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.

Nov 5

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.

Nov2

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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4 Comments

  1. martinc said,

    Love the Cat’s head..:). I too have a passion for the art. How do your friends react to your love of tax. ? Most of mine are like…..”Ahhh…Yeah..ok”…Never done one of my own. Collected quite a few over the years..Mostly sold on now as my partner is not a fan, but that’s cool..Still have my first one. A large Cat i found in a Russell Street Pawn shop back in the 80’s. 🙂 Vivid memories of bringing him home on the.train wrapped in a duffel coat. Got some very odd looks :).

    • inkymouth said,

      Funny you should say that about the duffel coat! I’ve just had a story accepted by ‘The Big Issue’ about my taxidermy journey, including taking home a bedraggled duck on the Footscray bus, and a large white snow goose on the V-Line train from Woodend into Melbourne. Definitely a conversation starter. My friends are used to me by now, but my mum is still waiting for me to stop collecting with her fingers crossed 🙂

  2. Rebecca Murray said,

    Fantastic! You are on fire xx

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