Friday, December 7, 2007

This can't be happening!

Hello, dear readers!

I’ve been having a lot of fun lately not doing RQF reports and (obviously) not blogging. I have been, however, indulging a little too vigorously in my own selfish pass-time of being amazed at the true drongos out there floating around the internet, leaving anonymous comments on Audrey's excellent blog. Which you must all read. If you glance at the bottom of the comments on my last birthday invitation post, you'll see the confusingly hilarious extent to which these debates run.

Aside from that I've also been wrestling with mixed feelings about the election. I realise that I should be happy, ecstatic that K-Rudd got in, that a Labor government probably won't treat its citizens like naughty children. But there's a pause in that sentence, around the word 'probably'. I have lived my entire politically interested life under Howard. My understanding of the words 'government', 'politician' and 'representation' are enmeshed with the words 'disappointment', 'disillusion
' and 'resentment'. For me, elected members of parliament are people who look after other people's mortgages at the cost of the next generation's education and health. I never stopped being angry with the federal government for as long as I could understand that what was going on in Canberra effected how I felt about my country and my future. I did stop hoping though. Even on election day when we drove down to Port Elliot to watch it all unfold on a friend's TV, I felt less excited than simply resigned. I had voted. I had done all I could bring myself to do to stop the tide of Australia's trained, ingrained selfishness for yet another election. But if Howard had scraped it in again, I would have nodded and gone back to my studies and my writing and looking out for myself and the one's I care for.
'That's what he's turned Australia into,' I would have said. 'We're not interested i
n how we look to other countries, we're not interested in art or soul or each other. A few are, but the majority of us just want to work and watch TV. Not even the threat of exploitation could stir us from our conviction that if we all just work hard enough and look out for ourselves and our families, then everything will be great and comfortable forever.'

Now that the unthinkable has happened - a Labor government - I literally don't know what to believe. It is as though the sky were suddenly legislated green. Kyoto, an apology to th
e Stolen Generations, scrapping of Work Choices - they are all happening, but I still don't believe it. There must be a catch in it somewhere. I'm almost almost hard-wired to think like this. I say almost because ... I don't know. Nothing I know tells me that my government will perform in my name as I would like them to. I'm almost waiting for Kevin to support the capital punishment of drug smugglers or privatise the roads or something so that I can stop floating around in this political dream world where the rest of the country isn't taught to distrust higher education.
I am the man on the right:


I mentioned earlier that I've been enjoying Audrey's latest blog posts, not just for their lively comments pages, but for the fact that they are reprints of her published work as the latest opinion columnist for the Sunday Mail (Radelaide's local Sunday tabloid). So she has inspired me! Not to write opinion pieces for the local arm of Murdoch's Minions, but to publish on my own blog, things that I've had printed on real paper in real life. I've done this once before, my review of Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big In This? actually secured me a regular reviewing spot in the young adult book reviewing magazine Viewpoint, printed by Melbourne Uni and also received a few comments about how harsh I was being on a fellow first-time young adult author. Rest assured that I have continued on my quest to "tell it like it is" in the world of young adult novels, publishing the following review in the latest edition (available in your local library ... maybe) on an adventure book aptly named The Cursed.

The Cursed by Michael Panckridge (Black Dog Books, 2007, 9781921167553, $16.95) has one of the most imaginative ideas for an adventure novel on the shelves today. An invisible tribe in the Amazon jungle, a sinister, secret society which has vowed to rid the world of evil and the twelve-year-old schoolboy whose destiny is entwined in both. The concept is intriguing and exciting for readers of all ages. Any author talented enough to dream up these elements and brave enough to combine them in a 300-page adventure novel must surely produce tale of worth telling, indeed, worth reading!

The Cursed, while being a story worth telling, is not a book worth reading. The standard of editing is such that there doesn’t seem to have been any kind of intervention between the author printing out his manuscript and Black Dog Books giving the go-ahead for a print run. Ignoring the punctuation that veers from clumsy to incorrect and the many instances in which words were missing from the text, it is almost as though the author were deliberately trying to break every commonly-accepted rule for readable writing. For example: ‘Show don’t tell’ is a mantra for anyone who has ever come in contact with the supply end of fiction. After a sentence describing one of three hostages telling diverting stories of travel and adventure to his fellow prisoners, Panckridge felt it necessary to add: ‘He was trying to lighten the mood’ (p.219). Apparently the motive for telling diverting stories to one’s fellow captives in a hostage situation was unclear. Clichés are another aspect of writing that should begin disappearing once the author can think of their own descriptors. Panckridge actually has a laser beam slice through metal ‘like a hot knife through butter’ (p.74).

Moving on to characterisation, but staying with clichés, the schoolboy’s mentor and guardian warns the bad guys that they ‘won’t be getting away with this’ on two separate occasions. In the previous issue of Viewpoint I recommend readers watch a Jackie Chan movie instead of reading Jimmy Coates: Revenge. In the case of The Cursed I believe that an old Scooby-Doo cartoon will suffice. It was a surprise at the end when the villain didn’t complain that he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids (which, predictably, is the very reason he does not get away with it).

On the back cover James Moloney himself claims that the arch bad guy, Raymond Brampton, is ‘surely the most sinister villain since Voldemort’. Voldemort is an evil wizard who enslaves, tortures and kills. Raymond Brampton is Richard Branson but without the beard. The only difference is the spelling and pronunciation of their names. Voldemort heads up the Death Eaters, an order of wizard murderers and torturers mainly concerned with ethnic cleansing. Raymond Brampton heads up a multi-national corporation that only makes masks and yet has somehow managed to survive for over a century and turns a higher yearly profit than Westpac Bank.

Lewis Watt, the central character, barely has any character to speak of. He spends more than half the novel reading a very detailed letter from his mother that tells the story of her own run-in with the invisible Amazonians in prose that, were it not italicized, is barely discernable from the regular narrative of the book. This example of telling instead of showing is not just unskillful, it is utterly perplexing. In a book aimed at younger teens about a twelve-year-old boy and an invisible Amazon tribe, why send the boy’s mother to have the adventure? And instead of actually having the adventure with her, he only gets to read her descriptions of it after the fact. The book is 278 pages long, yet Lewis doesn’t leave for the Amazon until page 201. His mother spends more time having jungle adventures than he does. The closest Lewis comes to real action before he is finally chauffeured to Brazil is stealing the school’s four-wheel motorbike to chase the bad guy, using the GPS ‘tracking thingo’ (p.186) he just happens to build himself. This scene itself is a great contender for the silliest moment in the book. Lewis rides the quad bike into a narrow street ‘cobbled and crowded with speed jumps, tyres and ramps’ (p.191). Maybe, maybe ‘speed jumps’ instead of speed ‘humps’ or ‘bumps’ can be put down to bad editing. But I guarantee that there isn’t a city in the world that installs ramps in its narrow streets for no reason.

As amusing as it is to poke fun at the enormous list of authorial bloopers (and there are dozens more examples), it is only hollow laughter. The Cursed is a great and worrying disappointment. Not just for its poor editing, lazy writing, forgettable characters, sloppy dialogue, conflicting information, all-too-convenient technology and even-more-convenient action scenes. I suspect that this low, low standard of book was published in the first place because Michael Panckridge has sold over 100,000 copies of young teen books set in and around sport. He has probably been instrumental in encouraging boys to keep reading during an age where they traditionally stop. But sending out an undercooked second-draft like this is capitalising on Panckridge’s name as a popular author, rather than anything to do with his ability to write adventure fiction. This shows his audience a great disrespect by treating them as young buyers rather than young readers.

GTH - To River, as usual, for trying so darn hard! Not a seafood buffet, just the local deli's fare at Cinque Terre.


  1. I'll make a note not to borrow this book when the library gets it then. Occasionally i take a break from my usual Kathy Reichs, Carl Hiaasen, Patricia Cornwell, etc. and I head into the young adult section and choose a handful of books at random. Most of them aren't too bad, although now and again I'm back at the library the very next day looking for something more satisfying. Think I'll head on over to Audrey's blog now and see what's been going on there.

  2. Oh! The header, um, lots of unused pencils, a shot of cyberspace, no joy because the writers strike is still going strong......

  3. I keep expecting Rudd to call a press conference, only to slowly take off his Rudd mask to reveal Howard underneath! And then Julia slithers her snake tongue from between her lips...and then i black out.

  4. suggestion of high 5 for clever insult

  5. questioning of value to society

  6. add on questioning of value to society

  7. counter add on questioning of value to society

  8. suggestions of add on too harsh

  9. counter suggestions of add on too harsh
    question of sexual preference

  10. nonsensical statement regarding plankton

  11. Aha! The Header: James Roesenquist, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art?

  12. Yeah, I had the same sentiments regarding Kevin 07. I have trouble telling one centre right government apart from another, although at least the ALP package it a little better. The way I look at it, at least when the ALP took us into a war in Iraq in 1990, they just politely ignored the protests, they didn't actually try to surpress them.

  13. Cinque Terre sounds amazing, as does the rest of your holiday.

  14. River - I actually have another couple of YA books on my bedside table (the ground) at the moment and I'm sort of dreading them because they seem bloody tedious. I will be sure to post up my reviews of them in due time. Noice try for the header, but I have a feeling that Will has topped you....

    Bec - Yes! Yes! I keep having the same premonition! I've been dining out on my impression of Kevin peeling off the rubber mask (a la Scooby Doo bad guy) all week!

    Will - You've got the place right and I can only assume that you've nailed the artist too. I just took the photo because I liked the painting and it was forbidden to take photos in SFMOMA. It wasn't the photo I really wanted, but the life-sized porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles was too heavily guarded.

    Ianto Ware - Yeah, that's true. I've actually heard it said that with Brendon "Cut the Funding" Nelson in as opposition leader, with his supportive stance for gay rights concerning superannuation and wills, etc, he is actually further to the left than the current Labor leader! Then there's the rumour circulating that he never really defected from the Labor party and that he's a plant, sent to take down the Libs from the inside...

    Anon and John -
    Guys, I have no idea what you're talking about. I think it makes sense, but I just can't follow the line of thought.

  15. Perhaps I'm being too optimistic but, being an older gal than you, I had a few Hawke/Keating years before the employment program I delivered was cut by Vanstone and Howard and I also worked as a 'graduate trainee' for the ANZ bank when the interest rates were 17.5%.

    Rudd may not be the lefty we're all praying for, but it's a start. Maybe we should be looking more towards Julia and Lyndsay and, dare I say it, even Peter G?

  16. Are you kidding? You'd rather watch a Jackie Chan movie than read Jimmy Coates?
    The Jimmy Coates books are awesome - but they're not just fight after fight. The stories have real intelligence and wit and a philosophical heart.

  17. I'd rather EAT a Jackie Chan movie than read another Jimmy Coates. No, that is unkind, considering what The Cursed has set the standard as, but I would rather watch one at least.
    The semi-brainful excitement of Jimmy Coates was like eating a large block of cheese. Hard work and not that challenging if all you have to do is chew and swallow.
    Sorry - maybe I'll post my review of Jimmy Coates!


An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32