Something I care a lot about

I just read this article on the SMH.  It’s not often that I get excited about an article on SMH (except maybe to cuss out their tabloidal focus, or their lack of research except for surfing the blogs and the wires).

But this article about the under-representation of women in movies got my interest.  

Geena Davis (Oscar-winning actress, brainiac, mother and Olympian) started to get interested in this issue when she had kids.  She crunched some numbers and found that:

“Typically there are three male characters for every one female character. If it’s a crowd scene, that ratio goes out to four or five males for every female. And 87 per cent of narrators are male.”

She started up an Institute to encourage movie makers to redress this shocking imbalance.  

In my much smaller way, I am writing a teens’ book with a female lead for the same reason.  I started writing it with a male lead – it was instinctive to do so, even though I am not a boy myself.  It was because almost all the heroes in all the books I had read growing up were blokes.  Frodo (bloke hobbit), Harry (bloke wizard), the annoying kid in the Stormbreaker series, and the list goes on.   So when I sat down to write my own fantsay/sci-fi/philosophical fiction for kids, it was like I didn’t even have a choice – a boy appeared on the page, fully-formed.

After one year and one draft, I decided that wasn’t OK with me.  I started again, writing with a girl in the lead.  The boy is still in it – he may even get a lead role, may even be equal protagonist.  But the girl is going to totally kick some ass.

For some time, I questioned if it were OK to make a decision like that – to purposely interrupt the “creative flow” to impose my own beliefs.  But darn it, if I didn’t do it with my own little book, when would I make such a conscious choice again?  Because that’s what it is – that’s what it has to be by story-tellers and film-makers everywhere if the balance is going to change – a conscious effort, a real choice.  

It’s not been easy coming up with a voice for this character. That’s probably just me and my own issues and writerly bothers.  But maybe that’s not all.  The boy character, like I said, practically fell on to the page, and I reckon that’s largely because I had ingested so many version of him over the years that he was just hanging out in my subconscious, waiting for me to put him together.  

So maybe, at least one of the reasons people don’t write more female leads is that there are so few, fictional role models for writers.  There are a lot more books out there now with girl-power in the mix.  But they are a small minority and some of them sound and act like a boy who is a girl in name only anyway.  Ellie, the girl in “Tomorrow when the war began” series is downright boy-ish.  Does a girl-hero in a classic, adventure hero’s journey have to be boy-ish to be a hero?

I hope not.  I hope she also doesn’t have to be uber girlish.  She can just be a girl, with a combination of traditionally male and female qualities (like most of us anyway), in a bad situation that she has to change.  Girls and boys can be equally brave.  Let’s hope the same can be said for writers.


If this topic interests you, you might find this article interesting (it has some handy academic references in it): Gender issues in children’s literature.

The lure of spam and beautiful art

Has anyone ever read their spam? I just checked through the spam messages for this blog, making sure that someone didn’t actually get filtered out merely because of a dodgy email address.  

Can I just say, spam has come a long way since the early days of emails from Nigerian millionaires.

Now, I get spam which sounds almost like it could really, truly refer to my blog.  Things as simple, yet possibly applicable, as “Interesting!  I enjoyed your blog, and have grabbed the RSS feed.”  It’s only when you read the email address (cheapacousticguita etc etc) that you redden at taking the compliment to heart.

 There are some funny ones still, like this one:  “I enjoyed your viewpoint.  It was diametrically opposed to those of others online.  I think your readers might like to check out this website about espresso makers.”  Still, someone as gullible as me might stop and consider, hmm, they could be right…maybe my readers really would like to hear more about coffee?  

Social network advertising has taken spam to a whole ‘nother level.  Yesterday on Facebook, I got an ad saying: Are you a 33 year old woman?  (Why, yes I am!)  Free fashion trials for 33 year old women!  Click here now!  (How did they know?)

Of course they know everything.  I know that.  When I got married, it was all I could do to wade through messages about rings, dresses and interminable ads about weight loss (actually, I probably get those for being merely female.  I doubt they yet know my body weight, although, based on my writing style, the size and shape of my hand-drawn, profile picture and the number of my friends, maybe they can estimate it).

But back to the spam.  Some of it is compelling!  ‘Cos it’s written as flattery: as stark an appeal to the ego as “Great blog!” (from kindleaccessories dot blah).  

Apropos of something, I read today that scientists have worked out that the same thing in our brain which fires when we desire something is triggered when we see something beautiful, like a gorgeous piece of art.  The scientists emphasised desire is connected to the response to beauty, but not love – love actually seems to turn off some parts of the brain – which maybe the root of the term, love is blind.  But desire and beauty – they are deeply, neurologically connected.

This triggered all sorts of thoughts for me.  Is that why the cult of celebrity is so strong, especially amongst teens?  Is it why arts marketers, entertainers and pop stars can sell tickets – by combining wanting something with something(or someone) beautiful?

In a similar vein (actually probably totally unalike, but somehow connected in my brain, so I am going to run with it), perhaps the genre of “flattering spam” tickles the desire for compliments in me.  I carefully deleted all the spam in the queue, but that’s not to say I didn’t linger; didn’t carefully check that some of the less outrageously weird compliments might not be real.  Being only human, I can’t help but mix up desire with beauty; and beautiful praise with desire.  

If you see an occasional comment slip through, therefore – something about excellent iPod holders from Uzbekistan – I can only say that my blog has international reach.  Hundreds of spammers from around the world read me.  I’m famous.   And if they happen to want your phone number, be so good as to give it to them on your way out.  They’re keeping my ego stroked in a manner to which I have become accustomed.

Wharton worries

I’ve been reading Edith Wharton, and it’s rather depressing.  Everything is rather something (or’uther).  Not to be too flippant – I am sure the characters in Glimpses of the Moon really felt every bit as miserable and desperate as they sounded, so distant from reality in their artificial world of pre-World War One romantic intrigue and chinchilla cloaks.  And to be sure, there was something about the depth of their distress at being parted from their true love (and therefore, from a true life) which inspired a familiar anxiety in me.

How does one engage in everyday work to support the artistic life (trying not to be as tongue in cheek as that sounds and failing miserably, I see Wharton’s sad, sarcastic tone has infected me more than I would have liked!)  Surely there is a better solution than that of the two lead characters of Glimpses, who become hangers-on of rich people and wonder at themselves for being so hopeless as to not be able to do an honest day’s job, yet also can’t see a way out.  That is, until the very end of the book, the last five pages, when they find each other again and commit to loving each other in poverty.  Well, for at least one turn of the moon, anyhow.  It’s all rather bleak.

I suppose birth control would have helped the heroine.  And to my mind, a good kick up the bottom would have done the hero a world of good.

Is it really that simple?  Can the life of the mind be as easy to come by as I ruthlessly suggest?

To my mind (made obstinate by opposition), for thousands of people: yes.  A little dose of application and a lot of determination; the good fortune of being middle-class Australian, getting a good education and not having to fight for food: these are all things not to squander.  If you have permission from your loved ones to create and, for a while, put money second (though not, entirely, out of the picture!) then take it.  There’s nothing that makes me so impatient as hearing of someone in our affluent society, surrounded by supportive people and opportunities to work in ways that will support their writing (if not their Faberge egg habit) who wants to write but can’t seem to find the time.

I am being uncharitable, and these words will come back to bite me, I know.  It’s just that blasted Wharton I’m mad at.  She spoke too honestly and too close to the bone about the inertia and laziness that can stultify.  But then, so can a want of finance.  And then, so can fear.  Being on the cusp of leaving my job to cobble together freelancing and focus more on writing, you could say that this is on my mind.

I might read something less doleful next.  Who would have thought the story of a couple of wastrel New York socialites from the late 1800s could strike from such a distance?  Bloody classics. Thoroughly untrustworthy ways to spend your leisure time.  Just as likely as a modern read to bite you on the bottom with an home truth, of the kind you thought you had cleverly avoided by immersion in descriptions of clothes and carriages.  But look out: what goes on inside those c’s can pack a punch.

Horoscope for the week beginning 8 February 2010

It’s a week for opening windows and letting the rain gust in.  You’ll always have more towels; but how often do you get the chance to let pure, cool water from the air moisten your lips and curl your hair becomingly over a steaming cup of tea, brewed to meet its maker so thrillingly present in the room?  By Tuesday night, you will have sated yourself on the wonders of dark grey and wetness; by Wednesday you will hardly remember what rain smells like.  But Thursday and Friday you don’t need to dry yourself out; you’ll find fresh attentions from the heavens, watching your steps and deciding to adorn them with puddles for pudding and slides for laughter.  And what else?  Your heart will naturally follow your folly, past careworn analysis and into a final, blessed sleep to join the fairies once more with their darling dream-world behind your shuttered eyes, free at last in the wormhole of your mind.

Do it yourself, with friends

Rach sanding

Rach sanding

My husband and I have started what appears to be a life-long project: renovating our house.  To get us up and running, we invited a bunch of friends over for two weekends in January to have fun with power tools.  Our object: to paint the doors and kitchen, fix the back deck and clear the side of the house of its erstwhile chicken coop (sadly, no photos of this activity, but it’s a beautiful corner of cleared ground now, thanks to Dorani).  

This blog post is a tribute to their loyal, stout hearts and even stouter painting, sanding and hammering muscles.  Thanks you guys.

And a piece of advice to all would-be renovators: don’t take my advice.  I don’t know what the hell I am talking about.

To see some more amusing photos of our DIY attempts and people wearing white dust masks as hats, visit our flickr site.