Grading Christmas

Well, folks, it’s another lovely Tuesday here at – CHRISTMAS!

Christmas morning

CHRISTMAS.

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CHRISTMAS.

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CHRIIIISSSSTMAAAASSSS.

 

Yes, I’m a Christmas dag. I love buying and making gifts for my family and friends. I love the fruit and the cake and the Chinese duck we have every year. I love cutting down noxious weeds and festooning them with pipe-cleaner spiders. It really is a wonderful season.

I have the Christmas fever something dreadful this year. All the harried nanas are coming into my work, bemoaning the stress of the season, and there’s me, radiating relentless and totally unsympathetic cheer back at them. ‘Oh dear, it looks like they don’t publish Biggles anymore, but I’ve got just the thing for your grandson! Follow me!’ *jingle jingle*

That said, there are some things about the Christmas season that can turn even me into a bit of a Grinch. So today, I’m going to grade various aspects of the silly season, in no particular order. Let’s begin with…

 

CAROLS: D

If you hate hearing the same tinny songs whenever you walk into the shopping centre, spare a thought for those of us working in retail. Christmas carols are dreadful in general, but for me, they fall into three categories that are varying degrees of grating.

Strangely enough, I don’t really mind the religious ones. Sure, ‘Silent Night’ sounds like a bloody dirge, but the more upbeat ones have a real sense of jubilation behind them. ‘Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies’ – that’s a belter line if there ever was one. Their overall theme is hope and celebration, and it’s kind of fun to join in at a school carol night, or just hum the tunes while I do chores. On their own, they’d get a C.

The same isn’t true for the other classic carols – those that contain the words ‘jolly’, ‘snow’, ‘bells’, ‘Saina Clahs’ or ‘ev’rybuddy’ (sorry, American readers). ‘Jingle Bells’ is like a tinny… well, jingle. I don’t know whether it’s the fact that they were all that played during the Decembers that I worked in a supermarket, or the way most of them sound like relics from the fifties, but they reek of commercialism to me.  I’d give my left arse cheek never to hear ‘Frosty the Snowman’ again. This category gets an F.

But without a doubt, the worst of the worst are the quote-unquote “cool” carols. Sometimes they’re breathy, poppy covers of the old carols, and sometimes they’re novelty originals, but they usually involve a) celebrities or b) painfully earnest Christian celebrities. With the possible exception of Mariah, these songs would make the Holy Infant himself wail in anguish. Santa isn’t sexy. Nobody ‘rocks’ at Christmastime. Sad songs are not a good choice for such a joyful season. This category should get expelled, and spat on by the other carols as it leaves the campus.

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Oh frabjous day!

Dear readers, it has been a most surprising week here at the helm of Amelia Mellor’s Fantastic Narratograph.

The May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust commemorates the work of iconic Australian children’s author May Gibbs by supporting contemporary children’s authors. And if the name May Gibbs doesn’t ring a bell… well, she’s probably the reason behind your bizarrely specific banksia-pod trypophobia.

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She’s the mind behind these guys.

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Also, THESE GUYS.

A few months ago, I entered a story of mine in the Trust’s Ian Wilson Memorial Fellowship. Named for the founder of the Trust, this fellowship is open to Australian citizens, writing specifically Australian stories for readers under eighteen years. It’s only open to works in progress by writers who aren’t yet published as children’s writers. Seeing that my novel The Grandest Bookshop in the World qualified, I sent off my application and tried not to hang my hat on it.

Well, I got a call on Friday that has pretty much made my year.

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The Grandest Bookshop has been selected as the winning project for the 2018 Fellowship. Thanks to the generous support of the Trust, I’ll be flying over to Adelaide for three weeks in March – all expenses paid. Two of those weeks will be spent writing and drawing. The other will be dedicated to professional development.

I took this news like a true pro, of course. By which I mean I squealed ‘oh my God, you’re kidding!’ and nearly crashed my car.

But wait. There’s more.

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Postponed for exciting reasons

Thanks to all of you who’ve been checking in today waiting for the post. I have some really great news, maybe the best news, but I’m not allowed to spread it until the official announcement, which has now been shifted to tomorrow.

It’s really, really great. Keep this tab open and I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow!

The Great Noodle Investigation

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was three years old.

Most people change their minds about their childhood dreams many times. On Monday, a kid wants to be an engineer. By Wednesday, she’s training to be a marine biologist. Ask her again on Friday, and she’s decided it’s astronaut or nothing.

But I haven’t really changed my mind. From practising big words in my cot at the end of the day to hunching over my laptop on the school bus, I’ve kind of been training to be a wordsmith all my life. That is, except for a few weeks in Grade Three, when I decided I wanted to be a private investigator. This dream began and ended with my very first assignment, The Case of the Two-Minute Noodles.

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Let this story stand as evidence that the trope of the plucky child detective puts dangerous ideas into impressionable heads, and should be retired.

 

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Cole’s funny picture books

Last week, I wrote about Cole’s Book Arcade, and a little about the life of Edward William Cole. I thought I could cover it all in a 600-word post. Instead, it ended up being four times that long, and I’ve only scratched the surface. You see, Edward wasn’t just a salesman. He also created books that he hoped would make children love learning to read, keep them amused, and encourage families to join in games and jokes together. Today, we’ll be exploring these books, and what they reveal about Edward.

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Old King Cole in the 1910s, at his estate home where he moved after Eliza passed away. He always wanted to live somewhere quiet, with lots of flowers.

It still seems crazy to me that more Australians don’t know about Edward Cole, and that our culture doesn’t celebrate him. He was a kind, intelligent man from humble beginnings, admired by literary greats like Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling, who not only pulled himself up by the bootstraps several times but could practically perform an Olympic gymnastics routine on them. He embodies so many values we as a nation should aspire to. Surely writing beloved classics and helping to shape Melbourne’s character is more worthy of celebration than cheating indigenous people out of their land, or robbing trains, or getting lost in the desert and dying, like some of our other national “heroes”.

Perhaps it’s because of his controversial politics. As I’ll show you, Edward was pretty vocal about his anti-White Australia Policy stance, as well as his fascination with monkeys and our evolutionary relationship to them. And this was in the Victorian era! Some conservatives today would see him as a troublemaker, never mind back then.

But, when I bring up Edward and his Arcade in conversation, generally one in five people recognise either him, his business or his books. Those people generally fall into two categories. Literary geeks have usually learned about the Arcade in a similar way to me, through research or visiting the museum – or, in my case, through each other. The other group, though, consists of people of my parents’ generation, who may not recognise the Arcade, but whose faces are overcome with nostalgic wonder at the mention of the books. ‘We had a Cole’s book when I was a kid,’ they say. ‘Weren’t they really funny?’

I am the proud owner of two ‘Cole’s books’. Here’s ‘Cole’s Intellect Sharpener and Family Amuser’:

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And here is ‘Cole’s Funny Picture Book No. 2 – Surprise Edition’:

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The former, as you can see, is much more fragile. I had greater difficulty finding it, and had to buy it online. It was printed in 1926 – after Edward died, but before the Arcade closed. (By the way, if Edward had been around in the late 1920s, I reckon we’d still have the Book Arcade today. His promotional tactics got the Arcade through a terrible recession in the 1890s.)

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Introducing Cole’s Book Arcade

Today is the first Tuesday in November: Melbourne Cup Day. It is the festival of silly hats and socially-acceptable gambling; of drink and revelry; of elves atop three-quarter-tonne land beasts going very fast.

Some of us will jump headlong into the merriment. Others will kick up a well-meaning but ultimately unfounded stink about animal rights. And others will simply enjoy the public holiday.

My sister owns an ex-racehorse, and my great-grandmother was an illegal bookmaker. But today, it’s not the race I’m excited about. A hundred and thirty-four years ago today, Cole’s Book Arcade had its grand opening.

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This is Cole’s Book Arcade. If you’ve been to Melbourne, you may recognise the porch. The Royal Arcade, which is still standing, still has a porch like this – once upon a time, all the shops on Bourke Street had a porch like this. Cole’s Book Arcade first opened on Melbourne Cup Day in 1883, and for nearly fifty years, it was synonymous with the City of Literature. These days, many visitors to Melbourne find themselves at a loss for grand sights and landmarks to visit, as Melbourne is more about a cultural experience than sightseeing – but in the 19th century, a trip to Cole’s Book Arcade was The Thing to do in Melbourne.  Continue reading