21 March 2013

A Little Rain on VerseDay

by Matt Rubinstein at 1:00 am

Equinox x2500I’ve now been tweeting my verse Equinox for six months, which means it’s halfway through, and in honour of the actual equinox—autumnal where the book is set, vernal where I am now—I’m releasing the whole thing as an e-book through the Kindle Store (US UK CA DE FR ES IT JP BR). Naturally I’ll keep tweeting the rest of the book as normal, to secure the coveted prize of First Verse Novel Tweeted in its Entirety, but if you want to see how it ends now you can pick it up for the low introductory price of £0.79/€0.89/$0.99.

Equinox tells a story of Sydney over four seasons. The days lengthen and fortune shines, until the earth swings from the sun and into a long winter. The city-dwellers all draw the same curve with their lives: the bright spark whose job is killing him in any number of ways; the deckhand trying to shunt her father through his life; the beauty queen who finds the city a jealous rival; even the homeless man wandering like a frightened angel. They struggle through different parts of the city—though their paths may meet, and they may help each other back to the spring. 

Each day in the city’s year is told in a sonnet, capturing some of the patterns and rhythms of the story. Each sonnet is an impression, strung together into the moving image of a city and its many parts, its rivers and gardens, its towers and suburbs, its pubs and empty streets, and the people who cling to it as if to a ship in high seas.

The characters’ fortunes are mapped to the length of their days and nights; now, halfway through the story, early hopes have been disappointed and dreams complicated, with the sense that worse is to come. While a solstice suggests a slowing and a pause, an equinox is a time of rapid change, and the steepest part of the sine curve that describes the day’s length throughout the year. The point of equality is where the derivative, the change in the change, reverses its direction: an infinitesimal shift more sensed than observed:


The equinox, the height of autumn
if autumn ever had a height,
contains both post- and ante-mortem,
the morning after and the night.
Between its tallest and its deepest
the curve of day and night is steepest
here at the point of its inflection.
The city basks in its protection:
the rain has stopped; the air is balmy;
a sense of balance and of stasis
converts the flood to an oasis
and checks the gathering tsunami.
The city hides within its folds
and wonders what the future holds.

This launch is timed not only to coincide with the equinox, but also to tie in with VerseDay 2013, an initiative of the brilliant VerseNovels.com, your only source of verse novel news and reviews. When I first came to write Solstice in the early 1990s, Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate stood almost alone as a contemporary novel in verse; since then there has been a veritable explosion of them, most notably in the young adult arena. Any parent knows that kids love poetry, the energy and familiarity and surprise of language arranged according to its tones and its cadences as well as by its meaning, and there’s no reason this should stop with Dr Seuss and Hairy Maclary—there’s no reason it should ever stop. So it’s terrific to see so many verse novels doing so well and being discussed so widely, and writer Gabrielle Prendergast is doing a great job keeping track of it all. There’ll be at least one VerseDay blog every Thursday in 2013 and I’m delighted to be part of it.

To celebrate the launch, my other verse projects have been reduced to the same low price: that’s both the new edition and the original play of Solstice, and my play Fortinbrasse. 

Happy equinox, and happy VerseDay!

22 January 2013

Two plays in verse

by Matt Rubinstein at 9:58 am

Fortinbrasse CoverWhen I published the new digital edition of Solstice late last year, I got some delightful responses from people who had seen the theatre adaptation, which was staged very beautifully in the outdoor amphitheatre at the Festival Centre as part of Barrie Kosky’s 1996 Adelaide Festival. It’s likely that many more people saw the play than read the book: it was sold out most nights, and only rained out once. I’m sure the play’s success was entirely thanks to the stellar cast and the terrific musicians, led by Kate Ceberano and Barney McAll (or “KC and the Solstice Band” as they called themselves for a couple of unforgettable side gigs)—but I like to think that the script at least kept out of their way while they all did their wonderful stuff. 

Because the music was largely improvised it’s now more or less lost to history—last I heard, the State Theatre Company has at least one performance on tape but it’s tricky to get at because of rights clearances—but the text is happily mine and so I’ve made it available in its own digital edition for the introductory price of £0.79/€0.89/$0.99 in the Kindle Store (US UK CA DE FR ES IT JP BR) with other outlets, as I keep saying, to follow. Check it out if you’re nostalgic for the play, especially if you’d like to mount it again, in a professional, amateur or educational capacity!

The playscript presented a few new challenges for e-book formatting, since the old Kindles and the Kindle apps aren’t very good at fixed layout elements, and the smaller screens make it dangerous to work around these limitations with tricks like invisible tables and so on. So the script doesn’t look exactly like the script we used for the actual production, but I think it’s as clean and readable as possible. Anybody who ever wants to stage the play can e-mail me for a more tractable format. 

Anyway, while I was working out these issues I thought I’d try them on another of my plays in verse. This is Fortinbrasse, the tragedy of the Prince of Norway, who is referred to rather obliquely but recurrently in Hamlet. Instead of sonnets and iambs, this one is written in fornyrðislag (“old-story metre” or “metre of ancient utterance”), the old Norse alliterative verse form used in the Eddas and later in Beowulf. Its language and symbolism take advantage of the rich pantheon of Norse mythology and the traditions of kenning (“whale-road” for ocean, “sword-water” for blood); its plot fills in the arc sketched by the Second Quarto Hamlet  (which has the most extensive treatment of events in Norway, and hence my spelling) with additional details from Shakespeare’s sources and their sources (François de Belleforest’s Hamblet, Saxo Grammaticus’s Amleth, you name it) and my own embellishments to tell the tragic tale of Hamlet’s mirror and foil. 

Fortinbrasse hasn’t been performed yet: it’s got quite a large cast, it’s in alliterative verse, and it’s possible that not everybody is as big a Hamlet tragic as I am. But I think it would be great to read or even stage in conjunction with Hamlet. Check it out if you’re a fan of fornyrðislag, or if you’ve ever wondered why Fortinbras(se) is so bummed when he arrives at Elsinore and Horatio hands him the keys, or indeed what he’s doing marching across Denmark to get to Poland when it’s not really on the way. Fortinbrasse is available from the Kindle Store (US UK CA DE FR ES IT JP BR) for the same low introductory price as Solstice

18 December 2012

Solstice: a new digital edition

by Matt Rubinstein at 7:48 pm

Solstice Cover

My first novel, Solstice, is now available in a new digital edition from the Kindle store, with other platforms to follow. 

I started writing Solstice when I was eighteen and had just read Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate in my English literature class at university. It blew me away and, like a teenager, I decided that the best way to express my admiration was to write something similar. 

I set it in Adelaide, where I lived, following five characters over the 24 hours of the summer solstice—the longest day of the year. I guess I took the timeframe from Ulysses, Under Milk Wood and Aristotle’s unity of time—I was quite pretentious—and the day itself from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Because I didn’t want to copy Vikram Seth too exactly I decided to write it in Shakespearean (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG) instead of Pushkin (ABAB CCDD EFFE GG) sonnets, but I was persuaded by Seth’s arguments favouring tetrameter over pentameter. I had the early images of the day breaking, the city waking, the characters who found themselves in Adelaide on that day, and a kind of darting perspective that bound their stories together.

After almost a year of writing I had 600 of these sonnets, one for every two or three minutes of the day. I printed them all out on a dot-matrix printer, photocopied my manuscript at the SA Writers’ Centre and sent it in an Express Post satchel to the Australian/Vogel Literary Award for unpublished manuscripts by authors under 35. The winner that year was Helen Demidenko/Darville’s The Hand that Signed the Paper, but Solstice was shortlisted and was published the following year by Allen & Unwin.

My editors were quite indulgent with the manuscript, which I liked at the time, but they corrected the worst solecisms, suggested I might reassess my affection for semi-colons, and asked that I reduce the number of sonnets by about a hundred, so the book wouldn’t wear out its welcome. I secretly railed against the last request, and plotted to restore the lost sonnets in a full author’s cut one day.

Of course, now that the digital age has given me the means to release another edition, only a couple of the lost sonnets have been reinstated—and many of the published sonnets have been combined or deleted to improve the pacing and curtail some of the more pointless diversions. I’ve also slotted in a few of the new sonnets I wrote for the stage adaptation. This all nets out to 480 sonnets, exactly one for every three minutes of the day, which is kind of mathematically satisfying—and certainly would be for my somewhat nerdy protagonist.

When I wrote the first version I didn’t know as much about verse as I do now, and I wasn’t always vigilant enough in avoiding strained and repeated rhymes, as well as pairs that look like rhymes but aren’t really, because they’re too similar. Most of these infelicities have been corrected. I haven’t done anything to the story, or to any of the perhaps adolescent sentiments expressed in the book, because those are so intrinsically part of the original. I’ve also bloody-mindedly left intact the sonnet that prompted one Nobel-prize winner to murmur “dodgy rhymes, indeed” when he read it out at random. But in general this is the same story expressed better: I think it’s a more fitting companion to the later and more fully-realised Equinox—and might even be a better tribute to The Golden Gate.

The new edition of Solstice is now available for $2.99, €2.79 or £1.99 on the Kindle store (US UK CA DE FR ES IT JP BR). But it will be free on the 21st and 22nd of December 2012. So you’re very welcome to buy it now and send it up the charts, or wait a couple of days and bag it for free.

And a happy solstice to everyone!

4 October 2012

Death of the Book? Death of the Author!

by Matt Rubinstein at 6:21 am

Death of the Author Dark x2500I’ve been talking rather a lot lately about e-books and alternative publishing models, but I haven’t really put my money where my mouth is: apart from occasional stunts like Equinox, all of my books have been published on paper by traditional publishers. There have been obvious advantages to going this way: very handy advances, excellent editorial guidance, professional design and layout, publicity and marketing. I’m very lucky to have been published traditionally and I still think it, or something very like it, is the best way to go if you have the option, particularly when you’re starting out.

But sometimes you don’t have the option. To take a random example: my third novel turned out to be A Little Rain on Thursday (also called Vellum), but for quite a while it was going to be a postmodern serial killer thriller called Death of the Author, a playful and gruesome pastiche about a psychopath called The Reader who preys on the writers attending a Festival of Multiple Homicide Fiction in Adelaide, famously one of the world’s creepiest cities. It quotes Roland Barthes and its form is partly inspired by Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, interleaving the hunt for the killer with extracts from each of the murdered authors’ books and yielding many serial killers for one low price. It pokes loving fun at writers’ festivals and Adelaide, and features a high-speed chase on a guided busway—to my knowledge unique in all of fiction. 

This was the manuscript that got me my first agent, and it was quickly accepted by a very good publisher with a tentative release date set. Unfortunately, the publisher restructured, the fiction editor left, and the book found itself in limbo. By the time everything shook out, it was like the moment had been lost: postmodernism had plateaued, Andrew Masterson’s book had come out with the same title, my agent had retired and I’d moved on to my next project. But now I look back on the book with some nostalgia, almost as a period piece: a tribute to the late 1990s, a fin de siècle, I suppose; a simpler and yet much more unnecessarily complicated time. 

So I’ve decided that for all kinds of reasons this should be my first adventure in independent electronic publishing. It’s as much to get a feel for how the whole thing works from the inside as anything, and I’ve enjoyed tinkering with e-book formats and experimenting with cover designs. I’ve settled on this one, based on macro photographs of printer’s type, reversed of course for the purposes of legibility: it’s simple but I think quite distinctive, and easily adaptable to other titles. 

Death of the Author is now available worldwide from your favourite Kindle Store (US, UK, DE, FR, ES, IT), priced competitively at $US2.99, £1.99 or €2.79 including any VAT. Other outlets will come in the near future, but you can read Kindle books on just about anything these days, and Death of the Author is naturally DRM-free so you can convert it to any other format if you need to. 

As always, you can download a generous sample to your favourite device for free. And let me know if you or anyone you know would like to review the book for a print or online publication, and I’ll send a review copy in your preferred electronic format.

20 September 2012

Equinox is coming to Twitter

by Matt Rubinstein at 10:36 pm

EquinoxI’ll be tweeting Equinoxmy novel in sonnet form, in its entirety over a year starting on the actual equinox, the 22nd of September 2012. 

The novel, which is a sequel to my earlier Solstice, follows four characters through Sydney, Australia over the course of a year, capturing each day in a single Pushkin sonnet. That’s fourteen lines of iambic tetrameter every day, which fit pretty comfortably into seven tweets.

Solstice was shortlisted for the Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award and published by the estimable Allen & Unwin; Equinox was longlisted for the same award but the verse-novel bubble had burst by then and the book has not been traditionally published. It made its first appearance in serial form  on the website of the Sydney Morning Herald, where it started off strongly but received less traffic as time went on. I think this was partly because it kept moving around, to different places on the front page and then to the Books section, but mostly because people forgot or didn’t have time to visit the page every day and lost the thread of the story.

Twitter solves these problems: just follow me at @mattrubinstein and a new sonnet will appear in your stream at the same time each day, along with links to new blog posts and fairly occasional musings and retweets. I’m hoping that people might retweet couplets, quatrains or even whole sonnets they find pleasing, and I look forward to seeing where the whole thing goes.

A couple of prose novels have already debuted on Twitter, as have short stories like Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box”. But this is without question the first full-length novel in verse to be tweeted in its entirety in the history of the known universe. We take what we can get.

You can read more about the astronomical equinox here and some stuff about Pushkin and sonnets here. When it comes to iambic tetrameter, I can’t do any better than Vikram Seth’s defence in his inspirational The Golden Gate

Why, asks a friend, attempt tetrameter?
Because it once was noble, yet
Capers before the proud pentameter, 
Tyrant of English. I regret
To see this marvelous swift meter
Deamean its heritage, and peter
Into mere Hudibrastic tricks,
Unapostolic knacks and knicks.
But why take all this quite so badly?
I would not, had I world and time
To wait for reason, rhythm, rhyme,
To reassert themselves, but sadly,
The time is not remote when I
Will not be here to wait. That’s why.

For endless examples of the “tyrant of English” I refer you to the Pentametron.

2 September 2012

Calibre Prize 2012

by Matt Rubinstein at 2:54 am

CathachOfStColumbaI am thrilled to announce that my essay “Body and Soul: Copyright Law and Enforcement in the Age of the Electronic Book” has just won the 2012 Calibre Prize for a long-form essay on any non-fiction topic. The prize is administered by Australian Book Review and supported by the Cultural Fund of Copyright Agency Limited.

I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve won anything since my epic undergraduate poem “The 1500 Words of Loretta DeFrupp” took out the Dr Seuss Tribute Competition organised by the Adelaide University Literary Society’s Timely Literary Suppository. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to be nominated, shortlisted and highly commended, I’ve been a finalist and a runner-up, but never outright won anything. I was overjoyed to hear that I’d been longlisted and then shortlisted for the Calibre prize, along with four intriguing essays by accomplished writers: Claire Corbett’s “The Last Space Waltz?: Reflections on 2001: A Space Odyssey and NASA—On Being Earthbound at the End of the Age of Atlantis”, Enid Ratnam-Keese’s “Mapping the Edges of the Night”, Bronwyn Lay’s “Imaginary Exile” and Colin Nettelbeck’s “Now They’ve Gone”. I had most of a blog post written in my head about how winning isn’t everything, a bronze or silver isn’t a loss, and how in my judging experience a shortlisting often means that someone is in there fighting hard for you. It was going to be called “You have won second prize in a beauty contest” and would probably have referenced the Simpsons episode where Lisa is outdone by Winona Ryder and dreams she’s in an almost-supergroup with Art Garfunkel, John Oates and Jim Messina, singing their #2 hit “Born to Runner-up”… But then they went and spoiled it all. Woo!

The essay is about the way a book’s essence and its physical form interact, what that means for the future of books in the digital age, and what that means for copyright law and enforcement in the face of perfect, costless and just-about-frictionless reproduction. It’s kind of a perfect storm of my colliding interests in writing, technology and law, and I really enjoyed researching it and working it up. It begins with the first known copyright dispute:

The most precious manuscript held by the Royal Irish Academy is RIA MS 12 R 33, a sixth-century book of psalms known as an Cathach (‘the Battler’), or the Psalter of St Columba. It is believed to be the oldest extant Irish psalter, the earliest example of Irish writing – and the world’s oldest pirate copy. According to tradition, St Columba secretly transcribed the manuscript from a psalter belonging to his teacher, St Finian. Finian discovered the subterfuge, demanded the copy, and brought the dispute before Diarmait, the last pagan king of Ireland. The king decreed that ‘to every cow belongs her calf’, and so the copy of a book belonged to the owner of the original. Columba appealed the decision on the battlefield, and defeated Finian in a bloody clash at Cúl Dreimhne. No trace remains of Finian’s original manuscript, if it ever existed. Only ‘The Battler’ survives.

Finian v Columba is difficult to reconcile with modern copyright law. The psalms in question were attributed to God, revealed to David, and translated by St Jerome in the fourth century, so Finian’s claim to copyright in the work is unclear. It may be that the pagan Diarmait simply free-associated his judgment from the calfskin of the Cathach’s pages. But any want of judicial rigour is surely redeemed by the king’s early intuition that there is something valuable about a book beyond its physical self, that it has spirit as well as flesh and a soul beyond its body – as well as by the delicious consequences of an actual military war being fought, at least in part, over a single illegal copy, and of that outlawed copy becoming a national treasure.

You can read the whole thing in the September 2012 issue of Australian Book Review, in print or online. If you’re not a subscriber, you can read the essay and a tonne of other great stuff for $6. Thanks, ABR and CAL! 

8 September 2010

Ein Leichterer Regen am Donnerstag

by Matt Rubinstein at 8:33 pm

donnerstag.jpgJust a quick note to welcome the German paperback edition of the novel variously known as Vellum, A Little Rain on Thursday, and of course Ein Leichter Regen am Donnerstag. This version is even leichterer, both in the Hand and on the Brieftasche. I really like the lighthouse and the houses swallowed by the desert. Both German covers are pretty much exactly as I imagined the final scenes of the book.

There are also early murmurings of an electronic version of the book, which I’m very excited about. More information as events warrant.

13 August 2009

Stay away from that jazz man

by Matt Rubinstein at 1:06 pm


Last night I had the very great pleasure of catching famed jazz pianist Barney McAll with bass guy Jonathan Zwartz and drummer Simon Barker at the Macquarie Hotel. Barney was in town for some sold-out shows with the legendary Fred Wesley, but this was a more intimate acoustic gig. The piano trio is my favourite jazz combo, and I think it’s the most poetic arrangement. It seems to me to be a perfect balance, rarely showy, a real conversation.

Barney and Jonathan did the music for my stage adaptation of Solstice, with Hamish Stuart on drums and Kate Ceberano singing along. Over the years Barney has continually stretched and redefined himself, experimenting with Cuban, African and electronic influences, and trying to keep up with him has taught me a lot about music. Some of his stuff is pretty challenging, but last night he folded it all back into an old-school trio performance that soothed the mind and the soul.

Barney’s five albums are available as high-quality DRM-free downloads from his website and are well worth the $US9 each. I’m encouraged by the way musicians are using the Internet to get their work out there and get a return on them, despite some questionable moves from the industry associations. I think the publishing industry can learn a lot from the music industry, though I’m not sure exactly what yet.

The Macquarie Hotel is a labyrinth of bars all apparently playing live music at roughly the same time. Some of the classic rock from downstairs started drifting into the Ravál bar upstairs towards the end of the second set. It’s quite a new space and nicely done up with sofas and soft lighting, perfect for jazz. From my seat by the window I could see but not hear the traffic of Wentworth Avenue, and even look up into an apartment block where a few lights were on and a few silhouettes were wandering around. At one point two people in adjacent apartments leaned at the same time against their common wall; one was talking on the phone, and I don’t know what the other one was doing. Looking at them, and at the jazz—it seemed to be what a city is all about. The photo doesn’t do it any justice, but I kind of like it.

There aren’t many famous bassists—Charlie Mingus being a spectacular exception—but it’s an incredible instrument, it reaches deep inside you. It’s usually a buried pulse, occasionally let out for a brief solo, but I’ll never forget Jonathan playing a devastating, elegiac “Over the Rainbow” entirely on his bass one night in Bondi maybe ten years ago. That’s him in this sonnet from Equinox, one of my favourites, though not as good as I wanted it to be:


They book a table at the Basement
with vodka and potato wedges.
The band tonight is Hip Replacement;
the music seems to have no edges.
The bassist slows to treacle pace
and waltzes with his double bass,
cradling its neck with loving fingers,
stroking its strings. The music lingers
like heavy blossom in the air
as he sinks deeper in his solo.
Tugging the collar of his polo
he sweats and winces, unaware
of anything beyond the dance
of man and bass in mutual trance.

Thanks, guys!

12 August 2009

Unicode Fail

by Matt Rubinstein at 1:28 pm


I’m all kinds of excited at the news that Greek publisher Livanis has just released its edition of Vellum.

Since the novel is all about translations and different kinds of writing, I was stoked when it was first translated and I’m even more stoked now that it’s come out in a different alphabet. My first intimation that there were alphabets other than the familiar Latin one came in my second year of primary school. We had just moved from Byron Bay to Adelaide and I started halfway through the school year. I wasn’t too worried about catching up on the work; I was already well-established as a nerd (I recently got a nice e-mail from my Year 1 teacher who remembered me dictating complete sentences), but I was a bit nervous about making new friends.

So my mother bundled me off with a big bag of cherries so the kids would like me—which may have been the kind of thing that worked in Byron but wasn’t going to cut any mustard at Goodwood Primary. It was a relief to come back to the classroom after that first lonely lunchtime—until I sat down and realised that I couldn’t read any of the writing on the blackboard. I really thought my brain had broken, I could dictate complete sentences and suddenly I couldn’t read a word. And I couldn’t understand how all the other kids were able to read the words aloud. Maybe the whole school was playing a horrible trick on me? No, they were just learning Greek, as they’d been doing all year.

In an earlier draft of the novel, Jack suffered from a condition called transient pure alexia, which is a temporary acquired inability to recognise the relationship between graphemes and phonemes, letters and sounds. My description of his condition was more or less exactly my experience in the Greek class. Even after Jack’s alexia had been cured by redrafting, the dissonance he experiences on first seeing the manuscript’s unreadable writing has a lot to do with my first exposure to another alphabet.

Anyway, the Livanis edition looks great and is dotted with little footnotes added by the translator: sometimes sourcing quotes, sometimes explaining English references, other times who knows. I’m dying to know exactly what the notes mean, but I’m certain that they’re completely apposite to the themes of the book. Many thanks to Rena Lekkou-Dantou for the translation.

3 August 2008

Ein leichter Regen am Donnerstag

by Matt Rubinstein at 3:01 pm

Leichter Regen.jpgI’m thrilled to see that Goldmann Verlag is gearing up to publish A Little Rain on Thursday in Germany next month. They’ve gone for a near-calque of the Australian title and a very atmospheric rendition of one of the book’s central images, which I’ve had in my head and wanted to see for a long time.

Over the past year I’ve had some fascinating exchanges about the book with the translator Eva Kemper. As a professional, Eva knows a lot more about the themes and subject of the book than I do, and I have no doubt that her translation will refute the old proverb by being both beautiful and faithful.

For example, late in the book there’s a quotation from Hebrews 11:5 that says, in the King James version:

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him.

This is the last line before Jack disappears into the desert, and of course I was trying to make a lot of hay out of the various meanings of “translate” that have been at play throughout the book. A few chapters earlier I’d also gone on about how translators like quotations, especially of the Bible, because the job has already been done for them by the translators of the original work.

But Eva pointed out that none of the German versions of Hebrews have anything to do with any of my secondary meanings of translation; they just say that old Enoch was “taken away”, like he is in most of the English versions since the KJV. So she scoured her Bibel for a more appropriate verse, and she came up with an absolute cracker in 1 Corinthians 14:10. In the King James, that verse says:

There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.

…but in the German version it means more like “There are many kinds of languages in the world, and nothing is without language.” Which is not only better than any of the English versions, but also sums up what the book’s all about. I totally have to learn German now.

If you’ve already learned German, you can read all about the book, check out the first couple of chapters or pre-order the hardback from various online retailers via Goldmann’s official page here.


27 February 2008

Adelaide Writers’ Week

by Matt Rubinstein at 8:03 am

pictureI’m doing a couple of sessions at next week’s Adelaide Writers’ Week, probably the greatest literary festival in the land. If you’re in town, come on down. Everything is free and the atmosphere is always fantastic.

At 11:00 am on Tuesday 4 March I’ll be talking about Rules and How to Break Them with Paul Auster, Margo Lanagan and John Kinsella. This should be a great discussion, though I’m not sure what I’m going to contribute to it.

Then at 5:45 pm on Thursday 6 March I’m doing a Meet the Author session all on my lonesome. I suppose I’ll be talking about the early influences that made me a writer and the complicated history of my last book. I’ll also be reading various things.

Both events are in the west tent and will be followed by book signings. Please come and line up in front of me at the signing tables: there’s no need to buy my book, I’m more than happy to sign other people’s. And I’ll be hanging around all week, hoping to bump into Peter Carey, Ian McEwan, Germaine Greer and the rest of the gang.

26 November 2007


by Matt Rubinstein at 11:33 am

foreigners.jpgI’m about to be involved in an ingenious project devised by Brazilian author Daniela Abade. Dani has brought together a bunch of funky young writers from across the globe (and me) who will each pretend for a year that they are living in one of the other writers’ hometowns, where they have in fact never been.

I will be spending a virtual year in Graz, Austria, the birthplace of Claudia Chibici-Revneanu, who will be visiting Santos, Brazil, which Dani has left to explore Udine, Italy, the town that gave us Max Mauro but lost him to Mexico City, from where hails Gonzalo Soltero, who has the good fortune to be heading to Sydney. David McGuire and Florencia Abbate are swapping Hamilton, Canada and Buenos Aires—it was going to go all the way around but we lost someone along the way and had to redistribute.

Each of us will write a journal set in our assigned cities, and the sense of foreignness that attends any visit to a new place will be compounded by the fact that we’re not even visiting it. I expect the project will explore all kinds of interesting ideas about the way we inhabit cities and write about them. Or, as Dani says:

The condition of being a foreigner will be taken to the edge. The author will be such a foreigner to the place he is writing about that he won’t even know the city; he will have to find the city in his own imagination.

It should be great fun, and it all starts tomorrow at this website here.

31 July 2007


by Matt Rubinstein at 12:55 am

pictureA short film I wrote has its première at the Melbourne International Film Festival tonight. Punch is an 11-minute fable of heartache and cream pies directed by Sotiris Dounoukos, who I most recently worked with on Paper & Sand—which, gratifyingly, is still screening around the place, including last week at the Bangkok International Film Festival, whose website lists the director as “Satiris”, which is funny for all kinds of reasons.

I wrote Punch a few years ago, and soon after that Sotiris found himself in Paris and decided to shoot it there. As everybody now knows, I don’t speak much French, so the cast and crew translated my script and filmed it over a guerrilla weekend in which nobody got any sleep and at least one car crashed at the sight of the wonderful Guillaume Clémencin wandering the streets in his red wig and hilarious shoes. I wish I’d been there. The film has been in post-production for a while and is now looking fantastic. Naturally the English subtitles were an absolute walk in the park and perfectly match the writer’s intentions, which you can’t always say about subtitles.

Tonight’s screening is part of a showcase of Australian shorts and is sold out—I’ll be queueing up hoping for no-shows myself. The film is also screening on Sunday before Falkenberg Farewell, a Scandinavian feature which has something to do with “the Jar of Unexpected Tragedy”—maybe a kind of Pandora’s Box?

20 July 2007

Words, words, words

by Matt Rubinstein at 10:11 am

jack.jpgI did a lot of talking in June, and it wasn’t all about myself (though a lot of it was). At the Sydney Writers’ Festival I spoke about digital books and copyright with Sherman Young and Michael Fraser. Sherman gave a very provocative talk about how books have to go digital or else:

The bottom line is that in 2007, books must embrace the possibilities of digital. Sure, there are issues to be discussed and hurdles to overcome, but unless it happens, books are dead. Weighed down by printed objects, the unique qualities and virtues of books will be sidelined in an increasingly irrelevant part of the cultural universe.

It’s exciting stuff, though I think that for most books the hurdles are maybe a bit more significant than Sherman reckons—which is both good and bad: we can go on doing things the way we’re doing them for a while longer, but we could be doing things a lot better. Anyway, my speech is over here. Michael’s doesn’t seem to have turned up online, but he made some important points about why we need copyright (though I don’t think we need quite as much as we’ve got).

Anyway—while I was putting up the speech I thought I might as well do the other ones. So here’s my talk about literary mysteries, and the one about zines and blogs.

14 July 2007

Me, me, me

by Matt Rubinstein at 1:16 pm

matt.jpgThere’s an even more extensive profile of me in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. I must say there’s something very warming about the day you’re in the paper in your own town. I’ve been strutting around like I own the place, though of course I’ll be fishwrap by tomorrow.

The online version has only my name in the byline, which sets up an interesting paradox—can you say “he comes close to being self-deprecating” about yourself? But don’t be fooled—it was Kelsey Munro who did the interview and wrote the article. Kelsey has a background in rock journalism, must surely be sick of that “dancing about architecture” line by now, and recently did a trenchant review of a gig by my friend Macromantics, née Romy Hoffman, who is doing great things in Australian hip-hop:

Best of all, in a triumphant two-hander with DJ Amy sharing vocals, Hoffman somehow rhymed “macadamia” with an “Acca Dacca stadium”. That’s as Australian a piece of assonance as ever there was.

I agree. It’s a good interview (back to me), though I notice I’ve started to repeat myself a bit. If only I were a more interesting person! (he said, almost self-deprecatingly). I’ll have to make up some new stories.

And I promise to blog about some things other than myself soon.

10 July 2007

Everyone’s a critic

by Matt Rubinstein at 5:08 pm

rain.jpgThere was a nice profile of me in Melbourne’s The Sunday Age last weekend, with a hilarious and very appropriate picture of me looking soaked and monkish. It starts with more comparisons of the good kind with that little-known book about some sort of code:

Rubinstein, 33, is one of the few people who hasn’t yet read Da Vinci but comparisons seem inevitable – even though his compelling work, A Little Rain on Thursday, is in quite a different literary league, rich with characters and intellect.

I had a good chat with journalist Andrew Stephens about the similarities between me and the wild-eyed obsessives in the book, which the photo only corroborates. He also put in quite a bit about my mum, which was great. Gill has obviously been a tremendous influence and inspiration from the get-go, not only advocating the pleasures of the writing life but also warning of its occasional heartbreaks. Though, as Sunday’s article concludes:

with A Little Rain on Thursday receiving a glowing reception and the June issue of Australian Book Review describing it as “The Da Vinci Code with brains”, heartbreak seems far away.

Well, it never seems that far away to me. But the reception has been pretty good so far. The Age review on Saturday didn’t really dig the book; The Australian called it “richly imagined”, “highly original” and “enormously clever”, but there was a but. But The Advertiser thought it “an intelligent, thought-provoking and entertaining novel”, and the Courier-Mail said: “A Little Rain on Thursday is an alluring mix… part love story, part whodunit, part poetry, it is a book with something for everyone”. The Sydney Morning Herald was also positive and threw in a nice reference to Arturo Perez-Reverte, a great writer of literary mysteries who not enough people know about.

I hope there’ll be some reviews from the UK soon, though Vellum hasn’t been out a week yet. There may be some Czech ones, but it’s hard to tell! In the meantime, Australian Book Review has kindly given me permission to reproduce its review, the one that started it all and still the glowingest of the bunch. It’s from page 48 of the June 2007 ABR and is available right here.

18 June 2007

Tajemství Pergamenu

by Matt Rubinstein at 11:01 am

TajemPerg.jpgThose Czechs may well be the world’s fastest translators. Barely a week after the Australian launch, Jota has produced the local edition of A Little Rain on Thursday—appealingly, the publication date was last Thursday. It’s now called Tajemství Pergamenu, which near as I can tell means something like “The Secret of the Vellum”, though I might have got the inflections all wrong there. That’s the weird old alphabet surrounding the praying skeleton, and what looks like gaffer tape holding the whole thing together—a fitting innovation, I think.

I can’t wait for my copies to arrive. I’m sure you can pick one up for somewhat less than the RRP of 288 koruny (cheap!). If you want to know more, read on.

V jádru tohoto znepokojujícího napínavého románu a literárního milostného příběhu leží prastarý rukopis, psaný v jakémsi zapomenutém jazyce.

Překladatel a jazykový expert Jack narazí v kryptě starého kamenného kostela v Sydney na ukrytý rukopis. Ten je psán tajemným písmem, obsahuje podivné ilustrace, a cosi v něm naznačuje jakási velká tajemství. Beth, dívka, se kterou Jack chodí, věří, že tento rukopis obsahuje odpovědi na otázky ohledně jejího mrtvého otce. Jack má ale podezření, že rukopis skrývá něco mnohem většího. Je to snad něčí žertík, nějaký tajný kód – nebo je to nějaký zapomenutý jazyk? Jak je vlastně starý? Co vlastně skrývá? A co leží za jeho schopností přivlastnit si ty, kteří ho najdou?

Jack se pouští do horečnatého pátrání, aby svému objevu porozuměl – nápovědu hledá v kryptologii a soudním lékařství, u překladatelů a filosofů, záchranářů a knihovníků, křižáckých rytířů i bláznivých mnichů. Každá nová odbočka v tomto labyrintu ho ale jen odvádí dál od pravdy. Co vlastně hledá? Jackova posedlost začne ohrožovat všechno, čeho si až dosud nejvíc považoval.

I don’t know much about Jota, but they also publish my Text stablemate Kate Holden, and have reportedly made a great success of her memoir In My Skin over there. Kate’s name in Czech is Kate Holdenová, and I drove a Holden Nova for a few years in the 1990s, but I don’t know how they knew that.

Also, the Nova was called Vikram.

11 June 2007


by Matt Rubinstein at 12:13 pm

pictureThe launch of A Little Rain on Thursday at Gleebooks last week went very well. Delia Falconer said some very kind things about the book and there was a great crowd there, so thank you very much if you were part of it. That’s me looking pleased with myself, Delia looking indulgent and the book looking as wonderful as ever (if a little flashed out).

The book’s first review is in the June 2007 issue of Australian Book Review, and it’s a nice one. It’s not available on the Internet, but I’ll argue fair use and extract the opening paragraph:

I realise it is a stretch, but imagine The Da Vinci Code with brains. No, that’s not fair: it obviously takes brains of a kind to top best-seller lists for several years. So try thinking of how a serious intellect, as distinct from a facility for page-turning compulsiveness, might have gone to work on it. Such effort won’t tell you all you need to know about Matt Rubinstein’s new novel, but A Little Rain on Thursday is inter alia about old manuscripts, church history, subterranean chambers, Templars and libraries – and it is compulsive reading.

Shucks! I mean, I’m always bit ambivalent about comparisons to Dan Brown’s book, but I’m not going to complain if they’re all like that. The review also draws in AS Byatt, Michelangelo Antonioni and Peter Carey, which I absolutely love.

There was also a bit of a profile of me in Saturday’s Advertiser, and it is available online here. It was my first interview in a while, so I hope I don’t sound like too much of a dork. It starts:

Matt Rubinstein’s new novel, A Little Rain on Thursday, seems like many books rolled into one: it’s a mystery, a novel of ideas, a meditation on faith, grief, love and the quest for knowledge – and it’s a rollicking page-turner.

I’d sure buy a book like that—wouldn’t you?

16 May 2007

A Little Rain on Thursday

by Matt Rubinstein at 9:55 pm

cover.jpgMy new novel, A Little Rain on Thursday, is back from the printers, and it looks fantastic. Chong at Text Publishing has done a great job with the design and it’s tremendous to hold the thing in my hand. It looks almost exactly like a real book!

It will be launched by the hugely talented Delia Falconer at 6:00 for 6:30 pm on Tuesday, 5th June 2007 upstairs at Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe, Sydney. You can book a spot here. Naturally, it would be great to see you there.

9 May 2007

A city transformed… by words!

by Matt Rubinstein at 5:14 pm

swf.jpgThis year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival is on in about three weeks and it looks like a cracker. This is being billed as the 10th annual one—it’s older than that but really took off when it moved to Walsh Bay in 1998. I was there that year, a bit out of my depth—but I’m back again this year. It’s a stunning location and a great place to hang around. It does get crowded, even now that it’s spilled into a bunch of other venues around town and beyond—in fact, way beyond—but that’s very encouraging.

I’m looking forward to Andrew O’Hagan, whose Personality is a beautiful study of fame and loneliness; to Richard Ford, whose celebrated The Sportswriter I am determined to read in the next couple of weeks; and to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, if I can snarf a ticket from somewhere. Richard Dawkins is kvetching via satellite, and there’s an impressive panel on Writing in an Age of Terror, plus a debate over whether the balance between national security and human rights was “right” in the case of David HicksBret Walker SC and Lex Lasry QC say no, Gerard Henderson says sure, why not? It’s a clash of the titans!

I’m involved in the following events:

Concertos, Gospels and A Little Rain On Thursday
Tuesday, May 29 2007, 11:30 – 12:30
Carrington Hotel, Blue Mountains

Hear some of the best new Australian writing as Jo Gardiner, Emily Maguire and Matt Rubinstein talk with Varuna’s Creative Director Peter Bishop about their new novels and the intimate lives of us.

Books in the Digital Age
Friday, June 1 2007, 17:00 – 18:00

Digital media is the new black, but what does it means for books? Google intends to scan every book ever published, and to make the full texts searchable, in the same way that Web sites can be searched on the company’s engine. Discussing what the digital age means for books and copyright are Sherman Young, Michael Fraser and Matt Rubinstein.

The 15 fame-filled minutes of the fanzine writer
Sunday, June 3 2007, 12:30 – 13:30
Bangarra Theatre

Now that the Blog Age has advanced the status of fanzine from the work of an individual with access to a photocopier to global proportions and even fame, will we see the rise of a new generation of authors whose work may not ever make it into print? Does it mean better quality writing? Or just more typing? Matt Rubinstein, Rachel Hills and Andrew Mueller discuss.

Literary Mysteries
Sunday, June 3 2007, 15:30 – 16:30
Bangarra Mezzanine

A translator and linguist uncovers a manuscript written in the crypt of an old stone church in Sydney. A priceless exhibition of the papers of poet Emily Dickinson goes missing on arrival in Sydney and a lonely single father starts to follow the newspaper articles about the theft. Matt Rubinstein and Mark Ragg talk about their literary mysteries set on Sydney’s streets.

Come along, it’ll be great!

3 November 2006

Paper & Sand

by Matt Rubinstein at 6:58 am

pands.jpgGood news! A short film that I got involved with a couple of years ago has been nominated for an AFI award in the category of Best Screenplay in a Short Film.

Paper & Sand tells the story of a young Afghan couple who have recently been released from immigration detention and are adjusting to their new lives in Sydney. It was recently also a finalist in the Dendy Awards that form part of the Sydney Film Festival, though it didn’t win either of its categories: Long Form Short was won by Stranded, which has also been nominated for an AFI in our category as well as a couple of others; and the Community Relations Commission award was taken by Switch on the Night, another refugee flick.

I co-wrote Paper & Sand with Queensland writer Ian Kennedy Williams. Co-writing can of course mean a lot of different things; in this case it meant that I took a perfectly good draft of Ian’s and messed around with it until it was superficially unrecognisable though (I think or at least hope) fundamentally the same.

If we were going by WGA attribution rules our names would accordingly be separated by an “and” in the credits; if we had both worked on the same draft we would have a “&” instead. I don’t know who decided that, but that’s how it is, and it’s why you sometimes get a mix of both in American films, as in “written by X & Y and Z”. (We won’t even get started on “story by” and “based on characters created by”.)

The AWG is a bit more flexible, which is why the writing credit for the also-AFI-nominated Candy goes to “Luke Davies (with Neil Armfield)”. But the WGA handbook makes interesting reading; the variations are many and convoluted, and you can see how you’d get into trouble when a lot of people are involved in the creation of a story and they all want to be acknowledged—as they should be (except for the director, who nobody wants to hear from).

My first gig writing for performance was a bit like this one; a very good playwright had written a complex epic about drugs and intergenerational blame that went for three or four hours, and I had to try to cut it down to an hour and a bit and make it more accessible to teenagers. For that they called me a “dramaturg”, which is one of those words nobody quite knows the meaning of, but which can be said with a gratifying sneer.

Anyway, congratulations to Ian and to director Sotiris Dounoukos. The AFI awards are held in Sydney on 7 December 2006 and will be televised on Channel 9, though the short film categories might be over by the time the telecast starts.

Update: We did not win the AFI award; Stranded beat us to it again. We did, however, win the Punters Choice award for February 2007 at Fitzroy Shorts. So that’s something!

15 February 2006

And we’re back

by Matt Rubinstein at 1:45 pm

dinoblog.jpgEagle-eyed readers will have noticed that there hasn’t been any activity here for several months, for which many apologies. There are a few reasons: I was very busy wrapping up a rewrite in time for Christmas; most of the website database got deleted during a server upgrade, and after restoring what I could (sorry to everyone whose comments were lost) I felt a little despondent about the transience of all things; and so on.

Another reason is that I’ve been taking some tentative steps into the print media, something I’d always meant to do after using this blog to hone my sense of outrage and perhaps develop something of a personal style. On 30 September last year I published a piece called “A Bad Example” in the Review section of the Australian Financial Review; it was about the Commonwealth Health Department’s petrol sniffing information kit and the unfortunate things Tony Abbott said launching it. It began like this:

Steven Uluru made front pages across the country in August when he appeared with a can of petrol under his jumper before a coronial inquest into the deaths of three other petrol sniffers. It was impossible not to be affected by the picture and its contrasts: the resort guests enjoying sundowners on the bright side of Australia’s most celebrated rock while the rock’s namesake, and one of its custodians, shambled dead-eyed through its shadow.

The coroner, Greg Cavanagh, immediately adjourned the proceedings, held in the small town of Mutitjulu, some 20 kilometres from Uluru. He later explained that he hadn’t been distressed by the sight but had been frustrated by his own inability to help. “I was angry with myself at my impotence to stop what was going on,” he said. “No one, not me, white lawyers, uniformed police, Aboriginal men and other community members, did anything.”

If only Tony Abbott had been there. The federal Health Minister invoked—perhaps milked—the scene when he launched his department’s new petrol-sniffing information kit last Friday.

“That was a terrible thing, and getting the message out that petrol sniffing kills people and it can kill them fast, that’s important if communities are to do their bit to end this dreadful scourge,” he said. Although Steven Uluru won’t be able to read the flipchart himself, “the people who love him hopefully will, and rather than permit him to wander sniffing petrol all day, they will insist that he attends some kind of rehabilitation program”.

Of course Steven Uluru and everyone he knew had tried every kind of rehabilitation program available to sniffers the Northern Territory, but the facilities have been famously lacking. It was difficult to see how much good the information kit would have done in his case, and it was satisfying to be able to point that out. The article went over reasonably well, so last Friday I published another one, again in the AFR‘s Review section, this time called “No Laughing Matter” and about the Danish cartoon controversy. I concluded that both sides were to blame for the whole thing getting out of hand.

Of course freedom of speech is critical to any non-dystopic society, and its interaction with religious sensibilities must be debated. But these issues need the right cause, and the Jyllands-Posten cartoons are hardly up to it. There is much to be said about Islam’s relationship with violence, with women, and with other faiths, and much of that might be blasphemous but worth defending; these cartoons attempt none of it They are empty provocation; they express nothing beyond their own mischief. And, fatally, they’re not funny. Freedom of expression covers worthless as well as weighty expressions, of course; but to defend such a gratuitous exercise with so much righteous bluster seems itself gratuitous. It appears to be driven by the same moral panic—the fear that Islam threatens our most cherished institutions—that prompted the Jyllands-Posten’s ill-fated initiative.

It is true that many protesters are now demanding government intervention of a kind that would seriously deform the boundaries of our freedom of expression. They are free to ask it; we are free to refuse. As a corollary to religious freedom, most Western democracies have abolished their laws against blasphemy or allowed them to atrophy. Some Muslims have asked how Denmark’s Lutheran majority would feel if Jesus were given the Muhammad treatment; doubtless many would be outraged, but it is unlikely that legal sanctions would result. Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ and the public reading of James Kirkup’s poem suggesting Christ was gay attracted plenty of protest but no prosecutions, exactly as it should be.

At the same time, many democracies have strengthened their laws against racial and religious vilification and incitement to hatred. Some critics argue that it is hypocrisy to prosecute extremist Muslims and neo-Nazi propagandists while allowing cartoonists to draw Muhammad however they like; but these arguments ignore critical differences. Blasphemy is not vilification: it is not committed against people but against God, who hardly needs our protection. We have to understand that many Muslims are deeply pained by portrayals of or disrespectful references to Muhammad; we need to use our freedom sensibly and not gratuitously. But until mockery becomes incitement to hatred—until it turns from God and threatens people—it is a matter of personal responsibility and cannot be the subject of legal proscription. That is where we have placed our line, and it is a reasonable boundary.

I’ve already learned a couple of things about writing for newspapers—which Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur strip calls “dinosaur blogs”—as opposed to the writing straight to the Internet. The first was that whatever personal style I had developed here was of little use in print, partly because space limitations preclude the kind of rambling delivery I prefer, perhaps also because of the need to mask suspicions of personal inadequacy with an authoritative-sounding tone. The second was that links really help in presenting an argument: they save you having to summarise everything and reduce your responsibility for accurately putting someone else’s case—readers can simply see for themselves, if they’re interested. In a newspaper you can use quotes, but again space constraints limit their effectiveness. When consumer-grade electronic paper becomes popular, it’s likely that many of these differences will disappear as newspapers embrace the advantages of hypertext.

On the other hand, newspapers’ editorial oversight gives them more credibility than most weblogs out in the anarchy of the Internet. They also have a proven financial model (for now) and so tend to pay their writers better. So I’m going to try to do more dinosaur blogging, but will continue to post here when I wind up with something that doesn’t fit anywhere else. I will also try to restore the hundreds of comments on Missy Higgins: lesbian?, because they’re brilliant.

23 September 2005

Turn, turn, turn

by Matt Rubinstein at 7:08 am

styx.jpgThe more astronomically-aware of you will already know that today is the vernal equinox. In some countries, including the US, the vernal equinox (or a day near it) is the first day of Spring, though we in Australia have reverted to the first of the month. Some say the precise moment of the equinox is the only time you can balance an egg on its end, but others have found that you can do it any old day, if you care enough.

The precise moment of the equinox this year was 22:23 22-Sep-05 Coordinated Universal Time (more appealingly called “Zulu time”), or 8:23 this morning Australian Eastern Standard Time (more conveniently called “local time”). That means that, in theory, today will have more-or-less exactly twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night. However, according to Geoscience Australia, the sun rose in Sydney at 5:44 this morning and will set at 5:52 this evening, making the day about eight minutes longer than the night. Is this a sign of how brilliant our town is—it’s sunny here even when it’s supposed to be night-time? Or is it an example of slippery maths, like that stupid missing dollar puzzle?

Well, both and neither. But mostly neither. It seems that the equinox-measuring folk are talking about the time when the midpoint of the sun’s disc passes the actual horizon, whereas the sunrise-and-sunset–brigade measure the time when the top of the sun appears or disappears over the observed horizon, which is distorted by the atmosphere. As always, USA Today gives us all the facts with handy diagrams.

Some of you may also have noticed that my novel-in-verse Equinox is now over. Thank you for reading it all, if anyone did. It was fun (for me) to have new sonnets turning up every day; sometimes they seemed to have some obscure relevance to the actual corresponding day. If you wanted, you could check out the entry for your birthday; it might tell you something astonishing—purely by chance, but still. I think my favourite day was 18/9. I am looking at options for a print version and will of course announce any progress on these pages.

More of you may have noticed that the “E” is missing from the title of Styx’s classic 1975 album. I cannot explain this. But I can point you in the direction of Jean-Michel Jarre’s 1978 album Equinoxe, which clearly has an “E” to spare.

4 July 2005

Save everything

by Matt Rubinstein at 7:16 am

eye.jpgIf you’re in Sydney this Thursday, come and see my brilliant sisters launch their new online magazine, The Humanimal Eye, which will offer monthly news, reviews and essays with a counter-cultural slant. The magazine is one of the first projects funded by Voiceless, an organisation founded by local businessman and benefactor Brian Sherman AM and his daughter Ondine Sherman to help out the animals. Voiceless’s ambassador is famous actor Hugo Weaving and its patron is Nobel laureate JM Coetzee.

The girls have done a great job getting support from Voiceless and putting the magazine together, and their launch party will be spectacular. It will feature plenty of live music from their own band, Little Aida, as well as from awesome hip-hop artiste Macromantics, improv kings Will Guthrie and Clayton Thomas Duo, chanteuse Ivona and the surprisingly soulful Psycho Nanny and the Baby Shakers. I’m sure there will also be various installations and other artistic-type things going on.

It’s from 8:00 pm, Thursday 7 July 2005, at The Frequency Lab, 107/342 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills. It looks to be about a block south of Foveaux Street, right by Central Station. Go to the nearest 7-11 and ask the guy for an egg. No, just kidding. It does cost $5 though.

Hope to see you there.

3 December 2004

Polly, Polly, Polly

by Matt Rubinstein at 1:16 pm

pj.jpgI caught PJ Harvey at the Enmore last night and am still kind of reeling, not just from tinnitus. She was awesome beyond words; if you can make it to tonight’s Hordern gig I would certainly recommend it (though it won’t be as good, just because it’s a big tin shed).

Chrissie Hynde’s famous advice to chick rockers includes the following:

Don’t think that sticking your boobs out and trying to look f—able will help. Remember you’re in a rock and roll band. It’s not “f— me,” it’s “f— you”! [Dashes in the original and reprinted for authenticity, not to suggest that it isn’t cool or clever to swear.]

But Polly Jean shows that you don’t always have to decide. The way she sings, and carries on on stage—she’s got this defiant vulnerability, this disdainful need, that’s impossible not to respond to. She even has a song that goes “Fuck fuck fuck you”, which everybody loved. We all loved her—not just because she’s the hottest person ever (apart from you, of course, Loyal Reader) but because she just rocked in every sense. One overheated guy even yelled out “You’re the Pope!” which was kind of weird but perhaps as good a summary as any.

16 November 2004


by Matt Rubinstein at 10:10 pm

harbour.jpgAfter a couple of months on the air, Equinox is no longer generating the traffic the Herald and I had hoped for. I have been hearing from people (and have no reason to doubt) that the sonnet-per-day thing makes the story a bit hard to follow, what with having to remember what’s already unfolded in quite a few bite-sized pieces over quite a while, having to commit the new instalment to memory in some way in order to maintain some kind of basic narrative arc, and so on. Perhaps it’s something about the nature of the Internet, too: web users are more accustomed to controlling the rate of their information flow, and being doled out a measly sonnet each day may accordingly be seen as a bit stingy and frustrating.

Anyway, as Yogi Berra famously said (providing among other things a great lead-in for Nick’s and my famous article Ballpark Figures: the Real Cost of Sports Broadcasting Rights, back when we were both lawyers): “If people don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s going to stop them&#8221. I won’t tell you how bad the numbers were getting, but I had been bugging the Herald techs to build a link to this site into the Equinox page—and it turns out we’re getting more hits over here anyway (thanks in large part to Hilary Duff, Missy Higgins, and (new this week) the “Stan Eminem pathetic fallacy&#8221, which sounds like a good name for a thesis).

So the solution has been to hype the book a bit more heavily and for a limited time to put the whole thing on the site at once. You can now read it here. It’s disappointing that the experiment has on one pretty respectable view more or less failed, but I do want to thank everyone who has read the sonnets and passed them on to friends so far; I really appreciate it, and I hope you read and enjoy the rest of the book while it’s up, and we’ll see if the new format has any more luck out there.

19 October 2004

On the sauce

by Matt Rubinstein at 10:51 am


I just love this—5,000 words on good old tomato sauce, though of course they call it ketchup. I’m a big fan of the dead horse myself—I’ve got friends who don’t like it, who’ll eat a bucket of chips absolutely naked, but I can’t understand them; there’s always going to be this distance between us. I think sauce is just as worthy of attention as these things like salt or mauve or zero or whatever, which have books written about them and their histories. Listen to this, it’s heady stuff:

Tomato ketchup is a nineteenth-century creation–the union of the English tradition of fruit and vegetable sauces and the growing American infatuation with the tomato. But what we know today as ketchup emerged out of a debate that raged in the first years of the last century over benzoate, a preservative widely used in late-nineteenth-century condiments. Harvey Washington Wiley, the chief of the Bureau of Chemistry in the Department of Agriculture from 1883 to 1912, came to believe that benzoates were not safe, and the result was an argument that split the ketchup world in half. On one side was the ketchup establishment, which believed that it was impossible to make ketchup without benzoate and that benzoate was not harmful in the amounts used. On the other side was a renegade band of ketchup manufacturers, who believed that the preservative puzzle could be solved with the application of culinary science.

A renegade band of ketchup manufacturers who spurn benzoate and put their faith in culinary science! It’s brilliant. For the record, the best sauce in the world is South Australia’s Beerenberg Hahndorf Tomato Sauce. You can get it in the David Jones Food Hall; I highly recommend picking some up.

6 October 2004

Go see this

by Matt Rubinstein at 5:30 pm

liam.jpg…if you’re in Sydney and want to see some good non-representational art. This is a friend of mine who’s a landscape architect but takes time off periodically to do more interesting things (much to the despair of many of us who think landscape architecture sounds interesting enough already).

If you can’t read the details, the exhibition is at Plisse Cafe, 113 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills from Thursday 7th October to Wednesday 10th November. Do yourself a favour!

2 October 2004

What is this thing called blog

by Matt Rubinstein at 12:48 pm

Hello and welcome to my weblog, which I am setting up to coincide (roughly) with the launch of Equinox, which the Sydney Morning Herald is serialising over the coming year and may well be the reason you’re here in the first place. If not, check it out—and, either way, let me know what you think using the comments box here. Also, props to the various other blogs that have already picked up on Equinox—thanks!

I also want to use the blog to try some new things to do with creative and factual writing, and occasionally to rant about various subjects. I’ll also be posting some samples of works in progress and also some completed works.