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Friday, May 18, 2007

Collected Works Bookshop - 84 Charing Cross Rd in Melbourne

I have just added a link to the new web site/blog of the Collected Works Poetry and Ideas Bookshop. It's located in Melbourne in the Nicholas Building, on the corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Lane. You go in through the Cathedral Arcade and walk up some steps to the first floor, which is shared between the bookshop and the Victorian Writers' centre. A lot of writers and artists have rooms in the building, on the upper floors. There are two old-fashioned lifts with those double doors you have to close by hand before they will go up.

If you loved the book 84 Charing Cross Road, this is the closest you'll get to that kind of bookshop in the middle of Melbourne. It's the sort of place where you can go and ask for a prose translation of the Iliad and be asked which version you'd like, they have two. I never know what I will walk away with, though I do have my favourite corner, which features the Inklings books and books about them, as well as mediaeval literature and books about it, nineteenth century books, both the well-known ones and some lesser-known books by well-known writers. Who would have thought Edith Nesbit wrote suspense fiction? Or, for that matter, Rudyard Kipling?

I have also bought a copy of Alice B Toklas's cookbook there, a history of drinks in England, some children's classics, poetry... whatever I was in the mood for at the time.

It's run by the personable Kris Hemensley (a poet) and his wife Loretta, a teacher, who have Bloomsday celebrations each year. complete with drinks and homemade Irish soda bread.

There are so many chain bookshops around these days - and,yes, they serve a purpose and I do go to them - but it's nice to find a shop of the old-fashioned kind, a small business, right in the middle of Melbourne.

Go and take a look if you're in town, but be warned - you will almost certainly go out with books under your arm, they're just too good to resist.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Nullus Anxietas - Australia's first Discworld Con

This is my report of a con held at the Carlton
Crest Hotel, Melbourne, February 2007.

I hadn't planned to go. It was almost the last minute when, on an
impulse, I sent in my money. My friend and fellow Andromeda Spaceways
co-op member, Lucy Zinkiewicz, was on the committee and asked if I
wouldn't like to do a panel. As it happened, the panel I volunteered
for didn't run, but I was invited, instead, to do a public reading of
Terry Pratchett's picture book, Where's My Cow? It sounded like fun
and I agreed.

Alas, I had to miss the con's beginning on Friday; I have to
work that day, and you don't get flex time in the school system, plus
I have a standing commitment to go to my parents' place on Friday
nights. But there was plenty of good stuff left for the Saturday and
Sunday, including the con banquet. I hadn't been able to get a ticket
to that, but they'd put me on the waiting list and in the final week
before the con, they told me someone had dropped out and I could go.

I arranged to meet my friend Jasna, a fellow teacher, on the Saturday
morning. Jasna is a passionate Terry Pratchett fan – and a media fan
who has, in the past, attended cons, worn costume and even read media
fanzines. She hadn't been in years and, though she could only afford
to go on the Saturday, was very much looking forward to it.

Jasna was a little late that morning, but while I waited, I looked
around. The huckster's area was in the main foyer, consisting only of
a couple of club tables and a major spread of Pratchett books by
Dymock's book store. In every other respect, it felt like a good
old-fashioned con of the kind I remember from when I got into fandom.
The "fan lounge" was an area where people sat playing Thud, a game
based on Pratchett's novel of the same title. In his GoH speech,
later, Terry said he was lost in admiration at what fans could do – he
had just made up the game for the book and here were people actually
playing it! A bit like three-dimensional chess, I suppose, for those
of you who are old enough to remember the early Trek episodes and how
people were making 3-D chessboards and working out how to play the
game that way.

People were wandering around in hall costumes, something I haven't
seen at a con in years. The beauty of Discworld is that you can really
put on just about any historical costume and it will work, because
Ankh-Morpork, in which many of the stories are set, is a mish-mash,
with suggestions of the Elizabethan era, but often Victorian or late
seventeenth century – and, of course, you can always come in black,
with a pointy hat, and be a witch. Some of the best costumes turned up
that evening, at the banquet, but even during the day there were
people doing terrific things. One "Granny Weatherwax" not only dressed
up, but stayed in character throughout the con. There was a delightful
"Death of Rats", who won a prize at the end of the con.

Jasna turned up and, after coffee, we went off to choose our first
event of the convention. There were a lot of things going on, but we
went to see a performance of Mort, based on one of Pratchett's novels.
A man called Stephen Briggs has been adapting a number of the novels
as plays and, furthermore, adapting them especially to be performed by
amateurs, though I do remember hearing that there was a professional
production of Guards! Guards! in which the lead role of Sam Vimes was
played by our own beloved Paul Darrow, who was well and truly old
enough to play the role by that time. He hasn't aged gracefully, but
in the photo I saw he looked pretty good in his Elizabethan doublet
and tights.

Mort was performed by a group of students from Melbourne University,
who have been doing the plays for some time and one of the cast turned
out to be the daughter of a former colleague of mine, so that was
nice. It was very well done. Jasna and I had to sit on the floor,
because we got in late and all the seats were taken, but nobody

There were a few panels during the day, and Terry Pratchett gave his
GoH speech, in which we heard about the film of his novel Hogfather.
It's a telemovie, which, alas, hasn't been shown here yet. Terry was
very pleased with it, and had played a cameo role, of which there are
pictures on the Net. There was a good cast, including David Warner and
Tony Robinson. And there were thousands of plastic teeth, for the
scene at the Tooth Fairy's castle. He'd brought a large bag with him
to Australia, much to the bemusement of the customs inspectors, and he
wasn't taking them home! I managed to get a few, though I'm not sure
yet what I'll do with them – earrings, perhaps.

I stood with Jasna in the autograph queue, though I wasn't getting
anything signed, because I have quite a few of his books autographed
already and wanted to let others have a go. The queue was good-natured
and chatty, and it was an enjoyable three-quarters of an hour when,
hopefully, Mr Pratchett didn't get RSI.

At six o'clock, I got up to read Where's My Cow? This is based on a
book which Sam Vimes has to read every night, at precisely six, to his
little boy, and is a lot of fun. The idea is to read it to the
audience and get them to make the animal noises as you go. The whole
thing took only a few minutes, so we spent the rest of the half hour
making animal noises and guessing what they were.

The banquet started late-ish, but it gave everyone a chance to see
some of the clever costumes people had made. I wasn't in costume, but
was wearing something formal, and one of the band members kindly let
me put my tote bag under the stage, so I could wander around freely
and not look silly. The band was very good, though it seemed quite an
expense for a fan-organised con.

The really exciting thing happened later that night, after the
banquet, when Terry did a reading from his as yet unpublished novel.
The man was amazing – he read for nearly two hours, non-stop, and only
ended then because his laptop computer's batteries ran out. So now I
know what's happening next in the Discworld.

The hotel wasn't too far from my home by car and I got a lift from a friend.

Sunday was a little quieter, but there was still plenty to enjoy. I
ordered a T-shirt, which I have recently received – black, with "Ook!"
on the front (the cry of the Librarian at Unseen University – I mean
to wear it to work…).

I was sad to say goodbye at the end of the day, but with luck there
may be another con next year, when Terry Pratchett will be touring
Australia again, to promote a book. He suggested to the con committee
that they make it then, if they could, and save themselves the expense
of bringing him out. Nice man! And it was very nice to attend a con
that was so much like the ones I remember from my early days in
fandom. Only the art show was missing, but few cons have those