Tag Archives: Paul Kelly

Random post-birthday musings

1. As part of my preparation for a session at this year’s Melbourne Writers’ festival, I read Alice Pung’s new book, Her Father’s Daughter. I don’t often do non-fiction, let alone memoir. It feels too much like work and not enough like escapism. But perhaps I’m maturing. I know I’m ageing. Either way, Alice’s story was evocative, brutally honest and beautifully written. It will turn up on school reading lists, deservedly.

Looking back, the day Alice and I spoke to young writers at MWF was the same day the High Court over-ruled the so-called ‘refugee swap deal’. All people with views on refugees and multiculturalism should read Alice’s book. And watch Go Back To Where You Came From on SBS. Please.

2. Having conquered a memoir, I grabbed Paul Kelly’s How To Make Gravy, which I’ve stored for over a year, waiting for the right time. Before I began it, I downloaded Scot Gardner’s The Dead I Know. Man, did that blow me away. Scot’s narrator is a kid who gets apprenticed to a funeral director. He’s also a character you really want to see find some peace.

I can tell you that Scot has clearly done his research because some of the detail surprised me. That’s saying something because my Dad is a clergyman who has a fair bit to do with funeral directors. And I’ve spent many hours in the Coroner’s Courts, including a tour behind the scenes. This book could upset some readers but I still recommend it highly. Death shouldn’t be a taboo topic. The Dead I Know is a crackerjack yarn suitable for teens 15 and up.

3. Reading How To Make Gravy is like peering through a microscope at the germs of ideas that led to songs. For instance, Adelaide begins with the lines ‘The wisteria on the back veranda’s still blooming / and all the great aunts are either insane or dead…’ I love that opening. With no disrespect intended to my departed great aunts, it always reminds me of my childhood, visiting them in houses that seemed to be permanently mid-summer yet shaded by a sadness I didn’t understand – despite the Aunts’ mischief and hospitality.

These were women from a generation where many of the men were slaughtered on battlefields or returned too damaged to marry and have a ‘normal’ family life. I have the postcards written to them by their soldier brothers. Perhaps a story will emerge from these cards one day.

For the record, Paul Kelly says ‘insane’ was too harsh on his relatives but ‘eccentric’ didn’t work as well in a song. Never trust a song writer, he says.

4. There’s a lot of time travel involved in hearing the stories behind Paul Kelly’s songs. He jumps back to when he was writing them. I’m transported to when I had them reverberating from a cheap car stereo, commuting to university and various jobs – woodchopping, gardening, cleaning bricks…

Last year I saw the documentary on the making of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. I ended up buying the doco packaged up with the album, out-takes and DVDs of various live performances including the entire Darkness album in 2009. That means I can watch Springsteen and the E Street Band belting out a song in 1978 and then see them tackle the same track three decades later. The Boss’ voice and face may have changed but the passion hasn’t. It’s great stuff.

5. And so, back to the title of this post. I injured myself recently and was immobilised for a couple of days. I’m allowed to get on a bike for the first time in three weeks this weekend and even then I’ll need to exercise caution, dammit. Throw in a birthday and there’s been a whole lot of introspection going on.

I’m more conscious than ever of the stories around me, the battles all people face every day. There’s the healer grieving at facing retirement – the spirit still willing but the flesh unable to give any more. There’s the medico, so worn down by responsibilities and history that he carries the load on his spine and tells his tale to strangers, seeking his personal redemption or cure. There’s the father watching a daughter fight for life. The wife mired in a misery she is seeding for another generation and tends like a vegetable patch. The child being bullied.

And, today, the small group of indigenous Australians achieving a rare victory against the News Limited juggernaut.

So many stories. So little time. I wonder what my story will be when I have 30 years of writing to look back upon.

Leaking lists

Newspaper editors around Australia must be besides themselves with joy that the WikiLeaks story has broken during the silly season when news can be hard to come by. We do have the Poms belting us black and blue at cricket but that can only fill so many pages. Other perennial summer yarns include the road toll (tick) and wild weather (tick, tick, tick). In the bygone era of aggro industrial relations you could usually count on a beer and/or postal strike to liven up the pre-Christmas period, too.

Without such staples, newspapers, magazines and current affairs shows fill up with Top 10s and Best Ofs. Many blogs do, too.

Before I conducted my 2010 autopsy, I delved a little to see what influences have lingered. Here are the 2009 and 2008 entries. Hey, at least I can show I listened to Angus & Julia Stone before they became mainstream cool.

Ms Adele at Persnickety Snark suggested 11 Top 5s to countdown to 2011 but I’m going to have to settle for this mutated selection from her list, because I clearly haven’t read as quickly or widely:

5 Great Covers: Kirsty Murray’s India Dark, Leanne Hall’s This is Shyness, Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon, Karen Tayleur’s Six and, dare I say, my Five Parts Dead (thanks to Chong at Text Publishing).

5 Great Series: Based on reading these with my son, Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant Series, Sandy Fussell’s Samurai Kids series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Based on my own reading of the first book in the series – Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and Joseph Delaney’s The Spook’s Apprentice.

5 Great Re-Reads (books you’ve LOVED so much you went back for more): These aren’t YA fiction but this year I found myself re-reading Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore, Neil Gaiman’s Instructions, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Dav Pilkey’s The Dumb Bunnies and lots of Dr Seuss with my daughter. I am planning to re-read Markus Zusak’s The Messenger real soon, though.

Most Anticipated (2011 titles): Sheesh, I’m still working my way through a backlog of titles. Books I can’t wait to consume come from 2010 and even further back and include Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, Scot Gardner’s Happy As Larry, Kirsty Murray’s India Dark, Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Lian Hearn’s Heaven’s Net is Wide, Justin Cronin’s The Passage, Kate Constable & Penni Russon’s Dear Swoozie, Fiona Wood’s Six Impossible Things, Paul Kelly’s How To Make Gravy and Kevin Keefe’s Paddy’s Road: Life Stories of Patrick Dodson. Sally Rippin’s Angel Creek is a genuine 2011 title I’m keen to read.

But that’s just the tip of the bedside table stack. One of the apps on the iPad that makes me feel 11 all over again is the ComiXology store where I have already downloaded enough graphic novels to keep me going until next summer.

5 Great YA Bloggers
Authors – Cath Crowley, Kate Constable, Kirsty Murray, Penni Russon, Simmone Howell. Passionate book people – Book Gryffin, InkCrush, Miffy, Persnickety Snark, ReadPlus. There are countless others – but these snare me most frequently.

5 Books I Thoroughly Enjoyed in 2010 (but could have been published any time): Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon, Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man, Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Joel Deane’s The Norseman’s Song and Simmone Howell’s Everything Beautiful.

The funniest thing I’ve read all year was a chapter in Rene Goscinny’s Nicholas about a teacher doing yard duty at a boys’ school after several days of wet-day timetable. Absolute gold.

Favourite Films from 2010: Up In The Air, The Social Network, Animal Kingdom, Toy Story 3, The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. (Runners up: Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, The Hurt Locker, HP7, Inception.)

On Regular Rotation in 2010: Clare Bowditch, The Jezabels, Angus & Julia Stone, Arcade Fire, Whitley, Ben Folds and (still) Bon Iver.

On The Idiot Box: This year I bought a box set of The Wire and became a wirehead whenever free-to-air failed to grab me. Great stuff.

One show that entertained, upset, challenged and inspired me was The United States of Tara. The most recent series of Skins faltered somewhat but I’m still stunned it’s getting re-made in the US. Cue wail of anguish. Nooooooooo! Australian Story is consistently good. Channel 9 desecrated Top Gear.

Thanks list: In a year when I’ve had a new book released, I am acutely aware of the support I need from booksellers, reviewers, Text Publishing, speakers’ agency Booked Out, teachers, librarians, fellow authors, friends and family. Thank you all for being in my corner. I appreciate it.

Have a safe, jolly Christmas and may 2011 see your dreams come to fruition.

UPDATE: Whoops, I’ve added some titles that slipped my foggy mind first time around. And FYI, here’s the New York Times list of Notable Children’s Books of 2010.

Words and music

Maybe it’s the stickybeak in me. Or the reporter. Actually, let’s go with ‘compulsive storyteller’. That’s more palatable.

As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, I spend a lot of time seeing or hearing things and making up stories to go with them.

Example. I was in a doctors’ waiting room this morning and found myself matching all manner of ailments and injuries to the patients shuffling by. The bloke with both arms in plaster was probably a motorcyclist or bruised cyclist like me but I initially had him falling off a factory roof during a break and enter… Sorry, mate.

I do this with songs, too – listen to the lyrics and try to guess what the composer had in mind when they wrote the song. (Over the years I’ve matured slightly and reluctantly accepted that artists might not actually be singing auto-biographical material about their own achy-breaky hearts.)

So I’m really excited to have Paul Kelly’s How To Make Gravy on order. This is an Answer Book, as far as I’m concerned. Questions I’ve mused over, songs I’ve listened to for years are going to be explained by the man himself. I can’t wait.

Another project that has piqued my interest is the collaboration between US singer-songwriter Ben Folds and UK author Nick Hornby. The latter took short stories and other ideas and turned them into lyrics. The former wrote melodies and created songs. The end result was the album, Lonely Avenue. Here’s a link to my favourite track, so far. It’s a universal story that many, many people will identify with.

And here’s a trailer explaining how the Lonely Avenue project came to be:

Gravy and tears

Back in 1997 I spent Christmas in New York, a city with a real festive magic to it. There was the Empire State building lit up in red and green, the Macy’s decorations, a cappella carolers in subway stations, clumps of dirty grey snow in gutters… and me, homesick as all get out.

In our tiny apartment I put on a CD of Australian artists singing Christmas songs. When the Paul Kelly track below came on, I cried. My wife did too. It is a superb piece of storytelling and I still shiver when I hear it.

Christmas can be a time when we grieve for absent family and friends and regret moments gone by. This song says all that and more.

I wish all my readers, friends and family a Christmas that brings peace of mind and a pause from the crazy pace of life. Thanks for listening to me vent and ramble throughout 2009. I’m going to stop by the side of the Thunder Road for a while and listen to the waves.