Thursday, 13 November 2014

The power of ESP

ESP is sometimes referred to as the sixth sense, a hunch, intuition, premonition, telepathy, vision, second sight. Something that exists outside of the normal sensory perception of living, ESP seems to be about feeling, sensing, and trusting. I think that to be a good artist you have to have an element of ESP because creativity is about feeling your way and trusting that the way is going to lead you to the best of creative worlds.

The kind of ESP I discovered today is different, but related, and I made the discovery by working through a personal family situation.

Here’s the story … One of my nephews has just crossed the numerical threshold from childhood to adulthood and is feeling confusion, weirdness and the challenge that a loss of direction can bring, plus the usual crappy stuff you have to deal with when you’re 18. He’s looking for a job, not an easy task for anyone, especially not a shy young man who seems to have no CV and minimal life skills. So, he’s needed encouragement. He’s also needed support from the adults in his life, and as I write my brother (nephew’s Dad ) has gone with him to cold contact 20 employers in his suburb, waiting outside so that after the onerous task of introducing himself to employers and asking for work his son can see a friendly face, debrief and get a pat on the back for a job well done. My nephew may not need this kind of close support in the future but for now, I think it’s paramount.

So the ESP came about as I reflected on our roles in this young man’s life and what he could (should) expect from us. And for me it boils down to three things:

E – Encouragement
S – Support
P – Praise

I love the word encourage because it reminds me of sweet little currants (yum!) but also contains ‘courage’. I think it takes courage to encourage and to accept the encouragement. It takes courage to see the glass half full, to see the potential, to show the way and to see. It’s definitely a shine-the-light kind of word.

Support makes me think of steel and concrete; big bridges and structures. It’s a word that has roots, grounded and sure. It’s an earthy word. A word of shoulders - to lean on, to carry when the going gets tough. I like this word.

Praise is firey. I got so excited when my nephew finished an online course yesterday - I could feel the fire ignite in my belly and heaped praise on him for getting the job done. Fire is catching and can also be encouraging, so the cycle keeps spiralling up. That’s the idea anyway. One last word on Praise: I love collecting cards so that when an occasion arises I can flip through an assortment of postcards and images, old and new, and choose the right one to gift to friends and family. Sometimes, though, I hold onto them, like the one I found a few years ago in Bali. It is small and simple. It fits into the palm of my hand and has white writing on a bold, black background. It resonated with me at the time and still does, which is why it sits on the dresser in my bedroom, still in its clear packaging, a message I see every day (&, yes, it’s in uppercase):


Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant!! card which, even though I haven't given it away, you can now copy and make your own.

And even though the idea of ESP came about through reflecting on the life circumstances of a teenager, it is also a short-hand way to improve out relationship with ourselves:

Encourage – to do
Support – while doing
Praise – when done

So many artists I know, myself included, have insecurities about their talents and abilities. It takes practice to encourage, support and praise ourselves, and it is absolutely necessary – so that we can all be thriving, creative artists.

C x

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Visions of half-sleep

Image by Shaun Tan
Seizure is described as 'a launchpad for Australian writing.' They encourage writers to play around with form and style. They have print editions and online stories; they publish novellas and post juicy podcasts. Definitely worth checking out.

I sent them one of my micro stories (they call them Flashers) and now it's up on their website (cool!). One of the editors described my story as hypnogogic, which sent me scurrying to the dictionary. In a nut-shell, hypnogogia refers to that transitional state of consciousness from wakefulness to sleep.

Digging further I read that creative types have been know to use this half-sleep state to draw inspiration:

 "Dali said that he had learned the “slumber with a key” trick from the Capuchin monks and that other artists he knew also used it. Albert Einstein “napped” this way as well, as have other inventors and thinkers who believed this nap inspired their ideas and creativity. These men were unknowingly taking advantage of what scientists today call the “hypnogogic” nap, when the mind, before it reaches Stage 2 sleep, unlocks free flowing creative thoughts."

I didn't use Dali's key method to write the story. Rather, I began with a writing exercise where I focussed on the sound and rhythm of the words, rather than their meaning. Then I left it for a week and went back to edit a number of times. I didn't play around with it too much because I liked the initial impulse and energy of the word order. What I ended up with is very short story (just 130 words). I don't know how I'd go writing something longer in this style. However, I do enjoy the visionary quality, the phantasm - the creation of something that's both real and imaginary. These liminal spaces are fun to occupy, with sometimes surprising results.

Like to read the story? Here it is: Colonisation

Happy writing.

C x

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Flashing the Square at Melbourne Writers Festival

Independent publisher Spineless Wonders is part of this year's Melbourne Writer's Festival and doing something extraordinary with microfiction. Dedicated to diversity, Bronwyn Mehan is at the helm of Spineless Wonders. She is in tune to the many possibilities of 'reading' and getting literature visible in this new era of publishing and it shows in this latest offering. In print, audio and on the big screen in Federation Square, Flashing the Square  is packed with micro-stories and prose poems. Lucky me, my short piece 'One Blue Eye' is included and is the third time I've been published by Spineless Wonders. I keep sending my stuff to them because I love what they do and when I'm successful in being accepted (which is not always) I'm in the company of some wonderful Australian writers such as Ryan O'Neill, Shady Cosgrove, Angela Myer, Vivienne Plumb, Jude Bridge, Dael Allison, AS Patric, John Carey and many others.

To celebrate the publication of Flashing the Square, Spineless Wonders are offering a discount on their print publication here, plus for the month of August you can listen to selected audio recordings (free of charge) here. Included in the selection is the wonderful Adelaide actor (and soon-to-be mother of triplets!) Emma Beech reading 'One Blue Eye'.  Many of the stories are under 2 minutes. It's like eating a whole block of Cadbury's Top Deck in one sitting, without the chocolate bloat and hangover. Very tasty. I highly recommend.

C x

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Ten Top Tips (+1) for Rookie Readers

Last Thursday I braved the whipping, wet weather of a wintry night in Adelaide by heading to the Quick and Dirty Readings, produced monthly by the South Australian Writers Centre at The Howling Owl Café on Frome Street. Six nervous writers read their stories in front of an appreciative crowd with the event being beautifully MC’d by Priya Malik. I was the final reader of the evening.

It’s interesting to be at readings as a writer/reader rather than curator/producer/mc. Those who know me will know that for three years I was at the helm of Spineless Wonders Presents… Storytelling for Grownups, where actors read contemporary short fiction at The Wheatsheaf Hotel. No offence to writers (I am one after all), but at the end of each SWP event I listened as audiences told me that the quality of readings by actors were far above what they had come to expect at spoken word events.

So what is it about actors that makes them such engaging storytellers? Of course there is the stage experience they have under their belts (between you and me, though, many of them were considerably more nervous over storytelling that they were about acting in a play). But there’s more to it than experience. The best actors assume a professionalism in all performance and that means preparation and rehearsal, of the voice and of the work. It occurred to me that novice readers might benefit from the work habits of professional actors, so I’ve put together a list. These practical tips are designed to boost your self-confidence, assisting you to deliver your dynamic best when standing in the spotlight:

1.     Print your story in large font (minimum 12pt).

2.     Print your story on one side of the paper only.

3.     Number them and leave your pages loose, don’t staple them together.

4.     Practice reading aloud before the event (also known as Rehearsal). Try reading the story on a loud whisper. Then read it at normal voice and notice the difference.

5.     Mark the page. If there are words you stumble over, mark them; if you need to pause for effect, mark it; if you need to emphasis a word or phrase, underline it. These marks act like stage directions. Be your own director and prepare your performance, you’ll feel much more confident in reading.

6.     Breathe. For many actors, breath is everything. Basic deep breathing is easy: Belly expands like a balloon on the in breath, deflates on the out breath. It will change your life, your reading and your nerves.

7.     Voice warm up. Loosen your lips (pretend you’re a horse), speak with your tongue out, exaggerate chewing like a cow (seriously), tongue twisters, hum at different pitches … these exercises help limber up your face, mouth and tongue. Being limber means less stumbling. What professional athlete runs a race without a warm up?

8.     Get comfortable on stage before you begin. This is your show so own the stage while you’re on it. Change the height of the mic, stand where there’s enough light on the page to read from and spread your weight evenly on both feet.

9.     Take your time. Nerves will speed your reading up so you need to be conscious of slowing down. If you give weight and time to your words, so will your audience.

10.  Look up. Audiences like to know that they exist too. When you look at them , it confirms to them that they do. Memorise the first line and deliver it looking at your audience. If you’re way too nervous to look up when you’re in full flight (“what if I lose my spot?!”), pre-prepare by marking places on the page where you will look up (see Mark the page).

And here’s the +1:
Trust the work. This one is slightly more enigmatic. Let the story do the telling, is another way of putting it. Don’t try too hard to ‘act’; just read the story. As Yang   Lian says, “We don’t read from the page, we read from the poem.” Meditate on that.


I’m using a microphone. Do I still need to do a voice warm up? 
I’d recommend it. Even if you’re at the mic, a voice warm up is still going to help you calm down and get your tongue around pesky alliteration and other potential stumbling blocks in your story.

I know my story so well, I wrote it after all. Do I still need to practice reading it aloud as part of my prep? 
Yes. Reading silently is different to reading aloud. Trust me on this. Even Patrick White read his work aloud (in his own room at least) to hear how it sounded. Who knows, you may even find yourself tweaking things as you make new discoveries about your story.

I did everything you suggested and my first reading still sucked…
Firstly, congratulations! What you did was a really tough thing and not many people have the balls to expose themselves the way you just did (if you get my meaning). And secondly, would it have been better if you hadn’t prepared? But okay, I hear you. There is no getting around the fact that often a first read is going to be a bone-shaking, gut churning, nerve-wracking experience and yes, it may not be brilliant. But you’ve done it, and discovery comes in the doing. Pin a medal on your chest and say yes when the next opportunity comes along. You might want a trusted friend in the audience, someone who understands the delicate, difficult thing it is that you’re doing and will give you honest, critical feedback without bruising your ego.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Spineless Wonders Presents ... its Swan Song

Holly Myers to read Jennifer Mills
I'm a little sad this month because I have decided to call it a day on the story readings I produce at Adelaide's Wheatsheaf Hotel. Begun in 2011 at The Jolly Miller Tavern, I've produced 10 of these events and have thoroughly enjoyed each and every one. The entire process, from reading a stack of stories to getting in front of the mic to introduce the writers and actors who read has been a blast, a terrific learning curve, great for building confidence and has led to other opportunities that wouldn't have come my way had I not produced these spoken word events.

But while it's been brilliant, the amount of time I now spend producing these events has become a little demanding. I do it for the love of it, which was always my intention; never wanted to apply for grants or chase money to keep them going, it was more about creating a community, and providing exposure for contemporary Australian writers and Adelaide actors. And THEY ARE SO GOOD! Also, call it informed intuition, call it spooky, call it what you want but it feels like there is something  around the corner that's going to require more of my time so I'm opening up more space and time for that. Maybe it's simply about focus. The novel I'm researching (I've identified significant characters now) is asking me to turn its way more and more. And I'm not one to say no to such a sexy beast.

In the meantime, if you live in Adelaide, please come along and enjoy the fun of SWP's swan song. There's eight actors going to grace the stage, reading a story each and presenting something special to end the night. You won't want to miss it. And the Satsuma Sisters are going to play for you, twice. Some 3 part harmony accompanied by a uke (a uke, not a ute). You could do a lot worse than to spend your Tuesday night  next week with this grand community. Guaranteed to chase away any upcoming winter blues. Promise.

Here's the important info:

What:  Actors reading contemporary Australian fiction in a hip Aussie pub
Where: The Wheatsheaf Hotel, George St, Thebarton
When: Tuesday 13th May, 7pm for a 7.30pm start (9pm finish)
How Much: Donation (all proceeds go directly to the artists) 
Why:  Who doesn't like a grand finale?

Caroline x

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Happy Accidents

cut n weave
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