Melbourne Writers Fest 2010: Days 1 + 2

As I said, I’ll be blogging for the Melbourne Writers Festival. Indeed, I’m planning to blog about every day of  MWF festivities in which I partake. With two days down, and many more to go, I haven’t seen heaps, but I’ve made a good start. Things are just getting warmed up.

So first off: Friday, Day One!

I went along to The Morning Fix at Feddish. I got there a little late, and missed Joe Bageant and Jon Bauer, but arrived just in time to see Benjamin Law, then Benjamin Law’s mum, and then Benjamin Law reading this story to a room of mostly old folks. Nothing like cockroach massacre and casual cursing with your morning coffee. Kim Cheng Boey then had to follow that up with his sincere recollections and musings on memory, childhood and the father-son relationship. Estelle Tang summarises it much better than me on the official blog, which you should all be all over already.

Later that day, I went along to the launch of Above Water. 2010 sees the sixth issue of this (free!) little publication by the Uni of Melbourne Arts and Media Department. Although it started half an hour later than scheduled, and then only went for about half an hour, they managed to pack in a lot. There was some nice awarding of awards to some of the up-and-coming literary newbies at Uni of Melbourne, along with a great stack of readings from said lit-n00bs. You should head on over to the University of Melbourne campus, to Union House maybe, and hunt down one of the free copies doubtless just sitting there waiting to be snapped up. With stories of domestic tension, identity, lost marbles, mutilated mermaids and more, the collection looks pretty strong, especially for a bunch of folks only just getting started on this writing caper. I think I’ll give it a review here someday soon.

After that, I had to head on home, but that night there were keynotes, and people saw these keynotes and lo, they did blog about them, and said that they were good.

The next day, Saturday, Day Two: I busied myself with such important activities as not leaving the house, and then later I spent several hours partaking in proofreading and snacks with my Voiceworx krew. So as it was, I only got along to one session before calling it a day. But I chose well, as it was quite a spesh sesh indeed: readings and discussion from two of the Age Book of the Year winners.

In fact, only the previous night, the Age Book of the Year awards had been announced. Jennifer Maiden won the poetry prize for Pirate Rain, Kate Howarth won the non-fiction prize for Ten Hail Marys and Alex Miller’s Lovesong took the fiction prize and the Book of the Year award. Alex Miller and Kate Howarth were in attendance at this session, chaired by Jason Steger, and it was a cracking session indeed.

First, Kate Howarth spoke about her harrowing, but ultimately triumphant memoir. People have asked her, after reading her story, ‘How could you abandon your son?’. She rejected the word ‘abandon’, and tells how she was forced to leave, to come back later, to do what was best for her child in a terrible situation, in a far-too-recent time when women were essentially powerless. She read two excerpts from the end of her book, where she finally leaves her son, and then is later reunited with him years later. The emotion got to her — she’d never read that section in public before — and it was the sort of moment where it seemed almost wrong to say anything more. She may have been in awe of sharing a stage with Alex Miller, but when Jason asked Alex if he’d liked to read, he replied ‘not really, after that reading’.

Alex was compelled to instead give his own response to Kate’s story. But, eventually, he did read from his book Lovesong.  I’d never seen him before or read his books (despite hearing lavish praise), but Alex Miller is a great writer to witness. At times a gently cynical, no-bullshit curmudgeon, other times a remarkably thoughtful and humble man. When he did start reading from Lovesong, he read slowly, calmly and softly. His voice had some special timbre or hidden quality that scratched past my inner ear, into my brain and rustled around comfortably somewhere in my body. I could have listened to him read all day. When he said the phrase ‘a bag of sesame biscuits’ in his reading, it was like a warm crackling aural fire. A strange, rare quality in a speaker that I notice sometimes.

After his reading, the trio discussed a wide variety of subjects. Kate spoke of the joy of being published and thus realising a childhood dream; of her wonderful publishers at UQP; how she taught herself to write rather than attend creative writing classes; of the driving forces of rage and truthtelling that motivated her to write; of her hundreds of drafts and her perfectionism in writing, that she likened to unpicking a bridal gown. And how she’s planning a sequel.

Alex Miller spoke about the power of the informed imagination’s daydream, how it can spark ideas that grow into novels, which seemed to worked for both him and for Tolstoy. He said how having a child changes your life way more than any book. He spoke of how he can’t stop writing or he gets cranky, because writing for him is a kind of therapy. And he said after he’d exhausted all other options,  he had to just learn and write novels. Now he can’t help it.

All in all, it was assuredly a thoroughly satisfying session, except for that one person who didn’t turn their phone off, let it ring, and then proceeded to answer it mid-session. Let me just say: WHAT.

But all in all: a great first two days. Looking forward to the rest of the fest!

* * * * *

My picks for Sunday, which will quite possibly fill my next embloggenations to bursting: another Morning Fix of several of your soon-to-be-beloved writers; The Lifted Brow and friends getting up to all sorts of shenanigans in a shipping container on the riverbank; an In Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson, the ace author of The Years of Rice and Salt and the Mars Trilogy; gettin’ wordy n nerdy at A Wordsmith’s DreamMeanjin, Overland, Going Down Swinging: Birthday Stories; and Dog’s Tales at the Toff and moooooooorrrrrre. See you at the Fest?

(2011 Post-script: I went to a lot of other great stuff at the Fest, but never got around to blogging it fresh. Wups. Sorry. Sam Cooney, however, wrote a bunch of great stuff about the Fest, which you can read via his blog, which is full of other excellent things you should also read if you read this.)

Freeplay 2010

Aw snap, before I get down to Melbourne Writers Festival blogging, I almost forgot I was gonna write about another recent date in Melbourne’s chock-a-block festival calendar: The Freeplay Independent Games Festival! Okay then. Quicksmart!

Righto, so the other weekend there was the 2010 Freeplay festival. This was my first time going along, and although I didn’t get a full ticket to the festival, there was still plenty of free stuff open to the public, within the State Library of Victoria’s Experimedia section. I WAS going to buy a ticket, but the main festival had already sold out (score for Freeplay!). In retrospect, it’s probably just as well I didn’t pay for a ticket, as pretty much everything I wanted to see was within the free public exhibition. A lot of the stuff in the paid festival was more for people deeply involved with all that tricky coding/programming/design/3D modelling stuff. You know, for people who actually make games.

Not me though. Well, there was Klik n Play. And I did make a Frogger-like game (called Froggo) for my Software Design and Development class in Year 12, and it was a goddamn marvel that took me weeks to get working. But I still haven’t worked out how to get the VisualBasic program working on my newer computer so I can show it off. BUT, while it was satisfying to make in the end, the arduous process of writing the code and fixing the bugs and remembering the jargon and getting the darn thing working assured me that building games from scratch was not my idea of an ideal career path. My talents lay elsewhere.

So yes, anyway, I figured a while ago that I’m not a Maker of Games, and although it would be awesome to write dialogue or the story for games, until I become a Renowned Writer, I will remain content with playing them. I don’t spend days upon days playing video games, like I did back in the day, though events like Freeplay always inspire a reminder of what I love about games, and thus inspire a brief return to the gaming frenzy. Still, my newest console is a Playstation 2, and I’m mostly still playing games of roughly that era or earlier, every now and then. I do keep up with what’s happening in gaming, but with a few exceptions, I’m pretty much a decade behind in games, which is okay by me. Maybe I only pay attention to those that have truly stood the test of time. That’s what I like to think.

In any case, games are awesome. Computer games. Video games. Board games. Card games. Or just good old fashioned, unmediated, unstructured play, like a kid with nothing but the world around them and their imagination.  And thus, the theme of the festival: Play is Everywhere.

And there was definitely a lot of play to be had within Experimedia.

Among the games on display, the first to catch my eye was Jolly Rover. If you’ve ever played any of the classic Monkey Island adventures, then think that, but with pirate dogs instead of pirate people. This one is now on my buy + play list. Check it out:

Two others of note: Mine Quest, which will soon be on Facebook to challenge Farmville’s time-sucking powers, and Hazard, which is just downright trippy.

Later I found out that some of these, and plenty of others, were featured in the Freeplay Awards Winners list and the shortlist. Yarr, thar be some super fun and super interesting games in them thar lists.

Beyond the games, I also caught a few panels.  The first: Everything Old is New Again. Being one of the first panels of the fest, there were a few teething problems with sound and presentation, but they soon started enthusiastically chowing down on things like retro revival, abandonware, the role of memory and nostalgia in a generation that has grown up with video games, and how things come in different cycles, refreshed for each new generation that doesn’t share the direct experiences of the last. They also touched on how games can (and should?) be deep, difficult, complex and original, but this kind of game often doesn’t find as much of an immediate market because it’s not easily compressed into a tweet, a marketing slogan, a recognisable genre or an existing franchise.

The next panel I saw was Getting Started. This was about all sorts of 3D modelling programs and industry tips for those just starting. Judging by my notes, I spent the whole talk contemplating the differences between games and other mediums, like movies, songs and novels. I pondered interactivity, narrative, the imagination, and the roles they play in different mediums in different ways. And I just mulled over the originality and experimentation in independent creative works.  I’m sure the talk was great for others, but I guess my mind wandered because I wasn’t too interested in learning all that technical jibbajabba. See? Writer, thinkerer, not a Game Maker.

Then there was the Play is Everywhere panel, taking its title from the theme of the festival. Appropriately, the panellists explored the topography of the topic far and wide. They questioned the value of play, intrinsically and otherwise. What can play offer us, besides pleasure and relaxation? What can play teach us? Can play be political? Can it make us more virtuous? It’s been shown that surgeons who play games can be better at doing their job. And games bring diverse people together, both online and off, to play. Children are teaching adults. Kids aren’t babysat by games, unlike with TV. It’s a less passive medium, in a sense. People are learning complex systems through interaction and experimentation. Play = risk = experimentation = learning = reward = life. One speaker made the note that play has always been everywhere, that’s nothing new. It’s games that are now widespread, often literally via mobile devices. Games are a unique fusion of art, science and technology.

I particularly liked what one panellist, Morgan Jaffit, said: that games should be more dangerous. Truly rebellious. Exploring scary stuff and controversial ideas (Escape from Woomera was given as one of the few examples out there). Not just mindless shoot-em-up violence and gore, which has actually become fairly safe. Games need to step beyond their association with kids, and get into complex, adult territory, like some of the best films and novels have. And this is partly why video games need to be able to have 18+ classification, rather than being refused classification. So yes, like play, this panel went everywhere and it was super interesting.

Finally, there was the Sleep is Death panel. If you want to know what Sleep Is Death is about, then just go watch the explanatory slideshow at their website. But basically, it’s a two-player collaborative storytelling game and it was something of a revelation to see it in action. It’s simple, yet it has essentially endless possibilities. It can be used to create interactive narratives of madcap surrealism, or elegant wonder, or who knows what else. It’s up to the two collaborative storytellers. In the demonstration we had, a member from the audience played as a judge who reluctantly slayed a wolf that was terrorising the community. But the game essentially has no limits, as far as the stories you can tell and play around with.

From the slideshow on sleepisdeath.net

Yup.

It’s utterly responsive and unpredictable, and I just found it hugely inspiring. Even better, you can watch back past games (yours or others) like a slideshow. I’m keen to buy this, but I’m holding off, just because when I do get it, I know I’m gonna be hooked. But you can bet you’ll hear more about it from me eventually.

So. Sleep Is Death. Storytelling meets play. This is another thing I’m super interested in. I’ve always been interested in games where the story is integral. And I guess in a sense storytelling is in itself a kind of play. But then hang on, I’ve realised that with Sleep Is Death, I kind of can make games, in the sense that I can create an interactive narrative. Now I really want to download it. Who knows where that will lead? Maybe I’ll even play around with VisualBasic and get Froggo working again. And where will my tinkering take me from there?

I guess one overall lesson I took from Freeplay 2010 is that play is important. Sometimes it gets a bad rap. Some call it childish. But I also learnt a new word — neoteny: the retention of juvenile characteristics in adult life. Sure, it’s a biological term, but it can be useful when you look at it more broadly. Really, whether you’re a child, an adult, or somewhere in-between, play is vital and enriching, and it’s good to have it as a balanced and integrated part of your daily life.

Finally, for some further, detailed, Freeplay-related reading, check out some great stuff I found, trawling via the #freeplay10 hashtag and various related links: Grassisleena’s report, an exhaustive wrap-up from Critical Damage, some deep thoughts from festival director Paul Callaghan’s blog and a great piece on Sleep is Death. There. That’ll do ya. Nearly as edifying as attending the festival yourself, no?

Happy blogbirthday!

Yes, today DuncanWritingEditingPublishing is one year old. They grow up so fast, don’t they?

It seems like only yesterday that I was starting this thing up as a Writing and Editing for Digital Media assignment. Now I’ve graduated, got my diploma and am out in the big scary post-University world. We’ve both changed, blog, but I’m glad you’ve stuck around. Sure, sometimes I disappeared for several weeks without explanation, but I think we can put the past behind us, remember the good times and look to a brighter, better future. Together.

Happy birthday, blog.

But what’s a birthday without presents? Yes, I got you a little something. Two somethings, in fact. Oh, it’s nothing. Hm? Why, yes, I suppose we can share it with everyone. You’re so giving, blog.

First, I got some amusing search terms. Everyone loves a good search term. It’s one of the best bits of the stats page. So my top…7 of the past year:

“one-eyed protagonist”
stay puft marshmallow man (about 15 times, spelt various ways)
“good game hex “fake hair”
craig schuftan and disco and stupid
“peter bakowski” beret
warren ellis pokemon
“benjamin law” circumcised

Fun times. For my second present, here’s me stalking and serenading Boy George’s sister with a saxophone so that I can elope with her in a tiny blue car.

I hope you like your presents. Here’s to another blogtastic year, even better than the last. Hip hip…?

What are the haps?

Hey! Hello! Hi there. Hi. How are you? That’s good. Me? Well, you know, just getting back into blogging, you know how it is. Yeah, I know I know, two-thirds of the way through the Emerging Writer’s Festival it seems my blogging fingers fell off. But I did go to many a thing and have a jolly ol’ time. Maybe some of what I attended and took notes on would still make for an interesting post (many weeks after the event, in contradiction of the internet’s immediacy)? We’ll see. Anyway, since then I have been busy. Moving house. Travelling up to Canberra and Sydney and back again. Oh, and I’ve been enlisted into the Voiceworks EdComm, which is great. We have a blog and we did a night of readings and Boggle and a radio play and a spelling bee, oh and we publish a cracking magazine that you should read and submit to, if yer able.

But anyway! Yes indeed, to everything there is a season. Gone is the long winter of discontented nonblogging. Now is the season for bloggingbloggingblogging, like a glorious summer.

And O! what a time to be a-blogging it is! So many things are the haps! A perpetual cornucopia approaching for me to partake in and report upon! Most importantly, perhaps: the Melbourne Writers Festival! The MWF program has been launched, and in anticipation of the festival’s arrival on August 27, I am spending many an idle moment flipping through the program, planning all the marvellous stuff I might see. Not only that, I plan to be a Genuine Unofficial MWF Blogger, blogging about it a whooooole bunch, much like others such such as him and her and several others. Oh, and don’t forget the Official MWF Blog.

Other than that, to further commence the buzzing warm-up to the fest, check out a nice big blog I did for MWF last year, back when this blog was part of my coursework at the Uni of Melbourne. Speaking of which, as of Thursday, this blog will have been around for a year. Can you believe that? I freakin’ can’t! I will definitely have to celebrate.

But yes, coming soon, I will have a massive post (or three) detailing the myriad things I plan to attend at MWF. All of that and many more meandering missives such as this one are surely on their way.

Ah yes indeed, it is a good time to be blogging. Festivals and blogging go together like custard and fish fingers, or, if you will, bowties and fezes.
(In case you are not cultured, what I am saying is that blogging and festivals go together exceedingly well and they are cool and also Doctor Who is cool and yeah okay so bye and um have a frabjous day!)