Monday, October 24, 2011

A Quick Word... A Slow Wave Goodbye

I have mixed feelings about what I'm about to do, but sadly it is too late to change my mind even if I want to.  An era is coming to an end here on my blog - three years of a journey that has all been held at

In 2009 I started this blog as a defiant act of desperation for my writing to be read.  And you guys responded.  Some of the posts here have had views in the thousands, and the site now has more traffic from around the world than I ever dreamed of at its inception.  Only part of this is down to me.  Lots of it is down to you guys sharing links to my work, responding to it on Facebook, and showing it to friends and family.  Word spread, so that now a majority of people who contact me about this stuff are complete strangers.  It's really exciting, and I can't thank you enough for it.

With that in mind then, why leave when things are going so well?  Well, when I first started this blog, Blogger was exactly what I needed.  It was the best on offer, and I should add remains one of the best options for first time bloggers - it's constant growth and change is one of the reasons I stalled in this decision. However, since choosing Blogger many have risen to challenge it, and while I haven't bothered moving, eventually the benefits of a site like Tumblr have become irresistible.  I'm not quitting folks, I'm simply shifting gears a little. Somewhere bigger, before it's too late.

The benefits for me are obvious.  Tumblr has a whole host of features that will make the blog more exciting.  Firstly, it has a deeply ingrained social network which means people who have never seen my writing before will meet it for the first time, and will be able to share it for themselves.  I'll be able to do the same, so expect more short posts with pictures or quotes to break up the larger ones.  The commenting system will also work better, and there is an 'ask me' button at the top of the page which means that I will be able to answer your questions as blog posts, a great chance for you to dictate what I write about next. The site will generally lend itself to greater customisation and experimentation.  I also think it looks nicer.

Where will it be? (This is the bit I'm most excited about!)

It's sad to be saying goodbye to Blogger after three years of growth, discussion, friendship and inspiration.  It's exciting to be starting this new chapter.  Thanks so very much to all of you for your kind support, your generous feedback, and for lending me your eyes for a little bit every week or two.

If you are willing, I would love for you to come with me.


Monday, October 17, 2011

A Quick Word... On Podcasts

I sometimes feel like people are ashamed to listen to podcasts.  We're quite happy to talk about movies, television, and music - perhaps a little less so about audiobooks - but podcasts? Surely no-one wastes their time with those! 

I do of course, and I think that - if you don't already - you should too.  Perhaps there is something about the perceived lack of complexity in listening to radio shows that people find lesser.  Actually, radio offers an exciting challenge to the imagination, and for me podcasts are followers and company - on walks, drives, or just while doing the washing up.  Podcasts turn the necessary into the interesting, and they can teach too.  So if you're keen to discover something new, here are a couple of my favourite podcasts to help you catch the bug:

1. Judge John Hodgman

Some of you may know John Hodgman as a reporter for The Daily Show, a comedy actor, author, or the PC from Apple's famous advertisements.  What you may not know, is that he also occasionally performs in his own judicial court as a thoroughly unqualified judge.

The 'Judge John Hodgman Podcast' is a weekly event in which people may post their gripes and grizzles to Judge Hodgman and hope for a trial where he will finally decide who's righteous.  Examples include a group of college freshmen arguing over the rules of 'beard chicken', and long term travelling companions who can't agree on the appropriate time to disembark a plane.  The more minor the gripe, the more fun Judge Hodgman has, and the results are hilarious.  For those who like their comedy nerdy, this is seriously worth checking out.

2. Writing Excuses

"Fifteen minutes long, because you're in a hurry - and we're not that smart!"

So opens every episode of 'Writing Excuses', a weekly writing podcast which acts as a round-table about writing, featuring Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells.  Being only fifteen minutes long I've been slamming these out in the last couple of weeks, going back through previous seasons to try and catch up.  The advice is really thorough and useful, and they manage to slip in a writing exercise and book recommendation each episode too.

My favourite so far has been episode 6.18, featuring Lou Anders on the 'Hollywood Formula'.  Lou describes in very short form some of the crucial elements of the classic Hollywood story, including a fascinating deconstruction of my favourite film, 'The Dark Knight'.  This one's particularly for writers, but there is plenty to learn even for just an interested reader.

3. The Ricky Gervais Show

I was tempted not to put this one in, because both of the other two podcasts I've listed are free, and I think it's a great idea to let you discover podcasts without having to pay for them first.  Unfortunately, it's simply unavoidable that 'The Ricky Gervais Show' is probably the funniest podcast on the internet, and deserves mention accordingly.

This one comes out pretty sporadically, and features Gervais, and his friend and co-creator of The Office and Extras holding discussions with their former producer, and current 'round-headed buffoon' Karl Pilkington.  Somehow Karl manages to turn a topic of almost any level of inanity into a long and strange tirade of almost unfathomable ridiculousness.  Fans of Gervais and Merchant's work will lose hours of laughter and hilarity to this one.  Now made into an HBO cartoon series (see clip above), you can experience it that way too, if my podcasting talk has still not seduced you.

4. The Moth

And finally it's 'The Moth', a series of trues stories told live and without notes.  It's amazing what people will say when they just get up in front of an audience to tell the truth of their lives - sometimes it's incredibly funny, sometimes it can be devastatingly sad.  It's always inspiring though, and changes the way you see the world.  I really love listening to 'The Moth' - it rips right into the heart of things.

Have favourite episodes of these, or other radio shows you think deserve listing? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

A Quick Word... On LitReactor

I love Tasmania.  I love Tasmanian writing, Tasmanian people, and living in the Tasmanian landscape.  In my own writing however, Tassie poses a problem.You see what I really want to write are fantasy books.  But so far the writers and readers I've met have in the large majority not been fantasy readers.  The issue I have is that I need the people who look at me work to be the sorts of people who read what I'm trying to write.  Doesn't matter what your genre is - or in fact where you live - you've probably got the same problem.

Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk spotted this a few years ago and started a section of his own website called 'The Cult', which worked as a sort of online writer's workshop.  It was hugely successful, and many people who used the valuable feedback they gained from each other on the site soon enough started to get published.  The only problem was that they wanted to broaden the field.  On Chuck's website, the only real people who signed up were Chuck's fans.  It was working, but they wanted it bigger.

So last week saw the launch of 'LitReactor', a forum/workshop/seminar series/inspirational repository for writers everywhere.  The site combines a classroom environment with gaming elements.  Work hard to help others and you'll earn achievements, as well as points which add up to allow you to submit your own work to the site's 'workshop' section.  I've signed up and spent a week playing on there and I am hugely enthusiastic about it.  The people are funny and kind, the workshopping is honestly looking to be a whole lot of fun, and the essays on the craft and tips from literary agents are fascinating and useful.  The catch is that the site has a subscription fee, but for $9 a month (or $45 for a 6-month subscription) I think it's very decent.  You can pay more to attend online courses by signing up to them, but I haven't had the chance to experiment with those yet, and my advice would be that if you're interested in the site, you just create a free login and have an explore before committing to get the extra content.

If you're like me, writing, and occasionally feeling that you're going it alone, LitReactor appears to be a god-send.  A safe place, a hive for creativity, and somewhere you can go to get better at writing and help others do the same - I'm excited about it, and I think it could well be a crucial bonus and motivation in my writing process. Check it out, and I'll see you on there!

(You can add me as a friend on LitReactor by searching for the username: lyndonriggall)


Before I go, it is worth mentioning that a piece of my writing has gone up on Islet.  The guest post covers the time I spent investigating the fascinating and very cool Hobart art den 'The Rat Palace'.  I'm not sure I did exactly what I was asked to do, but I did try to paint a vivid picture of what it's like to spend half an hour chatting to and exploring the place where those guys work, and it was a whole lot of fun.

Also, Islet and Island have recently found out that their funding is being rescinded.  They are fighting and staying positive, but if you are an Island reader who wants to see the magazine continue, they could certainly use your support.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Quick Word... On Pottermore

In four days, those of you who weren't part of the exciting early-access team, will finally be granted entry as Pottermore opens to the world.  I've been talking all things Pottermore for a few weeks now, and have remained surprised when people suddenly stop me and say: "Wait... what is this thing?"  So in the interests of trying to make sure everyone is ready when the Hogwarts Express leaves the station this weekend, I present to you my brief run-down of how the site works.

Firstly here is J.K. Rowling's somewhat ambiguous announcement from earlier in the year:

As you can see, the ideal for Pottermore is for the site to function as a sort of Potter-related social network, and interactive reading experience.  Mostly it does these things pretty well.  Privacy concerns make the social aspects well stripped back, so chances are you'll be doing a lot of your negotiating and working out whose username belongs to who through other websites, but it's quite fun to read through people's comments about various parts of the story, and check out what they're are saying on your house's wall too.  The site has a whole lot of other stuff going on too, and while in Beta testing the online shop doesn't work yet, it will theoretically have a store which will crucially be the sole outlet of the Harry Potter ebooks.  This has many people watching with wide eyes, because good ol' J.K may just have a deciding vote on how ebooks are sold and particularly how much for.

To be honest though, the part of Pottermore that I'd really like to sell you is the actual experience.  I think it's a smashing idea, and while I got through all there was to do without repetition in about a night (The Chamber of Secrets and the other Potter books after Philosopher's Stone have not yet been opened, enemies of the heir need not beware) after an initially skeptical start Pottermore took me immediately back to a time when the Harry Potter novels were everything to me.  The beauty of the website is that it absolutely relies on a knowledge of the books, and exists around them, rather than aside from them.  One of the crucial challenges at the end of the first section was finding the Philosopher's Stone, and without the final chapter held firmly in my head, I would have had no idea where to click and receive my reward.  The site is gorgeously illustrated (hope they bring out editions of the books with these pictures!), and while sparse in terms of interactivity in most scenes (I also noted no sound), it's a lot of fun to just look at the places you've been reading about.  Rowling herself also provides massive chunks of background detail, and it's fascinating clicking things and reading back-stories and hidden details about their construction.  There is a lot to learn about writing here, as well as the world of the books.

For me, the pinnacle of the experience was exploring the world for myself.  If you're anything like me you will have fantasised about what sort of wand and pet you would have at Hogwarts, and above anything else, what house you would be in.  Pottermore answers all these questions, and in my opinion is the last word on each subject.  From thousands of wand configurations I was delighted to discover at the end of a questionnaire that I in fact share the elements of my wand with Harry - Holly and Phoenix  feather - which I am told through the personality information in the wand guide is a notoriously problematic but incredibly powerful combination.  As far as houses go, I was momentarily distraught, but eventually accepting of a placement in the humble house of Hufflepuff, presumably due to my championing of imagination over intelligence, bravery and ambition, as well as my apparent fondness for badgers.  These things change the site experience for good, making it possible for you to score and lose points for your house in competition for the year's house cup.  Playing part of the Potter world is the greatest asset the site has, and if, like me, you lament the loss of all things Potter, the site has come at an opportune (and perhaps strategic) time.

Longevity on Pottermore is an issue, and the site's enduring success will rely heavily on maintaining the excitement and experience produced by its initial offering.  It's hard to see how you could possibly top being sorted by the sorting hat, but I'm hoping the crew behind the site have some canny ideas to make it something that maintains appeal in the long run.  For now though, your first night on Pottermore will be a delight, and if you find yourself missing the books and films you better cancel all your appointments for October the 1st, and simply enjoy a night experiencing all that Pottermore has to offer.  I look forward to hearing what all of you get when you gain access, and (if you are particularly charming and attractive) hopefully communing with you in the Hufflepuff common room!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Quick Word... On 'Submarine'

"It is Sunday morning.  I hear our dial-up modem playing bad jazz as my mother connects to the internet.  I am in the bathroom.  

I recently discovered that my mother has been typing the names of as-yet-uninvented mental conditions into Yahoo's search engine: 'delusion syndrome teenage', 'over-active imagination problem', 'holistic behavioural stabilisers'.

When you type 'delusion syndrome teenage' into Yahoo, the first page it offers you is to do with Cotard's Syndrome.  Cotard's Syndrome is a branch of autism where people believe they are dead.  The website features some choice quotes from victims of the disease.  For a while I was slipping these phrases into lulls in conversation at dinnertime when my mother asked about my day at school.
'My body has been replaced by a shell.'
'My internal organs are made of stone.'
'I have been dead for years.'"
This is the opening of the book I am reading at the moment - the phenomenally funny and interesting Submarine by Joe Dunhill.

I discovered the book because I had recently seen the film, which I wanted to get hold of purely because it was directed by Richard Ayoade, a famous British comedy actor who played Moss on The IT Crowd.  

In one week I watched Submarine three times.

I don't know what it is about this film.  For one it is spectacularly shot, it is funny, strange and unique.  More important though, is that I think it captures the side of adolescence that many people ignore - the experimental bizarreness of it, and the feeling of not knowing exactly what you're supposed to be doing, and trying to bluff your way through anyway.

I am loving the book, but the film still features some spectacular performances, and is my  favourite movie so far this year.  It is a film to watch and re-watch, full of subtlety and rapid-fire dialogue that deepens in meaning when it is revisited.  It is clever and incredibly touching, and I'm sure it will not be long before I return to it myself.

Watch Submarine. I really think you'll enjoy yourself.

Submarine is currently screening at the State Cinema in Hobart, and is out on DVD internationally.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Quick Word... On Roald Dahl

Yesterday, Roald Dahl would've been 95. 2011 also marks another, even more important landmark in the Dahl dynasty though - it is fifty years since the first of his famous children's novels, James and the Giant Peach, hit our shelves.

To celebrate this anniversary, I had the pleasure of running two sessions of games and activities based on his work at Stories Bookshop in Launceston.  Interspersed with readings, we played games about 'snozzcumbers' and glued fragments of macaroni and broccoli onto our own wearable version of Mr Twit's beard.

Revisiting Mr. Dahl's work sent me back to a world of long forgotten memories.   When going to a scholarship interview as a child, I remember being asked what I wanted to do in my future.  I told them I wanted to write books, for kids initially. "I see!  Like J.K. Rowling then?" one of the panellists asked me.  I replied, "No. More like Roald Dahl."  While in the years that followed I would soften even more to J.K Rowling's deeply dense and engrossing world - for sheer imagination, enjoyment, and power across a broad range of books, I knew exactly who I wanted to be.

Reading the books again, I was surprised at their power to shock.  James's horrible aunts 'Spiker and Sponge' are crushed to death in James and the Giant Peach, lying 'ironed out upon the grass as flat and thin and lifeless as a couple of paper dolls cut out of a picture book.'  A few children gasped with horror as Jack's mum was crunched up by the giant in Revolting Rhymes, another terrible parent with a propensity to hit her child (with - what could be meaner? - the handle of a vacuum cleaner!).  I myself can remember many sleepless nights over The Witches - a terrifying book that I read it again and again regardless.

Roald Dahl's early career as a taste tester for Cadbury's (as if a famous children's writer isn't enough!) is no surprise.  Dahl knew that a little bit of something bad for you doesn't hurt.  In his books the evil meet their come-uppance, and the good triumph through kindness, generosity, and a love of all that is right in the world (which usually includes reading!).  Who can forget the polite and quiet Charlie, who waited patiently while a macabre farce of greed was played out on Wonka's factory tour?  Or the gorgeous Matilda, pushed aside and mistreated by everyone, and yet finally given a chance to restore some balance?

Roald Dahl knew how to make children squeal with delight and horror.  He was entirely unafraid of exposing the desperately horrible world that other writers often feared to touch - the cruelty of adults to children, and the power of children facing overwhelming odds, simply to be themselves.  He was unapologetic, daring, and funny beyond measure.  Like Mr. Wonka's famous Whipplescrumptious delight, Dahl's books feel bad for you - all enjoyment and no nutritional value.  The catch is of course, they are so, so good for you.  Really, they're some of the best there is.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Quick Word... On Being Yourself Online

Picture Credit: Simone Lovati
I think it's about time to accept that Facebook and Twitter are part of my life now.  While I'm still constantly arguing with myself over how much is too much, and whether they are actually a force for connectedness or instead a delusion that actually leads to deeper isolation, it's pretty hard to ignore that either way I'm probably going to keep using them, and as it seems, so are you.

In my house we're always experimenting with our use of stuff like this - my housemate Jess actually deleted her Facebook for an extended period a couple of weeks ago, and I'm currently trying to limit myself to only an hour a day, so that I don't do the thing that we're all constantly watching ourselves for, and start spending more time discussing my life than actually living it.  I have heard it suggested that our infancy with the internet is comparable to when societies first meet alcohol - at the moment we don't quite know what's good for us, and we're slamming it down in copious amounts without thinking of the effect it might have on our overall wellbeing.  

Jess and I talk about these issues a lot.  In fact, recently she asked me a question that continues to bother me.  She said: "Do you think that the way you are on Facebook is actually the same as you in real life?"

To which the answer can only be no.  There is plenty I hide from the online community, and in general my online persona expresses a far more articulate and intelligent being than I could ever be in an impromptu conversation.  When Twitter asks 'What are you doing?' and when Facebook asks 'What's on your mind?' I'm absolutely conscious that I'm not telling these websites either of these things truthfully. I'm telling them the way I think you'd like to see them, and I'm cherry-picking the funniest bits, the kindest moments, and the deepest insights.  I'm guessing when you post updates on these websites you probably do too.

But aren't these websites to connect us?  What is the point of them if we don't be ourselves?

This week I read an article by Chuck Wendig called 25 Things Writers Should Know About Social Media.  Number 2:

Be The Best Version of Yourself: 
Writers and other creative-types often seem to believe that they need to become someone different online, that they cannot be themselves lest they not find a publisher, not get work, not sell their book, not collect sexy groupies, etc. To that I say, bullshit! And cock-waffle! And piddling piss-wafers! Be yourself. That’s who we want. We just want the best version of you. Scrape the barnacles off. Sit up straight. Smile once in a while. But you can still be you. Uhh, unless “you” just so happen to be some kind of Nazi-sympathizing donkey-molester. In which case, please back slowly away from the social media.
I think this gets at the crux of it, and I think we are better people if we try to use social media to make our lives better instead of bemoaning our sad existence.  A few weeks ago I started putting daily quotes and favourite pictures up on Facebook, inspired by the writer Jonathan Carroll who has inspired me for months with the same practice.  Undoubtedly this will seem a bit affected to some people, but I noticed that as I started to try and reflect a better version of me on Facebook, I also tried to live my day according to the quotes and images I'd put up.  Perfectly? Hell no, but it's a start.

So to answer Jess's question, I don't think there is anything necessarily shameful about trying to be more compassionate, inspiring, and pleasant than we are in reality when we use websites like Facebook and Twitter.  I think some people feel it's false, but in all honesty I admire people who try to behave better online, just as I admire people who try to behave better in life. By spending a little time putting aside all your problems, your vices, and your gnawing insecurities, I think we actually come closer to letting them go in real life.

Facebook and Twitter are communities, and like all communities they are first and foremost places of interaction and involvement with other people.  How we choose to use our influence on the world around us, and interact with the real people who inhabit our lives, is - online or in the real world - perhaps the most important decision any of us will ever make.  So think carefully, and choose wisely.