Well it’s 2020 and I can’t believe most of January is gone already. Could everyone just slow down a bit till I catch my breath!
I did a quick check and saw that in 2019 I only managed 7 blogs in total. 7! That’s pretty dismal even by my appallingly low standards. This year my goal is AT LEAST a blog a month. Ideally I’d like to get to 20. Yes I’m aiming for the stars and hoping to hit the moon! (More likely I’ll just skewer some poor unfortunately soul who happens to be passing by.)
I’ve also set myself another reading challenge. Last year my target was a very modest 30 books. But I know you’ll be impressed to hear that I actually managed an even more modest 20 books. (Perhaps I should stop sounding out all the letters when I read?)
Anyway as a quick recap, here’s what I read in 2019.
And my favourite? Markus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay.
This year I’m doing a 20 for 2020 reading challenge which I’ll hopefully smash. I’m also making it my Year of Indigenous Reading so I’m aiming for at least half the books I read to be either written by Indigenous writers or to be about Indigenous history and/or culture.
I’ve already made a start. My first book for 2020 was Bruce Pascoe’s remarkable Dark Emu. What a great way to kick off my reading year. Every Australian should read this book. It’s so brilliant to hear that the ABC will be doing a TV series based on it.
As for my writing goals for 2020, they include finishing off the manuscript for the serious YA novel that was the basis of my Queensland Writers Fellowship (still a way to go) as well as completing a new picture book text. If I can do those two things I’ll be more than happy.
Of course I can’t talk about the new year without mentioning the horrendous bushfires that have engulfed and destroyed large areas of Australia in the past months resulting in a devasting loss of property, lives, natural habitat and wildlife. When they speak of animal losses in the billions it is heart-breaking and overwhelming.
We all – Australia and the world – have to do so much better in taking care of our planet and counter-acting Climate Change.
So it is a strange and somewhat bitter irony that one of the great moments of joy I’ve had this year was when I spotted a wild koala in a reserve of native busland that is part of my regular walk.
I was born and I’ve lived in this area of Brisbane most of my life and I never in my wildest dreams imagined there were koalas anywhere near here. Apparently there’s a small group.
I can’t tell you how happy I was the day I spotted this little guy so close to where I live.
Of course the greatest joy of 2020 is that for the first time in our lives, my wife and I get to start a year as doting grandparents!
Our first grandchild was born towards the end of last year in September and I’m sure you will be shocked and surprised to hear that she is smartest and most beautiful little girl in the entire world. (It’s true. You can fact-check it if you like.)
That’s it. My blogging for 2020 is off and running.
Hope you all had a lovely Christmas filled with family and friends and that 2020 pans out just as you would want it to.
PS: If there’s anything in particular anyone would like me to blog about – eg books I’ve written, reading, writing in general, being an author, influences, why my modelling career never took off etc etc – or if you have a question you’d like me to answer, please post in the comments. Love to hear from you and it could help me achieve my 2020 blogging goal.
My YA novel The Things That Will Not Stand had its genesis in two thoughts that came to me one day when I was taking one of my regular walks around the neighbourhood.
One was a memory from my Uni of Queensland days of being in the foyer of the Schonell Picture Theatre and hoping that a particular person I knew might come through a set of doors and join me.
The second thought was about writing a story which took place over just one day.
That was an idea that immediately appealed to me. I knew it would be a challenge but it would also be a gift because it would free me to focus just on the characters and their immediate interactions without having all the rest of their lives to worry too much about.
In the end I used both thoughts and wrote a kind of love letter to my Uni of Qld days and the places there that held special memories for me.
It’s quite bizarre and amazing now, to think that those two day-dreaming thoughts that drifted into my head as I auto-piloted my way around Enoggera and Ashgrove, would eventually lead me to Parliament House Canberra and a hand-shake with the Prime Minister.
The life of a writer is nothing if not unpredictable!
Of course it took quite a while for those early random thoughts to join a thousand other thoughts, sort themselves out and weave their way into a story. Then for that story to struggle its way to a final manuscript, and for that final manuscript to arrive in the hands of Clare Hallifax publisher at Scholastic Australia/Omnibus Books who would end up liking it enough (thank god!) to decide to publish it.
Publication occurred in 2018 and like every author whether they admit it or not, I desperately wanted people to like the book and for them to write and say nice things about it.
But you can never write a book that everyone loves. Nobody can. The two and one star reviews on Goodreads that every book receives will quickly tell you that.
The best you can hope is that your book will find its own dedicated and sympathetic readership. What I like to call its TRIBE. An audience of like-minded readers who feel a strong connection to a particular book because they’ve found something in the story or the characters that speaks to who they are and the things they hold dear A book with a story that beats along with their heart.
The dedication of The Things That Will Not Stand says that it’s, ‘One for the Dudeists and the dreamers.‘. And I think that pretty much sums up the book’s tribe. They’re a motley crew, but I like them. A lot. They’re possibly hopeless romantics which of course makes them people after my own hopelessly romantic heart.
Fortunately for me it turns out that some of TTTWNS TRIBE include important people who make some big decisions when it comes to books.
People like the good folk at the International Youth Library in Germany who did me the great honour of selecting TTTWNS for the 2019 WHITE RAVENS CATALOGUE.
This catalogue is produced annually by the International Youth Library in Germany whose language specialists select ‘books of international interest that deserve a wider reception’ based on ‘their universal theme and/or their exceptional and often innovative artistic and literary style and design’. The 2019 catalogue features 200 titles from around the world. My book Don’t Call Me Ishmael was lucky enough to be selected as a White Raven in 2007.
Luckily for me, other TTTWNS Tribe members turned out to be the Judges for the 2019 PRIME MINISTER’S LITERARY AWARDS who decided that TTTWNS was worthy enough to make their shortlist.
And what a shortlist to find myself on!
I’d read and loved every one of the other amazing books.
So my reaction to The Things That Will Not Stand making the PM’s shortlist was, ‘I’m so happy and proud to be on this list with these other brilliant authors, but of course it follows I’ve got little or no chance of winning.’
(Ironically – since I think he’s a genius and I love CICADA and everything else he’s ever done – the only person I thought I might have a better chance of winning than, was Shaun Tan – and that was only because I thought Cicada didn’t really fit in that well with the YA category.)
With so many brilliant Young Adult books being written in Australia these days (especially by a rapidly expanding field of awesome female authors) if you are selected for any YA shortlist in this country you should consider yourself seriously fortunate.
I would hate to be a judge. My shortlist would stretch on forever!
On the day before the announcement of the winners my wife and I were flown from Brisbane to the Nation’s capital and be put up overnight at the beautiful and grand Hyatt Hotel.
Then the following morning, October 23rd, it was off to Parliament House and the official awards ceremony with the delightful and multi-talented Annabel Crabb as our formidable and funny MC.
The Prime Minister Scott Morrison was also in attendence. From time to time. That was because during his speech the PM had to leave and return twice when the bells rang and he was required to vote in a division in the House of Reps. (In his absences Annabel declared herself acting PM, a development which was roundly applauded by all present.)
First up all the shortlisted authors were presented with our shortlist medallions.
And then it was time for the announcement of the winners.
Drum roll, please!
I think I went into slight shock when The Things That Will Not Stand was read out as the winning book in the YA category. I was honestly prepared to hear any name but my own. I could hardly get the words out during my ill-prepared speech. Anyone who was there on the day can confirm my faltering voice and stunned mullet appearance throughout.
And if you want physical proof of how little confidence I had in winning, all the other winners delivered eloquent speeches read from neatly typed A4 pages …
… while my don’t-worry-too-much-about-it-since-I’ll-never-have-to-deliver-it–anyway speech sadly looked like this:
But it wasn’t a complete disaster.
~ I did manage to thank all the people who really deserved to be thanked – the Fed Gov, the Judges, Scholastic Australia/Omnibus Books, my publisher Clare Hallifax and my incredible couldn’t-do-it-without-her editor Celia Jellett.
~ I also acknowlegded what a true honour it was to be on the same shortlist as Shaun, Karen, Clare and Sharon and their wonderful books.
~ I took the opportunity to give a heartfelt and sincere plug for YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE in general, describing it as among the most diverse and powerful you can read and encouraging everyone present to do so.
~ And I finished by thanking the Coen Brothers, The Big Lebowski and the Dudemeister himself Jeff Bridges for helping inspire my book. And my wife Adriana for inspiring everything else in my life.
A pretty good ending at least.
WHAT A DAY! Thanks to everyone who sent their messages of congratulations and kind words my way either in person or via email or on social media. I am grateful for each and every one of them.
The end of June is rapidly approaching and by now I had planned that I would have completed the first draft of the 50-60,000 word YA novel that was the basis of my Queensland Writers Fellowship application.
Well, as it stands, I’m not quite there yet, but at least I think you’d have to agree, I have made a very promising start …
Of course there have been many other things that have filled my time and occupied my mind since my last post in April.
These included, but were not restricted to:
# READING and enjoying these books …
# ATTENDING a May Gibbs Childrens Literature Trust talk by resident Brisbane Fellow Shivaun Plozza (Frankie; Tin Heart) where she informed and entertained us all explaining her current YA writing projects …
# SPEAKING to a bunch of lovely teachers and teacher-libarians about The Things That Will Not Stand at a RIVERBEND BOOKS Bookclub evening …
# SIGNING copies of The Things That Will Not Stand at AVID READER’S Where The Wild Things Are bookshop …
# ATTENDING the launch of Megan’s Daley’s wonderful book Raising Readers at St Aidan’s College and meeting up with Chris Bongers (Intruders, Dust) and Trisha Buckley (Children’s and YA literature Guru) …
# HAVING Rodney Loses It! being shortlisted for the 2019 YABBA/KOALA/KROC Children’s Choice awards in the Picture Storybook category and also having it secure a future publication in CHINA …
# POSING with various forms of vegetation in various locations …
# BECOMING a Reading Champion for HOOK INTO BOOKS an initiative of the Youth+ Foundation which is a charitable trust focused on supporting vibrant and innovative responses to provide equitable educational access for some of Australia’s most diverse and complex young people.
# AND FINALLY and sadly, fare-welling the first friend I ever made outside my own family.
It was a friendship that started on my first day of grade one when I was sitting alone on the edge of the playground at morning tea break because I was shy and didn’t know anyone and a pixie-faced boy with sticky-out ears just like mine, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You can play with us if you want.”
There are some moments in your life that you never forget.
I visited some terrific schools – Padua College, Mitchelton State School, Mt Gravatt SHS, Marist College Ashgrove and Taabinga State School (below) – and spoke to lots of great kids.
I went to Melbourne with my wife where we spent a wonderfully varied few days with our daughter and son-in-law going to Aami Park to see the footy (next time Broncos!), having a close encounter with giraffes, taking in the amazing Escher exhibition at the NGV and flying to the moon and back at Science Works.
I had a fun time and caught up with some fabulous authors and illustrators at Somerset STORYFEST on the Gold coast. (Below with Felice Arena, Oliver Phommavanh, Bren MacDibble, Cath Crowley, Jane Caro, Kim Kane and Fiona Wood.)
I managed to find time to read and enjoy these books.
Are there certain songs, that when you hear them, they magically transport you back to another time and place?
If your immediate response to that question is – ‘What? How did you know that about me? Are you some kind of a mind-reader or possibly an habitual Peeping-Tom? – then READ ON!
(NB: If your immediate response to that question is – ‘Huh? No way! What sort of a clown would even say such a thing? Are you on drugs?” – then ok, maybe this post isn’t for you.)
Well the thing is, there are quite a few songs that do that to me. I like to call them TARDIS SONGS after the time machine/space craft thingy in Doctor Who.
Now Tardis Songs don’t have to be your favourite tunes. In fact, you might be heartily sick of them. But still, every time you hear one, they temporarily remove you from where you are and transport you somewhere else, where the hearing of that tune is permanently embedded in your memory.
Sometimes it’s to a very specific place or incident. Sometimes it’s to a more general ‘time’ or period in you life.
Anyway, here are FIVE OF MY TOP TARDIS SONGS in no particular order. (Although I just know that I’ll think of heaps more, and better ones, the second after I hit POST on this blog!)
Over bridge of sighs To rest my eyes in shades of green Under dreaming spires To Itchycoo Park, that’s where I’ve been
(What did you do there?) I got high (What did you feel there?) well, I cried (But why the tears there?) tell you why It’s all too beautiful, it’s all too beautiful It’s all too beautiful, it’s all too beautiful
Time travel destination: This song just drips of the 60s for me and that’s exactly where it takes me. Back to a time when I was on the verge of becoming a teenager and it was all about peace and love, hope and change, flowers and psychedelic colours, flares and long hair. (Except for those unfortunate sods like me who attended a strict ‘short back and sides’ Catholic boys school! See photo below.)
Whenever I hear this song I’m back there, when the world seemed to be heading for a bright future … and it was ‘all too beautiful’.
Photo: Sadly no fashionably-long 60s hair for me in this shot taken in front of our famous Monstera deliciosa. Or for the next 8 long (except in terms of hair of course) years as it turned out. Had to wait till the 70s for that.
Don’t know what I’m smiling about in that shot! One day I might work up the courage and strength to blog about this traumatic hair-deprived period in my life. (Is my bitterness still showing?)
So let it out and let it in, hey Jude, begin You’re waiting for someone to perform with And don’t you know that it’s just you, hey Jude, you’ll do The movement you need is on your shoulder
Time travel destination: This song takes me right back to when I first heard it. It was a time when music wasn’t instantly available like it is these days, a time when the only way you could hear a song is if you actually bought the record or knew someone who had a copy of it or it was played on the radio.
It’s a Saturday morning, I’m probably 12 or 13 and I’m hanging around our old radiogram excitedly waiting for the DJ to keep his promise and play the Beatles’ new record for the first time on Brisbane radio. The Beatles were like Gods to me. Still are.
Then finally it starts and Paul’s beautiful, clear voice kicks in and for the next seven minutes or so, my mind is officially blown. (I had a similar ‘mind blown’ experience when I first heard Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone come blasting out of those same speakers.)
Because the station was playing Hey Jude on high rotation every fifteen minutes or so, I hung around our radiogram all morning. Could not get enough of it.
I’m remain a Beatles’ tragic to this day. I still think that the world was a better, more exciting and more hopeful place when those four guys were together.
Photo: You can see the radiogram I’m talking about in this early photo of me with my mum Elsie (holding our vinyl copy of Oklahoma) and my two big sisters Cath and Helen. (Don’t know where big brother Rob got to.)
This is in the corner of the lounge room of our family home. That spot was later taken up by our very first TV and the radiogram was shuffled off to the dining room to the left. And that’s where it was the day Hey Jude first flowed from its speakers and implanted itself forever in my heart and brain.
And just to complete the Hey Jude circle, many years later in 2017 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane I finally achieved my dream of seeing at least one Beatle live and I got to sing along with Paul McCartney performing this …
LONG AS I CAN SEE THE LIGHT – Creedence Clearwater Rival
Guess I’ve got that old travelin’ bone ‘Cause this feeling won’t leave alone But I won’t, won’t Be losin’ my way Long as I can see the light.
Time travel destination: It’s the 70s now and I’m sitting opposite my cousin Steve who is also my best friend at the time and we’re downstairs in the rumpus room at his parents’ house playing our guitars and singing together.
Whenever we played guitars, either just by ourselves, or with family members as an audience, this Creedence song from their Cosmos Factory album, always gets an airing.
Photo: Sadly I don’t have any photos of Steve and me playing guitars when we were young but here’s a shot of us about to depart on a (very bizarre and eventful) road trip from Brisbane to Albury/Wodonga on the NSW/VIC border.
We would have gone further but that’s as far as we got before we ran short of money. Then when Steve started seriously considering hunting water-fowl with a sharpened stick for food, we figured it was probably time to quickly head home before we started recreating scenes from Lord of the Flies.
As you can see, after I left school I was finally able to grow my hair longer. I just wasn’t able to stop it! (Loved that Datsun 1000 with the column gear change with all my heart!)
(And just a little music-trivia about that trip. The car had no radio and all we had to play music on was a small portable cassette player which we balanced on the front seat. We only had two cassette tapes which we played constantly. One was a Blues tape the other was The Beatles White Album. The White Album was a double album but we only had the first cassette.
It was years later that I finally discovered that the famous Beatles White Album had a whole second half I wasn’t aware of!)
Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me I want you to know I believe in your song And rhythm and rhyme and harmony You’ve helped me along, makin’ me strong
Oh, give me the beat boys and free my soul I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Time travel destination: I’m a student at the University of Queensland in the 70s. The watering hole of choice for me and my friends is the beautiful Regatta Hotel. And this is where this song transports me.
Usually we’re somewhere out on the street-level veranda, but sometimes we gather in the indoor lounge area where there’s a jukebox. I think it cost something like 40 cents to play a song. Being impoverished uni students, money is tight and must be invested wisely.
So what you want when it comes to choosing a tune from the jukebox, is not just a good song that everyone likes and can sing along to, but one that gives you value for money i.e. is reasonably long. At 4.15 minutes Drift Away covers both criteria and is a popular and regular choice.
See her how she flies Golden sails across the sky Close enough to touch But careful if you try Though she looks as warm as gold The moon’s a harsh mistress The moon can be so cold
Time travel destination: This always takes me back to being a young father when my daughter Meg and son Joe were little in the late 80s and early 90s.
At night when they were tucked into bed this was one of the songs my wife and I often sang to them as a lullaby. Another favourite was Joe Cocker’s You Are So Beautiful. I doubt either of us ever quite matched Joe Cocker’s standards, but Meg and Joe never complained so that’s something at least.
Of course I sometime wonder if Meg and Joe just pretended to go to sleep in order to stop us singing …
But seriously, what are the chances of that?
Got any Tardis tunes and destinations of your own you’d like to share with me?
Towards the end of every year I write down in my journal an extensive list of WRITING HOPES & DREAMS for the following year on the misguided belief that writing stuff down helps it come true.
My Writing Hopes and Dreams range from things that I have a high expectation will happen, through things that would be fantastic if they happened, but are unlikely to happen, to things that only a delusional optimist with no appreciation or understanding of reality would ever really expect.
So for example, one of my Writing Hopes and Dreams could be to finish my current WIP and I might have high expectations of actually achieving this.
Another one of my WH&Ds might be something like getting an invitation to an overseas literary festival. This clearly falls in the highly unlikely category. Not quite totally impossible since it has happened before. Still, I’m not holding my breath.
Then if I have a new book out, a third bunch of WH&Ds might be for that book to be long-listed, short-listed and then go on to win every conceivable literary prize for which it might be even vaguely eligible any place on the planet. This of course is a perfect example of the ‘delusional’ category. (Having one of my books get a movie offer, is another excellent example of this.) (As is having Ryan Gosling play the lead role in my biopic.)
Anyway, in 2018 my Writing Hopes and Dreams list numbered 32 different items ranging from the ‘probable/possible’ to the ‘have you been sleeping with your head in the micro-wave again?’.
I ended up achieving 17 out of the 32 and I was really happy with that.
Getting over the halfway mark is always a terrific result. It usually means that as well as the things I had high hopes of achieving, some of those ‘unlikely’ and ‘delusional’ dreams must have somehow also come to fruition.
In 2018, the ‘unlikely’ and ‘delusional’ included Rodney Loses It winning the CBCA Early Childhood Book of the Year as well as the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year in the 3-5 years category …
… Don’t Call Me Ishmael: The Musical becoming a brilliant, joyous reality …
… and being awarded a Queensland Writers Fellowship.
I’ve already written up my 2019 Writing Hopes and Dreams list. There are 48 items on it. Only about a dozen of them would I put into the ‘possible/probable’ category, and some of those, not very confidently.
That of course puts a lot of pressure on my unlikely dreams and delusions, but as they say, you may as well aim high. To infinity and beyond, right Buzzy?
And so thus endeth my first official blog of 2019!
Thanks so much to everyone who took the time last year to read any of my ramblings and rabbiting ons. Thanks too if you left a question or comment for me. It’s so lovely to get some feedback. Please let me know if there are any topics you’d like me to cover in future and I’ll try to oblige.
Happy 2019 everyone! I hope the new year is everything that you expect it to be and that many of your dreams and even some of your crazy, optimistic delusions end up coming true.
ps: And my favourite read for 2018? This beautiful, surprising and challenging novel by an extraordinary writer. I’ll be reading it again in 2019.
I’m very fortunate to get invited to visit quite a lot of schools and occasionally I’m given a small gift when I leave which is lovely, but considering that I’m already well paid for my time, it’s certainly not something I expect.
Towards the end of last year I decided to take photos of some of the gifts I’d received from schools in the past (mainly coffee cups) and over a period of a few weeks I shared one a day on Facebook.
I had a lot fun trying to be a bit creative with the shots, so here they are, for the very first time, all in the one place. (Sorry that in most cases, you probably won’t be able to make out the schools’ names.)
It’s been a bit over two months since my last post and these are my sins as always, it seems quite a bit has happened.
A few days ago I completed my last school visit/author event for 2018. Yay! This year, as well as being invited to a few festivals, I spoke to kids from just over 40 schools in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. I always feel privileged to get these invitations and I can honestly say that I enjoyed every visit and talk.
Norman Park Primary
Burdekin Readers & Writers Festival
Matthew Flinders Anglican College
St Agatha’s Primary Clayfield
Ferny Grove State High
Brauer College Vic (Skype)
Lovely display at St Agatha’s Clayfield
At the Burdekin Festival with Alison Tait, Oliver Phommavanh, Shannon Horsfall and Maria Parenti-Baldey.
While there we spent time underwater and also chanced upon a seal colony. Unbelievable!
On October 23rd at the Queensland Literary Awards I was thrilled and humbled to receive a $15,000 Queensland Writers Fellowship along with Laura Elvery and Jackie Ryan. It was lovely to share this exciting night with my wife and my daughter Meg who was up from down South.
My Fellowship project is for the writing of a YA novel tentatively titled Gaps and Silences. While certainly not a prequel to my first novel The Running Man, it will be similar in style and will also be set in the Brisbane suburb of Ashgrove but at an earlier time. There may be some slight links or connections between the two stories. Still pondering that possibility.
After the excitement of the awards we spent a relaxing day with daughter Meg and husband Ryan at the Organ Pipes National Parkin Keilor North VIC.
And I think that’s about it.
Cheers until next time!
Not yet Meg! My hair!
NOW I’m ready. CHEESE!
Wait, we need Mum. NICE!
Oh. wait! One more thing. If you live in or around Melbourne and Adelaide and you’re interested in a school visit next year, I’ll be in your wonderful cities on the dates below. Contact Booked Out Speakers Agency for bookings, further details and all inquiries.
It’s always an exciting time, as well as nerve-wracking, when a new story goes out into the world. It’s a bit like your child leaving home. You hope with all your heart the world will welcome them, treat them kindly and love them just as much as you do. But of course, there are no guarantees.
TTTWNS is told in the present tense by Sebastian a year eleven student attending a University Open Day for schools with his best friend Tolly.
As the events of the day unfold Sebastian encounters Helena and then Frida and wishes that for once his life could play out like a feel-good rom-com.
Unfortunately as Sebastian explains, that’s not the way life usually works.
That’s the trouble with Life. It’s never just one type of thing, is it? Not like films. With films, you sort of know what you’re in for. If it’s a sci-fi film, you get space, the future, or aliens. If it’s action, you get gun fights and car chases. Horror, you get monsters and ghosts and basically shit-scared. Comedy, you get laughs and happy endings. Romance, you get the girl. Or the guy. Depending on your preference. See what I mean? But it’s not the same with life … Oh no. With life it’s all over the place. One minute it’s tears. Next minute it’s laughter. Then, just when you think you’re headed for a happy ending, the monsters turn up. Or the aliens. Or someone with a gun. And sometimes there’s a car chase. With a crash. And someone dies. Yeah, films make a lot more sense to me than life. Plus, they’re a lot easier to walk out of or turn off.
The story is different from anything else I’ve written before, as it all takes place over just one day and in just one general setting.
I based that setting on my old Uni, the University of Queensland, a place I happily attended for 5 years until I finally left with a B.A. Dip Ed.
To help me write the story I went to a recent Open day at UQ to soak up the atmosphere and get a feeling for where certain scenes would take place.
Scenes like these:
BY THE LAKE:
From the bench we have a wide view of the lake. It’s ringed with reeds and water lilies and dotted with ducks and other waterbirds. Over near the far bank a series of fountains spray misty columns of white water into the air. In the middle of the lake is an island draped over by a clump of large weeping willows. A flock of white birds are gathering in and around the branches. In the sharp afternoon light they glow like they’re lit from inside. Frida and I take our time to soak up the scene before us. She is the first to comment.
I look at her. With her bleached hair and white clothes, she’s glowing like the birds. I agree with her about the view.
We both look inside. It’s a big space. We’re right at the back of the room and curving rows of padded red and black seats slope down to an elevated stage area with a long bench, a lectern and two massive screens. A few people are still coming in through the lower entrance but the room is almost full. There must be close to three hundred people waiting for a talk to begin.
‘Which one is he?’ Tolly asks.
I spot him about halfway down.
‘There. Red shirt. Black hair. Mucking around with the guy beside him.’
I follow the girl I now know as Frida into the darkened cinema. We enter at the back on the right-hand side. There are plenty of empty seats. Up on the screen the credits of the black and white short are rolling to the sound of a tinny piano. It looks like we’ve actually timed it perfectly. Frida trails a hand on the brick wall as she takes some careful steps down the aisle. She stops a few rows from the back.
‘Well,’ she says, casting her eyes around, ‘do you want to sit together or do we sit separately and run the risk of looking like the kind of loner-losers who would go to see a film all by themselves?’
Frida’s scratchy voice carries to a girl sitting alone just a couple of seats away. She freezes with half her arm lost inside an enormous carton of popcorn and aims a death-wish stare at us.
Frida holds up a hand and grimaces at her. ‘Only joking,’ she mouths.
Frida and I stare at the old-fashioned scientific apparatus inside the glass cabinet.
‘Pretty incredible, eh, guys?’ Tolly says, wedging his way in between us.
Maybe I’ve missed something here. I take a closer look.
Inside the cabinet is a tall bell-shaped jar. Inside the jar is a glass funnel held in position by a metal tripod. The wide mouth of the funnel contains a black substance. A column of the black stuff fills the narrow section of the funnel and a blob of it is hanging off the end. There are also blobs of the black stuff in a bowl sitting directly below the end of the funnel. The whole thing looks like some kind of weird still-life art installation. There’s quite a bit of detailed information on a number of panels behind it, including one entitled The story so far, but all I take in is the main heading.
THE PITCH DROP EXPERIMENT – the world’s longest running laboratory experiment.
It only takes a few minutes to walk to the Great Court. The name says it all, really. It’s a massive, grassy courtyard area dotted with big trees, right in the centre of the campus. Surrounding it are sandstone buildings and a walkway flanked with sandstone columns and arches. It really is pretty great.
Normally it would just be a wide open space with a few benches sprinkled about, but today, for the Future Students program, there are food vans, and rows of stalls and tents promoting a whole heap of uni clubs, societies and student services. There’s also a local radio station giving away prizes and pumping out music from the top of a double-decker bus.