Archive for the ‘culture’ Tag

The Paraiyers’ drums


Another part of the Sri Lanka Norway Music Cooperation is the ‘village level performance’ program. Village-level performances give village elders that are custodians of rare and endangered folk forms (music, dance and theatre) support to put on a performance of their traditional work. Support can include funds to purchase instruments, for artist rehearsal time, to prepare costumes and props, and travel costs. This year, one of the village-level performances was in the Eastern province near the city of Batticaloa, and involved musician elders from four different villages.

The model that was used this year was particularly interesting. The musicians were all performers of the Parai drum tradition, which has for a long time been regarded as the instrument of the low-caste Paraiyers (see here for an interesting history of the Paraiyers). Because of this, members of the Paraiyer caste often reject this musical tradition, seeing the drum and its rhythms as markers of lowly status, and indeed, a marker of membership of that caste. Yet the musicians involved in this year’s village-level festival are adamant that the traditions and instruments should be preserved, and they have continued to play for rituals (usually funerals) despite the dismissive and often hostile responses from others in their community.


Therefore, building up the status and importance of the parai drum, and recognizing the work of the elder musicians in preserving it was one objective of the village-level festival. The next objective was to increase knowledge of the drum and its rhythms among young students of Tamil music. The Swami Vipulananda Institute of Aesthetic Studies (SVIAS) at Eastern University was a co-presenter of the village-level festival, and arranged for the elder-musicians to rehearse at the university each day in the weeks leading up to the performance. Students and lecturers of Tamil drum and dance worked with them closely, studying the artform. They worked outdoors, under big trees with a circle of benches surrounding the rehearsal space.

Bringing it into the University was a new initiative for the Music Cooperation, but it served two purposes – of helping to preserve and celebrate the knowledge of the elder musicians by training the next generation of performers, and of sidestepping the hostility towards the Parai drum within the musicians’ own communities.

I was able to observe two days of rehearsals during my research trip to Batticaloa two weeks ago, and these photos are from that visit. I saw a fascinating level of exchange taking place between the elders, the students, and the lecturers. Sometimes it was hard to see who was the authority, or the director of the project. One of the students explained it to me this way:

The elders are the experts in how to play this drum. They know all the rhythms and techniques and forms, and the students are eager to learn this from them. However, they have only performed for village rituals up until now, and they are not experienced in creating a performance for the public. So the students and the lecturers are contributing those ideas.

It reminded me that finding the balance between support and instruction, agency and collaboration, the authority of knowledge and the authority of institutions, and when to be expert and when to step back and give space for the content to emerge and evolve, is complex, messy, and somewhat infinite and imperfect pursuit. This project was tackling these challenges in what seemed to me to be courageous and thoughtful ways. I’m sure they all learned a great deal, and for me, it was an intriguing and thought-provoking process to observe.


“Pretend I’m not here…”: Observing (re)actions in research

By being present in an environment, you become part of the context and things will subtly shift and adapt in response. Ethnographic and social science researchers need to be aware of this. By asking questions and showing interest in people and events, you are in effect asking people to direct their thoughts and focus in particular ways, and this can in turn affect their actions. These are the rules of interaction in action. It makes the research process fascinatingly messy and multi-layered.

I’ve now completed two fieldwork trips to post-conflict countries for my PhD research into music education and participation initiatives in conflict-affected settings, and these unintended consequences of my presence and participation are interesting to document and ponder.

Last year, when I was preparing to do fieldwork in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I reviewed relevant websites and information available online. The focus of my research was the Pavarotti Music Centre [PMC] and I visited their website. It was only written in Bosnian. The PMC was originally started by UK-based NGO, but today it is wholly-owned by the local government of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and I assumed that having a monolingual website was a kind of assertion of the PMC’s place as a Bosnian/Mostarian institution now.

Around that time I also got in touch with the Director of the PMC, introducing myself and informing him of my research.

When I got to Mostar I spoke with the Centre Administrator, a woman that I’d worked with there in 1998, about obtaining copies of the current ‘mission and vision’ statements. She told me, “Well, of course they are on our website.” I confessed that my Bosnian language skills were too rusty to give me a complete understanding of what was on the site.

“No, it’s in English as well,” she told me. I was taken aback, as I thought I had read the website extremely thoroughly. Had I somehow missed a little Union Jack in the upper left hand corner, indicating I could read the text in English? Later that day, I revisited the website, and sure enough, there was an English language version.

Of course it is possible that Union Jack was there all along and I missed it. But it is also possible that, as I began to make contact with staff at the PMC and let them know of my interest, they began to think about the external image of the PMC that was available to people around the world. It’s possible that the site was updated with an English language version sometime between the first time I read it, my emails to the Director, and my arrival in Mostar.

It is inconsequential, of course – who cares when the website was updated? – but I use this story to illustrate the way that outsider interest can influence levels of self-consciousness/self-awareness. This in turn can generate changes of behaviour or new actions in response to the perceived scrutiny.

I have three case study countries I am investigating for my PhD research; Bosnia is one case study country, and Timor-Leste is another. I have just returned from a month of fieldwork in Timor-Leste, based mostly in the capital city Dili.

In Timor-Leste, plans have been in development in recent years to establish an Academy of Arts and Creative Industries. Staff from Griffith University in Australia consulted on the initial idea, and a Timorese implementation team is in place. However, while the government has agreed that the Academy should go ahead, things have slowed somewhat, according to some of the people I interviewed – artists, senior government staff, arts organisers – for my research.

How well known is this Academy of Arts and Creative Industries project? At various times over the last few years, there have been events – concerts, conferences, forums – that have drawn media attention to the plans for the Academy. However, you couldn’t say that the project occupies any kind of prominence in the minds of the general population of Timor-Leste. It is a possible topic of conversation among the small number of people currently engaged in areas of contemporary arts practice in Timor-Leste.

Therefore, I was extremely interested to see this piece of graffiti on the wall of the building that is the home of the Secretary of State for Art and Culture, the government department that has been driving the Academy plans. It appeared ten days after I began my fieldwork in Timor-Leste.

Graffiti, Dili, 1 June 2014 (G. Howell)

“Art and Culture is sick. The Arts Academy is dead.”

There are different ways of interpreting the graffiti artist’s statement. The word ‘Akademi’ could in fact be more general, and refer to the Art and Culture building, suggesting it is a “dead house of art and culture’. The words ‘Arte Kultura’ could refer to art and culture in Timor-Leste, or could refer specifically to the government secretariat.

Who might have done this graffiti? And more to the point, why do it now? There were no other events taking place, or media attention (as far as I’m aware) that might have shifted people’s attention to the Academy of Arts project at that time. Was it because I was there, asking questions, and directing people’s attention towards a project that had fallen frustratingly silent at that time? Or were there other influencing factors? Was graffiti like this a regular occurrence? While street art and graffiti are not uncommon in Dili, the reactions of many of my research participants to my photograph of the graffiti suggested that the content and its placement on the wall of a government building were noteworthy, and particularly provocative.

The graffiti remained on the wall for less than a week. I first saw it on a Sunday morning. It was gone by the following Saturday. Whether coincidental, serendipitous, or an unintended consequence of me asking questions and being interested, I am certainly not complaining! It’s a powerful image that alludes to some of the key issues impacting contemporary cultural life in Timor-Leste. Sickness. Death. Government efforts. Artists wishing for more. Hopes, expectations, and disappointment. Lots of layers to peel back and unravel here.

What is the power of music?

ANIM girls

A tension that arises for me in my research topic is about the perceived (and/or assumed) ‘power of music’. There is a considerable amount of writing from respected academics that proposes a power inherent within music that makes it particularly effective in conflicted and post-conflict settings. There is far less writing that examines this notion critically, or offers up grounded evidence to support these claims. It is stated or assumed, rather than being tested.

This puts the critical thinker in me on alert. Some statements come across as very woolly, romantic notions of music’s mysterious powers that separate it from its context and all the other variables that may be at play. Eg. Music creates peace and harmony, music works miracles and stops violence, the singing of Silent Night in WWI trenches brought about a ceasefire, playing music together turns enemies into friends, and so on. When these stories are recounted, I find myself thinking, “But what about the influence of..? What about all the events that had gone on before the [music event]?…”. Music doesn’t exist in isolation.

Some of the writing in music therapy research I’ve read also tends towards this – one statement I read recently declares that music “bypasses the head and goes straight to the heart”. I know that this isn’t true for me (my head is very involved in all of my musical experiences)… but anyway, what does it mean? That it circumvents our thinking and logic and goes straight to emotion? Is that desirable? (think of propaganda…) Is it what really happens? Always? If not always, when?

Does being a musician make one less well-placed to examine the question of music’s power (or lack thereof)? Does the intensity and longevity of our engagement with the musical arts blind us to the other variables so that we cannot examine all the variables and influences of an event in a dispassionate way? (Reading some of the intense debates on Geoff Barker’s Sistema blog pages – be sure to scroll to ‘comments’ at the end of any of his posts – suggests that sometimes, musicians can be such true believers that any perceived criticism or critique that questions the accepted wisdom of the tribe is received as ill-informed and shocking injury. Either that, or Geoff is really overstepping the mark with his questions, observations and critique).

But it could also work the other way – maybe my many years of schooling and study in music and music-making give me a different (or limited) perspective on how my brain (intellect) and my heart (emotions) receive and engage with music. I know that I am far more intrigued by music’s role in our social lives – the way it can connect people in all sorts of ways – than by any inherent “power”. Perhaps I am a social scientist at heart, as well as a musician!  I know I am drawn again and again to music experiences, not because it is the way I make my living, but because it calls me. And has done ever since I joined my first music ensemble at the age of 6. But is it something inherent and unknowable about music itself that draws me to it? Or is it about what happens when I play/participate/listen/engage that is the call and ongoing motivation?

Also, I know that there can be many ways of knowing. Indigenous knowledge, for example, is just as valid as the Western version of knowledge with its roots in the Enlightenment project. Would my critical thinking be so much on alert if this statement about “the power of music” came from an indigenous culture? It’s a moot point, because it hasn’t, and because what I know of indigenous cultures’ relationships to music suggests that they see music as an essential element in all sorts of social interactions, frequently taking place within ritual and daily patterns. The idea of music as something to be focused on and listened to, purely as a passive, disembodied engagement, is a very Western one.

My response to these ideas also reveals my own beliefs about music and how I understand it:

  • That while music may be a cultural universal (in that every culture, in every age throughout time, and into the future, engages in and with music as part of being human), the meaning that people ascribe to it and derive from it is not universal. It is often perceived as such, and thus considered to be a powerful way to bring people together, but the meanings of music are culturally-based. This doesn’t negate the fact that it can be a powerful way to bring people together, but the universality of musical meaning is not the reason for its effectiveness.
  • Because of this, considerations of music activities and their meaning should not be separated from their contexts, because music-making (or ‘musicking’ as Christopher Small calls it) is a social undertaking, with social meaning and with social relationships at its core. What takes place before, during and after the music event is an essential part of the story. Separating the music event from these considerations (ie. seeing music as an independent event or experience with its own inherent properties) denies the huge significance of the context.
  • I also think that isolating the music event from its context weakens arguments about music’s effectiveness. For example, in conflict transformation, removal of context implicitly takes power and agency away from the individuals engaged in the transformation of conflict and assigns responsibility and the power of transformation to music. In such a context, effectiveness is all about the people making active choices and adjusting mindsets, rather than being passive recipients of a mysterious ‘power’. Music has a role to play but it will be the context that determines any possible transformation.

(I’ve been reading Arild Bergh’s PhD dissertation on Music and Conflict Transformation – another inspiring piece of scholarly work – and he raises many of these same issues. That thesis has been a very influential piece of writing for me, a very fortunate recommendation so early on in my project).

There are some of my musings for today. Everything changes… the very act of setting some of these ideas down in this blog means they will continue to evolve and expand for me, making more nodes and branches on the tree-like structure of my topic!

References relating to this post:

Bergh, A. (2010). I’d like to teach the world to sing: Music and conflict transformation. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Exeter.
Small, C. (1998). Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

A stumbling block a day…

Wednesday, day 70

I am now getting used to the small stumbling blocks that my project and best-laid plans come up against on a regular basis. The first of the week was on Monday, when we went to meet with a local representative of the Ministry of Culture who, the first time I met him, smiled constantly and happily agreed to work with us in creating a music project for children here. He would gather the children for us, make the Ministry of Culture workshop venue available to us, and yes, he was even happy for me to participate in his traditional music group that meets three times a week, to indulge my interest in Timorese traditional music. The second time we met with him, he told m sadly that I would need to write a letter of permission to his boss if I wanted to learn any Timorese traditional music. I did this, and I know that he got a reply from his boss giving him the go-ahead. When I met with him this week, he told me I couldn’t learn any traditional music because I wasn’t here for long enough, and it wasn’t worth it. And he didn’t think he could gather any children because, didn’t I know it was school holidays? (a fact which he’d thought would make it easier to gather them, the first time we met). Lastly, he didn’t think we could use his venue. Well, we could, but we’d have to pay for it. “But Senor,” said N, the person assisting us. “You have already promised Mana Gillian she can use the venue at no cost!”  Ah yes, well, that was then. The situation is different now.

At that stage, there seemed little point in continuing. In anyone’s culture, this person had zero interest in seeing this project come together through any help of his.

“Don’t worry,” N reassured us as we walked away, incredulous. “He is not the only culture person in Lospalos. We can talk to other people about all these things.”

“He’s just a public servant,” said Tony. “He doesn’t want to do anything more than he needs to do. It’s the week before Christmas, he gets paid regardless, there’s nothing in it for him, he just wants a quiet week sitting behind his desk, looking important.”

The second stumbling block came in the form of a text message for me first thing this morning from the woman who has had the role of assisting me in this project from the beginning. She was invaluable in Baucau, translating, kid-wrangling, keeping everything running smoothly, and having umpteen ideas about how she’d like to do it differently in Lospalos in January. Her text message today told me that she would no longer be working with me because she has taken a job somewhere else. But not to worry, because she has replaced me with her sister, who speaks English “even better than me” and who is “just the same as me”. She just hasn’t got the benefit of all those earlier experiences. I’m not saying the swap won’t work out – it may. But it is certainly quite a surprise.

My third stumbling block has been developing an unexpected allergy to fish. This came up last week, and I thought it was part of the Chikungunya virus symptoms. But when I ate fish from a stall on the way to Lospalos from Dili last Friday, I came out in a horrible rash (worse than the Chikungunya rash of the week before), all over my limbs, and accompanied by itchy, swollen hands and feet. It’s taken all the protein out of my diet – I was eating fish nearly every day here before this allergy decided to emerge! So today I asked Valda if she could find me a chicken. “Sure,” she said. “You can buy a chicken.” (There are certainly plenty running around). “But do you know how to prepare it?” I asked her. (Because I certainly don’t!) She just laughed reassuringly. Sure enough, she came home this afternoon carrying a chicken, still alive. But not for long. We had barbecued chicken for dinner, rubbed in a marinade made with onions, fresh turmeric, ginger, and limes. I’m happy to have had a protein hit in my diet tonight. Apologies to all the vegetarians who would prefer I stay on my music education topic.

Attention spans of the Pelicans

Pelican Primary School is a very multicultural, inner-city school, with probably well over twenty different language and cultural groups represented. English is a second language for many of the students. In fact, quite a number of the students in the school first attended the Language School where I also teach (and have been teaching since 2005), so it has been lovely to be able to reconnect with them, and admire how fluent their English is now, how tall they have grown, etc.

This diversity of language at Pelican PS suggested to me that many of the pedagogical strategies I have developed at the Language School would also be effective here. In fact, I saw a tremendous opportunity to be able to refine and further develop my ideas, and ensure they are applicable to a mainstream school environment, as well as to the specialised Language School classes.

However, there are some big differences between teaching at the Language School, and teaching at Pelican Primary School. One of these is in the way the students engage with teaching and learning, which can perhaps be considered in terms of the length of time that students can concentrate for, or how easily they get distracted.

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Composing as an alien concept

Here is an interesting discussion I had last week with a colleague from South Australia. We were talking about my research at the Language School, and about the question the students’ understanding of composing, and whether they think of what we do as ‘composing’ or not.

My colleague made the point that ‘composing’ – the idea of creating new music, original ideas and sounds, and structuring them into compositions that go on to exist in their own right, is not a universal concept. That, in many other musical cultures, the notion is quite an alien one. Sure, improvisation is a feature of many musical cultures, but musical invention often stops at that point.

I am not a specialist in world music, or on the characteristics of different musical cultures, but, drawing on the little knowledge I have, this seemed to make sense.

  • In Indian classical music, improvisation is a strong feature. But the musical structures and scales within which this occurs are ancient, and while they may evolve and change under the hands of different masters, this is different to new works being created from nothing.
  • In traditional African music, similarly, the forms and structures are traditional, and while they may be interpreted by different performers, and while improvisation is a key part, the idea of composing something would be quite strange, perhaps even inappropriate or disrespectful.
  • In gamelan music, I am not sure. Certainly there are many traditional and ancient forms; however, new music also evolves. For example, the kecak monkey chanting and dance (that becomes part of the storytelling of the great Ramayana saga) was developed in the 1930s for tourist audiences in Bali. I know that the gamelan group I work with through Musica Viva, Byar, is constantly developing new versions of their music. Perhaps, however, this is yet again an example of revising ancient forms, rather than composing completely new material.

What of the musical traditions of the indigenous peoples of Australia? I’m not sure here. Again, I think the music performed is traditional, and passed down orally through the generations, rather than composed from scratch by contemporary performers.

In this context, when I ask the question, do the students know they are composing?, I am assuming familiarity with what may in fact be quite an alien concept to these students from all around the world. I have always believed that to some extent, the confusion or inhibition that some students display when we undertake some of the more free creative tasks, was due to cultural differences, and their unfamiliarity with an education approach that invites and encourages student input (as opposed to the ‘transmission’ style of teaching). But I think now I should consider the possibility that the notion of ‘composing’ is one that has no real parallels in their cultures, and so must be learned and understood as an entirely new concept.

Comments on the role of composition in other musical cultures are warmly invited.

Teaching the Alphabet Dance

Today I spent the morning with a team of teaching artists for The Song Room. The Song Room will soon be publishing the resource I wrote for them last year on my Alphabet Dance project idea (which I also described in detail on this blog here, here and here, if you want to check it out) and today’s workshop was to introduce the project to the Teaching Artists, who work in schools across Victoria. The idea is that they will introduce it to the teachers in their schools, and we hope that its broad appeal will mean we start to see little waves of alphabet dances fanning out across the state.

You couldn’t ask for a better bunch of workshop participants! This group took the idea of the Alphabet Dance and made it their own. Basically, the idea is to assign a movement to each letter of the alphabet, then use these to spell words and create dances. I had  a feeling the Teaching Artists would come up with something truly original, and they didn’t disappoint.

They chose to create dances on a theme of Astronomy. We developed a chorus:

The stars [clap] and planets [clap]

Yeah, they’re really cool [clap]!

All claps on off-beats. We naturally fell into a side-step move while doing this, and a lot of vocal additions and embellishments (Ah yeah!… That’s right!… ah-huh, ah-huh…. Because the-… etc).

Then they created dances using the alphabet on the words Flash Gordon, Ziggy Stardust, and Battleship FTL-Drive. Huge commitment to every gesture. A drummer accompanying us, giving it even more momentum. It definitely showed the potential of the project idea. Thanks all, that was a great high-energy workshop!

The Alphabet Dance gets kids spelling out loud, and offers new motivations for thinking about how different words are spelt. I have found that children who are struggling with literacy get a lot of confidence and enjoyment with the Alphabet Dance – they are highly motivated to learn the different moves, and the order of the letters. There are lots of follow-on activities you can do once you have built an alphabet of moves – consider putting together flicker books that spell out words using photos of the different dance moves, for example. Of creating large-scale wall friezes of all of the ‘letters’, drawn or photographed, or sketched as stick figures (for those like me who are challenged in the visual art department).

Members of the Song Room (schools participating, or previously participating in Song Room programs who have signed up for membership) will be able to download the resource from The Song Room website when it is launched later this month.

Back in the (blogging) saddle

It’s been a long time since I posted – I’m sorry, dear readers, I have been thoroughly entrenched in thesis-land, writing up, then writing some more… I am making steady progress, but it is not finished yet. Not yet. I am still to set the date for the post-submission party.

Meanwhile, work continues. It’s been busy. Back in the April school holidays, I had four great days at ArtPlay. The first two were working with this year’s MSO ArtPlay Ensemble, and the second two were with a group of primary school students who were coming to music for the first time. That was with a program called City Beats.

Here’s what we did:

The MSO ArtPlay Ensemble composed music inspired by Rachmaninov’s Rhapsodie on a theme of Paganini. We looked at the idea of composing variations on a theme, likening variations to musical disguises. I was particularly happy with my warm-up sequence for this project, which introduced a number of composition techniques that Rach makes use of in the Rhapsodie, but which explored them in game form. It was also interesting for me to observe my own role as the project leader, particularly on the first day, when the children spend a lot of time working with their adult musician (from the MSO) in break-out groups. (I’m paying particular attention to my role and pedagogy in this year’s project, as part of the large funded research project happening at ArtPlay). In the break-out groups, when I move from group to group, keeping an eye on how things are progressing, I was also able to spend time with individuals, sometimes because they needed a bit of extra support or direct encouragement, and sometimes because they needed challenging, and could be taken aside for a short time to develop solos or more demanding material of their own.

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Slowly coming to understanding

We finished the music term at the Language School last week, and presented our compositions to parents and friends. Only two students were graduating on to mainstream schools this term, which means we will have lots of the same students returning next term.

It was an interesting term. It seemed to take a while to get settled. I suspect I was more distracted by things outside the school for much of the term – redundancy, and the intensive thesis-writing mode I was in, in particular. Each class have lots of new arrivals, so the level of English understanding was almost zilch.

Interesting things to observe were the different ways students started to show their understanding of what was going on. ‘Experiences of success’ can come in many different ways. For example, I see them taking pride and care in knowing how to put the instruments away at the end of the lesson. This sounds like a small thing, but it is probably an act that is familiar, that they can figure out on their own. These newest students – boys and girls – will pass me the instruments one by one, then scout the room for anything further.

In terms of musical development, things happen at their own pace. Middle Primary has a new student from Ethiopia (I think, or maybe Somalia) who has had very little prior schooling. She spent the first couple of weeks positioning herself next to the teacher and looking very lost. She joined in everything until she had to do something on her own (such as say her name in time to a shared beat), at which point she would get very quiet and shy, understandably so. In the class composition she chose to play the glockenspiel, one of a group of four who were all playing the same melody. She never quite got the hand of it. Her teacher sat beside her, guiding her hand, and saying the rhythmic syllables (based on different fruits) out loud. Then she seemed to invent her own part, which we encouraged her to do; musically, harmonically, it worked, but her rhythm was never quite accurate enough to make it truly fit with the other parts, and for a few weeks there, we were all just tolerating it, and those others in her group got progessively louder (and therefore progressively faster) in order to drown her out!

So it was with great delight in our concert that I noticed her making small adjustments in her music, so that it fit better with the other parts around her. Gradually, she was building confidence in what it was she was to play, and therefore slowly getting to a point where she could let the other sounds into her ear, and be guided by them. My sense was that she had dropped into a new level in music, that I think will allow her to experience even greater awareness and success in the lessons next term.

The presence of lots of new students highlights for me the importance of patience, of trusting that understanding comes slowly, or at different speeds for different children, but that it does come. As with their English learning, it is first about exposure to the new language (sounds) and a slow absorbing of the rules and syntax, through experiencing them, rather than having them explained. If the environment is consistent, then understanding grows, and actual abilities can flurish, and start to be developed further.

Buried in books

I’m on holidays! Up in Byron Bay, where the rain is falling thick and fast in a way that leaves us Melbournians open-mouthed at the wonder of it all. It’s still warm and humid, so we can wear thong (flip-flops) so who cares about getting a little wet?

I’ve been relishing this break from thesis writing. I’ve been reading obsessively, and can happily recommend these books:

  • DogBoy by Eva Hornung. This was the first book I read on this holiday. Couldn’t put it down. It’s sad though, heart-breakingly sad, and it sat heavily in my head for a long time after. I went back to re-read certain sections (hoping to make it easier on myself, to no avail). The writing is beautiful. Just thinking about this book now, a couple of days after finishing it, I am again taken back into that world.
  • Things We Didn’t See Coming, by Steven Amsterdam. This one was also compelling. Lots of gaps that never quite get filled in. Such assured writing – he never lets go of you as a reader.  “It’s quite a ride,” was my first comment, when someone asked how I’d liked it. Fascinating, alarming, and compelling as you long for him to make more sense of things for you. A vision of an amoral, apocalyptic near-future that is quite imaginable. Last night at dinner those of us who have read the book wondered aloud how different it might have felt to have read it during the last months of Howard’s reign. Are we a littl more optimistic now? Or simply a bit worn down from the frustrations of the Howard era? Anyway, it was an intriguing thing to ponder. Striking cover art too.
  • Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brookes. Oh, I loved this one too. I loved the heroine, and I loved the evocative, rich writing that created a whole village and community for me. Strange twist at the end took me by surprise, and the desperation and exhaustion of the community as they battle the Great Plague is palpable.

Right now, I have just got started on Linda Jaivin’s new book, A Most Immoral Woman. Jaivin has a cheeky, flirtatious, disarming way of writing, that balances out the pompousity of her main character Morrison (a man, not the most immoral woman of the title). I haven’t read any of her other books, but heard her speak about this novel (and read from it) a week or so ago on Radio National’s The Book Show.

Apart from the reading on this holiday, I have plans to go to yoga classes (have been to two already), and maybe, maybe…. do a surfing course. I’ve always thought surfing looked like the most amazing past-time. Devotees get a kind of glazed, evangelical look in their eyes, and they are so committed that I figure it must be a pretty addictive experience. I’m keen to find out for myself what joys it contains.

Next week, back to work. Four days of workshops at ArtPlay. And the thesis is coming along, coming along. I’m up to my conclusions now, so taking a bit of time this week to re-read everything I’ve written and ponder what my resulting conclusions might actually be.