Thursday, 17 April 2014

Happy Accidents

who is this masked woman?
What's the dirt?  I'm preparing the ground, soil, dirt to write my first novel. I could have done this a number of ways and  one of those ways is the NanNoWriMo way where you write hard and fast for 30 days and come up with some sort of rugged pre-draft novel. And redraft if you dare. Some people do. I didn't. But the process of NanNoWriMo was great in 2012 and taught me that I work well under pressure. Which I kinda knew already. As a commissioned playwright I always enjoy a deadline, and am [usually] only a couple of weeks late.

The way I am currently working on this novel is not like WriMo - I'm taking my time and don't propose to have a draft written in a month or even a year.  Quite the opposite. I've been writing and researching for 6 months, on and off, working with a mentor who has been teaching me a lot about writing technique, building on what I already know as a playwright. I'm learning a lot about about writing narrative as opposed to simply telling story through dialogue. There's a kind of lingering over imagery that I'm immersing myself in and I've extended my notion of visual journals. Part of my research for writing has always included a visual journal but this time I'm actually giving it a focus I never have before. I've always enjoyed drawing, painting, making cards, all that crafty stuff, not in a professional kind of way at all - purely because I enjoy it. It's all fairly abstract, I don't draw or sketch well, simply enjoy putting colour and pattern together. And I'm not adverse to borrowing from other images. Here's an image that is a magazine cut-up that has the kind of feel of a character in the novel. I used a simple cut-up and weave that we are taught as 9 yr olds in primary school. Strange thing is that I was focussed on the other side of the image, which was a desert scene with a railway siding but when I turned the paper over and saw this, it resonated with me in  a much stronger way.  And so I've stuck it  in my visual journal. The novel is so premature that I can't give anything away. I've no idea what the hell is going on. I'm told this is fairly normal at this stage.

Bless me.

C x

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Performing and Presenting your work

Yang Lian reading at the SA Writers Centre
Adelaide in March is hectic and joyful. As part of the Adelaide Festival I spent 6 hours watching Roman Tragedies, which was sore on the back but brilliant for the spirit.

I also got to hang out with some excellent Australian and International writers/poets when I chaired a forum as part of Adelaide Writers Week. We covered Presentation and Performance - how to captivate a room with your reading. The line up was impressive: Ali Cobby Eckermann, Omar Musa, Jeet Thayill and Yang Lian. I saw Omar perform last year so I was  familiar with his work but the other three, not so much. In my research I began to see what an incredible body of work they have and also the vastly different lives they have led. I was looking forward to meeting them. The problem with biographies is that they are such cold things, they act to hide rather than reveal the  flesh and blood people they are telling about; the living, breathing, graceful, warm, thoughtful people - Omar, Ali, Jeet and Lian are all of these things, all reading their work beautifully, moving the audience to tears. Such grace in their readings. Laughter too, and generosity of spirit from the panel and audience.

So here are some thoughts from these fine, fine writers. They may help you next time you're shit scared of getting up to read your work:
'Don't be afraid of the emotion', said Ali.
'Work harder, practice and watch how others do it,' said Omar.
Jeet said 'One glass of wine will relax you, three glasses and you've lost your timing.'
And Yang Lian:'We don't read from the page, we read from the poem.'

How lucky for me & the audience that we got to spend a delightful hour with these four writers. *Feeling inspired*

C x

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Eat Your Mind

Cut-ups: Eat Your Mind
It's been almost two months since I've written a new blog post and I'm wondering why. Perhaps because it feels like this blog is now only a record of what I'm doing, which feels a tad self indulgent and slightly boring (for me and for you). I spent part of the Xmas season thinking on what I would like to change and a small voice said - more creativity, less documentation. Uh-huh. Let's go with that, small voice, I said. The voice got bigger.

I've been reading a lot. Inspired by writers like Angela Carter, Geraldine Brooks, Hannah Kent,  Kathy Acker, Maxine Hong Kingston to try different styles. 

I love this quote from Kathy Acker: 

"Get Rid of Meaning: 
Your mind is a nightmare that has been eating you: 
Now Eat Your Mind"

I've been led to cutting up text, re-arranging it and using it as inspiration for more writing. I write quickly, with very little editing and I end up with things like this:

When I stroke Harry’s chin, strawberry jam pours into the kitchen.
            ‘Salt lives in the pile of clothes in the parlour,' he says. 'The walls are painted lilac and there is heavy wooden furniture piled up in the corner. I see a forest. The moon is large. The plane smells.’
            ‘About the picnic,’ says my sister.
            And again I want to say ‘blame me for everything,’ but a fluorescent tube of grease and leather comes between us. Ants pour out. I run away. I come back.
            ‘What will we do?’ asks my sister.
            Harry enters with an armful of tomatoes, sugar and salt.
            ‘Basil’ I say, ‘grows in grandmother’s pots. We need basil for the sauce.’
            My brother pulls heads off ants. ‘I don’t want them looking after you,’ he says to my sister.
            I clear the piles of many thoughts. This is what we must do if we are to start again. We are always starting again.
            My sister’s hands have the basket in a flood. We move fast across the salt. My sister’s hair is like a river. Across her forehead the salt piles up in perfect pyramids.
            ‘More salt,’ says Harry. ‘The pilot will be here in an hour.’
            We pile salt into the plane. My sister sleeps.
            Harry has the gas burner on low and tips the tomatoes, salt, sugar and basil in.
            The plane shudders into life. The pot boils over like a steaming engine.
            ‘I don’t want you buzzing like a beehive.’ he says to my sister, trying to use his stern voice but our sister has just woken and squeals at him as she throws salt into the air.
            After sweeping the salt outside, Harry raids the kitchen before the pilot arrives.
            I convince my sister she has our grandmother’s eyes. That brings a smile to her face. Then there is no time for anything else. The pilot is impatient and our limbs are moving slowly in the heat.
            ‘Run,’ he says. ‘Run. You’re young, you can move faster than that.’
            Our cheeks puff with the effort. I hold my sister’s hand. We run. We hold each other so tight my hand hurts. It is slippery with sweat.

            The pilot wears Biggles-style glasses and we move faster than we’ve ever moved. Pile into the small plane. My sister is in my arms. My arms aches but this makes me feel safe and excited. I have never been so close to her. She is like a baby in my arms with her grand mother eyes and hair smelling like apples. I push the salt pyramids aside and kiss her forehead. She falls asleep like that. I wrap her in a cotton sheet and place her in the bread basket. Her mouth is like buttermilk. She sleeps peacefully among the reeds where the wind whispers as the sky turns purple.

In these surreal segments I discover themes, motifs, emotions, characters and story. This is the raw material I will use for a longer work (a book). I enjoy to eat my mind.

C x

Sunday, 10 November 2013

What's Good?

Storytelling for Grown-ups at The Wheatsheaf Hotel
The final night of storytelling for 2013 takes place on 26th November at The Wheatsheaf Hotel in Adelaide. There won't be another until May 2014, so get along for some excellent listening. 

I began curating these readings in 2011 and my mission was to promote Australian literary fiction and  Adelaide actors. So there is an emphasis on quality - the actors are professionals and the writers are published. The stories are short, playful, strange and written by Australian authors who you may or may not have heard of. 

On the 26th you'll hear stories by Tom Cho, AS Patric, Threasa Meads, Mark O'Flynn, Melanie Pryor and Julie Chevalier. Most of these writers have been writing for many many years. And it's high time we started taking a bit more notice of them. Same goes for the actors. These are all professional Adelaide actors with years of training and performance experience. I'm one of those Australian artists who is proud of who we are and what we have achieved and look forward to what we have yet to create. Adelaide, particularly, tends to downplay its artists and even the place itself. Let's turn this around. Tell stories, create connections, listen, be proud of who you are and what you have. What sux is always available but so is what's good. "What's good? (Life's good)" Thank you, Lou. RIP.
C x

Friday, 11 October 2013

Just for Jesus

sacrificial poet


There's something wonderful about having a week off from work (all kinds of work) to stop and reflect and dream. This week has been such a week. But last week saw me being sacrificial poet at the final of the SA Poetry Slam. I was terrified! I can curate and introduce other readers at Spineless Wonders Presents, but when it comes to reading my own work in public, that's a whole other level of nervousness. But I was asked (thank you Indigo!) and said yes before I could say no. The thought of doing was much more nerve wracking than the doing. I was pleased as punch. And it led to me being invited to read at Word Box on Tuesday night (Oct 15th @ 7.30pm), which is a monthly night of readings at The Soul Box, Hindley St. I'm one of two special guests for the upcoming event. Again, I said yes before I thought too much about it. Seems to be my theme at the moment, and it's working. If you're in Adelaide, come along, say hi. There's an open mic section too, if you fancy having a read.

The 'Just for Jesus' part of this post refers to a story I've had published online by American literary journal, apt.aforementionedproductions.com. It's really wonderful to have a story accepted by this award-winning Boston-based small press. And it's nice to be on holidays, to have the time to savour the moment.

Earlier in the year I was invited to submit to the Review of Australian Fiction. The story I submitted, 'Minor Key', will be available in Volume 8, Issue 5. I'm honoured to be in the same issue as NT writer Marie Munkara (not the first time - we were both published in Bruno's Song in 2011). Anyone can sign up at Review of Australian Fiction. A subscription to the volume costs $12.99 (you receive 12 stories). It makes an excellent Christmas gift. Jennifer Mills curated & edited this Volume - she's proud to have achieved a 50% Indigenous quota (with consultation from Ali Cobby Eckermann) – also 33% Territorian and 75% women. Awesome. Please consider purchasing RAF - it's a great lit journal and your $ goes toward paying the writers (yes, I got paid!)

But the holiday week has been, quite deliberately, one of not-writing. I created a space in which to reflect, be proud of my achievements, dream up what next and contemplate a larger project. These moments of stopping are when I feel some deep unconscious work gets done. It's taken me years and good friends and mentors to realise the value of slowing down and reflecting. I've had a brilliant, thoughtful week in which I've cleaned, cooked, watched movies, got drunk, read, listened to music, rearranged the loungeroom and been kind to myself. That's the best kind of week.

C x

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

cultural submissions

need a holiday
So, what has been going on?

The good folks at Verity La said "thank you for sending us cultural submissions. We enjoyed it and would like to publish it - congratulations." Nothing flowery in that feedback. Still, it's nice to be published. And it's on-line, Click here to read.

I'm about to have a story published with an American on-line journal, apt.  I loved going through the story making changes assuming that most readers would be American. It opened  things up a little.

In other news, my wonderfully talented friend Emma Beech is performing in Melbourne Fringe. Her work is unique, developed from having conversations with people. Emma is all about connecting and reflecting. She actually wants to know what people are thinking and feeling. I know, weird right? Homage to Uncertainty won the Melbourne Tour Ready Award at the Adelaide Fringe, which basically means "Emma, darling,  your show is sooo wonderfully good! People in Melbourne should really see this and we're going to help you make that happen." Nice, huh? So if you're anything like me and get completely overwhelmed by festival programs, simply take my advice - go to this show and no other. Easy.

The writing continues at a fairly slow pace. I just finished a short writing course, by Threasa Meads. Not having been formally taught short story writing, I was really feeling the need for a better approach to my writing. Threasa's course was great and has provided me with  a methodical yet flexible approach to writing. All the basic elements of storytelling were covered; so much meatier than a 3 hour workshop, which I find dissatisfying these days. What was especially useful about it was that it gave me an approach to editing, which I - like so many others - can find so overwhelming. There was a session dedicated to critiquing, too, which was invaluable and actually changed the way that I read my own work/ And, happily, another little story was born called Walking with Men. I'll let you know when it finds the right home.

And yes, I'm needing a holiday. That snap was taken a few years back, on the ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton, on New Zealand's north island. Next week I have a week off. But there's no New Zealand in sight. Instead I'll pitch a tent in the lounge room, draw a picture of a sunset, spray suntan lotion on myself during the day and mosquito repellent at night, sing lustily about the stars and wine, drink the wine, and maybe even write a story.

Read on,

C x


Monday, 5 August 2013

Winter Tales at The Wheaty

Upcoming Story Readings: Tuesday 13 August 2013
I don't know about you, but I haven't enjoyed this southern hemisphere winter in Adelaide. I've holed myself up writing new material, re-writing old material and reading the wonderful short stories of Marquez, Keret, Lorrie Moore, Angela Carter's Book of Fairytales and, of course, contemporary short story writers such as Jen Mills, Ryan O'Neill, Tom Cho, Mary Manning, Jon Steiner and the exquisite Spineless Wonders collections.

Also keeping me occupied was the pleasurable task of curating another night of story readings, that will be performed by some of Adelaide's standout actors on Tuesday evening, 13th August. And this month our musical talent is a standout acappella group, House Red, a trio of honeyed  voices.

There is a lovely community that has sprung up around these readings. No matter what age, people still enjoy being read to. We'd love you to be a part of it - in the back room at The Wheaty. See you there.

Caroline x