own interests to ensure the storytellers can support themselves and blatant plagiarism has always been a callow act. But Cinderella is not a parcel of land or a chattel, either.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Class Prep.

'Fairy Tale Traditions,' the second and third year unit I run on fairy tales, is still a few months off, but wouldn't this be ideal prep? It's Neil Gaiman's recitation of his poem, Instructions. It's made to promote the beautiful Charles Vess illustrated edition I'll be ordering myself shortly.

Monday, March 29, 2010


The Rare Books Collection at Monash University is staging the "Children's Books: The Lindsay Shaw Collection" exhibition shortly. The opening is on April 13 and you can RSVP by contacting the collection.

And I'll have to give a speech. A short speech. Nonetheless, a speech. "Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away..."

Seriously, if you are in the Melbourne area, it'll be an excellent chance to have a look around at the many and varied gems of the collection.

Easter Reading

It's time for a little stretch, dark chocolate Lindt bunnies, and the good corner of the couch where one can sit and read for hours.

I also picked up Drawing Down the Moon. It's a collection of art by Charles Vess, one of my favourite fairy tale illustrators. Vess runs through his influences and project selection processes. There's a great section on his collaboration with Gaiman on Stardust. I love the scenes with the flying ships. In an interview, Gaiman describes the process: "A lot of the story was actually pushed into existence by me going, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to see Charles drawing so-and-so?’ And occasionally he’d draw something and I’d go, ‘That’s good. I’m going to bring that back.’"

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Vintage magazines

The wonderful thing about my current research is that I can indulge in vintage fashion and needlework magazines with abandon. They are truly gems. Take this Needlecraft magazine from January, 1919.

In between stylishly drawn articles on sleeve shapes for the fashionable lady and advertisements for durable socks for children...

In between patterns for a child's crochet bedspread, featuring ducks, mice and bunnies, and excellent pie recipes including 'Conservation Meat Pie' (ingredients include dripping and cold cream of wheat)...

In between patterns for collars, centrepieces and refugee-bags, you find stories. In the case of this issue, a story entitled 'Cinderella'. The heroine is called Enid.

Enid arrives at the stenography pool looking drab and shabby. Later and somewhat mysteriously, she begins to appear at her desk in beautiful clothes and before you know it, she's engaged to the boss's son. She discloses her secret mid-way - she learned to design and sew her own clothes! Thanks to the Women's Institute, she becomes a Cinderella.

It is a very thinly disguised advertisement for the Women's Institute, but in terms of my own research, it does convey a change in the early twentieth century, where we begin to see Cinderellas emerge who work for a living and in the evenings, sew up marvelous concoctions of fashion in which to hit the town. She is enshrined in the Disney animated film, but she reappears in the twenty-first century as Giselle (Enchanted), too, or even Carrie, from Sex and the City, who may not make her own clothes, but certainly earns the money to indulge in her passion for Manola Blahniks.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What to do during Earth Hour?

In The Guardian, I was just reading some suggestions about what to do during Earth Hour ,when I came across this one: "You could also be very retro and go in for a bout of storytelling, as some people recall doing during the 1970s power cuts."

What about telling fairy tales?

One of the great things I've noticed in fairy tale's history is the frequency with which tales are told not in isolation, but in competition. Tellers and audiences gathered together to compete to see which tale would be the best, how people would use a theme or character or motif, how long the audience could be kept enthralled. This isn't the passive, sitting in a circle listening to an old wife or nanny spin a tale in front of the fire, scenario. This is the fairy tale sports equivalent, a lively jumble of bravado and bombast.

That would surely pass an hour in the dark.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Writing a Thesis

One of my postdoc friends pointed me in this direction. It's a terrific piece on the process of writing. Lynn Hunt writes: "Writing is a magical and mysterious process that makes it possible to think differently." Although, I don't quite agree about writing instead of watching Mad Men on the laptop during long haul flights...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dragons, dinosaurs and all good things

I've been keeping up with Tiny Art Director for a while and am so pleased there's now a book available. Basically, the illustrator's tiny daughter has been giving him briefs and she then critiques the results. One of the recent posts has a great fairy tale theme... with added crocodiles.

There are many children's authors who produce work in some form of collaboration with their children. I've taught The Wolves in the Walls, the idea for which Neil Gaiman took from his daughter's dream. The illustrator, Dave McKean, included one of his son's toys, a pig puppet. And there are other works, including Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan, that were likewise composed in collaboration with children's play.

The impact of such collaboration is fascinating, but under explored. Often, particularly in the older examples, there is a taint of exploitation. Yet, contemporary examples show that such collaborations are likewise lively, engaging and productive.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Teaching Tools

Reading io9 earlier this morning, I couldn't help but think that one of these screens would be great to have in a lecture theatre. My lecturing would be greatly enhanced with such a toy... I mean, hi-tech visual aid. (Yes, I would totally spin the files like Castle does. And possibly freeze the entire system.)

If you catch up with the morning spoilers on the site, too, you'll spot a quote from The Guardian, where Steven Moffat says: "For me, Doctor Who literally is a fairy tale. It's not really science fiction. It's not set in space, it's set under your bed. It's at its best when it's related to you, no matter what planet it's set on." Speaking last night of fairy tale fashion, Doctor Who is, of course, one of the exceptions to the general lack of male fashionability. Converse sneakers, bow ties, his fashion look is highly debated and critiqued. I'm also rather excited about the fashions for the new companion. I heard the rumour of 'vintage'.

Mysterious Breeches

Sometimes, Twitter is amazingly helpful. Just tonight I learned about the recent release of Sarah-Jane Downing's book, Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen.

My MLitt. thesis was on the Jane Austen phenomenon occurring in the 1990s. It was known among my friends as 'the men in mysterious trousers' thesis, after a quote I'd found in a review. The review tongue-in-cheek blamed the Austen phenomenon on 'the men in mysterious trousers' appearing in the film and television adaptations. Unfortunately, I've left the thesis at the office, so I don't have the citation handy and will have to add it later.

Oddly, there's not a great deal of male fashion in fairy tale. Descriptions tend to be quite general in contrast to the glass slippers, dresses like the sun, moon or stars, red hoods and mutton-leg sleeves of the heroines.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Illustrators and authors talking about book covers

There's a terrific piece over at SF Signal about recent sci-fi book covers. Apart from the gorgeous covers on display, there's some good insights about the nature of sci-fi cover art. For instance, Lauren Panepinto says: "I think it's more important in our genre than pretty much any other that we be as true as possible to the descriptions and worldbuilding in the books as possible. Our readers love these books because they want to be swallowed up by the world our authors have toiled long and hard to create - your mind always has the picture of the cover in your mind when you start reading, and if you have to work against that as you read the book, it takes away from the experience, I think." I picked this particular quote out, because I do have concerns about increasing reliance on stock images and fashion trends for covers (it's odd, though, that Twilight seems to have had a bigger influence on book fashion than Harry Potter ever did). The beauty of really unique cover art ought to be celebrated.

Note: It's actually odd reading some of the comments following the piece on io9 that are concerned about reading books with non-nondescript covers in public. I think we should celebrate illustrative, colourful covers in public situations. It makes bus and train trips so much more fascinating. Why be embarrassed? There's nothing wrong with reading imaginative work, good or bad or inbetween. And there's nothing wrong with enjoying covers belonging to other, interesting readers when waiting for your next stop.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Doctor Who is Fairy Tale

Courtesy of DW Magazine, Matt Smith on Steven Moffat: "He lives in a fairytale land, and it comes through. That's what I think is magic about this particular series. It taps into the fairytale." (DWM 417)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

William the Bloody on Shakespearean Sonnets

I've been sharing this link with a few friends and colleagues who have enjoyed it so much, I thought I ought to post it.

It's an interview with James Marsters (hence the William the Bloody in the subject line - apologies, I couldn't resist the obvious). In the interview, he speaks about performing Shakespeare's sonnets on stage and gives one of the best critiques of the sonnets I've read. I'd recommend reading the whole, particularly for the Lennon reference, but here's a snippet:

"Two-thirds of the sonnets are to a guy. And not in a subtle way, either. It’s right out there, “O, my beautiful man.” I cannot believe that no one told me about that. Once you understand that, and once you understand that the sonnets are really autobiographical, they become almost like punk rock. Because Shakespeare doesn’t come off very well in them. Shakespeare comes off like a mewling, wet little kitten."

(Part of me is now tempted to finish with "fifty-seven academics just punched the air," but it'd be more than fifty-seven in reality.)

Speaking of James Marsters, I'm toying with including a Buffy script in my Fairy Tale Traditions course. I'm thinking of "Gingerbread." Xander: "I'm still spinning on the whole fairy tales are real thing. I don't know about you, but I'm going to trade my cow for some beans." However, knowing the world of Buffy, that would be an awfully terrifying giant at the top of the beanstalk. Of course, it always was.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Time-lapse video of book cover design

Cory Doctorow over at boing boing just posted a video of the design process going into a book cover (oddly enough, of a series I've been thinking of reading... once I finish the pile of fairy tale books on my desk).

My only sadness is that covers are increasingly designed using stock images. Of course, absolutely amazing covers can result from such tactics, particularly when done well, but part of what makes many children's book covers so vibrant is that artists are commissioned for a particular book and work with the text from scratch.

Or perhaps I'm just idealistic?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What Happens When the Disney Princesses Get Together?

Over at Huffington Post, they linked to this Mean Girls' take on the Disney princesses. I rather enjoyed how arch Briar Rose can be!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Updating classic children's books with new media?

Of course, when I write new media, the reality is that much of what is considered new media rapidly dates from the moment it's included in that category. I was talking to a student about how, just reading Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries, you could follow the quick uptake of new forms of social networking, technology and the various vocabularies that go with these. From writing notes in class in book one, before long, characters are texting, for instance. Come to think of it, texting is a shame. I still have some of the notes to friends I wrote in class during Geography. I'm saving them for their children's high school years.

So, it's not so surprising that people are looking at how to update children's classics in order to incorporate new media, as a piece on Jezebel indicates.

Such updating is always a little 'iffy'. There is a charm to vintage and retro and if you read Little Women or Anne of Greengables or the Betsy-Tacy books, it's very easy to recognise parallels to trends experienced in today's high schools. Is there something comforting in the notion that bullying, peer pressure, trying to be popular, trying to have just the right accessories, trying to be the right size, have the right hair... I could go on... is nothing new?