My pitch as an editor

So, for about a decade, this was my pitch on my website to try to get new clients:

I am an established editor who mainly works on written documents for UN and government agencies, from reports and strategies to white papers and annual reports.

I honed my craft as a policy officer in health and human rights, and as a published author of books of poetry and short fiction.

My work as an editor is to make your words persuasive, clear and error-free. Documents might require structural editing (looking at the structure of the report; interrogating the arguments and logic), copyediting (generally improving the language and correcting errors) or proofreading (reviewing the designed version of an edited report or a report that has already been edited).

There are many situations requiring good editing:

  1. After working so intensely on your document, you need a second pair of eyes to catch mistakes you just can’t see anymore.
  2. You’re a great communicator, but not a great writer.
  3. Multiple people have worked on the document and it needs consistency of voice.
  4. The primary authors have English as a second language, or write in a form of English (say, American) that is not your target audience (say, Australian).

These are only a few reasons why you might like me to make your words better. Among the services I provide are:

  1. Rewriting and editing to emphasize key arguments and selling points
  2. Ensuring that the document’s structure and order are logical and make the strongest arguments
  3. Rewriting with an emphasis on clarity, persuasion and the elimination of unnecessary repetition and wordiness
  4. Translating jargon or technical language to plain English
  5. Ensuring consistency of tone, language and Australian spelling
  6. Correcting punctuation, formatting and grammar; correcting diagrams and references; proofreading, spell checking and fact checking.

I worked to tight timeframes, in some cases, working over the weekend or 12-hour days.

My current and past clients include:

The Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) at UNESCO, UNESCO, UN Women, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the City of Sydney, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, WWF-Australia, NTT ICT, IDG, the Australian Human Rights Commission, NSW Justice, NSW Health, Male Champions of Change, Elizabeth Broderick & Co, City West Housing and Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini (Italy).

Drop me a line if you’d like to discuss working together.

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My work as an editor

Hi.

I’m Andy and I’m an editor.

I started my career working for the International Gay and Lesbian Association in Brussels, and then worked for a gay men’s health organisation in London before working in the HIV sector in Australia for a decade, as an international policy officer and then a programmes manager for a small grants programme to increase access to HIV treatment to anyone who needed it (the programme was global but I worked with Asia and for a short period, Central and Eastern Europe).

Making a career change, I wasn’t sure what I would do. I’ve always loved words, and was a published writer. Could I work in the book publishing industry? But I found the industry closed and slowly discovered that I could make a living as a freelance editor, and I could also use my previous experience to advantage, as a policy writer and with subject matter expertise in health, human rights and community development.

It was an interesting start. I joined a small business network which taught me a lot about running my own business and how to promote myself. I learned about writing that is directed towards a client or reader, instead of rabbiting on about yourself. I ditched the name I was working using after leaving the HIV sector (Quan Consulting) and rebranded myself as ‘Boldface’ and set up a website. I took on any work I could find. I wrote websites. I wrote brochures and blog posts. I edited a few novels of aspiring writers. I wrote and edited tenders.

I learned that even though people are familiar with the idea of ‘copywriting’, that really, only a handful of advertising (now called branding) agencies did that, and that they might not even be particularly good at writing and words, but are excellent at ideas and concepts. And that even though no one really seems to know what editors do (imagining them solely working with journalists or publishers, or getting us mixed up with video editors), that there is a great need for great editing from all types of organisations, from big to small.

And over the decade and past, from 2010, my business has grown into a very healthy one indeed. My big breaks came from working with a team at PricewaterhouseCoopers and then Ernst and Young, when my contact moved there. I won a spot on the editorial team for the City of Sydney. I did editing work for UNDP, through contacts in my old life in the HIV sector, and that experience allowed me to then work for UNESCO and then UN Women. I secured similar work with Australian organisations that I admire, such as the Australian Human Rights Commission and Male Champions of Change.

I learned from this that the type of editing that I like to do is on major, substantial reports that hopefully contribute to some social good in the world. And that after doing these types of reports, that my work was valued and I could get more of the same work. So, nearly all my work these days is from previous clients or word of mouth. I’m not sure if I ever found a client from the work website, www.boldface.com.au.

In June 2021, I did a drastic edit of the website. I’ve removed the pages for services that I offered but did little of (editing fictional books, research, editing tenders). I deleted the page with the list of clients, which was outdated. I updated my page on editing. And I updated this page, which was the ‘About Me’ page at www.boldface.com.au.

If I was targeting small businesses, or unknown clients, I might have had to put in some work into getting the website to do some more work for me. But it’s really not so necessary for the type of work I’m doing and now that I’m an established business. I left this page up, partly for posterity, and partly because I thought it was a generally good idea for a business to have a website. It acts more as a business card these days, a sign of trust: I exist. I provide services. I am contactable. I am here if you need me. 

But I’ve had a change of heart. I think I’ll just leave up the front page of the website for now, move other materials to his website, and be more streamlined and tidy.

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How websites have changed! And so have my niece and nephew.

Once upon a time, I kept a page on my website that showed off my niece and nephew in their younger years. Way back in 2002, when Jeremiah (now Jerry) was born, it was a good way to share photos with friends and family, and keep some good photos all in one place.

And indeed, my niece and nephew were the joy of my family, so it was a great thing to do for us, and their other fans and admirers.

I kept this up until 2009, when Facebook took over really, and all of us got lazy about taking photos. I still kept the links to the photo albums here as sort of an archival record… but then, Picasa, the web photo album that I used, was bought by Google, and none of the links worked anymore.

But really, the world has changed so much. People no longer use blogs and websites in the way that they once did. Repositories of personal photos and records went long ago to Facebook, and then to Instagram and other places. And because of how dark the world has been discovered to be, it’s also no longer cool to post photos of kids up on websites, even if they’re your relatives!

We just got back from seeing all my family, for the first time in years, in Vancouver, and my nephew is 20! A proper adult. And my niece is 16. How time flies. At the same time, it’s time to move my website to a new host, which means it’s also time to reconsider the pages and what I keep up. I can’t believe that I’ve kept a dedicated webpage to my niece and nephew on my webpage for so long, albeit with modest content. I’ve also, in the last decade or so, seen how inappropriate it is to not allow kids to grow up, by reposting photos of them when they were young, though the photo here is so cute, I will allow just this one …

So, here is a blog post to replace the ‘niece and nephew’ page, while sending out good wishes to my niece and nephew and saying what a pleasure it is to see them growing up into fine human beings.

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2022 in lists: concerts & shows, theatre, books, movies and TV

Movies (seen on TV, probably on a streaming service, or on an airplane)

  • Annie Live! We’d lost track of the live musicals on network TV, but since we love musicals, I found it. It’s such an odd musical. The songs are sentimental and simple, but I still love ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Maybe’ and ‘It’s a Hard-Knock Life’. Weirdly, they all take place at the start of the musical, and then … the plot goes all over the place and drags. Somewhat enjoyable. 
  • Don’t Look Up. I love that so many people have watched this and that it’s caused such discussion. I was leaning towards some critics’ call that the film isn’t particularly clever, while being enjoyable to watch but other commentators have let me know that this is not the point! The movie is a realistic parable for climate change and points out the collusion of media, politicians and rich people that is leading down the we’re-fucked path.
  • The Power of the Dog. Moody, memorable, engaging. I perhaps expected to like it more than I did with the rave reviews, but it was pretty good. 
  • Ant-man and the Wasp: Enjoyable enough for a Marvel film. It’s a bit sad that I expect so little from these films these days. As long as they entertain me and avoid too large a clichéd CGI battle scene, I’m happy: but I did like the characters and humour in this one. 
  • The French Exit: I’m a sucker for anything with Paris in it and I was willing to go along with the first half of the film – and Michelle Pfeiffer really is fantastic – but it sort of lost me. It was too absurd. I didn’t find the others characters engaging, nor could understand their motivation. 
  • The Eternals: I knew this has some pretty mixed reviews, but being able to watch it at home, in two parts, it wasn’t too long that way. I loved the diverse characters, who were very attractive really. I kept on laughing imagining Angelina Jolie channeling her anger towards Brad Pitt in her action scenes. I love Gemma Chan. I like Scottish accents. Oh, and I especially love that the director and writer is an Asian-American woman and that the movie was a huge box office success. 
  • Encanto: Incredible animation, wonderful music, what’s not to love? And a cultural phenomenon. 
  • The Weekend Away: Gosh, I didn’t like this movie. Sort of the movie version of the Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window, with various intrigue and red herrings but nothing made much sense to me and the filmmaking was pretty uninteresting. 
  • Fire Island: Of course I had to see this film, a retelling of Pride and Prejudice with gay Asian men at the centre. I wanted to like it more, because there were some really, really funny and charming bits, and then other parts which just seemed dull in comparison, and yet did I ever think I would live to see a film with gay Asian men at the centre, with happy endings. No, I did not. 
  • Spiderman: Far From Home: I do think Tom Holland and Zendaya are appealing and have charisma, but for a film that made over one BILLION dollars and is the 24th highest grossing film of ALL TIME, I was surprised by how junior the jokes and storyline was. 
  • Moulin Rouge: We’re seeing the musical soon so wanted to revisit movie. I think it’s even better than I remember it, and am surprised when I read the criticisms of it. Baz made the movie he wanted: it’s a crazy, whirling, colourful, kinetic mash-up, not original in story or setting, but definitely original in the way that it’s told. It’s almost like some people wanted it to be a different movie altogether. Looking forward to the musical now.
  • Thor: Love and Thunder: I really wanted to enjoy this, and it is hard not to enjoy looking at Chris Hemsworth’s butt. I was OK with the slapstick comedy for the first half hour but then I thought: is that all there is? It was strange, tedious and loud, and seemed pitched at younger viewers. Scenes with dozens of child actors are just not appealing to me. 
  • Lady Chatterley’s Lover: I hadn’t read the book so didn’t know what the fuss was about, and from my experience with other historical dramas of the time (particularly ones with gay characters), I kept thinking this would end in disaster. That it didn’t was an artistic choice, which I found interesting: choose love, choose sex, strike down class barriers, it said. Plus I loved that I couldn’t match the Emma Corrin from the Crown to the Emma Corrin of this movie: they were fantastic.
  • The Worst Person in the World: Ah, travel. The first overseas trip in over 3 years, which means: movies! I loved this sad, funny, thoughtful Norwegian film about a woman in her early 30s coming of age, a phrase which you’d usually think of for a much younger person, so these questions: What is your best relationship? Do you want to have kids? How do you set boundaries? are much more interesting than moving from being a teenager to a young adult. 
  • Mrs. Harris goes to Paris: The preview of this looked sufficiently charming so I was excited to find it on in-flight entertainment. I had not idea it was a book, and then 30 years ago, a TV movie with Angela Lansbury! I love Paris and I thought I’d like this more than I did. It was FINE. Enjoyable even, but the plot and characters are thin as air. 
  • Peace by Chocolate: I’d read about this true-life story so thought this would be a documentary rather than a movie. It was charming and sweet, and made me proud to be Canadian, to offer asylum-seekers and refugees an opportunity for a better life. Today, I got to try the chocolates too. No lie! They were delicious. 

Movies (seen in the cinema)

  • The Velvet Queen” (“La Panthère des Neiges”): A gorgeous, meditative film that is more about ways of seeing than the search for a snow leopard. 
  • Murder Party: A French farce, meant to allude to the board game Clue (known as Cluedo in Australia) and Agatha Christie’s novels, I thought it was like a French ‘Squid Game’ but not violent. Harmless entertainment, but not fabulous. 
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: I seriously wondered if I was going mad, except after the film, three of the four of us felt the same way (the other loved it). I had no idea WTF was happening for pretty much the whole film. Or perhaps I did understand what was happening, but couldn’t understand why I was supposed to be interested. The characters chased each other around and smashed things up. Apparently, newspaper reviewers have been told not to divulge the plot because it would spoil it, but … sorry. That’s the plot. 
  • How to Thrive: Friends of mine made a documentary about mental health and positive psychology. And we saw it in the cinema. Well done, gents!
  • Wakanda Forever: Surprised that husband didn’t like it that much but I did. Some beautiful, fantastical visuals, and I loved the strong women characters. 
  • Bros: I have rather a lot to say about this but don’t know if I’ll say it here!

Documentaries and Reality Television

  • Drag Race Italia. When I found out it was only six episodes, we popped back in to watch the finale. The shows were overly long, but I liked the host, judges and queens, and it seemed important, to Italy, to have this on TV in terms of gay (and drag) representation. Interesting that while other franchises have been addressing contemporary issues like trans and non-binary identities, racism within the gay community and living with HIV, Drag Race Italia was all about the basic message of acceptance of gay men and outsiders. 
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 14.  I worried that I was dragged out, but it was fun to revisit the OG, which is a well-oiled machine. On the other hand, we tried watching the first Drag Race UK vs The World and we can’t watch any more of it. Too much drag race. And then, we lost our interest in this one too, though will watch the finale. 
  • Project Runway, Season 19. We’ve watched this show since about 2004. Wow. Christian Siriano has slid into his mentor role perfectly, more and more comfortable in front of the camera, and hilarious and with great guidance. It was a good cast and a deserving winner. Enjoyed it.
  • Queer Eye, Season 6: This season brings Queer Eye to Austin, Texas for the usual mix of tears, glow-ups and consumerism. The heroes are well-chosen to represent today’s issues and ways of community-building and activism, and I think this show is a really interesting cultural phenomenon, four gay men and a non-binary person, dropping by homes to spice up their lives. 
  • Survivor Australia, Blood vs Water: The family bonds theme of this Survivor does make it interesting, but it’s amazing, in comparison with the American version, how little strategising these players are shown doing. They talk about having strategies but show no evidence nor even being able to read a crowd or follow a hunch. It’s frustrating. 
  • The Parisian Agency, Season 2: I was really charmed by the first season of this show: engaged by the family dynamics (of a family real estate business) and loved being able to see amazing French (and then European) properties. But I wasn’t as charmed by this season, where they seemed to try to create drama and storylines, which didn’t necessarily go anywhere. I really wanted to see if anyone would buy the shoebox-size apartment that had magnificent views of the Seine!
  • Survivor, Seasons 42 & 43: It surprises me just how much I enjoy this compared to the Australian version. The players are nearly always strategizing, making alliances, betraying each other. Then, set within a multicultural reflection of North America: I find it fascinating. My thought for Season 42 is that Canadians, only having been allowed to compete for two seasons, seem to have a natural advantage. People think we’re so nice they don’t see us coming for them. The winner of Season 43 was really a surprise for us, and we thought it was a good season overall. 
  • Inside the Mind of a Cat: Netflix’s documentary didn’t have much new information for us but there were certainly some cute cats. 
  • Blown Away, Season 3: I’m still surprised how much I love this reality competition for glass artists but there’s a wonderful combination of skill, artistry and interesting personalities, and I think there’s an in-built drama where glass could break or someone get 3rd degree burns at any time.
  • Making the Cut, Season 3: While I find Heidi very annoying, Jeremy terribly dressed and Tim a bit worn out (having loved him in the early seasons of Project Runway), I was very, very impressed with this season. It seemed the talent was at a higher level, and they were willing to reward innovation, rather than playing it safe. 
  • Drag Race España, Season 2: We saw the first couple of episodes and then took a break and watched the last one. Kittens, we’re dragged out! But it seems like a deserving queen won, and I love the judges warmth and enthusiasm.
  • Queer Eye Brazil: It was so interesting to see the Brazilian version of Queer Eye. The heroes seem to be from more modest means, and so are deserving of the free stuff and love. The Fab 5, and the heroes themselves, are all emotional, vulnerable, positive and physically affectionate. I think I liked this even more than the current US series!
  • Drink Masters: We tend to love reality TV competitions and I spent a lot of time learning to make good cocktails during lockdown. So, while I should love this show, I didn’t. They somehow didn’t coax the two experts into really explaining what makes a great cocktail, which is what I love about these shows, generally. I know a helluva lot more about fashion than I used to! But the judging and storytelling were lacking, and aside from wanting to make vermouth spheres, I wasn’t inspired to try making any of the creations, which looks generally wonderful but far to complicated to make at home!

Other television

  • Borgen – Power & Glory, Seasons 1 and 2. Oh Borgen, how I loved you. The new season was great storytelling, as before, engaging, interesting and Danish. So good that it convinced husband to want to watch the early seasons, and I’d forgotten quite how good they are. The added bonus is seeing all the main characters 10 years later, in the latest season. It is wonderful to see how they’ve changed, evolved and aged.
  • Dexter, New Blood. I think it was luck more than anything else that I somehow stopped watching the original Dexter after a few seasons, even though I loved it. Apparently, the storytelling got more and more inconsistent, culminating in one of TV’s most hated finales. But this new series, with the first showrunner: I really, really enjoyed it. I always liked Michael C. Hall, the actor playing his son is amazing as are the rest of the supporting cast. A huge treat to watch.
  • A Very English Scandal. Missed this when it first came out, and I found it completely compelling. Wonderful acting and storytelling. 
  • Emily in Paris, Season 2. I realise that I can watch this cotton candy of a show, and be excited by recognising the places that I visited in Paris and France. Emily is annoying. Other characters are also annoying. I find it particularly annoying that they’ve created the character of a random Chinese musician in Paris who is supposed to play electronic piano, and they kept showing that he can’t even fake play the piano. Kill me now. In general, the story doesn’t make tons of sense. But it’s easy to watch and you can bet I’ll be watching the next two seasons.
  • Veneno. What a show! With electric performances from trans actresses, this 8 episode Spanish series about trans sex worker Veneno’s life and times, and about a journalist who writes her autobiography, was amazing, though sad and harrowing.
  • The Woman In The House Across The Street From The Girl In The Window. What the hell did we just watch? I blame Kristen Bell, who I enjoy watching so was drawn into watching this nonsensical 8 short episodes of fluff. I understand it was supposed to be a spoof of a genre, but it wasn’t funny, clever or in the end, interesting. 
  • Ted Lasso, Seasons 1 and 2: We were late discoveries to this, and ended up binge watching both seasons. How we loved it. 
  • Snowpiercer, Season 3. I liked the first season a lot, but since then, just keep watching out of habit. A strange rhythm with too many characters, I enjoy parts of it and then find myself bored and confused. By the end, sadly, I had completely lost interest.
  • Call My Agent, Seasons 3 & 4. There’s much to like about this show, not least of which is how it encourages me to daydream about strolling around Paris. I did start to get tired about the repetitive theme of the show: lying, pretending not to have lied, getting in trouble because of the lies, and possibly getting out of trouble by lying. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I was pleasantly surprised. 
  • Killing Eve, Season 4. I’d seen the early headlines that the season wasn’t great and the finale was worse, but tried not to read anything before we watched it ourselves. What a terrible season. So bad that it almost made me forget why I liked the season in the first place. Where were the fabulous clothes? Jodie Comer’s amazing accents? Who were all these random new characters and why should we care about them? The story just didn’t make sense. What a shame. 
  • Inventing Anna. I have to admit to being fascinated by Julia Garner’s portrayal of Anna Sorokin. It drew me in, how a young woman with chutzpah, self-confidence and possibly a loose tether to reality conned so many people. But I thought the series was a little too long, and didn’t like the framing device of the journalist. The episode of the journo’s visit to Germany, which was entirely made up, was particularly bad. 
  • Heartstopper. I won’t ever stop being charmed by seeing shows that are now available, mainstream, to huge audiences, that portrayed a world I would have liked to live in when I was 15 or 16, feeling alone and isolated being gay, and wondering if I’d find a romantic partner, or even whether I’ve live to adulthood. I enjoyed this, very much, and spent most of my time making audible ‘Awwwww’ noises. 
  • Russian Doll, Season 2: Aside from the fact that we don’t see tons of Alan in this season, and his story is not as connected to the main one, I think I might have liked this season as much as the first. It’s absolutely bonkers and yet strangely, it sort of made emotional sense, and anchored by Natasha Lyonne’s performance, profane, tough, bossy and literate, I couldn’t stop watching this show.
  • Sort Of: I was charmed by the lead character, the non-binary hardworking Pakistani-Canadian Sabi, and also to spend time in Toronto again, but I wanted the writing to be sharper and stronger so that was a little disappointing. Loved the kids in the show, who were natural and have tons of charisma. 
  • My Brilliant Friend, Season 3: I loved the books, and I was engaged enough to binge-watch the series, but it was so uncomfortable. Elena is terrible to Lila. Lila is terrible to Elena. In fact, all the characters are pretty awful to each other, set amidst the backdrop of political violence, social misogyny and poverty. 
  • Only Murders in the Building, Seasons 1 & 2: I binge-watched these while I was in the hospital and what a gift. Sometimes you just need a well-crafted laugh, and having it delivered by such a cast of amazing actors. Oh, I liked this show. 
  • Lord of the Rings: Ring of Power: I was enjoying this and just allowing myself to remember what I liked about the mythic worlds of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. The images were beautiful. The stories engaged me. We were big fans of Game of Thrones and started to watch House of Dragon, but I had to admit it was so boring, I stopped after two episodes. But I lost my interest in Rings of Power by the end, unfortunately, and wondered: what was all that about?
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Season 5: I was occasionally frustrated by the previous seasons, the pace or how June just kept doing stupid things so we would continue to watch her, as the main character. But this season, I really loved. I liked the pace and the stories and being away from Gilead. Makes me happy to anticipate the final season. 
  • The Crown, Season 5: I was hesitant about this, as I’d read mixed reviews and the timeline is getting to close to now: doesn’t it feel a little intrusive? But watching the season, I remembered that Peter Morgan is a good storyteller, and looks for angles that are new or interesting. I had my quibbles with the season, but over all, I enjoyed it. 
  • Shantaram: This idea, of Bombay noir, the sophisticated and rough Indian underworld, I found compelling. My Aussie husband didn’t find faults with Charlie Hunnam’s accent and Shubham Saraf was a scene-stealer. Enjoyable. 

Books

  • Armistead Maupin’s Mary Ann in Autumn: See the review here.
  • Bernhard Schlink’s Flights of Love. See the review here.
  • Jeanette Winterson’s Lighthousekeeping. See the review here.
  • A.M. Homes’s Jack. See the review here.
  • Byron Katie’s Loving What Is. See the review here.
  • Hanya Yanagihara’s To Paradise. See the review here.
  • Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House. I think this is my favourite book of the last two years! See the review here.
  • I liked it so much, I reread Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I never did a review for. So, wrote one here.
  • Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads. Meh. See the review here.
  • André Leon Talley’s The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir. I don’t know how he made such a potentially interesting life so deadly boring. The prose was dull and shallow. I only read a bit and gave up.
  • John Waters’ Liar-Mouth: A Feel-Bad Romance: A Novel. It felt like he was simply making up a story in his head of the worst behaved, most unpleasant person, doing the most unpleasant things he could think of. And yet, since he pioneered shock and disgust, it’s just not very shocking these days. I skimmed most of it then gave up.
  • Anthony Veasna So’s Afterparties. I wanted to like this more than I did, as a fellow queer Asian writer. Reading various rave reviews of it did give me a better appreciation for it. I connected most with the characters most like me, the queer love affair of ‘Human Development’ but I found the other characters brash and ballsy but I didn’t personally engage with them so much.
  • David Leavitt’s The Page Turner. See the review here.
  • Ian Hamilton’s The Two Sisters of Borneo. See the review here.
  • I also reread Hanya Yanigihara’s A Little Life again.

Concerts, Shows, Theatre, Exhibitions & Words

  • Iridescent by Gerwyn Davies at the Museum of Sydney: Colonial and historic Sydney and New South Wales imagined through queer characters, uncovered or created, with amazing costumes and beautiful photos of the artist in the costumes in these historic settings. Loved it. 
  • Lost in Shanghai by Jane Hutcheon at the Sydney Festival: A fascinating life told in the style of William Yang, with slides and music. 
  • Six, Studio Theatre, Opera House: What fun to finally see this musical phenomenon. Great music, great performances. Very entertaining. 
  • Tim Minchin, BACK, at the Enmore Theatre: This show was delayed for over two years because of the COVID. I know Minchin more as a composer and musician but from this show, I see he considers himself at heart a comedian, a very intelligent court jester. It was very, very entertaining.  
  • Chorus Line, Opera House: Waited about two years for this to be rescheduled. It’s a classic musical from 1975 and rarely staged as it’s a tough one: requiring its cast to be able to dance at the highest level AND sing AND act. I think it was one of the first professional shows I saw, at, maybe 10 or 11 years old? So, it’s close to my heart. What was the most thrilling about this Sydney production was the dancing: incredible. And next for me, was a bit meta: that if you stop and think about the show and its meaning—performers struggling to make a living out of performing, the gruelling auditions, the pain and sacrifice—you might notice that the brave performers doing the show may be playing characters, but at heart, this IS their life. I found that poignant. There were some sound problems and the recorded music was too loud and too rushed, leaving not enough space at times for comic or touching moments. But otherwise, a great show.
  • Lady Windemere’s Fan, Genesian Theatre: It’s been ages since I’ve seen amateur theatre. One of the cast was down with COVID and another stepped into the role, the same day, reading from the book (and did a good job). Such an old-fashioned play. I can imagine drag queens playing all the female parts, reciting the lines in a very camp way. 
  • Brigadoon, Neglected Musicals, Hayes Theatre: I quite like this classic musical that is both romantic and silly. The cast put on this show in something like a day … and were very impressive in pulling it all off: the songs, the choreography, the lack of a set. I really enjoyed it. 
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, Sydney Theatre Company: I was mostly speechless by the end of this production, that brought to life Oscar Wilde’s book in a way that was contemporary, surprising and thrilling. Erin Jean Norvill, playing dozens of parts, supported by the technical wizardry of the crew (have they ever been called upon to do so much), was a tour de force. I hope this production goes international! It deserves that much recognition. 
  • Kunstkamer, Australian Ballet, Livecast from the Melbourne Arts Centre: I haven’t seen a lot of dance lately, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a particular combination like this of ballet and contemporary. The manic, flitting hands and contorted facial expressions were unnerving. The scenes with the entire corps were breathtaking: creating moving artwork through bodies. The quality of the livecast was great, allowing us to see more angles and close-ups than if we were there physically, but it still had a quality of immediacy. Very glad to have seen it. 
  • Nils Frahm, Music for Sydney, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House: Appearing like a mad scientist with a wall of amazing contraptions, Frahm captivated us, and the sounds was SO good, I loved that I could feel it in different parts of my body. A wonderful show with lots of rapt fans (and some women who didn’t seem to know why they were there, and had to be told to stop texting and then left in a huff). Frahm said, honestly, at the start that he never imagined that he could do what he loved in front of so many people, and I love that idea: he seems pure and humble. He’s created wonderful music and people want to hear and pay for. I like when the world works like that. 
  • Bonnie and Clyde, Hayes Theatre: Hanging out at the Hayes Theatre is a way to see interesting Broadway musicals which may not have come to Sydney yet (like this one), performed by a young, dynamic cast, and with always inventive and engaging staging. I loved the voices of the leads (and others in the cast) and thought there were some really interesting moments in the musical, though I suspect its weaknesses have prevented more productions of it (its run on Broadway was short, and it doesn’t seem to have been performed often since). So, I felt really lucky to have seen this and that Hayes put it on!
  • Queenie Van Zandt’s BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell, Hayes Theatre: A beautiful show, and beautifully sung, of songs by one of my favourite artists. 
  • Jekyll and Hyde, Hayes Theatre: Brendan Maclean and Brady Peeti Hayes are absolute stars, yet the book of the musical didn’t really grab me.
  • Sigur Rós, Aware Super Theatre: A great concert by a great band. Loved the projections, lighting, sound and … music. 
  • Moulin Rouge! The Musical: I loved this show and it made me wonder why I liked it so much. It is an interesting trick, to tap into our collective subconscious with popular songs so that we’re drawn into the musical, both emotionally and intellectually. Anyone remember Stars on 45? I just wouldn’t expect to like a jukebox musical so much, and while it’s true the story is slight, the set design is magical and transportive; the costumes amazing. We had the special nightclub seats right next to the stage and could see how hard the actors were working. It all became a mythic romance, and I’m impressed how successfully they updated the movie to a new hit musical. Bravo. 
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, Live on Stage! This show was delayed, because of COVID, so long that there were two seasons of queens on stage, rather than one. What was most interesting was the audience, and the phenomenon that RPDR has become. Otherwise, some amusing shows and great dancers, though probably not as charming as seeing a show close-up at the Imperial Hotel. 
  • Godspell, Hayes Theatre: This was one of my formative musicals; I even played rehearsal piano for our high school production. So, a jolt, definitely, to see a contemporary version, not only a female Christ, but many of the songs with major changes. An incredible, multi-talented cast. We particularly liked Victoria, who was both musical director and performer. 
  • Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Lyric Theatre. The music really was quite gorgeous and yet surprisingly unmemorable (and similar to many other Rodgers and Hammerstein songs). On top of such a well-worn fable, it was by turns, exuberant, junior and camp. But all in all enjoyable and an amazing cast. 
  • All We Want is More: The Tobias Wong Project & A Seat at the Table (Contemporary Stories of Chinese Canadians in BC), Museum of Vancouver. Great to learn about the conceptual artist and designer Tobias Wong and that with his untimely death, the Museum of Vancouver looks like it will a custodian of his work. And my cousin has an interview in ‘A Seat at the Table’ so it was cool to see the exhibit, my people, my history.

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Book Review: Ian Hamilton’s The Two Sisters of Borneo

The Two Sisters of Borneo (Ava Lee, #6)The Two Sisters of Borneo by Ian Hamilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My mother and brother are big fans of this series of detective novels, by Ian Fleming, with the heroine, Ava Lee, a Chinese-Canadian lesbian. And Mom basically thrust his book onto me, wanting to know what I thought. I was, I admit, a bit suspicious. Even though I read that Chinese-Canadians, lesbians, and Chinese-Canadian lesbians are fans of the series, it seemed a bit suss for an older white guy to be using this particular identity as his hero.

The thing is though, I can’t find anything objectionable about the hero of the book, as the telling strangely lacks details that I could find objectionable. The hero is a character. The hero of his books. And it doesn’t feel like her identity is being wielded in a way to get attention, or done in a sloppy fashion. Lee is wealthy and well-dressed, in a seemingly healthy relationship with someone she doesn’t necessarily see a lot of, is a master of an obscure form of martial arts and is a forensic accountant. Also, in this book, she shows proper concern for a mentor (business partner) who is dying.

While there are details about her, and she has a voice, I never lose the sense of an author carefully plotting a book and moving around pieces, as if on a chess board. So, the hero could have been a retired Welsh-born journalist and civil servant, like the author himself, or it could be a Chinese-Canadian lesbian forensic accountant. The details just seemed, like the details of the plot, a way of keeping the book moving along.

And yet, I found the story pretty lifeless. The main plotline here is forensic accounting, that money is being stolen under the cover of bankruptcy and insolvency. The characters are sketched in terms of their size and build, and probably the most attention in the book goes to their clothes and the labels they are wearing. There is also a ton of detail about a fairly traditional Chinese wedding, and, uh, eating dim sum and a funeral. While my mother and brother found this clever, how well the author captured these events, I found the recounting somewhat anthropological. In the book, there are some good people … and a few sketchy people. I can’t pinpoint why I find the dialogue so stilted and unnatural, but it all felt very pedestrian. How about this gem: ‘Growing a business when you’re undercapitalized isn’t any fun’? Everyone speaks in a very similar voice, except for Uncle, who seems to purposely not speak with any contractions.

It takes more than two thirds of the book for something to happen that interests me, and as I expected, the villain HAD to be someone different than the only possibility sketched out for most of the book, but there certainly were few red herrings and no twists or turns. It IS an easy read, and because it’s so easy to read, I guess a page-turner. And if my mother and brother like reading a detective novel about a Chinese-Canadian lesbian forensic accountant, than really, I shouldn’t be reviewing this as literature and simply be glad that they are enjoying the book and series.

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Book Review: David Leavitt’s The Page Turner

The Page TurnerThe Page Turner by David Leavitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Decades ago, as a young gay man and an aspiring writer, I read ‘Family Dancing’, Leavitt’s collection of short stories, and then ‘Lost Language of Cranes’. I remember (even now) mixed emotions. I generally liked his writing, but not as much as some others (like Edmund White) and I was fascinated with how he seemed to be crowned as a successful gay writer, with his career launched after two books. I lost track of him after that, though I knew he kept writing, and recently picked up this book. As an interesting contrast, I’d been struggling through a lauded but heavy and long Norwegian novel, the Half Brother, and after reading ‘The Page Turner’, I decided that if Leavitt can write a pretty good story that I can finish in a day (I was travelling interstate, as they say here in Australia, and had some free time), that the amount of time and effort that I had put into the Norwegian novel, to only reach halfway without loving it, was not proportionate. I gave up. But that’s another review.

As I remember, Leavitt is a beautiful writer. I like the voice. I like the sentences. It is very, very readable, yet in a literary way. I also found the key theme interesting, in light of what I’ve said above: how does one choose a career? What if our talent doesn’t match our ambition? What is ‘genius’? It felt a deeply personal question, a way for Leavitt to ask where he fits into the canon of literature, as well as a good question for anyone else interested in the arts.

My problem though was that it felt so old-fashioned. I’m sure that his short stories and maybe the novel too had overbearing mothers, in the midst of marital breakdown. And while I know this book was published some 25 years ago, comparing this picture of gay life to today’s questions of identity among LGBTIQ people, seems quaint. Gay people are cultured (loving classical music). They tend to have relationships with partners with vast age differences. A prime concern is monogamy or lack of it. It did feel to me an old book. But being so easy to read, and with some lovely prose, it is hard to be too critical.

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Book Review: Lars Saabye Christinsen’s The Half Brother

The Half BrotherThe Half Brother by Lars Saabye Christensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I just couldn’t get through it, but I won’t give it a poor rating. From reading rave reviews from newspapers and literary magazines, and seeing the praise on Goodreads, it feels to me to be one of those books that will grab some readers, and others not. I did find the unfamiliar setting of Norway, both the far reaches and closer to the city, interesting, and I was also really interested to see what would happen to the characters, considering the origin story, which I won’t spoil here. But it was so slow-moving and long, in a way that I couldn’t engage with.

It’s not that I don’t mind long detailed Norwegian novels: I’ve read two of Karl Ove Knausgård’s books! But halfway through, struggling to read the book, struggling to be interested, none of the characters were developing. The father was still mysterious, the grandmother still drunk, the mother still resentful and the half-brother sharp and cruel. And Barnum, the narrator, trudging through this miserable world of his family and being a short outsider: I actually didn’t find his storytelling interesting enough to get through the story. It didn’t help that I found the second part of the short prologue, set in the modern day, pretty unbearable and uninteresting, a drunken screenwriter at a film festival dodging meetings.

I’m not completely sure why I couldn’t get into this book, though it does make me wonder about how we’re attracted to some writers and not to others, that doesn’t have to do with the quality of the writing (considering it’s a much awarded book, lauded by other people). I used to ALWAYS get through books, even if I wasn’t enjoying them. I felt an obligation to finish them, in order to fully judge them and felt it a failure of determination if I gave up.

But these days, these YEARS in fact, I read so much less than I used to. Reading a very slim David Leavitt novel (review forthcoming), I suddenly thought: this book is a tenth of the size of The Half Brother! Struggling through something that I wasn’t enjoying was actually preventing me from reading something I would likely enjoy more. I think I’ll be donating this one to the closest street library (which is appropriate, since the book also found its way to me without a cost).

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Book Review: Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads

CrossroadsCrossroads by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I still remember reading ‘The Corrections‘ and then recommending it to everyone I knew. I found it comic, poignant, brilliant and unfortunately relatable, and I was very much swept into the story. So, reading ‘Crossroads‘ over 20 years later, I wonder: have I changed? Or has Franzen? I no longer found the shifts in perspective between different family members very interesting. And I was no longer engaged by being RIGHT INSIDE someone’s head and following along their every thought, all 8,271 of them. I also found it strangely repetitive from what I remember. His flawed, neurotic characters express their worries and fears but for the most part don’t grow or mature or have much self-understanding. At least one character experiments with drugs and you get to read EVERY detail. Bodily functions, including shitting, are recounted. Often, a series of events will build into the public mortification and shame of the character; I found this a bit disturbing how often this happened and how similar in tone the events were: falling apart, or getting criticised or making a huge mistake in front of groups of people, or a family or a lover. I did enjoy Marion’s story more, the mother and wife with a secret. And the brilliant drug-selling Perry also had his moments, where I was intrigued to get inside his unique mind. But otherwise, I’m not sure why I found most of the book long and tedious. I didn’t know it’s the first planned book of a trilogy, which explained the completely bizarre ending, not even a good ending for a chapter, the storylines don’t get tied up and the narrative just peters out. But I won’t be reading the rest of the trilogy. It seems I’m very much at odds with other readers, as I’ve read sparkling reviews of the book in the New York Times and the Guardian. But nope. This one wasn’t for me.

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Book Review: Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I returned for another read of this novel after reading the latest Egan, The Candy House, and thoroughly enjoying it. And I clearly didn’t review it the first time around, While I knew that there were some of the same characters in both books, I didn’t know how clearly the two books connect. I can see them being bound together and marketed as a pair; it would only add to the weight of the novel, all the connections between the characters and the theme of how time changes us.

So, my recommendation would be to read this book first and then The Candy House … and I’d think that you’d know, after the first chapter, whether you like the style of writing and characterisation. I’m quite surprised by the negative reviews of both books: Egan’s writing seems to hit people viscerally so you either love it or hate it, though there is a lot of complaint in the negative reviews that this book won a Pulitzer and other people liked it so much. I’ve always found this strange: you might not like a book but why is it a problem if other people do? Thus, my recommendation: if you start reading it and don’t like it, don’t read more!

A number of the negative reviews comment on being unable to connect with the characters, and finding them somewhat cold, or disconnected. But to me the cast of characters are complex and flawed, usually too smart for their own good, and I found them fascinating to read about. I didn’t necessarily see myself in any of them, or want to be any of them, but that’s not the only reason for reading fiction.

I found this book intelligent and engaging. I was engrossed enough that I didn’t find the various literary games (like the second-person story, or the PowerPoint presentation) unenjoyable or showy or too clever. For me, they were ways of drawing me deeper and deeper into the characters and stories, which are often comic in how tragic they are: I didn’t mind that tone at all: feeling like laughing at the characters and then not feeling that I should and so forth. And rather than feeling disjointed, I was interesting in all the ways the characters and stories connect to each other. While reviews often boil the theme down to ‘time’, I’d propose that an equally important thread is ‘promotion’, how we show ourselves to others, how we sell ourselves to others, how we try to get ideas across. The final chapter has a prescient take on Influencers that has probably become more accurate since publication. I rarely read books a second time, so to have done so and found the writing as smart and exciting as I first did means that this is a *rave* review.

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Book Review: Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House

The Candy HouseThe Candy House by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was disappointed with Hanya Yanagihara’s ‘To Paradise’ after I loved ‘A Little Life’ so much and felt the same with Viet Thanh Nguyen’s ‘The Committed’ after the amazing ‘The Sympathizer’. So, I’m happy that Jennifer Egan has broken this trend. I remember how exciting ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ was, but ‘The Candy House’ has blown me away.

While I’ve had some trouble keeping track of characters in massive novels in the last years, Egan’s device, of telling the next story with a character you’ve met before, didn’t wear thin for me. Instead, I delighted in figuring out where they’d made a previous appearance and in what incarnation, and was impressed, in the end, how all the links between the characters turn so many short stories into a novel, with the weight and resonance of one too.

Egan’s writing is emotionally intelligent and intelligent-intelligent; she explores some hefty themes in this book, never with a heavy hand, but in a way I found engrossing. We meet characters at different stages of their lives, with most evolving and changing into quite different people. The narrative is a complex mix of humour and tragedy; I could be laughing and feeling deep sadness from the same page. Coming to the end of it, I was enjoying the writing so much I started slowing down to savour the storytelling all the more. When I finished the book, I felt that I could start reading it again from the start right away: I enjoyed the individual ideas, stories and characters and a second reading would just deepen my understanding of them, as there’s no real surprise or dramatic arc in the book that make a second reading less enjoyable.

But, instead, I think I’ll go back and read ‘Welcome to the Goon Squad’ again, as I see that it has many of the same characters, and remember little of it after a decade. In any case, high, high, high recommendation for this book. I loved it. I think it’s my favourite book of both last year and this year so far.

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