November 11, 2014 at 10:30 am (Jordi) (, , )

For me, October and November still echo with the anniversary of my ill health.

Perhaps after three years that shouldn’t be the case, but “shouldn’t” doesn’t change emotions. I am still processing the grief. The things I have lost, the way I have changed, the limits I feel constrained by.

In this loop of emotion, to me Melbourne Cup day is still the day that my friend snuck in pizza – my first culinary break from weeks of hospital food.

Remembrance Day is the first day that I went outside, after four weeks of fluorescent lights, recirculated air, and nothing that lay beyond a ten metre radius of my room on the ward. (Limiting my variety of other spaces to two bathrooms, the nurses’ desk, and a corridor.)

This Remembrance Day I am back at the Alfred hospital. (Another test, another worry, another sick day.) And I am remembering three years ago.

Journal entry 11/11/2011:
‘Wheelchair found!
Surreal – so many people! So many people doing normal, routine things. Queuing in cafes. So much sound and movement, my head swivels everywhere trying to take it all in and my eyes feel huge.

Outside we pass through the sun and Mum parks me in the shade behind a crowd to watch the Remembrance Day service. The breeze is so fresh that every touch of it makes my skin, makes me feel alive and my eyes tear up already.

We sit through the speeches and readings and I people-watch. As 11am draws close more and more people gather ’round …even at the windows of the buildings, looking down, looking on.


A bugle. And silence.

I’d never really thought about the medical staff in war before. Even in current wars.

I give thanks – for being here in a country with a great healthcare system. For my doctors. For getting better. For my family and friends. I am so lucky. The wind blows and I cry.

Bugle. Bagpipes. My heart aches. By the time the high school band does their swing number I’m light-headed and overwhelmed. We retreat indoors. The dim light feels safe.’

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Melbourne Writers Festival and Anniversaries

August 25, 2013 at 7:46 pm (Conferences, Writing) (, )

One of the many wonderful aspects of my job at the Centre for Youth Literature is our work as a supporter of the Melbourne Writers Festival’s Schools’ Program.

Though, as a YA lover, I had been begging my way into MWF Schools’ sessions for a few years, my first experience at the Business End of the program came as something of a shock – it was the first time I had ever chaired a session, and it was also my first day on the job at the Centre for Youth Literature.

I feel incredibly fortunate that session was with Alice Pung – you couldn’t ask for a more gentle or gracious person to be your first.


Since that first time I have had the pleasure of being on stage with many authors – all of them amazing. I love working as a chair. It is a great privilege to have a public conversation with someone about their creativity and their passions – subjects that are really quite intimate.

This year, health permitting, I am facilitating the following MWF sessions:

SHORT AND SWEET – Margo Lanagan and James Roy

Image Image

ZOMBIES VS UNICORNS – Justine Larbalestier and Margo Lanagan


PRIZE FIGHTERS  – Myke Bartlett, Leanne Hall, and Melissa Keil.

Image Image Image

STRONG WOMEN – Kelly Gardiner and Justine Larbalestier

Image Image

MELBOURNE ON THE PAGE  – Cath Crowley and Maureen McCarthy

Image convent

And then, on Thursday, I shall be happy-sad exhausted, and celebrating my Centre for Youth Literature two-year anniversary, and the end of this year’s MWF schools’ program.

The Melbourne Writers Festival no longer permits the general public to attend Schools’ sessions, but you can catch many of these fabulous writers elsewhere on the program, and – of course – find their books in all good bookstores.

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My monster says I can’t

August 13, 2012 at 1:37 pm (Jordi) (, )

I don’t think anybody likes having to say “I can’t”. They’re certainly words that I struggle with. I say them a lot, and each time they’re laced with disappointment, with embarrassment, with anger and defensiveness.

Our society rewards toughness. We’re a culture of battlers, of perserverance. Take a Codral. Soldier on. Autoimmunes are the opposite of this. They demand quiet, stillness, rest. And the more you fight against this regime, the more sick you get.

My autoimmmune feels like I am carrying a monster on my back. Its talons dig into my shoulders. Its weight bears down on me, making everyday tasks just that much harder, and completely exhausting.

Image by Terrifying (deviantart)

Some days I can sleep for 12 hours and still wake up exhausted. Some days reaching above my shoulders feels like benchpressing 20kilos. Some days my brain is so mired in mud I can’t form cohesive sentences, let alone remember what I did yesterday.

It was this time last year that I first started displaying symptoms of my dermatomyositis. Then, I had no idea what was going on. Now, I am hypervigilant.

Everything is a balance. For everything I want to do, for everything I can do, I must also spend time with my AI monster.

I used to hate it. And I’d be lying if I pretended that every day I’m just peachy about this system. But I have realised that this monster is a part of me. This is life now, and its goal actually isn’t to ruin everything and kick me while I’m down. My monster is my protector. He tells me loudly and clearly when enough is enough. When I need to stop. When I need to rest. Because I sure as hell don’t listen otherwise.

I don’t know how long life will be like this. I am currently receiving IVIg treatment (cheers to all the blood and plasma donors!) which gives me a couple of weeks of feeling almost-normal, of feeling like the well of exhaustion that usually threatens to swallow me is securely sealed over. Maybe one day my monster will completely vanish. But even if he does, I know that hidden deep down in my immune system, he’ll always be a part of me.

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Melbourne Writers Festival

August 11, 2012 at 8:58 pm (Conferences, Writing) ()

ImageI’m totally taking a page (or more) out of Adele Walsh’s book (well, blog) to let you know that I’ll be out and about (shock horror) at the Melbourne Writers Festival’s Schools’ Program as part of my work at the Centre for Youth Literature. (Have I mentioned that I love my job? I love my job.)

There are many amazing children’s and YA authors on this year’s program, and you don’t have to be young to attend. (Also, all tickets are only $7. Bargain!) I’m honoured to be chairing the following sessions:

Tuesday 28 August, 10am
Book here apologies – it’s sold out!

READING INTO WRITING – Emily Rodda, John Larkin, and Penni Russon
Wednesday 29 August, 10am
Book here Sold out.

Wednesday 29 August, 11.15am
Book here

Wednesday 29 August, 12.30pm
Book here

Thursday 30 August, 10am
Book here

Thursday 30 August, 12.30pm
Book here Also sold out now! (Eep!)

So, if you’ve got any burning questions for Melina Marchetta, Emily Rodda, John Larkin, Penni Russon, or John Flanagan, let me know and I’ll endeavour to ask them.

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A Misdiagnosis

December 26, 2011 at 9:31 pm (Jordi) (, , )

In late September my body started doing some peculiar things – specifically, my forearm and thigh muscles would ache a little whenever flexed, and I was getting worse-than-usual neck stiffness and subsequent headaches. This made some activities like typing and standing up a little uncomfortable, but I did some googling, ruled out meningitis, reviewed the OHS layout of my desk, and concluded that my upcoming two-week holiday would likely cure all.

…I say holiday. It was in fact a much anticipated freelance engagement at the National Young Writers’ Festival, with some holidaying and family time built around it. I was burning the metaphorical candle at both ends trying to make the freelance work as perfect as I possibly could. The physical toll that I was under began to seep into my mental space – I started having anxiety attacks over things that usually wouldn’t phase me. I vividly remember at one point, having started to slide into a panic, deciding to do some yoga – maybe a few backbends and a good dose of child’s pose would level me out enough that I could keep working. I lay on the floor but couldn’t pull my knees up into the pose – it hurt too much. This was somewhat worrying, but stress does funny things, y’know? And I had an end in sight – if I just made it to 2 October, everything would be okay.

So I pushed on. I had a wonderful few days’ holiday in Sydney, where I whinged a little to my host about my sore muscles, how my knees were starting to ache if I walked too much, and how I was just feeling a bit fatigued… but this was my holiday, dammit, and I was determined to have a good time. My muscles were probably just taking a week or so to recover from that bout of stress.

We spent a day wandering (albeit slowly) around Taronga Zoo. I walked the streets of Newtown and Redfern.

Holiday! Zoo! Penguins!

I struggled to carry my suitcase to the upstairs seating of the Newcastle-bound train (I just overpacked. No, no, I’m fine. I can manage.)

By the end of September I was in constant pain. It wasn’t a strong pain – imagine, if you will, a headache all over your body – but its persistence against regular doses of ibuprofen wore away at me, and I was prone to a few tears by late afternoon.

On the morning of my last official Festival engagement I noticed I couldn’t see the small bones on the insides of my wrist. Definite swelling. There was more googling, a phone call home where my mother warned me about any ankle swelling being particularly dangerous (no Mum, my ankles are fine. I think it’s just my wrists. Maybe my knees too.) The decision was made that a doctor really did need to be consulted at this point, but as it was a long weekend in NSW… well… maybe in a few days, at my next destination.

The panel went really well.
So did the costume ball.

The next morning I couldn’t get my bra done up. I physically could not reach around behind myself. I cancelled the morning’s plans and took myself to an all-hours clinic. The doctor had no idea what was going on – blood tests were needed to find out, but no chance of getting those anywhere in NSW for two days. Not even at the hospital. He prescribed me a stronger dose of ibuprofen to help with the pain and possible inflammation. The chemist was closed for the public holiday.

I waited. And I festivalled. By the evenings I’d have to lie on the floor to join the household conversation because sitting hurt too much.

An evening at a Newcastle beach. Not a stock photo, believe it or not.

My mother stepped in as the voice of caution and reason. I needed to look after my health. And what if I was contagious? I couldn’t risk moving on to my next destination – my grandparents’ house.

Am I able to change my flight from Sydney to Melbourne on 8 October, to Newcastle to Melbourne for tomorrow?

I’m sorry, on your ticket type you can only change dates, not location.

Okay, I need to cancel my flight from Sydney to Melbourne on 8 October.

<Official Cancellation Speil no refunds blah blah agree?>

Yes, fine.

Is there anything else I can do for you today Ms Kerr?

Yes. Can I please book a flight from Newcastle to Melbourne for tomorrow.

I saw my Melbourne GP the same day I flew home. He told me it was soft-tissue inflammation and that I needed to go the gym at least five times a week. For cardio. Yoga doesn’t count. That I needed to learn to manage my stress. Take stronger anti-inflammatories and they’d run some blood tests just to be safe.

I spent a week in bed. As per medical advice I’d get up and do laps of the house, or go for a walk outside, to de-stress and stop my muscles from atrophying. I tried the anti-inflammatories (diclofenac) for three days because I was so sure if I could just get through the nausea, stomach pain, fever, and sensation of my muscles having been put through a blender & slapped back on my body that they caused, I would be okay.

Again, my mother stepped in as the voice of caution and reason. If the medication was doing more harm than good I should stop taking it and follow-up with my GP. The GP couldn’t explain my painful reaction to diclofenac, but he prescribed Panadeine Forte and another week off work. He said the blood tests were all clear – my vitamin D and iron levels were a little on the low side but not enough to cause problems. There was nothing wrong with me.

My mother moved in with me. Helped me to cook and get dressed. Bought a thermometer to track my fevers. Noted the rash that appeared on my legs with it. Asked the pharmacist for advice. Called the hospital advice line number he gave. Paid the $100 taxi fare to get me to the emergency department at the nearest big hospital.

The Alfred Hospital ran blood tests but they included a very important one: creatine kinase (CK). I returned 36 hours (and two more mega-taxi fares – thanks, Mum) later for the results, expecting a fresh batch of pills and maybe some bed rest. They admitted me straight away under an initial diagnosis of polymyositis and started running other tests – an electrocardiogram, a lung x-ray, an MRI… my CK was 28,000 (around 200 is normal) and they needed to make sure very important muscles that help you breathe and pump blood and generally stay alive were somehow coping.

I have dermatomyositis – my immune system is attacking my muscles. I lost most of my mobility and independence to it. For the better part of a month I couldn’t reach past my knees, couldn’t raise my arms above my shoulders, and couldn’t lift my legs properly. This meant I could not sit up, stand up (especially from low surfaces, like toilets), get into or out of bed, shower, shave, or dress myself without some form of assistance. And every physical action was exhausting. I couldn’t walk more than 10 metres. I struggled to cut up and chew food. Brushing my teeth was a mammoth effort. Flossing was completely out of the question – it required a strength I did not have.

I spent five weeks in hospital and three weeks in physical rehabilitation just to regain a shell of my former physical self. I’ve lost 13 weeks, and counting, of work time. I’ve lost a quarter of 2011.

Lesson: Your GP is not always right – listen to your body and don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion. And if your mother is half as amazing as mine, listen to her too.

I won’t be going back to that GP. Not because of the misdiagnosis – my disease is rare enough I suspect most GPs wouldn’t have had any idea (although a blood test of CK levels would have been a nice start). No, I severed that relationship after I was kindly asked by my rheumatology doctor at the Alfred if the name and contact number I had provided for my GP was absolutely correct. When I confirmed it was, he revealed that he’d contacted my GP to get a copy of my medical records only to be told that they’d never seen me. Never treated me. Never even heard of me.

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Best of MIFF 2011: The Turin Horse

August 10, 2011 at 12:40 pm (Writing) (, )

There are certain yoga poses that transfix you – stretching muscles and releasing tension in the exact places you need it most. They’re different for each person; mine all seem to be backbends, like bridge and bow – they’re pretty much guaranteed to make me cry (in a good way) every single time. For me, The Turin Horse was like a two and half hour dose of backbends complete with some savasana for reflection and relaxation.

The Turin Horse illuminates in bleak, repetitive, black and white detail six days in the life of a peasant father, daughter, and their horse following (so the dramatic voice over tells us) an incident in which the horse was being severely whipped until Friedrich Nietzsche threw his arms around it to protect it.

As Greg Bennett so eloquently puts it:

In a Béla Tarr film with minimal dialogue, plot, and action – you find your poetry elsewhere.

I found it in the screenplay and the strikingly beautiful cinematography – the less there was on the screen the more of myself I put into it. I pondered over the stories that were untold behind the father/daughter relationship, his lifeless right arm, the absence of the mother. I remembered the smell and feel of the horses I’ve ridden and the landscapes through which these rides took me. As the film evolved I also considered how the fate of the characters is intrinsically linked to the well-being of the horse – it may be entirely coincidental but the more the horse refuses to cooperate the worse the family’s situation becomes, to the point that The Turin Horse can almost be framed as a tale of karmic retribution.

I found poetry in the soundtrack – a swell in the wind every seven seconds (echoed in the occasional music) lulled me into a space of hyper-reality. Just as yoga makes you aware of your own physicality (your chest expanding and contracting with each breath, the push and pull of bones and muscles as you move into each pose), The Turin Horse made me incredibly aware of the audience – in a beautiful, connected kind of way, not in an irritated-because-the-guy-behind-me-keeps-talking way. Sound and movement in the audience was amplified by the silence and stillness on screen until the edges of me blurred and I lost where I ended and the windstorm on screen and the taste of salted potatoes began.

I hadn’t seen a film like The Turin Horse before, and I was quite honestly expecting to be bored by it. Instead I found it to be the wholly immersive experience of a moment, a day, a life.

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If a film does not respect its audience, is it a bad film?

July 27, 2011 at 10:10 am (Writing) (, )

CAUTION: CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS – basically, the whole plot of the film, including the ending. (This is not a review, but a rant following the 26 July screening of Michael at the Melbourne International Film Festival.)

Why did Michael make me so angry? In the MIFF program, Michael is described as:

A hard-working employee in an insurance firm, Michael leads an ordinary life, with an average car, a nice house and a nice normal girlfriend who lives abroad. Except she doesn’t exist, and neither does his ordinary life. Instead, Michael has a ten-year-old boy named Wolfgang locked in his basement.

Michael is the chilling and ambitious debut feature from filmmaker Markus Schleinzer. With a story ripped straight from the headlines, the film follows five months in the life of a paedophile and his prisoner, exploring the unsettling normalcy of a man who is secretly a monster.

To me this conjures up the idea of a film that spends a fair amount time showing you a character and their normalcy before delving into the horrible reality of their private life. Michael is not like this. Michael is the quiet story of a paedophile who is constantly negotiating the various demands in his life – specifically those arising from the fact that he keeps a boy locked in his basement. The film holds the viewer at arm’s length using long shots of hands, backs, and profiles as Michael alternates between trying to satisfy his sexual desires, trying to meet the needs of a ten year old boy, and trying to be a normal, functioning member of society.

Michael Fuith – the actor who plays Michael – seems to have been chosen for his ability to keep a dour face. Not only are all other characters surprisingly oblivious to Michael’s oddities (such as a house with security roller shutters on its windows closed at all strange hours*, or that he always wants to spend Christmas alone), but several female characters are, in spite of his obvious social awkwardness, drawn to Michael.

Michael: Buster Bluth's surly twin

Yet these are merely irritations and easy enough to look past as Michael slowly but surely pokes its cold fingers into your chest and begins to squeeze vital organs. The highlight of chilling is reached when Michael tries to lure a second child home, ostensibly as a playmate for the other boy, and for the first time we see his “true form” in a public place. As for the moment of greatest heartache, for me it lies somewhere between the boy, his back to the camera, sobbing on his bed after Michael’s told him his parents don’t care about him any more, and the dead cat that serves to reinforce Michael’s lack of regard for other people’s desire to know the fate of missing loved ones, be they cat or son.

The film builds to a climax with a detour via humour. Michael, having received a promotion at work and thrown an office party to celebrate, drives home with hitherto unseen cheer, singing along to Sunny. The good mood doesn’t last for long as the boy unsuccessfully attempts to escape by throwing boiling water in Michael’s face. Scalded, shaking, and possibly blind Michael gets back in his car and drives… presumably for the hospital, but we’ll never know because he fatally crashes the car.

When this happens the film stops being about the life of a paedophile and the relationship between him and his victim. It should have become a film about the fate of his victim. Instead it becomes lingering shots of grieving relatives and blatant, emphasised irony in the form of funeral speeches.

If the film had ended here I would give it credit for being a character study of a paedophile. But it keeps going! We watch drawn-out scenes of Michael’s mother taking a nap in a child’s bedroom, of the family eating dinner. Eventually the family go to clean out Michael’s house. At last! The boy shall be set free! (Assuming he’s still alive.) The whole audience was desperate for this moment – the pay-off for all the emotion that has been poured into the film. And still we waited… and waited… as Schleinzer teased us with characters walking past the boy’s door without paying it any attention. Then, that golden moment when, as we watch from a distance behind her, Michael’s mother tries the door handle. It doesn’t open – the door has a bar-like locking mechanism across it. She unlocks it. Tries the handle again. It turns and the door sticks a little as she opens it a few inches and – showing the audience nothing – looks inside. A little gasp escapes her – cut to black.

The cinema resounded with the frustrated cries of the audience. I am not very tolerant of such endings and as I sat there trying to reconcile my grief and shock Schleinzer practically reached through the screen to slap the audience in the face for, as the credits rolled what was the soundtrack? Sunny.

I cannot think of anything more disrespectful to the character of the boy, and to the audience who has invested time and emotion. The boy’s fate remains unknown, unseen but HEY, REMEMBER THAT FUNNY SCENE IN THE CAR WHEN THE PAEDOPHILE WAS REALLY HAPPY?

The lack of pay-off filters the whole film’s ending – the character of Michael becomes something of a joke at the boy’s expense, which escalates my response from irritated to furious. I spent the rest of the night pondering and challenging my response, and whether this lack of respect for the audience makes the film itself “bad”. I don’t know the answer, but imagine if the audience had a chance to see the boy and be assured that he was alive, perhaps even see him step from the basement – then a cut to the credits/Sunny would be provocative without being alienating – the boy reclaiming his life but left irrevocably marked by Michael. That, I think, would have been good.

If you would still like to see Michael for yourself it screens again as part of the festival on Monday, 1 August.


*I haven’t been to Austria so I am assuming this type of security is not normal.

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Fairy Tales Re-imagined: part two

March 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm (Conferences) (, , , , , )

Fairy Tales Re-imagined was a two day symposium (10-11 March 2011) exploring the evolution, and contemporary relevance of, fairy tales. You can read part one of Fairy Tales Re-imagined here.


Warning: contains adult themes and language.

Old Tales, New Platforms: the creation of Re-enchantment

(Chair: Prof Norie Neumark)
Sue Maslin (Producer, Re-enchantment), Sarah Gibson (Writer/Director, Re-enchantment), Rose Draper (Designer, Re-enchantment)

  • Professor Norie Neumark introduces today’s Re-enchantment panel by talking about the project.
    Says the term “multi-platform” is too cold for this work that involves and allows new forms, knowledge, and experiences.
  • Today’s Re-enchantment short being screened is ‘Fairy Tale Sex’. (Available at the Re-enchantment website + ABC’s iView.)
  • A lot of today’s Re-enchantment information is the same as yesterday. Currently exploring the Hansel & Gretel section of the site.
  • Fun fact: it’s believed that German gingerbread houses were inspired by Hansel & Gretel, not the other way around (- Gibson).
  • Gibson’s encouraging people to contribute to the user gallery on the Re-enchantment site. Anyone have some fairy tales artwork they’d like to share?
  • Rose Draper (Re-enchantment digital animator) talks about linear vs non-linear storytelling processes.
    In non-linear you have no control over how content is accessed and experienced. Both Gibson & Draper are from linear backgrounds.
  • Draper showing the different design stills from the development of Cinderella’s Wheel of Fortune (on the site).
  • Great images of different ways they communicated site design. Picture attached so you don’t feel too left out.
  • Gibson: non-linear positives: layering, potential to work poetically; interactivity.
    Disliked: things “disappearing into the bowels of IT”; every image being an accession number.
    As Maslin elaborates – the IT requirements turn ‘an intuitive process into a logical process’.
  • Maslin outlines challenges of producing an innovative project like Re-enchantment eg no established business model, rapid technological change.
    When #Reenchantment started, flash was big news. #changingtimes
  • Maslin encourages anyone looking to do a transmedia project to talk to universities, rather than traditional funding channels.
  • Q&A! Q: Any similar projects in the world that you could draw inspiration from, or share knowledge with?
  • A: No, tried what we wanted until we were told we couldn’t. (- Gibson)
    Pan’s Labyrinth website was inspiring in its world creation. (- Maslin)
  • I have to say, the second half of that panel was exactly the sort of information I was wanting to get from this symposium.


Working Creatively with Fairy Tales

(Chair: Dr Esther Milne)
Joy Norton: The Curse of The Witch

  • Their darkness fascinates and scares. Assign to Witch the attributes of the “other”.
  • The association of witches with herbal law and healing has been lost over time.
  • In Hansel & Gretel facing their fear of the witch facilitates their emotional growth, learning responsibility.
  • Sleeping Beauty: life can keep us unconscious and asleep when we ignore our darker aspects (witch).
    Something new at the right moment brings life in.
  • Rapunzel: if we’re not careful, our hungers and desires can make us abandon our commitments.
  • Norton encourages us to meet our witch, accept what she has to offer, and start a unique journey into a new and wonderful life.

Adam Hunt: Advertising People are Cultural Thieves

  • Adam Hunt is providing an entertaining vitriol about the sad state of the advertising industry.
  • All purchasing is emotional, not rational. “How else do you explain high heeled shoes?”
  • Successful advertising makes you smile, presents an idea. (“If they feel good, they might just buy your product.”)
  • Fairy tales give advertisers an easy way to present an idea – hook into cultural subconscious.
  • Great example of advertising (& cultural thievery):

Raid advertisement

Dr Meredith Jones and Suzanne Boccalatte: Hairy Pictures and Narratives

  • Jones & Boccalatte are talking about their book Hair.
  • Boccalatte’s interest in hair stems from her journey from hairy half-Italian to laser treatment. Has offered to show us her (hairy) legs later.
  • Exploration of hair as appealing and appalling. “Hair is chaos” – impossible to control. (- Boccalatte)
  • Rapunzel : hair as desireable, magical, shared experience. Cutting of hair=separation from mother &/or castration.
  • Historically: heads shaved as punishment eg for adultery. French women who’d slept with Nazis: hair publicly shaved, and were tarred, packed onto trucks & paraded through the streets.

  • Gender duality of hair associations/expectations. Cosmetic hair removal treatments. Pictures of merkins!
  • Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard – lure of the hairy beast. Desire.
  • Hair as a keepsake, hair is memory, hair as life, hair as death.
  • – submissions (art & stories) open for the next book, on the theme ‘blood’. NB: Will only publish 1 menstrual & 1 vampire submission.

Audience Q&A

  • Q: Why do witches have pointy hats
    A: (by an audience member) Comes from traditional Welsh dress.
  • Q: What about changes to hair during menopause?
    A: Hair as journey: puberty and menopause, phases represented by hair. (- Jones)
  • Lots of questions for Adam Hunt to elaborate on how his anti shape discrimination ad got banned & cost him his job.
    Ad was done as part of the Gruen Transfer. Hunt placed shape discrimination on the same level as racial & sexual discrimination… A. Denton & W. Anderson loved it, but it breached the ABC’s policies & scared advertising clients of Hunt’s employer.
  • Audience keen to discuss the role of hair in Tangled and The Ring.
  • Someone who presumably wasn’t here yesterday has asked if new fairy tales can be created.
    A: World is full of modern fairy tales. “Like Charlie Sheen.” (- Hunt)
    True Grit as modern Red Riding Hood. (- Boccalatte)
    Old becomes new in the retelling. (- Norton)


The Forbidden Room: From Bluebeard to CSI

(Chair: Thomas Caldwell)

  • @cinemaautopsy opens the final panel, The Forbidden Room, with a summation of the tale Bluebeard in his excellent radio voice.

Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario: The Bloody Business of Fairy Tales

  • Dr Rozario wins bonus points for quoting Tolkien in her definition of fairy tales.
  • There are many different ways blood appears in fairytales: on Cinderella’s shoe, congealed on the floor, in a bathtub…
  • Rozario describes the evolution of the Bluebeard tale, with full synopses of different versions.
  • Different appearances of wishing for a white, pale woman with blood-red lips in tales eg Snow White
    In one: a man, having cut his finger, wishes for a woman who looks like his now blood-stained ricotta (only, y’know, more poetically).
  • Rozario outlines modern “Bluebeard” tales eg episodes of Buffy; Dexter; The Mentalist.

Pref Cathy Cole: Bluebeard’s Room – the lure of crime fiction

  • Bluebeard: empowerment through the need to know, solving the mystery, overcoming dangerous situation.
  • Tension created by clue placement. Anticipation of reference in every description, object, line of dialogue.
  • Suspicion as a survival skill.
  • Desire resistence… test of reader’s stamina & morality. To enter the forbidden room or not?
  • Would some of Bluebeard’s wives have been complicent or accomplices in his habits? Contemporary narratives say yes.
  • Bluebeard is an interesting character – charismatic, generous, sexual, foreign. Easy to hate him when he is different?
  • Growth of fear in culture, instilled from young age eg don’t accept candy from strangers, don’t go down dark alleys…
    …allure of crime fiction is ability to lift the lid on this fear, explore it from a safe vantage point.
  • Tropes of Bluebeard eg.need to marry wisely, choose well.
    Can’t help but be reminded of @margolanagan‘s Singing My Sister Down.
  • Cole presents Wikileaks/Assange as modern mystery – Bluebeard or Wife archetype?

Dr Terrie Waddell: The Forbidden Room in Cinema Narratives.

  • Waddell’s favourite fairytale: 12 Dancing Princesses (Brothers Grimm) -> exploration of this sense of entitlement to intrude on female space.
  • Importance for a woman to have a room of her own eg Wide Sargasso Sea, Tomb Raider, The Exorcist, The Hours, Pan’s Labyrinth.
  • Forbidden room as womb: place of safety, place of change. Violation of it= horror eg Rosemary’s Baby
  • “shadow projections of ego discomfort” – Waddell <- perfect description of Prof Cole’s earlier Witch/curse conversation.
  • Waddell’s exploring the archetypes in Repulsion– elements of Persephone, Artemis, Medusa.
  • Forbidden room as a liminal compass to the self – time must be taken to feel each character and narrative strand.
  • Waddell finishes with a J.M. Barrie quote: “Everytime a child says ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there’s a a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead.” ❤

Audience Q&A

  • First panel where chair has engaged speakers in discussion-@cinemaautopsy raises Bluebeard/Adam&Eve parrallels; & torture-porn (eg Saw) as spectacle.
  • Great audience questions & discussion in this session… the portrayal of female serial killers (eg Monster, I Spit On Your Grave)
    …if crime writers have an ethical responsibility to portray violence realistically…
  • And that’s it! I’ll be attending the ‘In Conversation with Jeff Lindsay’, but probably won’t have the battery power to tweet it.

Gustav Doré: Bluebeard

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Fairy Tales Re-imagined: part one

March 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm (Conferences) (, , , )

Fairy Tales Re-imagined: from Werewolf to Forbidden Room was a two day symposium (10-11 March 2011) exploring the evolution, and contemporary relevance of, fairy tales. Presented by Film Art Media, Inside Out Productions, and ACMI, a significant amount of time was devoted to Re-enchantment, something I have been tweeting about quite a bit in the last few weeks. Re-enchantment is a rather exciting new project that embodies transmedia – that is, it adapts content (pertaining to fairy tales) for communication across multiple platforms – including an interactive website, a series of interstitial animated documentaries (airing on ABC TV), and audio recordings of fairy tales (airing on ABC Radio National, as part of their Sunday Story program).

Sadly, the symposium did not seem to be well advertised (I discovered it whilst trawling ACMI’s online calendar of events), and a few people expressed disappointment about this. While I don’t currently have the time to produce a glorious, in-depth write-up of the whole shebang, I did keep up a fairly comprehensive live-tweet feed, replicated here in a tidier, more logical fashion. (With interesting links! And pretty pictures!) I know it’s still not the same as being there in person, but as an attendee I am very happy to answer any questions and engage in discussion about anything I’ve tweeted.

Warning: contains adult themes and language.

Welcome and Introduction

  • Tony Sweeney (Director & CEO, ACMI) is thrilled to be able to use the word ‘zeitgeist’ in the opening speech.


Re-enchantment – the hidden world of fairy tales for adults

Sue Maslin (Producer, Re-enchantment), Sarah Gibson (Writer/Director, Re-enchantment)

  • Sue Maslin pimps Re-enchantment. Grew from personal interest into this immersive journey into the hidden meaning of fairy tales.
  • Re-enchantment targeted at 15years+; everyone who’s grown up with fairy tales & maybe wondered why they span time & cultures.
  • Colourful, playful surface, but depth of content that allows hours & hours of online exploration & education.
  • Emphasis on engagement and discussion, showcasing multiplicity of fairy tale interpretations.
  • Screening of Re-enchantment short on forests… ‘they remind us of times we are emotionally overwhelmed by fears and anxieties’. Is technology a barrier to experiencing traditional fairy tale emotions and situations eg getting lost?
  • Erotic subtexts to Red Riding Hood… a visual showcase.
  • Re-enchantment has gateways to 6 story spaces – Bluebeard, Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, & Snow White.
  • While Re-enchantment doesn’t retell these stories there is a book in each space that contains different versions of the tale.
  • Can I just say I love the animated artworks in Re-enchantment
  • Exploring the Bluebeard section of Re-enchantment – the different interpretations. (Let’s look at the Misogyny Room!)
  • Death as entertainment – do we use fairy tales to anaesthetise ourselves? #Bluebeard
  • Beauty and the Beast missed out on its own space in Re-enchantment, but gets a mention in the short Beastly Husbands.
  • FYI All ten shorts, as well as being on iView, are on the Re-enchantment site.
  • Great audience question on disability access to Re-enchantment site.
    A: All audio commentary is available in text form. ABC will close-caption the shorts that they air.
  • Maslin announces they’re in discussion with two publishers about a picture book for adults around these themes.
  • ABC in progress of creating apps of the 3min shorts.


Woman and Wolf – the inspiration of Red Riding Hood

(Chair: Dr Terrie Waddell)
Dr Kimberley Pearce: Girl Meets Beast: the Power of the Pelt

  • In Charles Perrault’s Red Riding Hood tale (1867), RRH was devoured by the wolf (in her grandmother’s bed).
  • Modern retellings of Red Riding Hood integrate girl & beast – psychologically empowering, & evoking themes of vagina dentata.
  • Pearce explores films Teeth and Hard Candy, & novel Inhuman as modern, sexual, violent Red Riding Hoods. ‘The Power of the Pelt’.

Jazmina Cininas: The Girlie Werewolf

  • Men were the most famous werewolves but many women were burnt at the stake due to their ecclesiastically-recognised weakness to the devil.
  • Superstition persists in modern times eg Lindy Chamberlain

Jazmina Cininas: A two-legged dingo stole Lindy’s tears

  • “If she has many hairs she is a monster” – the werewolf myth in modern beauty ideals.
  • Fun fact – tomatoes are linked to werewolfism. Originally known in Europe as the “wolf peach” – an aphrodesiac and hallucinogenic.
  • Cininas is full of fun facts – “to have seen the wolf” is French slang for loss of virginity.
  • Less fun, the fate of those with hypertrichosis (“werewolf syndrome”). Julia Pastrana joined a freak show, then when she died the owner had her embalmed & continued to exhibit her (in the mid-late 1800s).

Prof Barbara Creed: Eroticism of Being Devoured

  • Prof Barbara Creed presented a very in-depth, Freudian look at the eroticism of being devoured (Red Riding Hood). Too difficult to tweet!
    I’m not sure I grasped all the ideas, but I know I’ll never see the line “All the better to eat you up!” in the same way again.


If The Shoe Fits – interpreting Cinderella

(Chair: Dr Constantine Verevis)
Dr Meredith Jones: The Princess and Makeover Culture

  • Makeover culture: TV show The Swan; Princess Dianna vs Kate Middleton; Lady Gaga…
  • Sleeping Beauty, Snow White – women rewarded for passivity, for stillness & silence.

Her voice was ever soft,
Gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman.
– King Lear (5.3.275)

  • Michael Jackson: makeover culture gone too far.
  • Current shift towards transformation as psychotic and evil eg Black Swan. Dr Jones bets Middleton won’t evolve as Dianna did.

Sarah Gibson: The Shadow of The Slipper

  • There are over 1,000 versions of Cinderella and over 130 Cinderella films.
  • Stepmother giving preferential treatment to her own children was a common scenario when mortality rates during childbirth were high.
  • Modern Cinderella interpretation – a challenge to face your own feelings of envy – overcome it + self-doubt to achieve what you desire.
  • Why didn’t Cinderella’s father help her? In some versions he’s as much of the problem – incestuous desire.
  • In some versions Cinderella’s stepsisters are punished – pulled apart by wild horses; chopped, boiled & pickled (& sent to their mother).

Prof Peter McNeil: The Horror of heavy Feet: or Why Cinderella Must Have Her Light Shoe

  • Peter McNeil is giving a history of shoes.
  • Shoes as sexual representations: the way “you enter a shoe… like penetrative sex”.
  • Scholarly debate on the size of Cinderella’s shoe, which is not a feature in all versions of the story. Historical fashion of small feet eg foot binding.
  • I’m really not keeping up with all the names of shoe designers that are being dropped. #outofmydepth
  • However, interesting point about shoes being only item of clothing independent from the body. Hold their own shape.
  • Shoes as mysterious – hidden structure, especially sneakers. Stilettos still cannot be entirely made mechanically.
  • Shoes as representations of class: barefoot=poverty, shoe fashion.
  • Cobblers are the male Cinderellas – profession lowly & difficult prior to the invention of high fashion. Self-made men eg Jimmy Choo.

Audience Q&A

  • Q: What is the difference between myths and fairy tales?
    A: Myths are about culture, fairy tales are about individuals. (- Gibson)
  • Recurrent audience questions around Disney and sanitisation of fairy tales.
  • Good audience question on whether it is possible to create brand new fairy tales.
    Answer: it’s already happening with contemporary fiction speaking to psychological experiences eg @MargaretAtwood, Angela Carter. (- Gibson)
  • Oh goody! Someone asked further about Jones’ “contemporary transformation as psychotic” and brought up The Red Shoes.
    Jones’ response: personally, views violence in older fairy tales as psychotic eg Snow White’s stepmother made to dance to death in hot shoes.
  • Q: Could there be a fairy tale about aging?
    A: There’s some contemporary Baba Yaga stories eg Baba Yaga Laid An Egg (- Gibson)
    Jones thinks there will be a continuing shift towards fairy tales featuring aging, wisdom, etc with aging population.
Gustave Doré: Perrault's Little Red Riding-Hood

Gustave Doré: Perrault’s Little Red Riding-Hood

Part two of Fairy Tales Re-imagined.

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Voices From Elsewhere

February 12, 2011 at 2:53 pm (Conferences, Writing) (, , )

It doesn’t seem like the Wheeler Centre has only been here with us in Melbourne for one year. For me, trying to remember a time before the Wheeler Centre is like trying to remember life before smart phones – you know it existed but you’re not sure how you managed without it, its mere presence a comforting assurance that you only have to reach out to connect… for assistance, for entertainment, for social interaction… Yet here we are, smart phones and all, marking The Wheeler Centre’s first birthday.

I nearly didn’t attend last night’s Gala Night of Storytelling: Voices From Elsewhere. Not to besmirch the fine keynote folks, but there wasn’t a guest that grabbed my area of interest (which leans away from the “literary”) until they announced Sonya Hartnett. You may be pleased to know I’m now offering large helpings of humble pie (dairy-free, of course) – the night was a knock-out and the international guests particularly memorable – if you’d like to form a queue, I’ll serve it up in order.

The storytelling began with Australian icon Mem Fox, who bolstered our spirits with a bittersweet tale of trying to live with courage and patience. As the applause faded and the next guest, Yannick Haenel, stepped up to the podium something magical happened. Yannick told his story in his native tongue, French. He spoke about how it is easier to be candid – to ‘say what we cannot say’ when you are on the other side of the world. In a way this gift of liberating, geographic displacement was also given to the audience as we were suffused in the rhythms and sonance of a language other than English. Part of me did not want to hear the translated story, to stay instead in the place where my heart, not my brain, did the understanding.

Translated, however, I can report that the story was about the lives of Yannick’s grandfathers during World War II – one press-ganged into the German army, the other fleeing to join the resistance; the price that both men paid for their actions in ‘a world where decisions did not exist’, and the silence that they wrapped around it in the days that came after. ‘This is the silence I am thinking about now.

The next Gala guest, John Birmingham, filled the silence a little with his humourous experiences of martial arts, gestures emphasising the violence (and the imaginary smoke bombs) before easing into the story of how being trained in aikido saved his friend’s life, and not in the way you might expect.

Abha Dawesar took us to the crowded streets and trains of India, complete with smatterings of Hindi, and through a story within a story encouraged us to fulfill our destinies by embracing fate.

Murong Xuecun (translated from Mandarin) built the mythical tale of Mr Sheng – a man physically sustained by the mere sight of food dealt an unjust life. I had great joy in watching Murong as the translation was read – he grinned and nodded at each audience reaction, delighted that the humour had surmounted the language barrier.

Sonya Hartnett reflected on trying as a child to reconcile her experience of her mother with the disconnected stories and artifacts of the woman from the time before motherhood. One such story was how, one evening in Greece, her mother responded to a fellow cinema patron with wandering hands by stabbing him in the leg with her hat pin. In trying to make sense of what it means to have a mother who’s stabbed someone, one conclusion Sonya reached was that it was a bit uncomfortable to be left alone in the dark with her.

Sadly, Dagmar Leupold’s story (translated from German) failed to impress upon me in any way. Perhaps something of it was lost in the translation. I struggled to follow the narrative and the different locations referenced, but I understand she was saying something about cute leather ankle boots and their connection with a book cover illustration of a girl ice-skating.

I was soon re-captured by the Gala as Nam Le explored the theme (‘voices from elsewhere’) through the subject of ventriloquism. Some surprising highlights included a cunnilingus joke, and how he tells some less-than-savvy Australians that Bruce Lee is his grandfather. And should they happen to point out that Bruce Lee has two e’s in his surname? ‘We were boat people… we had to leave almost everything behind, even vowels.’

The night was rounded out, and up, with a performance by Archie Roach – a story in both English and his indigenous language sung to the strum of an acoustic guitar.

The Wheeler Centre was recording the Gala – keep an eye on their website to experience the telling of these tales for yourself.

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