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.

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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?’

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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?

 

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

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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.

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

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‘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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Rehearsal space for our Stereo Stories show

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Beautiful Albury, New South Wales

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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.

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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.

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Tales from the Bowery

August 31, 2018 at 3:10 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

‘His favourite sound was the click clack of typewriters […] He knew exactly how much words cost and what consequences they can have: how they can start but also stop the opened organ of the heart.’

‘The Lonely City’ by Olivia Laing

The above book has kept me spellbound this month. An elegant, erudite look at intimacy (or lack thereof) through the prism of artists in New York City, Laing’s reverences for the words she selects is exquisite. This is such a moving, beautiful book to read.

The first time I saw the skyline of New York was through the window of a Greyhound bus, fat full moon hanging low over the skyscrapers. All the breath was sucked out of me. I had flown from Australia to meet a pen pal I’d been writing to from an online feminist punk collective, Erica, and we explored the area I knew would forever more be my NY stomping ground, the Lower East Side.

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The Bowery, New York City, 2006

Four years later I returned, again with Erica, and smitten by the Bowery, I booked us into a hostel opposite CBGB’s that was so foul I’ve just spent a very entertaining fifteen minutes reading online reviews of its horrors. From the drunk men passed out on the floor of the lobby that we literally had to step over, to the blood stains on the sheets and walls that only reached head height, it remains the worst place I’ve ever stayed at. Even the reception cat had a broken leg and coughed up a furball of warning at my feet when I checked in. I do have a dollop of fondness for it, however, as it became the topic of my first magazine publication, a clipping I still have in a drawer somewhere.

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New York City, 2009

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New York City, 2012

That trip I had a backpack stuffed with diaries, linguistic textbooks and my university degree. I was moving to Brussels, having left my boyfriend, my 18-year-old cat and my whole life behind in Melbourne. It was in Brussels, living in a medieval house in the Street of the Candlesticks with blood red floorboards and my makeshift altar in the corner, that I had my first taste of the loneliness that Olivia Laing writes so hauntingly about.

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In Rue des Chandeliers, Brussels, 2006 – click here for story

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In Rue des Chandeliers, Brussels – click here for ABC audio story

I’d lived in Brussels as a teenage exchange student for a year, and fallen in love with both the city itself, and the glorious bliss of solitude and independence. When I moved there again at 33, it was to put down roots and carve out a life of Flemish freedom. Or so I thought. The news that the man I left behind had moved on with a new partner, three months after I left, broke me apart. I drank whiskey for breakfast, I lost weight; I stopped speaking. I had no-one to speak to anyway, to be honest. I practised my broken French and Flemish on the alley cats. But the words did come out of my fingers too, and I wrote my way above ground again.

‘Art was a place where one could move freely between integration and disintegration, doing the work of mending, the work of grief, preparing oneself for the dangerous, lovely business of intimacy.’

‘The Lonely City’ by Olivia Laing

Being alone in a new city has immense challenges, but for me, the rewards are undeniably rich. Many of my travels have been solo adventures, loner that I am, including uprooting my life and moving overseas twice. I love to dine alone, with a book and a wine and a full heart. Some of my happiest memories have been me, in a new city – Helsinki, Albuquerque, Hong Kong, Reykjavik – walking the streets with the knowledge that no-one in the world knew where I was at the point in time. But I know the flipside also, and finding it within the cover of Laing’s book reminds me in beautiful, painful ways.

The protagonist in my novel knows this also. Iceland is a precarious place to find your feet, and she falls between the cracks in the language, the culture and society. But lord, how I love finding the words to describe it.

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Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland – click here for ABC audio story

My love of my hometown, Melbourne, has also been on display this month. I was delighted to be one of the writers selected for the Melbourne Writers Festival this year, with my story for the Reading Victoria project being recorded and played on an audio loop in the Star Observation Wheel. I took my Wolf on the wheel, and the joy of hearing my own voice tell of my love for my city, while we soared above it, was one I won’t forget. Being part of the celebration of Melbourne’s 10th anniversary of our UNESCO City of Literature designation is also a joy.

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On the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel with the Wolf 

I keep thinking of New York. My last trip, in 2016, was for the ridiculously exciting reason that one of my audio stories, ‘Almost Flamboyant’, had been selected as a finalist in the inaugural Sarah Awards for International Audio Fiction. I was so stunned when we won that I pinched my producer, hard, and then gave a bemused speech where I named all my taxidermy. Waking up to our photo in the New York Times the next morning is a jewel I keep taking out and polishing, and admiring the light that shines from it. New York sure looked good that trip.

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Picture from the New York Times

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Celebratory dirty martinis, New York City

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To hear our winning story of a taxidermy flamingo possessed by the spirit of Tom Waits, click here 

So that’s August for you! Next month I’m heading interstate to perform at the Write Around the Murray literary festival in Albury, New South Wales…more travel, more words, and always, always, more stories to report.

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Rapunzel, Rapunzel

July 31, 2018 at 2:55 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I read about Rapunzel syndrome, where sufferers ate the hair they wrenched free. The strands knotted inside them, plump and dark, deep within their belly like a swallowed secret.

‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel’ by Rijn Collins

Of all my ink, my Medusa tattoo is my favourite. She stands proudly on my left arm, hands on hips, draped in a long flowing skirt. Thirteen blue, black and silver snakes writhe in front of her bare breasts, wrap themselves around her pointed feet, or curl out from her beautiful face, almost feline in its angularity.

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Matt Burke Photography

My skin tells other stories too; a trio of cauldrons, glossy red holly berries, words from an Irish spell, a scarlet and black swirling triskele, and my most noticeable – and colourful – tattoo, nine blood red trumpet lilies wrapped around my right arm and curling over my shoulder, behind which snakes charcoal Art Nouveau ivy tendrils.

Again with the snakes, hey?

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Belladonna trumpet lilies

My Medusa tattoo features in my latest story, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel’ up now at Memoria. This wonderful podcast focuses on short memoir extracts, ‘micro-stories about the moments that shape us, and how memories change over time.’ I narrate my tale of obsession, regeneration and yes, more snakes, all beautifully produced in a little slice of audio lasting 5 minutes and 32 seconds. So settle back with a glass of red and let me read you a story…and take a wander through the other stories on the site while you’re there.

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Illustration by Peta Manning – click here for story

I ran a hand through my hair, falling in deep red waves to my waist. I imagined my snakes as they writhed, glowing in the late afternoon sunshine. It’s all I could do not to reach up and pat them.

‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel’ by Rijn Collins

If you think I’ve finished with the serpent stories, you’re wrong. My lovely Wolf has decided to buy me a snake for my birthday, and we’ve been searching. We have the tank (and a rather alarmed cat, sniffing the scales of the previous tank tenant), and are fitting it out with a thermostat and hide. In Australia you need a licence to acquire one, just in case you were tempted to go out and catch yourself a wild one. My licence arrived on the same day that my Medusa story came online, which also happened to be World Snake Day. Little bit witchy, me.

In other writing news, I headed to rural Victoria for some red dirt, kangaroos, a bonfire, and a studio to pour out chapters of my novel. There was also the wonder of my Wolf chopping wood, and the opportunity to mix whiskey with toasted marshmallows, and feel this little cutie snuggle into my mane.

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Moyston, Victoria

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Moyston, Victoria

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Moyston, Victoria

I’m also delighted to be part of the Melbourne Writers Festival this year, where sections of my recent Reading Victoria piece on the West Gate Bridge will be adapted for audio, mixed with six other writers’ tales of our home suburbs, and played on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel in August. To hear the story in its entirety, go to All The Best Radio and listen to their wonderfully produced audio version.

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My West Gate story on All The Best Radio – link here

Pair that with two more Stereo Stories performances lined up in September, and an invitation to be a panellist at the Write Around the Murray festival in New South Wales, and as always, I’m never short of reasons to pick up a pen.

Look at that…I managed to finish this without more references to snakes.

Almost.

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Count to ninety, and leap

June 30, 2018 at 10:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Ninety seconds is not a lot of time.

In ninety seconds I could read some flash fiction, mix a martini or translate one of my Icelandic fortune cards. But is it enough time to sit in front of a waiting publisher or literary agent to pitch my novel?

I’m possibly making it more dramatic than it was (which is my job, after all). To be specific we had three minutes in front of each person, half of which was recommended to talk about our publishing achievements and pitch our project, with the other ninety seconds left free for any questions they had. With a roomful of other writers waiting in queues behind me, and a loud timer ringing constantly, there was no room for timidity. I had a straight spine, a handful of business cards, a blood red dress that stood out in a sea of Melbourne black, and a sold out performance at the Williamstown Literary Festival to head straight to afterwards.

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My business card

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Rehearsals for the Williamstown Literary Festival – photo by Eric Algra

A big day, then.

And a rather spectacular one. I apparently managed to make a novel about a taxidermist with an obsessive compulsive disorder in the snow and solitude of Iceland sound ‘odd and beautiful’, and walked out of there with three invitations to send in my manuscript when it’s finished. The advice I received was invaluable, as was the professionalism and expertise of those who donated their time; if you ever get the chance to attend a ‘literary speed dating’ event, jump at it. I am even more enthused to KEEP WRITING, stick to my schedule, and focus on the story that has had me enthralled for some time now.

My participation in the Hard Copy manuscript development program from the ACT Writers Centre has also been astonishingly inspiring. Designed to nurture ‘the next wave of exciting Australian novelists’, the first round involved three 9am-5pm sessions of lectures and workshops from the National Library in Canberra. As a member of their inaugural digital program, I accessed these from my writing studio via live streaming, with a constant supply of coffee, a loving partner bringing me snacks, a curious cat intruding into microphone range, and some very stiff neck muscles.

Point of view, present or past tense, interior struggle versus exterior atmosphere, titles and word count, with chats in the side bar and moving camera angles. My pen flew, and my fingers on the keyboard also. So many of us put value on talismans that helped our ink flow; my ring holding a chunk of Icelandic lava, my fortune telling cards bought from the Kolaportið flea market in Reykjavik, and my framed chart of the skeletal system of a small finch above my antique writing desk, to guide my protagonist’s hands through the taxidermy that opens my first chapter. Knowing this is a peculiarity of many writers felt like a blessing.

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‘Let Go Of It’

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Bird bones in my writing studio

Sharing the digital program with five other inspired and inspiring women from all around Australia was a dream come true, and we’re already talking about flying in to meet each other for a group whiskey weekend.

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My writing studio

As the Luddite of the group, I fared remarkably well. Given that the following is the opening paragraph of my recent article in the Victorian Writer magazine, I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief that my participation in the Hard Copy Digital stream was so seamless.

The first time I used the Internet, I was reluctant. So I could just type in any subject, and articles or photos would magically appear? A technophobe at heart, I hid my intimidation behind scorn. ‘Who would want that?’ I remember asking. ‘It won’t last.’

Round Two of Hard Copy begins in September, a week before I’m booked to appear at the Write Around the Murray literary festival in Albury, NSW. Last night I performed with Stereo Stories at the Glen Eira Story Telling festival, and two weeks before that there was the sold out show at the Williamstown Literary Festival. In between I recorded my love story to the West Gate Bridge at RRR studios for All The Best Radio, a piece that was first published in the Readings Victoria project to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Melbourne’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature. Also due soon is my contribution, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel’ to the wonderful Memoria podcast, airing on July 16.

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At the RRR studios for All The Best Radio

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Stereo Stories at the Willi Lit Festival – photo by Eric Algra

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Just a woman and her giraffe dress – Williamstown Literary Festival

As if I needed more reason to spill ink, last week saw my birthday and the winter solstice, and a lovely, loving group of friends in a haunted house with open fire, Nancy Sinatra singalong and full heart.

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Walhalla, Victoria

 

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Walhalla Cemetery, Victora

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Walhalla, Victoria

Let’s see what inky wonders July brings, hey?

 

 

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Artemis April

April 30, 2018 at 10:05 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Full moon, black cat, snake skins and open notebook…that’s how I see this cycle in.

My March entry had me sending so many of my words out into the world, and I’m happy to say that many of them returned rosy-cheeked and full of joy. Here’s a little roundup of what’s happened over the last month…

  • I recorded two stories with the wonderful Nat for Memoria Podcast, and loved every moment. Writing for audio requires a different approach to words, an awareness of how they sound instead of look. This makes me step outside my comfort zone and look at my writing from a fresh perspective, something I always love. Stay tuned for release dates on both stories.
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Memoria recording

 

  • I’ve just been asked to speak on a panel at the Write Around the Murray literary festival up in Albury, New South Wales in August. This is one of my absolute favourite lit fests, set in a gorgeous town scattered with Art Deco architecture and run by some of the most passionate arts folk I’ve met. I’m looking forward to it greatly.
  • The current Victorian Writer magazine holds one of my stories on their collaboration theme. I wrote about my work with musicians, painters, photographers, producers and other writers, including my performances with Stereo Stories, and the magic such collaborations can produce.
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The Victorian Writer collaboration issue

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My story in The Victorian Writer

  • Speaking of which, rehearsals are currently underway with my Stereo Stories crew for our next performances: we’ll be at the Williamstown Literary Festival and the Glen Eira Storytelling Festival, both in June. Line up and ticket details coming soon!
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Rehearsing with Stereo Stories for the Williamstown Literary Festival in June

  • There’s been a production meeting for the film being made from my short story, ‘Snowblind.’ This is entirely new territory for me, but talks of screenplay, cast, set, location and music are immensely exciting. What was I saying again about taking me out of my comfort zone, and looking at words from another angle?
  • Finally, an email that made me beam: I’ve been accepted into the HARDCOPY manuscript development program, which aims to develop writers who will have ‘longevity in the Australian publishing industry.’ This amazing opportunity helps writers hone their manuscript and have their work seen by high-profile agents and publishers. Little bit exciting, that.

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So that’s why my monthly roundups have been coming at the last day possible – because I’m so busy writing, editing, recording, applying, rehearsing and rewriting that I can barely put the pen down.

But when I do need to step outside the page and clear my head, to focus on my body instead of the books, this is how I do it. Sometimes I channel Anne Sexton, sometimes Artemis.

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April, you’ve been gold, you have.

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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.

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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