Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Attraction of Transformation

The film award season is upon us again. Rather typically, this year there are a disparate collection of films under consideration by the relevant academies, associations and members that will culminate in acceptance speeches that range from the touching and inspiring to those that make you shake your head and reach for the remote.

Despite the eclectic range of films, most if not all follow the tropes of Joseph Campbell’s archetypal storytelling structure. The protagonist (hero or anti-hero) is confronted with an obstacle (whether real or imagined, in human form or circumstance) that they struggle to at first accept before moving past the point of no return headlong into the story. Add a three-act structure, applicable tension and subsequent reprieves, culminating in a fitting climax and denouement and you have the skeleton of a universal story on your hands.

Movie-buffs, or really, anyone who possesses even a smidge of situational awareness, also picks up on another award season trend that at times proves even more obvious than Campbell’s aforementioned structure. When it comes to awarding artists in the categories of Best Actor/Actress in lead and supportive roles, (convincingly) portraying a character that requires a transformation – the more blatantly physical the metamorphosis the better, seems to be a lock in receiving a nomination if not an outright win (Hollywood politics and machinations notwithstanding). Cast your mind back over the last decade and try to recall all the weight loss/weight gain; prosthetics; uglifying/beautifying, and ‘against type’ roles. Chances are you’ll easily manage to find a whole bunch of them.

So why do we tend to salute these characterizations?

Is it because such roles overtly display what is usually more nuanced in other less ‘flashy’ roles – that is, it heavily showcases the individual artist’s skill? Do such roles come with a neon sign that says: Quiet! Serious thespian at work: for the consideration of the Academy. Or conversely, is the portrayal so quietly riveting, uncanny, haunting, etc., that the viewer plum forgets that they’re watching a film and a person who is at the end of the day just ‘playing pretend?’

Perhaps the answer is one, none, or a combination of the above. What is certain is that the ability to successfully take a viewer (or reader) on a journey – and to make them feel, think or simply escape whilst they’re in the middle of the applicable medium, is a potent one, which seems to hold us in its thrall.

Campbell’s storytelling arc can only truly resonate when the characters that play out the drama are as fully fleshed, idiosyncratic and complex as we ourselves are. It’s most definitely something to keep in mind for those who feel compelled to create.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Fan Mail #2

Another year has begun, and being a tennis fan – and an Australian, I am in the midst of tennis TV overload as the first Grand Slam tournament is underway in Melbourne.

When I am asked on the odd occasion who I admired growing up, most people expect me to rattle off names of famous writers and are a therefore a little surprised that the person I most admired in my formative teenage years was a tennis player – Monica Seles. Although I never once wanted to play professionally and I always wanted to be a writer, the choice may seem odd to the uninitiated.

I suppose I could write a long dissertation as to why she inspired me, but I shall keep it short. When someone only a few years older than I (she was 16 at the time – I was 12), bursts onto the hitherto genteel tennis scene, plays the game in an extremely unorthodox way – with two hands off both sides, grunting in exertion, and attacks with such fierce and precise power off both wings, I couldn't help but notice.

Here was someone who understood the rules of the game and then subverted them just enough so she could be true to who she was. Yet what always impressed me more that the physical aspect of her compelling game was her unsurpassed mental approach. Never before had I seen someone respond to pressure by being more aggressive, by aiming for the lines, by not playing safe. When the chips were down, she would become even more dangerous. Who does that?! For most, this is counterintuitive. Watching the tennis players of today, those who share this trait with Seles are extremely rare. Mental fragility seems abundant in its stead.

As a writer, I suppose you could build the analogy - of practicing and performing, continually improving the craft with the hopeful goal of making it to the professional stage – and then on to the glory of book deals, decent sales, solid reviews – with that of a tennis player or any professional athlete in general. They say the mental part of sport is the most important – especially when athletes are comparable in their physical prowess. For us creative types, it’s all mental!

So as I sit myself down, working assiduously on my writing, I sometimes think of Seles’s indomitable spirit and tenacity and it spurs me on. It provides the kick-in-the-pants I need to forge ahead and to never give up.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Alpine Adventure

This last May, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Switzerland. Ever since I was in high school, I have been fascinated with the small alpine country that is split into its four distinct (Swiss-German, Italian, French and Romansh) dialects, across its many cantons. Coming from a sun-chasing, beach-loving, flat country of Australia, Switzerland was its total opposite, and that intrigued me. As a lover of the great outdoors, I knew that I would love the breathtaking vistas of the Swiss countryside, but even I lost count of number of times my mouth was agape. For many years my wish of traveling there was kyboshed for many number of reasons; financial, career, health, the stars not aligning, etc. So it was doubly exciting to be able to go after I had built it up in my own mind. I almost thought that there was no way it could match my high expectations. I needn’t have worried.

I was treated to incredible weather that ranged from 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) in the Italian speaking southern Lugano (I crossed the border a few times to Italy to visit Milan and to glide over Lake Como, to see for myself what George Clooney loves about the place. And for the record, I completely get it). And then I would ascend into the alpine towns of Zermatt and Wengen, where the temperatures would plummet to 7 degrees Fahrenheit (-14 degrees Celsius), complete with snowfall, and soul-warming (gut expanding) delights of cheese fondue and raclette, washed down with wine and finished off with swiss chocolate or apple strudel. Speaking of desserts, as one of my absolute favorite treats in the world is Tiramisu, I would seek it out and wolf it down. It surprised me that the best one I tasted was at the Armani Café in Milan. Yep, you can stay at the Armani hotel, eat at his café and shop in his stores, all within the same block. Armani even has its own bookstore. Who knew?

One of the most awe-inspiring sights was the Matterhorn – Switzerland ’s most famous mountain. I was fortunate enough to be in a hotel room with a direct view. I would continually step out just to keep looking at it, amazed that I was finally seeing it with my very own eyes. I took the train up to the Gornergrat (viewing station) at over 10, 000ft above sea level, and was lucky enough to enjoy clear views, not to mention fortunate enough to cuddle up to three St. Bernard dogs. As I traveled to Interlaken and Wengen, the impeccable train journeys were punctuated by countless waterfalls as the snow and glaciers would melt and pour themselves into the deep and lush valleys below.

As a writer of magical realism I cannot begin to tell you how inspired I was by this trip. It was the culmination of decades of planning and wishing – just like the journey to publication. Switzerland proved symbolic for many reasons, and now I feel excited about bringing other dreams I have to fruition. Persistence and passion does pay off, I can tell you.

Thanks for the memories, Switzerland. I’m looking forward to returning one day.  

Matterhorn pic that I took from the Gornergrat train
Lauterbrunnen Valley from the train station in Wengen

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Elephant in the Room

I recall watching Born To Be Wild, a 3D IMAX film back in 2011, about the rescue efforts underway by brave and selfless humans who valiantly try to right the wrongs committed by poachers and habitat encroachment. The film focused on the plight of the orangutans and elephants, and as Morgan Freeman narrated the short film in his famous dulcet tones, I was at once dismayed by the depravity of human cruelty and then uplifted by the sheer capacity of human generosity. I suppose it is true that to be capable of one, the other must also be possible. My tears of sadness and joy within the 40 minute running time were testament to that.

Earlier this year, an opportunity to travel to Kenya for a friend's wedding came. Unfortunately I was not able to go, but thankfully my best friend went to represent us both, and in return I received a most wonderful gift. A small bunch of the wedding guests who had traveled around the world to be there for the nuptials were treated to an afternoon at the David Sheldrake Wildlife Trust, that was featured in the film. The foundation does amazing work in rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned elephants who are the victims of merciless poaching. I cannot do justice to the incredible work they do here - all I can ask is that you visit their website, or watch the film. I challenge you not to be moved after you do so.

To cut a long story short, as a souvenir, my best friend gifted me the most amazing present possible of sponsoring an elephant in my name. I was adamant that I did not want any knick-knacks that went on a shelf collecting dust, so I was thrilled when this little elephant came into my life. I am now proudly one of little Sonje's foster parents, and a beneficiary to the foundation, where the money goes to help all of the elephants in their care.

Little Sonje, a yearling, was found on her own on the eastern boundary of the Tsavo East National Park. She was a milk dependant orphan with a huge, hard swelling on the top joint of her right hind leg (possibly from a poorly healed fracture), and two small scars at the site of the injury indicating a possible arrow or spear wound, leaving the calf with a pronounced limp. The rescue team named her Sonje, the Mliangulu word for 'lame.' She was lucky to be found alive as a hungry lion, who was known to be in the vicinity, would have undoubtedly made a meal out of her.

So now I get monthly updates of my little girl's status, including photos, along with a watercolor by Angela Sheldrick. I also receive news about other rescues and in general am treated like one of the team, which is heartening to say the least.

As a proud Papa, I just wanted to share (and boast). Here's a little picture of her below. She's got my ears.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

One year later...

Any film watcher has seen the well-used storytelling trope of a particular scene ending, fading to black or white, with the words ‘one year later’ (or another arbitrary length of time) then appearing on screen.

Based on what came before – and the set-up of what comes immediately after, the viewer then makes their mind up and fills in the gaps of what they didn’t see and of what will never be divulged. It’s such a common narrative trick that the individual doesn’t feel like they’ve missed out on anything at all, so clever is the brain at pattern recognition and filling in the blanks.

Here I find myself using the same method, a year after my last blog entry – but I am calling attention to it, which is rare and a tad signpost-like. And the purpose of it is to fill in the gaps myself and to narrate my own journey. That is the wonderful prerogative of a writer: the ability to put my thoughts into reader’s minds. It’s such a beautiful thing, and it’s something that I am careful about and respect very much. After all, when you are invited by a stranger to tell them a story and they willingly imagine what you have painstakingly created, you have to treasure and honor that invitation. Any perceived injustice would result in a rejection of any future tales, no matter how great they might be.

I am also acutely aware that, as of this writing, that I am not yet a published author – I do not yet possess a public profile where there is sufficient interest to have to explain my hiatus. In fact, part of the draw of being a writer is the awesome anonymity, even if you’re a bestselling author. But no, I’m just a regular lad with a handful of followers and many more casual blog readers, well-wishing family, friends and acquaintances. I could just pick up where I left off and go forward.

So why don’t I?

If I’m ever going to become the type of writer I want to be, I have to nurture the human being that I already am. One should influence the other. So, in short, this last year has been rather momentous. A lot has happened, and one of the major changes was moving back to my parents’ place in part to take care of them – my father in particular. Becoming a parent to your own parents is quite heady stuff, especially when you throw the curve balls that are dementia and Parkinson’s. Add my career, and any number of regular and extraordinary stresses that we all experience as inhabitants of this planet, and there you have it.

But in the meantime, all this enabled me to turn inwards and craft my first YA manuscript into something that truly excites me, but to also write another manuscript: another standalone that is quirky and full of spirit, which belied the difficult and sometimes frustrating circumstances at home.

So here I am, one year later, smiling, happy and grateful to write, with all the love around me that I need and which I am utterly grateful for.

In the end, it was a year well spent.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Naked Disguise

Being that my blog (and the working title of my manuscript) is called 'Childish Things,' I am apparently interested in, and an advocate of, all things that allow the imagination to run wild. Too often in life, as we progress from childhood to adulthood, we are encouraged to put away childish things and behave a little more maturely, a lot more seriously, and focus solely on the mechanics of day to day functioning at the expense of the occasional daydream or wish fulfilment fantasy.

We tend to be extremists that way. As young kids we can go nuts and create whole worlds in our minds (even build castles and forts with the cushions off our sofa), yet once we cross that imaginary line, the world drains itself of every colour to become harsh in its black, white and predominantly grey tones.

We equate seriousness with maturity and using imagination with being somewhat naive and childish. At least, that's the face we show to the world.


Have you ever noticed how older teens and adults regress - cut loose, if you will - once they're given official permission? A couple of examples in my life have occurred these last two Saturdays. Both were 40th birthday celebrations - one was a Red Party (wear anything red), and the other party's theme was Hat, Wig and Hairpiece (you can kinda guess what that involved).

Suddenly, well respected, somewhat serious, intelligent professionals (I work with a few) happily regress to their younger, cheekier and more energetic selves and lose their inhibitions. Usually, alcohol is the elixir of regression in adults, but it's not the same. For one, it's inherently messier and it dulls the senses. So when a simple hat, hideous mullet wig (my choice) or splash of color is donned, you get the same looseness without the groggy repercussions. Basically, you 'play' once more.

Adults don't play, you might say. It sounds a little strange. Perhaps it does. In reality, it's just a label for a feeling that comes naturally to all kids (big and small) when the timing and circumstance are right. The fact that I was in a roomful of adults who were having a ball, dancing up a storm, exchanging hats, wigs and tiaras as the night grew young is all the proof that I need that ALL humans (and animals by the way) play, regardless of their age. Call it whatever you want, but strip the euphemism away and that's what we're all doing.

If it takes a disguise or accessory to get to the real 'you' beneath the role you assume in society, then I say why not? And if you're a young kid or a teen reading this entry, never let your ability to play slip away.

I guarantee you'll be happier for it.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

I Wish...

Driving home from my parents' place today, I saw a little kid walking with his mother, wielding a cricket bat and taking shadow swings with a beaming smile on his face. I was instantly taken back to my own childhood and the endless lists of things that I was super-passionate about - and imagined I'd achieve when I finally grew up.

Whilst I no longer take my tennis racquet everywhere with me, or dress up like a superhero, I realized that I still - in a more understated, adult way, carry with me the books, both published that I read, and the manuscripts, notebooks and diaries that I write, making a declaration of sorts to the world that I still desire something - that I still very much have a dream that I wish to someday (soon) turn into a reality.

That young boy today was no doubt imagining hitting a ball out for a '6' and winning The Ashes, and was doing so without trying to hide his burning ambition from those around him. It seems that as we grow up, we tend to dream in a little more subdued way, or layer it with the real life necessities and obligations that adults must contend with in life.

That isn't a bad thing - after all, a life in its complicated entirety is so much more than an achievement, a trophy, or a publishing deal.


I think it's healthy, necessary and vital to every so often stand up with a hand on one's heart and make a wish upon a star. Tell the world - in most cases, the people in your life, what you wish for in those quiet and honest moments. If you put it out into the world, chances are someone, somewhere will hear.

Be brave!