Updated: Sep 18
Hi from locked down Melbourne!!!! This photo is me at the Tote Hotel, Collingwood, Melbourne, a year or so ago. Going by my t-shirt, I'd seen Roger Waters in concert recently.
This will be a short issue, because my site is getting an overhaul via my doing a course in SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) - I’m making the site more focussed, streamlined and clear. Have a look regularly to see the monumental changes as they happen, or just wait for Sexy Apostrophe #6!
Instead of giving my usual book and album recommendation, this issue I’ll give my top 10 books…but, instead of ordering them from the best, I’ve ordered them chronologically, in (very) rough order of when I discovered them, and how they affected my life. Of course I can’t limit my influential books to merely ten, and as soon as I post this I’ll remember ten other books that should have been in there, but these are ten books that give an insight into my mind, views on life and writing style…
1. Douglas Adams - The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the end of the Universe, and Life, the Universe and Everything
These books, along with their 1981 TV series adaptation, had a staggering impact on my views on existence, how the universe works (or doesn’t), and my sense of humour. Which leads me to…
2. Gary Larson - The Far Side Galleries 1 - 4
These are comics, yes, but, along with Douglas Adams and Monty Python, they wove a web of dryly-delivered absurdity, mixed with sharp intelligence and a total outsider’s insight, which shaped my views forever.
3. Movie and TV novelisations, such as Doctor Who (TV), Alien, Aliens, Highlander, The Abyss, the original Star Wars movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. etc
Considering how rabidly I read these days, it surprises me that during my childhood I found reading hard. I just couldn’t focus. Novelisations cured that for me, because, since I’d already seen the movie/TV show that the book was about, the book’s world was already visualised in my head - therefore, half my brain’s work was done. I’ll always thank novelisations for that, and I think the format being popular again would be good for another generation of readers.
4. Desmond Morris - The Naked Ape
A book that changed my views on this species forever. See Sexy Apostrophe #3 for more details.
5. Frank Herbert - Dune
I’m not the biggest Dune fan on Earth, but this book, along with Naked Lunch (mentioned below) introduced me to the concept of The Unfilmable Novel. Whereas David Lynch’s 1984 film was brilliant in many ways, and visualised Dune’s universe impeccably, once you read the book, you realise that it could never be done in one film.
6. David Attenborough - Life On Earth, and the entire Life Series from there
The one person who has had the biggest impact on me in my entire life is David Attenborough. Seeing him do a seminar/interview in Melbourne in 2017 was three of the best hours of my life thus far on this planet. Enough said.
7. Robert M. Pirsig - Zen and he Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
8. William Burroughs - Naked Lunch / Hunter S. Thompson - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas / Irvine Welsh - Trainspotting
I’ve put all these together because a) I read them within the same kind of time frame, ie around 1999/2000, and b) they all introduced me to alternate forms of fractured, seemingly unrelated vignettes, creating a powerful whole by using them.
9. Bob Geldof - Is That It? (Autobiography)
This one could well be contentious, because many people don’t like Mr. Geldof, but after reading this - which is written like he talks - I consider him an intelligent, humane person who just wants to make the world a better place. I read it. He sold me. You read it and make up your own mind.
10. Salman Rushdie - Midnight’s Children
I discovered this while I was in China - Rushdie made me understand what people mean when they describe writing as “rich”. Sentence after sentence, page after page, from his pen flows a constant stream of poetry and images weaving around one another. Absolutely bewildering. Essential reading.
Firstly, Jan Jan Goldsmith from Melbourne community radio station 3CR interviewed me about my book on her program “Published…Or Not”. Listen to the show here…you can either listen to the whole show, or if you want to fast-forward to my bit, I start around the 13:25 mark. Thanks a billion to 3CR, Jan, and David McLean.
Secondly, I’ve got some of my photos from China available online at Gallery247.com! You can buy them here, framed or unframed…remember to subscribe to my newsletter so that you can get updates on when there’ll be discounts and giveaways of both photos and books (soon!!!).
Cutting Room Floor
Enjoy this new batch of bits that didn’t make it into the book - all of them from my days in Wuhan, Hubei, central China.
Now it’s the tenth of December. I met up with Anna yesterday (a girl I met via wuhantime.com), and we bumped into a fair with, apparently, Hong Kong-oriented street food. Most of it was stock-standard noodle-soup-with-five-types-of-who-knows-what-in-it, but there were a few different things. For instance, there was a sticky rice kind of thing that had the texture of pure fat, and a stand full of deep-fried lollies, one of which tasted exactly like a pink marshmallow. The most notable thing there, though, was a deep-fried bit of toast/tofu kind of thing, with a ball of red bean ice cream in the middle of it; and, just in case that wasn’t already weird enough, they put a big blob of tomato sauce mixed with honey on top – the result was the kind of thing that you would probably think was God’s gift to tastebuds if you were about sixteen years old and stoned off your nut, otherwise, it was just plain weird. Another thing was their promotional stands…some had whole hanging deer corpses, one of them cut in half.
Some Chinese dishes have names that are like tales, or abstract observations, for instance ma yi shang shu (蚂蚁上树), which translates as “ant climbing tree” – a visual interpretation, because the bits of pepper resemble ants. Another is something like “walking down the summer field”, which is pig’s feet. I’ve seen menus like this, and I just thought the translators were stoned – so, again, having a local friend has brought some sense into this whirlpool of a city (a dumpling snack of northern China that I heard about much later is gou bu li bao zi, (狗不理包子), which literally, and fantastically, translates as “dog ignore dumpling”….even the dog doesn’t want it).
Some things about the language…one of the coolest things I found lately is Chinese for Pacman – chi dou (吃豆), or “eat bean”. Some examples of transliteration – Chinese for Magnum (the ice creams) is meng long (梦龙), which, when said in Chinese, sounds kind of like Magnum, and translates as “dream dragon”. Cool. Also, tons of foreigner names are transliterated – for instance Charles Darwin is da er wen (达尔文), and Obama is ao ba ma (奥巴马). Some names are half literally translated, and half transliterated, for instance New Zealand is Xin xi lan (新西兰), where xin means new, and Starbucks coffee is Xing ba ke (星巴克), where Xing means star, and “Bucks” is just transliterated. Even teddy bear is half transliterated…it’s tai di xiong (泰迪熊 – remember xiong means bear).
Tons of food is transliterated, for instance hamburger is han bao bao (汉堡包), which is almost always shortened to han bao (汉堡). There’s hundreds of culinary examples, for instance pizza, sushi, salad, sandwich, and heaps of drinks, like vodka, sangria, and tequila…all transliterated. For instance, brandy is bai lan di (白兰地), and liquor is li kou jiu (利口酒) (remember jiu just means alcohol). It’s funny going through bilingual menus and seeing everything transliterated (bilingual menus, and especially bilingual questionnaires, are great for picking up language tips). Funnily, Chinese for mango, man guo (芒果), is one of those happy linguistic accidents, because guo (果) is Chinese for fruit (well, common short for fruit, it’s correctly shui guo (水果), but everyone knows guo is fruit). Another kinda funny (non-food) one is their word for mermaid – it’s mei ren yu (美人鱼), or “beautiful person fish”. A funny one is “couch potato” – sha fa tu dou (沙发土豆). Sha fa is transliterated “sofa”, and tu dou (literally “dirt bean”), is potato.
To be fair on Wuhan, I need to point out again that the things that some people don’t like about this city are often exactly the things that other people like about it. It’s very much like dog people versus cat people – dog people hate cats because they’re selfish, independent and opportunistic, but that’s exactly why cat people love them. Wuhan is kind of like that – Wuhan’s extreme lawlessness, perpetual chaos and alarming selfishness are exactly why many people, foreigners included, love the place. Basically, you can do anything you want, anytime, and the price of being able to do so is that everyone else around you can also do so. Now that I’ve visited nine capital cities in this country, and half a dozen or so other places, I can understand why some people would prefer Wuhan. The cities here can very much be measured in terms of levels of commercialisation, industrialisation and westernisation (population sizes mean nothing really – all the capitals, and most cities, are crowded). These three things directly lead to differing social attitudes towards, well, everything, on a day-to-day basis, from road rules to attitudes on personal hygiene, from foreigners to ways of doing business, from bargaining to general friendliness.
Here’s another view of Wuhan from Nick, a Scottish guy. Wuhan has (in Chinese) the national nickname of the “biggest village in China”, and it’s incredibly true. Nick said, kind of elaborating on this, “Wuhan has all the impersonality of a city, with all the nosiness of a village”…that’s amazingly accurate, and it’s one of those things that’s very hard to understand the implications of until you’ve lived here for a while, because it affects everyday life in many ways; sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant. One stereotype that I used to have that Wuhan destroyed for me was the idea of Chinese people being proud and loyal – in Wuhan, that’s just not true. Wuhan people are not proud – they’re shameless. Wuhan taught me the difference between these things. If you want elaboration, catch me over a beer.
See you next issue!!!!!!!
Tons of love, stay safe….