Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Frankly, much too much stuff for one poor blog post to hold...

I meant to blog in Australia. I really did.

I also meant to get more sleep, jog, write and be a bit of a tourist. Almost none of these things happened.

Lots of other things happened, though.

I flew to Hobart, Tasmania. I have been saying for years that Hobart is one of the planet's secretly cool places, and people used to mock me for saying this. (Australian people would mock me. Other people would just stare at me blankly.) Over the last few years, however, the world has caught up a little with my opinions, and the MONA museum and the MONAFOMA (aka MOFO) Festival has a lot to do with it.

I rehearsed. I read a fairy story in the Theatre Royal Hobart. (I did other things there too: I sang "Psycho", and I did a reading of one of Amanda's songs, "The Bed Song", because she wasn't there.) Here's a video. Jherek Bischoff, Amanda's bass player and string arranger, made all the music happen. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra provided the lovely string quartet.

Somewhere shortly after arrival in Hobart, I joined forces with Polly Adams.

I'm a patron of Tasmania's Bookend Trust, and Polly has inherited her father's conservation mantle, if not his Rhino suit, and is a patron of Save the Rhino. We got up early the next morning, and were taken off on a journey by Niall Doran of the Bookend Trust. We saw the devastation of the bushfires on the Tasman peninsula, learned the natural history behind the bushfires (basically, Eucalypts like fires - they clear the brush and help the seeds to germinate), saw an echidna by the side of the road, went on a wonderful boat ride (thanks to and saw awe-inspiring cliffs, seals and penguins (and a dead weedy seadragon), not to mention a place where the sea tips on its side...

...or it feels like it has. (Photo by Polly Adams.)

And then we were shows some of the fire devastation in Dunalley, and presented books to the primary school.

The primary school at Dunalley is not there any more. It burned down in the bushfires. They are putting up temporary buildings to house a temporary school while they build a new one. (We were joined by lots of nice people, including Robert Pennicott and Andrew Hughes, Tasmanians of the Year in 2012 and 2013.)

My publishers, Bloomsbury and Hachette, gave the school lots of my books, and lots of other books that they could use to auction or sell or include in the library. Here I am with Chair of the School Association Elizabeth Knox, Principal Matt Kenny, and various students and community members.

Frankly, I think Polly has a future in showing books to people.

(Photos taken from )

The school wrote about it at their blog entry at  It's a really inspiring blog, as they chart their recovery from the fires and chart the plans for the new school...

Time was tight, so we flew by seaplane to Hobart so I could do an interview with ABC's Helen Shield (you can read about it and listen to it here: (And Helen's interview with Polly is at

A mad dash to a quick rehearsal/soundcheck with Jherek and a string quartet, along with our special guests David Byrne and St Vincent, and an even madder dash back to the ABC studios to do another interview, this time with Triple J's The Doctor (You can read about it/listen to it at Then back to the Mona Festival. I got there at 7 minutes to 6. We were due on at 6, so I found a dressing room, changed clothes and went on stage to read "Click-Clack the Rattlebag", sing Psycho, and, my favourite moment of all, read my "Australia Day" poem with Brian Ritchie playing didgeridoo, and David Byrne making animal sounds on the guitar.

I listened to Kate Miller-Heidke singing wonderfully immediately after us (her cover of David Byrne's Psycho Killer was unbelievable. It was a bit like this:)

And then came the best bit of the whole night as Jherek and I had a close encounter with a guide dog puppy named Quinnell.

I nearly forgot to mention, a couple of days earlier Amanda had asked me on Twitter to recreate her famous Map of Tasmania photo from the last time she was there. So, with the aid of a Map of Tasmania apron and photographer Dianna Graf, I did. And then Polly did too.

and here is Quinnell the guide dog puppy in training with his coat on (he's not allowed to play and lick you when he has his coat on) along with Dianna Graf, who took many of the the above photos and, with Mark, her partner,  is training Quinnell. We're in Hobart harbour and it is very windy.

And then Polly and I were getting up at 6 am again and we headed to Melbourne, where we stayed with my friends Peter and Clare. They have the best house in the world.

I spent a day or so mostly being interviewed -- the photo is from the interview at

I'd a talk at the Atheneum Theatre, under the auspices of the Wheeler Centre.  I signed lots of books for people, and then stumbled off for a late drink and dinner with lots of Melbournian friends, including Sxip Shirey, Meow Meow, and someone named Knibbs who can, like me, raise both eyebrows individually or set them scurrying across her forehead like startled caterpillars. ("Did you teach yourself in front of a mirror when you were a kid too?" "Yup.")

Four hours of sleep and I said goodbye to Peter and to Clare, and to Polly too (I'd pretty much adopted her by the time I left, so it was a sad goodbye made happier in the knowledge that I'd introduced her to lots of people who would be fun for her to know in Australia) and flew to Sydney, to the offices of Hachette, where I was interviewed, looked after by publicist Anna Hayward, had my photo taken by Tamara Dean (look at her beautiful photo art here and here) and then I had lunch with my Bloomsbury publishers and answered questions for them on video, and I ran to the Sydney Recital Hall where I met FourPlay String Quartet for a rehearsal.

I really love the guys from FourPlay -- it's such a delight doing stuff with them. We ran through the Fireball XL5 theme.  We took the first fifteen minutes of FORTUNATELY, THE MILK and they created music and sound effects on the fly. They made glorious bush sounds for the Australia Day poem.  Working with them now is so comfortable and easy.

Photo stolen from because she posted on Twitter that she had photos from the night at the exact moment I thought I ought to look for some.

During the evening I read the first 2 chapters of THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE. I did a Q&A and explained why secrets do not leak out of the Doctor Who office in Cardiff. I sang the Fireball XL5 theme because I had FourPlay with me and I wanted to hear what they did to it...

I read the first fifteen minutes of FORTUNATELY, THE MILK... (it is so silly. I love it so much).

And then I gave an acknowledgment of country, and read the Australia Day poem, and we were done. No signing -- it was a long event, there were about 1100 people there, and I was knackered, but I scribbled on things for the people at the stage door on the way out.

Production entity Jordan Verzar and Festival boss Ben Strout, Jemma Birrell (artistic director of the festival) and festival PR Ainslee Lenehan and I, along with my old Whitgift school friend James Croll, stumbled off for an exhausted drink and conversation after the show, winding up in the bar of the hotel I was staying in, the somewhat O.T.T. but beautiful "QT", where the people were so nice and helpful. And then I was sleepily packing and it was daylight again, and I went to see the people at Animal Logic, who had given up some of their Australia Day to show me the beautiful film work they had done...

I proofread the UK edition of OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE on the plane back to the US, and read Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor. I breakfasted with my son and daughter in law and daughter in San Francisco airport. I got home to Amanda...

I slept. I slept for three whole hours, and then the furnace in the basement belched out soot and smoke, the smoke alarms went off, the fire brigade arrived, and my hopes of catching up on my sleep were dashed. (Nothing was damaged. Nothing burned. And the Cambridge MA fire department are fast.)

The first of my episodes of SELECTED SHORTS went up on the radio. I got to select and introduce stories I loved -- in this case Ray Bradbury's chilling "The Veldt" read by Stephen Colbert, and James Thurber's "The Catbird Seat" hilariously read by Leonard Nimoy.

You can listen to it HERE.

(I'll be hosting for the next few weeks. Why don't you subscribe to the podcast? Information and links  at There are some great stories on the way.)

Then an interview with me went out on Morning Edition. You read about it and listen to it here: It's about things I love, or things that influenced me.

No, I won't tell you what they are. Go and listen to it. It's fun.

(There were things on my list that we didn't have time to talk about: Doctor Who's Curse of the Fatal Death and the Magnetic Fields' Andrew In Drag video, for example...)

And I should stop writing this blog and go and write about weird stuff happening underneath London instead.

But if you've made it this far, the next week should be interesting. I'll be doing a really exciting (and quite goofy) Art Project, and you'll learn a bit about it in this film. (Along with seeing Cabal, alive and well and happy, three weeks ago.)

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