Miscellaneous Memoranda

– I’m glad I deleted my Twitter account a few years ago. Perhaps the authors now leaving Twitter will turn to blogging? I’d like that. I like reading long, thoughtful, book-related posts, although of course, blog posts can also consist of miscellaneous snippets of articles and commentary and videos …

– This is worrying. American publishers are increasingly adding “morals clauses” to their contracts so they can terminate contracts and force authors to pay back advances if the author is accused of “immoral, illegal, or publicly condemned behavior”.

Image of contract and pen

As the Authors’ Guild points out,

“individual accusations or the vague notion of ‘public condemnation … can occur all too easily in these days of viral social media.

Now publishers apparently want the ability to terminate an author’s contract for failing to predict how their words will be received by a changing public. This is a business risk like any other, yet publishers are attempting to lay it solely at authors’ feet. Worst of all, morals clauses have a chilling effect on free speech. A writer at risk of losing a book deal is likely to refrain from voicing a controversial opinion or taking an unusual stand on an important issue.”

– In the UK, publishing is in a “parlous state”, writes a pseudonymous publishing insider:

“just warning people off books isn’t sufficient. The author in question needs to be punished for their crime, be it transphobia, racism, misogyny or whatever. Never mind that we can all take offence at anything or nothing; that one person from a particular group who is offended by a story does not equal all people from that group being thus offended; that a simple way to not be offended is simply not to buy the book.

No, that is no longer enough. The author must be hounded on social media, their publishers & agents must be emailed, and the sinner in question must then atone for their sins by publicly apologising, “educating” themselves (which to me is the language of the gulag) and rewriting the book to remove the offence…

To know that so many people live in fear of saying the wrong thing in an industry which should be celebrating dissent and freedom of speech is something I find deeply shocking. It has come about because a minority of people with the loudest voices have bullied their way into the publishing world and insisted that only they are on the path of true righteousness.”

– Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, five brave, outspoken speech therapists have been jailed for publishing a series of children’s books featuring sheep fighting back against marauding wolves:

“Judge Kwok said in his verdict that ‘children will be led into the belief that the PRC Government is coming to Hong Kong with the wicked intention of taking away their home and ruining their happy life with no right to do so at all,’ referring to the People’s Republic of China.

Defendant [Melody] Yeung quoted U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King saying ‘a riot is the language of the unheard.’

‘I don’t regret my choice, and I hope I can always stand on the side of the sheep,’ Yeung said.”

Looking for Alibrandi is thirty years old this year and Melina Marchetta discusses it here. There’s also an interesting new theatre adaptation of the book, written by an Indian Tamil migrant, who grew up in Kuwait and moved to Perth as a teenager, and starring Chanella Macri, an Italian Samoan actor, as Josie Alibrandi.

'Looking for Alibrandi' by Melina MarchettaAs Pia Miranda, who played Josie in the film version, says,

“It’s a migrant story that transcends being Italian. And a lot of the people that have spoken to me over the years [and said] that it means a lot to them are from different backgrounds, whether it be people from Muslim or Asian backgrounds.”

– Anne Tyler has a new novel out, French Braid. I’m always happy to see an interview with her, even though I suspect she hates doing them. Here she discusses, among other things, ‘cancel culture’ and cultural appropriation and how she’s an accidental novelist:'French Braid' by Anne Tyler

“I never planned to be a writer at all. For years, maybe even today, sometimes I think, ‘What exactly am I going to do with my life? What is my career going to be? I’m only 80, for God’s sake!’”

– Fans of Octopolis will enjoy this update on the residents’ behaviour: “Sometimes This Octopus Is So Mad It Just Wants to Throw Something”. I highly recommend Peter Godfrey-Smith’s book on octopus intelligence (and belligerence), Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life.

The New Yorker has a fascinating article on the creators of the Choose Your Own Adventures books.

– Look at this amazing Ghibli quilt! Look at Calcifer and Jiji and No-Face and all the little soot sprites! She’s also made a Totoro quilt.

– I’m not a fan of John Hughes films, except for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and only because of the museum scene, so I enjoyed this thoughtful article on Ferris, Cameron and the power of art museums. And yes, this IS related to books, because the painting Cameron gazes at also features in Rebecca Stead’s Liar & Spy. If you clicked on the video in that article, you’re probably now humming the lovely instrumental music from that scene, so here it is, The Dream Academy’s cover version of Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want:

Writing About Place

The book I’m currently trying to write is set in my neighbourhood, which is a new experience for me. If I needed to know the details of a particular location when I was writing the Montmaray books, I either had to make it up from scratch or travel through time and space in my TARDIS1 to examine the place. Now, though, I can simply go for a short walk down the road and take a few photos.

This saves a lot of time and effort, but I’ve also become aware of how much I’m editing my setting. For example, I’m deleting the graffiti and most of the roadside litter and that ugly sixties office block on the corner, and concentrating instead on the lovely Victorian and Art Deco architecture and the manicured cricket pitch and all the majestic old trees. When (if?) I ever finish writing the book, I plan to draw a map, so that readers can walk along the same streets as my characters and visit the same buildings2. But while my book’s setting is ‘true’ for the most part, it’s certainly not the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

I was thinking about this because a while back, I saw an American blogger3 exclaim that, thanks to Melina Marchetta‘s novels, the blogger now knew exactly what the inner western suburbs of Sydney were like. And when I read that, I flapped my hands at my computer screen and cried, “No, no, it’s not like that at ALL!” Now, I must admit, Melina Marchetta would probably not classify me as a TRUE Inner Westie. I was not born at King George V Memorial Hospital for Mothers and Babies (although I did once work there, or at least visit it often while I was employed at the adjacent hospital), I’ve only lived in the inner west for about twenty-five years, and (horror of horrors) I don’t drink coffee. On the other hand, I have lived in the same suburbs as Josephine Alibrandi and Francesca Spinelli and Thomas Mackee (in fact, part of Looking for Alibrandi was filmed in my street) and most of the places mentioned in the novels are very familiar to me.

AND YET. Melina Marchetta’s Inner West is not my Inner West. For example, in Melina Marchetta’s Inner West, nearly everyone is of European ancestry, goes to a private school and is Catholic (nominally, not necessarily in an attending-Mass-each-Sunday way). Hardly anyone is Aboriginal Australian or Asian-Australian or Pacific-Islander-Australian. Gay and lesbian people exist only to show how tolerant (or temporarily intolerant) the main characters are. And no one seems to use contraception (and when the inevitable pregnancy results, no one even mentions the possibility of the existence of abortion). Now, of course, there are plenty of heterosexual, pregnant Italian-Australians in the Inner West. But in the ‘real’ (that is, my) Inner West, there are also lots of people without European ancestors. There are lots of atheists. It is true that there are several expensive and/or religious private schools in the area, but nearly all young children go to (fee-free) state primary schools, and among the most prestigious, difficult-to-get-into high schools are two (fee-free) state schools, Fort Street High and Newtown High School of the Performing Arts. Also, a local council survey a few years back found that about 21% of residents identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. More than one in five people! (Admittedly, the council area did not include Leichhardt and did include some parts of the very gay inner east of Sydney, but I should also point out that the inner west hosts the headquarters of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, plus a number of gay pubs and clubs; that local businesses routinely stock the free LGBTQ community newspapers and the local cinema hosts Queer Screen; and that Leichhardt used to be known as Dyke-Heart due to the large number of lesbian couples who lived there.) Oh, and Australia’s oldest, most famous, feminist-run women’s health clinic, which used to provide abortion services and still offers abortion counselling, is right in the middle of Leichhardt.

This isn’t to say that Melina Marchetta’s version of the Inner West is ‘wrong’ – in fact, I admire her vivid and evocative snapshots of the places that I know and love. But, as with any snapshot, there’s far more outside the frame than captured within it, and the positioning of the frame itself depends on the person holding the camera. What I need to figure out as I try to write my own book is whether I’m holding my camera up to the most important, useful and authentic scenes, or letting my own unexamined preferences frame each shot.

My Rainbow Neighbourhood
My Rainbow Neighbourhood. ACTUAL RAINBOW.

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  1. I don’t actually have a TARDIS. What I actually had to do was look at lots of old maps and photos and diaries.
  2. Look, Simmone Howell has done the same for her novel, Girl Defective!
  3. I honestly can’t remember which blogger, otherwise I’d link to the blog post.