Saturday, 23 January 2016

Writing - There is no Magic Formula

I'm thrilled to be invited back to Mockingbird Lounge to teach the Creative Writing classes. There are two classes:

1. Casual Writing Group (first Tuesday of each month, 7-9pm)

Casual and low pressure, this group is all about generating new work. I'll guide you through two hours of writing and you'll walk away with a whole lot of new stuff plus exercises to practice at home by yourself (or with a writing buddy). Surprise yourself at how much you can get done in 120 minutes.

2. Short Story Writing Course (Closed Group)

If you're ready for a more immersive writing experience, then this one is for you. Held over 3 months (6 fortnightly sessions), you'll be guided through the fundamentals of storytelling such as characterisation, point of view, dialogue and metaphor. By the time you finish the course you'll have completed a polished piece of fiction, gained a deeper understanding of the writing process and learnt how to critique the work of others. 

The next Closed Group starts on February 10th, but if you're not sure you want to commit or you'd like to see what my teaching style is like, I suggest coming along to the February Casual Group on Feb 2nd, and go from there.
When I asked for feedback on the course that I taught last year, here is what one woman wrote:

"You have great insight and experience, which you use to impart feedback in a constructive and honest way. I have learned an enormous amount in the few short weeks that we have had together; not only about the writing process, but about myself."

Okay, I blushed a little at such generous words; but I was also pleased, especially at that last clause because I truly believe  writing can teach us a lot about ourselves. That's not hype; it's what I and many other writers have experienced.

These writing classes are live experiences so you do need to be living in Adelaide to attend. The Closed Group is limited to 6 people and there are just a few spots left. Here are the bits you need to know:

Short Story Writing Course (Closed Group)

Where: Mockingbird Lounge, 631 Broadway, Glenelg South
When:  2nd Wednesday & 4th Tuesday of the month (7-9pm)
Dates:  1o & 23 Feb; 9 & 22 March; 13 & 26 April 2016
Group size:  Maximum of 6
Register: Phone Mockingbird Lounge on 08 7007 2242
Investment:  $210, paid in advance.

There is no magic formula to writing. The magic happens when you do the work. I'm all about creating a safe, welcoming space in which new and emerging writers can do their creative work, can experiment and fail and discover. This is the magic. 

If you'd like to know more, post a comment or email: caroline.reid2011 [-a-]

Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 - the things I have loved

Do you ever get to the end of a year and find you've run out of words? I'm feeling a bit that way today. It's been a day of doing, not thinking or writing. I was at the beach before 8am, the sky gloriously high and blue, the dog racing through cool salty water. At home I made French toast thick with egg, slathered it with honey, washed it down with strong Lavazza coffee. I've washed sheets and jumpers. I've cleaned the floors. Set my house in order. These are some of the things I love to do.

Later tonight, my love and I will have a drink at the Earl of Leicester before heading to Namaste, our third new year's eve visit to this Nepalese restaurant in a leafy inner suburub of Adelaide. The food is exquisite, the service impeccable. We'll be home before 9pm so we can hang with the dog out the back under newly installed fairy lights. We'll unscrew an old coffee jar which I've decorated with coloured paper, and is  crammed with scraps of notepaper. On each piece is scribbled a highlight from the year. We'll read each little scrap, reminisce, and talk about some of the joys and happiness of 2015. We'll chat about friends, family, us, money, dreams, sex, holidays, the dog - all the good stuff. We'll make each other laugh, maybe have a cry; reflect on the year that was and our damn good luck in this life. The air will be hot. I hope the sky will settle into a deep wine-colour. Planes will fly low over our house and I will wonder at the sheer volume of people in this world, with so many of them on the move. I'll be amazed that there aren't more air traffic accidents.

What I haven't written on the scraps of paper is the number of women who have astonished me this year, with their ideas and feelings, with the gifts they have as writers. Some are women I teach, some are friends, others are authors I've never met - some dead, some still alive. Some I've discovered for the first time, others I've delved into deeper. Here is a list of my favourites for 2015:
Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding
Gillian Mears, The Grass Sister
Angela Carter, Wise Children
Emma Tennant, The Bad Sister, The Crack
Helen Garner, The Children's Bach
Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
Fiona Wright, Small Acts of Disappearance
Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer
Threasa Meads, Mothsong

There are many more that I have on my bookshelf and look forward to reading in 2016.

As always, I am ever grateful to my friends and family of choice - you know who you are. Thank you. And thanks to my blood family - what a way to spend Boxing Day, eh? Thanks for your love and support. My love, dear Mr Anderson, who encourages me to shine every day, even when I'm feeling as dull as lead, thanks to you most of all. The last 10 years wouldn't have been possible without you. And thanks to apt literary journal for publishing my essay, Writing into Darkness, which is a retrospective on the past 10 years of my writing life.

My word for 2016 is simple and direct - WRITE. Write deeper and faster. Write, and finish. Write when you don't feel like it. Write when you do. I wrote a lot in 2015, had a few pieces published, but that wasn't my focus. My focus was to get better at writing, and I did. I also fell in love with writing all over again. I've discovered that for me, less is more. In 2016 I have two goals: Finish my first novel; get better at writing.  That's it. Have you set any writing goals?

Happy New Year.


Friday, 13 November 2015

The Way the Trees Are

Walking with my dog in our local park on a clear November morning, I was thinking about space: How much space we occupy; how we move through space; what kind of energy we leave in a space.  Individual trees were visible on the Adelaide hills against a fantastically blue sky. An old-timer with a walking stick was the only other person in the park. He wore a pair of faded blue tracky pants and a checked jacket that seemed to hang on him like an animal fur. He lurched awkwardly from side to side through space, and was limping toward us when he stopped to pick something off the grass.

    ‘Good morning,’ I said.

    He held up a piece of bark and looked at me over the rim of his specs. ‘Good thing about this is it doesn’t bark,’ he said. 

    I’m slow with jokes so it took me a few seconds to get it, and he didn’t wait.  

    ‘You’ve got to get this stuff now,’ he said.  It only drops once a year.’ 

    His skin was a kind of grey-brown colour, the complexion of a heavy smoker. I was standing close enough that I could smell the sourness of alcohol mixed with body odour.

    ‘I found a piece once that looked like angel’s wings,’ I said.

    ‘Yep, you can find some rare stuff,’ he said. ‘Look at that. All the colours. I’ll use it in the collage I’m making.’ 

    The bark he held looked like it might have been painted with a blend of watercolours: Pink, purple, brown; or it could have been a segment of frozen muddy river.  Where it was ribbed in the middle it resembled an elbow or a headscarf with a wild tunnel of hair flowing over his thick fingers. He turned it over. Against the thick texture of his hairy hands, the bark was as smooth and creamy as vanilla ice-cream. We both took a moment to admire the scrap of tree skin. My dog trotted away from us toward the perimeter of the park.

    ‘Only mad people pick up bark,’ he said. ‘Gives the psychiatrists something to do.’ He grinned.

    Just half an hour before I had been crying while writing about my Welsh grandmother; thinking about the years I didn’t have with her because my family immigrated to Australia when I was young; amazed that grief seems to live permanently under the skin, seeping out at unexpected moments.

    My dog had reached the park perimeter and was rolling in the dirt. 

    ‘I’d better get that,’ I said.

    The man picked up a long piece of bark that looked like a smiling crocodile.

    When I reached the dog he was on his back, shimmying against the carcass of a grey dove. I held my breath against the stink and tried to pull him off. He resisted me; he was having too good a time. We were engaged in this scrappy, smelly tug of war for just a minute or so. I wasn’t annoyed with the dog. It’s what he does, what he’s supposed to do. He also eats cat shit, and food discarded on suburban pavements, mostly sandwiches and take away chicken pieces; cold chips. The dead bird’s belly was open to the morning light and jam-packed with fat, writhing maggots.  None of this was of any consequence to the man collecting bark, and when I looked up he’d gone.

    I’d been going to the park every day for two years, often twice a day, catching up with the same people and their dogs (we know the dogs’ names but not each others’; such is the way with dog owners) and yet, that was the first conversation I’d had about trees and bark and collage. I got the poo bag out of my pocket and collected bark for my own collage. Then I looked up at the tree. It wasn’t the first time I’d noticed it; it’s a lemon-scented gum, an imposing tree, but I didn’t know until that moment that I was in love with it.  I loved its trunk, as mottled as an old man’s skin; I loved the zingy citrus smell of it after rain; and I loved the way it was so present in the space that it occupied. I felt like Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter when he told Robert de Niro he liked the way the trees are; but I couldn’t remember the exact line so I made a mental note to look it up on-line when I got home. I clipped the dog’s lead onto his collar and thought again of how emotional I’d been just a little while ago at my computer, in my study, a space that can be as wild as virgin bush, and that I move through in a frenzy of words and memories and emotions; and there are other days when writing is as  serene an activity as walking in the park and on those days I hover in space, calm and weightless.

    That old timer knew something about trees and space; he knew lemon-scented gums shed their bark in November and where to collect. When I arrived home I turned on the computer and found what I was looking for:

I like the trees, you know? I like the way that the trees are on mountains, all the different … the way the trees are.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Specialising in Story: A short course for new and emerging writers

Specialising in Story: The teacher

'Caroline's guidance allowed me to discover depth and structure that I didn’t even realise was threaded throughout my work. She reads subtext, recognises quality and applies structured technique in order to allow the true meaning of the work to shine through.' 

Here's the thing: On September 9th something new is happening in the Adelaide writing scene. For the first time, a small group of  writers are going to meet in one of the cosy rooms at the Mockingbird Lounge in South Glenelg.

They're going to explore and play while upgrading their writing skills; connect with like-minded people while deepening their story-writing ability; and they're going to be encouraged by a teacher who invests in people.

They're also going to explore the fundamentals of storytelling such as characterisation, point of view, dialogue and setting; how to harness Stanislavski's seven questions when a story doesn't seem to be working; and  learn  more about their own writing by reading and  critiquing the work of others.

There is no magic formula for writing fiction but  their writing teacher (that's me, btw) is passionate about creating a safe, welcoming space that allows people to invent, create and discover. In my experience, the discoveries people make when engaged in intense creative work are not only about writing, but about themselves and the world. This is the magic.

Specialising in Story (Short Writing Course, closed group)

Mockingbird Lounge
Where: Mockingbird Lounge, 63a Broadway, Glenelg South
When:  2nd Wednesday & 4th Tuesday of the month (7-9pm)
Dates:   9 & 22 September, 14 & 27 October, 11 & 24 November
Group size:  Maximum of 6
Investment:  $210, to be paid in advance

Bookings:  Phone Stacey on 7007 2242

A more focussed approach to writing than the casual class. Over six sessions you will be guided through the fundamentals of writing a piece of flash fiction (up to 1000 words). Each session includes writing exercises and reading,  reflection, and discussion. You  will also receive  suggested further reading and extended writing exercises to be completed at home between the fortnightly sessions. At the end of the three months it is expected that you will have completed a piece of short fiction and have gained a deeper understanding of the elements of writing fiction.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Using the power of observation to create poetry

Snowman, chalk on concrete
I've recently been spending my Sundays with some wonderful folk in a park in Berri, South Australia. You can read details about the Manifold Project here and here,  but in a nutshell it's spearheaded by the innovative and enthusiastic Alysha, Hermann, and is an invitation for local residents to tell their stories in collaboration with professional artists (I'm one of those). Alysha sees this project as long term (as in, years) so we're only just scratching the surface. What I want to do in this blog is demonstrate how I harness that power of observation I've talked in previous blogs to create new work as part of a project. In this case, the new work is poetry. But first, a little context ...

Berri is in South Australia's Riverland, and like everything else in the Riverland, Rotary Park on Manifold Crescent has been affected by the recent, severe drought. Water restrictions meant the council stopped watering the park. Trees died. Grass perished. According to Yvonne, a resident of thirty years, the park became ‘a dustbowl’. With typical Australian humour and penchant for telling it how it is, she now refers to the place as Prickle Park. Dry humour to match a dry park.

To find Prickle Park you drive through Berri’s town centre on Kay Avenue and turn left into Derrick Street (opposite the precinct that includes the Library and Information Centre). The park is straight ahead of you. If you turn right at the Rotary Park sign you continue into Derrick Street; turn left and that’s Manifold Crescent.  Bob, Yvonne’s daughter (yes, that’s right) who grew up on Derrick St opposite the park, says ‘Derrick Street has always been a race track.’ When I look it up on Google Maps, I see that Derrick Street makes a perfect (half) race track: No intersections, a good long length with just enough windiness to keep it interesting for the driver. A most excellent road for the souped up, mag-wheeled, vroom-vroom machines we heard and saw throughout the day, their bright green and red finishes gleaming in the winter sun, a kind of blaring creature example of that most ubiquitous of Australian accessories, the car. Manifold Crescent, it seems to me, is Derrick Street’s little sister and is, in contrast, a smaller quieter street used more or less solely by the residents, ignored by everybody else.

Fenceless and gateless, the park invites us in.

It's the third Sunday in August, getting closer to spring and the weather shows it. It’s a day full of sunshine with fast moving clouds obscuring the heat and light from time to time, prompting me to reach for my jumper. Still, it’s warm enough for Winifred (Winnie), one of the kids who joined us to chat and make art, to be wearing her bathers, her jumper a mere accessory tied around her waist all afternoon. In a moment of pure joy she looked up, face tilted at the sun, eyes squinting, and exclaimed ‘Finally! It’s a sunny day to go outside and play in the park!’ I was struck by the pure pleasure on her face and in her voice. Enjoying a sunny day. Such simple a pleasure, isn’t it? Sometime it takes a child to remind us how lucky we are. Of course, there is more to Manifold Crescent than sun-shiney days, but that's another story for another time. 

At home the next day I was trying to conjure up what David Foster Wallace refers to in his essay A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again as "a kind of hypnotic sensuous collage of all the stuff I've heard and done ..." It's true that he was writing about having just spent 7 days on a luxury cruise liner, and a day in the park with some kids in Berri may seem a little smaller, but who am I to reduce my own experience? When your senses are open, every experience has a little magic. And anyhow, the point is about the detail of observation. I read my notes, looked at the photographs I took and thought about what resonated with me the most, where the energy was, and the answer was - with the children and play. And then a poem began to take shape incorporating play,  the comments and conversation we had (direct speech being an important sensuous detail) and the comings-and-goings of the afternoon. Here is the result. Have a go yourself. How can you utilise all that detail that you've written into a new work of art?:

Into Spring

Winnie’s face is tilted toward the late-winter sun.

Finally!  she says. It’s a sunny day to go outside and play in the park.
I can hear the wind, says Darren.
It sounds like air, like breath.
Eugene says, I can hear paper rattling.
I can hear leaves.
I can hear the shovel scraping on the ground.

Sounds like a fart, says Darren.

I can see snow, letters, words, sentences, colours, leaves, dirt, rocks, sticks, says Eugene.
He holds a metal spade
Darren holds the bucket
The brothers work together to clear the cricket cage of dirt and leaves
They work fast
They tip the dirt over by one of the trees

The falling dirt is gentle,  a soft sound
None of us can say exactly what it sounds like
but we know what it doesn’t sound like
The falling dirt does not sound like a waterfall,
or drums, says Eugene.
or the radio.

The cage looks much better when they have finished clearing it out

There is a whipper snipper
and a saw going in someone’s backyard

I can hear talking, says Darren.
A cockatoo, says Eugene.
I can hear brothers talking, I say.
That doesn’t count, says Darren.
Yes it does, says Eugene.

Winnie uses pink chalk to draw a love-heart on the cement
She colours it in,

a big fat pink love-heart right there on the concrete
Alysha draws

and writes

and takes photos
Bob sketches in a notebook
Jess uses green and purple wool
to weave a sculpture

We all look up when we hear
a souped up
vroom-vroom machine,
a kind of blaring creature,
its sparkly green finish gleaming in the winter sun,
a bright example of
that ubiquitous Australian accessory –
the car.

Derrick Street has always been a race track, Bob says quietly,
We all nod.

They car disappears up the street
We all go back to what we are doing

Jess says, Lavender is my favourite flower.
Winnie says, I put lavender in my shoes to make them smell nice.
Jess makes a lavender stalk sculpture out of the green and purple wool
She weaves it into the cage

Winnie, Eugene and Darren go home
They come back

The bike belongs to Darren
His brother asks if he can use it
You can’t miss Eugene
He wears a bright orange jumper,
dinking his brother over the cement pitch
across the concrete
across the prickles and grass in Prickle Park
They giggle all the way

We meet a chihauhau named Lady

Winnie says I remember when there was three mounds here in the park.
She points them out. One, two, three.
We could sit on them.
In the shade?
In the shade.
Winnie says, When they put seeds here it’s going to be like a jungle.

Darren says, I’m bored.
But he stays.

Winnie goes home
She comes back with oranges for everyone
She says, Eugene has to put out the washing.
Eugene goes home to put out the washing
Then he comes back

Do you like it? asks Winnie.
I suck on the sweet juicy orange
It’s delicious, I say. Thankyou.

I spy an abandoned black sock
a pair of green shoelaces

Winnie’s Mum calls them to go home
I mean it, you kids!

See ya, we say

See ya next time.
See yas, they say

See yas next time.

White moths flit over the grass in Prickle Park
A blowie hums close by, buzzes past my ear
It might be the first fly of the season

Friday, 14 August 2015

What to do with all those pieces of paper #collage

As a writer you probably have piles of paper, drafts of stories, poems, and notes stacked away and sure, you could throw them in the recycle bin or print on the other side of the paper (if you haven’t done so already) but here’s another suggestion – try transforming some of those pages into art. It can be a cathartic experience and a pleasurable distraction from writing (and we all need that from time to time!) Here’s a recent example …

It began with my withdrawal from a creative writing Masters course at the University of Adelaide. (I’m happy to say I don’t regret withdrawing, nor do I regret attempting it and that I haven’t abandoned the project, a work of fiction that has sisters as its focus). But the experience was a bit stressful and challenging and because I like to process stressful experiences through writing and making art, I thought about what I could do with the printed pile of project proposal drafts that I had filed away; I thought about the photocopied images I had of my and sister and I when we were small children; and I thought about colour.  I began by weaving an enlarged photocopied image of me and my sister (the photo was originally passport size, taken in a booth) with a draft page of my recently abandoned Masters proposal and, because I wanted the final woven image to have something delicate and beautiful within in, something that suggested patterns found in nature (as opposed to the artificial patterns of written language), I added strips of Japanese origami paper. As I typed the visible words and fragments of words, a surprising title leaked out of the weave.

Here, then, is the final cut-up, where image and text intersect and the reader/viewer (hopefully) interacts with both. The text is fragmented, meaning the reader (you) must be more active in creating meaning, (your) own meaning:


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Thursday, 6 August 2015

A-Z writing exercise

Before I dive into some fairly intense or dense writing as I have been doing lately, it's nice to begin each day with a warm up exercise or two, in the same way that a musician does their scales and arpeggios before they begin practising the piece they're working on.

This is one of my favourite writing warm-ups. I allow myself to write nonsense, be playful and if it's very early in the morning I also find myself reaching for the dictionary, especially with those last few letters.

What you are going to do is write a story where each word begins with a new letter of the the alphabet (in order). Do it a few times to get the hang of it and to see if there isn't something in it you could use. (in my example below I was surprised and pleased by the term 'mournful night'). At the very least, like all good exercises, this one gets you thinking about specific word choices and how a single word can change the direction of a story. Enjoy!

My example:
Abalone ballerinas chooky dance every Friday, gambolling, hirsute, inky. Jealous knives lengthen. Mournful night opposes pirouettes. Quiet rival shuffle-tops unnerve vampires where Xmas yowies zig-zag.