My challenge this week was to make an 80-second video promotion for my novel An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity. I’ve used a DSLR camera previously for this kind of thing, but I just got an iPhone 6s, and it did the job just as well. I used iMovie to compile and edit the film, and Graphic to make the opening title. The only problem was getting the video file from the iPhone to my laptop because it was too big to email. In the end, I managed to do it with iCloud.
I wrote a script, but on the first few takes I kept peeping it at and my eyes were darting all over the place. I solved the problem by taking off my glasses so that I couldn’t see the script, and had to memorise it instead.
I came across Australian indie author Ann Massey last year when I picked up her novel The White Amah. Looking at her diverse output, I’m tempted to ask ‘what’s her angle?’ And where does her latest novel The Little Dog Laughed fit into her body of work? In fact, Ann Massey is a conviction novelist, producing work that barracks for the powerless. If this sounds like the work of a humourless ideologue, it isn’t.
Her latest work The Little Dog Laughed is a sparkling time-travel fantasy that showcases her wit, her deep knowledge of Britain in Roman times, and for good measure her love of dogs. And woven into the whole nutty tale is a deeper theme about the travails of people caring for sick or disabled relatives. I never realised what hilarity could be found in a mobility scooter!
Here’s Ann Massey answering a few searching questions I put to her:
Q – The Little Dog Laughed is impossible to place in a genre. Is this a help or a hindrance in finding readers?
A – I’ve been a square-peg all my life and this is reflected in my writing. I know smart marketeers stick to one genre and write series, but I can’t change who I am. I like hopping all over the place, and writing in many very different genres. The reader I’d like to attract is someone like me who reads everything by authors on my shortlist of favourites, and impatiently wishes they would increase their productivity.
Q – Like me, you’re a Pom who has spent the larger part of your life in Australia. Do you think that having a foot in each culture has influenced your writing?
A – I was born in Bolton and grew up in the tough environment of a council estate in post-war Britain. Both my parents left school at fourteen but I was I was fortunate enough to win a scholarship to a Grammar school. The majority of my contemporaries were first generation grammar school pupils, most of them with parents who by economic circumstance had been deprived of an academic education. I believe the justice for all themes that run through my books sprang from the opportunity to receive an education that had previously been restricted to a privileged minority. The plots and their backgrounds, however, are the offspring of a lifetime spent in Australia
None of my books are autobiographical, but in each I have used my personal knowledge of its unique world to give the story a genuine authenticity. For instance, I was marketing manager of the Daily News when Perth’s afternoon newspaper went the way of afternoon newspapers worldwide. Uncertain what I wanted to do, I applied for the position of governess on Minilya, a sheep and cattle station in the Australian outback. The station was located close to the Carnarvon Tracking Station built for the Gemini Space Program. To entertain my pupils, I invented a story about the International Space Station crash landing on a station very like Minilya. Mo, the jackeroo who found the wreckage in my debut novel, The Biocide Conspiracy, slept on a bed very like the one that was provided for me, pictured here
Q – A Little Dog Laughed and Salvation Jane have strong social justice themes but you manage this with a light touch. What’s the trick?
A – Several readers categorised Salvation Janeas chick lit albeit with a message. This was exactly the reaction I was after. I confess that when I began the tone was darker and more serious. But as the story progressed I thought about my readers. I wanted my book to be read by the masses and if they’re anything like me they don’t want to be preached at. So how do you get readers to read a serious commentary on homelessness in Australia? Take it from me it’s very tricky. In the end, I wrote a plot driven story— funny, a bit sad, a little deep and (I hope) inspiring. The ‘up in the air’ ending I considered—the type that always disappoints me— was dropped in favour of a much more satisfying one.
When it comes to the light touch, I might have succeeded too well in The Little Dog Laughed because all its reviews mention that its unique, refreshing, funny, and wildly creative, none mention its dark theme of carer abuse.
What happens when a planeload of Poms lands at Sydney airport? What I’ve always found intriguing about this Australian joke is that it only seems to have one punch line: When the engines stop, you can still hear the whining. It’s a model joke: Concise, based on a neat double meaning, and it delivers an ethnic slur with devastatingly effective understatement. Even better, it isn’t offensive. You can quickly test this proposition at your next dinner party: Replace ‘Pom’ with ‘ Chinese’ and watch the eyebrows shoot up in alarm and confusion.
I was prompted to think about this by a Guardian article that proposes that British jokes about Australians are more to do with the Poms’ attitudes towards their own class system than about Australia itself. But back to my airport joke: The reason that this potentially productive joke stem only has one ending may be that British Australians (as opposed to British visitors) occupy an indistinct zone in the Australian ethnic spectrum, and putting aside the standard stereotypes about whinging and personal hygiene, aren’t particularly joke worthy.
I felt a twinge of doubt when I threw in the term ‘ethnic slur’ just now. I’ve lived permanently in Australia since 1977, or for more than half of my life, and I’ve never been described as belonging to an ethnic group in the way that Armenians, Thais and Somalis might be categorised. So, what kind of insult is it that the Poms are supposed to suffer if the airport joke isn’t an ethnic one? I’ll come back to that in a moment, but I’ll firstly make some remarks on the nature of being a British Australian … or is it an Australian Brit?
The essence of being British in Britain is the negotiation of social diversity along class and geographical lines. Like exotic beetles, the Brits develop – metaphorically speaking – huge antennae, which they wave around when they meet a new acquaintance, sniffing for clues about where this person was born, where they are in the pecking order, and what they are worth. To complicate things, the class signalling system has been subverted over the decades, so that the British are happy to accept the irony of concert pianists who sound like scrap metal dealers. Britain revels in all of this, egged on by a comedy industry that is supercharged by the exploitation of class differences.
Fresh Poms arrive in Australia with antennae flapping, but can’t tune into the signals. The huge things are as much use as an extra pair of nipples, and they soon shrivel. Adrift, the recent arrivals resort to crude judgments linked to their memories of Britain; when I arrived in 1977 I soon decided that Australians were very much like people from British council estates – just about the most damning class slur available to someone whose childhood was spent in such places. Homesick and disoriented, I immersed myself in the novels of Thomas Hardy for a few months, bathing my violated sensibilities in the bucolic balm of an invented rural England. I was saved by Australian literature; authors like David Ireland, Hal Porter and Patrick White helped me draw the social blueprint of my new home. At the same time I was writing the grammar of an Aboriginal language for a Masters thesis at the Australian National University, getting the first real clues about another way of seeing Australia. Like my fellow migrants I was gradually absorbed into the land of Arthur and Martha that is Australian Britishness.
So back to that joke. It’s obvious that a British ethnicity in Australia is difficult to pin down: A common language softens the definitional edges; millions of Australians have British forebears just a generation or two away; the UK is still on the pilgrimage route for Australian travellers; and the ABC often seems to function as a southern branch office of the UK TV drama industry. There isn’t really a clear ethnic target at all, so there’s no incentive to make jokes.
I’m inclined to think that the airport joke survives simply because it’s very well-constructed and therefore worth retelling. I spent some time trying to create some alternative punch lines such as ‘The soap factory goes onto overtime’ and ‘Australia’s average IQ goes down ten points’.
You’re right – they are lame, and you might also agree that they look much more like ethnic slurs than the original, because of course they could be applied to any ethnic group. There’s a fondness about the whining joke, a self-deprecating acceptance of British cultural roots, an irony in the joke’s lack of sting.
Now I wonder what colour socks go with these sandals?
Sydney author Stuart Campbell says he is ‘disappointed and upset’ at Lesley Latte’s ambush interview with him in New Caledonia, in which the roving correspondent said that Campbell’s new novel Cairo Mon Amour was set in the 1973 ‘Young Kipper’ War. He has called on the new editor of Charcuterie Monthly, Gilbert Saucisson, to ‘send Latte back to school to learn some history’.
In a brief statement, Saucisson said that Latte would be censured for h** error, adding that Charcuterie Monthly‘s editorial guidelines require that all articles include reference to meat, but not fish.
** Lesley Latte reserves the right not to disclose h** gender
Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:
In his final interview, the late Raymond Saucisson, editor of Charcuterie Monthly, made the shock allegation that a group of Sydney authors tricked him into writing an introduction to the book With Gusto!.
“I was informed that the book was about the joy of food,” said the former cold cut supremo. “Most of the stories depict revolting meals, some with no meat at all.”
Asked why he had provided an introduction to the book, Saucisson said, “I am a man of honour, a knight among meat lovers. I would not renege on a promise”.
It is understood that Saucisson made a similar complaint about an introduction that he agreed to write for Stuart Campbell’s On Becoming a Butcher in Paris. Campbell was not available for comment
With Gusto! is an anthology of food stories by members of the Write On! writers group in Sydney. It is available in paperback here.
Raymond Saucisson, the noted gourmand and long-time editor of Charcuterie Monthly, passed away unexpectedly yesterday. His close friend Stuart Campbell said that Saucisson’s death comes just a week after the publication of the anthology With Gusto!, for which the charcuterie supremo wrote an introduction. “I’m devastated,” said Campbell. “He was always at the cutting edge, as an editor and as a small goods expert; he was a man who took on life one huge slice at a time”.
Saucisson was born into poverty in Marseilles in 1945. He learned the art of sausage making from his mother, who sold her wares in the alleyways off Le Canebière. As a child Saucisson listened to the stories of the sailors who haunted the area, and in 1960 took a job as a ship’s cook.
After ten years at sea he jumped ship at London, eventually obtaining residence papers and gaining employment as a bus conductor with London Transport. Stuart Campbell remarks on the formidable standard of his English, considering he had virtually no formal education. “During his fifteen years on the buses he read voraciously: Georgette Heyer, The Times, Charles Dickens, The Beano, Thomas Hardy. He consumed everything that was left behind on a bus seat. The 142 to Watford Junction was his university, he once told me.”
In 1985 he was offered the editorship of Charcuterie Monthly. In a recent article he reflected on the magazine’s success: “A piece of writing is like a sausage. It has form, content, texture. And in the same fashion, what turns a quotidian article into an exceptional article is that inexpressible je ne sais quoi, the literary counterpart of a bead of glistening pork fat or a perfect balance of herbs.” His nephew Gilbert Saucisson will take over Raymond’s duties at Charcuterie Monthly.
With his trademark cravat, four-day stubble and haughty stare, Raymond Saucisson will be missed around the French markets that have become de rigueur among Sunday bruncheurs (a neologism of his own invention) from Aylesbury to Auckland.
Raymond Saucisson is survived by his wife Solange, an author of vegan cookbooks. “While our dietary tastes differed, we complemented one other perfectly like ham and peas. If he was my bubble, I was his squeak,” she said yesterday.
*Lesley Latte reserves the right not to disclose h** gender.
With Gusto! by the Write On! writers group is available in paperback here.
Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links: