Hello there humans and any AI programs reading this, I’ve been a bit quiet of late but there are lots of exciting announcements to come in the next few weeks. The first of these is that I’m very proud to announce that I’ll be at the first ever Rock & Roll Writers Festival. There’s not really anything quite like it anywhere in the world, in that it brings together iconic musicians alongside writers who focus on music in their work. I’m very excited to have such a festival born in my home city, and absolutely thrilled to be on a panel alongside Deborah Conway and Don McGlashan:
3.00 pm – Dancing In The Dark (Sunday)
From novel-length saga to three-minute pop song, choosing the right words and correct structure is paramount in getting your message across. But how do you effectively combine the two? And how different is writing for a reader, as opposed to writing for a listener?
Moderator: Samuel J. Fell
Panellists: Deborah Conway, Don McGlashan, J.M.Donellan
The festival is structured so that there are no clashes (my pet peeve of festivals of any kind) and there is just one easy, all inclusive ticket price for the whole weekend. 1st release tix have already sold out but you can still get tickets here and check out the full program here.
I’m really looking forward to this one. Hope to see you there!
My dearest Vodafone,
You have wounded me, right in the very centre of my coal-black heart. We’ve been together for six years now, ever since way back when Rudd was PM (the first time round). Back in those youthful halcyon days I always swore I’d never go on a contract. All my friends were settling down, signing their lives away while I was living free and easy. I casually switched month to month from Optus to Virgin to Telstra. It was a beautiful, debt-free era and a part of me thought it would be like that forever.
But then you came along, and I committed to two years. And another two. And another. Before I knew it we’d changed PMs four times and you and I were looking at our 6 year anniversary. I’ve never even rented the same house longer than 3 years, so you should know this is a pretty serious commitment for me.
I thought that meant something. You always there for me when I called, unless I wanted to call anywhere outside the CBD and then your coverage would be as absent as dignity at a frat party, but I accepted that you just weren’t the outdoors type. I also accepted that you didn’t even know how to spell ‘phone’, despite the fact that the primary purpose of your existence is to provide telephonic services. I forgave these faults and plenty more besides, because I thought you cared.
Lately, however, things have taken an ugly turn. First, I find out that despite earning 3.6 billion dollars in13/14 you paid no tax whatsoever. Sure, the tax evasion hurts, but you know what really twists the knife? The fact that you kept it from me.
Finally, you decided to check in with me, to see how I’m feeling about you. I respect that you care about my feelings, but I wanted clarification on the nature of our relationship. Here’s what happened:
I’m hurt Vodafone, I’d call one of my friends and cry into the phone at them if not for the fact that I just KNOW you’d listen in. We’ve had some good times, but I’ll be keeping our relationship strictly business from now on. You can assume my reply to all future surveys is ZERO, unless of course the question is ‘how much tax should Vodafone pay after earning 3.6 billion in profits?’
I’m tremendously excited to be have worked on The Theory of Everything as a part of the Brisbane Festival. The director, Thomas Quirk, produced one of my all time favourite theatrical works, The Raven, which was an interactive performance piece about Edgar Allen Poe. It also starred one of my best friends, the supernaturally brilliant actor Erica Field. It’s an honour to be working with Thom on this show, alongside other amazing theatre folk like Yvette Turnbull and Marcel Dorney. When I was in my early twenties, I had a massive band crush on his group Flamingo Crash, so it’s rewarding and bizarre to be collaborating with him on this project.
For this show I was asked to write a bunch of loosely connected vignettes on subjects including physics, philosophy, love, death, elf magic and tentacle porn. Brisbane Festival shows always sell quickly, Friday night is already sold out and Wednesday is nearly gone as well so if you want to come along you should clickety click here. There are also tons of other amazing shows and some great multi-ticket deals. Check it out!
For the last five years I’ve read a minimum of 100 books each lap around the sun. Here’s a quick rundown of my most rated, most hated, most celebrated and most complicated from the first half of 2015.
Have you ever wished that a renowned author would tackle Arthurian legend in the form of an insufferably dull quasi-fable that employs scenes where two knights spend multiple pages discussing sword etiquette? Me neither, which is probably why I hated this so much.
I adored Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (even if the movie was a huge disappointment) and I have a huge amount of respect for authors who aren’t afraid to switch up styles and genres. However, this book is terrible.
The central themes of love and memory and revenge are all great starting places, but it reads like a cast of senile army vets trying to remember where they left their keys. Also, one of the main characters, Axl, refers to his wife as ‘princess’ after every goddamn sentence, which is just as annoying as it sounds, princess. See, it’s annoying after even one sentence, isn’t it princess? Let alone two, or even three, am I right princess? Princess, why are you unsheathing a broadsword princess? Did you want to spend several hours discussing sword etiquette princess?
I remember when I read DeLillo’s Underground some years ago, it was one of those books that makes you want to give up writing forever because you know you’ll never be that good whilst simultaneously wanting to pour your heart and soul into just attempting to capture a sliver of that genius. In any case, this is one of DeLillo’s ‘lesser’ works, which means it’s a million times better than most people’s greatest novels. The premise is weird; a rockstar named Bucky Wunderlick – who is a vaguely Cobain/Morrison style cult leader of the world’s most popular rock band retires mid-tour and resolves to sit around and do nothing. Obviously this sounds this the worst premise ever imagined, but because this is DeLillo we’re talking about he scribes an incredible study of excess, madness, isolation, a study of the human condition etc. It’s weird and it’s beautiful and now I have to go back and read everything he’s ever written.
A beguilingly beautiful collection of the personal and the political. Words that weave like limbs on trees. Simultaneously melancholy and uplifting. Make sure you grab at the opportunity to see her perform if she’s ever in the same corner of the world as you.
I just started writing the first volume of the YA sci-fi trilogy I’m working on (Jennifer Cellardoor, it’ll be in stores…whenever I get it finished) which means I’ve been reading all kinds of stuff in the same ballpark. I was interested in this because it was billed as ‘literary YA science fiction’ which is one of those literary terms that makes no sense at all, much like ‘indie’ in the music realm. In any case; the plot has a comet rapidly approaching earth with a 66% per cent chance of catastrophic impact. Everyone goes crazy, anarchy ensues and we watch it through the eyes of five teenage protagonists. To be honest I found the character development quite shallow and I’m still not sure about the ending, but it was entertaining enough. The author does get massive points for also recording a companion album though, nice skills.
Reading this novel felt like trying to run through molasses whilst having dictionaries thrown at my head. It is reads like literary math rock; appallingly weighty prose coupled with sentences constructed in much the same way as the Winchester Mystery house. I assume there was some kind of plot in much the same way that I assume Greenland has cafes, although I am unable to provide personal evidence of either.
By way of demonstration, here is an honest to god authentic actual excerpt:
So this is how it works, I said to myself, as if I’d caught an ideological mechanism in flagrante delicto: you let a young man committed to anticapitalist struggle shower in the overpriced apartment that you rent and, while making a meal you prepare to eat in common, your thoughts lead you inexorably to the desire to reproduce your own genetic material within some version of a bourgeois household, that almost caricatural transvaluation of values lubricated by wine and song.
If you got to the end of that sentence without screaming at your screen, congratulations and also could you please tell me what is it like being a Zen master?
I read this after hearing a hilarious an insightful interview where Sacks described using hallucinogens as an inspirational tool as employing a ‘chemical launchpad’. In this book he explores the nature of hallucinations – drug-induced and otherwise – in his famously entertaining and engaging prose. I’m still haunted by the stories of musicians who lose a portion of their sight and then start hallucinating sheet music in that section of their vision.
Over the last couple of months I’ve read dozens of books targeted at teenagers; some good, some bad, some that actually seemed like they shouldn’t so much be sold in bookstores as preserved in museums as examples of the appalling literary atrocities committed in the early 21st century. What makes Feed stand out is that Anderson treats his audience with respect rather than thinking of them as a ‘target market’. He uses actual swear words rather than having characters say ‘and then I swore at her’, and he tackles difficult and complex philosophical questions using inventive and believable slang. If you’re one of the many people who is worried about how a constantly connected digital world is affecting our human interactions, I urge you to check this out.
One of my favourite things to ask someone I’ve just met is: “What’s your all time favourite book?” If they reply “I don’t really read” then I know they probably aren’t worth talking to and they must hate life and spend their weekends punching puppies. If they answer anything else then I have a new book to check out. This one was recommended to me by director Nathan Sibthorpe, and I’m incredibly grateful for the tipoff. These forty vignettes describe various imaginings of potential afterlives, and they are all impossibly beautiful and captivating. In style and concept it also reminds me of one of my all time favourite books Einstein’s Dreams. An absolute wonder of a book.
In my experience, if you ask someone “What do you think of Miranda July?” they’re either going to say “Who the hell is that?” or “OH MY GOD are you kidding me she’s the best and most amazing and I want to have ice cream and cake with her and can we please spend three hours talking about everything she’s ever done? Okay great I’ll start…”
I would definitely place myself in the latter category. This is a strange, beguiling and wonderful novel that draws you in and wraps you up and spits you out a slightly better person. The plot (such as it is) explores the relationship between a shy, confused introvert and a young girl named Clee. What makes this novel such a joy is they way the July unmasks the wonder, anxiety and beauty of the everyday.
If you can’t relate to this novel, you are probably some kind of sentient killer machine and if so hello how are you please don’t kill me.
PS If you feel like reading/reviewing my latest novel, Killing Adonis, I would be very grateful. Unless you hate it, in which case SHUT UP!
Dearest Sydney Airport,
I like to think we know each other pretty well. You’ve made me remove various items of clothing and screened me for explosives many times. I’ve slept in your chairs, consumed your Krispy Kreme products with jet-lagged jaws and recently you’ve even been kind enough to stock my latest novel in your bookshops. Now, I’ll grant that over a breadth of time and experience a certain intimacy develops, but there are boundaries to such a relationship and one of those boundaries should very clearly be the bathroom. The shitter, the lavatory, the outhouse, the thunderbox, the bog, the porcelain wonderland. Whatever euphemism/dysphemism you want to employ for that tiled little collection of cubicles and piping where humans go to accomplish the natural – and completely disgusting – process of expunging waste. Our relationship is important to me, Sydney Airport, so let me state this clearly: When I am in the bathroom, LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE.
Recently I visited your fair city in order to attend the Sydney Writers’ Festival. How was it you say? Why, it was wonderful, thank you for asking! I spoke on some panels, signed some books, performed some poetry and got to meet many of my favourite writers. I did accidentally smack someone’s microphone out of their hand as I exited one performance but I’m going to pretend that the audience thought it was just a sort of hip-hop ‘dis’ move rather than the clumsy flailing of a terminally uncoordinated man. Plus, I got to see the Vivid festival and the luminary Sufjan Stevens. What a magical couple of days, what a grand, kaleidoscopic adventure, what a shame it had to end with a robot asking me “Wanna get naked?” in the airport bathroom.
I applied Occam’s razor to the situation and logically concluded that someone had slipped me a drug from a Phillip K. Dick novel. It turns out, however, that a video vending machine was attempting to sell me Four Seasons Naked condoms. You’ve crossed a line Sydney Airport, the bathroom line. You see, the problem is, I’m unable to boycott the use of these repugnantly invasive machines. Sometimes, I have to use airports, and during my time in said airports I have to use the bathroom. There’s no ‘ad-free’ option. There is no opt out.
Also, Four Seasons, what the hell is wrong you with you? You have a product that prevents diseases AND is directly related to sex, surely that’s got to be a marketing agency’s wet dream? Whatever agency landed your account must have wept into their champagne and sacrificed a few goats in celebration when that deal got inked. How hard can it be to write some ads that move product without invading bathroom privacy? Look, I’ll write some ad copy for you right now:
“The cost of raising a child in Australia is $300 000+. This costs $2. Enjoy your flight.”
“Hi. Buy one of these for $2 and it could stop you from dying of AIDS. I like your outfit, have a nice day.”
“If you don’t have one of these s/he won’t have sex with you. Thank you.”
Seriously Four Seasons, most ad agencies fall over themselves trying to tenuously connect sex to their products. Just look at this:
You can just imagine the conversation that preceded it can’t you?
“Morning Terry, what’s the new account?”
“Hearing aids! Dumb, stupid, bloody useless hearing aids! I mean, how are you supposed to sell a technological marvel that does nothing but restore one of your vital senses?”
“Yeah, I reckon I’ll go with sex.”
It’s worth noting that condoms can also be purchased from pharmacies, at a better rate and with a superior selection. I wouldn’t dream of discouraging anyone from using such a vital and important product, so I’ll just politely remind people that you’d have to be a complete moron to buy a single condom for $2 from a robot with no sense of bathroom decorum when you can buy a whole pack for just a couple of dollars more from an actual person.
Whilst shopping for reasonably priced prophylactics sold by humans who haven’t harassed you in the bathroom, you might also want to pick up some chewing gum. It’s an inexpensive and delicious treat that if chewed during takeoff helps reduce that irritating popping in one’s ears. Also, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but once chewing gum is jammed into a small space – the coin slot of an outrageously invasive video vending machine for example – it serves as a surprisingly effective adhesive that would likely be very difficult and expensive to remove.
Now, I know what you might be thinking, if it was so bloody awful and invasive why didn’t I just take a video of the damned thing to prove it? And the answer is BECAUSE RECORDING ANYTHING IN BATHROOMS IS A DISGUSTING THING TO DO (much like using sexualised robots to solicit you to buy products.)
We’ve had a long history together Sydney Airport, so I have every confidence that you’ll rectify this error soon. I look forward to shitting in peace next time I visit your otherwise fine facility.
J. M. Donellan
PS I’m very curious to know if the vending machines in the female toilets have been displaying equally aggressive behaviours. Visitors to Sydney Airport drop me a line if you have a similar story to tell.
Oh hey there everyone! In super magic big plus exciting times news: I recently handed in the manuscript for my new novel to Pantera Press! Hopefully they like it, otherwise I’ll just print it out and drive around throwing it onto people’s lawns which will be very expensive and time consuming and also possibly injure their pets.
This has meant I’ve had some time to finish up and release a couple of short stories for your digital media bookreading simulator device. One is (sort of) a love story about a man who is enraptured by someone who isn’t really there and the other is a (sort of) horror story about a bromance between psychopaths. They are only $1 each, so it’s either get one of these stories or some used underwear from your local charity store, your call.
PS a quick thank you to the folks on Twitter and Facebook who helped me put together some ideas for House. Hunting. by sharing their stories about the strange/psychopathic behaviour of their housemates. You guys have shared roofs, bathrooms and bodily odours with some seriously fucked up individuals.
PPS I’lll be at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in a couple of weeks and it will be crazy and amazing! There will be heaps of other great authors like David Mitchell, Emily St John Mandel, Annabel Crabb etc. Come and say hi if you’re in that corner of this particular universe.
Look, I’m old school about these things. I know I could go to comic book conventions and try and ‘network’ and all that jazz but it just feels awkward and unnatural. I’d rather spend my time eating all the delicious buffet food that the actors take for granted and try to explain to security guards that yes, actually, I am supposed to be in the VIP area and no I’m not a Moby lookalike.
Wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah. I NEED AN ARTIST. Not an ‘I made a sculpture out of my hair and threw it at my laptop as a protest against data retention‘ artist, an artist who draws things. Specifically comic shaped things. The story in need of the aforementioned art skills is called the Eternal, and it charts the adventures of O aka Orion/Ophelia/Omid/Orchid/Olof and a few other aliases as they travel alongside a Goddess who has lost memory of her divinity, the two of them used as pawns played by various cosmic forces.
It will be a sweeping fantasy epic beginning in 18th century India and ending in modern day Japan with a cast featuring gods, assassins, thieves, devils and poets (the worst of the whole bunch). It is influenced by graphic novels like The Maxx, Saga, The Unwritten, The Invisibles, Sandman and movies like The Fall, Inglorious Basterds and Snowpiercer. I want it to be philosophical and poetic but also action packed and laden with snappy dialogue.
This is going to be a grand undertaking that will roll out over a few years. I’ve written plays, novels, poems and a whole bunch of other stuff but this is my first time tackling the comic book format. I’d love to work with someone who is also based in Brisbane but then again the internet is a wonderful thing.
My original artist, the incredible Tony Gilfoyle, has had to pull out of the project due to various personal reasons but will be staying on to consult and perhaps help out with later instalments. The sketches displayed here are all his, and ideally I’d love to work with someone who has a similar(ish) style. If you’re interested, you can email me at jmdonellan [AT] gmail [DOT] com and we can throw ideas at each other. Please only hit me up if you are really serious about taking on a large, longterm project and you are a supercool person who is invariably friendly and fun even in stressful situations and you love puns and always gets stuff in by deadline and possibly play drums so we can jam out between sessions to unwind and if you have a helicopter of some sort that would definitely be taken into consideration.*
THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE WHATEVER TIME IT IS WHEN YOU ARE READING THIS.
PS Re: payment, I’d most likely be looking to split royalties and enter into this as a partnership but I’m open to discussion.
*I am aware that no person this great exists, but it is literally my job to live in a world of fiction.
Here Come the Dogs by Omar Musa
There’s a reason why this book is appearing in a myriad ‘best of’ lists this year – well more than one actually – in short; it’s really fucking good. It’s a bleak, unflinching and sometimes hallucinatory piece of work that flips between poetry and pose with disconcerting ease. Omar’s finely honed skills as a poet and lyricist are well manifested in his debut novel. I had the pleasure of featuring on a panel with Omar at the National Young Writers’ Festival earlier this year and he is a fiercely intelligent and yet incredibly good natured and friendly soul. His music is also highly engaging and arresting, well worth a listen.
Blindness by Jose Saramago
Okay, I’ll be honest. I’m only halfway through this one, but it’s nevertheless one of my favourites I’ve read this year. I saw the film some years ago and it was passably entertaining and featured a great cast, but the book is exponentially more interesting. Saramago uses the allegory of a strange infectious blindness to examine complex themes such as morality, governance, greed and politics. There are elements of scifi thriller here, but it’s a primarily a work that examines humans at their best and worst and basically exemplifies all the strengths of the novel as an artistic format. No wonder he managed to bag himself one of those peskily elusive Nobel prizes. I spent some time in Lisbon last year and in Portugal Saramago is revered as a national icon, it’s easy to see why.
Five Wounds by Johnathan Walker & Dan Hallett
This was a profoundly fascinating piece of work, but not an easy read by any means. Visually it is inventive and captivating, simultaneously old and new. The story content is interesting but quite hard to follow and incredibly dark. I tend to enjoy fairly morbid territory in literature but this was a little to grim even for my tastes. However, if you enjoy particularly macabre writing then this might become one of your favourites.
Definitely worth the cover price just to see what the creators have done in terms of aesthetic and layout, but if you’re into conventional structures or are looking for an easy read you’re probably better off searching elsewhere.
I’m not usually a fan of true crime, but I was invited to interview Julie about the book at the Reader’s Feast Crime & Justice Festival earlier this year and it ended up becoming one of my favourites of 2014. The book follows the trial of Jama; a young Somalian refugee who has been falsely accused of rape via inexplicable DNA evidence. The way that Szego unpacks the multitudinous issues surrounding the case including race, religion, rape culture, assimilation vs integration and the limitations of the justice system is relentlessly beguiling. I also recommend Anna Krien’s Night Games, which covered some similar territory and was equally brilliant.
Adulthood Rites (Xenogenesis book 2) by Octavia E. Butler
While not quite as fascinating as the first book in the trilogy, the second book of the Xenogenesis series is nevertheless essential reading. Butler remains one of the (unfortunately) few African-American authors to be really successful in the scifi genre, and her work is a fascinating study on human nature and behaviour. The story follows a group of humans who have been interbred with an alien species and their return to a ruined earth. The complications in the narrative come from the various groups attempting to eek out an existence and warring over various genetic modifications they have undergone during their time away from earth. Recently there has been a push for Butler to be used in place of H. P. Lovecraft as the World Fantasy Award Statuette. More on that here.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This book was recommended to me by Black Cat Books, one of my favourite book stores in the world which is sadly about to close its doors. If you live in Brisbane, you have a couple of weeks left to check them out before they are gone forever. Lately I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated with the commonly held attitude in the Australian literary scene that ‘scifi is not a high literary art form.’ Despite the fact that the Booker of Bookers was awarded to Rushdie’s novel about kids with superpowers, there remains a prevailing attitude that if a novel isn’t literary realism, it’s just pulp fiction. This work is one of many (see also the Bone Clocks) that happily and successfully blends genres. The story follows an acting troupe that roams across a post-apocalyptic world where 99% of the population has been wiped out by disease. It flips between characters and eras in a manner that is spellbinding and highly satisfying.
The Special by David Stavanger
Despite having appeared on countless stages in Brisbane and all over the country both as himself and alter ego Ghostboy, this is Stavanger’s first published volume. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him perform a number of times and he is always wildly unpredictable and incredibly entertaining, and this collection lives up to Stavanger’s live performances. Dark, philosophical and funny, this is by far one of my favourite modern poetry collections. Stavanger has just been named as one of the cohosts of the Queensland Poetry Festival, so we’ll certainly be seeing plenty more of him in the very near future.
I met Anthony at the December edition of Brisbane’s infamous Ruckus Slam (where I managed to take home 2nd prize and win a woodford ticket yessssss). I was completely astonished by the way he weaved words together, a very honest and passionate performer. Poets are often admonished for putting on airs, and I personally am very fond of poets like Anaxagorou who are more concerned with speaking from the heart than trying to sound like the reincarnation of Wordsworth. I was particularly impressed by his piece The Master’s Revenge, which features in this collection. Check out the video here:
Thirst by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
Lately I’m trying to read more Middle Eastern novels (feel free to send me recommendations!) and I found this slim little piece of genius in the Kinokuniya bookstore in Kuala Lumpur when I was on tour there earlier this year. Apparently Dowlatabadi was arrested by the Iranian regime, not for any specific infringement but because so many dissidents were found to be in possession of his work that the secret police just assumed he was up to no good. What an absolute superhero. This dream-like allegorical story within a story looks at war, humanity and propaganda. His writing is lyrical and captivating and I will certainly be seeking out more of his work.
There’s a hell of a lot to love about this series. It’s subversive, action-packed, beautifully illustrated and so fucking funny it should be illegal. It also manages to subvert a lot of classic comic book tropes. Thanks to Scott Wings for the tipoff.
Saga by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples.
IT’S JUST SO FUCKING GOOD. A beautiful, complex story about war and family and destiny filled with humour and fantastic, insane characters. The art is the best in the business right now. Just read it, for the love of all that’s holy.
That’s my favourites for the second half of 2014! The full list of books I read this year is here. What did you love (or hate) in 2014?
PS I released my latest novel Killing Adonis in October. Let me know if it made it onto any of your lists (favourite books, least favourite books, books I used to fend off Mormons, books I used to prop up creaky coffee tables etc.)