Last year, I took part in a festival event called Fight Night, in which myself and more notable authors (Libba Bray and Garth Nix) went up against some emerging authors for a fiction slam down. The theme I was given was Romance. This caused me much anguish. I spent weeks trying to think of something romantic. When I no longer had any time left to think, I quickly reworked a piece I'd written when I was 21. Actually, I rewrote most of it on the tram to the event, but I can't find my scribbled-on copy.
This version is something of a compromise, which I share to make my blog feel less neglected. Let's call it Over Our Bodies. It's a bit over-written and angsty and doom-laden and earnest, but it was written in 1998. Those were the sort of times we were having in 1998. Myself, I find it quite funny. When I read it out, there were laughs, which is all I've ever wanted from my writing.
In short, it's about the end of a romance. Which, to me, is more interesting than the start. Something that irritates me about (some) YA fiction is the assumption that teenage love is forever love. Madness. I'd love to write a book about what happens after the happy ending. Maybe later.
It’s hard to remember how the fights began. He comes to suspect she would rather fight than not. But he too is implicated in crimes of escalation. A gesture, a willing misinterpretation, a row. Some evenings everything is a symptom of something else. Bitter feuds about good and evil arise from tiny disputes over sitcoms. The trivial becomes the essential, moral lines drawn with the fervour of fundamentalists and then crossed at will. Arguments are shapeless and violent, annexing whole continents of disputed territory. The next night, the argument is reversed; the territory reclaimed.
These are the things they fought about:
A missed turn.
Whose fault it was neither could decide which film to rent.
A left turn.
Whose mother was needier.
A fucking hook turn.
Which of them was most judgmental.
Slamming a car door.
Holding a door open.
Whose turn it was to apologise.
Leaving a party.
Staying at a party.
New Year’s Eve.
Whether Morrissey could sing.
When David Bowie turned crap.
The Smiths again.
Which of them was Withnail. And which of them was I.
Which of them was most broken.
Which of them wanted to be most broken.
They fight in public for sport. Tearing themselves apart with glee. In cafés. In pubs. In supermarkets. In cinemas. In car parks. On the first night of a weekend away, in a small country town, outside a fish and chip shop. Turning boxer’s circles in the middle of the street. A crowd applauding from the kerb. Headlights ringing in the next round.
Afterwards, her watching sister says: You were enjoying that.
Now it is merely what they do, a mid-to-late evening ritual. Repeating the same scenes as if they are only rehearsing, trying to get them right. Love is never in question. Love raises the stakes. When love isn’t doubted, everything else is, and both of them are pushing. Pushing to find spaces where one of them ends and the other begins; where pain starts and the pleasure is done.
I like it when you’re angry, she says. There is sweat on her top lip.
It reminds me you’ve got guts.
I hate you.
I love you.
Love is thick, love is sticky. Hot jam in the veins.
I love you, he says. She says. I love you. I can’t stop. I want to stop. I hate it. I can’t.
I love you. These are heavy words, dropped on tight air, pulling them into each other, onto each other, forever. I love you.
The happy times are nothing. A few weeks of cautious peace, old smiles and new leaves, before an abrupt resumption of hostilities. They wear each other down to the foundations and then keep digging. Neither can remember what they’re looking for. Drilling into empty graves that only spit out dust and memories. They are ghosts now.
I’ve just remembered who you are, he says one morning, sitting up in her bed. It’s summer, not too long before Christmas. The honeyed scent of jacaranda wafts through the flywire.
I can see you. The girl from school.
She says: I think I remember you too.
He says: I’m sorry, although he can’t remember a fight.
She says: So am I.
But it is too late. Already they are fading from view. By lunchtime, they are ghosts again.
Every day, he wakes up further from her. At night, he lies sleepless in her bed and wonders what keeps him there. What leads any ghost to haunt the same house, across endless nights? Pain, he thinks. Pain and fear. Fear that everything might mean nothing if the hauntings ever stop.
Today I hosted a webchat with three young writers about their experiences writing (and living) online. I was deeply impressed by the thought and depth with which the teens responded to questions. I'd recommend watching the video (tech glitches and all) to anyone mildly interested in how teenagers are adapting to living with technology, their attitude to reading and what they expect from authors in this digital age.
My Young Adult novel Fire In The Sea is released in the US next month and, to celebrate, Consortium Books are giving away copies to eight lucky readers. If you haven't yet snagged yourself a copy, this could be your chance. Or, of course, you could order yourself a copy from Amazon or — even better! — walk into your local bookstore (if you still have one) and order a copy there. This is always my preference, as it helps raise awareness of the book (and supports your local bookstore).
If you do read Fire In The Sea and enjoy it, please take the time to leave a review at Amazon or Good Reads. Every good word counts!
While I think of it, Fire will be released in the UK in March.
Listeners and readers of my work might have worked out I had a bit of a Smiths obsession when I was younger. I think they remain a crucial rite of passage for most intelligent, sensitive teenagers of good taste. Indeed, I had a weird moment recently when revisiting Perth and I witnessed a group of 15-year-olds strutting down the street, with Boy With The Thorn In His Side blaring out from a shoulder-slung ghetto blaster. While I was glad The Smiths are still relevant to today's teens, this actually put me out a little. Even though I was five when The Smiths formed and, if I'm honest, discovered them off the back of Suede, they felt like my band. How dare these young pups try to claim them for themselves?
This week, I was fortunate enough to interview Johnny Marr (guitarist for The Smiths) for The New Daily. I mentioned my strange reaction to seeing those kids and he said:
"That’s good, man. That probably says more about you than it does about them. To be of a certain age and to still be able to feel put out by some part of culture, your idealism must still be alive somewhere. I think that’s worth fighting for."
I'd like to think he was right. I'm 36 now, but I think those teenage passions are still burning. Might explain the lure of YA fiction, I suppose.
That part didn't make it into the interview (I hate it when interviewers shove themselves too obtrusively into a tale) but you can read the full interview here:
An occasional series in which I praise the underrated, unacknowledged or unmentionable.
The internet’s capacity for negativity and outrage is probably its most tiring aspect for me. I use Twitter quite a bit, for example, and my feed is often flooded with CAPITALISED, vehement opinions about everything from breastfeeding to The Hobbit. Some fights are worth fighting, of course, but there’s a hunger for outrage and unpleasantness — a desperate hunt for offence — that (in my opinion) only makes the world an uglier place. I’m all for being decent, excellent even, to one another.
In that spirit, I thought I’d start a semi-regular blog in which I come to praise, not bury. The fact is, even the most shoddily assembled art usually has some redeeming features. Why not focus on those for a change, rather than the innumerable failures? So this is The Snark Net, where cheap jibes and snorting derision are unwelcome.
As it’s Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary this week, I thought I should start with something Who-related. Thanks to last week’s minisode The Night of the Doctor, my first pick is a topical one.
The truth is, I love Doctor Who: The Movie (the 1996 half-American TV movie with Paul McGann). It’s an incarnation of the long-running show that, at best, seems to be tolerated by Whovians. Given it was an unsuccessful attempt to relaunch the then-dead programme as an American, X-Files-type series, there’s a general air of failure that lurks over it. The kindest words said usually amount to: Great Doctor, lousy script.
Admittedly, I can’t really defend the denouement, if only because I don’t really know what happens. Something about rewinding time and alarm clocks which, if examined too deeply, kind of spoils the potential for drama in every other episode of Who. But The Movie is hardly the first (or last) episode to rely on some last minute technical gobbledygook or sciencey magic to resolve a crisis.
What The Movie has is a genuine joie de vivre. From its opening moments, there’s an energy that earlier episodes never quite mustered. Sure, the voiceover is more mystifying than explanatory and starting a new series for a new audience inside your spaceship that is, astonishingly, bigger on the inside is a disastrous move. But the direction has such flair, sweeping through the spectacular TARDIS interior, whooshing us down to Earth, through some clever and startling cuts, that we can’t help but be swept along. This is Who at its most cinematic. Witness new companion Grace Holloway sprint down hospital corridors, dressed for the opera. For the first time, the show felt like proper drama, rather than the ephemeral Saturday night entertainment it was intended.
That’s not say the tone is note-perfect. Most of the humour works — it had been a long time since Who had actually contained intentional humour — but there are unquestionably moments of thudding joke-crapness. (Although I rather like those moments, for their quaint 90s-ness.)
Key to its success as a drama is, undoubtedly, the casting of a proper actor in the lead role. Following the series’ demise in 1989, newspaper rumours about new Doctors tended to go: Eric Idle, Tim Curry, John Cleese, Paul Daniels and Eric Idle. Always Eric Idle. McGann was not a comedian. McGann was not a lazy caricature of British eccentricism. McGann was a fine, young actor with a great body of dramatic work including The Monocled Mutineer, The Hanging Gale, Nice Town (which really deserves a DVD release) and Withnail & I.
Put simply, McGann makes the best debut of any Doctor to date. This is particularly impressive, given he spends much of his 60 minutes of screen time in an amnesiac state. He is charismatic, enigmatic, hydromatic (No, wait, that’s Greased Lightning) and romantic. He is at once the most human and most alien of Doctors. He seems more attuned to the emotional lives of others (to the point of telepathy) than previous incarnations, but keeps himself apart — even the much-criticised snog with Grace lacks any real passion. We’re charmed by him, but we’re not sure how much we trust him. It’s a shame that subsequent attempts (in spin-off fiction) to develop McGann’s Eighth Doctor focused more on the romance and the apparent sweetness than his slipperiness.
Cards on the table — McGann is my favourite Doctor. (Tom Baker aside, obviously. Nobody can compete with Tom.) He treats the part as a proper acting gig, rather than an excuse to flail around and hog the screen. As the recent minisode proved, he brings a welcome emotional weight to the role and despatches the required humour with subtlety. He understands that the funniest things are rarely those moments that are telegraphed as such. His disarming of a policeman is probably the single most perfect Doctorish moment yet seen on screen.
Grace Holloway, his quasi-companion, is no less wonderful. In the hands of Daphne Ashbrook, she is strong, funny, vulnerable and, again, more human than most of the Doc’s previous sidekicks. She has a dropkick boyfriend, she has a high-powered job, and she has a nice line in sarcastic banter. We know people like her and we like people like her. It’s a shame, perhaps, that the story doesn’t wholly belong to her. The structure would make a lot more sense if we began with her being called into hospital, to attend to a mysterious gunshot victim. When the series returned in 2005, writer Russell T Davies understood the drama in letting the mystery of the Doctor unfold from the companion's perspective, rather than being cancelled out by an infodump.
For all of its alleged flaws, The TV Movie is great fun. When it first showed back in 1996, ordinary, sane people were talking about Doctor Who again. People who hadn’t watched the show for more than a decade. Remember, this was before Buffy brought a snappy self-awareness to sci-fi, which made it okay for the mainstream to tune in.
I honestly believe Who is at its best at its least geeky — when it caters to the mainstream by incorporating elements of other things we love. This is something the TV Movie does very well. People who don’t watch sci-fi will recognise elements of ER, The X-Files (okay, technically sci-fi, but more horror-based and massive at the time) and Sherlock Holmes. At the time, I appreciated the lack of bug-eyed monsters. This was Who attempting to ground itself in the proudly cynical 1990s, without losing any of its wit, invention or joy.
In the UK, the episode rated more highly than Who had for 20 years or would again until David Tennant was in full swing. It proved similarly popular in Australia, where it was repeated several times over the next couple of years. In the US, of course, it was killed by Roseanne. We never got to see where McGann’s Doctor would have taken us, but the recent glimpse suggests it would have been somewhere pretty fantastic.
As many of you are no doubt aware, I've been a lifelong Doctor Who fan. Surprising, really, that it's taken me this long to write anything about it. The feature below is a piece I wrote for Australian magazine Screen Education. It's a somewhat personal guide to Who, looking at the show's ability to inspire its young viewers to embark on their own creative feats. It certainly did the trick for me.
The article features interviews with Nicholas Briggs (voice of the Daleks and producer of the Doctor Who audio adventures) and John Richards (writer of sci-fi sitcom Outland and one half of current Who podcast Splendid Chaps).
I recently filmed a short interview, talking about journalism and other writings for magazine Dumbo Feather. The piece is now online as part of New Conversations, a high school writing competition that Dumbo are running. (And which I'll be helping to judge.)
At the link below, there are also interviews with the very glamorous journo Sofija Stefanovic and Dumbo deputy editor Livia Albeck-Ripka.
I'm occasionally asked about the score for the Salmon and Dusk podcasts, so thought I'd put together a quick post for easy reference. The instrumental tracks I used for Season 1 (not the original How to Disappear Completely podcast) were, with a few exceptions, taken from an album called Abandoned Soundtrack by XeMa.
Happily the album is still freely available on the web. You might find it at either of these links:
I’ve signed with Barry Goldblatt at BG Literary, New York. Barry has some amazing clients on his list, including Libba Bray and Holly Black, so I’m delighted he’s found a place for me. We’ve talked about a couple of projects I have lined up (one of them may well be Salmon & Dusk related) and I feel that Barry really understands what I’m trying to do with them. I’d love to elaborate, but I should probably wait until they're actually written.
It’s slightly unusual (I’m told) for an Australian author to find themselves an agent — especially when they already have a wonderful publisher, as I do with Text Publishing— but it’s been a long-held ambition of mine, so I’m very happy Barry has taken me on. I look forward to revealing the fruits of our collaboration in the months ahead.