Dark Mofo

I have just come back from Hobart (again – love that city) and immersing myself in the craziness and unearthly beauty that is the Dark Mofo festival. Technically I was there for work – and for those who are raising an eyebrow, I did spend Thursday and Friday in almost back-to-back meetings. Then I had another one on Saturday morning. But… That did leave me with my evenings free to sample the delights of this deliciously wintery festival of art and food that literally paints this city red for two weeks leading up to the winter solstice.

A few highlights…

Siren Song

This is a musical artwork produced by Byron J Scullin, Hannah Fox and Tom Supple that is played out across the city of Hobart every day at sunrise and sunset. It’s almost impossible to describe this ethereal piece, but the ABC as put a sample of it up on their Soundcloud. The only problem is that this recording is tiny and incredibly intimate compared with how it sounds when it is played out across an entire city at dawn and dusk. I especially loved listening to it in the morning, still half asleep, curled up in my hotel bed. It’s a slow wash of music that seeps irrevocably into your brain so that you keep hearing the ghosts of the harmonics for hours afterwards – in the drone of the bathroom fan, the hum of traffic.

The IY_Project

This gigantic, cat’s cradle of laser light based on sacred geometry, is the brainchild of Chris Levine, and is accompanied by an immersive soundscape by Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack and Marco Perry.  They waft smoke through it, and the sheets of light carve out slices of coloured smoke that look like some kind of psychadelic, time-lapse cloud photography. I kid you not, I stood outside in the freezing effing cold watching this for over an hour on Friday night, I was so entranced. Then I went back and did it again on Saturday. Here’s a little sample from Friday.

So this is really fucking transcendental and no pic is gonna do it justice. #ChrisLevine #IY_Project #DarkPark #DarkMOFO

A post shared by Leife Shallcross (@leife.shallcross) on Jun 9, 2017 at 4:22am PDT

And another inadequate snippet from Saturday…


So this was a total lucky dip exercise for me and totally blew my tiny mind. I had no idea what to expect. Anyone who knows about Mogwai will probably read this and go “Duh!”, but it was totally transporting. I can certainly see that to some, this kind of music is the worst kind of white noise, and to tell the truth, I probably couldn’t sit down and listen to a recording. But live in concert? Oh man.

There is something intensely exciting about watching master musicians play live. Their sheer skill is thrilling, and the paradox of they way they are so tightly focussed on what they are doing as to be almost oblivious to the audience, yet at the same time inextricably linked to the way the audience is experiencing the product of their skill is fascinating. On several occasions one or more of the band members turned their backs on the audience entirely. As far as I can remember, only one of the band actually spoke to the audience and that was simply to thank the audience for their applause after each song. He seriously said about 20 words all evening. But the music itself… Wow. It was like being caught in a waterfall of sound. And Mogwai controlled the flow with absolute precision. Each song was carefully crafted around a build up to a blindside of sound that was euphoric. There was one song towards the end where people were standing around me with their heads thrown back and their eyes closed.

Seriously amazing stuff.

Sleeping Beauty

I wanted to see this so badly. This was a production of Sleeping Beauty that combined the talents of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the Victorian Opera and the Terrapin Puppet Theatre. Each character in the opera was represented by both a larger-than-life puppet and an opera singer. It was stunning.

Sleeping beauty tree

As is usual with my (limited) experience of opera, I found the story a bit thin in parts. However the visuals and the music were divine. The Tree dude, pictured above, embodied this perfectly. I mean, what is not to love about that image? I can’t tell you what part he played in the story though. Still. It was thoroughly enjoyable I loved the creepy, glow-in-the-dark fairy host. The Good Fairy, too, with her reptilian tail and ghostly vestments was deliciously creepy. It really made you question the King’s wisdom in involving the fay in any capacity (and look what happened, hey.)

I found Sleeping Beauty’s mother, the Queen, incredibly moving.

The Queen Sleeping Beauty

She literally fell apart with grief when the Green Witch cursed her baby daughter. I’ve got a real soft spot for fairy tale queens. They often seem to get a very rough deal. Valued only for their beauty and their baby-producing capacity, so many fairy tales revolve around the queen’s difficulties and mounting desperation to fulfill the second part of this bargain. This queen started off looking extremely young – probably not much older than her daughter was when she succumbed to the curse – but aged visibly during the story. Even the way her skirt hoops are visible under the ragged silk of her dress speaks to her fragility.

The Winter Feast

And to offset all that art, there was the food. Just for context, Hobart is a city where it is supremely easy to find delicious things to eat. But Dark Mofo’s Winter Feast is a smorgasbord of delicious food and drink and smells and music all soaked in crimson light.

I ate oysters and fondue with truffle shavings and canoli and shitake mushroom skewers and dark chocolate salted caramel tarts. I drank hot ginger toddies and hot spiced gin and hot mulled cider and…

So, so delicious.

Touchstones: Zena Shapter

I’ve been thinking a lot about story touchstones lately, starting with Sapsorrow’s Dress. As well as exploring some more of my own imaginative touchstones, I decided to ask a bunch of other writers about theirs. This week I’ve invited award-winning author Zena Shapter to share her thoughts on a touchstone that lies at the heart of many of her stories. And I’m really glad I did, because – Wow! Like many writers and consumers of fiction, I’m a big fan of living vicariously through other people’s experiences, and Zena has provided some amazing pictures below to keep me going for quite a while.

Thank you for agreeing to share your thoughts with me, Zena! What is your touchstone?

Thanks for inviting me to your blog series, Leife! My touchstone is actually an intangible thing – travel. Whenever I visit somewhere new, my senses come alive – aromas become more vibrant, sounds are stronger and I hear more of them, I absorb atmospheres, caress textures, breath more slowly and find myself analysing and recording every detail about the people and place until my notebooks are crammed full. I search for what’s different to ‘back home’, and celebrate the commonality of humankind across the world. These experiences never fade (and if they do I have my notebooks!) and they constantly inspire my writing, especially my longer fiction. They help me build worlds that are out-of-this-world! …yet grounded in reality.

Zena Shapter backpacking – Komodo Island – Iceland – Galapagos – Californa – Tanzania
Top: Komodo Island; Iceland. Bottom: Galapagos Islands; California Redwoods; Tanzania.


When did travel first emerge as a source of inspiration for you? Where did it come from?

The first time travel inspired me was when I was twenty-one, working in a Birmingham publishing company after reading English at University. I hadn’t travelled much at that point, and a friend asked me to go away with her for the weekend. It was January, miserably cold, we were both newly single and needed to get away. We went to a travel agency and asked about last minute deals. In England you can make rock-bottom bargain travel plans if you wait until the day before you want to go and aren’t fussed about where. We ended up with tickets to Tenerife, in the Canaries Islands off the west coast of Africa, and a few days later landed in a completely different climate and culture. It was a transformative experience, changing my mindset, career choices, and life view – it felt like magic!

Zena Shapter Easter Island, Chile
Easter Island, Chile

Why do you think this experience affected you so strongly?

I couldn’t believe how much the act of stepping away from what was familiar enabled me to assess that familiarity objectively. It gave me the space and opportunity to really think, assess and see where I needed to make changes in my life. I also loved the experience of discovering and exploring, walking down streets and over landscapes new to me. I wanted to travel more. After that trip I went back to Birmingham, applied for sponsorship that would enable me to return to University and re-train as a solicitor so I could afford to travel more often. In hindsight that decision may itself have been a mistake, because I’m an artist at heart, though it did enable me to travel more. The first of my working-class family to go to university, my parents were also chuffed I went twice!

Zena Shapter Mount Bromo
Standing on the edge of Mount Bromo, Java

How have your travels inspired your writing? Have you ever written directly about these experiences, or do they lurk in the background of your stories?

Travel for me is a transformative experience. There are countless challenges, especially when you’re backpacking, and each one enables you to grow as a person. The characters in my stories do the same. Challenges touch their lives and they have to adapt to survive. In this way my stories, like travel, are about transformation, and sometimes this is reflected in a physical journey my characters undertake from one place to another. I also love giving readers the thrill of discovering a new place!

Zena Shapter – Iceland – Towards White
A trip to Iceland inspired my upcoming novel, Towards White.

How does your travel touchstone embody or reflect other things that interest you as a writer?

I was talking about this with my agent just the other day! Looking at some of my recent works I realised that ‘control’ was a common theme. What is control and when do we have it? I enjoy questioning our ability and inability to be in control, pitting my characters against both mind control techniques and self-control issues. When I travel I look at cultural approaches to these questions too, examining how people in other countries use mass media, advertising and political spin to gain control, as well as how individuals strive to take control of their own lives. The history of a place, the events that made it what it is today, also interests me as a writer, and I gain a fuller sense of that when I physically travel there.

Zena Shapter – petra_siq – Jordan
Three months pregnant here in the Siq, Petra, Jordan.

How has your relationship with your touchstone, or the way you’ve drawn inspiration from it, changed over time?

Travel takes time and costs money. So yes, the responsibilities of raising a family have over time meant a decline in my ability to travel. Every few years or so I try to fly from Sydney back to England to visit family, and stopover along the way – never in the same place of course. Those stopovers are all too brief, yet enough to assure me that travel is still my inspirational touchstone. I always come home with another notebook and countless photos of the people I’ve met along the way – they’re bound to turn up in a story soon enough.


Zena Shapter writes from a castle in a flying city hidden by a thundercloud. She is the winner of twelve national writing competitions, including a Ditmar Award, the Glen Miles Short Story Prize and the Australian Horror Writers’ Association Award for Short Fiction. Her stories have appeared in numerous online and print venues including the Hugo-nominated Sci Phi Journal, Midnight Echo, Award-Winning Australian Writing (twice), and Antipodean SF. Reviewer for Tangent Online Lillian Csernica has referred to her as a writer who “deserves your attention”. In 2016 her co-authored science fiction middle grade novel Into Tordon was published by MidnightSun under the pseudonym Z.F. Kingbolt. Her solo novel Towards White will be published in 2017 by the International Fantasy Writers’ Guild (inspired by a trip to Iceland, see photo above!). She is the founder and leader of Sydney’s award-winning Northern Beaches Writers’ Group, a book creator and mentor, creative writing tutor, editor, social media consultant and workshop presenter. Connect with her online via ZenaShapter.com

Adventures in the South

I’ve just come back from a week’s holiday in Hobart, Tasmania. I’d never been before, despite having a mother who is a confessed Tasmanophile and plenty of friends who have been telling me for years how much I’d love it. And I have to agree: Tasmania is a beautiful place and Hobart is a beautiful city. We based ourselves there for a week and did a few day trips, as well as taking a bit of time to soak up the city itself. Here are a few things that really stood out.

ningina tunapri

I’m going to mention this first, because while there are many wonderful things about Tasmania, I think it’s important to acknowledge the darkness and heartbreak in its colonial past. ningina tunapri is one of the permanent exhibitions in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery that “explores the journey of Tasmanian Aboriginal people and is a celebration of all Tasmanian Aboriginal generations.” There are some genuinely inspiring and beautiful parts of this exhibition – the baskets woven from water iris were especially lovely. But I left in tears after reading through some of the atrocities early British colonists perpetrated on the Indigenous Tasmanian people, and of the heroism of those people. Importantly, this exhibition presents these stories in the words of the Aboriginal people themselves. I have so many thoughts on why this is important, which I might save for another time. But what has really stayed with me is how the grief and anger over those terrible events is something that is still here and will always be there. It can’t be fixed, but it must be respected. (In my mind respecting that hurt involves things like acknowledgement, empathy and demonstrating commitment to eradicating racial discrimination.)

Mount Wellington

2016-04-15 11.47.07Mount Wellington looms over the city of Hobart at 1000 metres above sea level. It is huge. We drove up it on the evening of our first day in Hobart, and again on the morning of our last day. It is one of the most awe-inspiring natural monuments I’ve ever encountered, and looking up at those crazy rocks above me, I can understand why things like that get worshipped as gods.

Driving up it at dusk, in the mist, we felt as though we were about to drive off the edge of the world. The road is narrow and winding, and the drop at the edges was terrifyingly sheer. Mt Wellington’s most impressive feature is this giant wall of vertical rock columns called the Organ Pipes, which are the result of cooled-down magma from ancient volcanic activity. They are enormous and simply astoundingly picturesque. Especially when you suddenly find them looming over you half way up the mountain.

20160410_174711The crazy rocks and sheer elevation of the summit makes it one of the eeriest places on Earth. The first evening when we went up, the wind was so strong, we could barely breathe, let alone stand still. It was almost impossible to hold the camera still enough to take photos. And, holy hell, it was cold. Our car said it was 5 degrees out. Apparently Mt Wellington often gets snow in summer.

We went back on our last day in Hobart and did a bushwalk along underneath the Organ Pipes, which was pretty challenging. A lot of the path crosses old rock falls, and it’s pretty rough. But, bleak as the landscape is, it is very lovely. And the air is crystal clear.

2016-04-15 11.28.40.jpg

The Huon River

This is a part of Tasmania I’d like to explore a bit more. The trees were huge, and the water in the river is this amazing mahogany colour from all the tannin in the leaves of the forest that fall into it.

2016-04-13 14.39.42

Hobart wharf

The harbourside at Hobart is a great place to wander around – during the day and at night – with all the old Georgian architecture and the fishing boats piled with lobster pots.

Sadly we concluded it was not lobster season, because we couldn’t find any places serving lobster.

Daci & Daci Bakery

There’s probably not much more I can say about this temple of deliciousness, other than to note we went there three times in the space of the six days we spent in that city.

It is absolutely the quintessential shop of treats, with its polished wood counter and tables, its gleaming glass displays filled with all manner of cakes and pastries, its gloriously mismatched tableware and the sheer array of sugar dusted, cream filled, fruit garnished, toffee glazed, chocolate coated delicacies. We can definitely recommend the chocolate eclairs, the creme brulee and the violet meringue.

The gin

2016-04-10 14.28.53

Tasmania is, apparently, known for producing quality booze. My partner spent a fair bit of time sampling the various whiskys the island has to offer. I’m not a whisky aficionado, but I am partial to a gin and tonic, and I’d heard good things about Tassie gins. On the left here is a gin and tonic made with Forty Spotted gin by Lark Distilleries. It is one of two I had the pleasure of sampling that are flavoured with native Tasmanian botanicals. The bartender at Lark made this G’n’T with a couple of Tasmanian native pepper berries and a curl of ruby grapefruit rind to bring out those flavours in the gin. It was delicious.

The talent

On our last night in Hobart, I caught up with fellow writer Chris Large for a drink at a cosy bar in Salamanca. We spent an hour or so yakking about writing and stuff over a glass of really excellent Tasmanian Merlot. I usually only see Chris when he comes up to Canberra for Conflux in October, so it was nice to be able to meet up on his home ground for a change.

The verdict?

I’m really keen to go back. Next time, maybe we’ll do a BnB hop around the island, instead of basing ourselves in one corner. Or possibly even one of those 3-4 day hikes through the wilderness (my other half only does glamping). There’s so much more to explore.