Die Wende

November 30, 2019 at 10:21 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

We all jumped when we heard it. My teacher opened the classroom door and peered out.

Thirty years ago this month, I can still remember every moment.

We heard the loud and joyous exclamation repeated in muffled Flemish from other classrooms. When my teacher rushed out the door, the students in my class began to follow him. I didn’t join them, for one good reason.

I hadn’t understood the sentence.

As celebrations erupted around the school, I tried to work it out. I was four months into a year-long exchange program in Brussels, a city I’d instantly fallen in love with. The languages, however, I was struggling with. Belgium has three: French, Flemish and German, and for that extra challenge they sometimes like to mix them all up in the colourful but impenetrable Bruxellois dialect.

The walk home was equally puzzling. Drivers honked; people hung out of car windows waving and bellowing. The elderly couple who ran the fruit stall slow-danced in the street. It was only when I heard German being sung that the shouted sentence in my high school hallway finally made sense.

My god, had the Berlin Wall come down?

Line of the Berlin Wall

I ran the last few steps. My host parents were standing in their butcher shop with white aprons tied tight, holding a bottle of champagne high enough to touch the smoked hams hanging from the ceiling. Everyone burst into cheers when they saw me. A torrent of Flemish and French surged around my host parents and their customers. The joy was undeniable, but I still needed confirmation, and I needed it in English. I headed upstairs to the lounge room, and the BBC.

I knew next to nothing about politics. Until that point my only political participation had been singing along to punk songs excoriating Margaret Thatcher. But that last year of the 1980’s was an incredible time to land in Europe, with the mass demonstrations and revolutionary fervour sweeping across the continent. Watching footage of protests in Poland, Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia was utterly invigorating. I was about to turn eighteen, and more than ready to see the world as an adult.

The fall of the Berlin Wall brought that home. We’d heard reports of the demonstrations gathering force, but were not quite able to tell the rumours from reality. Watching footage of the West Berliners line the roads with flower and cheers, welcoming the incredulous East Berliners as they streamed across the united city, was a sight I’ll never forget.

I couldn’t shake the spell of that city. Not long after the wall opened, I went to a travel agent. He took one look at the age on my passport and shook his head. It was impossible to find anyone who’d book a seventeen year old on a 750km bus trip from Brussels to Berlin that soon after November 9. What if the wall went back up, and I was trapped there? For some, euphoria was still tempered by suspicion: the shadow of the DDR loomed large.

I settled for the Rhine Valley instead. I spent my eighteenth birthday in Cologne, sneaking into punk clubs and learning German slang beside the world’s biggest Gothic cathedral. I loved my taste of Germany, but the whole time my gaze was on the east, and the promise of Berlin.

That night in November 1989 when I sat cross-legged on my host parents’ floor, watching the news unfold, had sunk hooks deep within me.

They led me to a degree in Germanic Languages and Linguistics, where I studied Nietzsche with scepticism, Goethe with fascination, and Nina Hagen with admiration. The compulsory subjects based on Die Wende, the change of political systems that brought with it the fall of the Berlin Wall, were pure joy to me.

When I finally made it to Berlin, it was even better than I’d anticipated. The city was a revelation.

Berlin street art

On my first trip I went to Bebelplatz, the square where the Nazi book burnings took place. When I was told that Berliners brought candles and pillows every May 10, the anniversary of the burnings, and that they curled up to read their favourite passages from the books that were banned, I knew I would be back.

On my third trip to Berlin I met up with my Dutch pen-pal, and went to a feminist punk festival held in a squat in Kreuzberg where the black coffee was so strong we felt ill and had to go back to the hostel to lie down.

On my fifth trip to Berlin, I rented a flat with an ex-lover who’d flown in from Switzerland. Under a thunderstorm and with sticky glasses of Grand Marnier, he told me I could never be a ‘real writer’ until I’d studied all the French greats of literature. The liqueur left a sweet taste in my mouth; his words did not.

On my seventh trip to Berlin, I landed on the 50th anniversary of the barbed wire being rolled out that would become the Berlin Wall. At midday there was a minute of silence. I watched from my balcony as pedestrians stopped on the footpath with heads bowed. I joined them, honouring not just the people killed trying to cross the wall, but all those whose lives were overshadowed by the enormity of its presence.

On my latest visit I brought my husband. He fell under the spell of the city immediately, connecting, just as I do, to the regeneration and resilience on every street corner.

The landlord of our apartment showed us around. He handed me the keys and a map of the city.

‘Thanks, but this is my eleventh visit. I know this city well.’

He raised his eyebrows.

‘If you love Berlin so much, why don’t you just live here then?’

I didn’t have an answer. It’s a question I ask myself often, every time I visit.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Thuis (home)

September 29, 2019 at 6:25 pm (Brussels, Goth, honeymoon, memory, writing)

When I was a troubled teen – and who wasn’t? – I was taken to a counsellor. Quite a few, actually. My all black armour, the punk anthems bellowed from my bedroom, my furious scowl and pentagram jewellery, were all causes for
concern. In many ways I was a typical teenage girl; I just didn’t know it.

One therapist wanted me to imagine my happy place, so I could transport myself there in the face of anxiety or depression. A sunny meadow; an azure beach. I chose an imaginary flat close to the Thames in London. I would be living there by myself, with the solitude and silence I already knew to relish, and needed to write. My happy place, when I closed my eyes, was envisioning myself curled up on the floor in a darkened flat, head against the window, watching the rain.

Although I was delighted to finally visit London, as a teen Goth my face was not permitted to show it.

My vision wasn’t exactly cheerful, though it was pure Goth. And it gave me great comfort, for decade after decade. Before a flight or a fight, a magazine interview or stepping on stage at literary festivals, I would close my eyes, and deep breathe as I listened to the rain against the windows.

Here’s the thing, though: London and I are no longer friends.

Earlier this month we took a honeymoon to Europe. Chris’ family all live in the UK, with a stop first in Brussels. The latter is my home away from home; I’ve lived there twice now, and adore it so much I tear up at the first whiff of cherry beer.

London used to charm me – it was the home of punk, and Doc Martens! What more could a surly teen require? This time, however, I stalked Regent Street with its gross consumerism, battled swarms of late summer tourists with their selfie sticks, and struggled to find the awe it had once triggered in me. Could this really still be my happy place? I walked down to the Thames and tried to imagine where my mythical flat would be, but narrowly missed being shat on by a pigeon and scolded by hipsters.

Trying to find London charm

Trying to find London charm

Brussels was another matter. Chris fell for its ‘sleazy charm’ immediately, installing himself on our balcony with a soundtrack of Jacques Brel. We gazed in awe at Hieronymus Bosch and Bruegel paintings, and drank strong Duvel beer in an ornate Art Nouveau museum high above the cobble stones. We posed for photos in front of my old high school from my exchange year, a private Catholic girls’ school whose strict rules I’d hated with a passion, yet which now proudly flies a rainbow flag.

Cherry beer and old school Flemish

Cherry beer and old school Flemish

We scratched our initials into a weathered table top in a Flemish café where Brel drank, and the Belgian surrealists sketched. I brewed coffee and made pancakes in our warm and homey apartment with its red bordello walls and abundance of witchcraft symbols.

Brussels home for the week

Brussels home for the week

Sustenance

Crepes and coffee

Belgian cat medals at the Place du Jeu de Balle flea market

Belgian cat medals at the Place du Jeu de Balle flea market

We ate mussels at dusk and cherry beer for breakfast; we sat together in parks I used to write in, and with camera held high, Chris clicked the button at the same moment he felt me up. The surprise and delight on my face is a favourite souvenir.

Town Hall in the exquisite Grand Place

Maison du Roi in the exquisite Grand Place

Jardin du Petit Sablon

Jardin du Petit Sablon

And this, I know now, is my true happy place. I look over our week there together, showing the city I love most to the man I love most, and I try to pin it down.

And then I find it.

It was a midweek afternoon. We’d walked through the Parc de Bruxelles and had a gorgeous lunch under its trees, washed down by raspberry lemonade. We headed home when the rain began. It was light summer rain, with the air still warm, and the sunshine strong. We curled up in our comfy bed for a nap, with the tower of the Town Hall in the Great Place visible from the open window. Chris fell asleep before I did, a napper so dedicated he actually has a sleep crease etched into his forehead. His back was to me, and I reached out to stroke it. The sun caught the rubies in my wedding ring as I listened to the rain, my hand outstretched. And that was it.

With that memory, I knew I’d never need the Thames flat again.

The places our minds can retreat to when we need escape, when we need solace, are endless. The books we’ve read, the holidays we’ve had, even fantasies of the future. The trick is to recognise them when they’re in front of you, to catch them so gently you don’t break them.

Then they’re yours, whenever you need them most.

Serenity

Contentment and cobblestones

Permalink 2 Comments

Words on a winter wing

July 20, 2019 at 10:05 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I asked Emily which was her favourite in the museum. She led me back to a Monet water lily, the first she’d ever seen, from 1919.

This is when I let her in on a secret: it can be yours. No different from falling in love with a song, one may fall in love with a work of art and claim it as one’s own.

‘Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me’ by Bill Hayes.

This gorgeous passage in Bill Hayes’ memoir brought my favourite artwork instantly to mind: the Betrothal of the Arnolfini by Jan van Eyck. At the age of seventeen I flew from Australia to Brussels for a year-long student exchange, and began a lifelong love affair with everything Flemish; the painting, the language, the architecture, and the divine black cherry beer. The first time I stood in front of van Eyck’s masterpiece in The National Gallery in London, my septum threaded with silver, my ripped stockings and army boots below a tattered punk t-shirt, I was instantly catapulted back into the Middle Ages. Its power was startling to me; still is, in fact.

betrothal

‘Betrothal of the Arnolfini’ by Jan van Eyck

Ownership of your artwork does not come free. One must spend time with it; visit at different times of the day or evening, and bring to it one’s full attention.

Van Eyck led me to delve into the witches of Goya, the intricate rabbit sketches of Dürer, the apocalyptic torment of Hieronymus Bosch, and the wry humour in Brueghel. As Hayes explains, it’s not just paintings that can provide these stories and their inspiration, but also books, songs, photographs, architecture…it can be anywhere, if you know where to look.

Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch

rabbit

Albrecht Dürer

Perhaps the best part about possessing art in this way is that what’s mine can be yours, and vice versa. In fact, I would not be surprised if half of New York City has also put dibs on the Monet that Emily chose. This made it no less hers.

There are streets in Brussels that belong to me. Rue Chair et Pain (Street of Flesh and Bread) is where I bought my coconut incense in 1989, my backpack full of French homework I didn’t quite understand. Rue des Renards (Street of the Foxes) spills its cobblestones into the site of an old leper colony, then a flea market, where I haggled for a tartan ‘mini jupe’ skirt in 2002 that made a workman lay his pipes on the road to slowly applaud me as I walked past. In 2006 I often walked through the Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés for a gingerbread salad and sweet rosé at Café Coco opposite the Jacques Brel museum, writing postcards home to Melbourne. And in 2011 I stood outside a red-walled house on Kandelaarstraat (Street of the Candlesticks) and beamed up at the window of the bedroom I dream I’m still living in.

1381987_10202167706653490_773116106_n

Brussels windowsill (photo by Lisa Jewell)

Which brings me to music. I don’t know if you can share ownership of a song, but if so, I’m going to claim Big Mama Thornton. I love her blues so much I wanted it played at my wedding a few weeks ago. Chris listened to the sultry sighs and moans in the song I’d chosen. ‘Is that really a wedding song, babe?’he laughed. ‘Your dad is going to be there.’ I hadn’t thought of that.

In the end we went with David Bowie’s ‘Word on a Wing’ as I walked down the aisle in my red velvet dress. I barely heard the songs we chose, I was so spellbound by Chris’ beautiful face waiting for me at the altar. We wrapped a red silk ribbon around our wrists in a witchcraft hand-fasting, and these two writers promised each other a life of words and their wonder. Etta James’ ‘Loving You More Every Day’ played as we signed our marriage certificate; Nick Cave’s ‘Breathless’ saw us back down the aisle and out of the chapel.

Wedding-LowRes-20

Wedding photos by Rebecca Murray

Wedding-LowRes-7

Wedding-LowRes-56

Wedding-LowRes-53

Our honeymoon is in Brussels in four weeks. We’re going to visit Brueghel’s house and play Jacques Brel songs. I’ll take him to the flea market, sit him down with a black cherry beer, and see if I can still haggle in Flemish and French.

I cannot wait.

But don’t be hasty. You must be sure you are besotted. When it happens, you will know. 

I brought Emily in closer to her new acquaintance: ‘Emily, meet your Monet. Monet, Emily.’ 

Words did not fail her. ‘Hello, beautiful,’ she whispered.

The morning of our wedding was damn cold in the mountains outside Melbourne. The witch in me had chosen the Winter Solstice, after all. I woke early, before him. We’d stayed up with whiskey and tunes the night before; our rings were ready on the bedside table, my dress hanging on the bathroom rail. I watched him sleep. His head was turned away from me on the pillow, his arms wrapped around himself.

I leaned down and gently kissed his sleeping shoulder.

‘Hello, beautiful,’ I whispered.

Wedding-LowRes-112

Permalink 1 Comment

My stack of spines

May 30, 2019 at 8:44 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I’ve been writing, as usual, but I’ve also been reading.

Lord, have I been reading.

I’ve always been a bookworm but it seems to have kicked into high gear recently. There’s a stack of spines on my dresser, but also in my kitchen, and the studio too. I almost hold my breath when walking past The Sun bookshop in Yarraville, or Brown and Bunting in Northcote, lest my feet automatically turn and walk in, my fingers opening and closing in readiness. As conundrums go, it’s really not a bad one, hey?

Here are some of the books that I’ve slid from a stack recently, and devoured.

Saga Land’ by Richard Fidler and Kári Gíslason

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows how much I love Iceland. Even my pharmacist, hairdresser and vet know how much I love Iceland. My novel is set there – currently getting stuck into manuscript revisions and edits, thanks for asking! I studied the language at university, and I’ve been there many times, including an incredible month-long writing residency in a tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle. Unforgettable.

novel edits

Editing advice from my Icelandic fortune cards: ‘Let go of it.’

‘Saga Land’ is deeply engaging. It offers twin strands of the authors’ personal history and travels across that wild, white land, woven in with tales of the sagas and their richly detailed insight into Icelandic culture and history. Definitely worth a read.

‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier

I was a latecomer to this classic. In all honesty, my tastes run more to contemporary titles: I still resent English Literature classes and their force feeding of Austen and the Brontës. Du Maurier is one of my partner’s favourite writers, so when I found this gorgeous version of ‘Rebecca’ in Ampersand, Sydney’s revered second-hand bookstore, I couldn’t resist (their brunch of black sticky rice, coconut cream and caramelised bananas with crushed hazelnuts also got a huge thumbs up). I started reading this book at the airport flying home to Melbourne and could not put it down for a week. I kept sending my man texts along the lines of ‘I can’t believe Max de Winter did (spoiler)!’ or ‘Oh my god, Mandelay (spoiler)!’ This glorious Gothic suspense novel makes me want to visit Cornwall, and scan more bookshelves for du Maurier’s name.

Rebecca at Ampersand

Delights at Ampersand Books, Sydney

‘Angry Women in Rock’ edited by Andrea Juno

This book is an old favourite of mine. I bought it in the 90’s when I joined several online communities dedicated to writing and putting out feminist punk zines. These interviews are just so invigorating: Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill), Lynn Breedlove (Tribe 8), Joan Jett and my absolute favourite, the incomparable Val Agnew from 7 Year Bitch (one of THE best bands of the 90’s). I love the fiery opinions, the delicate artwork, the Goddess tattoos, and the reverence of metal and punk music. I often pull this off the shelves for a dose of feminist fire.

Juno book

Interview with the extraordinary Valerie Agnew from 7 Year Bitch

‘The Natural Way of Things’ by Charlotte Wood

What the HELL just happened? This was my bellow to my bestie as I came to the end of just the first chapter (!) of this staggering, controversial and unforgettable book. I took it as a holiday read for a quick New Year’s jaunt to Tasmania, but I did not get much rest. The cover should have warned me, with its praise from other authors along the lines of ‘A haunting parable of contemporary misogyny…sly and devastating’ (The Economist) and ‘You can’t shake off this novel; it gets under your skin, fills your lungs, breaks your heart’ (Christos Tsiolkas). Ten young women are abducted and held in a makeshift prison in the middle of the stark Australian outback, the heat and desert a jailor in itself. The women come to realise that all they have in common is involvement in ten different sexual scandals with prominent men; kept away from society, they are all being punished and can either turn to, or against, each other. I will say the ending had me wanting to pull my hair out, but in all honesty, I hope a reader reacts with the same vehemence to one of my books one day.

Wood

Charlotte Woods’ astonishing ‘The Natural Way of Things’

There are many, many more books to detail! I would love to add:

  • ‘The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Culture of Longing’ by Rachel Poliquin (the first draft of my novel may have come to an end, but my love of taxidermy research that arose from it will never cease)
  • ‘The Tricking of Freya’ by Christina Sunley (more Icelandic stories)
  • ‘Beautiful Revolutionary’ by Laura Elizabeth Woollett (gorgeous writing about the startling People’s Temple cult)
  • ‘A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists’ by Jane Rawson (odd and engaging fiction that defies definition: part speculative, part cli-fi prose set around my area of Melbourne’s industrial west).

 

book store sign

Sign found in a bookstore in Kallista, the Dandenongs

Rebecca on Sydney windowsill

Windowsill bliss

And on my To Be Read list?

  • Lucia Berlin’s ‘A Manual for Cleaning Women.’
  • Daisy Johnson’s ‘Everything Under.’
  • Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s ‘Butterflies in November.’
  • Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Jamaica Inn.’

And I am always ready to hear your recommendations, or your thoughts on any of the above books. My stacks of spines are tall, you know, but they could always get taller.

book stack

 

Permalink Leave a Comment

Feasting season, with fire

April 30, 2019 at 10:46 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

59398213_352092395414592_4570417988372529152_n

My beautiful snake familiar, Elva

It’s Hallowe’en tonight in the Southern Hemisphere, and I’m feeling it.

Our seasons are reversed from the Northern Hemisphere, so our Sabbats are too. Winter is almost here. Melbourne is chilly, with the sky dark before I even put my key in the lock after work. I cooked a gorgeous wintry meal for my man and stepson, fed and scratched my rotund and irascible punk rock cat, and am sitting here with a glass of pinot noir, working on a submission for a short story anthology.

This month has been extraordinarily busy in ink-spilling scope. I’ve been poring over the suggested edits by my agent for my novel manuscript, researching Icelandic sagas and skalds and taxidermy techniques to put within its pages. I applied for a UNESCO Cities of Literature writing residency in downtown Reykjavik, for which I had to update my CV. It took a lot longer than I expected and resulted in me staring at newly added publications and festival appearances, podcasts and prizes, with my hand on my throat and an odd little murmur of pleasure. I entered a contest run by a feminist literary magazine, and another by a prestigious Australian publication. I recorded several short stories for All The Best Radio about ‘Feasts’, set in Brussels, Melbourne, New York and Darwin. And I loved the mail telling me a monologue of mine is going to be performed as a theatre piece next month in Sydney.

58570867_2230675893816225_5814225867160682496_n

Recording for All The Best Radio, on the topic of ‘Feasts’

59403858_2374942039453979_5981960738254618624_n

One of my favourite places to write; in my friends’ studio in Moyston, Victoria

58599010_2384560728485432_4442078361203769344_n

For when you need to step out of the books and back into the body: Sunday afternoon archery sessions

So forgive my absence, but the pen is always in my hand. I also don’t think I’ve ever read as much as I have this past year, sometimes several books a week. They’ve moved, infuriated and impressed me, and on quite a few occasions made me thump the table in heated discussion with loved ones.

Those are always good nights, hey?

Winter is just around the corner. Here in Melbourne it seems to have already arrived, but just between us, I love it. I want open fires and mulled wine, snuggling and snow. I’m getting married on the Winter Solstice in the mountains yet still stubbornly insist I’m going to do it in bare feet, winter witch that I am. Let’s see how that goes, shall we?

This is just a little wave to say I’m still here, and still writing.

Happy Hallowe’en to you and yours.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Elva of the Equinox

March 23, 2019 at 1:42 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

BELL-10

Bird bones, cat box, leopard print…my writing studio (photo by Shannon McDonald)

I knew straight away I’d broken it. The pain was extraordinary. I managed to limp to the shower but stood under the water with my head against the tiles, trying not to throw up.

Of all the mornings to accidentally smash my toe against the brutal feet of our new couch, it had to be today.

There was no way I could cancel. I struggled into my clothes and with sheer bloody mindedness, zipped up my knee high leather boots. ‘It’s not too bad,’ I protested to my man, who winced as he watched me. ‘Why don’t you wear something more practical?’ he asked. We both knew why. I’d had my outfit picked out, professional with a tinge of rockabilly sass, and was determined to wear it: high boots, pencil skirt, and a red blouse with pussy bow, my tattoos spilling out of the cap sleeves.

And so off I limped to meet the literary agent who had requested my novel manuscript, and was waiting to discuss it with me over coffee.

Like I said, an appointment I did not want to cancel.

bench

Writing at the lake, in Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland

Melanie knows her stuff. She’s worked in publishing for over twenty years as an editor, publisher, consultant, educator and literary agent. It was an amazing opportunity to have her insight into my manuscript, and well worth limping into Melbourne for.

We chatted for two hours. My pen flew as we went over what did and didn’t work, about the Icelandic writing residency that inspired my novel in the first place, the cold up near the Arctic Circle and the myths and sagas of that wild white land. We spoke of spells and solstices, the taxidermy I’ve been doing as research, and the macabre and Gothic undercurrents that fuel myself and my ink. And in between I soaked up her wisdom on pacing and narrative tension, character charts and dialogue, scribbling as many notes as I could.

When I capped my pen I had five pages of ideas and inspiration…and yes, I had an agent.

I am beyond delighted to have signed with Melanie Ostell Literary. I pulled the contract from my letter box yesterday, smack on the Autumn Equinox, a perfect time to start a new cycle. I’m excited about the next draft, and the opportunity to hone and tighten my manuscript, and see where we can take it.

In the month between drafts, I really missed my protagonist, Elva. It’s felt odd not to delve into her life, her studio apartment in Reykjavik, her Icelandic lessons and taxidermy attempts. Putting the manuscript away for a month left quite a hole in my life. So in my own peculiar way, I filled it with a tiny baby snake, which I (of course) named Elva.

Elva

Elva, new member of the family

She’s a hatchling, so inquisitive and affectionate, who loves being handled and has captivated our whole household. No bites yet.

Maybe she thinks a broken toe is enough for me to deal with right now, hey?

Permalink Leave a Comment

As I sing my song to the sea

February 9, 2019 at 9:19 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I know I’ve been absent, but for the best of reasons.

I’ve been writing.

And I’ve finished my novel.

My last post described my retreat in the Dandenongs where I put my head down and worked on the last stretch of my manuscript, with nothing but walks in the rainforest and Big Mama Thornton singing the blues to distract me. Two weeks later I flew over to Tasmania in a propeller plane that had me clenching my teeth, but which brought me to a beach side house where I again sat for days, typing away as I listened to waves crash only metres away.

Tassie

Sisters Beach, Tasmania

I welcomed the first day of 2019 with a swim in the ocean, bobbing around under the bluest of skies as I sang my offering to the sea goddesses. Then I dried myself off, and wrote some more.

Tassie 2

Beach side bliss, Sisters Beach, Tasmania

Last week I could see the finishing line approach. I sat in my studio back home in Melbourne, surrounded by my skulls and snake skins, my Icelandic spell books and photos of my writing residency in the tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle that had inspired my manuscript in the first place.

And then I wrote those magic words.

End of Bird Spit MS

I barely had time to drink my champagne before I was given two weeks to edit it for the agent who’s been patiently waiting to read it since June. So now I’m back in my studio, head down, Big Mama crooning, honing my words as I edit, stitch and strengthen the project that’s been my passion for three years now.

All the emotions are swirling right now, but among them is joy.

I would love to stay and chat, but I have work to do.

Hold my whiskey: I’m going back in.

Finished novel!

Excited and exhausted at the finishing line

Permalink Leave a Comment

Ink and inspiration

December 27, 2018 at 1:48 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Kalorama 3

Kalorama, Victoria

I didn’t use to love this forest.

Growing up in the Dandenong mountain range, surrounded by towering mountain ash trees and the song of lyrebirds, I dreamed instead of big cities and punk clubs. I fled when I was seventeen, straight to Europe and an exchange year studying languages. It’s only now, decades later that I’ve come to not just appreciate the regenerative power of the rainforest, but to need it.

I’ve just come back from a solo writing retreat on the top of Mount Dandenong, about 30 kilometres outside Melbourne. I had a cosy cabin and a novel to work on whose protagonist, now living in Iceland, grew up in the hills as I did. My retreat was amazing: a thunderstorm brewed as I wrote, admired the mist, sang to Big Mama Thornton and fed kookaburras and cockatoos. The lovely email I got there from a literary agent keen to read my finished draft was pure inspiration, and kept the pen in my hand.

Kalorama 5

Kalorama cabin

Kalorama 1

Morning mist and cockatoos

This is not the only getaway to be featured in my December round up. This year I was fortunate enough to write in Sydney, Walhalla, Albury, Moyston, on the Gold Coast, and tomorrow, Tasmania. Road trips, then: seven.

2018 saw me perform at four literary festivals, both here and interstate. I had multiple new Stereo Stories published, and recorded new audio that was featured on All The Best Radio, Memoria podcast and played on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel at Docklands.

Memoria

Recording ‘The Eyes of a Bird‘ for Memoria podcast

Memoria Medusa

‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel’ at Memoria podcast

RRR

Recording for All The Best radio – story here

I was interviewed for a film documentary on my love of the West Gate Bridge, also the subject of a story for the Readings Victoria project celebrating Melbourne’s tenth anniversary of being designated a UNESCO City of Literature. Add that to two stories published in the Big Issue, and you get two kickarse Christmas parties for both the Big Issue and our City of Literature office, right down to a dancefloor of writers doing the Nutbush.

I had a dozen rehearsals and meetings with my fabulous Stereo Stories collective, and wrote about the joys of collaborating for the Writers Vic magazine.

Finale Bow _E Algra_0347 (1)

Deep Red Bells‘ at Stereo Stories (photo by Eric Algra)

Being accepted into the prestigious Hard Copy manuscript development program gave me immeasurable knowledge, inspiration and contacts, with my Digital crew being such a wonderful group of supportive and talented writers.

There were tens of thousands of words on my novel, multiple Icelandic spells and taxidermy techniques as research, and a rapidly approaching finish line. Uncountable new books read, red shoes bought, archery sessions, date night with The Wolf, writing sessions at State Library, snake skins collected and students corrected.

Spellbook

Beautiful engagement present

And one engagement, to a beautiful hirsute fellow writer I want to spend my life with.

2018 has been, as always, full of ink and inspiration. Hope yours has been likewise fulfilling…see you in 2019!

Espy 1

Closing out 2018 in stylish surrounds

Permalink 1 Comment

Out of the Blue

November 25, 2018 at 3:49 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

My parents have both begun writing down their lives. Stories are being sent around our family of childhood shenanigans and teen dreams, vintage cars and 21st birthdays.  As someone who’s kept a diary since the age of seven, I applaud this. How people cope without writing down their days is, frankly, beyond me.

Nov blog4

My parents

The above pic is from their engagement party. She was 19, and he was 21. They still look at each other this way, even after what will next year be half a century of marriage. Mum recently wrote that in their first house together they were broke but joyous; Dad was a bricklayer and used his trowel to slather butter on their toast. They were overjoyed to be free of their parents’ rules and used this independence to delight in eating chocolate pudding for breakfast. We can still hear them laughing like naughty kids at some in-joke during family celebrations, hand in hand, heads bent together.

Our latest celebration belonged to myself, and my Wolf. We threw an engagement party recently. We booked a room at our local pub and ordered blue cheese platters and tiny vanilla slices. I bought a 50’s pin up dress with Sophia Loren wrap around top, and hot air balloons and snakes around the hem. I then slid under it a petticoat so full that I had to bat it down to fit through doors. My shoes held big red roses that matched the red lilies tattooed down my arm. Half an hour before the party began we had to lie in bed together, hand in hand, and feed each other Valium to calm us down.

But it was wonderful; beyond wonderful, in fact. How can you not love being surrounded by people who can’t stop hugging you and wishing you well? Even though more than a few squeezed my arm and exclaimed ‘You? Getting married? YOU?’

Nov blog1

In Berlin, where this enigmatic city struck a chord in him the same way it has in me for thirty years

I understand their incredulity. I have, in fact, done a lot over the years to foster it, with my cynicism and independence, my polyamoury and adoration of solitude. So many of my stories have explored not the desire for intimacy, but rather the desire to shy away from it, a topic of much fascination for me, and my characters.

But quite quickly in our courtship, Chris and I bonded over the plague. And I thought, well, here is someone as macabre and melancholy as me: let’s see where this goes. His novel is set in Sweden; mine, Iceland…another good sign. We both have a shitlist that is horribly easy to be placed on, with our spiky tempers and long memories. He bought me a taxidermy workshop for Christmas, while I got him books on religious doomsday cults.

See what I mean?

 

plague pillow

A plague doctor pillow and rogue flamingo…just your average living room

Nov blog 5

Combined interests – witchcraft, the Black Death and apocalyptic painters

I make him spiced cakes for witchcraft sabbats and he gingerly moves my book collection to make room for our new snake tank. We both honour the solstices. My hundredth published story was about him. I’ve now stood on stage at literary festivals and told of our treacherous and terrifying drive across Iceland in sleet and snow, where only his soothing reassurances and Etta James’ sensual songs calmed my heartbeat.

gold-solstice-short-story-rijn-collins

‘Gold’, my 100th published story – read here 

unnamed (3)

‘Crawling King Snake’ at Stereo Stories – my tale of Iceland and intimacy

He’s the first writer I’ve fallen in love with. It changes the dynamic in heavenly ways, let me tell you. When we write side by side for hours, with only a forehead kiss or hand squeeze between us, no-one tells me I’m being selfish for communicating with my pen instead of my mouth. And that’s a blessing of the highest order, believe me.

My pen also threw out this little story for The Big Issue last month, ‘Out of the Blue.’ It details my emergence from the agoraphobia of my early twenties, and the role my pen pals played in that. The road in front of me used to look so narrow; completely lacking in freedom or potential, just a tiny slice of blue sky above factory chimneys. When I could control the panic long enough to creep to the window, that is.

Blue

Read my story for The Big Issue – ‘Out of the Blue’

The road looks pretty damn different now. I never would have guessed it’d involve an engagement party, a snake dress and Valium.

Just between us though, I always hoped the publications would be in there somewhere.

 

 

Permalink Leave a Comment

I no longer eat my stories

September 29, 2018 at 11:09 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

In September I had the lovely luxury of taking time off my day job to focus on my career: putting stories on paper. Woven through both jobs is my deep reverence for words and their wonder, and I still can’t believe I get paid to splash around in ink. My academic background is linguistics, leading me to now teach in a language college in Melbourne’s CBD where I can speak of gerunds and infinitives, pronouns and prepositions until the sky turns dark and I almost skip down Bourke Street afterwards. Have to love a job where you can ask students to analyse both Chaucer and Nick Cave.

Nick Cave Stereo Stories

Rehearsing for my Nick Cave song with Stereo Stories

Recently I caught sight of myself in the train window, glasses on, hair in a messy bun, bag full of books, looking for all the world like an actual grown up who Works With Words.

Still, it’s been joyous to take a step back this month to focus on the novel. With publisher and agent interest lighting a fire under me, I’m taking every opportunity to curl up in my studio, surrounded by snake skins, vintage heels and feminist punk on the turntable, and pour out the words.

Sept2018-2

My writing studio

I also finished the incomparable Hard Copy manuscript development program through the ACT Writers Centre, streamed live from the National Library in Canberra. Three exhausting and euphoric days of ‘Introduction to Industry’ lectures on contracts and copyright, signing with agents and negotiating publicity tours, and everything in between. When I heard the chairman describe us as ‘the next wave of exciting new Australian novelists’, I turned my Bikini Kill record up loud and sang along.

Sept2018-4

Taking a break from my Hard Copy notes

I also took the time to update my website with new publication and podcast links, an updated profile page, and a general spring clean. Go take a peek if you haven’t before.

There was also a trip to wonderful Albury for the Write Around the Murray literary festival, where I performed at a sold out Stereo Stories show after speaking on a panel about alternative forms of storytelling. A fast paced, utterly magical weekend of word work. When I checked into the hotel they’d booked for me and found a goody bag with my name on it, it was another gold moment in a month full of them.

Sept2018- 10

A tulle petticoat, a hotel bed, and a festival bag of goodies

WATM2018

The Form Guide panel on ‘alternative forms of storytelling.’

Sept2018 - 9

Rehearsal space for our Stereo Stories show

Sept2018 -7

Beautiful Albury, New South Wales

Sept2018- 5

A very happy writer, after coming off stage at our sold out show

There was no day more golden than last Saturday, when my Wolf and I took a walk at the water’s edge. All of Melbourne was spread out in front of us across the bay. The first spring blossoms were bursting out of our frozen landscape, and everyone we saw on the boardwalk was smiling at the approaching sunshine, right down to frolicking dogs. It was a moment of great pleasure and promise, and when he asked me to marry him, my yes was immediate.

Sept2018-1

My turquoise ring; vintage and odd, just like me

So that’s my monthly round up: more ink spilling, more punk music and road trips, far too many pairs of red shoes and red pen strokes on my manuscript, and a new life unfurling in front of me and my man.

See you in October.

Permalink 3 Comments

Next page »