Categories: Reading

It’s bash the bloggers season again, I see. There have been several “Oh, how about those bloggers!!” articles in my favoured dead-tree daily lately. I guess the recent carnage in the Fairfax group and promise of carnage-to-come in the News Ltd group has prompted a fresh outbreak of insecurity and defensiveness in journos and trollumnists alike. We’ve had the usual slew of commentators making the incorrect assumption that blogging equals “citizen journalism” and complaining that bloggers want to replace journalists. NO. Just… for the ten thousandth time… NO.

Most bloggers are essayists, or diarists, not citizen journalists. Sometimes we write about the news. In fact, those of us who write about things we see in the news generally include links – something the AGE and Herald Sun are just beginning to learn to do – which give many more hits to their journos’ columns than they would otherwise get. (If the “citizen journo” myth has any merit it would be that many bloggers are filling in the details on local events which mainstream news outlets only skim over, or providing an alternative view on material easily obtainable from primary sources –press releases online, the Gonski report– which reward discussion or which haven’t been well served by the media.)

Christine Croyden writes in the SMH:

I’M VISITING Paris, where newspapers and books written in English are expensive and can be hard to locate, so I’ve taken to reading a wide range of blogs. I find most are written by people who give expansive accounts of their dealings with the world, yet are not particularly attentive to the world’s responses.

Oh, you just know this is going to go well.

The headline of the article puts two stonkin’ great cliches in one line: “I blog, therefore I am. Life in modern times”. Charmian Clift, eat your heart out. But perhaps we can blame a sub editor for this, if there are any left, so we’ll pay that one for now.

”Look at me, let me tell you what I like, where I’m going, what I think about anything and everything in the world, what I had for breakfast and how fascinating I am” is the gist of most.

And that tells you everything you need to know: it’s another anti-blogging article of type 2663a/C, “I haven’t actually done much blog reading, but I feel knowledgeable enough to write a trollumn for the SMH telling them what numpties they are.” Have we been here before? Yes, we have! With all the financial problems besetting Fairfax, couldn’t they just pick one example of type 2663a/C and republish it every three months?

Croyden’s critique is rather amusing in the light of the article itself which is a feast of the very I – statements about her own fascinating trivia which she complains about in the writing of others. “I’m visiting Paris”. “I’ve taken to reading a wide range of blogs”. “I recently found myself uploading photos onto Facebook”. “I’m of a certain age and not right up with every new thing… I am mother to three young adult children…” et cetera. (Can you handle the excitement?) Yairs, Croyden is not narcissistic for publishing all this trivia because… because… well, because she is a playwright, as opposed to a mere desk jockey, which means she is allowed to talk about her trivia in this manner. Legitimately. And Shut Up, you there up the back.

(Ms Croyden, since you asked, “Do I want people to know I’m away?” when you post on Facebook? No. You don’t. Upload the photos when you get back. This has been a public service announcement. Also: part of your article is conflating Facebook with blogging. They are not the same thing.)

Thing is, there are plenty of writers out there who aren’t snobbish about blogs. The literary critics, expert makers, polymorphous polymaths, fiction writers, environmentalists, contrarians, academicsso many academicsscientists and writers on subjects like feminism on which mainstream journalism/commentariat just seems to spin its wheels. As for the personal (or personal-political) bloggers like me, we’re just doing it to learn how to write. Some more successfully than others, but the blogosphere is much more than a bunch of ninnies wittering about nothing.

Truly, some blogs offer fresh social and political opinions, some do a decent theatre or restaurant review, and there are a few specific interest blogs of value. But these are far outnumbered by the ”look at me” variety.

Most people are familiar with the adage that ”everyone has one novel in them” or the latest, and even sillier idea, that anybody can write, as demonstrated by the thousands of bloggers who give it a red-hot go every day. So why discourage them? After all, the only way to improve writing is to keep at it. But in most cases, although style may improve, it doesn’t mean everyone can become some sort of contemporary seer.

Thanks, Captain Obvious. But I see from this interview at Australian Stage that Croyden worked as a nurse and midwife for 10 years before getting a professional writing gig.

AS: So how/when did you get started as a writer?
CC: I’ve always written – I’d rather write down how I feel and what I think of something than talk about it any day. My first short story was published in 1998 but I’d spent many years writing and crafting short stories prior to that and still love the form. I read a lot of short stories.

So at one point, Croyden herself was an amateur, a writer for the sheer hell of it, “writ(ing) down how I feel”. But someone else doing it on the Web is “narcissistic”. I imagine at some point someone in the writing world gave this aspiring writer a break. I wonder whether anyone sneered at her and told her to stick to changing catheters. It’s a shame she can’t do any better than snipe and carp at other aspiring writers (and many others that are fully fledged) because they publish online.

My wish is that before bloggers decide to post another word, they read a few good books, think about what it is they want to say, wonder for a while about how often it’s been said before, and, once they realise it’s been said in many more insightful, well-written and interesting ways on numerous occasions they go to bed and forget about “their blog”.

You would have to have a pretty high opinion of your own talents to write something so dismissive, belittling and downright patronising, especially having been on the other side of the fence yourself.

But is the article even sincere? In a final egregious example of “it’s all right for me but not for them”, in googling information for this post, I found she runs a blog herself, and has done so since 2008. And here’s an instance of her commenting on an activist blog. That sheds a different light on the “I’ve just noticed this thing called blogging and I’m not really up with all this newfangled internet stuff but it seems loopy to me” boilerplate. It appears it’s not just mean and ungenerous, it seems like a bit of a performance as well. Maybe some anti-blogger screeds on the mainstream media sites are written to order and purchased by the yard. Maybe the editor just says “Hey, get me another type 2663a/C, thanks.”

1 May 2012, Comments (23)

Gippsland Gothic

Author: Helen

OK, so I get obsessed sometimes. Now that the internet has turned my dining room table (the kids own the desk) into the equivalent of the British Museum Reading room, I can go on endless wiki-walks when something pings my attention.

When some friends and I drove to South Gippsland to indulge two of my obsessions, Joe Pug and Henry Wagons, we drove south to Venus Bay to stay with an artist friend who has a house in the bush there. To get to Venus Bay, you drive south through Tarwin and Tarwin Lower. There, closer to the sea, the lush farmland becomes flat reclaimed swamp. In some lights and moods it can be a mournful country. At Venus Bay, over cold beers on the balcony, our friend told us a tale whose lightest word would harrow up our souls and freeze our not-so-young blood…

Recently, I was back there in search of Tullaree.

Tullaree Homestead

Tullaree Homestead - Heritage Victoria

Someone asked me the other day if I’d watched the latest remake of Great Expectations. I replied that rather than watching Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham I’d rather spend my time reading up about Victoria’s real Miss Havisham. Well, there were two Miss Havishams, and then there were one. Then she disappeared in mysterious circumstances.

Bearings is a collection of short stories, published by the Melbourne publisher Affirm Press as part of their Long Story Shorts project “to publish six collections of short fiction from individual authors.” What a great idea, and I’m not sure why they should commit themselves to stopping at six titles. (Why not just keep going?) With their retro-looking covers, the series has a distinctive visual appeal.
Cover image - Leah Swann, Bearings, Affirm Press
Bearings is Leah Swann’s first published work, seven stories and a novella. Like most writing in our culture and period, it doesn’t shy away from the dark themes: death, illness and fractured families. The stories are centred on personal and family life. The voices are diverse in age, gender and class. A boy experiences the death of his dog as the beginning of the end of childhood in Street Sweeper. The Singles Club portrays an aboriginal man’s uneasy relationship with his home town, and a white woman’s uneasy relationship with pretty much everything. All your Mothers is reminiscent of Emma Donoghue’s Room – a hard, sad situation described from a very unsentimental kid’s eye view. In The Ringwood Madonna, art helps to transform a suburban mother’s depression and boredom with a shock of the unexpected.

As the title implies, Bearings is about people who are in flux, going through changes and in need of a map and compass. These stories could be just a good wallow in misery and torment like the memoirs that are so popular now, but Swann avoids this contemporary cliche. Except perhaps for one story, Slow to Learn, the stories in Bearings contain as much hope and affirmation as sadness. Swann also avoids too much earnestness. This isn’t just kitchen sink drama. Swann has a feeling for the little weird twist which takes the stories out of the Social Issue Story realm. In the novella, Silver Hands, where a sculptor faces the simultaneous loss of her skill, through tendonitis, and her sense of control over her family life, there’s a scene on a beach involving a penguin which I can just imagine being filmed for the next Tropfest. Swann can be whimsical, but not arch. The emotional tone rings true throughout, and her descriptive passages are beautiful and economical.

On the night of his father’s death, David felt its approach. The atmosphere of the death room was not unlike that of a birth room: a space between worlds. Something was vast and wide open, with the force of a gale yet utterly still. (Lovest Thou Me)

When jogging, he imagines what it might be like to hold his child for the first time. The baby skips across his mind like a stone skimming a river, and his heart skips with anxious joy.

His own, living body registers horror in increments: the skin, the stomach, the heart. For a moment he feels he might vomit. He reaches to his hip and draws out the mobile phone. It is silver, unnaturally bright in the muted landscape. Never has he felt more grateful for this tiny cold portal to another world. (The Easter Hare)

Bearings travels on the dark side while illuminating the things which make that dark side endurable. It’s neither Pollyannaish nor excessively traumatising (David Vann, I’m looking at you!) I enjoyed reading it and I’ll be looking out for Swann’s next publication.

Thanks to Affirm Press for the review copy of the book.


Well, what are you hanging around here for?

The Down Under Feminist Carnival is having its 25th anniversary, hosted by Rachel Hills of Musings of an Inappropriate Woman.

Inaugural Downunder Carnival of feminism

Next month’s DUFC is hosted by A Shiny new Coin. Send your favourite posts from the Internuts here, or email them to shinynewcoin at gmail dot com.

Here’s two bonus links: A thoughtful response to the burqa post by That’s So Pants, and the wonderful Werner Herzog Reads Madeline (H/T Tigtog).

Update – Important – please, everybody, sign up to this before the next election. Also via Tigtog.

It’s DUFC’s second birthday and it’s being hosted over at Frankie PhD’s.

logo links to Down Under Feminists Carnival website

Well, what are you waiting for?

14 Aug 2009, Comments (6)

Lovelace and Babbage

Author: Helen

a panel from the Lovelace and Babbage webcomic

A big hat tip, or a doff rather, with a big Victorian-era hat – something tall and full of mercury— to Nabs, who has sent me a link to the most wonderful thing on the entire Internets.

No, not the guy who can catch a laptop in his buttocks, although that is definitely up there. I mean the Lovelace and Babbage graphic novel / blog.

Lovelace and Babbage is a steampunk cartoon blog started by the wonderful Sydney Padua, who describes herself as “an animator, story artist, and tiresome bore [yeah, right] working mostly in visual effects in London.” She’s a friend of Suw Charman, the originator of Ada Lovelace Day, which led to “Wouldn’t it be hee-larious if there was a comic about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage fighting crime? Thanks, I’ll be here all week!”

Start here, with Lovelace: The Origin.

Follow the links at the top bloggy-style, and enjoy.

Lovelace and Babbage, by Sydney Padua

13 May 2009, Comments (24)

At Home on the Cast Iron Balcony

Author: Helen

Spine of an old hardback copy of Ogden Nash's "Good Intentions" He who must not be named came home from school complaining that poetry was stupid.

He mentioned that he’d had a poem set in class by someone called “Ogden Nash” and that was the quintessence of stupid.

Reader, I did what anyone would have done in my place (i.e. obsessive Ogden Nash reader when young.) I ran to the bookcase and searched until I’d found the aged brown copy of Good Intentions, rescued from the last big cull of family books, bought by my mum, who died in the Summer of Love, 1968. I wanted to show HWMNBN that Ogden Nash wrote wacky and offbeat poetry which ought to be right up his alley.

My parents were of a generation that wrote their names and dates of purchase on book flyleaves, so I looked inside the dessicated brown cover and I found this. See over the fold: My mum must have bought this from a second hand bookshop.

5 May 2009, Comments (8)

The Clade

Author: Helen


Pronunciation: ˈklād : Function: noun : Etymology: Greek klados

: a group of biological taxa (as species) that includes all descendants of one common ancestor.

Many of you are familiar with Chris Clarke, US environmental writer and all-round awesum blogger.

If you like his stuff, you might be interested to know he’s started an environmental blog, The Clade.

It appears it’s not parochial to the US or California. When I went there just now, the top story was from South Australia!

When you’ve finished looking around that site, read this – it’s beautiful.
Crossposted at Larvatus Prodeo

Black Dust Dancing - Tracy Crisp, Wakefield Press
A friend of mine, who was a jewellery maker and silversmith, decided she needed to brush up on her hand drawing technique and bought a book called Drawing on the right Side of the Brain. As I remember (this is a while back) the book used exercises like “‘upside down drawing’, ‘blind contour’ and ‘modified contour’ drawing. A whole chapter is devoted to negative space drawing”. It approached drawing in a way that was diametrically opposed to my then idea of a technique that started mostly with outlines. That’s as close a simile as I can find to describe Tracy Crisp’s writing. In the Ozblogosphere, we know Tracy as Thirdcat.

Black Dust Dancing is Tracy Crisp’s first novel. It’s set in a provincial town dominated by a lead smelter, a blokey setting but the women in the novel are kept firmly front and centre.

Oh, and I’d like to know – as the mother of two primary school-aged boys, how does Tracy get the voice and manner of a teenage girl so exactly? It’s uncanny.

Deborah Strange Land:

I have clear visual images of Suzie the hairdresser, and Vicki the doctor’s receptionist, and Libby the mother-in-law, which I have not because Tracy wastes words in drawn-out descriptions, but because I have a sense of the sort of people they are, and then just a few words are enough to flesh out their physical realisation.
…The action comes in conversations and small movements, the little actions and pauses of everyday life. They all build together, piece by piece…

Piece by piece: if you’ve read Tracy’s blogopera, Adelaide Sprawls, you’ve experienced the way she builds a world this way. I loved Adelaide Sprawls, and it frustrated the hell out of me, because the vignettes were like pieces of a vast jigsaw that’s only just begun, with a smattering of pieces in the centre and one or two out on each side, with no bigger picture visible. I was eager to get my hands on Black Dust Dancing but I wondered whether I’d love it or chuck it across the room, unable to understand What in Hell Is Going On. Well, reader, you’ll have a pretty good idea what goes on in this novel, but you need to pay attention. It has the courage of its convictions, but it’s not going to yell at you. There are some story strands that are murkier than others, and there is a point where things do get murkier and more obscure, then tail off. Like real life.

Black Dust Dancing is a story you’re shown, not told, as Deborah says, by the little actions and pauses- the negative space- of everyday life. Jokes, complaints, gestures, eavesdropped gossip and asides. It seems to deal in little things, but out of these little things, big things grow.


4 Jan 2009, Comments (6)

Holiday Reading

Author: Helen

Down Under Feminists Carnival

While I’m still too busy doing other things, check out the latest Downunder Feminists’ carnival, brought to you by Stephiepenguin.

Oh, and in other news, Exploding boy finds my blog. I’ve been told.