Australian stories: a superhero rises in Cleverman

I’m chomping at the bit tonight to see the debut of the new Australian superhero, Cleverman.

On ABC2 we will get to not only get an Australian story, but one lovingly cultivated from Indigenous Australian stories, telling those stories with their own voices.

Well received at Sundance Film Festival, this new series premieres with a notable excitement in the speculative fiction community in Australia.

Creator Ryan Griffen talks about the creation of Cleverman for his son and in consultation with elders, asking permission to tell their stories.

Join me and other excited Australians watching on the ABC at 9:30 tonight!


On being an apparent internet sensation

So today, my mum tagged me on a Facebook link and said, “don’t know how they got a hold of your photo.”

We always check out Christmas Island posts if we see them. And this is where she made her discovery.

There’s a photo of me, probably about 5 years old, next to a wall full of mature red crabs on Christmas Island’s Greta Beach (I think) during the red crab migration.

Here’s the photo, if anyone is interested:

Wasn't I adorable? Those Christmas Island red crabs migrate to the sea to shake off eggs and then go back to their normal lives.
Wasn’t I adorable? Those Christmas Island red crabs migrate to the sea to shake off eggs and then go back to their normal lives.

So I have been famously in photos with red crabs before–I’m the (infant) model on the back of a David Attenborough documentary called Kingdom of the Crabs, when the larval crabs return from their sea sojourn. There’s a possibility that this is in the book my dad contributed to with John Hicks and Holger Rumpff. However, if that’s the case, Dad (who really is the only one who would have taken the photo) has not been asked.

I’m genuinely astounded at how far it’s travelled. The photo is on over 450 sites (barely one with attribution, may I add) and one site attributes it to Christmas Island Tourism, who tell me it’s not part of their media package (thanks folks!). It’s made it to Italian Huffington Post, San Francisco Times, random blogs in German, Pinterest and apparently originally Reddit. The earliest Greg and I have found is 2011. I haven’t been able to find the Reddit post with my photograph on it, nor has Greg at this stage. Viralnova seems to be the place most of the sites got it from. I have to say, it has freaked me out a little to see myself all over the world.

Despite the fact that neither my parents nor I have uploaded it, and it’s a 25+ year old photo, it’s a real lesson in how once an image is out there, it’s really hard to retain control of it. It’s also a lesson to those using images, particularly those of children; if you can’t find an attribution, it’s likely that the original owner doesn’t know it’s in use. And on the other end of it is probably a reasonably freaked out adult…

Update: Greg has now narrowed it down to a 2011 NewsCorp post. I’m going to pursue this just to find out.

Real does not equal always strong

I stumbled across a discussion the other day about the findings of Gender Inequality in Film (the infographic is disheartening but exceptional work by the team at the New York Film Academy). One of the comments attracted my attention, and I’ve been musing on it since.

The gist of this woman’s comment was that Dr. Ryan Stone in the movie Gravity, the female protagonist played by Sandra Bullock, set the cause of feminism back by her actions. This had me puzzled and confused.

For those who haven’t seen the film, I would suggest that you do. It’s spectacular, and the production team have focused on beautiful starscapes and realistic disorientation in the vastness of the universe around. If you haven’t seen it, please read on. I don’t think any of the spoilers I mention should give away the story, beyond any trailers released or reviews read.

Dr. Stone is a medical engineer who is recruited by NASA as a Specialist, because of the advanced electronics work she does at home, and in the beginning of the movie is on a spacewalk finishing the last of the repairs on the Hubble Telescope. What happens from there is that a debris field hits the Telescope, her vessel and leaves her spinning out into space, cut off from command at Huston and without her fellow astronauts. The rest of the movie is about her bid to get home, aided by veteran astrounaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney).

Most of the movie, she is out of her depth. Out of control and unaided. Spinning out in space, untethered, is but one of many problems she faces. Now, as a minimally trained astronaut, and one on her first mission, facing disaster and possible lonely death in space, she panics. The sounds of the movie are all heavy breathing and shrill calls for assistance and trying to reach Huston. Even with training, I imagine that spinning out into space like this is every astronaut’s nightmare, as it’s a death sentence when there is no assistance.

As it goes on, every event mounts another hurdle for her; not one plan comes off as it should. She is unable to be assisted by any one else. She is required to rely on the memory of the minimal training she has to fly aircraft that does not have instructions in the same language nor the same set-up. She faces up to having to confront the same event that last caused her distress to escape once again.

Admittedly, at one point, she gives up. She believes she cannot succeed. That she is without any assistance. She cries, she talks to herself, and says farewell to her life in the only way she feels she has left.

Nothing that she did was not an emotion I could not understand. Overwhelmed, in a seemingly hopeless and life-threatening situation, she alternated between coping and not coping. The character of Dr. Stone was an engineer, not an astronaut who had spent all their life training to be on the International Space Station.

There is a difference between being real and setting back the cause of feminism. Moments of weakness, of giving up, do not mean a person is not strong. In fact, sometimes realise which battles are not worth your fight is intelligent. Recognising that you are overwhelmed does not mean you are less of a person.

Just because Dr. Stone did not act in a gung-ho manner, like a two-dimensional male lead charging in to save the day and damn the odds, does not mean the character let down the cause of feminism. Because you rely on the experience of a more senior member of the team, it does not make you useless or less of a person.

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about what constitutes a real woman character in fiction and in film. Let me share my thoughts. A real woman is someone an audience can relate to, who lives by the rules she deems are important. A real woman has a story that has an effect on the way she reacts to situations. A real woman relates to her environment, settings and surrounds in a believable way.

In the same way, feminism is not answering all questions and achieving all goals on your own, without gathering and relying on experience of others. Feminism means being equal in rights to others; so has an equal right to life, to the pursuit of their own happiness and projects not controlled by another; not that an individual never accepts assistance or never works with another.

Gravity is a film that went for realism in its production and in its storyline, particularly with their female lead. I would highly recommend it as a film to see, as an offering that is a little different and wholly engrossing, and attempted to be true to the actual experience of being in space.

For those who have thoughts on Dr. Stone in Gravity, or “real women” in cinema, I hope you’ll share them and we can have a discussion on this topic.

What I learnt from John Freeman


20131028-IMG_7419-1I ended up working at the event where John Freeman was in conversation with Hal Wake, director of the Vancouver Writers Festival. As you do at these events, you quickly learn about the author whose book you’re selling, and I also had the opportunity to also watch the event.

John Freeman is a journalist. He’s done some interviews with some pretty high profile authors like John Updike and Toni Morrison. He’s also been a writer and editor with the magazine Granta, a position he gave up this year. The book he released last year, How to Read a Novelist, is a look at the personal side to several high-profile authors.

What I can say is that John on a stage is warm and funny, with an ever-so-slight self-depreciating streak. He told us early in the event about a career low point, when he interviewed John Updike the day he lodged his divorce; “stylishly distressed” he said he was. He shared himself that day and learnt an important lesson about interviewing. When in conversation with an author (or any one else you interview), you want to give back in the discussion because they are giving you so much. But you can only give back the most neutral thing possible. Otherwise the over familiarity can cost you, and almost did for John, a job.

You also don’t want to put the person you’re interviewing on the back foot. They’re writers; they want to talk about the language and structure. You want them to be expansive and not reactive.

There’s also a knack for leaving the space open for people to tell their story, Hal rejoined. This lead John to tell a story about a Kenyan author he interviewed. This man and his wife had a horrific and barbaric story about what happened when they returned home to Kenya after a long absence, due to the threat of violence against them. John asked rhetorically, at what point do you feel as an interviewer, “My heart’s not big enough to tell this story”. Hal added that in times of trauma, sometimes the only thing you can control is the story.

John also had some great comments about writing. He had the whole audience laughing hysterically with his comment that some “writers are so good they may as well be dead”. He said what he loved about simile and metaphor in writing was that they were a bridge to the reader, so that you could float away down the river of conversation and build imaginary worlds together. That, my friends, is exactly what the best writers do; bring you into the world envisioned in their minds. The best novelists sense the contradiction of what makes us human, John said. He would know. John Freeman reads all the books of the authors he interviews. It leads to that pesky feeling so many of us have: “the feeling of having too many lives”.

I lucked into seeing this event and I am so glad that I did. John Freeman taught me that to be an interviewer that you can be interesting, but that your role is to give their story a chance to be told, in their own words. What I took away is that a good interviewer is also a storyteller: you shine a light on the life and work of the person you interview.

Life with a lead-in

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If only life were handy enough to give us a synopsis of a situation or of people we meet so we could judge it by it’s cover. Think how much less wasted time and money we would have.

I would think my current personal synopsis would read something along the lines of:

Sophie, an outgoing but slightly insecure girl, is learning about herself and the world.
She would dearly love to make a few more friends. She is mostly a good friend, but can be a bit lousy with emails and phone calls. 
(Don’t mistake this for ambivalence though, she’s just a scatterbrain somedays)

Maybe it could even help with our social schedules:

You’re invited to Hermoine’s 30th birthday party. 
All drinks and food provided.
Invitation comes with obligation to hear the hostess complain about being old, no matter who you are.
Also, bring old pants because her dogs will love you and drool on your leg with friendly affection.
Your cat, on the other hand, will despise you for a month.

Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy. A reply of “I’m sorry I can’t make it, I’m double-booked” would come with the obvious sub-text of “I am going to wash my hair instead, because you get nutty when you’re drinking”.

It would make decisions about people you invest your time into and which events you went to so much easier.

If only real life was like a good novel’s synopsis.

Do you have an event or person that you wished came with a synopsis? Or perhaps do you have one in mind for yourself?