September 30 2018

Tamara dances: on burlesque, body positivity, and embracing anxiety.

If you follow me in instagram or facebook, you’ve probably seen my #adventuresinburlesque over the past few months. I’ve been posting about my “firsts” – first fan class, first glove reveal etc etc – but in truth, this journey started years and years ago. Indulge me, if you will, as I tell the epic adventures of Tamara, the Dance Mum who Finally Took to the Stage.* Warning: this is a long post. Lots of words, few pictures. Sorry/not sorry. I’ll be adding some photos to a future post as they become available, but for now this is just my post-performance-day brain dump.
(* Title a work in progress)

I didn’t dance when I was a child. I was a baton twirler for years, and loved it so much, but the more lyrical parts of that art form always seemed to ellude me. I always felt too much – more Fantasia dancing hippo than graceful dancer. I look back at pictures of myself now, in my leotards and ultra-stylish hats and boots , and am so sad for that little girl, who couldn’t see past her body to recognise what a talent she had. I was a good baton twirler. No, I was great. And I think part of what I loved about it was that it gave me permission to move. To express myself through something physical. As I hit my mid teens I stopped twirling, in no small part because I was starting to feel more and more uncomfortable in lycra, and less and less comfortable in this body that carries me through the world.

I left school, went off to uni, became a mother soon after, and quickly my life became about other people. My husband, my children, my step-children, my students, my colleagues – I prioritised other people’s needs over my own because it just made sense to me. They were important. I was not. So the idea of moving, of dancing? Well, it wasn’t even on the radar, let alone something I wanted to do but didn’t have the time or inclination to prioritise. So I went through decades of my adult life feeling blah about my body, and disinclined to do anything that drew attention to it, both from others and for myself. I did karate for a few years in my early 30’s, and loved the feeling of strength that it allowed me to recognise in my body, but hated every week putting on that white outfit. It drew attention to everything I thought was wrong with my body, and I couldn’t wait to take it off after each class.

A few years later I started going to the gym with some friends, mostly so I could do a Combat class- all the things I loved about karate, but in the dark, to music, and I could wear leggings and an oversized shirt. Winning. What I didn’t expect was how much I’d enjoy learning the choreography, and soon I found myself loving Sh’Bam classes more than Combat. If you’ve not done Sh’Bam, imagine Zumba with a whole bunch of different dance styles thrown in. It was amazing, I loved it, and I still miss it, but some personal circumstances soured it for me and meant that even now I can’t really think about going back to it.

There was one Sh’Bam track that I loved the most, and (I’m sure this is no great revelation here) it was a burlesque one. I loved the way it felt, to be given permission to move my body, to appreciate the way my hips moved, the way my body felt when I just embraced it. At the beginning of last year, I saw a facebook post about body positive burlesque classes in the Mountains, and mentioned it to Jacob, who encouraged me to go along, and after much anxiety and deep breathing in the car park, I did. For one class. And then never went back again. Not because I didn’t enjoy it – I did. I loved every second of it. But it felt a little too much. So I used every excuse possible to not go back. It was on Saturday, and I had to take Tayla to dancing. It was too far away. I had housework to do. The list when on, and before I knew it almost 18 months had passed from that first class. I knew that I missed it, and wanted to go back, but whilst I’ve been getting better in recent years, it’s still hard to prioritise myself in my life, you know?

A few months ago, though, Porcelain, the lovely lady who runs Stone Cold Fox Dance Collective, posted about new classes that were happening this term in Springwood on a Tuesday night. 2 of my main excuses dealt with. So, in a fit of tax-return-fueled inspiration, I decided to book myself in to both the burlesque and fan classes for the whole term, fully paid for so that I couldn’t change my mind and back out. Thank goodness I did, because without wanting to oversell it I think it’s been one of the most profoundly impactful things I’ve done for myself. Truly.

I started off just attending the classes, fully thinking that the optional performances would be something that I -might- go along to watch, but would definitely not perform in. Nope. No way. The classes themselves have been my little oasis in each week. Even on days when I’ve been tired from work, or stressed from whatever has been happening in my life, I’ve still dragged myself there – mostly willingly, although there was one night a few weeks ago where I needed some gentle persuasion to drag my sorry arse off the couch. (Thanks Jacob, for not saying “I told you so” when you were well within your rights to do so!) As the term progressed, though, I started to think that maybe I would perform. Possibly. We’ll see.

So, the great costume hunt began, but I fully believed that I’d back out before the performance arrived. In truth, last weekend I almost bailed, and had a fairly major meltdown over it. But thanks to some wise counsel and even more sympathetic listening from my partner, I got through that. I stressed out on Friday about my hair and makeup, but just organised something rather than stressing about it too much. And we arrived at show day.

I was feeling really anxious as the morning started. When I dropped Tayla at dancing for her ballet rehearsal, she hugged me and wished me good luck, telling me that she knew I’d be amazing, and I headed out to the car where I sat and cried for a bit. But then I headed to the hairdressers. I went home and packed. I visited my son’s girlfriend who did my makeup. And I went to the theatre, as ready as I could be. Feeling moderately anxious, but not prohibitively so.

We had a run through of my group routines, and we had tech rehearsal. I had a glass of champagne, and waited for the nerves to kick in. Because, as I’ve blogged about before, I do anxiety really well. I recognise the signs, those stomach-churning hand-trembling horrors that usually grip me relentlessly just before I take to the stage to speak. And I waited. But apart from a little nausea early on, there was nothing. Truth be told, now I think about it, the nausea could be attributed to the fact that all I’d only consumed champagne and hummus all day.

What strikes me the most, as I look back on last night, is how comfortable the whole experience felt. I loved doing my fan routine, and was sad that it was over so quickly. I had a slight costume issue in my Gatsby routine which meant that I couldn’t quite get my glove off – at least not by stepping on it, anyway, because my newly completed fringed skirt was far too tight to allow me to bend over properly! Normally, I’d obsess about that 6 counts and forget about everything that went right. But nope – it was just a blip on an otherwise super-fun routine, which I’m pretty proud to say I rocked.

More than being comfortable on stage, though, I was comfortable in my skin. I put on my black outfit for the fan routine, looked in the mirror, and smiled. I really liked what I saw, bumps and curves and all. I felt similarly confident in my Gatsby routine. And I’ve gotta tell you, I loved how that felt. It’s not something I’ve ever really experienced fully – an occasional “yeah, I look good” moment, but to feel that to the extent that I could walk on stage, shake and shimmy all the parts of me that I usually agree need desperately to be changed, and take of half my carefully prepared costume and toss it deliberately and carelessly aside? Never before have I felt that freedom.

I think a large part of it was being in the dressing room surrounded by so many amazing performers – some of them pros, some of them first timers like me, but such a diversely wonderful group of souls, and they made my heart happy. So many different body shapes, and such beauty in each and every one of them, and I didn’t feel out of place in that at all. It felt good, and it’s such a credit to the culture that Porcelain Rose has created in the Stone Cold Fox Collective. I’m so incredibly grateful for her support and encouragement, and so proud to be a part of her world. I know that I’ve still got a lot to learn as a burlesque performer, and I’m ok with that – this journey that I’ve just started on is going to be an enduring one, and I’m so glad to have found this wonderful community. In fact, I’ve already started thinking about future costumes (TARDIS corset, anyone?) and was disappointed to discover that I’m not going to be able to do the next showcase performance in the mountains. Sad face.

Thank you, if perchance you stumble across this, lovely Literary Ladies. Whether you knew it or not last night, you were a part of an incredibly powerful moment for me, and I’m so glad to have shared it with you. And thank you to Porcelain. Amidst this brain dump, I can’t really find the words, but there are a lot of them, and they add up to an incredible gift. You’re a gem. Thank you, thank you, thank you. xoxo

So, that’s the story so far of my Adventures In Burlesque. This isn’t the whole story – just a prologue and opening chapter or two. But you know when you start a book and can just tell from the first few pages that it’s going to be a good one? Yeah, that’s what I’m dealing with here. I’m excited to see where it goes.

If you’re in the Blue Mountains area, and have been thinking about doing something for yourself, I’d highly recommend checking out Porcelain‘s classes. They run in Katoomba and Springwood, and will be starting up in Emu Plains next term too. You won’t be sad, and I’d love to dance with you!

Happy dancing,

Tamara

September 16 2018

If I Tell You, by Alicia Tuckerman: On growing up in small country towns

TitleIf I Tell You
AuthorAlicia Tuckerman
Genre/ issues: OzYA. LGBTQI+. Contemporary fiction. Romance. 

“That’s the thing about hearts […] they’re not vases – you can’t keep em up high on a shelf for fear of them breakin’. You’ve just gotta hope the people you share ’em with are careful.”

I have always loved to read, and for as long as I can remember I’ve found characters in books that have helped me make sense of my life, of the world around me. When I was a teenager, though, growing up in a small country town and feeling like an alien, not fitting in with anyone around me, I found reading always to be an exercise in travel. Books transported me to other worlds – quite literally, because they were never set in places that seemed familiar to me. The few books I recall reading when I was in high school that featured an Australian setting were either urban or historical. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – Playing Beattie Bow and Harp in the South are still firm favourites of mine from that period. But if I think about the books that really spoke to me, that impacted my experience and helped me develop my sense of self? They were all set in the US, and mostly in locations and families that reflected nothing of my reality. That’s part of the beauty of fiction, I guess, and one of the things I love about reading, but I remember wanting sometimes to just read a book that felt like home.

This book though? I wish I’d read this when I was in high school. From the first few pages it felt familiar to me. Two Creeks is the country town I grew up in, although the families in my area relied more on mining than farming. These kids were the ones I survived through high school with. The challenges of being not quite normal that are faced by the central character felt so authentic to me, despite them being different in nature to what I experienced. I was fully unprepared for the emotional impact of this book, and the tears sprung unbidden as I neared the end. The sense of feeling like you need to hide your true self because the people around you won’t understand, and won’t accept you? I wish I could say that’s something I experienced only as a teen, but it’s followed me into my adulthood. It’s getting easier to deal with as I get older, but those intense pangs of first opening up to someone, and trusting them with your heart, they’re still fresh.

This book is an important one on the OzYA landscape, and if I was still in a school library I’d be promoting the hell out of it to my teen readers. Its authentic setting is one young readers need to see – it makes a difference to see your world reflected in the stories around you. And this goes doubly so for the representation present in the characters. Lesbian love stories don’t appear much on paper, and certainly not for young adult readers. Alicia Tuckerman’s love story matters, and thankfully it’s beautifully written, so I’m not just recommending it because representation matters. It’s a quality read, even if you aren’t a country girl thankful to finally see her reality reflected in fiction, or a gay girl who’s sick of reading every other version of a love story except yours. Get this book into your face. You won’t regret it.*

*Take tissues though. You’ve been warned.

Happy reading,

Tamara

July 31 2018

Anne With An E: On going home.

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you’ll know that Anne With An E has been obsessing my every waking moment over the past week or so. I started to type this post as a status on FB, then realised that a) my FB friends were probably sick of hearing about it, and b) I had far too much to say for a status to do it justice! So, a quick copy/paste later, and we have this blog post. If you’re here from my Facebook, hi there, and I promise this will be my last Anne With an E post – at least till next season drops. (PLEASE tell me there’s going to be a next season!)

I usually get annoyed when they mess with the source material when remaking classics. “They” being whoever has has the good sense to fall in love with a story I’ve adored and has decided to make it into a movie/ series/ whatever. This, though, I have loved. Every joyous tear-filled second of it. I’ve loved that the characters all feel more rounded. I love that it’s dealt with societal issues that were glossed over in both Montgomery’s books and the original series. I’ve loved the complexity they’ve brought to the story in fleshing out Anne’s trauma, and in the lives of the people in Avonlea. It felt like coming home to a part of my childhood that I valued dearly, and finding that it was, indeed, just as beautiful as I remembered, but now I’m seeing it with adult eyes.

I think I was about 10 when I first read the Anne of Green Gables books, and I remember working my way through them on my weekly visits to Wallerawang Public Library back in the 80’s. It was, in many ways, my Green Gables – a thoroughly unromantic building, sadly, but home to such wondrous stories and dreams, and I remember falling in love with Matthew and Marilla and Miss Stacey as I borrowed the books from that poky little library, wishing against all hope that I could trade Anne my dark hair for her red. I credit my enduring love affair with the Avonlea chronicles with my semi-regular attempts to dye my hair red – attempts that are frequently thwarted by the stubbornness of my locks to absorb colour as much as they are by my own innate laziness when it comes to personal grooming.

I remember seeing the miniseries for the first time. I was still in primary school, and it was the first time I remember seeing a book I love come to live on screen. I still remember the tears when (*spoiler alert!!!*) Matthew died, and part of my heartbreak was because, well, how could something make me cry when I knew it was coming? Throughout my life, these stories have been a part of me, and I’ve carried them dearly. To see a girl, both on page and on screen, who loved words and stories as much as I, was a sheer joy, and it made me feel not quite so alone. During my undergrad degree, we had a lecturer at UOW who was running a subject on Canadian Literature, and a few of my classmates and I were aghast when we discovered that Anne of Green Gables was not going to be on the text list. After much complaining, he agreed to include a seminar on it, as long as we agreed to not complain when he pulled it apart, and I think we held up our end of the bargain. (Fingers in ears and “lalalalala I’m not listening isn’t -technically- complaining, is it?)

Fast forward 3 decades. Ok, 3 and a half. Sigh.

I’ve been hearing about Anne With an E for a while, and whilst I wasn’t really resistant, I certainly hadn’t rushed to watch it either. I don’t know why I started last week, but when I did, I couldn’t stop. I’ve watched the first 2 seasons, and I’m so overjoyed to have been back to Avonlea. I don’t know that I would have loved it as much when I was younger – I think childhood Tamara needed the sweetness, the purity, the joy of the original CBC miniseries back when she first ventured to Prince Edward Island. But adult Tamara appreciated this wonderful new version of Mongtomery’s classic tale. I loved the moments, the scenes early on that were almost word for word the same as the book and the earlier TV version – they helped me ease into the world of Avonlea that I knew. But I also appreciated that they took the story of Anne and her world in directions that were surprising to those of us so familiar with the source material. There was a depth and complexity to it that made me fall more in love with it, and the new characters and storylines gave me something to look forward to, rather than just comparing it to the original as happens so often with a remake.

Were there things that annoyed me? Sure. The resolution to Season 2 felt unusually light (pun intended) and a little twee to me, as much as I wanted it to happen. Whilst I appreciate how much more rounded and complex the characters are, some of their “lightbulb moments” (pin NOT intended) feel a little forced to me. Prissy and Billy Andrews are prime examples of this. But it’s beautiful – both in its storytelling, and its cinematography. Simply stunning. And it has firmly stoked that little ember that has been flickering away since little Tamara borrowed the first Anne of Green Gables book from the library, all those years ago, to one day visit Canada.

So, that’s been my journey with Anne over the past week. I’ve fallen in love again. I’ll watch this season again. You really are ahead by a century, Anne with an E.

Happy reading/ viewing,

Tamara

 

 

May 27 2018

The Love That I Have, by James Moloney: on timing.

The love that I have

Title: The Love That I Have
Author: James Moloney
Genre/ issues: Historical fiction. WW2. Holocaust. Survival. Relationships.

There’s something to be said for timing in regards to books. It is, in fact, a critical element of the plot of this particular novel, a surprising gem by one of my favourite Australian YA authors – Touch Me still rates as one of the best books I’ve taught. When I started to read The Love That I Have, it had just arrived on my desk as an ARC, and I dove into it because, well, James Moloney. But it didn’t really grab me. I’m not gonna lie, it started off feeling a bit like someone decided they wanted to write the next Book Thief or Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (which are, incidentally, both mentioned in the “if you liked” blurbs by the publishers of this book). I read maybe a third of it, and put it down, moving on to other things.

And then, this book was published, and it started to appear in my news feed. There’s something to be said for Facebook’s marketing algorithms, right? New Australian YA book posts – yep, Tamara will get hooked by them. And indeed she did. So I picked it back up again, and from that point on I really loved it. I don’t know if it’s a book that is slow to start, and builds as it goes through, or if I was not in the right head space to be reading it when I started. I don’t know if I will ever know, really, as I can’t go back and read it again with fresh eyes, so if you’ve read this one, I’d love to hear what you think!

And, to the book itself. It’s a beautiful story about a girl who works in the mail room in a concentration camp, and who starts pretending to be someone else in response to the letters written by one of the prisoners. The idea that captured me most was how much we can create ourselves and our reality through our words, and it made me miss writing letters. (Not that I’ll probably do anything about that, to be honest, but for a moment there I was seriously longing to start handwriting missives to everyone I know.) There are some elements that seemed a little contrived to me – I mentioned the importance of timing in this novel earlier, and it seems to me that a great deal of what happens relies a little too much on good luck, and good timing. But, despite that, I really enjoyed the premise, and I was invested enough in the characters that by the end I was moved to tears on the train. The last few pages hit me with an emotional punch that I was simply not expecting.

So, my recommendations? I think it’s a good book, and if I had it in my book room as an English teacher I certainly would give it a go with the right class. I personally don’t think the comparison to The Book Thief holds up, because there’s something completely brilliant about Zusak’s book that I don’t find in Moloney’s, but that doesn’t discount its quality for me. A compelling, emotional story, which provides an interesting insight into life in Germany from a few different perspectives – often ones that are overlooked in the traditional historical fiction narratives dealing with WW2 under the Nazi regime.

Happy reading,

Tamara

May 15 2018

Turbitt&Duck and Nathan Sentance: On Cultural Collections

Turbitt & Duck: The Library Podcast

Turbitt & Duck: The Library Podcast

Title: Turbitt and Duck: The Library Podcast
Episode:  14, Nathan Sentance talks about cultural collections, looking for authentic sources, and being critical.
Issues: Cultural representation, authority, and respect.

I stumbled across the Turbitt & Duck podcast just before the recent Sydney Writer’s Festival – a library geek I follow was featured on a recent episode, and I tend to stalk people pretty relentlessly on social media when I admire their work, so naturally I downloaded the podcast and started working my way through it, so thanks for getting this on my radar SnarkyWench! The real bonus for me is that there’s not a huge back catalogue to catch up on – often when I discover a great podcast I’ll start from the beginning and the sheer volume of episodes to catch up on can be quite overwhelming (I’m looking at you, Chat10Looks3). They chat to real people working in the library field, and it’s a fascinating view inside the enormous range of library and information services in this country. Library nerds are the best.

The episode I’m reviewing today is the latest, and it’s a fascinating discussion of the impact of curating and collecting indigenous works in various collections. They chat with Nathan Sentance, a Wiradjuri man who grew up on Darkinjung country, and works as project officer in First Nations programming at the Australian Museum. It ranges over a lot of ground in regards to indigenous collections – what struck me in particular is the discussion around what we need to consider when labelling and identifying works from first nations communities? I’ve always been fascinated by the power of language – I remember long detailed conversations during my early uni days about the power of words to represent our reality, and this is the aspect of Nathan’s discussion in this episode which struck me the most. When a mask, for example, is labelled as “creator unknown”, what does that tell us about the cultural history behind it? What does it say about the society that decided it was worth keeping as a piece of history, but didn’t make the effort to record any information about the person who created it, their nation, their heritage its purpose and meaning to them and their people? It’s a powerful reflection on how we label historical and cultural artefacts, and something I’ll be thinking about whenever I read those little plaques next to works at galleries in the future.

Nathan also provided the example of “spear” actually not really being specific enough as a signifier to describe that long pointy wooden thing hanging on the wall – that there are, in many indigenous nations, many different ways to talk about spears, depending on their purpose, their design, and who they’re used by. The act of homogenisation of culture is a really important one to be aware of, and something I’ve been really working to educate myself on as I’m looking at indigenous literature. The idea that one group’s nation, language, history and culture could stand in for every other is something that would be laughable in white society – just think of the outcry that would ensue if you called a Canadian “American” or accused an Irish person of being from England. Or, for the sportsing amongst you, imagine calling someone a Queenslander when you see them wearing a football jersey around State of Origin time, despite the fact that it’s blue – they’re basically the same thing, right?

So, another thing to think about as I continue to curate a giant booklist. Representation matters, and the importance of representation being managed by those reflected in the representation matters most of all. I had a bit of a moment on the train listening to this podcast – I freaked out a bit, going “bleeeerrrggghhh how am I supposed to deal with this, as a middle class white CIS woman? How do I ensure that what I’m doing isn’t just tokenistic?” But then I realised that this podcast is part of the extraordinary diverse network that I can call on to help me out with these decisions, and  serve as a great reminder that sometimes these decisions aren’t mine to make, and sometimes they are – and as long as I’m aware of this fact, and ensure I talk to the right people when needed, I’m doing my job. And that’s ok.

A couple of final thoughts about this podcast – it’s really cool to hear someone speak who says “interesting” with about the same frequency as I say “awesome”. (I think it’s Amy? The problem with podcasts is I always forget which name goes with which voice.) Also, I’m adding the phrase #GLAMnerd to my lexicon. And hopefully to a badge, coming soon to a chest near you. (If you’re near my chest. In completely non-weird ways. Hmmm. That sounds wrong, but I’m committed to it now, so it can stay.) As far as podcast episodes go, it works nicely with my commute – around about an hour, so I can listen to an episode in on leg of a trip. If you’re a fellow #GLAMnerd I’d recommend checking it out.

Happy listening,

Tamara

May 13 2018

True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction, by Helen Garner

True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction

True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction

Title: True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction
Author: Helen Garner
Genre/ issues: non-fiction. Families. Education. Relationships. Writing. Feminism. So much more.

This was my first foray into Helen Garner’s work, and it won’t be the last. I’m an English teacher, lover of Australian fiction, and feminist, so I’ve heard Helen Garner’s name mentioned in a great many circles in the past, but had somehow never read anything of hers. I’ve recently started listening to Chat 10 Looks 3, and Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales fangirl over Garner like I do over Gaiman, so I figured it was worth giving her a go. I’m glad I did.

True Stories is a collection of Garner’s non-fiction work, spanning 25 years. As a bonus, the audiobook version was narrated by her, so you’re getting her work in her voice. And it’s utterly captivating – I will be revisiting this in hardcopy, so I can savour the singular beauty of the way she uses words. That’s how sentences are supposed to work. Sigh.

Her piece about discussing sex and relationships with a class when she was teaching brought to mind the connections that I loved the most as a teacher – a discussion about STD’s in particular, and why not every parent necessarily has one, particularly came back to me, making me both laugh and weep. Her story about sisters made my eyes leak – “Now that we can sing together, surely none of us will ever die, surely.” The awkwardness of forced relationships, forged by proximity rather than familiarity. The complexity of feminism and disagreements over gender lines. I love this book, and it has, as is typical, led me down the rabbit-hole of NAORH – New Author Obsessive Reading Habits. I’m currently working my way through Cosmo Cosmolino, which I’ll no doubt review here soon. I’ve got Monkey Grip cued up after that.

I finished reading?/listening to? this a few weeks ago. What I’m discovering, as I write this review, is that whilst I remember absolutely loving it, I’m finding specific details hard to recall, and I’m discovering that this is a fairly common phenomenon for me when I consume a story via audiobook. It’s a format that works extremely well for me  – an hour and a quarter each way commute, Monday to Friday, and my diminishing eye quality combined with long days working on a computer mean that listening to a book is a welcome relief. But I think that I’m also often distracted, not as attentive to the story as I am when I’m physically reading. As I’m sitting here thinking about other books I’ve listened to over recent months, I can remember really loving some of them, but not actually being able to remember specific details about them. Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you find the same thing happens, or is it just that I’m easily distracted by people watching on trains, and should not be trusted to do two things at once?

Anyway. Helen Garner. If you’ve not read her before, I highly recommend it – and this collection is as good a place as any to start. Thanks, Crabb and Sales. I’m glad for the recommendation, and I’m glad to have discovered such exquisite writing.

Happy reading,

Tamara

May 10 2018

LIFEL1K3, by Jay Kristoff: On being human-ish.

Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

Title: Lifel1k3
Author: Jay Kristoff
Genre/ issues: Post-apocalyptic YA, Giant Mechanical War Machines. Sexah Androids. Mutant Powers. Doomed Romance. Warring Corporations. Cybernetic Bounty Hunters. Sassy Robot Sidekicks. Rebellions. Chases. Escapes. Betrayals. Lies Upon Lies. Splosions. “Romeo and Juliet meets Bladerunner, while Fury Road plays a guitar solo in the background.”

I have to confess to stealing my “issues” blurb from Kristoff himself, because I couldn’t have said it better. This book freaking rocks. It starts off with Eve trying to win big in an epic robot battle, and just gets more exciting from there. Eve and her best friend find an android in a scrapheap after witnessing a plane crash, and what follows is a skillfully written, funny, clever, brutal, thought-provoking trip through the murky world of artificial intelligence, fanaticism, and finding your place when you don’t really know who you are.

Robots are slaves in this futuristic USA. Artificial intelligence is on the outer, as is anyone who displays abnormal skills or powers. If you’re familiar with Doctor Who (and if you’re not SHAME on you!!) then there are elements of this book that put me in mind of the philosophical conundrums of The Rebel Flesh episode – you know, white goop turns into copies of people. At what point are clones, copies of a consciousness, actually conscious themselves? Kristoff’s reality is different from what the Doctor discovers on the acid mining colony, but the fundamental question is the same – and where he takes this book? Well, it’s a wild freaking ride.

I have to confess – I got to the end, and I was mad. Like, seriously freaking angry. I tossed the book across the lounge room – my daughter yelled at me for it. And I, in turn, yelled at Kristoff. Not because I didn’t enjoy it – on the contrary. I loved it. But where we ended up at the end? Well, I was not expecting it. It hadn’t occurred to me at all that that’s where we were heading until it hit me in the face. And, to add insult to injury, the last line clearly marked that there is Book 2 to come. Which is a good thing, I guess. But it also means it’s well over a year before I get to read the next installment. This, dear readers, is why I hate trilogies, unless I only discover them after the last book is already out into the world. No real sense of delayed gratification.

So I rate this book A+ top tier. I’d bet on this girl to win. Jay Kristoff is rapidly becoming one of my new favourite authors. And my gift to you is this little ditty – which was my ear worm throughout the novel. I don’t know if the reference was intentional (note to self: ask Jay about it when you catch up with him!) but if you know this song, you’ll probably recognise the reference when you get to it in the book too. If not, enjoy. (Because who could resist the opportunity to indulge in a bit of gratuitous Amanda Palmer?)

Happy reading,

Tamara

May 8 2018

On authors and anxiety

I’ve survived my first term of my new job. More importantly, I survived my first school holidays without actually having a holiday. So how’s it going?

Corporate life is very different to being in a classroom – or indeed, a library, which is where I thought I’d be this year. I’m working longer hours in the office. I’m getting my head around all the additional requirements of being in a role with higher levels of scrutiny. I’m learning the joys of corporate writing – briefings are far less fun than poetry! But I’m loving it, and all the wonderful opportunities that come along with my new role are just blowing my book-loving mind.

Anxiety monster hits on a train

Anxiety Monster

Take, for instance, last week. I spent a good chunk of the week at the Sydney Writer’s Festival events at Riverside Theatres Parramatta, where we’d organised some fantastic author interviews backstage with presenters who were part of the Primary and Secondary Schools Days during the week, and AllDayYA on the weekend. I love talking to authors, it’s one of my favourite things. But this experience had me in a maelstrom of anxiety-ridden agony – quite literally, I mean. Sitting on the train on my way in for my first interview, my stomach felt like some Alien-esque creature was trying to escape. I’m familiar with this phenomena – my old friend, come to try and remind me that I’m not good enough, that this is scary and terrifying and I should run away as fast as I can. I talked about it in relation to a conference presentation where it hit me so hard I thought I needed to go to hospital here. What I’m discovering is that my body doesn’t differentiate between good risk and scary risk. My Friendly Anxiety Monster sees risk, and sends my system into red alert. It was NOT a pretty sight. Messy, snotty tears on the train. Sorry, fellow Mountains line commuters on Friday morning.

But thankfully I was expecting it. I spent the train trip talking to my partner, who reminded me that my fear and my anxiety is one of my superpowers. And I reminded myself of the lessons learnt from a wonderful book by an author I was, in fact, heading to interview (see my review of the book here). So I breathed, in and out. I put one foot in front of the other. I spoke my truth – I told the fantastic authors I was chatting to that I was, in fact, dealing with tremendous anxiety, and I did not let it stop me nor define me.

So, that’s the anxiety part of my week. The authors? Well, that was far more pleasant. Throughout our time at SWF, we got to formally interview 10 wonderful authors, and chat to a great many more backstage. Particular highlights for me were Jesse Andrews, who was my first interview, and who helped me settle into the whole process with a minimal amount of stress; Shaun Tan, who was a joy to chat to, so insightful and willing to share; Kirsty Eagar, who I must confess to not having read before, but I’m rectifying that now – what a gem!; and Chris Riddell. Sigh. I’m still floating on a cloud of sheer delight from the experience of getting to chat to Chris on multiple occasions about his work, his views on why children’s books can change the world, what it’s like working with Neil, and a hundred and one other things that just made my soul happy. Oooh, and Nicki Greenberg! So inspiring to hear about her labour of love on some of my favourite graphic novels. I didn’t interview AF Harrold, but he was my favourite new discovery from SWF2018, both as a personality and a creator. Witnessing a wonderful interview with Morris Gleitzman, and getting to see my niece shine as she recorded a Q&A with her favourite authors, was another highlight. Ditto for Katrina Nannestad, whose work I was only passingly familiar with as I’m far more a YA girl than a middle school reader, but such a lovely soul with real insight into the writing process. Oooh, and Patrick Ness, who I mentioned earlier – to get to chat to him about how his book had made a real difference in my life, and who took the time to personalise the giant pile of books I took for him to sign. And, and … well, you get the idea. Lots of authors. Lots of fangirling. Lots of joy.

Chris Riddell draws me something pretty. I’m in heaven.

Katrina Nannestad

AF Harrold

AF Harrold

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness

Morris Gleitzman

 

Shaun Tan

Kirsty Eagar

Kirsty Eagar

 

 

 

 

 

Jesse Andrews

Nicki Greenberg

Nicki Greenberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love my job. I love the opportunities that it provides me to do what I love, and to help provide opportunities for students and schools to connect with authors and their work. And I love that, as I get more experienced at dealing with my Friendly Anxiety Monster, we get to go through these experiences together. I don’t know that I’ll ever get to a point where it doesn’t impact me, but I’m ok with that, I guess. Because, this is a lifetime journey. My Friendly Anxiety Monster and I will be spending a lot of time together. And like any relationship, you’ve got to learn how to live together. He’s not going anywhere, so we’ll figure this out. Because the alternative is that I don’t get to chat to Chris Riddell and others of his ilk. And that, dear reader, is completely unacceptable.

Happy reading,
Tamara

 

P.S. If you’re interested in reading a much more eloquently written piece on living with anxiety, check out this article by Will Wheaton. I read it just after the above event. I wish I’d read it before. It’s great. It describes in all its glorious messiness the joys of living with “the tag team champions of the World Wrestling With Mental Illness Federation” Anxiety and Depression.

April 29 2018

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness: On not being The Chosen One.

The rest of us just live here

The rest of us just live here

Title: The rest of us just live here
Author: Patrick Ness
Genre/ Issues: contemporary YA. Mental health. Eating disorders. God-like powers. Cats. Being Not The Chosen One.

Imagine the most normal high school scenario you can. In contemporary YA, it’s usually teens dealing with relationships, exams, graduation, and in the case of US based fiction, prom. Now imagine that whilst this is going on for you and your friends, there are supernatural cosmic forces at work in your town, with major events going on in your periphery. That’s basically what this wonderful beast of a novel is – the story of everyone else. If this was Hogwarts, we’d be reading about the lives of everyone in Hufflepuff while Harry and Draco duke it out in Duelling Club. And it’s not all normal … soul-eating ghosts and vampires have lurked in this average ordinary town before we arrive here fresh off the pen (keystroke???) of Patrick Ness.

That’s not to say that life is easy for the cast of this novel, just because they’re not facing down the Immortals. They’re facing up to their own issues. Living up to the god-like (or actual god) reputation of your grandmother. Dealing with mental illnesses. Eating disorders. Relationships. New friendships, and their impacts on the old. This book is beautifully written, with some thoughtful and thought-provoking ideas around how much of who we are comes from what we’ve dealt with in our lives. I read this as I was prepping for a fairly anxiety-inducing event, and without getting too spoilery, I found Mikey’s resolution around this idea really encouraging.

I rated this book 5/5 on goodreads. I’ve recommended it to a whole bunch of people since I finished it. And it’s definitely going to be one that I reread. You should too!

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

April 27 2018

Munmun, by Jesse Andrews: On why size does matter.

Munmun by Jesse Andrews

Title: Munmun
Author: Jesse Andrews
Genre/ Issues: Contemporary YA. Societal inequality. Wealth. Power.

I remember reading Gulliver’s Travels as a child, and being enthralled by the sheer magic of the tale of a giant in a world of tiny people, and visa versa. I studied it again during my Honours year at university, and was floored by the politics that younger me had missed the first time around. Munmun by Jesse Andrews puts me in mind of Lilliput. It reminded me strongly of the doublespeak in Brave New World (or was it 1984? Whichever one features that. I’ll edit this later to fix up that reference. Probably. Maybe.) It’s equal parts captivating and horrifying.

Your height, in this oddly familiar world, is determined directly by your wealth. Ditto your access to services – there are no schools for the littlepoor, and no doctors small enough to fix them, so they just have to muddle along however they’re able. If they can accrue some wealth, it’s off to the bank with them to move up in the world, literally – to “scale up” and increase their size, and hence their social status. Our entry into this world comes from littlepoor narrator, Warner, introduces us to life when you’re the size of a rat. He learns to read much later in life, so his narration is littered with phonetic spellings and misunderstandings that only serves to highlight the fundamental inequalities that underpin his society – and indeed, our own.

This is a challenging book. As Warner and his sister Prayer experience multiple levels of this size-driven society, you can’t help but consider the parallels to our own. The powerlessness of the poor is skillfully represented as the littlepoor are quite literally not heard by those with real power/ height – their voices don’t carry up that far, and the wealthy bigrich with their giant ears so far from the ground are almost unaware of those bustling around their feet, more like ants than equals.

A skillfully written and insightful book, I’d recommend this one if you’re interested in writing which examines social structures and makes comment on inequalities that abound around us. I must admit, the ending left me a little wanting – I loved it less when I finished the last chapter than I did at about the halfway point, I think. But still a great read, with some wonderful references to some of the dystopic classics.

Happy reading,

Tamara