Wednesday, 15 April 2015

One thing only

anne dessine
April already? Hell. Since February I’ve been focussed on a single project and so my engagement with the world wide web has diminished. My Twitter account lies sweetly languid most of the time, I dropped Facebook altogether last year and have not missed it (but that’s another story), and as you can see my last post here was as far back as January. The only place I’m ‘visible’ these days is my Tumblr account, Caroline’s Collage, where I post images of collages I make, many of which are related to the creative project that I’m working on. I’m not saying this disengagement with the internet is right (digital engagement seems to be more and more necessary for writers these days if they want to be noticed and heard above the clamour of so many others), it’s simply what is right for me, at this time.

So, to the project – like I said it is my focus, and is likely to be for the rest of the year and next. It doesn’t involve travelling (though I’m doing a lot of exploring) and it isn’t the sort of job that I’m paid a shit load for (I’m not paid at all) but it is a full time occupation and it involves writing. Instead of doing it solo, I am completing this project with the guidance of people at a university. Uni is not for every writer, I know, but I’ve discovered that at this time in my life, after many jobs spent caring and supporting others (in the creative arts and other industries) by being at university I am now allowing myself (giving myself permission) to focus on the intense creative and critical development of doing what I love, writing. I’m not receiving a scholarship but neither will I incur a HECS debt, which I find extraordinary. I am also blessed to have a partner who is supporting me financially through this (& in every other way), though with his own work being sporadic (he’s a sole trader in a shrinking industry), we’re living frugally. Still, the dog doesn’t go without a bone and all 3 of us have winter coats so it’s all good, as that overworked expression goes.

I’m at the University of Adelaide and the post-grad degree is a Master of Philosophy by research (creative writing). Sound grand? What it means is I’m writing my first novella (the creative bit) while researching and trying out the techniques of other writers, and then writing about that in an essay (the critical bit). In a nutshell, it’s a whole lot of reading, writing, and thinking. I’m currently reading the novels of Randolph Stow,  about Randolph Stow (who, you might like to know, preferred to be called Mick – RS was his author identity) and about the musicalization of narrative literature. Interesting stuff. No really, it is. I balked at reading theory and literary criticism (which had everything to do with doubting my ability to understand it) but am now finding that it’s all about ideas and I enjoy reading about ideas. Not that reading, understanding, critiquing and writing about ideas is an easy process , far from it. In just two short months I have begun to understand just how much grit and determination it takes to have the courage of your convictions and to live with the uncertainty of research, just as it does, I might add, when embarking on any creative project. I’ve already had a few visits from that old friend, doubt, which I knew I would. Infact, as part of my preparation for returning to study I engaged the services of an excellent counselor so that I might have strategies for coping when this old friend paid a visit. (Worthwhile investment. I recommend it.) Though no counseling could stop me from overworking and getting tangled up in my own thoughts. Over Easter I had to take a complete break as I felt myself moving into the borderlands of anxiety. Unpleasant and exhausting. However, after having a break, I stopped ignoring that awful feeling in my stomach that I was barking up the wrong tree in terms of my subject proposal, and changed my focus. As a result I feel calmer and my sleeping has improved. And so I am reminded once again that intuition and rest are important.

There’s a lot more I’d like to share about this thing that I'm engaged with, this one thing, but for now that will have to do. Any more would be procrastinating. 

Happy writing, reading and thinking.

C x

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Perform Write

Neil Gaiman reads 'A Christmas Carol'
Hear ye, hear ye! I’m presenting a workshop at the South Australian Writers Centre on February 7th from 2-5pm, drawing on all that I’ve learnt about performance in the past 25 years (Lordy, has it been that long?!) From my acting days at the Hayman Theatre, Perth in the nineties all the way through to my being recent producer and mc of Spineless Wonders Presents at Adelaide’s Wheatsheaf Hotel, I’ve picked up some tricks that I’m going to share. I guarantee they will induce in you a state of euphoric calm, smooth the creases of your stage fright, have you raring to go and wowing your audience at your very first performance gig!



But I do know how nerve-wracking it is for many writers to have to read their own work aloud to an audience. We’re not all Neil Gaiman, right? (Though I suspect even he started somewhere in the land of nerves). A writer is used to using her mind but what the hell does she do with this body she’s lugged up on stage? All of a sudden the mind, voice and body seem like 3 separate entities, so disconnected from each other they might as well be in different galaxies. ‘Just relax,’ they say, ‘breathe.’ But how the hell do you do that, exactly? The good news is this is a common response and you can do something about it.



In the workshop on Feb 7th I will show you how to prepare yourself (and your work) for performance. There’ll be notes to take away so that you can refer to them when next performance time comes around and you have the heebie-jeebies so bad you can barely croak ‘once upon a time…’

You might laugh, or chuckle, or at least titter. Any or all of which are very good at helping you relax.

SO - South Australian Writers Centre/ Feb 7th/ 2-5pm. Here’s the link to register: Hell yeah, sign me up!

C x

ps Special Treat: Neil Gaiman reading Dickens 'A Christmas Carol' (hint: Gaiman starts reading at approx the 10 minute mark)

Think: How does Gaiman begin this reading that immediately endears him to the audience?

Monday, 5 January 2015

Used Ideas are Good Ideas

choose your own word
I like things that others have used – books, clothes & furniture, houses, paths, words, ideas. Last year I borrowed an idea from a friend and loved it so much I’m using it again. The idea is this: throughout the year write down  your celebrations, successes and happy moments on scraps of paper and place them in a jar. You may decorate the jar ( I did). On new year’s eve celebrate the year that was by reading aloud what’s written on each scrap. You may do this while drinking a bottle of bubbles (I did). Then burn the paper, thus making way for new riches in the year ahead. That’s it. So simple, so good. Here are some of my 2014 celebrations: Received bag of fresh, sweet home-grown peaches from a friend; took a voice class; did excellent job of chairing forum for Adelaide Writer’s Week; cried at Nick Cave concert; laughed at Miley Cyrus concert; signed up for yoga classes; Nonu (my dog) had his first play date at the beach … you get the idea.

 While it’s brilliant to revisit the year on n.y.e., don’t be fooled – there is something bigger at work in the execution of this little idea. Writing down moments throughout the year is powerful. It resulted in me being more mindful and grateful for the things, opportunities and people I encountered on a daily basis. I also noticed myself looking for the good stuff more frequently and that included trying to discover the silver linings in the not-so-good stuff. Once upon a time I thought that kind of sentiment was soppy, hippy shit but to be human is to change and, at 46, I’ve noticed a kind of looseness that’s crept into me, a softness towards myself and, ergo, the world. This is no small thing when your genetic heritage is fiery Irish and red-headed Welsh. I believe this change has come about because of the creative life I have chosen (or did it choose me?) and the people I’ve met (or did they meet me?) It could just be that I’m getting older and we naturally mellow with age but where’s the fun in believing that? And take a look around at some of the grumpy oldies who righteously lecture you about having control of your dog on the beach at all times, who get you so riled you have no option but to tell them to fuck off (ok, I’m not always compassionate & it took me a while to find the silver lining in that encounter).  

But seriously, don’t we have more control of our destinies than waiting around for our flesh to get saggy and wrinkled before we are able to show compassion towards ourselves & others?

So, I choose to believe that all of the creative pursuits that I’ve engaged in – writing, painting, craft, music, colouring in – have enabled me to seek answers to the questions ‘who are you and how do you want to live your life?’ I haven’t answered them fully but exploring has become a lot more fun and much more interesting post age 40.

If family history is anything to go by, then I’ve passed the half-way mark of years on this planet and that is humbling and has also helped me chill-the-fuck-out (minus beach encounters with grumpy oldies) while also imbuing me with a sense of urgency. Not the frantic ‘I’m so busy I don’t have time to scratch my arse’ kind of urgency but in an internal way. It’s a quiet urgency, an urge to go deeper.

And so, with the encouragement of my writing mentor, in 2014 I applied for and was accepted to a do a Master of Philosophy (Creative Writing) at Adelaide University. That was a super happy jar moment and one of the biggest achievements in my life so far (yes – simply applying was an enormous achievement, never mind how happy I’m going to be when I succeed in completing it!) It’s really something to be given the opportunity to go back to study after 23 years, which is how long ago I completed my undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree. I am excited! Two years of reading and writing and thinking to look forward to and it all begins in earnest in March.

Before I disappear into the Australian summer of 2015 I want to float another used idea by you. I also borrowed this idea from a (different) friend & that is to choose a word for the year. I’ve been doing this for a number of years. In 2013 my word was ‘Flourish’ (which I did), and in 2014 it was ‘Faith’ (which I have developed, though not of the religious kind). This year I’m doing away with the F words, and have settled on ‘Play’. Play is important for everyone, for artists especially. Maybe I’ll bark at the grumpy oldies on the beach the next time I encounter them. Or toss them Nonu's red ball and yell ‘go fetch!’ Whatever. These words I choose (or do they choose me?) I like to apply them across every aspect of my life. They are personal. Only you can choose your word. It depends on what your focus is and what you want for yourself. My partner is choosing a word for the first time in 2015 and he picked ‘Expand’. I like that word, I can see that it really fits with him right now. I like to think of choosing a word as a new year’s resolution, one with a positive spin rather than being prohibitive. ‘Why so serious?’ I said as I walked along the beach. ‘Be more playful.’ ‘Okay,’ I replied and threw the red ball. ‘Go fetch.’

Happy New (on) Y(our) 

C x

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.