Marieke Hardy’s m-Book

We’ve had Facebook and eBooks, now here’s an m-book.

In this case, m-book stands for mobile book, but it could also stand for Marieke’s book. You might know Marieke Hardy as part of the breakfast show trio on Triple J, as writer of columns in The Age’s Green Guide, as Ms Fits on her blog Reasons You Will Hate Me (now on indefinite hiatus), or as the regular on First Tuesday Book Club who’s not Jason Steger or Jennifer Byrne. Among other things, she also writes for television and even wrote a few episodes of Neighbours, but I won’t hold that against her. I think she’s great, and she’s something a book nerd crush for me, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend. A number of other people I know have disagreed vehemently with my glowing opinion of her, so she definitely divides people.

In any case, I’m a fan, so I was definitely curious when I read about her new project. She’s writing a story called Vigilante Virgin for The Age, about a socially inept woman who tries to jumpstart her life by joining up with a bunch of community activists. So, this story is something you sign up for on your phone, hence the m-book. If all goes to plan, you send a text to them and then you get sent a message every morning at 7 AM. Simple, right? But the message you get isn’t the story segment. It’s a link to a website containing the story segment that you can read on your phone if your phone is internet-enabled.

But there’s more. I was curious enough to buy into it, if only for a day and for the sake of an experiment. But apparently if you’re on 3Mobile like me, you can’t view it. I found this out when every time I tried to subscribe, I got an error message. So I gave up.

And yet, when the story launched on the morning of October 12, I somehow received two messages containing the link. For whatever reason, these also would not view on my phone! However, as I soon found out (through the utilisation of l33t $killz) it is entirely possible to just type the link into your computer’s internet browser, unsubscribe on your phone and continue reading on your computer for free. The link remains the same every day, and you can look into the archives for every previous segment.

If it wasn’t already clear enough, there’s no reason for anyone to keep subscribing, other than a sense of loyalty to Marieke or The Age. Or maybe a devotion to Borders, with their ad running at the base of the story every day. One could subscribe on the second last day and, with that link, read the entire archive for a fraction of the amount paid by a loyal subscriber. So basically, The Age is doing it wrong.

Maybe it would be better if the story instalments were simply received as text messages daily. This way, anyone with even the most basic phone could receive the story segments and easily store them to read later. Then it would truly feel like an m-book. Sure, maybe then people would just forward the story to their friends, starving The Age of subscription revenue, or maybe it would work as free publicity, encouraging some friends to take up a subscription of their own. Or maybe by designing a story service with greater interactivity, more people would get interested and involved. Each person could be given an individual log-in as an incentive to participate in the conversation, and maybe have the chance to vote via SMS to influence the progression of the story. An en-masse mobile-phone choose-your-own-adventure story. Now that would be a cool way to really embrace the medium.

As it is, the subscription should be much cheaper. Right now, a full-paying subscriber pays 55c a day for 20 days, plus the sign-up SMS of 25c. So at roughly 350 words a day, you’re paying a total of $11.25 for a 7000-word short story, not a book.

Still, keeping up with a serialised short story is always fun. I’d be almost glad to pay for more things like this in the future, if the price was much more reasonable and if things worked a bit better.

As for the story itself, it’s good so far. Definitely has a touch of Marieke’s distinct sardonic wit and some evocative descriptions. So far, it’s been more about character, mood and humour, rather than a barrelling plot progression. Still, it’s going to interesting places and I’m definitely keen to see where Judy, the sausage-roll-shaped protagonist, is plonked by the story’s end. Maybe I’ll provide a summary of my thoughts once the story has reached its conclusion. George Dunford at Hackpacker is planning to the same, and he’s already shared his thoughts so far, much of which I agree with. Adam Ford blogged a little about it too, but isn’t keen enough to subscribe. He also points out a number of others who have been doing serialised online works before this. Gullybogan, meanwhile, is rather cynical about the whole thing.

Anyway, if you’re interested, The Age put up an edited version of the first week’s instalments. It’s a good representative sample. But I wonder if people who already paid for the first week felt betrayed and then unsubscribed? And maybe the story will come out later in another form. Who knows? It’s up to chapter 15 and only has another 5 weekdays left, I believe. I’ll keep reading for free on my computer (so…then it’s a c-book?) until the end and look with interest for whatever The Age and Marieke are doing next. I wonder if they’ll decide to take this sort of thing any further.

For all its faults, I hold Marieke in no disrepute. This is mostly The Age’s experiment. The story itself is solid, she’s the writer, and her writing and coquettish ways will remain delightfully compelling to me, no matter what my girlfriend or anyone else says, dagnabbit!

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W+E4DM Web Feature Portfolio Part 2 – Review: Rooftops by Mandy Ord

This is part 2 of my Web Feature Portfolio for Writing and Editing for Digital Media. My articles are for ‘the Australian online magazine of culture and the popular arts’ The Enthusiast. My second article is a review for their ‘Books’ category.

7/10 Stars (again, no Enthusiast star images or sweded images)

Rooftops is ostensibly about a day when Mandy Ord watched Ghostbusters at the cinema with some friends, then drove home and had chatted with her housemate. Simple. But it manages to be, in a gently odd way, an absorbing and thoughtful story.

This is Mandy Ord’s first book-length comic, which I suppose you’d call a graphic novel, and it was published by Finlay Lloyd. They have a frustratingly creaky-looking website, but their books are often thoughtful and beautifully made essay collections, like When Books Die and Animals. Ord did feature in the latter though, so clearly she’s part of their efforts in new directions.

Despite being more of a graphic novel, it retains Ord’s preoccupation with the little things that stand out amongst the ordinary and mundane. In this way, the story’s subject matter and conversations cover coincidences, the search for meaning, Bill Murray’s career and the literature of mystics and philosophers. Her overactive imagination regularly merges with the everyday and she further illuminates the narrative with thoughts and visions conjured by a mind that loves scaring itself. A demonic imp-like man climbs over a toilet door at her. Images of Ghostbusters ghouls and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man fill her head, her life and her panels.

From every black page spread, four equal panels of white and black pop out. The panels are filled with Ord’s wobbily handwritten speech bubbles, realistic cityscapes and urban interiors of Melbourne, and distorted but curiously realistic cartoon figures, most notably the one-eyed protagonist herself. These slightly twisted figures reminded me at times of Albert Tucker’s work. Her drawings from movie scenes are also evocative and spot-on, yet still true to her overall technique.

Despite the twisted style and imaginative divergences, it’s essentially a work of realism, possibly memoir. These are musings, moments and memories from an individual perspective. There’s no clear moral lesson, no ‘heroes journey’. This is real life and there’s rarely a big answer or resolution at the end of each day. Her story goes on, continued in her other comics, in bits and pieces. Rooftops itself is not an amazing work, but still a pleasant, leisurely and enjoyable read.

In any case, I’m still a fan and I’ll be keeping an eye out, watching her progress as an artist and storyteller. In fact, after reading Rooftops I noticed her work popping up all over the place: in recent issues of The Lifted Brow; a serialised historical comic/essay with Kate Fielding in Meanjin; in Sleepers’s wonderful Conceived on a Tram; in the Paper Life Boat exhibition during the Fringe Festival; and in myriad comic anthologies, zines and small press endeavours. Clearly prolific, she also sporadically updates her blog with sketches and character portraits – they’ve taken on rather hirsute qualities lately. Amongst all this, I hope she’s still finding time to put effort into another long-form work. Until then, I’d recommend checking out her stuff. Rooftops serves as a great introduction.

W+E4DM Web Feature Portfolio Part 1 – Review: Attract/Repel

This is part 1 of my Web Feature Portfolio for Writing and Editing for Digital Media. My articles are for ‘the Australian online magazine of culture and the popular arts’ The Enthusiast. My first article is a review for their ‘The Stage’ category.

Starring: Jing-Xuan Chan, Fanny Hanusin, Georgina Naidu, and Terry Yeboah
Directed by:
Ming-Zhu Hii
Venue:
The Storeroom at Parkview Hotel, Fitzroy

9/10 Stars (unfortunately, I don’t have The Enthusiast’s star images, nor their flair for sweding images)

Terry and Jing-Xuan in rehearsal. Image: Buxton-Walker, Fringe Publicity http://www.buxtonwalker.com/fringe/media/

Terry and Jing-Xuan in rehearsal. Image: Buxton-Walker, Fringe Publicity

To quote a song from Avenue Q: everyone’s a little bit racist. But Attract/Repel, which just finished a rather successful run at the Fringe Festival, confronts issues of racism without being flippant, and asks why we’re still being racist, without heavy-handededness. In fact, it stands as an honest, challenging and compelling piece of theatre.

But to call it theatre is almost wrong, at least in the traditional sense of theatre. It was more like we were eavesdropping on the casual conversations of four people getting to know each other. Rather than performing, they seemed to be discussing and we were silent witnesses and participants.

The actors take turns introducing themselves to one another, giving their names and backgrounds. They recount their memories; real stories, both humorous and horrible, surrounding their experiences with racism, how they perceive their racial identity and, all in all, candidly sharing their thoughts.

Accompanying their conversations: blackboards waiting on the walls and fluorescent tube lighting scattered around the stage. Both features play an integral part. The actors pull out chalk and mark their place on the ‘chink scale’ – do they blend into Asian stereotypes, Australian ones, or somewhere else on the spectrum? Georgina and Terry scrawl racist slurs across the walls and throw ironic racist jokes at one another, which soon becomes hurtful. Then the conversations continue, almost as if nothing has happened, but with uneasiness bubbling away underneath.

Soon, all of this gives way to several abstract and surreal interludes. The fluorescent lighting flickers out, and the actors roam the dark stage in anger, bashing against the walls. They hold fluorescent lamps and scrutinise one another’s bodies. Terry dances frantically. Jing-Xuan is excluded, trapped and crying in a prison of light while Fanny cackles at her. Towards the end, perhaps in some parody of ‘integration’ and ‘acting white’, Georgina puts on white gloves, Jing-Xuan squeezes into a white corset and Terry’s face is daubed with white makeup, bringing to mind the infamous Hey Hey blackface sketch.

All in all, Attract/Repel was structurally and stylistically unconventional, but utterly potent, with the perfect mix of hilarity, honesty, confrontation and worthwhile discomfort. The everyday met the abstract, with a lasting final effect of thoughtfulness, humility and appreciation.

In its production, casting and conversations, the play raises issues of diversity in theatre, particularly ethnic diversity. Director Ming-Zhu Hii wrote about this in both the Age, and on RealTime Arts and it’s recommended reading. Beyond that, go to The Melbourne Town Players’ website, check out some great photos from the show and read what other reviewers reckon. Attract/Repel was definitely among the best of this year’s Fringe Festival and it deservedly won the Kultour Tour Development Award at the awards night, so undoubtedly we’ll see more great stuff from this team soon.