30 August, 2009

Anne Fine has been in hot water,

which I note without glee, because it seems that that makes twice she's been treated shabbily by the UK press in the last month or so. Melvin Burgess, who was on the panel with Anne at Edinburgh, gives a good counter-report.

29 August, 2009

Home again.

Sydney is crazily warm, although just as windy as Melbourne. People are walking around in T-shirts, instead of coats and scarves.

The View from Here interview,

over here, says pretty much what I've been saying all week to audiences around Victoria (in some cases less coherently).

26 August, 2009

Margo takes a Tarago

Right, so we've broken the back of the MWF Regional Tour. Today we did Moe, yesterday we wowed Kyneton, Monday we monstered Swan Hill, and in between we've been burning rubber all up and down Victoria.

Now I'm in Melbourne in a Macca's, with madmen wandering in and out muttering - price you pay for free wifi. The Sofitel looms opposite - well, it can keep its $30 an hour internet. Phoar.

I'm doing this Regional Tour with Melina Marchetta, Michael Hyde and David Metzenthen, and Lisa Greenaway is looking after us, and doing a fine job of wrangling us and the various council and school people who've been providing our tech support and general admin - she's also been interviewing us on all the panels (that is, chairing 3 panels in quick succession every day). Sometimes one of us hives off and does a workshop instead of a panel, but still, that's a lot of wrangling.

Lisa and the three other writers are great travel companions - though I can't tell you most of what we talk about in the Tarago, because it's Sekrit Writer Business (meaning scurrilous gossip). But I can say that my eyebrows have never been higher, nor my jaw further dropped, and I haven't laughed so much since I don't know when. It's very healthy to be with people who share the same form of insanity. Of course, by Friday we'll all hate each other, but for the moment it's all sweet.

Tomorrow we take over Frankston with our panelling and workshopping, then on Friday it's orf to Geelong. The panels are on 'Fantasy and Fiction' (Melina and me), 'Writing about the Past' (David and Michael) and 'Creating Characters' (David, Melina and me), and so far we've managed to make each panel just nicely different enough to keep ourselves entertained as well as our audiences. All the school groups have been great, with lots of questions.

The weather has very neatly arranged itself around us. The Big Blow hit Moe just as we'd checked into our rooms, banged and crashed around until we were due to meet for dinner, then died away while we ate. In the night it carried on a bit, but really, Lisa arranged it very well. A bit of sideways rain here and there just to remind us where we were, and that's been the worst of it. Colder than I'm used to, but I've brought enough sox and beanies to cope with that.

I'm going to go and buy some Japanese food for dinner now, then have a bath (okay, Sofitel, I forgive you) and read myself to sleep. Greetings to all the Victorians we've been seeing for the last 3 days, and goodnight.

20 August, 2009

Whiffy behaviour from the Herald-Sun

18 August, 2009

Melbourne Writers' Festival 2009—Margo's schedule

Okay, getting organised now, for the following events:
  • The launch of Award Winning Australian Writing, including a short reading from that unwholesome story, 'The Goosle'. 2.30pm, Friday August 21, Festival Club. This one's free.

  • Visions of the City panel: How do we imagine the city in fiction? Catastrophic metropolises, decaying ghost towns, cities hidden beneath cities: to launch Overland magazine’s Melbourne Futures issue, China Miéville, Margo Lanagan and Jack Dann discuss how the city features in their work. Chaired by Overland’s Rjurik Davidson. Saturday 22 Aug, 2.30pm–3.30pm, in ACMI 2. This one'll cost you.

  • A seminar, From Oliver Twist to Twilight: How easy is it to get published in the Golden Age of YA Literature? How flexible is YA fiction and how do you make your stories both believable and challenging? If anyone know, it’ll be Margo Lanagan (NSW) and Anthony Eaton (ACT). Sunday 23 August, 10am–1pm, RMIT City Campus. This one will cost you even more, but I promise to do my bit to make it worth every cent.
Then, all next week, there's the Regional Tour. On the bus with me will be David Metzenthen, Michael Hyde and Melina Marchetta, and we'll be going around to school groups in Swan Hill, Kyneton, Moe, Frankston and Geelong. Each day I'll be on 2 panels:
  • Fantasy and Fiction with Melina: 'Join Melina Marchetta and Margo Lanagan as they explore the boundaries of what's real and what's not. Do fantasy writers avoid reality or confront it more directly? Are fantasies just a matter of make believe, or do they say serious things?', and

  • Characters with a Difference, with Melina and David Metzenthen: ' Join Margo Lanagan, Melina Marchetta and David Metzenthen as they discuss the art to creating characters that spring from the pages, how they get under their characters' skin and how it's through character that many elements of a story are revealed.'
I'll also be running a 45-minute writing workshop on the Tuesday and the Thursday.

So, I've got my work cut out for me, eh? Off to think up brilliant, wise things to say.

17 August, 2009


Read the comments.

Twitter tells me that comments contrary to Howe's stance are not being displayed.

Please read my gloating perversion of a fairytale.

Alan Howe contributes a deeply moronic column to the consistently righteous and wholesome Herald-Sun. This article is, just for starters, bristling with factual errors. I won't even start with the leaps of illogic and the deployment of emotive language.
Tender Morsels - the paedophilic ring to which it's presumably intended [Where do they get this idea? Google 'tender morsels' without the 'lanagan' and all you'll get is recipes and restaurant reviews.] - is aimed at teenagers, girls in the main, 14 and older, going by the various sales pitches, and while its inventive language and imagery suggests a mind at work, this is not a book for minds that are works in progress.

Try this for an opening sentence: "There are plenty would call her a slut for it," writes Lanagan about a sexual encounter between fairytale characters, one a dwarf.

Working her way smartly through what are normally considered taboos of children's literature, Lanagan has the main character repeatedly raped by her father, to whom she falls pregnant before a luridly described miscarriage...

You know that gang rape and sodomy will be on this wretched agenda as each fetid scene unfolds.

Publishers packaged the book in several ways. One had the hard, haunted face of a young girl looking over her shoulder. Hers are eyes that have witnessed horror. It's the adult version. [No, this one's actually the Young Adult (UK) version. It also bears a printed warning: 'Not suitable for younger readers'.]

But there are covers that invite younger attention: one has a bear, seemingly dancing with two little girls. [This is the adult UK version. Look closer to see the general creepiness of both bear (note his teeth and claws) and young women (they're clearly not 'little girls'), and the scattering of crows.] Another has a young woman reassuringly cuddling perhaps that same bear [No, different bear. Also, being kind of clawed by that bear. Also, surrounded by thorns. Not super-reassuring, I wouldn't have thought].
Then he does what they did to Anne Fine in the UK, which is, blindside an 'expert' (in this case a 'noted clinical psychologist') with their version of the book and ask her to comment without giving her a chance to check out the book in question and form her own opinion.

It's such poor journalism, so low and so dumb, so crappily edited (right down to an 'umbilical chord') and so hungry for sensation—and so second-hand ('Oh, we didn't realise we were supposed to be shocked about this book until our sister rags in the UK took a swing at it'). It'd be depressing if it weren't so funny. No, it's both, you're right.

13 August, 2009

The pregnant short story, Wordled

It really doesn't tell you a lot, this one. Except, perhaps, that there are a lot of similes.

Unhappy ever after?

This, by commenter catie james over at The Book Smugglers, seems to be quite a common reaction to Tender Morsels:
Ms. Lanagan had me right up until the final indignity she committed upon Liga. I didn’t need a complete 180 with some deus ex machina HEA; but subjecting her to all those previous brutalities, then leaving her with such a ridiculously bleak ending ruined the entire experience.
Thea (author of the original post) comments on the comment: 'the way things unfolded was unforgivable, in my mind'.

This surprises me, because I didn't see Liga's not-getting-the-man as either an indignity or the end of her story. Perhaps I saw it more as the peeling away of the last layer of illusion she had about the 'real' world; finally she sees things truly; the (fictional) world is not set up to accommodate a marriage between a 25-y-o man and a 40-plus-y-o woman, and she must accept that.

But she's not in a bad position at the end of the novel: she's an independent business woman; she has good friends and neighbours; her two daughters are each on their path to happiness, probably; she has social standing (which is a direct result of her own unwitting fiddling with time, so that the whole town is forced to 'forget' her earlier humiliation); the men who humiliated her in her youth are either dead or brought low themselves. She is not ugly, or a witch—two things that might hinder her marriage prospects. There's nothing in the way of her finding a nice man in St Olafred's (okay, so you don't see many nice men, but you do see some: Ramstrong and his family, Bullock and Noah—there must be enough of a culture of non-oafishness in the town to have produced those men?) at some point in the future. She's a fine match!

Then again, there's nothing wrong with her remaining single; she can still have a very nice life in the circumstances in which I've left her. Perhaps, um, she doesn't really need a man for her ultimate happiness? I know, weird thought.

I know we leave her at a point where neither of these possibilities has been explored, when she's still a bit in shock from having seen Ramstrong prefer Branza over herself, but 'ridiculously bleak'? 'Unforgivable'?

12 August, 2009

Margo pipes up

At Vermont College of Fine Arts. Photo by Steven, from the front row.

(Doesn't look too gregarious and bubbly, does she? This must be before she got the giggles.)

Printing out...

...the last couple of weeks' work. Now I have a nearly-novel-sized manuscript (53,000 words). Sheesh. This started off as a whim, but now it has heft. I think this is a good thing, but I gots to admit, I'm a little scared of it.

More reviews

Yes, I know it's not news, but this is where I keep track of them, so you'll just have to bear with me, sorry.

Helen, my mate from Clarion South 2007, takes issue with anyone who thinks the novel is graphic, and talks sensibly about the likely readership. She concludes that TM 'is not a comfortable read but it is an eminently satisfying one. I recommend this novel highly.'

Gayleen, who heard me speak in Vermont, counters teen-readership quibbles—'Teens (and all of us, for that matter) should have a means of addressing difficult subjects. Is there a safer place than between the covers of a book?'—and graphic-sex-scene critics, and 'gets' the first-to-third-person shifts. She also thinks I have a 'gregarious nature' and a 'bubbly personality', which will surprise some of my nearest and dearest. :)

Julia Hale of the Youth Libraries Group took TM to the west coast of Scotland to read. This 'was almost a little too close for comfort as a backdrop for devouring Tender Morsels. [Wait till she gets to the selkie novella!] I can't remember a book getting under my skin and into my head so much for a long time.' Yes, it's full of smut, she admits, but
this is an exquisitely written novel with great sensitivity, powerful characters and many moments of beauty as well as horror. I hope it will reach a wide audience (including older teenagers) because despite being a parallel world fantasy it is completely honest in its motives and sympathy for young victims of abuse and the guilt, shame and damage they suffer. It is also as earthy as its mediaeval setting ... Read it for yourselves and then decide which section to put it in the library, but Tender Morsels deserves a place to find its audience, it's a great book.
Thea at The Book Smugglers is uncomfortable recommending the book wholeheartedly, although she can't fault the writing. She complains about stereotyping, implying that there's something racial about the whiteness of Branza and the darkness/wildness of Urdda—also saying that Urdda 'suffers because of her wildness', which is cobbler's. Urdda ends up with the best deal of all, and thoroughly enjoys acquiring it. It's Branza who is hassled by Teasel Wurlidge and the town boys, and ends up totally dependent on a man for her sense of safety. She also thinks I was too cruel to Liga, that I was 'emotionally exploitative':
But in the ending of the book, I cannot help but feel that a cruelty of the greatest, most unforgivable kind is enforced on Liga as a character, for purposes of literary shock value. ...by the end of the novel, I felt betrayed and emotionally exploited. I’m all for bittersweet stories or those with unhappy endings, but this ending was unnecessary and reenforced my discomfort with character stereotypes. Liga, for all that she has been through and endured for her daughters is still tainted, broken Liga. Her untouched daughters – especially the dutiful and pure as snow Branza – are the ones who receive the happy ending.
Thea found the book hard to like. I'm not sure that that's a problem, necessarily. Comments are blossoming over there even as I speak. Pop over and watch.

Updated: Thea explains:
It’s not really “suffering” per se, but more the feeling that she was being chastised by the author for her challenging and inquisitive nature. (i.e. Urdda by being wild and demanding rightfully has to deal with the crap that she uncovers by her questions, whereas perfect lilywhite Branza will never have to deal with any of this because she is dutiful and quiet like a good daughter should be).
Hmm. I think this 'chastisement' is in the eye of the beholder. As to Branza, yes, yes, that is her reward/fate—but is that a happy ending? It means she's living in a world almost as false as her mother's heaven.

Update 2: 'alana' is the first to comment on Liga's sexual response to the incest. But then she goes on and moralises about the gang-sodomy—which, while it is a Very Dark joke, is still a joke. There's a difference between story-justice and real-world justice. And if I hadn't appropriately avenged Liga, then wouldn't the happy-ending addicts have been upset?

Note: I'm not distressed about any of this—how could I be, with my bubbly personality? :) —just intrigued by how different people read things. And I'll stop niggling back at people right now.

10 August, 2009

SFX TM interview

3 thoughtful, if not entirely rapt, reviews of TM

Jason over at 5-Squared, at the end of his analysis of the reading experience that is Tender Morsels, addresses the critics:
Teens, some of the arguments say, simply aren't old enough for this book. Friends, I can agree, because frankly *I'm* not old enough to read this book. Most of us aren't old enough. Most of us, I'd guess, will never be old enough. But, then, this book made me older, wiser, more mature in a way that something more my age could not have done. And when I was a teenager, this is the book I wish I'd had, the book that would have taught me how live in a world that is nothing like your parents tell you it will be.
There was too much sex and darkness for Stephanie the bookaholic: 'I wanted to like this book, I really did. But it was just too harsh for me. I was expecting a fairy tale, and that is not what I got.' She was expecting a happy ending, too, unfortunately. There's good discussion in the comments to her review, especially Nymeth on the ending. I also like Chris's comment: 'It does sound terribly depressing- like an Oprah book!'

The Book Maven gives you a rundown of the Grimms' 'Snow White and Rose Red' instead of one of TM, for a change, but she reckons the book is 'broken-backed', although she calls it 'a terrific read for all its faults' and says that 'everything about the bears is quite wonderful and leads me to hope that there is a better book to come from Margo Lanagan'. She says:
It’s not a book or a view of sexual relations that I should have wanted to offer my three daughters, all now living with good men, when they were teenaged. Not because I am outraged by the sex scenes but because I am depressed by the world view in which they take place. Lanagan imagines the beast within the man so much more vividly than the man within the beast.
All fascinating.

06 August, 2009


05 August, 2009

TM is up for a World Fantasy Award

See? And so is Shaun (twice), and so is Ellen, and so are a whole bunch of great writers, drawers and movers and shakers.

Congratulations one and all!

*virtual champagne for breakfast*

03 August, 2009

Telegraph roundup accessible

Dinah Hall lists books that will keep UK young people occupied this summer, and says:
Yes, it starts with a dwarf and witch having sex in a cornfield and follows that up with incest, abortion, gang rape and sodomy – a synopsis that has had the tabloids predictably frothing with moral indignation. But Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (David Fickling, £12.99 ) is a work of genius, with richly inventive language and a brilliantly imagined fairy-tale context based on the tale of Snow White and Rose Red that, while not exactly cushioning the readers from the horror, allows them to contemplate it from a safe distance; the brutal moments are woven in like dark threads in a rich, complex tapestry. For ages 15+.
She also says:
The world falls silent when you pick up Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (Templar, £12.99) and are sucked into his bizarre vision. Tan is an extraordinary artist, his illustrations an unsettling blend of styles from surreal to Hopper-like realism. Combined with an equally esoteric selection of stories, this is a book to steal from your children. For ages 9+.

02 August, 2009

How Beautiful the Ordinary first review

The Goddess of YA Literature has picked up Michael Cart's How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity, in which I'm privileged to have a story. (Click to embiggen to see who else is in it—what a feast, eh?)

The Goddess says: 'While sexual identity is at the core of many of the stories, they all address the central questions many adolescents struggle with: am I worthy of being loved? Why does it hurt sometimes to be in love? Can I truly be myself with someone else?'

My story, 'A Dark Red Love-Knot' is a reworking of Alfred Noyes's poem 'The Highwayman', which I had to study (and possibly to recite—I seem to know chunks of it) in primary school. It was highly enjoyable to write, even though, of course, nothing nice happens in it. :)

I can't wait to see the others.

01 August, 2009

Ozgrrls paint Chicago red

Melina and me on Printz night. Check out the plaque on that one on the left!

Three good reviews, and one iffy one

although I can only see a bit of the second one. In the Guardian, Meg Rosoff says:
I'd like to go out on a limb here, and say that nothing in the world of adult summer reading can compare with the revolutionary content of a novel you are likely to find in the young adult section of your local bookshop. Tender Morsels, by the Australian author Margo Lanagan, is funny, tragic, wise, tender and beautifully written. It also left me gasping with shock.
'Mature teen readers will love Tender Morsels,' she says.
I would have devoured it at 15, though not more enthusiastically than I did last week. It is with a mixture of respect and delight that I greet any book capable of blasting an entire genre out of the water with its audacity and grace. Tender Morsels is such a book.
The Telegraph has something to say, too, but this is all I can see of it; someone's botched the page naming and the link takes me to a 'can't find' page. So 'work of genius' will just have to suffice for now. :)

Carly Bennett, aboard the 'UK's Teen Fiction Site' Chicklish, saw the warning on the YA addition.
Usually I disagree with content warnings and censorship but, for once, I think this one is deserved. Margo Lanagan deals with very adult sexual issues that are definitely not suitable for younger readers. That said, the controversial content didn’t detract from the plot and, even though some scenes were quite explicit, they were extremely well written.
She had a bit of trouble with the language, but ends up endorsing the novel as a whole:
Tender Morsels is a truly unique book, like nothing I’ve ever come across before. It is full of a host of utterly charming characters and I dare anybody to read it and not fall in love with Lanagan’s brilliantly crafted story.
And Janie B. Cheaney, at Worldmag.com (Today's News/Christian Views) has some doubts. The book, she says,
is described as "lurid." To be fair, it isn't. Its shocking events are cloaked in fantasy and rendered in a literary style that is often striking and beautiful. It might even be seen as pro-life, in that the much-abused heroine, Liga, wants and loves her babies in spite of their nightmare conceptions.
*drums fingers on desk, awaiting invitation to join pro-life panel*