slippery when wet

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.


Tue 05


Max On the weekend I went to the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Many years ago, before I was published, I went to one of these big festivals and hated it, because it was full of self-congratulating blowhards trying to crawl up each other’s butts. But now that I’m one of those butt-crawling blowhards, it was awesome.

I did three panels and got to meet lots of other Aussie writers, which I hadn’t done earlier because until recently I was completely unknown here. Now I’m exactly the right amount of known: enough to get invited, but not so much that I qualify as a commercial sell-out whom everybody bitches about. It was a perfection distraction for a guy waiting to find out if his publisher likes his new novel. (Not that I’m, you know, completely freaking out or anything.)

On my second night I pulled a muscle in my leg. I was asleep at the time. I dreamed that a tiny, blue, jelly-like alien invaded my kitchen and tried to kill me. I stabbed it with a fork and it squealed and staggered around, then it tried to make a run for it so I kicked it as hard as I could against the cupboards. This is where I think I injured myself. Then the alien looked up at me and said, “Mom-my.” I was so shocked I woke up. I think this must be a side-effect of having an active imagination, or doing a lot of drugs before bed.

For my last panel, “Laugh Out Loud,”, I opened with a bit where I pretended someone close to me had just died, then revealed it was just a character in a story I was working on. This probably would have been funnier if moments earlier the host hadn’t paid tribute to Anna Politkovskaya, who attended the Festival last year, and was assassinated for political reasons five months later. If I was a little more professional, I would have junked my opening right there. But I’m not, so I didn’t. Fortunately not too many people seemed to think I was making funny at Anna. And you know, I’m told she enjoyed a laugh.

I read a couple of blogs from this site, which went down very well. It was also terrific to be on stage with my old high school buddy, Wil Anderson; I felt like I was back in 1990, only with no hair.

On the plane ride home I noticed they’re still advising us to brace our heads against the seat in front of us in an emergency. This made sense ten years ago, but now that location is a small, solid screen. If I’m preparing for impact, do I really want to carefully position my face against a rectangle of glass and metal? To me, that really confirms that the whole procedure is there purely to give you something to occupy yourself with other than running around screaming and clawing at flight attendants.

I got home to discover Fin had grown up. I swear, I was away three days, and she learned a hundred new words, got attitude, and her face changed. I am not 100% certain my wife didn’t replace her with a similar-looking child.


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Machine Man subscriber David (#1456)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Why are the pretty ones always insane?"
Posted: 4463 days ago

I think it's quite possible your wife replaced Fin while you were away. Fake Fin will probably turn into a tiny, blue, jelly-like alien when you fall asleep one night, and you'll injure yourself trying to escape from it/her. Life's funny like that.

Jennifer M. Dambeck (#3061)

Location: NJ, USA
Quote: "Rock on"
Posted: 4463 days ago

Kids do that. I've woken up in the morning and the child who greets me is DEFINITELY taller than the one I put to bed hours ago.

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 4463 days ago

I don't know why, but I laughed about the whole Anna Politkovskaya bit.

Burnt Toast (#3141)

Location: U.S.
Quote: "Who Burnt The Toast?!?!?!"
Posted: 4462 days ago

Hmmm...well although i don't have kids, i had a similar dream recently. Except i woke up on the ground with the dog looking down at me panting...I could swear he was smiling.

Rod McBride (#688)

Location: Gardner, KS
Quote: ""
Posted: 4462 days ago

Well, I don't mean to be insulting, but who are all these 'Aussie' writers? There's Max Barry, Peter Temple, then who?

Like I say, meaning no insult. I assume this is an indication of my own illiteracy and cultural bigotry, but that's the cannon of Australia's letters as far as I know...

Yenzo (#829)

Location: Secret underwater pyramid base in the Pacific
Quote: "In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe (Carl Sagan)"
Posted: 4462 days ago

You do drugs before going to bed? That makes coming up with creative ideas a bit less impressive... I mean, how hard can it be to invent this really strange Wonderland full of talking animals and magic mushrooms when you're writing it high on laudanum? (Yes, Lewis Caroll, I was talking to *you*!)

How about writing the first half of a novel clean and then doing a lot of LSD and writing the rest? I loved Company just the way it was, but imagine the whole cast being attacked by giant ticks and huge tapeworms with Hitler's face just like that in the middle of the plot. Now that would be *grand*.

Of course, if you do that now, I'll sue you for copyright infringement. No offense, it's just business.

Lottie (#3093)

Location: Sheffield, UK
Posted: 4461 days ago

'On the weekend...'

Now, in Britain, this is not the correct term. It must be different in Australia, seen as how you're a published author and all, because published authors NEVER make grammar mistakes...

Anyhoo, 'On the weekend' to me sounds like you may be sitting on it, or doing a spot of dancing.

Peter Larkins (#2811)

Location: Sydney
Quote: "Never let logic get in the way of a good MKTG idea ..."
Posted: 4441 days ago

Rod said - "Well, I don't mean to be insulting, but who are all these 'Aussie' writers? There's Max Barry, Peter Temple, then who?"

Rod ... there's Nick Earles for starters, Nikki Gemmell & Robert Dessaix, to name 3 at random. There's also Kate Grenville, whom the lecturer for my creative writing classes at uni would always endlessly rave about back in the 90's ... although her work never really grabbed me, to be honest.

May I suggest you have a quick squizz at

Peter Larkins (#2811)

Location: Sydney
Quote: "Never let logic get in the way of a good MKTG idea ..."
Posted: 4441 days ago

Oh erm ... unless Rod you mean 'aussie' writers at the Sydney Writers festival ... buggered if I know who was actually there, apart from Max ;)

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