A STORM CLOUDS recap by Kian West



So you just launched “Storm Clouds” tell us a little about the night and how it went? I held the comic launch at Churchkey Espresso on Hunter St - which, by the time of publication, will be under a new name/managment - and promoted it very hard leading up to the night. I had some leftover prints of the comic art, so I threw them on the wall, made a 6-hour Spotify playlist, organised some refreshments (including special Storm Clouds iced coffees) and prepared a team of helpers to keep the night running smoothly. My friends Tim, Mitch, Swannie and Big Pog took care of everything all night - I couldn’t go three minutes without someone pouncing on me. The launch party was a ridiculous success and I really was unprepared for how well the comic was received. Things got a little Murphy’s Law in the days leading up to the event and by the time I had everything set up on the night I was so physically and mentally exhausted that I wouldn’t have been phased if only like five people showed up, but there would have easily been close to a hundred passing through on the night. We nearly sold out of copies as well - which is over double what I had expected to sell - which was both shocking and delightful news. I wanted to get more of my friends involved in the night, so I threw together a bit of a mini-exhibition with some friends the week before the party. Three artists from Newcastle, (Keo, Grizz and Dan Arnold from Alien Art) and three artists from Sydney (Carlo, Sindy Sinn and Mike Watt) each submitted their interpretation of one of the comic’s main characters. I only gave them like eight days to get the art to me, so they were all mates about it. I only made 40 packs. They were $3 to make giving people change easier if they bought it with the comic, and they sold out in like a half an hour. Another unexpected surprise! Each card had a QR code on the back which reveals a secret message about the comic if you scan them all in the right order! I could not believe how many people showed up and bought a comic. My old band just did a reunion show at the Cambridge and there were more dudes on the stage than there were on the dance floor, so I had lost all confidence in my pulling power. The fact that there are eighty-odd copies of my comic floating around being read by that many people right now is blowing my mind. God bless Newcastle. How has the comic itself been received? On the whole, pretty well. I put a lot of attention into the production and presentation of the book as well as the story and artwork, and getting them risograph printed on special stock left a lasting impression on people. Most people’s standard reaction to receiving the book was opening it, smelling it, and feeling the ink on the pages to take it all in. I’m yet to hear a response to the story from someone who isn’t friends with me and wouldn’t necessarily get all the Newcastle in-jokes, but I’ve had a lot of people tell me they have read the whole thing with my voice in their head, because I haven’t done a good job at disguising my natural mannerisms, haha. I had the same experience reading Nick Milligan’s book at the beginning of the year. So far everyone I’ve spoked to has enjoyed it and are keen to see what happens next! What do you mean by ‘Newcastle-in jokes’? There are too many to really cover here, but the majority of places/people/things in the comic are loose references to things from this city, to add an extra layer to the story for locals. The main character Chino is named after Chino’s, the Cambridge side-bar that was shut down in 2011. Everywhere in the city there are tags that read ‘R.I.P VOX’, a reference to the old record store in the west end, Vox Cyclops. Conroy’s, the bar in the comic, is named after a closed-down Newcastle cafe and the inside is modelled after The Lass. Jared’s band CHANCES is named as a nod to No Second Chances, a now-defunct Newcastle hardcore band, and their hit song bares some similarities to a horrible chauvinistic anthem my old band from Uni had back in the day. Also, a huge part of the plot (which I won’t spoil for you) is a big reference to how Renew Newcastle works. Marni Jackson made an appearance at the opening, and I think she got it, but was a little taken aback by all the violence ahahha Will there be more comics from Ben? I hope so. I was treating Storm Clouds as my debut of taking the cartooning thing seriously, so the general response is going to determine whether or not it’s something I am going to continue with. As I said before, most people who’ve read the ending are keen to follow up the cliffhanger and find out what happens next. Everyone conversation I’ve had about this has been different depending on who I’m talking to and what they’d like to see in a sequel. I’d really like to focus more on Jared on Charlie in a prequel story, but after the events of the first comic there are lot of directions I can take with Detective Rose and Chino. The main idea, at this point, is to tell a bunch of interconnected stories about Bontown and the whole conspiracy that was uncovered in Storm Clouds, and how everyone there seems to be so caught up in their day-to-day that they don’t realise how much sinister stuff is going on behind closed doors. What’s next for Ben? Before I can tell another story, I want to make sure as many people read Storm Clouds as possible. I am currently sold out of all of the first run (which, as I said before, was not how I had planned this to go) so I’m trying to chase up a second edition as we speak. At the moment I am a lecturer at Newcastle Uni which is keeping me afloat pretty well, but I still do regular freelance graphic design/illustration work pretty much full time. I have currently never been more busy, and any time I am away from my phone/emails I am super relaxed. At the moment I’m working on a comic with another dude which will be out next month, and doing a bunch of graphics for a new bar opening on King St which should be out around the same time. I’m beginning to think that if I can survive just on doing comics for myself (that other people want to read and share) I could end up only drawing things that other people tell me to occasionally - which is the dream, currently. For those that haven’t caught a copy yet, where can they get one? This is a question whose answer has changed only very recently. Storm Clouds is currently sold out all over Australia/the world, but I will be able to release a second edition of 100 copies in mid-April. These will have slightly different covers, and won’t be hand-numbered. They’ll be available from Fun Apparel online, Graphic Action on Hunter Street, and I’m also super excited to announce I’ve scored a partnership with indie comics publisher Birdcage Bottom Books for distribution in North America and the rest of the world, alongside some of my favourite artists. As I wasn’t expecting to sell 80 copies in one night, and then sell the remaining copies within 2 days in stores and online, I hadn’t planned a second run for the foreseeable future. Whilst selling out was great news, it took me off guard and I was really uncomfortable telling people they would be unable to read the comic, so I took action almost immediately! By a stroke of luck, my boy Xavier in Melbourne has had a cancellation and will be able to fit my second edition in, and another risograph printers in Sydney is interested in doing another run in case anything goes wrong. Finally, no one will be denied Storm Clouds. Until the second edition drops, I ended up with a few extra copies from the printers that were lacking covers. As I mentioned before, I got the covers done in Newcastle and the insides done in Victoria, but the covers were done first and Xavier ended up running out. As a result, I’m doing a very very limited run of five copies with a limited edition cover illustrated by my friend Carlo Delos Santos, which I’ll be selling myself online. BUT, if you subscribe to Newcastle Mirage this month, you’ll be in the draw to win one of these limited edition Storm Cloudses! Tell em all about it, Kian!




(offer only available to 6 or 12 month subscribers)

60 seconds with - By Design by Ryan Williams


BY DESIGN TOOK NEWCASTLE MUSIC TO THE NEXT LEVEL WITH PREVIOUS RELEASE SPACES [2012]. WHEN WE HEARD THIS DREAM TEAM WERE WORKING ON A FOLLOW-UP, WE GRABBED JAYSON FOR A CHAT QUICK SMART. For people who haven’t heard your music, how would you describe By Design? I guess I’d describe our music as the result of us blending up all the influences from our favourite bands. I know this sounds kind of standard, considering that’s what all bands aim to do - but we aim to be as unique as possible in the process. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, or what instrument it is, or what time period it was from - if we like the sounds of something, we’ll try to make it work. Our first album was a heavy pop rock/electro kind of vibe, but our new album is more alternative rock with a world-ish twist to it. I guess you’ll just have to hear it. Who/what are your influences? To list some of our influences, I’d say artists such as Muse, Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, Metallica, Moby, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, Meshuggah, Johnny Cash and we also draw a huge influence from Justin Timberlake. All of those names might sound strange when you place them together like that, but again, we try to make it all work. What are you working on at the moment? We’re currently in the studio putting the finishing touches on our second album, ‘Reanimator’ which is a follow up to our debut 2012 release, ‘Spaces’. It’s been a long year and a half of studio time, writing and rewriting, but we haven’t ever been this proud of something we’ve done, and can’t wait to get it out there. Without giving it all away, what’s in the ideas behind the album? Concepts? ‘Spaces’ was an initial story of the complications of thought patterns and experiences that can happen to you which lead you to thinking the only thing to do is to run from your problems. In ‘Lightyears’, the story describes leaving the current planet to move to another planet far away, but once you get there, you realise your problems have followed you from lightyears away. ‘Reanimator’ picks up here, and tells the rest of the story in a much more conceptual and straight forward sense, describing that you can beat your problems, but you have to face them first. In the story, the character is stranded on a new planet and has to seek out an ancient power source called ‘Reanimator’ to fix himself, but in the process must conquer his problems that are embodied as incredible monster-like creatures that stand in his way. Where are you recording? We do all of our recording and production ourselves at my studio, Senator Studios, which means we are able to continue giving away our albums for free download once released. It’s great doing things ourselves as we can illustrate our vision perfectly, and there’s no middle man to confuse anything. It also means we aren’t time constrained - which sometimes gets the better of us as we take a bit longer to release things sometimes! - but it’s great to be able to work on something until we are completely happy with the product. When can we expect to hear this stuff? We are hoping to have the album out by May at the latest, but you never know, it could happen sooner! Any gigs lined up? Being a predominant studio band, it’s been a while since we’ve played any shows. Once the album is out, and we are all rehearsed up we’ll be announcing a few tours here and there Is there anything else we should know about you lads? We are bringing out new video clips and other cool online stuff pretty often, and it’s always free. So if you are interested in hearing our music, seeing our clips or want to drop us a line, you can always like our facebook page (facebook.com/bydesignau) and you’ll be kept in the loop!

The Word Hurler above a sea of fog by Kian West


1798555_10152046245119613_2059095778_nCaspar David Friedrich’s painting, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818), depicts a young man at the pinnacle of a mountain staring out at a landscape of crags surrounded by mist. His back is turned to the viewer and we are unsure whether his gaze is one of awe, horror or triumph over the huge expanse of nature.I feel just about the same peering into 2014 and what it could mean for Word Hurl. References Romanticism aside, it should be pretty freakin’ awesome! Of course, there’s the continuation of the Anti-Slam, a no rules open-mic spoken word and poetry night, but there’s also the next evolution of the Word Hurl Newsletter: The Word Hurl Times Magazine. Word Hurl Anti-Slam restarts on February 6th at The Terrace Bar at the sexy later time of 7pm. So you should get on down there after some kind of lovely dinner and spark your mind into a frenzy with a desert of spoken word poetry mischief and malarkey. This year’s themes will revolve around the mythological and our first is the Ouroboros. An Ouroboros is a snake that is devouring itself by chewing on its tail. Allusions to eternity and never-ending cycles spring to mind, right? So it did for a myriad of ancient cultures. The Ouroboros appears in the Ancient Egyptian book of the dead, Norse mythology and also in South American folk lore. In various ways the self-cannibalising serpent represents the beginning and the end of time, a start and finish that creates a sort of ‘forever-present.’ But what does this mean for Word Hurl? Well, that’s up to you. Like everything at Word Hurl Anti-Slam, the themes are non-compulsory. You could come and do a piece on the eternity of existence as symbolized by the Ouroboros or you could come, sit down and enjoy an open-mic spoken word night. Conversely, you could not come and never know what happened at that exact point in the forever-present at The Terrace Bar between a group of people who hardly know each other. It’s up to you, but as a doctor I recommend you come, oh yes, please do. Since the beginning of last year, Word Hurl Anti-Slam has been documented and promoted by the Word Hurl Anti-Slam Newsletter. From modest beginnings this monthly emailed .pdf has come to comprise around twenty-five pages of creative endeavors from a wide array of people living in the Hunter and beyond. We’ve had articles, artworks, short stories, ranting columns, event promotions and, of course, poetry. With a growing team of people volunteering their time, 2014 will see the Newsletter become the Word Hurl Times Magazine. An immodest project with the aim of building a literary and arts journal based in Newcastle that follows the ‘ideals’ of an anti-slam. These include an inclusive editorial policy, i.e. any contribution of any kind is welcome, an interest in supporting anything creative and an engagement with people actively promoting the arts. You can find the Word Hurl Times Magazine and past issues of the Newsletter on the Word Hurl Facebook Group page or you can email wordhurl.antislam@hotmail.com to subscribe to future editions. If you would like to contribute anything to the magazine then send it to that address too! Then stand precariously at the top of a mountain, stare out at the unfolding vista of promontories and yawp.

The Student Association by Kian West


After months of silently supporting Newcastle Mirage, February seems like the best month to return the favour and highlight the amazing work that the Student Association does in Newcastle and the greater Hunter/Central Coast.  You may have noticed over the past few months their full page advert in our zine, they have also been graciously assisting with some incredible prices on printing - if you have any printing needs we definitely recommend them, going above and beyond to make sure our fresh little print is top quality every month and in a fantastic time frame also. ISSUE_9_SAIf you need booklets, A4 or A3 prints done, check them out: studentassociation.org.au or visit the bookshop on the Newcastle Campus of Hunter TAFE in Tighes Hill – Block S, Maitland Rd. The really interesting thing about the Student Association is that they are open for all people to become members, so you don’t need to be studying at Hunter TAFE to profit from their incredible membership option. For just $10 you get a cute little welcome bag with a diary, notepad, pens and a bottle of water, plus a 10% discount off every product they sell including printing, and on top of that they work closely with other businesses to send out exclusive invitations each month including: cheap concert/festival tickets, discounts at other shops, exclusive entry to events, and even volunteer and professional opportunities. As a charity organisation, the Student Association exists to benefit members so they are constantly looking for new additions to their indisputably fantastic offering. If you need advocacy, assistance, or just simply steering in the right direction, the Student Association could be the door you need to knock on today. Plus right now they are taking applications to sit on the board of Directors, an amazing opportunity to voice an opinion on the future direction of the Student Association (and it’ll look great on your resume!). studentassociation.org.au

STart Talking by Eryn Withawhy


It was a sunny afternoon, i’m not sure of the date. Craig bounded ahead of me through the bush. We leapt and laughed as we played like children in the scrub near his house; a couple of carefree 19 year olds covered in mud and yelling excitedly when we found patches of glistening moss in the damp creek beds.ISSUE_9_STart TALKThere are still days when I wonder if I could have done more. I worry that I didn’t say the right thing. I wish with all I have that I could go back in time knowing what I know now. Those days are becoming less frequent, but they still linger. Memories take me by surprise or I hear a Matchbox Twenty song on the radio and I’m right back in the grief of losing Craig to suicide. I have no patent on grief. Suicide is the biggest killer of Australian males aged between 15 and 44. There are thousands of stories not dissimilar to mine and millions of people touched daily by depression and mental illness. Kathie Bowtell wants to talk about it. She wants me to talk about it. She wants you, your friends, your family, your neighbour and your workplace to talk about it. She wants everyone to talk about it and she’s created an arts programme to get the ball rolling - stART talking . Kathie is one of the most inspiring, selfless and amazing people I have had the privilege to meet.

Interview from ERYN WITHAWHY

Kathie, let me congratulate and thank you for everything you’ve done. The work you are doing is astounding. For those who haven’t heard of it, what is stART talking? stART talking is a community project which aims to initiate safe discussion around suicide. We aim to remove the stigma attached to anyone seeking help, and support the families left behind post-suicide. If we cannot discuss suicide we cannot make an impact on reducing the numbers of people; men, women and children, that we lose to suicide every day. Families in the Newcastle Hunter region who have lost a loved one to suicide were invited to take place in an arts programme where an artist would create a portrait of their loved one to give to them after an exhibition in May 2014. The exhibition seeks to put a face to the statistic so we can see that suicide respects no one and can take everyday normal people completely by surprise. It gives the families an opportunity to speak of their experience in an effort to educate others about the warning signs (or lack of) and encourage others that there is help and support available so no one else feels like there is no other option. We encourage people to become involved in the project so we can make a difference together. We will also be attempting to raise funds to donate to Lifeline so that they can train as many people as possible to become phone counsellors to ensure every call to Lifeline gets answered. It’s a huge commitment. What are your motivations for taking on such a large project? It has been a huge commitment from me and my family in both time and money but that is nothing compared to the cost of losing a loved one to suicide. I have lost a grandparent and a brother to suicide. I won’t sit back and let suicide rob me or anyone again, not without a fight. It’s not a popular battle but is incredibly important to me. It must be very rewarding, seeing the smiles on faces after you’ve heard so much about a family’s loss. I love the cover photo on your page. Sam’s parents look so pleased with your work. What was that moment like? Think for a minute about someone you have lost, not just to suicide… Imagine how you would feel if you could have them back just for a second or a minute. One of the biggest rewards of this project is to share that moment with the families when they get to see their portrait for the very first time. There is almost always tears, tears of love and I often hear ‘It’s just like he/she is here’. When Sam’s parents saw his portrait for the first time his mum Virginia said ‘You have captured him so well I feel like I could just reach into the canvas and hug him’. I tear up just writing that. Imagine helping a mum or dad who’s child has died feeling even for just a fleeting moment like they could hug their child again. That feeling is greater and more precious than any prize or any amount of money anyone could ever offer me for a painting. You are very skilled. How long have you been painting portraits? Thank you, I always see my faults and how much better I would like to be at portrait painting. I guess a lot of artists feel the same. I’ve drawn since I was a young child. You know when you first start drawing and you draw your family as stick figures or scribbled blurs? Well I couldn’t draw my family because they didn’t really exist. My dad died when I was 3 and due to family circumstances my 3 brothers and I were separated. There are no family photos of me and my dad or me with my brothers, none in existence, so as a result as I got older I would imagine what they would look like and I created them. I guess that’s how I became obsessed with capturing and drawing people. I then developed a reputation for posthumous portraits and ‘bringing people back to life’ so to speak in paintings. What can our readers do to contribute to this project? I would LOVE to have more people involved. Other artists willing to donate their time to attempt a portrait would be wonderful. Donations of art supplies or anything we could raffle. Goods and services or funds for Lifeline to help support grieving families and friends left behind after a suicide would be awesome. Anything over $2 is tax deductible. If people could like and share our Facebook and Twitter pages (facebook.com/lifelinenewcastlestarttalking, @stARTtalking) would really help us spread the word and reach more people. Put Lifeline’s number into your phone - 13 11 14. It’s free from all mobiles and if you or a friend ever needs it you know exactly who to call and what to do. Finally, hug the people you love and never be afraid of asking ‘Are u ok?’ Never be afraid of saying ‘No, I need your help to get through this’. Suicide thrives on dividing us, isolating us and it thrives on silence. It’s like the bully of the mental health universe and I’m sick of bullies. I won’t be a bystander, I care about people and we aren’t always strong enough to fight for ourselves. I want us to join together and kick the shit out of suicide. When one of us is down then we can join forces and smack that bully down. Don’t isolate anyone who feels down, don’t be afraid to ask the questions and make sure you know exactly who to call when you need to. So my question to you is, are you brave enough to stART talking?

At the time of publishing, there is as yet no location or date set for the exhibition of works. If you or an arts organisation you are involved with are able to offer organisational assistance, please contact Kathie through the stART talking Facebook page 

Joel Alston - February photo by Kian West


LOOK AT THE PHOTO ON THIS PAGE. ISN’T IT NICE? JOEL ALSTON TOOK IT. LOOK AGAIN. IT’S EVEN BETTER THIS TIME. WE SPOKE TO JOEL BACK IN ISSUE #4 ABOUT HIS PHOTOS, AND WE THOUGHT HE CAPTURES SUCH NICE ONES WE’D GET HIM BACK TO SHARE HIS SECRETS WITH YOU GUYS. Set Up: Canon 7D (1.6x crop sensor) Canon 15 - 85mm Ultrasonic Settings: Shutter Speed:         1/6 sec Aperture:        22 ISO:            100 Focal Length:        15mm


This was another beautiful afternoon of shooting. This shot was taken at the little blowhole next to the Newcastle baths. The afternoon low light allowed for a perfect slow shutter speed of 1/6 of a second which created a smoothed out effect on the aggressive water. If you have a slower shutter speed than 1/6, generally the water will be further smoothed out and look more like smoke.

I find that shutter speeds between 1/15 - 1/6 allow water exposures to be smoothed out whilst still giving the water character and not be completely disappeared. But that’s just my own personal preference.

For questions, hints or tips contact Joel Alston on: facebook.com/JoelAlstonPhotography

60 seconds with - Thomas Green (Regresser) by Kian West


I FIRST MET THOMAS A FEW MONTHS AGO AT THE FIRST NEWCASTLE MIRAGE LAUNCH, WHEN WE KICKED OFF ISSUE 3 WITH A PARTY AT STEEL CITY COLLECTIVE GALLERY. SINCE THEN I HAVE COME TO KNOW MANY OF THOMAS' TALENTS WITH CLARITY STUDIOS, HIS PASSION FOR MUSIC AND THE BAND HE IS A PART OF - REGRESSER. How would you describe the music that Régresser makes?1903109_742285755790454_1464769832_n Honest, confronting, passionate and real. I love it, as I was a fan before I joined.

What are you working on at the moment? With régresser, another recording I believe, to compliment the free EP we just released on 1/1/14. Personally, a lot of work with Amos Wellings at Clarity Studios, recording, mixing, mastering etc.

Where is your next event? 31st of January at The Small Ballroom, launching our EP with Snakes Get Bad Press. We’ll have an EP tour to follow in March/April.

When is the next release? It has to be recorded first, and we only just released our debut! That debut EP took time to get it up to standard, who knows how long until we’re all happy with the next material.

Who is your biggest influence/s? Depends on what they are influencing in my life. Currently, the members of régresser are influencing my listening, while the creative ethos of Coltrane and somewhat Davis is directing my playing.

If you could play anywhere where would it be? A beach show or Blue Note NYC. 1964257_742285965790433_1373411166_nThomas Green plays saxophone in Newcastle six-piece régresser. They released their debut EP for free download on the 1/1/14, available at: regresser.bandcamp.com

60 seconds with - Alaisdair by Kian West



So Al, tell us how Novastream came to be? What’s it all about? Novastream started as my personal music blog back in 2009 when I was reading other music blogs and tired of the opinionated crap churning out online. I wanted to make a site that promoted music and great songs that people who only listen to the radio may not find out about. After I got a good following I turned it into a full blown website and then moved into movies, games and tv (and comics VERY SOON!) It is all about providing a uniquely Australian view on entertainment, we are not big on professional opinions and dissecting everything with academic references, we are purely about as an everyday person would you like this? Yes or no?

And where did Newcastle Discovered come from? Newcastle Discovered came from a similar place from Novastream, there was a Facebook page called Newcastle Name & Shame and all these posts just bagging out business, council and charities were just flooding this thing and it made me sick. It used to get me so angry so I wanted to do the opposite, create a page that talks about the good things that Newcastle has to offer and does. What do you do when you aren’t busy with Novastream and Newcastle Discovered? I work a full time job (I know sometimes I surprise myself at how little time I have) and any down time see’s me at the movies, beach or café with friends.

You have been kicking some pretty serious personal goals in the last 12 months, care to tell everyone about all that?    Ha ha oh sure thing! I completed my second year in HSM, Hello Sunday Morning is a group started by this legendary guy, Chris Raine, in which you don’t drink to the point of drunk for a year and basically watch what changes in your life. Waking up every Sunday morning with a clear and fresh head has been one of the best things I have done.ISSUE_9_Cov1

Aspirations? What is next? What is next…hmm I can’t give away too much but I can say that a possible actual physical business residence is in the talks, combining a café with music and movies. It’s all just talk at the moment so will see what comes of it. We are hoping to launch a full website for Newcastle Discovered at some stage this year and also NovastreamComics will launch at the end of this year, so it ensures a lot of sleepless nights to come! If you liked this interview, please take a moment to check out : novastreamgames.net facebook.com/novastreamgames facebook.com/newcastlediscoverd

The Monthly Nick - Nick Milligan by Ben Mitchell


NEWCASTLE IS A CITY FILLED WITH MEN OF MANY NAMES – PLENTY OF MATTS, SEANS, LUKES AND BENS – BUT AFTER YEARS OF STEEL CITY MINGLING, THIS REPORTER HAS FOUND THAT THE REAL PIONEERS, THE NOVOCASTRIAN GLUE HOLDING THE CULTURAL SCENE TOGETHER, ALL SHARE A NAME WITH THE HUMBLE SAINT NICHOLAS. OUR CITY IS BURSTING AT THE SEAMS WITH NICKS, EACH DOING THEIR PART TO MAKE IT A BETTER PLACE. AFTER NOTICING THE COMMON BOND OF PASSION AND AMBITION ATTACHED TO THE NAME, IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE THE MONTHLY NICK CAME INTO FRUITION, AS THERE ARE LIKELY SEVERAL NICKS NEAR YOU, KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE IN THEIR OWN WAY, REGARDLESS OF RECOGNITION OR CELEBRATION. THESE ARE THEIR STORIES.1492311_10153714848510035_876247877_o I feel as though I have done the good people of Newcastle a disservice in my article on October’s Monthly Nick, local writer, Nick Milligan. I’ve always struggled with eBooks  (if you’re reading the printed version of this article, I’m sure you can relate) as the concept of keeping my attention in one place digesting information that is not on the printed page has always been an obstacle for me. When the October Nick gave me a digital copy of his debut novel Enormity to read before our interview, I explained my deterrence to the kindle and that I wanted to pick up a printed copy to read it properly, proceeding to carry on with that article as if I had read more than just the blurb. The perfect crime. You were all none the wiser. Months later, finally the owner of a hard copy, I found myself spending twice as much time on trains – which had quickly become sacred chambers of quiet carriage concentration,    desperate to cram in another chapter of what could be my favourite thing to come out of Newcastle.

Enormity is a very difficult story to give an ‘elevator pitch’ for. Before I sat down with Nick about the book, I was told it was about an astronaut who lands on another planet and becomes a famous rock star by claiming popular earth songs as his own. This immediately gave the sci-fi comedy vibe of the Craig Robinson plotline in Hot Tub Time Machine, or the Enchantment Under The Sea dance in Back To The Future, and, if anything, gave me the wrong impression. About halfway into the novel, it became clear that using that synopsis would be like saying Breaking Bad is about meth, or Watchmen is about superheroes – one over-arching plotpoint is used as a jumping-off point for much larger, darker and more abstract themes. Enormity isn’t the sexy satirical rock and roll romp I was expecting, but a very genuine-feeling epic, transcending genres of sci-fi, horror, action, suspense and dark comedy.

Though the idea of dishonesty leading to unwarranted success is a big part of Enormity, a much more important theme explored in its chapters is the concept of celebrity, and how members of the entertainment industry are put on a pedestal by the general public. This is shown (without a grain of metaphoric subtlety) by this new planet treating our lyric-stealing protagonist, Jack, like the second coming of Christ, when his own sense of morality and self-indulgent behaviour should really have him fingered as a fallen angel. In between the sex and drugs, the small glimpses that are offered of the planet’s society, history and biology paint it as a much more peaceful utopian version of our own, and Jack’s alien presence there, along with his ‘discovery’ of rock and roll, is a ticking time bomb of disruption that he is very aware of.  Along with uncovering a nation-wide conspiracy, interacting with deadly other-worldly creatures, fabricating an intricate web of lies to conceal his alien status and the slew of his other experiences covered in Enormity, I can understand why these themes were omitted by readers using the ‘rockstars in space’ pitch. Describing a mix of Paradise Lost, Total Recall and Almost Famous, as if written by a lovechild of Brian K Vaughan, Kevin Smith and Henry Rollins, would be a very difficult thing to do in an elevator.

Enormity is a very easy read. With short, sharp sentences and well-resolved chapters with definitive peaks and valleys, it plays out in a very cinematic manner with a non-linear timeline, bouncing between the present and past like a jigsaw the reader needs to put together. As it is told from the perspective of the story’s only earth-native character, Jack’s role as narrator becomes similar to that of Twin Peaks’ Agent Dale Cooper, who David Lynch once described as an innocent: a ‘person you trust enough to go into a strange world with’. As Jack marvels over the difference between this new planet and his home, the reader is right there with him, which makes for very believable transitions between experimenting with other-worldly drugs in one scene, and hiding from gigantic alien spiders in the next.  It’s easy, at times, to forget you’re reading a novel with sci-fi elements, as Enormity is speckled with charming, believable situations that could easily happen on our home planet, like Jack and his bandmates competing to get the pull-quote in an interview, or Jack’s reluctance to corrupt his next-door neighbour’s seemingly innocent daughter. Similarly, despite the very dark mix of horror and sci-fi the story can foray into, the novel can be refreshingly tongue-in-cheek at times, as well as very erotic, with a surprising level of intricacy. This has lead me to believe that Nick Milligan, the jolly Music and Movie Trivia host we all know and love, is secretly very good at sex and sex-related things. Take note.996648_10153534061610035_1253434956_n

It should not be taken lightly that I found this novel very hard to put down, as I have grown accustomed to (and developed my life’s profession around) written words with accompanying visuals.  Nick once told me about the time he wrote a letter to Ralph magazine, commending them on their inclusion of model Jennifer Hawkins, predicting very big things for her future career. This was years before Hawkins became 2004’s Miss Universe, and the clipping of the printed letter became a prized possession of his, as confirmation of his good taste before the hype. I feel like this review will serve a similar purpose in my life. Give it a few years, and Enormity is going to be huge. If we can get to 2030 without seeing Jared Leto’s portrayal of Jack on the big screen, faking an Australian accent to describe his motivations behind writing Stairway To Heaven, I will eat my hat!






Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 5.03.31 pmA lone, old, stressed fig tree stands proud on the corner of Hunter and Worth, seemingly taller than all other trees. Its trunk, shooting up about 30 feet, is dotted with the scars of lost branches. The life of this beautiful tree is possibly the oldest remnant of the street. With nearly half of its canopy gone, unevenly hacked to make room for drooping power lines, it still stands, however imperfect.

The old buildings that once hugged this beautiful tree have not been so fortunate, having made way for glistening and soulless apartments. They cry and demand our attention, flirting with our consciousness with seemingly a better life in the offering. Further on, I find myself taking a shortcut through the Honeysuckle Square to get to the water’s edge. The large apartments cast a shadow over me, and the desolate square is empty, cold and characterless. I breathe a sign of relief as the working dock comes into view and I see others enjoying the water’s edge.

Despite their inherent shortcomings, all is not lost. Newcastle has a rich and diverse array of buildings, all with their own stories and histories to reveal. As the second oldest city in Australia, one could experience this heritage and the multitude of architectural styles within a twenty-four hour period. Imagine waking up to a beautiful sunrise in a Victorian house, dropping the children off in an ‘Arts & Crafts’ school, and meeting  old friends for breakfast in a rustic Regency Style coffee house. Breakfast turns to lunch, which turns to drinks, which turns to a night in a Neo-Classical bar. A brawl breaks out and the rush from the Brutalist police station relaxes the scene. You call it a night after watching a local band in an Art Deco Hotel and finally, fall gently to sleep in a Modernist white box whilst peering through your bedroom window at an elegantly lit ‘Gothic’ Cathedral.

One of the reasons old buildings are deemed attractive to us, might simply be that they’re old and irreplaceable. Old things are commonly nurtured in Newcastle, hence the many antiques shops. The historical buildings are no exception. These buildings speak to us of another time, of particular events, of old crafts, of quality, and even of particular historical characters. Perhaps they’re the product of a nostalgia for an idealised past. It has been said that a city without old buildings is like a person without memory. It might be said then, that a city that doesn’t appreciate its old buildings is like someone whose memories are disconnected from the story of their lives.

Therefore, we must not lose this inherent stubbornness as Novocastrians. We demand our own identity, and it’s a trait we pride ourselves on. Why lose it? Must we become a slave to a ‘throw away’ culture? To have a city skyline that reeks of the new and latest trends, or should we take what we already have, and make it better – “Less but Better”?

Few people realise buildings are in fact works of art. They help to create a sense of place, an underlining quality that shapes a city. People give soul to the city, but buildings present the stage in which these souls can perform. Let’s not forget these buildings.