Real life hyperlinks

On Saturday 30 July I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne for one of Stephen Fry’s two talks. Someone on JJJ remarked that the event was like spending two hours in conversation with one’s favourite disreputable uncle, which I think sums it up nicely.

Fry, with nothing but a microphone and his native charm, strolled back and forth across a bare stage talking about his life. He did brilliant impersonations of people he has known, was charmingly impolite and disarmingly frank about some ugly episodes in his life, and generally held us captivated for the entire period.

I suspect the evening performance varied from the one we saw, since Fry is likely to go off at tangents at a moment’s notice before returning to his theme. He mentioned (and did a funny impersonation of) Australian theatre great Frank Thring at one point. Tim and I had already noticed, prior to the show, a marble plaque at the entrance to the Regent in honour of Thring, who had been instrumental in saving a number of old theatres in Melbourne. I promptly tweeted a terrible picture of it to him after the show, and was fangirlishly excited beyond all measure when he tweeted back!

During his talk, he mentioned the concept of ‘real life hyperlinks’, where you discover something new to you via a mention elsewhere. As it happens, Stephen Fry is my Real Life Hyperlink into the world and works of PG Wodehouse.

Tim and I lived in Egypt from 1993-94, teaching English as a Foreign Language. Egyptian TV often showed odd English language programs in the mornings, and through this we caught Australian kids’ show The Girl from Tomorrow, and an Australian mini series set in the Queensland cane fields. One of the last series we saw before leaving Egypt was Jeeves and Wooster, starring Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster.

We were charmed and delighted. The language was exquisite. We promptly went and found the books on which the series was based, and discovered even more literary treasure with seven decades worth of books and short stories. Now we always have a Wodehouse story on hand as a way to de-stress when the world’s going a little bit mad.

It’s not the first time I’ve discovered literature as the result of a superbly done TV series. The 1990s Jeremy Brett version of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes led me to the original Conan Doyle stories, after decades of an avuncular Holmes and dim, corpulent Watson had utterly failed to engage me.

I have gone to source material after reading comics with an intriguing premise. I have gone to history books after fictionalised films and series have sparked my curiosity. I have read fiction and non-fiction books mentioned in newspaper articles, and followed up recommendations made by friends.

More recently, in creating my Melbourne Literary iPhone app (coming soon!), I have discovered books and authors I knew little or nothing about. I’ve read books I wouldn’t normally have chosen, and have a long list of new and classic authors to try.

Discovering something new by following a lead from a book, film, tv show, conversation or newspaper article, is another chance to make our knowledge richer and deeper. It’s an opportunity to engage in fresh ideas, or older wisdoms, and to learn more about our literary heritage. I’m hoping that when the app is finally available that it will act as a psychological hyperlink and that its users will discover something wonderful as a result.

Review: The Girl’s Guide to Vampires by Barb Karg

The Girl's Guide to Vampires
The Girl's Guide to Vampires

This book offers a great overview to the history of the vampire, from folklore and the novels of the 19th century, through the films of each decade leading to television and the 21st Century.

The writer, Barb Karg, occasionally hints at the way the vampire is used as a metaphor for social and political issues in each era, but rarely does more than touch lightly on these. I would have loved to have read more about how the vampire’s role in stories reflects changing social attitudes as well. I also found the schtick of writing about vampires as ‘the sexy bad boys’ a bit overdone and seemed more a function of writing for the target audience than really necessary to the content. Still, the powerful female vampires, from Camilla to Selina, get good coverage as well.

Having said this – “The Girl’s Guide to Vampires” would be a terrific book to get for anyone who has only recently started reading vampire fiction and would like a guide to the genre’s history, and some suggestions of what other books to read/films to see to get a broader knowledge.

Buy The Girl’s Guide to Vampires: All you need to know about the original bad boys at Amazon.com

GaryView: Sherlock Holmes – “The Last Vampyre” (starring Jeremy Brett)

Gary: That’s not how I remember the original story.

Lissa: It’s nothing much like ‘The Sussex Vampire” at all, is it?

Gary: Conan Doyle wouldn’t be impressed. Holmes wouldn’t be impressed.

Lissa: You’re clearly not impressed.

Gary: No. I’m not.

Lissa: It’s a shame, because I really liked Jeremy Brett as Holmes. I watched some of those early episodes with Nanna, and I liked them so much she bought me a collection of the original stories for Christmas. I hardly spoke to anyone all Christmas Day because I couldn’t put it down, except to ask what some of the words meant. I was pretty young.

Gary: The original stories are great. I always wanted to be as smart as Sherlock Holmes. I used to try to deduce stuff about people at school.

Lissa: How accurate were you?

Gary: Not very. I was only twelve. People didn’t make much sense to me. Still don’t, as a rule.

Lissa: <laughs> Never mind. I did the same you know. Tried to work out things about people. I did it a lot at the hospital, when Belinda went in for treatment. I tried to guess who people were, if they were doctors or family. <sobers> Family were pretty easy to spot. They mostly looked like they’d been crying, or were about to cry. The patients mostly looked scared or angry. Doctors looked preoccupied.

Gary: Yeah. I remember that from hospital too.

Lissa: …. So. So. What did you like least about this version?

Gary: Apart from the fact they should have stuck to the original story? Um. Everything?

Lissa: I didn’t like the way they telegraphed “oooooooh, this might be a real vaaaaaampiiiiiiiiiiire” – sorry – ‘vampyyyyyyyyyre’ when we knew it couldn’t be because Sherlock Holmes doesn’t do the supernatural.

Gary: Though of course vampires are real.

Lissa: Real, yes, but not cheesy.

Gary: I know what I hated the most. Those people burning the weird teacher’s books after he died. That made me mad. People who burn books are idiots.

Lissa: Yet another reason why you are in the list of my top five favourite people in the world.

Gary: I’m in the top five?

Lissa: Yep. And of those top five, only you and Kate are actually still… I suppose ‘alive’ isn’t quite right, is it? But here. You and Kate are here, and Belinda, Paul and Nanna are not. But you’re all still my five favourite people in the world.

Gary: That’s… cool. <smiles> Thanks.

Lissa: Anytime. Now let’s watch some of the good Jeremy Brett episodes. ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’?

Gary: Or ‘The Red-Headed League’.

Lissa: Or both!

Gary: Good thinking.

Buy Sherlock Holmes – The Last Vampyre at Amazon.com

*For newcomers, the GaryView is a review of books/films/TV/entertainment carried out as a conversation between Lissa Wilson (librarian) and Gary Hooper (vampire) , characters from my book ‘The Opposite of Life’.

Review: Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Justine Larbalestier delivers another fresh, unexpected tale with this story of Micah, a habitual liar. It’s difficult to comment without giving away major plot points, but the nub of it is that Micah’s friend Zach has been murdered, and this book is her attempt to peel away the layers of lies which she tells to uncover the truth.

The story is told in three parts. The first is her story of what happened, both before and after Zach’s death. It’s full of her confessions of the lies she’s told, and hints of a mysterious family illness which have influenced the course of her life. In the second part, the secret of that family illness is revealed. Then, in the third part, Micah goes back to the story she has told and confesses to more lies therein. The stories continue, but we are left with the constant doubt that this, now, is the truth at last.

The last page reminds me a little of Yann Martel’s “The Life of Pi”, though possibly if I say why it will be a spoiler for both books. But behind both is an examination of how we construct stories to make our worlds more bearable.

It’s a beautifully plotted book, written with lively warmth. Micah is a very real person, even within the tangled knot of truths and stories she tells. In the end, deciding how much of what she has said is real is left to the reader. I know what I believe. What’s your decision?

Buy Liar at Amazon.com.

Words are like oxygen