A serendipitous meeting and a discovery about a treasured manuscript

I was really delighted yesterday to meet the wonderful Dr Joko Susilo, world-renowned dhalang (master of traditional Javanese shadow-puppetry, the wayang kulit) , who’s been Artist in Residence at UNE  for the last few weeks. An eighth-generation dhalang from Cenral Java, Joko has been based in New Zealand for some time, and travels around the world to give performances, talks and other presentations.
I contacted Joko to show him one of my family treasures: a rare, handwritten Javanese-language ‘Boekoe Pedalangan’ or ‘Book of Puppetry’, which my French parents, who were very interested in the wayang kulit and Javanese culture generally, bought when they were living and working in Java in the late 50’s and early 60’s (and where I was born). I’ve always been in awe of this book, and was thrilled when my father gave it to me a couple of years ago, but I have  wanted for a while to ask someone who knew what they were looking at to let me know me more information about the book. Well, Joko was absolutely the perfect person, as he is not only a practitioner but also a respected scholar of the extraordinary and magical art of wayang kulit.
He was very interested indeed in the manuscript and I learned quite a bit about it from him as he leafed through it: that it came from the Central Javanese city of Solo(which like Yogya is at the heart of Javanese traditional culture), that it was written in High (literary) Javanese by a professional dhalang, someone well-educated and highly-literate–not very common at the time, Joko thought it might possibly have been someone who worked within the kraton, the palace, of Solo– and that it contains the full script, including narration, instructions to puppeteers and gamelan orchestra, as well as actual gamelan notation, for a famous epic wayang kulit play which goes on all night (at least 9 hours long).
As well as that, there is a shorter section at the back, which Joko revealed is actually an unusual collection of traditional Javanese magic charms and spells. The charms are for all sorts of purposes including one, Joko was amused to discover, against sleepiness (sleepiness being an occupational hazard of course for dhalangs who are performers of all-night plays!) He confirmed that this is indeed a very rare book, especially given its excellent state of preservation(my parents having very carefully looked after it for decades, ever since they first got it and of course I’ve done the same). So fantastic to learn more about this treasure–and Joko is keen to transcribe the book in its entirety at some stage, which is wonderful!

My take on Shakespeare’s final years: a mix of novella and play

A few yshakespeare_williamears ago, I wrote a rather unusual–not to say odd!–piece of writing called Shakespeare’s Last Play, which is a mix of play and novella, set in Stratford, in the last year of Shakespeare’s life. Knowing it was unlikely to attract the interest of publishers, I published it myself as a short e-book through my PressBooks site. It’s available there for reading, free, on a Creative Commons license.

I re-read it the other day and thought it was worthwhile drawing readers’ attention to it again. Here’s the introduction:

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that in the last few years of his life, Shakespeare retired to his native Stratford and to all intents and purposes never wrote another play, at least not under his own name(there is some indication he may have collaborated with others.) What makes such a great writer, so driven, imaginative and very much a part of London theatre life, suddenly fall silent? What might his life have been like, in those final years at Stratford? These questions, and reading somewhere that not long before Shakespeare’s death, his writer friends Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton and theatre manager John Hemmings visited him in Stratford, were the inspiration for this book.

I chose to write it in an unusual format, half novella, half play, as a way of evoking an atmosphere half-way between the page and the theatre.

You can read the full work here.

The Green Prince play lives!

green prince play0001Some nice news this week from the Australian Script Centre, which is a wonderful digital repository and shopfront for plays from all over Australia: The Green Prince, the play I co-wrote in 2001 with Christopher Ross-Smith, based on my fantasy novel of the same name, made a few sales in 2014, enough to earn some small but unexpected royalties! It was so much fun and yet such a challenge to write that play, and it was such a wonderful experience to see it in production back then! I’m so pleased that it continues to have a life.

Producers and directors whether professional or amateur are most welcome to go over to the Australian Script Centre and take a look at the play! Would work well as a film too. 🙂 Just sayin’.

Here’s the blurb:

Jack Fisher, an orphan growing up in a small riverside village, is feared and hated because of his DSCN5188webbed limbs and his talent for singing fish out of the water. When he is beaten and left for dead on the riverbank, he is rescued by a strange, puckish creature, Shellycoat, and the merman Vagan. They tell Jack that he has been chosen as the Champion of the Green Kingdom, destined to fight Grimlow, Lord of the Abyss. And thus begins Jack’s enchanted, terrifying, action-packed journey into the lands under the water.

And if you’re interested in checking out the tribute page on Facebook to the original production of the Green Prince, back in 2001, take a look here.