Tag Archives: Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2011

Ghouls, Goblins, Fantasmagoricals and how Disney is the Darkest Kid on the Block…

7 Oct

Heading to an event called ghouls, goblins and fantasmagoricals was always bound to stir the imagination, and I have to say I feel like taking a walk on the dark side after spending the afternoon in the company of some of the most hilarious writers I’ve ever listened to.

Sharon Bakar took to the chair today in the Left Bank Lounge here at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, accompanied by authors Linda Watanabe McFerrin, Paul Collins and Nury Vitachi, all of whom are plundering their own imaginations for the monsters that lie beneath.

“Let’s look at Disney,” says Vitachi (author of the hilarious Feng Shui Detective series in which a young woman joins a feng shui agency expecting to spend her time arranging furniture and discovers Mr Wong specialises in examining the harmony or lack of it, at scenes of crime). “In Disney movies there’s rarely a mother figure. Finding Nemo begins with the mother fish dying. In Tarzan, his parents get eaten by a leopard. In the Jungle Book, Mowgli’s parents are eaten by a tiger. Look at Hannah Montana… she’s the biggest pop star on TV but she doesn’t have a mum. Death is everywhere!”

Vitachi looks at his daughter sitting in the corner of the room: “What would you say if I told you your mother was going to die one day? Probably nothing. You’d put your iPod on. But I don’t have to tell you things like that. The purpose of children’s stories is to teach kids lessons about life… it’s like, take me to see Hannah Montana but don’t literally tell me that one day my mum will be dead! It’s dark. Disney is dark.”

Linda Watanabe McFerrin, author of the new book ‘Dead Love’ about a “live dead girl and a set of brand new rules for ghouls” got her own inspiration for her part zombie part human novel from a plate of Fugu/Blowfish: “When people eat blowfish that hasn’t been prepared properly, they fall over and appear to be dead. But some people have actually woken up at a later stage on the slab and I’m sure some have even been buried alive! You think about things like this and you realise, there really are zombies out there!”

“People are obsessed with zombies too. There are zombie walks in Michigan and Russia where families dress up. Everyone’s allowed and accepted because you can’t judge a zombie… no one’s going to say: “oh, your clothes aren’t dirty enough.” Watanabe McFerrin reads a raunchy section of ‘Dead Love’ but stops before getting to the really good part. “You’ll have to buy it,” she tells us, before announcing she’d actually rather it was banned, because when books are banned, you know they’re good.

Vitachi follows this by mentioning a famous book in Asia called ‘Ghost Blows Out The Light’ which was downloaded over 6 million times as an e-book in 2008. It was so popular that it was printed in China, but was considered so dark that they took the ghost out.

Paul Collins, best known for The Quentaris Chronicles (Swords of Quentaris, Slaves of Quentaris, Dragonlords of Quentaris, Princess of Shadows and The Forgotten Prince) explains the efforts behind creating a shared world, including mapping out an entire fictional universe, complete with dark and light, in order for other writers to work within the same fictional universe. “You have know the limits,” he says.

The general consensus here is that dark themes and sadness, monsters, ghosts and ghouls, both real and metaphorical in literature are always going to be an important part in teaching kids and perhaps adults, indirectly, the ways of the world. “Even Roald Dahl was dark,” says Vitachi “George’s Marvellous Medicine is basically a book of instructions on how to kill your grandmother.”

Scary… but true.

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PAUL KELLY: Ducking targets, taxi cabs and how to make gravy…

6 Oct

Dying kittens, third world famine and world war, maybe, but I never thought I’d be moved to tears by a song about gravy. Still, that’s just what happened over at Indus after legendary Australian songwriter Paul Kelly strummed the room into a pure emotional meltdown with the title song from his memoir, ‘How to Make Gravy’.

What a genius! It takes a special kind of talent to strum the heartstrings as well as those of a guitar, don’t you think? Especially with such a random topic. Don’t be fooled though… as was explained at the start, this isn’t just another cooking demo. This is a song about a man reminiscing over Christmases past from behind the bars of a prison cell.

He’s remembering the dances with his sweetheart, kissing the kids on Christmas Eve, and mixing the sauce for the turkey that will complement that festive feast. And as he does, so do we. We feel what he’s missing. We feel what Paul Kelly’s expressing. And so we cry… over gravy.

Paul Kelly learned the trumpet and piano in high school and started writing poetry from the age of 15. “I wanted to be a writer but wasn’t sure how to do it,” he told us. “Then when I wrote and sang my first song it was like flicking a switch. I knew what I wanted to do.”

Over the course of an entertaining hour, we finally learned the truth about Paul’s birth, too. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t born in a taxicab. “I was actually born in a Morris Minor (hence the middle name Maurice) but taxi cab fit the song better.”

On explaining why most of his songs are about traveling, Paul told us “A writer needs to keep moving, to be a ducking target. Writers don’t want to be fixed. They need to be able to go anywhere.”

Something I can definitely relate to, having traveled here to Ubud!

Paul Kelly’s memoir, ‘How to Make Gravy’ actually started as an accident after a series of shows in Melbourne saw him singing a series of different songs every night. “I had a repertoire of 100 songs to get through, and I think people quite liked that my show was a lucky dip. They might have been given well-known songs, and they might have got some new ones. I started writing the story behind each song and I thought, hang on, there could be a book in this. I just kept on going until eventually, I had a book!”

Other topics discussed in this fascinating session were the importance of opening lines in songs. Paul said: “The moment I wake up, before I put on my make up, I say a little prayer for you. Those words are so tender and so womanly, it’s hard to believe they were written by a man.”

“Sometimes the bottom brick of your own song is another opening line, something from another song. The whole song is written around it until you just can’t take it away.”

As for his favorite song? Paul Kelly understandably has many, but chose to answer carefully: “The one I’m working on”… which clearly and thankfully means there’s plenty more genius up this man’s sleeve.
And anyway, anyone who can bring me to tears over gravy is well worth keeping an eye on.

(Taken from my post on the Ubud Writers Festival site)

Check out the YouTube video here:

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