Thursday, April 21, 2011

Happy Secular Good Friday

In 2009, I went to Deakin University to give a talk about my book Tumble Turn, which is on the syllabus there. I didn’t charge. Frankly, I would do anything for Deakin University, since they are the probably the reason that Tumble Turn remains in print. I would paint Deakin University. Really, I would.
Penguin gave me two Cabcharges to get to Burwood and back. As you know, I live in St Kilda and it's a fair hike out east. There's a perfectly adequate tram service. I should have used that. This is what happened in the cab on the way home. The driver asked why a grown man like me would be carrying a novel that looked as though it was aimed at readers younger than myself. And why was there a pig on the cover? He seemed especially upset about that. I explained a little about the book, that it was about a boy who’s going through a tough time, and he is helped through it by an uncle who happens to be Buddhist, among other things.

The cab driver asked if I was a Buddhist, and I said no. Then he asked me a question that cab drivers rarely ask me. 'Who made the universe?' This is a difficult question to answer, especially on the corner of Burke Road and The Burwood Highway. I admitted I didn’t know. But apparently the cab driver did. And he told me, at some length.

Now I can tell you who made The Milky Way. That’s much smaller than the universe, so it’s easy. The goddess Ops, who was the wife of Saturn, got annoyed when her husband started swallowing the children. He did this so he could remain boss of the Pantheon and be unchallenged by his offspring if they ever reached adulthood. Ops would come home from doing the shopping, her bags full of Ambrosia, and notice that there were fewer children than when she left.
'You haven't been eating the children again?' she would admonish her errant husband, Saturn.
'No,' Saturn would say, because lying comes fairly easily to a child-eater.
'But I'm sure there's another one missing,' Ops would say.
'It's probably fallen down the back of the settee.'
But Ops wasn't fooled for a second. Despite Saturn being lousy at rearing children, Ops had another baby to him and called him Jupiter. She loved him like crazy and she certainly didn't want Saturn eating him, so she hid him. But when Saturn demanded to see his new son Jupiter, Ops was worried that her husband might be feeling peckish. Rather than show Jupiter to Saturn, Ops played a trick. She dressed up a rock in a blanket so that it might be mistaken for a baby, and she cradled it in her arms.
'That doesn't look like a baby,' said Saturn. Being a god he was not so easily hoodwinked.
Had I been Ops I think I would have biffed Saturn with the rock, then gone off to find someone with better parenting skills. But Ops was determined for her trick to work. To make the illusion look more convincing, she tried to breast-feed the rock. This, as you can imagine, didn’t work awfully well. Ops' milk spurted out everywhere and became The Milky Way.

That's how The Milky Way was made. That's the truth. Or it would be if you were an early Roman. If you didn’t believe it, you’d be likely to end up in the Coliseum, having your head chewed off by a lion.
Saturn guaranteeing he'll get no presents on Father's Day.

I didn’t tell the cab driver about The Milky Way. He did most of the talking and wouldn't have listened anyway. Now, there is a very parsimonious side to my character, which may have something to do with Scottish ancestry. I hate to spend money unless I really, really need to. I had only one Cabcharge left. If I told the driver to stop the cab and let me out, I’d have to pay for a second cab ride with my own money. Sure, I’d retain my honour, but I’d lose some cash. Was it worth it? After the cab driver mentioned his bloody deity one more time, I decided it was. At the next set of lights I stepped out of the taxi, handed the driver the Cabcharge, then told him to go forth and multiply, but not in those words. (Thanks, Woody Allen.)

Postscript 2011: I will miss my trips to Deakin. Now that Tumble Turn is out of print, it is no longer being studied. This, of course, does not mean you shouldn't read it. Yes, it's another plug for the free e-book on my site. Go forth and read.


sheryl gwyther said...

Doug, thank for your insightful, hilarious, informative (on the carniverous nature of Mr Saturn) and Melbourne taxi drivers - it made a great read on an Easter Monday morning.
We obviously have the same tastes in gods and such like. Go forth and multiply!
I'd love to read your e-book and can't wait to read the body-snatching one too. :)

Anonymous said...

Good Friday and me are I am afraid, very oxy moron - with the emphasis on moron.


You see, ebay still works on Good Friday.

And the parting word was


which is probably latin for what I'd need at a Christian Brothers Confessional. After a few Hail Mary's...

Tod said...

Hello Doug, I am currently a student at Deakin Uni and am studying Tumble Turns this year. It is a fantastic text especially in relation to sexuality in children's literature! The text does not tell the reader what Dom's sexuality is however after evaluation of the text, Dom's same sex attraction is evident though out the text. References to the color purple, name definitions, Gay icon singers, and numerous other indicators also suggest his sexuality is probably homosexual. Am I correct in saying this and is it because of the restrictions in children's literature that prevented you from writing Dom loves other boys or he is Gay?
Thank you for writing a text that is unlike most which tend to promote heterosexual characters and discourages readers to be like the Gay characters. Its refreshing and encouraging for those who are not heterosexual.

DougMacLeod said...

Hi Tod,
My publisher certainly didn't restrict me in what I could write. You'll note that on the shortlist for the CBCA awards this year (older readers) there is a book, About A Girl, that has at its core a gay relationship. So it is good to see that in this country we are publishing good books about alternative sexuality, despite the uninformed remarks that American YA writer David Levithan made about our industry when he visited Australia. He's not exactly trail-blazing with his anodyne Boy Meets Boy, and I'm sorry if he spoke to some narrow-minded Australian teachers or librarians that gave him the idea that we're all homophobic.
As for Dom's sexuality, I think it's a mistake to label him as gay, straight or bisexual just for the moment. In his last letter in the book, he does refer to his attraction for both the Turkish girl at school, as well as his male friend Dart. It won't be a case of Dom 'deciding', because he was born with his sexuality. He's still finding out.

Trish said...

Oh Doug,
I was the person who arranged your taxi trip home from Deakin on that day! I recall some efforts to locate said taxi in the first place (perhaps due to my having imbibed more than one small glass of red on the delightful afternoon of critical inquiry and sharing of stories). Sincere apologies (though the occasion has lent itself to the extension of your repertoire of amazing adventures).
It's distressing to hear that TT is out of print. But it's still available in good libraries!
Love your recent work, and your blog is wonderfully distracting.
Keep up the brilliant efforts.
ps. perhaps I sent this previously as I thought I had and you declined its approval. I don't mind. Just wanted to let you know that you are still valued and loved by all at Deakin.