In Which Kingsley Amis & I Disagree

First a confession: I love Sir Kingsley Amis. That’s why the heading of this post says “Kingsley & I” rather than “Kingsley & me” (which is my preference cause I reckon it sounds better) but not old Kingsley, he was a sucker for good grammar.1 I does not wish to offend him.2

I love Kingsley Amis for so many reasons. Because he’s dead funny, because he wrote in pretty much every genre, and because his main writing concerns were story and characterisation. Thus one of my favourite anecdotes about him goes like this:

Kingsley Amis is listening to a radio interview with his son Martin Amis, in which Amis Junior says of his latest novel that it really must be read twice in order to be fully appreciated. At which point Amis Senior says, “Well, then he’s buggered it up, hasn’t he?”

Too right. In case you’re worried about animosity between father and son, by all accounts they got on well, and there was much affection between them. They just had very different outlooks on writing. It happens.

I first came across Sir Kingsley when I was researching my PhD thesis on science fiction. His New Maps of Hell from 1960 was by far the wittiest, smartest, and most enjoyable book on science fiction I came across.3 That it was written by an established non-genre writer was astounding. It’s hard in these oh-so-much-more-tolerant days to convey just how much contempt was felt by the literati for us lowly genre writers. Why, back then even crime fiction (which Amis also loved) carried a stigma. But Kingsley Amis cared not a jot and wrote whatever he pleased: mysteries, science fiction, books about James Bond. I would love him for this alone.

Like me, he had an opinion on pretty much everything.4 (Though, um, his would only rarely, if ever, line up with mine.) In fact, I think he would have made a fabulous blogger. His non-fiction writing, espcially in newspapers, is chatty, unpretentious and instantly disarming:

Only one reader by her own account a hotelier and Tory [conservative] activist who’s also been a probation officer, took serious issue with me. “Your writing,” she stated, “is getting more and more biased and entrenched in reactionary fuddy-duddyism.” An excellent summing-up, I thought, of my contribution to the eighties’ cultural scene.

The quote comes from his writing on booze. Sir Kingsley was a boozer. He wrote three books on the subject, which are now handily collected in the one volume, Everyday Drinking, The Distilled Kingsley Amis. It’s wonderful and I say this as someone who pretty much disagrees with every word.

Sir Kingsley Amis’ drinks of choice were spirits and beer. He also had an inordinate fondness for cocktails and the book includes many recipes, including one for a Lucky Jim.5 I am a wine drinker,6 with little taste for cocktails, spirits or beer. Kingsley loved gin. I loathe it. Kingsley considered the Piña Colada a “disgusting concoction” and an “atrocity.” I love a properly made piña with fresh pineapple juice, fresh coconut milk and cream, and a dash of dark rum. Though really I just love coconut and pineapple—I’d happily skip the rum. He also considered combining beer and limes to be an “exit application from the human race” whereas I consider lime to be the only thing that makes most beer even vaguely palatable.

I also adore the French white wines he hates the most:

But the dry ones are mostly too dry to suit me, whether with food or solo. That’s if dry is the right word. I mean more than the absence of sweetness—I mean the quality that makes the saliva spurt into my mouth as soon as the wine arrives there. Perhaps I mean what wine experts call crispness or fintiness or even acidity, which for some mysterious reason they think is a good thing in wine. But whatever you call it, I don’t want it. Chablis, the average white Mâcon, Muscadet, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé—not today, thank you.

That’s fine, Kingsley. I’ll drink them!7 Well, not the average ones. Only the best, please!

He has scathing things to say about the Irish. Doesn’t think they could possibly have invented the process of making whiskey.8 Boo, Kingsley! Some of my best friends are Irish. Snobby, pommy bastard, you!9

So what was I doing reading a book I kept yelling “boo” at? Have I mentioned how funny Kingsley is? Here he is discussing the essentials for a good home bar kit:

1. A refrigerator. All to yourself, I mean. There is really no way around this. Wives and such are constantly filling any refigerator they have a claim on, even its ice-compartment, with irrelevant rubblish like food.
8. A really very sharp knife. (If you want to finish the evening with your usual number of fingers, do any cutting-up, peel-slicing and the like before you have more than a couple of drinks, perferably before your first.)

Oh, Kingsley! How did you cope with those pesky wives and such?10 And food, irrelevant? My heart is so sad for you. I will go eat a nectarine. *gobbles* Ah, better.

Then once he’s given you his list of ten essentials he tells you what he ommitted:

Half the point of the above list is what it leaves out. The most important and controversial of your non-needs is a cocktail shaker. With all respect to James Bond, a martini should be stirred, not shaken. The case is a little different with drinks that include the heavier fruit-juices and liqueurs, but I have always found that an extra minute’s stirring does the trick well enough. The only mixture that does genuinely need shaking is one containing eggs, and if that is your sort of thing, then clear off and buy youself a shaker any time you fancy. The trouble with the things is that they are messy pourers and, much more important, they are far too small, holding half a dozen drinks at the outside. A shaker about the size of a hatbox might be worth pondering, but I have never seen or heard of such.

I am now trying to imagine operating a hatbox-sized cocktail shaker. Maybe if Yao Ming was the bartender? Which, oddly enough, is something I would like to see.

I also greatly enjoyed his instructions for making sugar syrup (simple syrup):

A bottle of sugar syrup, a preperation continually called for in mixed-drink books. To have a supply of it will save you a lot of time. . . Concoct it yourself by the following simple method:

Down a stiff drink and keep another by you to see you through the ordeal. . . [instructions] Your bottleful will last for months, and you will have been constantly patting yourself on the back for your wisdom and far-sightedness.

Reading Kingsley on booze is like reading novels from the 1930s-1950s. The adults are drinking all the time. With breakfast, lunch, before dinner, during dinner, after dinner, before bed (night cap!). Was anyone ever sober? It is a miracle that anything at all was achieved in those decades in the US, UK or Australia.11

Sir Kingsley sadly discusses the growing ubiquitousness of wine. But I can’t help thinking that the largely lower alcoholic content of wine (lower than spirits and cocktails anyways) combined with the prevelance of it being drunk with food, is a good thing. Wine cultures tend not to have as much alcoholism as, say, vodka cultures. Compare and contrast France with Russia.

Kingsley explains his own lack of wine appreciation12 thus:

Now we reach the point at which my credentials become slightly less than impeccable. With all those drinks I have got through, what I have not done is drink first-rate table wines at their place of origin, work my way through classic vintages and develop an educated palate. To do that, what you really need, shorn of the talk, is a rich father, and I missed it.

I missed that one, too, Sir Kingsley. But I’ve muddled along okay without. I may not know much about the very best Bourdeaux but I does know which wines I like, you know, like a good Pouilly-Fume. Or “pooey fumes” as me and my classy friends call it.

Anyways, bless you, Sir Kingsley Amis, for poking fun at yourself, at wine and booze, and almost everything else. For your classy deployment of sarcasm, irony, and out-and-out wit. Tonight I will raise a glass of the wine you hated most in your honour.13

  1. He would be appalled by my grammar, spelling, and punctuation skills. Or lack thereof. Sorry, Kingsley. []
  2. Though I do feel free to use his first name. I guess I’ve been reading him for so long I feel that we are now mates. A very safe feeling what with him being dead and all. []
  3. I disagreed with much of it, but that’s neither here nor there. []
  4. Toilet paper goes over the roll, people, not under! []
  5. Many people believe that Amis’ Lucky Jim was one of the funniest British novels of the 20th century. I’d definitely put it up there with Cold Comfort Farm. []
  6. I mean if I were a drinker that’s what I would drink. Though obviously as as writer of YA I don’t drink. So clearly everything in this post is on the hypothetical side. []
  7. Er, in my mind, I will. Not in real life. YA writer. []
  8. With or without an “e.” []
  9. Though we do agree on the subject of cola drinks and Woody Allen. We doesn’t like them. []
  10. According to his bios, he did so by having lots and lots of affairs. Oh, is that who the “and such” were? Bad, Sir Kingsley! []
  11. I know not of the drinking habits of other nations, but I fear the worst. []
  12. Though judging from what he writes about wine he was a phony and knew vastly more than, say, I do on the subject. []
  13. I won’t actually drink it, mind. YA writer, me. Pure as driven snow. []

Happiness is . . .

This post is dedicated to
my beloved father, John Bern,
because the novel I dedicated to him
has not found a publisher yet
and because
I think it will make him gag

Happiness is . . .

  • Finishing the first draft of a novel that was tonnes of fun to write, which means the rewrites are going to be even more fun.
  • Celebrating said finish by going out to see fabulous theatre (Keating at the Belvoir) with my parents, sister and husband.
  • Continuing the celebration with a wonderful meal at Tabou (best mussels ever!), drinking loads of champagne, and filling Scott in on all the stuff he missed in Keating: Gareth Evans, Eddie Mabo, Native Title and why Alexander Downer was in drag with fishnet stockings.
  • Coming home to discover that Bertelsmann Verlag has bought the German rights to Magic’s Child and will be publishing the whole trilogy in 2008 with two month gaps between each title. No annnoying waiting for the German readers.
  • Trying to decide whether to have a bit of a holiday in Ireland or Spain. Such a dilemma!

What all is making you lot happy? We happy peoples love company!

Out of here (again)

In less than twenty-four hours we’ll be on a plane to NYC. And while I think NYC is a bloody excellent city, and I have many wonderful friends there I can’t wait to see, I’m sad about it. For the last few years I haven’t been anywhere for more than three months straight. And that place was San Miguel de Allende, not Sydney. And while San Miguel is also completely ace I’m dying to spend an uninterrupted LONG stretch of time in my hometown.

Scott says I always get like this just before we leave anywhere (San Miguel, Dunedin, Buenos Aires, NYC). He says I always say that I want to stay. Maybe. But I feel it even worse when it’s Sydney cause there’s no where I love as much in the world. For some photographic reasons why pop over to Scott’s blog (he’ll also explain my silence of the past few days, which I can’t go into without frothing at the mouth).

Right now the thought of being anywhere but Sydney is just too much. Even though we have a year of travel to many wonderful (or at least interesting) places ahead of us: Madison, NYC, New Orleans, Seattle, London and Bangkok (and I’m sure I’m missing some). So to soothe my aching heart I’ll share my new favouritest Sydney places.

Two Good Eggs: A cafe in Surry Hills that makes some of the best omelettes I’ve ever had. I’m particularly besotted with the corn, leek, basil & ricotta. Divine. Their other food is also amazing (especially the porridge with rhubarb) and Scott loves the coffee. Service is friendly and fun and they don’t stress if you sit there for hours reading the paper.

Forbes & Burton: It opened just about the same time we moved into Surry Hills and the food was amazing from the word go. The breakfasts (the salmon on potato cakes might make Mr Atkins cry, but it makes me very very happy) and lunches are fab, but it’s dinner that sends me into ecstasy. Every single dish is near perfect. I especially loved the tomato consomme with vegetables and goat’s cheese raviolo (that’s right just the one). The clear liquid was the very essence of summer.

The Hollywood Hotel: The best pub in Surry Hills, if not the world. I did have a plan to get to every pub in Surry Hills, but after our first beer at the Hollywood we never left. The place is gorgeous curvy art deco, they have James Squire on tap, the publican, Doris Goddard, used to be an actor (there are fab photos of her with Bob Hope on the walls), and the staff are all smart, witty and pour perfect beers. Sometimes they even have salt & vinegar chips. Tis the perfect place to hide from the dazzling sun. I can’t believe I don’t get to hang out there again till November! Where’s the justice?

If you’re ever in Sydney check ’em out. Say hi from me!

Now I resume packing. How come no matter how many times I pack and unpack I never get spectacularly good at it? Same with jetlag. Grrr.

Hating Cities

I will never understand all the Melbournites who despise Sydney, some of them folks who’ve never even been here. Seriously, I’ve met Melbournites who sneer with disdain at the mere thought of stepping foot in Sydney. The horror they say!

Me, I’m from Sydney. I love it, but I also have a whole lot of time for Melbourne. Melbourne has better licensing laws and thus better bars than Sydney, a better art and live music scene, and (mostly) better clothes shopping. Melbourne has trams. And what is not to love about trams? But Melbourne has little of Sydney’s breath-taking physical beauty, doesn’t have her beaches, or national parks, or fairies, er, I mean ferries, actually I mean both. It doesn’t have the wonderful bike path all the way from Newtown to the beach. Melbourne is, well, kind of dreary looking and its winter is unendurable. Nor does it have many of my favourite restaurants in the world the way Sydney does but, hey, the food is plenty fine in Melbourne too. And, please, do not give me the sacred MCG thing. There’s only one truly beautiful test-hosting cricket oval in Australia and it’s in Adelaide. And anyways my heart belongs to the SCG.

But who am I kidding? I was born here. I’ve spent the majority of my life here. I am completely biased about Sydney.

I’m not asking Melbournites to start loving Sydney. I’m just asking them to be a little reasonable about their over-the-top hatred. There are other cities out there that are actually worth hating (like, you know, um, another Oz city that I will not name because I have friends who live there what will be offended). Sydney ain’t one of them. And while I’m at it, Adelaiders, quit hating Melbourne, okay? You’re just being silly and why hate them when their MCG is ugly and your Adelaide Oval beautimous? You should pity them.

For me to work up a real forth of city hating, it has to be either a) a city I spent a miserable few years of my childhood in, or b) a city where you can’t get around if you don’t drive. Where the public transport and pedestrian access sucks. For this reason I perfectly understand why so many folks in the US of A loathe Los Angeles. Without a car in L.A. you are totally buggered. You have to beg rides from all your friends and are reduced to the status of a helpless child. But you know what? That’s true of almost every city in the USA, which is one of the reason I love NYC and San Francisco so much, they’re perfectly navigable by public transport and in Manhattan you can go wherever you want by shank’s pony. Plus, you know, there are so many places in both cities you’d want to go.

I used to hate London, because every time I’d visited the food was vile and expensive, it was gray, cold and raining (even in “summer”), and the people were obnoxious and rude. On my most recent trip the food was still expensive but it was excellent, the weather was endurable, and I only had one rude encounter, so now London’s in my good books. It certainly passes with flying colours the good public transport and pedestrian getaroundability rule. (Thanks to Niki, Lauren and Andrew for showing me the non-sucky London.)

Cities are who you know. The people who take you in and show you their town. I’ve had wonderful times in Dallas and Austin, Texas neither of them pedestrian friendly. I adore Toronto and it sure ain’t pretty. I’ve enjoyed Brisbane, Rome, Madrid, Bangkok, Jakarta, Dunedin, San Miguel de Allende, Davis and Lisbon—all of them because the people there were amazing and went out of their way to show their town to me. I imagine that even L.A. with the right people in the right light could be kind of okay. And now that my sister‘s moved there I guess I’m going to find out.

Or maybe not. There’s still that bloody car thing.

Merry, Merry, Happy, Happy

I hope everyone who celebrates today or any of the cluster of days around it—or who’s just enjoying the days off work or school—has a most excellent end of the year. I plan to.

I’d like to adopt the USian custom of giving thanks (yeah, yeah, I know they do it on a different day—whatever!). Here’s what I’m thankful for:

    That I’m home in Sydney living in the best place ever: Flying foxes at dusk! Huge decks! Huge bath tub! Views! Amazing pubs, cafes & restaurants within spitting distance! Southerly breezes!

    That I’m home in the land of continuous cricket coverage! Of beautiful beaches! And the best avocadoes (yes, Mely, you need to move here, not smelly California) and mangosteens and mangoes and all the other yummy fruit and veg my heart pines for!

    Rediscovering all my CDs what have been in storage since forever. Most especially Sepharad: Songs of the Spanish Jews by Sarband. Best CD ever!

    The books beside my bed: The Tale of Genji—started it, but am intimidated by its enormousness, though I really want to take part in this amazing discussion; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—started it; Shaman’s Crossing by Robin Hobb; The Fencing Master by Arturo Pérez-Reverte—finished it, loved it!; The Big Ship: Warwick Armstrong and the Making of Modern Cricket by Gideon Haigh—started it; Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm—started it.

    My writing career, and that I can type those words without cacking myself. Yes, I really do have a writing career!

    My family and friends. Especially my family: Jan, John, Niki and Scott, with whom I’m about to do the whole yummy food and wine, pressies, playing-lots-of-games thing! Bring it on!

Hope most everything is wonderful with you lot as well.

Yummy Yuba

Last night I tried fresh yuba for the very first time and it were sublime.

photo swiped from this site

I also ate the best edamame I’ve ever had (fresh and smoky), sake (unfiltered milky goodness), and chestnut icecream (words fail me).

The meal ended twelve hours ago, but I’m still in heaven just remembering all the flavours: eel stuffed with fresh tofu, skirt steak cooked in miso with enoki mushrooms, black sesame ice cream.

Food is good. Life is good.


So, last night we got to hang out with the smartest group of folks I’ve hung out with in an age (and I hang with much smartness, let me tell you). At the Teen section of Elizabeth Library, New Jersey, we read a little bit, we told anecdotes, got asked very smart and very funny questions, I got to talk Spanish, and afterwards we got to eat great pasta and drink good wine and enjoy more ace conversation.

I read from my great Australian cricket mangosteen Elvis fairy novel, which I feared would tank with the seventeen-year-olds, but they laughed harder than the Brooklyn audience. Yay! I finally wrote something that cracks people up. And some of them knew about cricket. One guy plays it with his Pakistani neighbours. How cool is that? And many loved basketball and knew about the WNBA, not just the NBA! Heaven.

Scott read from Pretties which kind of tanked, and then from Peeps, which went over huge guns. He read about toxoplasma and there was much speculation about who has the parasite and who doesn’t. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then you’ll have to read the book, won’t you?) So many of them had read at least one of Scott’s books. One had read all of them and was full of smart questions. I made Scott do his Donald Duck voice and it slayed them best of all (he can harmonise with himself—next time you see him, just ask—he loves to perform on command). There was a queue of people wanting to have their photo taken with Scott. How fab is that?

And at the end, the library gave everyone a copy of one of my books (they had a choice of Magic or Madness or Magic Lessons—yup, Penguin genorously gave them a whole stack of galleys) and one of Scott’s many books. Though some tried sneakily to take two of Scott’s books. The competition over copies of Peeps was intense. We signed for all of them and thus got to talk one on one to everyone. Great idea, no? It was fabulous fun and I want to do it again.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love libraries? And librarians? And people who love libraries and librarians? No? Well, I really, really, really do.

Cake, Champagne, Pamplonada

Still having fun, still writing up a storm. I believe I’m now a third of the way into Magic or Madness III (and, yes, I have my fingers crossed that, finally, one of the trilogy will have the preferred title: Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi!). Being a third in works out well as we’re now a third of the way into our stay here. How bout that?

Was me birthday last week and Luz’s lovely sister baked me a cake:

It was dead good. Champagne was drunk. Poker was played. Excellent presents were received. Not to mention all the wonderful birthday calls. And I wrote a bunch of words. Yay, me.

Also, just to add to the birthday celebrations ’twas the week of Pamplonada, the Mexican running of the bulls. This meant even more rockets going off than usual as well as lots of wealthy (and a few not so wealthy) folk from all over Mexico descending on San Miguel for three or four days of drinking, fornicating, bull taunting, and, in some cases, broken bones and concussions. Imagine a slightly older schoolies week with bulls (for you Usian-types think spring break, Fort Lauderdale and bulls). The average age seemed to be early twenties.

Many of the newcomers were from Mexico City, invoking a mixture of awe and disgust in the locals as only wealthy, young, glossy folk from the big city can. I overheard one young local lass, saying to her friends,

“I do, too, have friends from Mexico [City]! Lots of them. You’ll see.”

“Who cares?” replied her friend. “They’re all [rough translation] unpleasant people.”

The uniform for the girls was tight jeans, high heel boots, shirt and cowboy hat. For the boys: jeans, boots, white shirt/T-shirt with red kerchief and cowboy hat. It’s amazing how such a simple look can speaks volumes as to class and wealth.

The Pamplonada, itself, was not at all what I was expecting. I’d been imagining a large amount of bulls let out at once and blokes in front running like buggery. In San Miguel they let one bull out at a time, the huge crowd parts, while all the bravest, cockiest and stupidest blokes do their best to provoke the bull into going them, waving tiny red kerchiefs, or big, full-on matador cape thingies, or pulling the bull’s tale. The bull, increasingly irritated by this behaviour, will then oblige by tossing one or more of them into the air, or kicking the fool standing behind him. One of the bulls was so annoyed by one particular bloke he threw him in the air, then tried to pick him up again several times, finally trampling him. Score many for the bull.

Eventually the bull will get bored or start to run off around the circuit. They then release the second bull and so on, until there are eight bulls being provoked, getting shitty and sending the occasional bloke into the nearby ambulances. Most of the bulls emerged fulling prepared to go anyone remotely near them. This usually turned out to be the blokes who’d let them out of their enclosure.

It was impossible not to barrack for the bulls. Fortunately, they seemed to aquit themselves well. Yay, bulls!

P.S. Thanks everyone for all the wonderful birthday messages! Touched me heart, it did. When I’m online for more than a few hours every three or four days I’ll reply.

Garlic and Sapphires

In the vein of fiddling while Rome burns I read Ruth Reichl’s decadent account of being the restaurant critic for The New York Times in one gulp last night. Could not put Garlic and Sapphires down, no matter how hungry I got, how desperate to run out of the house and find the incredible food, and wine she describes.

I defy you not to get very very hungry reading prose like this, even if you just ate:

I took a bite and immediately forgot his knee. I forgot everything but what was going on in my mouth, the fish doing a little tango with crunchy strips of artichoke. The softness of the fish was sandwiched between layers of crunch—the artichoke on the bottom, bread crumbs on top, the flavors appearing and vanishing in a maddening way. I thought I tasted chestnut, and then it was gone, absorbed into the deep musky flavor of the wine.

Want. Now!

Her food critic m.o. is kind of insane and involves wigs, elaborate costumes and whole new identities in order to avoid being identified and thus sucked up to outrageously, with over the top service and food because, don’t you know, she’s The New York Times restaurant critic and thus more important, even, than the king of Spain.

Anyway her book is well-writ and funny and sad and all about food and wine. What more could you ask for?

What I Learned Today

Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is, and I quote, “too scary! too scary! too scary!” for two year olds.

At first Marlowe was enchanted. Then it got dark, the parents turned into pigs, and demons started appearing out of nowhere. And that was the end of Spirited Away for Marlowe. “Too scary! Too scary! Too scary!”

Never give up on the Liberty. They always come back in the second half. (Unless they don’t.) Um, Coach Coyle? How come Erin Thorne got more minutes than Shameka Christon?

Never give up on the Australian men’s cricket team (not that I didn’t already know that). Yeah, yeah, England have declared. Yeah, yeah it would be a miracle to get four hundred on the final day of a test. But I have not given up! Just a flesh wound. The merest of grazes!

Rosé is the only thing to drink on a hot summer day. That and young coconut water. Or, you know, actual water. Or champagne. Or whatever drink you happen to like . . .

Thunderstorms rule! (Yeah, I already knew that one too.)

Just Quickly

We’re in Glasgow. It’s gorgeous and fun and you just can’t get bored by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Trip so far:

London: great (though bloody expensive) food (Niki and Lauren & Andrew have been most excellent guides), brilliant markets, cheap clothes (bought the most gorgeous 15 pound skirt). It’s not the city I remember, though I did get some awe-inspiring rudeness—so it hasn’t completely changed. Best restaurant was David Thompson’s Thai one in Soho (I forget the name). Thompson’s Australia’s guru of Thai food. Was wonderful watching Lauren and Andrew’s delight in finally trying decent Thai food. I also gave them their very first mangosteens. Heavenly!

Glasgow: gorgeous, love all the Rennie Mackintosh everywhere. Had the most brilliant black pud and organic cider at Cafe Gandolfi. Cider in the UK is the best I’ve had in my entire life. Superb.

And tonight WorldCon begins. In the meantime the second test is on the tellie and Warne is bowling beautiful.

This is the life.

(Internet access continues very intermittent.)

(Oh and the time date for this is NYC time. Couldn’t be arsed changing it. Time here is 2:34PM.)

My World Science Fiction Convention Schedule

Yes, like everyone else in the entire sf world, I will be jetting over to Glasgow to partake of science fictiony thingies for several days at the World Science Fiction Convention. I’ll hang out with me mates, meet new people, and spend a lot of time in the bar watching England being destroyed by Australia in the second test at Edgbaston. Can’t wait. (I’m just sad that it won’t be in an English bar. Fortunately there’ll be enough English sf fans around that my gloating enjoyment of their team’s destruction will have an audience. In fact I’m going to greet every new person by asking if they’re English or not. And if they are, I’ll say, “Cricket. Ashes. Ha ha ha!”)

Friday 2:30pm Reading

I’ll read some stuff. Maybe from Magic or Madness, or Magic Lessons (the sequel to Magic or Madness—the reading will contain no spoilers), or I could read from my brand new novel which no one knows nuthink about and I’ve never read out loud to anyone but me spousal. Dunno. I’ve got half an hour, but that’s ridiculously long. I don’t like to read for more than 15 minutes, that way me and me audience (both of us) can go to the bar and watch England being destroyed in the second test.

Saturday 12:00 noon Feminism as Setting

Trudi Canavan
Anne K. Gay (M)
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Mari Kotani
Justine Larbalestier
Ruth Nestvold

Description: Feminism is no longer the story, instead it’s the setting—what has this meant for feminist writers?

My take: Huh? I don’t agree with the premise. Feminism can be both setting and story, these are not contradictory terms. Plus it will be tricky to work a discussion of the cricket in.

Sunday 11:00am The 1950s, 50 Years On

Gail Dana
Irma HirsjSrvi
Justine Larbalestier
Greg Pickersgill
Mark Rich (M)

Description: The 1950s saw the Golden Era of Science Fiction film and the blossoming of writers such as Asimov, Sturgeon, Dick, Farmer, Walter M. Miller and Poul Anderson. What do we think of them now?

My Take: How could you list the best of the 1950s sf writers and not include Alfred Bester? Or Theodore Sturgeon? Or Margaret St. Clair? I’ll argue that sf writing in the 1950s was indeed a golden age, the period when sf turned its attention to the social sciences and examined social issues more than ever before. It’s often argued that that didn’t start happening until the 1960s which is crap. Also the 1950s saw some of Keith Miller‘s finest batting and bowling.

See you in Glasgow.


Georgette Heyer books remain most excellent on the umpteenth reread. On this occasion Venetia, Frederica, and Sylvester. Am unable to decide which I like better: Venetia or Sylvester. Right now am tilting towards Sylvester on account of authoress Phoebe’s roman a clef, the hero, Sylvester’s attempt to “mount” the heroine, and the truly appalling Sir Nugent Fotherby. But the sexy talk between Venetia and her Wicked Duke Damerel is hard to go past.

Can’t stop listening to Missy Elliot’s latest The Cookbook. Current fave: “We run this”.

The latest New Yorker has a gorgeous account of just how much Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) drank in a day:

At about ten o’clock, he would have his “morning draft”—usually “small” (or weak) beer, but sometimes regular beer or even wine. Cakes might be eaten with the draft, but dinner was the day’s main meal, then taken at noon, and, at least on some occasions, this was washed down with wine—possibly watered, given the volumes that Pepys records knocking back. During the rest of the working day, more wine might be consumed; Rhenish wine (sometimes sugared); “sack” (sherry or Spanish white wine); claret (red Bordeaux); “Florence” wine; “burnt” or “mulled” wine; wine flavoured with wormwood. He might also have further drafts of beer (traditionally hopped) or ale (traditionally unhopped), and specified as Margate, Lambeth, China, or Hull).

Fair enough. Drinking water back then was dangerous. I’d’ve been dead of cholera so very fast. I love me the taste of water. Especially New York City tap water which was unavailable to Pepys. Poor bastard.

It finally got hot here in NYC. I’m very happy.


Deb Biancotti recently wrote about how much she loved the US movie, Sideways, while I don’t remotely agree with her about the film (love was not the emotion it roused in my breast), I did very much enjoy her thoughts about wine. She’s right: loving wine, appreciating wine, gets a very bad rap. It’s pretentious, it’s snobby, it’s blah blah blah. "That doesn’t really smell like passionfruit or taste of cat’s piss. You’re just making that up. Wanker."

Like Deb, I love wine. I love them, red, white, sticky sweet and dry as bone. I don’t care about the grape variety: pinot gris, malbec, cab sav, merlot (yes, merlot, I have no idea what that guy’s problem is), sav blanc, semillon, riesling, chardonnay, shiraz and so on. And I especially love wine with bubbles. Not just champagne, I’m also in love with heaps of Australian, New Zealand and Italian bubblies. What can I say? They tickle my nose and float across my tongue. What I care about is quality. Every grape variety can produce crap wine and they can all produce absolute glories.

I love the performance around tasting wine: checking out the wine’s colour in the glass, smelling it and trying to figure out what those smells are, what they remind you of, and then best of all, tasting it. Does the taste match the smell? Does it taste the same at the beginning as at the end of a sip, of a glass, of a bottle? (A bottle shared with others, obviously. Drink only in moderation.)

I totally agree with Deb: "It’s earthy and real. I think it’s a way to focus inwards on your body’s sensations and to feed those sensations through your brain and turn them into words. It’s sensual. Kinda—dare I say— sexy."

When we were in Buenos Aires recently we drank a lot of malbec, a red grape variety I’d never drunk before and this weird thing kept happening: the waiter would pour the taste, I’d sip, my mouth would pucker, and the first word that wanted to escape my mouth would be, "b’dna’gah!" or maybe "ack!" The waiter would smile and say, "Too much tannin?"

"Rather a lot, yes," I’d say, squeezing the words out of my shocked lips. The waiter would then assure me that it would taste fine in a few minutes. We just had to wait. So we did. Without fail the next sip would be smooth, almost creamy, yet still a big red, still with some astringency. I’ve never drunk wines before that changed so dramatically so quickly. Very very fabulous.

For my birthday last year, Scott gave me the most excellent present ever (except for all the other really great ones, like the watch I’m wearing, my silver wedding skirt, that tropical fruit basket, everything my sister and parents have given me ever, and all the stuff I’ve forgotten cause my memory is crap): Le Nez du Vin (yeah, yeah, it’s French and all about wine, colour it very prententious indeed, and no, he didn’t pay full retail price. Jeeze what do you think we are?). It’s a set of 54 wee bottles of the key essences found in wine: cinnamon, vanilla, pepper, cut hay, lychee, butter, mushroom and 43 other ones. Each essence is matched with a beautifully written and illustrated card that tells you its chemical components, history, and what wines it’s found in. And each essence smells exactly like what it says it smells like. The green pepper smells like green pepper (well, okay, it smells like green capsicum). Fresh, crisp and faintly like grass. The honey like a light, straw-coloured honey. Come on, you know the kind.

We’ve spent hours and hours learning to identify them all. (For extra kink value we’ve even done it blindfolded. Cor!) All our friends have been into it too (blindfolded and everything! Double cor!). It’s a tonne of fun and much much much harder than you imagine. Most people’s sense of smell doesn’t get the same kind of work out that sight and hearing do. None of the folk who’ve played with our kit has gotten even fifty per cent right first go. I kept finding myself holding the teeny bottle under my nose, going, "I know this! I know this! Tip of the tongue! It’s . . . it’s . . . Oh, oh, oh. Bugger. What is it?"

"That would be lemon."

"Aaargh! I knew that."

We’ve played with it so much we know the 54 smells off by heart. We’ve learned that after about the ninth one your nose packs it in and everything smells like cloves. The smell starts coating your mouth. You taste it. I started flashing back to my time in Jakarta and all those clove cigarettes (bloody kretek). Turns out Proust was on the money: memory and smell are intertwined. So many of the guesses began, "Oh, oh, oh! It smells like that summer at my aunt’s place and the ice cream factory down the streeet and the—vanilla. It’s vanilla!"

Both Scott and me have gotten a lot better at isolating different smells in wine, but not just in wine, in foods, in garbage (hmm, I believe that was once a stew flavoured with thyme), in pretty much everything. And our writing has changed—it’s a lot more pongy that it used to be. Used to be I’d go for pages and pages without hitting any odours. My characters would see, and see, and see, and also hear, touch, and taste, but rarely would they smell so much as their dog’s farts, and when they did they’d smell in familiar, unarresting ways. In similies, like clean hair, rosemary, vomit, whatever. I’d rarely take the smell apart, really describe it. There’s a reason for that. It’s really hard and using the chemical components rarely makes for evocative writing. Most people don’t know many beyond H2O and it doesn’t have much of a smell.

I’m still not very good at it, but the kit, and drinking and appreciating wine, has at least gotten me thinking about how to write smells better. Some day soon it should translate into words on the page.

Sydney, 28 January 2005