March’s muse

March 30, 2018 at 11:58 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I have the kind of bone weary, heart proud tiredness that comes from putting everything else aside in a push of solid dedication to my writing. Feb and March have seen applications for a fellowship, scholarship and travel grant, preparations and rehearsals for two literary festivals, expressions of interest for two more, recording arrangements for two podcast stories, a submission for a theatre monologue, thrilling talks about casting and location for a short film of one of my stories, three rejections (alas), a story in The Big Issue, another one coming soon, yet another for the Writers Vic newsletter, and always, always, the snow and solitude of my novel and its Icelandic setting. I am exhausted, I am ebullient, and I am SO ready for more.

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Happy to be sharing space in The Big Issue with Tom Morello and Ai Weiwei

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Beautiful illustration from Danny Snell accompanying my story in The Big Issue

In between deadlines I hit the skies and headed for Queensland. A snow worshipper at heart, only one thing would beckon me to the land of surfers and sunburn, and her name is Helen.

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With Helen on my last visit to QLD (2013)

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Helen, Surfers Paradise, 2018

We met a decade ago as writers in an online artists’ collective, and have since enjoyed shenanigans as far afield as Melbourne, Los Angeles and New York. She knows me well, she loves me anyway, and her wry wisdom comes accompanied by Elvis singalongs, vodka and such a stylish home I wander in wonder.

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Helen’s house

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Helen’s house

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Helen’s house

Flying home to Melbourne, I scribbled on napkins and nibbled on cashews, thinking of all the vistas I’ve been fortunate to view in my wanderlust. My mid-flight routine is always the same: gospel music and gratitude, for the supreme privilege of gazing down at my world, and all those I love upon it.

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Tomorrow I head to the headquarters of Memoria, a wonderful podcast of micro radio dramas adapted from short memoirs. I’ll be narrating and recording two of my stories, and cannot wait to delve back into audio storytelling. Next week, my story on writing collaborations comes out in the Victorian Writers magazine, soon to be followed by my next story in the Big Issue.

And the meetings I’ve been having with a director and producer about adapting one of my stories, ‘Snowblind’, into a short film, are the cherry on top of this extraordinarily productive time.

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To read ‘Snowblind’ in Wigleaf literary magazine, click here 

For now, though, it’s back to my writing studio to curl up at the keyboard with some vinyl on the turntable and a plump black cat by my side …one of my favourite places to be.

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My writing studio

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Reading Melbourne

February 23, 2018 at 1:17 pm (Uncategorized)

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Melbourne from the west

The Wolf and I have a tradition. Although we live only four kilometres west of Melbourne’s C.B.D., sometimes we book a hotel in the city centre and play at being grown-ups. At least, I feel that way – I’m pretty sure he actually IS an adult, whereas I feel that if I wear a pencil skirt and high heels perhaps no-one will see the teenage girl that secretly lurks behind them. I sold a story, so booked a hotel with a rooftop swimming pool and views over the city. At the reception desk I had an odd moment of déjà vu…suddenly I was a teenage girl, applying for a job as a hotel cleaner there many, many moons ago.

When I mentioned to the receptionist that I’d gone for a job at that very hotel in my youth, she asked ‘And did you get it?’ I signed the registration form with a flourish and a shake of my head.

‘I did not,’ I answered.

She winked at me. ‘Well then, that deserves an upgrade.’ And with the keys to a gorgeous room on the 11th floor, me and my vintage high heels were off.

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Setting always plays a pivotal role in my writing. I wonder if this is due to my travels, my time living overseas or the years I spent agoraphobic in my youth; either way, I am acutely aware of my surroundings, and include them in my work almost as characters in their own right. One year ago I moved from Melbourne’s northern suburbs, where I’d lived for almost my entire adult life, to Melbourne’s west, an industrial area lacking the former’s martini bars and tattoo parlours, but having a wealth of petrochemical vats and cargo ships to offer instead.

To everyone’s astonishment, I fell in love with it, deeply and immediately. I think no-one has been more astonished than me, in fact. So I’m delighted to be one of the writers included in Reading Victoria, a project celebrating Melbourne’s 10th anniversary of being designated a UNESCO City of Literature. For my love story to the West Gate Bridge, iconic symbol of Melbourne, click on the photo.

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My West Gate Bridge piece for Reading Victoria

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Spotswood

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Bar Josephine, a new writing haunt

January and Feb have been jam-packed with writing adventures: applications for travel grants and scholarships, submissions for a theatre company and research for my next residency, fingers crossed. After the sublime experience of writing residencies in Iceland and Finland, I’m tracing my fingers over the globe to see where they land. Lately they’ve been lingering on Greenland, a definite contender.

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My first residency, Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland

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My second residency, Joutsa, Finland (Photo by AmyMAndersonArt)

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My next residency? Greenland (photo by Boris Schaarschmidt)

In the meantime, my novel is always on my computer screen or on my mind. I’m supremely enthused by what’s unfolding, and the words still to come.

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Notes for my novel

 

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To the hundred and more

December 31, 2017 at 4:48 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

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My muse loves December.

I’m a disciplined writer. I can spend whole days locked in my writing studio, breaking my focus only to brew more coffee or have a quick Ike and Tina Turner shimmy to get the blood circulating. I work on my novel, short stories, memoir and audio fiction. But in December, my muse demands more. She sits on the corner of my desk (she’s about ten centimetres high, redheaded and if you look carefully, ever so slightly cross-eyed) and urges me to write more, edit more, submit more, and aim high.

Every year.

And you don’t say no to her, believe me.

I feel buoyant stepping into January; I’ve spilled so much ink this year. 2017 saw me reach the milestone of 100 stories published, performed or produced for radio. I performed at festivals both here and interstate with more lined up for next year, talked to ABC producers about broadcasting more of my writing, slid my Sarah Award for International Audio Fiction onto my shelf next to my snakeskins and skulls, consistently earned pay checks for my ink (no mean feat in the creative industries), and have several new pieces coming out in 2018. Before the bells chime midnight, in fact, I will also have submitted two new audio stories and one long fiction piece based on my April visit to Berlin, one of the most influential cities in my personal history.

gold-solstice-short-story-rijn-collins‘Gold’, my 100th story (read here)

 

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‘Akathisia’ in River Teeth Journal (read here)

This year has also seen…my tenth visit to Berlin, the first time showing my Wolf around the city he also fell in love with, the thirteenth time I’ve sat with loved ones over martinis and sushi at Zaza’s on Kastanienalle, and the first time I’ve ever smelled smoke on a flight and seen the attendants literally running through the cabin. And the last time, fingers crossed.

There was my fifth visit to Reykjavik, adding to the 35,000 words of my novel set there, seven Icelandic ponies with snow-dusted manes, three pages of spells about elves and juniper berries under moonlight, many shrieks when I forgot about the sulphur stench of hot water in the shower, and the countless times I squeezed the hands of my Wolf and beautiful Lisa, whispering ‘I can’t believe you’re both here with me.’

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Siglufjörður, northern Iceland

 

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Pankow, Berlin

Before we hit the snow there was Italy with Lisa, and six nights with a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean and alley cats to throw prosciutto out to through a stained glass kitchen window. There were so many glasses of sickly sweet limoncello that the smell now makes me wince, dozens of hairpin turns weaving down the hill tops of Positano that made us wince further, and the man in Rome who was so busy applauding my dress and high boots that he walked into a lamp post.

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Positano, Italy

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Temple of the Vestal Virgins, Rome

2017 graced me with twelve months in my new home in the west of Melbourne, and two years with those I share it with, the love of my life and his beautiful cub. There were trips to Albury, Wangaratta, Woodend, the Dandenongs and Tasmania, with wallabies, speakeasys, Art Deco architecture, champagne, new writers to chat to and new stories to tell.

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The Wolf and Connie, our vintage caravan, Tasmania

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Beautiful Hobart, Tasmania

Ah, it seems that’s her cue. My muse just tapped me on the shoulder, pointed to the open articles on the Stasi and trichotillomania on my screen, and tilted her head towards my keyboard. I’ve been told, people. Back to work it is.

Wherever in the world you are, I wish you all the best for the coming year, and as always, I wish you the most wondrous of stories.

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skin and skull

November 30, 2017 at 11:26 pm (Uncategorized)

It fit neatly into the palm of my hand. The whiskers were still lush, the eyes closed. The fur was so soft I couldn’t stop stroking it. I wasn’t the only one. Although the table held other prizes in the raffle, this was the one everyone was coveting.

The shrunken cat’s head was the star of the night.

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If you’ve read my words before, you might know that I’m an amateur taxidermist. My passion for this began when I realised the protagonist in my novel is one herself. I still have the list of occupations I was considering for her – sleep scientist, herpetologist – but when this one fell out of my pen and onto the page, it just felt right. I started researching techniques and acquiring my own taxidermy pieces, but soon realised my love of in-depth research would eventually lead me to doing my own workshops.

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Melbourne is luckily the place for this. The wonderful Rest in Pieces crew has provided me with not just expert knowledge, but also the acknowledgement that I’m not alone in my reverence of this particular blend of art and anatomy. I’ve now taxidermied several of my own pieces and find it absolutely enthralling, exhausting and euphoric. The movements of my scalpel are meticulous, the snap of a bone mesmerising. I learn about tiny rodent hearts no bigger than a finger nail and the painstaking technique of pulling a quail’s facial skin back over its skull without tearing. I move slowly; I write constantly. And my novel is all the richer because of it.

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My teachers practise ethical taxidermy, an element I find essential – this community is founded in a mutual adoration of animals and a desire to preserve them. Many of my fellow students are vegan or vegetarian (such as I was for twenty years) and all of us are animal lovers. We name our creatures, groom and croon to them, and honour their tiny forms with care.

Our recent Christmas party was a stellar night. Animal print clothing was on the invitation and I did not disappoint, in a leopard print pencil dress with vintage red heels. Dozens of ebullient, eccentric students introduced each other with phrases such as ‘How many skulls have you scraped?’ My lovely teacher, Nat, showed me photos of the recent dig she was part of in the US excavating mammoth bones. The Carlton Club itself is filled with taxidermy, and an enticing array of raffle prizes caught everyone’s attention – beakers filled with floating bones, earrings made from bat’s teeth, and of course, the shrunken head of a feral cat.

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I did not win, alas.

I did, however, sell a story to a national Australian publication last week about my taxidermy journey, and a second story about my years of agoraphobia. My muse has definitely come out of hibernation with three fiction submissions this month to an American anthology and a non-fiction submission to an American publisher, as well as thousands more words on my novel. Saturday saw another immensely enjoyable performance with Stereo Stories, telling the audience tales of Nick Cave and Johnny Cash.

Nov 1

I’m working with an editor on a story about Melbourne’s west (not quite allowed to announce details yet!) and have a choose your own adventure story on the shortlist of a Melbourne production company where, fingers crossed, it could be turned into a short film. I’ve also recently joined a writers’ group that is so full of inspiration, contacts and support that my fingers reach for a pen even in my sleep.

It’s not a bad way to live, at all.

 

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Her snakes sound like the sea

October 31, 2017 at 10:46 pm (Uncategorized)

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‘Circe’ by Wright Barker (1889)

Circe sounded like the sea.

The writer I hoped I would be venerated the sibilance of her name, even at the age of fifteen. When I hunched over library books in my high school, fingers tracing her story, the S felt like magic under my skin. She felt like magic on my tongue too.  The S sounds, like snakes hissing. The awareness of how sounds melded together was the first spell I ever articulated before adulthood hit, deep within the suburban brick veneer I called home.

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‘Circe’ by John Williams Waterhouse

Medusa’s snakes landed on my skin.

I watched the tattooist carve her curves into my flesh. It bled, it stung, it seared. Thirteen snakes formed themselves on my upper arm, writhing around her hips and bare breasts, their form silver and blue like lightning. Once, when I finished my shift at my pub and sat with a knock-off shot of whiskey, a punter approached me, staring at her. He raised a hand and, seduced by her stance, by her arched back and fangs flashing, cupped his hand and caressed it down my skin, right to the elbow. Medusa stood beside me and whispered in my ear; I bared my fangs and hissed, until he backed out the door and into the Melbourne winter.

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my Medusa tattoo by Matt Burke Photography

Brigit made my armour warm and welcome.

In my twenties, I worked a job I didn’t welcome. It required a harshness I did not possess and an aloofness I didn’t allow. I did it anyway. As I climbed the stairs in that Chinatown alleyway I would imagine the customers waiting upstairs, the shift in perception and identity that would allow me to step into a new skin, shrug it on and zip it up. Brigit, the Irish Goddess of fire and protection, would be with me as my costume tumbled to the carpet, my spine straightened and my persona emerged. I would walk into each shift strengthened, knowing she was with me, and that the arrows would bounce off and miss the considerable chinks in my armour.

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Brigit corn dolly

Tonight is Hallowe’en in the northern hemisphere. Here in Australia, however, where the seasons are reversed and everything is upside down, we celebrate the opposite. Tonight is not the celebration of winter approaching, the animals hibernating and the crops dying. Tonight we welcome Beltaine: the return of the sunlight, the knowledge that summer is approaching, and that the days get easier and more fruitful.

It’s odd, being against the ebb and flow of much of the world, of the traditional celebrations and media representations of paganism. We’re the opposite, down under. I’m used to it though, after almost thirty years of celebrating this way of life. I often work on the contrary. I don’t tend to follow the traditional paths, and my writing is a prime example. I once spoke on a panel at the Melbourne Emerging Writers’ Festival on the ways to put your ‘best foot forward.’ I spoke next to people with PhDs, famous agents and mentors, families born into the publishing industry. And me? I was the representative of just jumping in with both boots and getting the job done; no background, no backup. I began my writing journey by putting together punk zines with feminist workshops, cutting up old school collage covers and selling them at punk gigs. My voice may have shaken when I spoke on that panel, but I knew my journey was just as valid as anyone else’s.

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Ten years later and I’ve had over one hundred stories published in anthologies and literary journals, performed at festivals and published on Australian and American radio.

Since my last blog post, there are a few more updates. I’ve had a pitch accepted by a major Melbourne literary organisation (details soon), and I’ve sent another to a Melbourne media company to be potentially made into a short film by a feminist group. There’s a New Orleans writing residency I’m applying for, and a British novel manuscript prize. I’ll be appearing at the Newport Festival with the wonderful Stereo Stories in November, and have had a recent piece accepted by the brilliant Verity La about my time as a Writer-in-Residence in Iceland.

No matter which Goddess is whispering at my shoulder, which story is being published or which season we’re welcoming, I’m always ready with one red heel to stretch out and ever so gently, nudge the wheel to turn, and welcome the next cycle into being.

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Merry Beltaine

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Tasting twice

September 28, 2017 at 5:02 pm (Uncategorized)

 

When you head across Australia, the names alone keep you occupied. On the four hour train trip to the festival we chugged through Tallarook, Wangaratta and Wodonga. The town of Benalla apparently translates as ‘musk duck’, while the quaint blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Violet Town had us vowing to come back.

You’re talking to travel companions who came perilously close to landing in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, purely for the name. Don’t even get me started on Kaartinkaupunki in Finland.

Earlier this month we headed north, just over the border of Victoria into New South Wales. It was my second year performing at Write Around the Murray Literary Festival, and I realised with delight that I remembered a stellar lunch place, every opp shop in town, and a fabulous hotel with medieval theme, right down to jousting sticks in the dining room and suits of armour.

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Albury’s Italianate train station

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Jousting sticks in the dining room

Albury is gorgeous. There’s an abundance of Art Deco architecture, vibrant street art, and the Murray River curling past. Writing a novel set in both Iceland and Australia keeps me constantly watching these countries for art and architecture, wildlife and weather. And it always enthralls me.

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Murray River

 

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Wall mural

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Art Deco ambulance station

Little pockets of gold in an otherwise busy weekend: solitary swim in the hotel pool, glorious fruit to nourish, and my Wolf, fresh off a Melbourne train and into my arms.

 

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Rehearsals, sound check, lights down. We had a sold out show plus a waiting list, making butterflies flutter and heartbeats race. But, as I always do, I felt such joy and pleasure in striding on stage with Stereo Stories, and looking out at all those welcoming, waiting faces.

I told two stories, based on Kris Kristofferson’s divine ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ ‘Mercy Seat.’ I heard the brilliant band behind me sing the songs and I was back in Berlin, lusting after the voiceover woman from the U-Bahn system, or in my Finnish writing studio with turpentine and taxidermy, waiting for the northern lights with cloudberry wine and open notebook.

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and retrospect – Anais Nin

Chatting to everyone after the performance was such a highlight: everyone involved in the festival, from organisers to fellow performers and audience members, was warm and lovely, and made me realise just what I love about being a writer. It can be an intensely solitary profession, but when you find other passionate writers/readers, you know, it feels like home.

Below is a joyous yet tired writer, fresh off the stage. Two minutes after this was taken the green velvet dress was on the floor and the writer under the hotel sheets, Wolf by her side, celebratory whiskey in hand, and ‘Thelma and Louise’ on the TV. Now that’s a damn good evening.

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Show’s over, folks

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The people will sing their way through the forest

August 29, 2017 at 5:07 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

My writing studio is small, but lovely.

It’s home to Icelandic fortune telling cards, a deer skull with pearled antlers, and a plush rug the colour of blood that my cat loves to bask on in the last of the winter sun. On the floor sit my scratched punk records and a vintage turntable. On the wall, a huge framed photograph from my beloved friend Jessica Tremp, of her bare back as she kneels in the forest, tendrils of hair cascading down her spine. The lush green vegetation in the image melds perfectly with my animal bones and snake skins, as though the forest has slowly crept out of the frame and begun the process of taking over my room.

Like I said, my writing studio is small, but lovely.

I’ve been writing about space – and the spaces in which we write – for a non-fiction submission. I’ve been thinking about my windowsill in the Street of the Candlesticks in Brussels, where I’d sit and swill black cherry beer as Belgian life paraded below me. They never thought to look up at the window, and my pen rarely rested.

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Brussels

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Click on this photo for my ABC audio story, ‘Street of the Candlesticks’

I’ve been writing about my studio at my first artists’ residency in far northern Iceland, where Viking tomes lined the shelves and snow hit the window so fiercely that one morning, the front door wouldn’t even open. My second artists’ residency was in the forest in Finland, where on my very first night the whole household – six artists, two owners and three cats – rushed outside to the sculpture garden to watch the northern lights snake across the sky. My studio there was flooded with late autumn sunshine, scattered with turpentine and stiffened paintbrushes, and often resounding with Big Mama Thornton or Elmore James’ sweet blues keeping me company as I wrote.

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Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland

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Joutsa, Finland (Photo by AmyMAndersonArt)

 

Then there are those places that are even more transient; tram stops where a first line just has to be written, hunched over in my woollen hood against Melbourne rain; my classroom desk when the students are doing an exam and my fingers are itching to spill words; a gold wall at the Moat next to State Library with mulled wine served in tea cups; and as assortment of train carriages, hotel rooms, café tables and park benches that can hold my notebook on my lap, feet curled under me, even just for the fifteen minutes it takes to get a title, an idea, a paragraph down.

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Mulled wine at the Moat, Melbourne

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Beautiful domed Reading Room of the State Library, Melbourne

Far back in my late teens and early twenties, agoraphobia took me away from the world for two long years. My space became only the walls of my house. It was a slow, painful kind of death – of my confidence, my social skills, my friendships – and even though I’ve walked back into the light and am now a professional writer, travelling the world with a full heart and high spirits, my indoor years have left an irrevocable shadow. My need for solitude is intense. But it’s done wonders for my appreciation of safe spaces, of looking up at café posters or soaring fir trees or medieval architecture or library shelves and thinking, yes, I feel good here: let’s get the pen out. Let’s write.

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Pearled antlers with coronets – my studio

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Snake skins and kingfisher skull – my studio

My studio here in Melbourne has a fat black cat at my feet, snoring gently in her basket. It has an antique station master’s desk with a fold out shelf to write on, inlaid with cracked brown leather. Today there’s Edvard Grieg’s recording of the music to Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’ on my turntable, and a cup of tea just brought to me by my ever supportive Wolf. The trees outside my floor to ceiling windows are still winter skeletal, but one day soon I’m going to look up and see that spring has brought the passion flowers back.

My writing studio is small, but lovely.

 

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Anthem

July 31, 2017 at 8:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

I’ve been thinking about beautiful things lately.

One of my stories, ‘Akathisia’, has just been published in the Beautiful Things column of River Teeth. This gorgeous literary journal of non-fiction narrative is one I’ve long admired, and this column is a perfect example why. It celebrates the golden moments in life: ‘the glimmers, reflections, river shimmers, keyholes, and cracks where the light gets in.’ I’m so honoured to have my work published by them, and recommend you go take a peek through some of their stories.

The column has inspired me to reflect on the beautiful moments in my life…and lord, there are so many.

  • Watching winter light pass through my writing room, and the gaze (and occasionally, the gentle snores) of my cat as she accompanies me.
  • Listening to the glorious voice of Mahalia Jackson in those moments I feel my balance faltering. For a punk little pagan, I sure do love my gospel music.
  • That email from an editor saying ‘Yes, yes, we love your work: we want to publish it.’ Nothing. Like. That. Feeling. In. The.World.
  • Walking in the forest behind my Wolf and his Cub, watching their animated conversation in the most gorgeous light, and feeling so privileged to be part of their journey.
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Ms Marlow, familiar and judge of procrastinating dance outbursts 

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Mount Macedon majesty

  • Standing knee deep in snow again outside my first writing residency, up near the Arctic Circle in Iceland, that most treasured of sacred spaces for me.
  • Workshopping my novel with the Wolf, also a writer, with a scarlet sunset outside, a jug of creamy stout on the table between us, and his hand on my thigh.
  • Seeing the joy on my nephews’ faces as they run towards me, calling my name.
  • The industrial edge of my new home in the west of Melbourne, and the enormous bridge at the end of my street that I always stop and smile at.
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Siglufjörður, far northern Iceland

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Spotswood sunset for scribes

  • The fur, feathers, skulls and skins in my writing studio, tracing the journey of the protagonist in my novel, and by extension, expanding my collection.
  • Watching my beloved best friend’s dimples flash on a cliff top in Italy in April, glass of sweet wine in hand, plate of lemon peel pasta in front of me, and the most extraordinary of ocean views before us.
  • Reuniting this week with an old pen pal from twenty years ago, who once took me in and showed me around Hollywood, and whom I’d always rued losing touch with. Bless the internet! The Pagan Profiles website introduced us all those years ago, and filling in the blanks of each other’s lives since will be a joyous journey. I already have an invitation back to LA, and I just might take it. The power of letters cannot be underestimated.
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Studio snake skins and skull

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The Amalfi Coast, shared with my beloved and her dimples

The story of mine just published in the Beautiful Things column is my 101st published, performed or produced story. There are always days where rejection letters hit the heart, where the pen falters and pages remain blank, or criss-crossed with the red lines that say ‘I doubt this, I doubt that, and I doubt myself.’ But when I read River Teeth’s description of the stories they publish in the column, I’m reminded of Leonard Cohen, and his wise words.

Even his pen must have faltered sometimes, but he still knew to pick it back up again.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen – ‘Anthem’

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Gold

June 29, 2017 at 9:26 pm (Uncategorized)

‘The title jumped into my line of vision, and I swallowed without thinking.

‘To be Fed to Red Birds’…those six plump, delicious words.’

Today I wrote in Sunshine Library. Beside me was The Wolf, pen moving in his notebook. In front of me was the Melbourne city skyline on the horizon, and in front of me was a coffee.

It was a stellar day.

I’ve also been working on my novel in Melbourne’s majestic State Library. In between pen strokes I often stop, look up, and lose myself in the stunning dome of the Reading Room.

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State Library, Melbourne

When winter sky turns black and my front door loses its appeal, I curl up on my studio floor here at home and turn pages in my Iceland notebook, beckoning my novel out.

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My studio floor

I put my pen down long enough to celebrate my birthday, an occasion I always adore. There were dirty martinis with bookmarks, calls from Rotterdam and New York, and a snake skeleton so beautiful I may have actually gasped.

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At the Moat, under the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas

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Birthday bones

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Enjoying my birthday (NB: photo may not be current)

In between novel drafts, I’ve also been submitting short stories. I’m delighted to say that three of them have been accepted: I have work upcoming in both River Teeth and Stereo Stories, and one already published by the lovely Mookychick over in the U.K. This little tale, written around a Solstice theme and centering around a certain lupine love, is actually my 100th accepted story.

It’s been seven years coming, but it feels damn fine.

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‘Gold’ by Rijn Collins (link here)

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Medusa knows best

May 30, 2017 at 10:55 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

My friends are particularly adept at selecting stellar gifts for me. These range from a taxidermy workshop to Culture Club concert tickets, a bat skeleton to a tattoo design. An artist friend drew me an astounding Medusa for my thirtieth birthday; she decorates my left arm with her mesmerising stare and defiant pose, reminding me whenever I need it most how to straighten my own spine.

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Icelandic fortune cards found at a Reykjavik flea market: ‘Let go of it.’

This present, however, was not on my birthday but as a random I-love-you-and-I-thought-this-would-make-you-happy gift.

The Wolf bought me a DNA test.

I’ve always known my heritage to be Celtic. My grandfather was from Belfast, and passed on to me both an adoration of books, and an Irish passport, in addition to my Australian one. I overdosed on the Pogues and Van Morrison by working in an Irish pub for almost a decade, and studied Gaelic for years (although it’s so challenging that all I can do now is order a Guinness, and tell someone to fuck off – a heady combination).

But while I’m deeply grateful to be able to travel so easily through Europe, it’s not Ireland or the UK that I’m drawn to.

I head for the fjords, every time.

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Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland

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Siglufjörður, northern Iceland

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Akureyri, northern Iceland

I’m so smitten by the snowy lands; always have been. Last month I returned from my beloved Iceland, with my Wolf and best friend Lisa in tow. We drove from one side of the country to the other on ice slicked roads in gale force winds, Lisa and I sharing capfuls of duty free vodka to stem the nerves. I showed them the tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle where I did my first writing residency, and where my novel ends (or will, when I finish it, all muses considered). I walked around Siglufjörður and Ólafsfjörður in my army boots and red riding hood, tracing where my protagonist eats, drinks and dreams, and then headed to Reykjavik to consider her stomping ground down south.

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The street in Reykjavik where Elva lives, the protagonist in my novel

It was my fifth time in Reykjavik. The city – and country – spellbinds me. The bright primary colours of the buildings, the veneration of literature and language, the crunch of boots on snow, the glorious northern light, the stench of sulphur water when you turn on the shower….wait, that last one was kind of hard to cope with, actually. But the magic worked again, as I suspect it always will in that otherworldly land. I’ve returned to Melbourne even more full of a desire to head there again and again, and importantly, to pour out more of my novel as often as I can.

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Downtown Reykjavik

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Blues gig poster, Reykjavik

My muse works well in sub-zero temperatures, as writing residencies in Iceland and Finland have shown me. She’s standing over me with a bowl full of Skyr and a snow boot tapping impatiently, reminding me to WRITE WRITE WRITE.

My DNA test results came back. When I saw the circles drawn on a map of Europe, showing me my ancestry origins, the 36% Irish surprised no-one. There were tiny traces of the Iberian Peninsula, Central Asia and Jewish heritage, which fascinated me. But damn, the intake of breath when I saw the second biggest area of ancestry, a circle drawn around the northern countries I adore.

Nordic: 35%.

The Wolf was right: happiness guaranteed.

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Siglufjörður snow in day

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