Monday, May 13, 2019

APRIL REVIEWS

What I've Been Reading


The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper- This is about the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and the suspect Brendan Sokaluk. A thrilling and heart wrenching read, Hooper eloquently provides all sides of the story with intrepid research. From the victims, first responders, police, and fire fighters; stories of heroism and sadness, loss and despair. And then there’s the pursuit of who did this terrible act, with the number 1 suspect a strange young fellow, Sokaluk, who is eventually diagnosed as autistic. Hooper writes very much in the style of Helen Garner, and makes an awful story interesting and a page turner. I cannot recommend this enough.

One Hundred Years of Dirt by Rick Morton - I loved this so very much, it is Rick's memoir so far. He grew up on an isolated cattle farm with his parents, older brother, and baby sister. He talks in equal arts love and not so much love of his childhood. He loved the rural landscape and the capers he got up to as a child, but the effect of the hardship of living life on the land with a tough father was the downside. When his brother was burned badly and flown to Brisbane with his Mother and sister, he was left alone with an abusive father who began an affair with his nanny. Things never really got better. His Mum later worked it all out and moved to the city with the kids. A single Mum struggling all her life, he describes their lack of privilege, whilst he began studying and then working in communications, all the while struggling with being gay. Whilst this sounds bleak, and it was, it is Rick's absolutely stunning writing that shines through, and his lovely sense of humour. Rick is a remarkable man, who's strength is shining through currently as he is talking up about his employer, The Australian and the Murdoch way. In years to come Rick will be one of our National Treasures, I am certain of that. Now, go and read his book, you will not be sorry!

I Built No Schools in Kenya by Kirsten Drysdale - this was am interesting travel book. Kirsten got a call from a friend in Africa, she was working for a family in Kenya, and wanted to know if Kirsten would like to join them. They were caring for an elderly man, his daughter and her step mother were at odds about his care, so the daughter employed people to keep an eye on him around the clock as she was sure her step mother was trying to kill him. The pay was good - the family was super rich - and included boarding and food etc. When things seem too good to be true, they usually are, as Kirsten found out working for this eccentric family. It is a strange story, equal parts horrifying and hilarious. 

All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot - I've been listening to this in the car and loving it. It was read by Christopher Timothy who played James in the classic television show. I loved that show as a kid and have read the books, so it was hugely pleasurable to revisit those stories again. Siegfried's stubbornness, Tristan's hijinks, his love for the stoic Helen, and all those animals and their owners. A sheer delight!

My Twenty-Five Years in Provence by Peter Mayle - this was a little best of Peter Mayle over the years, with a bit of reflecting on his time in Provence. I realised at the end of the small book, that Mayle had been dead for well over a year. Unsure how I missed that. It is easy to forget in this overwash of travel stories, that Mayle did it first and was probably the funniest! I must go back and re-read the original books. This is a nice way to dip into his world or reminisce, but the actual books are far better. Vale Peter!!


Mirror Sydney by Vanessa Berry
This was a really interesting account of recent historical and geographical information about Sydney and its suburbs. It goes into detail about quirky places, forgotten shops, lost history, and hidden things that still remain.
Lovely illustrations accompany each section and is a real walk through the recent (60-70 years) past, especially for people who lived in these locations.

To Venice with Love: a midlife adventure by  Philip Gwynne Jones
A middle aged couple quit their jobs and downsize and move to Venice with the hope of teaching ESL. It goes into the organisation it takes to move to a new country, and the trials and tribulations of what happens in a new country.

Ultimately it is uplifting and fun,  but the reality of it is harsh at times. But Venice is always lovely to read about and it was. Also made me very envious

Frida Kahlo: making her self up edited by Claire  Wilcox and Circe Henestrosa- a lovely coffee table style book about Frida and her style, her clothes, why she wore them, her accessories, make up etc. An interesting look into an icon with stunning photos.


Born Lippy: how to do female by Jo Brand - I am a huge fan of Jo Brand and her dry humour. This is part memoir, part self help, part how to be a feminist and it is very funny.

What I've Been Watching

Flack - I really enjoyed this short series with Anna Paquin, as Robin, a publicist for a high ranking firm. Robin is a top problem solver for all the stupid predicaments her high profile clients get themselves into, but yet her personal life isn't so great. This British comedy/drama was loads of fun, I hope there is a second series

Counterpart S2 - I really loved this first series of this show and whilst there were some truly brilliant jaw dropping moments in this second series, it kinda lost things. I think spending less time on JK Simmons' dual characters was its biggest mistake. His characters and their roles were key to how great this show was. The ensemble cast were great and spending more time with them also excellent, but not at the expense of the main character. the last few episodes got a bit nuts and unsurprisingly it has not been renewed. I am disappointed, I would have still watched things, but I suspect they just ran out of steam on a very high concept idea.

Project Blue Book - this is a 50s drama set in the military about UFOs. With Littlefinger from Game of Thrones in the main character as the scientist who believes, it is pretty good. A throw back to the good episodes of The X-Files, Mulder would approve!

Trust Me - Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who, The Doctor!) stars as a nurse doing it tough, who takes the opportunity to be a doctor, even though she is not. Her new colleagues grow to love her but her past is coming to haunt her. Will she be caught out? This was a good drama/thriller, worth having a look.

Grace and Frankie S2 – this is a good solid comedy, nothing too ground breaking, except for the ages of the leads I guess. I do expect more than I am getting for legends such as Fonda and Tomlin, but I think it is the writing that lets them down. Mostly they are on fire though despite that and I will continue to watch.


War and Peace
Lovely lush new adaptation of the classic novel. Great cast including Adrian Edmondson, Gillian Anderson, Paul Dano, Lily Collins. The war aspects are real and harsh, especially when placed against the more sublime parts of the set design. With 6 one-hour episodes, this is an accessible way to watch this grand Russian tale.

Escape to the Chateau, S3

Sadly only 3 episodes in this great doco series. Dick and Angel moved their young family to France and bought a ramshackle Chateau to do up. Dick puts his ex-army and engineering skills in renovating the huge beast, and Angel, a designer, works on the interiors. They are a fabulous pair, eccentric and fun, with great ideas that seem impossible, but always work. This is such a dream show, they hold events in the castle which helps pay for the next round of renos. I could watch this show forever, it is divine.

Boy Erased – melodrama about a Southern Baptist family that puts their gay son into conversion therapy only to realise that it was not a good idea. This had some solid acting in it, but ultimately left me flat.

First Man - this was a well acted solid film about Neil Armstrong and the moon landing. Beautifully shot, it was missing heart, unsure why and I just couldn't connect with it. Disappointing, as I love the space race and those stories.



The Shootist
Westeren from 1976 starring John Wayne as Brooks, an old gunslinger who is dying. He moves into a boarding house run by Lauren Bacall who is less than impressed with his past. Her son, a young Ron Howard is enamoured. Also starring Harry Morgan (MASH) as the Sheriff and James Stewart at the Doc and an old friend of Brooks, this was a bit of fun, but lagged a bit. Not the best movie, but then not the worst an always a thrill to see these greats doing their thing.


The Midwife - Claire (Catherine Frot) is a midwife, but the job is changing, things in her personal life are dire and nothing is going right. That is when her step-mother, the annoying (to Claire) Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve) returns to tell her she has brain cancer and no one to look after her. Will Claire look after her nemesis, or let her die alone. This sounds like a bit of a melodrama, and it is but the great acting of these two French greats is what lifts the film and makes it one to watch!

Attenborough at 90: behind the lens great documentary about Attenborough over the years and why he is still going strong and working at this late age. Absolutely brilliant!!

I am in the middle of new seasons of Game of Thrones and Killing Eve, but I will save their reviews for the end of the runs. I will say both are exceptional watching, with Game of Thrones delivering - so far - beautifully in this final season, some of the best television (and movie) storytelling I have ever seen, and I worry about how I will feel when it ends forever...

What I've Been Listening To

Songs for Judy By Neil Young
A collection of live recording from the mid 70s with loads of live chatter from Young, something he doesn’t do that much these days. This is a pure delight, the chatter is fun, but the music is Young at his height, absolutely brilliant!

Iggy - as a lead up to the concert (and after) I have been bopping about to Iggy and loving it!

Podcasts
I'm still listening to Unspooled, Chats 10 Looks 3, Clear and Vivid with Alan Alda, and David Tennant does a Podcast with... and loving them all.

I've added WTF with Marc Maron, which I really love too. Marc is a comedian, who I remember from Letterman. He is edgy and has a distinctive voice and his use of one of my favourite words, Fuck, is to be seen...or rather heard! He is also a pop culture guru so his knowledge when interviewing his wide range of guests is truly impressive. And the guests are also impressive. 


Friday, April 26, 2019

NEWCASTLE WRITERS FESTIVAL 2019

Newcastle Writers Festival 2019

As always the NWF weekend was full of loads of fabulous information, literacy, books, and authors which got my creativity running. It is my favourite weekend of the year, and pure joy. Not only are the sessions always thought provoking and creatively inspiring but you run into a lot of like-minded people, close friends, and peeps you haven’t seen in a while. The atmosphere is a buzz. It is most definitely my happy place.

Thursday
The festival started early this year with Literary Trivia at Foghorn. We had a group of 5 and came in second. It was such fun! Mostly easy peasy questions, and some that really made us think hard, some we got wrong but mostly we did ok with each of us being able to cover the spread of questions. We’ll have more of that thank you!!!


Friday
Friday night is always Opening Night, and I have been to every one since the NWF commenced, except last year when tickets sold out way too early and too quick. Back at the lovely Harold Lobb Concert Hall since the first Opening Night with the formidable Miriam Margolyes, this was another brilliant evening hosted by the charming Don Cox. After speeches from the University, and Rosemarie Milsom – the goddess without whom we would not have this important festival - the evening’s entertainment began.



A wonderful discussion, Does making change mean making trouble?, between Ben Quilty, Gillian Triggs, and Joe Williams was hosted by Jane Hutcheon. The subject of opening night led the way for conversation with a lovely thread, of activism and helping this country change for the better, running throughout the entire weekend.



Gillian, who I call the mother of Australia, was fiercely intelligent, measured, and astute. Ben was the no bullshit, kind, considerate,  and decent man as you would expect. I hadn’t heard of Joe Williams before that night but was very impressed with his story, resilience, and utter braveness. In fact, he shone and was the super star of the evening. 

Gillian spoke about her life in law and as the president of the Human Rights Commission. She spoke about working under extreme pressure and the bullying she received from some of our less educated Australians. Her decency shone through, with a lovely sense of humour. How lucky are we to call her our own!?


Ben spoke about being bullied for being different as a child and his life’s work in sticking up for the underdog. If every man was half as decent and intelligent and kind as Ben our world would be entirely different. 



Joe’s story is one of heartbreak, ex Footy player and Boxer, he suffers from mental health issues, and was diagnosed with bi-polar later in life. An indigenous man, he now works in promoting positive mental health not just for his brothers, but for all men (and women). He was full of information and great advice, a lovely man indeed. He wore the most magnificent silver sparkly gumboots and explained he wears them to help him wade through the mud of mental health. And he sang us a song at the end, with the most beautiful voice.  


People walked away smiling and uplifted with the reassurance that whilst the world seems out of control and Australia headed down a gurgler of racism, sexism, misogyny, and stupidity, there were people working hard to turn this around. And we were all inspired to follow similarly.

Saturday
Saturday at NWF is always my favourite day of the year, I tend to be there from fairly early until after 5. Add in Olive Tree Markets operating at the heart of the festival in Civic Park, that part of the city is a buzz of activity and excitement.



I got in there early to grab a breakfast Gozleme and some snacks for in between sessions. It’s lovely to sit in the sun early and watch the surrounds get busier and busier before heading to my first session.



The Powers That Be – Gillian Triggs in conversation with Jill Emberson

This was a wonderful discussion on human rights, juggling life and work, being a strong minded woman, and dealing with the naysayers. As previously mentioned Triggs is intelligent and measured, friendly and spare. She had us in the palm of her hand. I could have listened to her all day.


Far From Home – Kon Karapanagiotidis in conversation with Felicity Biggins

I have been a huge fan of Kon and his Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) for a long time. His generosity and heart are massive. Another lovely man that gives me hope for this country. OK, I have a bit of a crush on Kon! And he was as lovely, if not lovelier than you would imagine. He spoke about his life growing up Greek in a small country town and how hard his parents worked for him and his sister to have a better life. He decided to make his life’s work to assist others and after a myriad of jobs he created the ASRC and decided to help immigrants, generally and legally. His work is immense and ground breaking and life changing. A remarkable human being indeed.



He spoke about being harassed for being from another country and also mentioned Pauline Hanson and made the joke that given she cannot speak English herself, she should really be careful what she says about migrants. Huge laughs!

He also said he refuses to go on a panel unless it is half women, and the love in the room (of mostly women) continued to rise.

Some of his other truths were that the more money you have, you need to make the table longer and not put up walls. Never lose your values and your integrity and if something is wrong and unjust you have a moral obligation to do something about it. Oppression thrives in the silence.


Kon also went through his long list of failures with great humility, but also what each failure brought him, so he says you must learn to embrace failure, you will gain something from it. It reminded me of what my Grandfather would say to me if I told him about something crappy that happened to me. He would listen with kindness but say, "what did you learn?"

I met a friend for lunch at Olive Tree and we enjoyed Bao Brothers and cool drink, before heading back to Town Hall for a big afternoon.


The Borderland – a panel of Chloe Hooper, Bram Presser, and Jock Serong led by Geordie Williamson, exploring the creative space between fact and fiction

I attended this session for Chloe Hooper and she was everything I expected. I only finished The Arsonist the night before and loved it. I have only read that book and thought her very similar to Helen Garner. After the session I realised she gets this all the time, and I imagine that it must be difficult. But in person, her demeanor and measured way of speaking also reminded me of Helen. She spoke about writing the book, interviewing (she is a journalist) those within, and getting the story right. It was great insight into a great book.


Jock Serong writes about early Australian history within fiction and did a lot of research to get the facts right. Not really my genre of fiction, but they did sound fascinating.


But it was Bram Presser that most impressed me, looking like a rock star in black with dreads. His fictional tale, The Book of Dirt, was based on the story of his grandparents in the Holocaust. The story behind the story sounded fascinating, and he read the most engaging opening paragraph from it. His grandparents never really spoke about what happened, but after they died his grandfather was said to be aligned with Hitler. Bram found this difficult to believe so decided to do the research to clear his grandfather's name and there wasn't enough information to write a NF book, he had blanks he had to fill in. Hence the fiction with facts. I cannot wait to read it.

Writing Women in the Wake of #metoo – Kate Lilley in conversation with Trisha Pender

I went into this unsure what to expect, but figured there would be some challenging subject matter. I didn't realise how challenging it would be. Kate is the daughter of Australian poet, Dorothy Hewett. In the past year, it came out that when the Dorothy and her sister were young teens and living with their mother in her bohemian life, they were sexually abused by those in their mother's circle, and she encouraged it. The session was about Kate's latest book of poetry that focuses on that time. It was heavy going, and very upsetting, as whilst I expected some challenge with this session, it was far more challenging that I expected. Trisha Pender handled the session with grace and compassion and it was fascinating to listen to Kate, who has obviously come to terms with the situation, well as much as one could. Her poetry was actually beautiful, but also sharp!


Radical Acts of Empathy – a panel with Rod Bower, Kon Karapanagiotidis, and Anisa Nandaula hosted by Annabel Smith, the importance of walking in anothers shoes in our divided world

After catching up with friends, I headed to this panel which was the perfect way to end the day. More of lovely Kon with the fabulous Father Rod Bower from Gosford Anglican Church, and slam poet, Anisa. All are activists and had different takes on the subject. But all dealt with their activism in a kind and compassionate way. They made us laugh and cry. Anisa performed some of her very powerful poems. Rod spoke gently about raising certain topics and helping others while Kon got very impassioned about activism and what can be done. It was a very awe inspiring session, and I went home smiling, thinking we might just be ok in this crazy old world we're living in!


Sunday

On Sunday I returned and started with a lovely brunch on Darby at Coco Monde. With a full belly I was ready to tackle the day!


One Hundred Years of Dirt – Rick Morton in conversation with Ed Wright

I was halfway through Rick's book which is so rich and fascinating, about life on the land and growing up poor. Rick was not at all the hardened country figure I had expected, which made me see his story in a completely different way. Of course he doesn't come across hardened at all in the book, I was only up to roughly age 10, I just presumed that! Something you should never do. Currently a journalist for The Australian, but definitely more left than right, he spoke about that choice of employer, his career writing, his attachment with the land, coming out, and his family. It was a huge mix master of emotion, good and bad, and a complex story really. He was adorable and the nicest person, so funny too. Everyone should read One Hundred Years of Dirt!



Why Women’s Stories Matter – a panel with Clementine Ford, Kate Lilley, and Alison Whittaker hosted by Trisha Pender

Members of the panel each read from their books and spoke about the importance of writing about women, especially now when the glass ceiling seems to be breaking. Each woman came from a different background and perspective and it quite enlightening to hear their stance on the subject.


Face to Face – a panel with Trent Dalton, Chloe Hooper, and Kerry O’Brien hosted by Rosemarie Milsom, effective interviewing, secrets to its success

This was probably my favourite session of the weekend and a lovely way to end the festival. Rosemarie led this delicious discussion on interviewing. Chloe and Trent had much to say and were funny and informative, but it was - of course - Kerry that stole the show here, with his stories and his grumpy/humourous telling of them. Kerry is very dry, suffers no fools, but was generous and lovely. Quite as you would imagine. I would do none of the antecdotes any justice retelling them, but he had everyone - including the panel - in the palm of his hands...and he knew it! What fun and what joy!!





And so, another Newcastle Writers Festival ends, and I went home with my heart and soul full of joy and my head full of thoughts and ideas. I realised that why things might be dire politically within this country, we still had many intelligent, kind, and compassionate thinkers  and if we continue to 'fight' the right fight, we might just be ok!




Friday, April 19, 2019

MARCH ROUND UP

March is when things started to turn around for me!

Well, health wise and socially. Work is still very challenging as we are in the middle of a brutal restructure. 

I had my 3 month Kidney check up after an awful scare late last year and as predicted by my lovely specialist things were all resolved and a-ok. What a relief. The following week, I had my first proper Breast Check since my cancer and surgery and radiation, and it was also all clear. Not without drama mind you, they found a suspicious lump and I had to have a biopsy - I cannot begin to tell you how frightened I was - but it was simply a cyst that drained itself as my lovely Doctor biopsied it. Double Phew.

So that is one year clear from Cancer. My legs are healing, there are still marks and I do find that upsetting, I may be scarred there for a long while, but at least I am here to whine about that. And other than some moments of feeling tired (although that is getting much less than it was) I am feeling better than I have in a long long time. Mentally and physically.


This is me, so very relieved I am ok!


I had this one day in the middle of the month where I felt so good it was unbelievable, the next day I came down with a head cold lol!

But even that is gone now too!


And with this better health, it means I can get out and about more and this I did!

Our lovely Bookclub commenced for the year at the beginning of the month with Bridge Of Clay, the long awaited follow up to The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Whilst we all enjoyed the book, we found it a poor follow up, but I guess that was always going to be the case. Very difficult for anyone to follow up a masterpiece, which The Book Thief undoubtedly is!



One Song Sing was at The Station, our first outdoor one, singing Listen to the Music by The Doobie Brothers, and as always it was sheer and utter joy!





I took some time from work to attend a work function, Suri Gentill spoke about her series of mystery books set in the 40s at Belmont Library. Suri has had the most interesting life and how she researches and put together her books was inspirational.



My lovely friend J turned 50, so we headed out for dinner and cocktails to celebrate. J is such a great friend, I don't know what I would do without her, she is fierce, intelligent, and gorgeous and a continual inspiration to me. And she does 50 brilliantly!!


I spent time on the couch taking in the fun that is the Melbourne F1 weekend.

C and I visited Newcastle Art Gallery and indulged at Coco Monde.









I spent some late afternoons at the beach and eating Popolo Gelato!




Mid month I heard my lovely friend Doug had passed away, at 102 no less, and I wrote a tribute to one the best people I know!

There was the Fringe Festival and we caught 2 events.

Love/Hate Actually was a fun performance of 2 girls going over the pros and cons of the classic Christmas film, it was hilarious.


We also saw a Prince tribute show that was brilliant. Forever in my Life was a one hour show by Michael Wheatley singing Prince songs and telling stories about the impact of the great one on his life.


I finally caught up with my good friend R, we long lunched and chatted at Murray's Beach on a drizzly Saturday afternoon, and he brought me the most wonderful bunch of flowers he had created himself!!






The month ended with a road trip to Shoal Bay for One Song Sing and Fleetwood Mac. It was the most glorious day and singing Don't Stop was sheer joy.








Life is good my friends, you gotta make the most of it.

Of course, there was the usual markets, and soccer returned!






My reviews.

And pics...