Festival of the Photocopier

Last weekend I went to an event in the Festival of the Photocopier. Dozens of stalls lined the long underpass that runs beneath Flinders Street. The arty end of the underpass is called Platform and it’s a great exhibition space. Set into the walls are glass booths that used to house advertising but now are used to display the work of very funky Melbourne artists.

You may have lived in Melbourne for years without discovering Platform. You can get into the underpass/subway from Degraves Street, Flinders Street or even from Flinders Street Station (if you’re coming into the city by train). At the moment, the glass booths are filled with the work of zine artists.

Saturday was the official opening of the festival and dozens of different zines and other paraphenalia was for sale. I bought a badge that read “I LOVE BOOKS’ and a stack of zines, including ‘Lumpen Proletariat No. 2’ (pictured above).

I know, I know, you’re thinking ‘but these aren’t real books!’ But in many ways, zines are the new frontier in creative story-telling. I love them. ‘Lumpen Proletariat’ is by a young artist called Pat Grant and it’s a collection of his cartoons and graffiti art. ‘One Sock – the love-sick devil’ is by a stylish, clever young woman called Rosalux. Neither of these zines are for junior readers but most teenagers would appreciate their dark humour.

If you missed the festival opening, there are other events during the course of this month that you can find about on the Sticky Institute website. If you haven’t heard of the Sticky Institute before, now is a good time to find out about what they are up to. They are definitely a force for good in the lives of young people in Melbourne. If you miss the Festival of the Photocopier, a trip to their shopfront (also in the Flinders Street/Degraves underpass) is a journey worth making.

Mr Punch and the Dark

Mr Punch has been on my mind a lot of late. He has taken up residence in one of the rooms in our house along with his booth, his entourage of peculiar puppet characters and his sausage machine. My husband, Ken, has been rehearsing his own version of Punch’s Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy story. Our dog barks wildly whenever she hears Mr Punch’s shrill, piercing voice. I know how she feels. There is something both compelling and horrifying about Punch. One day, I suspect Mr Punch, Ken and I will go on a long journey together – a tour around Australia perhaps – but for now I’m simply trying to figure him out and come to terms with having him as a permanent presence in my home.

It’s strange to think of generations of English childen watching Mr Punch’s very dark and scary show. Neil Gaiman’s illustrated story ‘The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr Punch” tells a version of a boy growing up in the shadow of his families tragedies that echo the violence and drama of a seaside Punch show. The story is really a picture book for teenagers and adults.

Mr Punch knows all about the dark and isn’t afraid to play with the devil, death and our blackest thoughts. Maybe this is why there is still something about him that is so fascinating and also why it’s very difficult to shape his story for younger children. So many fairy tales from Grimm’s to Hans Anderson were full of unpalatable darkness. We don’t read the original versions to little children anymore. Perhaps that’s why there are so many more dark stories for teenagers. They’ve had to wait a little longer before they test themselves against the tragedies and twisted comedies that Mr Punch presents so blithely.

Another New Year’s Resolution

I was so slack about posting blogs in December. Suddenly, it’s time to get started on my new year’s resolutions (Resolution No. 27b – update my blog more often).

In contrast to my last post about two novels featuring teenage boy protagonists, I thought it would be good to start the year with some girl power. Alyssa Brugman’s Solo is an interesting complement to both Perks of being a wallflower and Looking for Alaska. Mackenzie, the teenage girl protagonist, has a lot to feel troubled about and how she comes to terms with her dark and stormy past, how we learn to sift the truth and fictions of our childhood, is at the heart of this novel. I always enjoy Brugman’s writing. Her books read like an intimate conversation with a complex, maddening, teenage girl.

Brigid Lowry’s Tomorrow, all will be beautiful is a very different type of reading experience. I felt a bit like I was standing in front of a pantry crammed full of treats, trying to decide which to eat first. Lowry’s writerly voice is warm and loving and the collection of stories, poems and reflections in Tomorrow works well as both comfort food and a tasty treat between heavier works of fiction. I spent much of December dipping into the covers of this collection between reading weighty tomes of Australian history and freaky predictions of futuristic dystopias.

I’m hoping 2008 will be a big year of writing for me. I probably won’t have any new books out until late in the year, if not early 2009, but the more I read, the more I’ve come to understand writing is about process, not product. Sometimes enjoying the process of writing can be a bit like trying to unravel a very tangled knot of stories. Perhaps the trick is to realise that good readers and good writers require patience, curiosity and persistence. Happy New Year and Happy Reading for 2008!

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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