Saturday, 28 April 2012

Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam (and just a few baked beans)

My post today is about spam.

We all know what it is. We all hate it. All those annoying ads and emails for watches and pills and Russian brides and other things that this blog is much too clean to begin talking about. Not to mention the very worst form of spam of all - the never-ending "buy my book, buy my book" of all those self-published authors out there.

But how many of you out there actually know the origin of the term? Why on earth do we use the name of a type of tinned ham to refer to unsolicited and unwanted electronic communications?

Well, if you don't know the answer, today is your lucky day. Because Dag-Lit Central is not just a source for entertainment. We also aim to be educational. So now, I present to you, the actual video clip which inspired the use of the word "spam" to refer to any and all unwelcome electronic intrusions. Enjoy.

Of course, this is Monty Python doing their spam sketch - this sketch provided the inspiration for the term "spamming", referring to the overwhelming of any type of conversation with useless gibberish, and the word "spam" to refer to that gibberish.

You have to admit it. There is some kind of genius at work here. Who else could come up with an idea like a cafe that serves dishes containing little else apart from spam, into which people are lowered into their chairs via ropes, and which is full of singing Vikings. Where ideas like that come from, I have no idea.

But the thing that really gets me about this whole story is how something that was created several decades ago has evolved and adapted in such a way that it has now become part of our popular culture and lexicon. I think that's an amazing thing.

Like any writer, I often wonder whether anything I create could end up taking on a similar life of its own. Maybe one day, people will say they are having a Neville Lansdowne moment when they feel that things are happening too quickly for them. Or political commentators may describe a particularly pointless debate as "3 points vs 4 points", just like the Flidderbugs. I reckon that would make my day.

Then again, it most likely won't ever happen - or if it did, it would be in a way I would never be able to predict, just as the Monty Python people couldn't have known the result of their extremely silly and possibly quite pointless spam sketch.

So, till next time, have a spam spam spam fantastic spam week.


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Twas brillig and the slithy toves - adapted with love

A couple of weeks ago, I had a bit of a rant about film-makers not respecting the original text when they adapted literary works, with a particular emphasis on Tim Burton's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

I'm pleased to say that today I'm able to offer a completely opposite perspective. And once again, good old Lewis Carroll is the case in question.

This week, at work, I found myself looking through YouTube clips.

Sounds pretty fun? Not a bad job to spend hours looking through material on YouTube? 

I'd have to agree. I'm enjoying my work at the moment. But it's for a good cause. Working in online education, YouTube is a real treasure trove of material to present to students to illustrate all sorts of concepts in all sorts of ways.

Anyway, the subject for which I was searching related to language, and I thought that something great to show to students, to illustrate the dynamic nature of the words we use, was a reading of the classic poem Jabberwocky. So I did a search, and this is the first thing I found:


Straight away, I knew I'd hit pay dirt. Lewis Carroll meets the Muppets. What better combination could there possibly be. Two of my absolute favourites and strongest inspirations coming together. Anyone who has read my stories knows the debt I owe to Caroll (or should I say, Dodgson), while I've blogged previously about the brilliance of the Muppets.

So mission accomplished - I had found the perfect clip for the students. Of course, at home, I had to share it with my kids. But then I took a closer look at it, and especially at the characters. They looked strangely familiar.

There was only one thing to do. I found my old dog-eared copy of the book and opened it to the chapter where Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice what the opening words of the poem actually mean. And there they were. Exactly the same characters as you will see in the clip:
  • The toves are the strange snouted creatures - a cross between a badger, a lizard and a corkscrew (genius!)
  • The boregroves are the long-legged birds that look a little like live mops
  • The raths are the green pigs (Humpty Dumpty wasn't sure what mome meant)
So there you have it. You can actually see the care that the Muppets people took in creating their little skit, studying the text and creating a version which, while it has its own unique Muppetty qualities, is also true to the original poem. Just one more reason to love the Muppets.

Anyway, that's enough from me for now. Hope you all have a totally frabjous week.

Callooh! Callay!!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

A musical interlude - 5 great songs about Melbourne

Today I thought I might change the mood a bit here at Dag-Lit Central. Take a bit of a break from talking about writing, and talk a bit about music instead. After all, music is a massive inspiration to me, both in my writing and in my life in general.

One of the great things about living in a city like Melbourne is that it's been one of the main centres for music here in Australia. When big names tour, you know they're going to come here. But, more importantly, the city has generated a musical culture of its own. There have been many fantastic musicians and bands that have made Melbourne their home. As a result, there are now lots of great songs about Melbourne too.

So we may not quite be up there with New York or New Orleans or London or Paris, but the culture of music is still going strong here. There's a strong sense of place for the musicians here, and you can hear it in a lot of the songs they write.

Hopefully this selection will demonstrate some of the great songs that this city has inspired.

1. From St Kilda to Kings Cross - Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly is the poet laureate of Australian music. This is his signature song, the one that first brought him to attention way back in the '80s. You've gotta love a song that compares the "entertainment precincts" of Melbourne and Sydney, especially when he comes to the conclusion that he would happily swap Sydney Harbour for St Kilda Esplanade.

2. Four Seasons in One Day - Crowded House

I know, the Finn brothers are really Kiwis. But the Crowdies always felt like an Australian band, and more particularly, a Melbourne band. They were based here during their most successful period in the late '80s. And as for this song - ignore the fact that the performance in the clip was in Sydney (at their original farewell concert). Four seasons in one day - where else could they be possibly be singing about.

3. Roaring Days - Weddings, Parties, Anything

The Weddos were a true Melbourne institution. They managed to combine rock, punk, country, and traditional Australian folk balladry. But mainly, they were about a foot-stomping good time. Their Christmas shows were especially legendary. Roaring Days is a great drinking song. It starts off with the line "Trams pass me out on St Kilda Road". I work on St Kilda Road. I get to the office on a tram. Gotta love it.

PS - Squeezebox Wally is a bit hard to see in the clip, hidden off to the right, so let me confirm that is an accordion solo after the second chorus.


4. January Rain - Hunters and Collectors

How good were the Hunnas! They started out as a kind of post-punk art-rock noise collective and evolved into an amazing kick-arse live band. When their bassist hit a groove and their brass section (the horns of contempt) started to blow, they went off to another place entirely.

This song has the band in more reflective mode, singing about their home city. Some trivia for music nerds - Hunnas vocalist Mark Seymour is the brother of Crowded House bass player Nick Seymour. And I've seen him a couple of times in the local supermarket.

A bit disappointed not to find a live clip for this. If you want to see the Hunnas doing what they did best, check out these performances of classics Say Goodbye and Throw Your Arms Around Me.


5. Bolte and Dunstan Talk Youth - Augie March

One of the joys of living in a city with a strong music culture is knowing about the little gems that nobody else does. You want them to make it big because they're so good they deserve to. But you also kind of want to keep them as your own little secret. Augie March were a bit like that. At one stage, they looked like they were poised to take on the world, but then... It certainly doesn't diminish their greatness. I love this song, about a drunk stumbling around the gardens behind the State Parliament and seeing the statues of former Premiers - it name-checks a bunch of Melbourne landmarks, particularly one of our oddest, the cottage where Captain Cook didn't actually live (the discovers's cottage).

Again, apologies for lack of a live clip. Clips of the Augies are a bit light on the ground. If you'd like a more personal view, check out this one of them doing their signature song, One Crowded Hour.

Hope you've enjoyed my little musical tour of my home town. I'm sure you also have your favourite acts, who are a bit extra-special because they talk to and about the places where you are.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

How to find your voice - guest post by Barbara G. Tarn

Now that the Doodling/Flidderbugs tour is over and Magnus Opum is out, I once again have space for guests here at Dag-Lit Central. So I'm pleased to announce a visit from Barbara G. Tarn, who'll be talking about how to find your voice.
So, over to Barbara.

How to find your voice

I have always been "different".  Living abroad and coming back to my home country at thirteen, I never really fit in anywhere. I always had a strong imagination, so I very soon started jotting down those stories.

I admit I wasn't a voracious reader back then... and writing what I knew meant making up stuff very often quite implausible. But time passed, life gave me some experience, and I got better. Mostly because I never gave up writing.

I experimented with all kinds of prose and poetry and even screenwriting. I have stories that were just writing exercises - I call them "surreal" as it was one page of free writing while listening to a music tape, so it wasn't really stories, but short pieces of prose. I have tried many genres - not all, for example I know I'm hopeless at thrillers and mysteries. But I've written contemporary, sci-fi, fantasy, drama, comedy, poems, short stories, novels, screenplays and I even attempted a play that never went anywhere.

Most of my oldest stories are still handwritten on notebooks, some have been typed with a manual or electric typewriter. All were written when I wasn't reading much, but watched lots of TV. At the time I dreamed of being published - without actually submitting to anyone. I attempted a few contests (it later came out they were rigged anyway...), sent a couple of queries to Italian publishers, then sort of gave up.

Then with the new millennium I stopped watching TV (I still watch movies, though!), went to some writing courses, read some blogs, started reading fiction again (40+ books a year is a lot for me, but I started counting them only last year) and improved my writing. I switched to English and attempted the conquest of Hollywood, then went back to my first love, prose.

I will never write literary prose as my models are still visual media (movies or graphic novels), but I've learned to use points of view and avoid head-hopping, try to show instead of tell, and I found some on-the-nose dialog in old pieces that needed to be rewritten, although I'm still not into long descriptions and purple prose. That's why many of my longer works feel episodic and why I tend to relapse into omniscient narrator.

I haven't read many classics, but because of my story-telling influences I used lots of out-of-date omniscient narrators. I still hate first person narration and prefer third person limited - but sometimes the omniscient comes out again and my betas complain for the head-hopping. Sigh.

I need to write stuff down. Badly, but write it all to the end. As soon as I finish it, it feel like a masterpiece - reading it again after one month or one year I go "yuck!" (but I still spent years not rewriting a word).

I write what I want to read. And I'm sure I'll find others with my same tastes, so we can comment on my stories (or theirs, if they are also writers) and keep reading wonderful stuff. Welcome to the 21st century and the digital revolution.


Barbara G.Tarn is a writer, sometimes artist, mostly a world-creator and storyteller.

She's been building her world of Silvery Earth for a number of years - stories, comprise shorts, novels and graphic novels.

Used to multiple projects (a graphic novel is always on the side of the prose) this year she's publishing under three pen-names (including this) and in two languages.

Comic book, graphic novels, printed stuff: Unicorn Productions on Lulu 

E-books: Smashwords author pageAuthor Central (Amazon) author pageNook page on Barnes&Nobles, Barbara G.Tarn on Kobo, on XinXii and Unicorn Productions is a registered publisher on DriveThruFiction (novels) and DriveThruComics (graphic novel).

Facebook author’s page and author blog.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Respect the text - a good old rant

It's been a while, so today it's time for a good old rant. And I'm risking finding a bunch of people who are likely to disagree with me on this. So be it...

I saw the Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland a couple of weeks ago. And it left me kind of annoyed.

As anyone who knows the tiniest thing about me knows, I'm a massive fan of the Alice stories (ie Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass). I love the way Lewis Carroll creates a unique and wildly fanciful world, then uses the various characters to play all sorts of tricks and games with logic and language. The books are essentially plotless, as Alice wonders from one encounter to the next. That's their charm. And each character is beautifully rendered, both as a character in their own right, but also as a way to express a different idea or puzzle.

But the Tim Burton movie was nothing like this at all. It was as if the wonderful characters had been commandeered and placed in a completely different story. A quest, or an adventure story, that owed more to The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe (to be honest, I thought that the plot was a blatant rip-off), rather than anything by Lewis Carroll. To me, it stank of robbery. These characters did not belong there. They did not suit that kind of narrative. And the various character features (apparent from a few token lines of dialogue) were barely anywhere to be seen as the characters were put into the service of the plot.

Tim Burton, to me, is a serial offender in this regard. Honestly, fancy giving Willy Wonka a backstory. He's a classic trickster character - he's not quite of this earth and that's the whole point of him.

Which gets me back to the main point of this post. We writers put a lot of time and thought and love and care to create our characters and make them just right. I know, in any adaptation, there are changes that need to be made - you don't just directly translate a book onto the screen. But you don't misuse characters either. You don't divert them from their original source, and their original characteristics in order to stuff them into a different kind of story. In short, you respect the original text.

And if you want to tell a different story, tell a different story. Use your imagination - create a whole new world and a whole new batch of characters. Using other people's characters smacks of laziness. And it also feels a bit like exploitation - taking advantage of the ubiquitousness of some characters in popular culture in order to make it easier to market.

There. I've said my peace now and I feel much better. I'm sure there are lots of people who loved the Tim Burton film and utterly disagree with me. That's fine. I don't mind.

Have a great (and original and imaginative) week.

Monday, 2 April 2012

An epic tale about a very little person in a very big world

Well, it took a bit longer than I originally hoped. I guess it serves me right for attempting to publish a book on April Fool's Day. But after getting a serious run-around from Amazon, I'm really excited to announce the release of my first novel, Magnus Opum.

So what exactly is Magnus Opum? It's the story of a very little person in a very big world. I like to describe it as an epic fantasy with a twist - Tolkien meets Dr Seuss.

There's lots of action and adventure. There are big, scary monsters and evil villains. There are also laughs aplenty, and hopefully quite a few surprises.

This book took me quite a few years to finally finish off but I think it was worth the effort. It's set in a world where nothing is quite as it seems, which was a lot of fun to write. Maybe, in some ways, it's a bit like our world. Maybe it isn't.

Hopefully, you'll come along for the ride, and have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.

Magnus Opum is available at Amazon -