Five: Saturday 16/07/2005

Sunday, 24 July, 2005

We wake up too late for breakfast and the first panel. I split my muesli with Kathleen. When we take the tram into town, the tram driver tells me he likes my hat.

Dog gargoyle on Continuum 3 rego table

At the Hilton, Kathleen and I head straight for the Dealer's Room and I end up spending a lot more of my birthday money, adding to my Sandman collection with Death: The High Cost of Living and picking up the Mirrormask script book and Coraline in hardcover (the one with Dave McKean illustrations; I've always felt a little guilty that I picked up my paperback copy for only $4 at a Salvos store). I also got Speaking in Tongues and Warning: Contains Language and am kicking myself for not also picking up Telling Tales as well while I had the chance. Oh well.

Kathleen goes to the video room and I go to “Small Press Publishing” (Cat Sparks, Sarah Endacott, Jonathan Strahan, Mitch). Despite their negativity about the inability to make money out of small press publishing, I find it a really interesting and stimulating panel. I was particularly awed by Cat Sparks and Sarah Endacott because they started their ventures with the aim of publishing, showcasing and promoting Australian SF. They do it for the love of the thing, rather than to make any money. Listening to them and their advice gave me a crazy idea which I am not sure what to do about. I think I should talk to some people first before doing anything about it. In any case, it is a Next Year project ...

Chandelier at the Hilton

Kathleen goes to “How to Construct and Work in a Full Body Costume” while I go to “Moving out of Genre Fiction and into the Real World” (Poppy Z. Brite, Neil Gaiman, Jack Dann, Fiona McIntosh). That was also a very interesting panel. Poppy talked about how, after years of writing vampire horror, she switched to writing about the restaurant/food scene in New Orleans. She said she wrote her book, sent it to her agent and her agent said, “What's this?!” and sent it back. She sent it to Neil to read and he said, “You need to fire your agent. This is an [insert expletive] good book.”

I never realised how hard it is to cross genres when you are a published author. Neil said he was particularly lucky because he'd worked in comics for long it was possible to do all sorts of different things without people noticing because it was comics. He said the strangest thing for him was to cross over into children's books. Apparently, the phone call that the HarperCollins children's division dread the most is their adult division ringing up and saying, “One of my authors has written a children's book ...” Neil said, if it hadn't been for Phillip Pullman, perhaps Coraline could not have been published and gone on to do as well as it did.

Some quotes:

“Readers are wonderful people but if you ask them what they want, they will basically explain to you the last thing you wrote that they liked.” (Neil Gaiman)

“Writing is dangerous ...” (Jack Dann)

Richard Harland signing things for Kristyn in the foyer

It is time for lunch and Kathleen and I buy sandwiches, pies and water from the Hilton staff (ridiculously overpriced but it's too much trouble to go out and walk to find somewhere else). After lunch, it's the Neil Gaiman Guest of Honour Speech and of course everyone who can fit into the room is there.

Neil Gaiman reading

He reads us an exercept of Anansi Boys and even does all the voices. (I think his kids must get a real kick out of having their dad read to them at night.) Then he shows us the press kit for Mirrormask which contains the trailer, an exceprt from the film, a musical montage, a green-screen comparison, a short clip of an interview with Neil (sporting particularly bad hair which was imposed on him by the hair and make-up person five minutes before the shoot) in which he talks about Dave McKean's fascination with masks (at this point, “I'm so tired of being interviewed that I simply started lying ...”) and a clip of Dave McKean, which, Neil informs us, is from 1996.

Mirrormask looks lovely and wonderful however (and there is some confusion about this at the moment), it seems that Sony Australia do not have a release date for it in Australia. (NB: this is not to say that they are refusing to release it on the big screen here; they just don't have a date yet. I think they are getting a bit annoyed at all the Neil fans out there who have been ringing up, writing petitions and sending them letters about it. At least they know that the Australian public really wants to see the film.)

Neil on Good Omens:

“I wrote a very serious book and Terry [Pratchett] danced behind me scattering jokes.”

And then it is time for my reading and I am scared out of my brain. I am sharing the slot with K.J. Bishop and Karen Miller—both of whom are published authors. I am not. The reading is in the La Trobe room where there is a rather odd skeleton on the mantelpiece (we think it's of a cat):

Cat skeleton

I have visions of only a handful of people being there, or worse yet, everyone getting up and leaving once the others have finished because, after all, the Neil signing is straight after this.

The reading starts late. I have no idea who is chairing it or keeping time. K.J. Bishop begins but she hasn't timed her reading and she has to stop before she gets to the end. Karen Miller reads and excerpt out of The Innocent Mage. Then it's my turn. Unlike the other two who sat down at the chair at the front, I use the lectern. I've got my thesis in its bound format and it's just too unwieldy to sit on a chair and use. Anyway, the lectern provides a nice buffer between me and the audience. Everyone sticks around and I am ridiculously grateful.

I read “The Wild Swans”, “Elise”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Someday”. I keep to time and only stumble a couple of times. When I finish each piece, there is a smattering of applause—more enthusiastic for certain pieces than for others. When I step down, the lady who is sort of the unofficial chairperson asks us where people can obtain copies of our work. I feel a bit embarrassed when I tell her that mine isn't published. Oh well.

People say nice things to me as I leave the room—how much they enjoyed the work, etc. Kathleen tells me I ought to get it published. We strike up conversation with a girl called Sally who comes from Brisbane and is a journalist and walk with her all the way to the signing line.

We are too far back in the line to make it through before Neil's next panel so we are given numbers and are told to come back at 5. We go to “Fantasy and Fairytale” (Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb, Richard Harland, Tony Shillitoe, Kim Wilkins). It is quite an interesting panel though most of the stuff I already know. The panelists disagree with one another about defining what fairy tales are and the discussion traverses the terrain of moral fables, trickster stories, urban legends and children's literature. Neil reckons that someone once wrote the original tale of, say, Cinderella. He said something that I fear I've transcribed wrongly (cannot read my writing ... grr):

“Children's literature over here is nice and icky, it's like Nutrisweet. For adults to approve of. You will not have to worry about your child getting an idea.”

(If that's wrong, my apologies!)

After the panel, we go and line up again, trying to place ourselves in our original order. In exchange for snapping pics for Sally, she agrees to snap pics for me. We finally reach the front of the line and there's Neil, all nice and charming and affably, like everyone says he is.

Neil signs books

He comes equipped with his own pens (see, writers are particular about their tools) and he draws the Sandman in Haoran's copy of Endless Nights in silver. (Later I SMS-blog Haoran to let him know. He replies,

w00t! Just shown to G. Will show to Elsie. Yay you.

G, being Guan of course). Neil signs my copy of Mirrormask and then Kathleen and I get a photo with him.

Me, Neil and Kathleen

And I'm conscious about the number of people behind me and, while I want to ask him all these questions, I've really used up my time and so we step away and I remember belatedly that I forgot to bring my present with me and resolve to bring it tomorrow.

Kathleen and I say goodbye to Sally and head back to University College for dinner. We get changed and I put on my simple Death costume and get Ben to take Amélie-type mug shots of me:

Karen as Death front
Karen as Death side

Kathleen even lends me a poisoner's ring:

Poisoner's ring closed
Poisoner's ring open

It is freezing cold and my coat doesn't keep out the wind. We catch the tram back to the Hilton where the HarperCollins Voyager 10th Birthday Extravaganza is in full swing and everyone is dressed up to the nines. More and more fantastically-dressed people step out of the lifts (fairies, angels, gentlemen in top hats, dapper coats and canes) and I am too shy to ask them if I can take proper photographs of them.

Wolf man

Kathleen puts on the mask she made and also finds her friends from the Diana Wynne Jones list. I stick peacock feathers in her hair.

Kathleen masked

We stand there for ages, gawking at everyone, until people start going inside to the ballroom. Kathleen finds Sally and gives her the mask she brought for her (another Kathleen specialty). Sally is friends with someone who has a room at the Hilton and he and his girlfriend graciously allow us to dump our stuff there. We head into the ballroom and all the funny statues of Skekses and Pikachu are draped with cobwebs.

Me and Kathleen in costume

Inside, people are already on the dance floor, grooving to 80's hits. Kathleen and I get a drink and I stand there at the edge of everything, watching the dancers. The girl with the amazing hair (it had blue and purple ribbons all braided through it) is easily the best dancer there. A guy named Tom comes up and talks to me and I find out that he works for Madman as a computer programmer (and thus has already seen Howl's Moving Castle [and, according to this site, I will miss it again, being in North America. Aaargh!]), he plays bass in a heavy metal band and he loves reading Cecilia Dart-Thornton. He tells me he enjoyed my stories—particularly “Someday”.

I go and sit with Kathleen and her friends and strike up a conversation with Emma's boyfriend, Elliott (incidentally, Emma has posted some photos of the Maskobalo). I took some more photos as the costume competiton was judged (the winners were the wolf man, one of the jesters and the guy who dressed up as Captain Jack Sparrow). I had a splitting headache by this time so I went to the video room and watched the last three episodes of Neverwhere which was all right but a little clumsy in direction. I did think that the guy who played Richard Mayhew got it just right (and Neil is right, he does look like Paul McCartney! And, according to this, he has even played Paul McCartney in a few things, like Backbeat), ditto the girl who played Door (who was Kate the Ferrier in First Knight).

When it was over, I went and found Kathleen again and rang Ben for a lift and we went home. Of course the car breaks down just as we hit the Elizabeth St roundabout. We lose all power and the engine won't start. But Melbournians are very nice and one of them helped us push it into the nearby Bob Jane T-Mart where we call the Victorian equivalent of the NRMA who promise it will be a 90-minute wait. I am cold and sleepy but we sit there and wait. After 40 minutes, Ben tries the engine again and it starts up (just like in Canberra last year) and takes us home. When we are safely back at University College, I call the NRMA to cancel the call and Ben and I do a mock dance to the hold music.

Posted in: Melbourne 2005

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Place where you can hire play equipment for parties, etc.

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Thought Balloon is a group blog in which the writers tackle a new theme every week? month? with one-page scripts. This URL is for their Phonogram ones.


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