In March, I was thrilled to be a part of Noted, Canberra’s first writers’ festival, an offshoot of YouAreHere. Noted unofficially began on Wednesday the 18th of March, a highlight of which was the reopening of my favourite teenage hangout (the East Row incarnation of Impact Records) as YouAreHere Headquarters. There I’d spent much of my time and all my money for a decade – I bought my first Manic Street Preachers, Belle and Sebastian, and Beatles albums; my first Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis comic books. Impact was also instrumental in me meeting a girl with whom I would go on to have a six-year relationship. For better or worse, it shaped my musical, literary and social life into whatever it is today. And it thusly gets a nod in The Life Of Ted No (more about which will be forthcoming, lower on this page.) Also on that Wednesday, the Phoenix hosted BAD!SLAM! vs Feminartsy vs the Festivals, at which Beige Brown was the night’s featured artist. Before her first standing ovation, Beige delivered an ode to our Skywhale which included the unforgettable (for me) couplet “The chaotic confusion she engendered/(Pun very much intended).” BAD!SLAM!NO!BISCUIT! is one of Canberra’s regular slam poetry nights, and differs from some more-conventional slams in that the scores can go as low as minus-∞. I was one of the judges, but I don’t think I gave anyone a score lower than π. (Maybe I did, I was kind of drunk.) Once those scores were tallied, Noted artist Raph Kabo won that element of the slam, which led to an incident involving at least two deadly sins and culminating in a coalescence of tomato sauce and My Little Pony cards.
On Saturday the 21st, I was one of the panellists for Lit Hop: Stuck in the Middle, a literary quiz at Lonsdale St Roasters. Think QI meets Spicks and Specks meets Rockwiz meets Good News Week meets Talkin’ ’Bout Your Generation meets The Chaser’s Media Circus, and then unthink any of those thoughts that might have required a budget. The teams consisted of J.M Donellan and Rosanna Stevens (plus Stefanie from the audience) versus me and Tasnim Hossain (with Kira as our audience ring-in), and Yen Eriksen as our host. The first round was Wanker Bingo, for which I had to write and recite “a gushing review of an imaginary future novel by a notoriously existential or ‘wanky’ writer”. Ergo, I wrote and read the following:
“In the annals of history, a mere handful of luminary writers have had their names immortalised as eponymous adjectives: Shakespearean... Byronic... Marxist... Fergalicious. 2015 marks a centenary since Franz Kafka’s most Kafkaesque work was first not published. In fact, in 1915, Kafka instructed his friend and confidant Max Brod to ‘burn the scheiße out of it’. Fortunately for posterity, Brod failed to incinerate the novel, instead using it to prop up the wonky leg of his dining table for the next half a century, until both the table and manuscript passed into the hands of Brod’s secretary and mistress Esther Hoffe. This month - after a protracted legal battle between Hoffe’s heirs and the National Library of Israel - Kafka’s magnum opus finally sees print in English in a translation by Hoffe’s nephew, David Hassel-Hoffe.
Das Sauerkraut tells the tale of Übermut, who awakens to find he is imprisoned in a cell on death row, and also that he has been transformed into a cabbage. Confounded by the faceless bureaucratic infrastructure of Kuddelmuddel Reich Auf Naschkatze Sie Kummerspeck Yacht – or KRANSKY – Übermut struggles to determine exactly what his method of execution will be, all the while dealing with the newfound afflictions of living out the rest of his existence as a literal vegetable.
In this definitive English translation, Hassel-Hoffe inevitably loses some of Kafka’s semantic mileu. Übermut is now German-Y, KRANSKY is now BALONEY, and Das Sauerkraut is now The Cabbage. Nevertheless, this long-awaited release of Kafka’s quintessential surreal masterpiece is a magisterial achievement. A lachanomorphic allegory of the sociopolitical zeitgeist of Germany during World War I, Das Sauerkraut is arguably the seminal 20th Century Germanic novel about being transformed into salad.
During all of this, members of the audience were equipped with ‘bingo’ cards, and would shout “wanker” when I used words like “zeitgeist”. Which is fair enough, really. Other rounds included trivia about literary animals, and the most insidious game of charades ever concocted.
Yes, we had to guess that. (Also, that’s Lucy Nelson, who did an incredible job of putting together the whole quiz.)
At that point we all went to the bottle shop and BYOed it across the road to The Hamlet – Canberra’s unique street-food village, where we put our lives in the hands of infamous pony-saucer Raph Kabo. Donning a Russian accent that only his mother couldn’t love, Raph had come back from the future to put me, Rosanna, Tasnim, Beige, J.M., Patrick Lenton and Emma Jones through a series of literary board games. Through Poetic Device Twister, Wall Scrabble, and Erotic Fiction Memory, Mr Kabo was a thoroughly entertaining host, despite (or possibly enhanced by) being hopped up on cold medication.
We then had a couple of hours to fill with more drinks and conversation, before YouAreHere’s Ill-Advised Night Out, at Canberra Museum and Gallery, running from midnight to 7 o’clock on Sunday morning. Then, in the CMAG theatrette, equipped with two laptops, and a microphone, Paul Heslin ran Karaoke of Cruelty. I opened the night, singing Taylor Swift’s Blank Space, as it was curiously remixed and resequenced, live, by Paul. To a gathering crowd, I met Paul’s Bonetti with Capo Ferro, Thibault with Agrippa, and then we both revealed we were actually right-handed. The first fifty times I’d sung “it’s gonna be forever,/Or it’s gonna go down in flames”, I’d been assuming that there was actually some way for me to ‘win’. Paul would let me reach the end of the song, he’d graciously smile, shake my hand and say, “well played.” By about the nineteen-minute mark, I came to the realisation that this was never going to happen. Like, ever. By twenty-one minutes, the crowd began to clap and cheer, and I retired at 21:30. It may be my life’s greatest achievement, and I totally want to put these non-sequitur review quotations on the back of my next novel:
“The greatest event in the history of YouAreHere is happening in the CMAG theatrette... The audience engagement is instantaneous and wholehearted. A 20 minute version of Blank Space” - Nick Delatovic.
“...stand-out performances of the event were a Taylor Swift song which lasted for 21:30 minutes” - Joel Swadling.
From there, the night became more chilled – looped ethereal chanting, followed by watching television, as if we’d just crashed at our homes after a night out, and were flicking stations between late-night movies, SBS and Rage. Our first half-hour was devoted to vampire-themed video footage – the highlight of which was this. In the videos chosen (and not “curated”) by “Canberra poetry luminar(y)” Zoë Erskine, she simulated that feeling where you’re half asleep in front of the television, and unsure if what you’re listening to is even in English. [Aside – please ignore the rest of this paragraph if you’re either bored by etymology, or a devout Christian.] For part of Zoë’s set, we listened to different versions of The Lord’s Prayer. And it’s notable that there’s one word in that prayer that keeps mutating. In the oldest Biblical texts, it’s “ὀφειλήματα” (basically “debts”) in Matthew, and “ἁμαρτίας” in Luke (“hamartia” – the fatal flaw from Greek tragedy – to shoot, but “miss the mark”). In Zoë’s videos, I noticed that in Old English they chose “guilt”, and in Middle English it was “debts” again. Compare those to modern English, in which it’s been “sins” and now “trespasses”. This is the one prayer the Christian church compels everyone to chant, yet no one can actually decide on how to translate it into English. Parishioners are told it’s the word of a god from 2000 years ago, and not just the Inner Party changing the words based on which opiate it wants the masses to swallow. Which is pretty messed up. [End of Aside.] And then, at 5 AM it seemed time to call it a night. Or a morning.
Thus, taking a cue from countless luminary writers, I managed to get almost no sleep the night before I actually had to get work done. Yes, Sunday was my day to take over from Candace Petrik and Kate Iselin, and write the third and final act of our Twitter novella, A Day In The Life Of Ted No. We’d individually decided to fly by the seats of our respective pants and had communicated no plan or plot – Candace just wrote the first day, Kate read that, then developed the plot for Act Two. Which meant I actually had to read the first two thirds of our story before I could finish it. So I did. Our protagonist, Ted No was unsubtly an anagram of Noted. Peripeteia is the reversal or turning point in Ancient Greek (and subsequent) drama. Candace had providentially written a character called Pete into the story. I twisted the plot with the reintroduction of Pete Iaperi (yes, another anagram) as our second tweeter. I set up two adjacent computers, logged into a different account for each, and began a split-personality dialogue for the rest of the day, tying up the tale. The whole thing is online here and well worth the read.
And with Ted’s final words at 10:29 PM on Sunday night, Noted was over for 2015. I’d like to thank (and so I shall) Ashley Thomson for soliciting and trusting me, Candace and Kate to write something magical. Thanks again to Ashley, Lucy, Farz Edraki, Yasmin Masri, Chiara Grassia, Duncan Felton, Andrew Galan and Zoya Patel for producing the festival. To YouAreHere for having us. To Erica Hurrell and Nick for the photos above. And to Tasnim, Candace, Raph, Kate, J.M., Rosanna, Beige, Yen, Patrick, Kira, Emma, Aly, Stefanie, Paul, Lynda, Steph and Zoë for all the fun. I hope we can all do it again in 2016.