Those tattooed arms, and a green-eyed son

May 28, 2016 at 9:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I reached my hand under the flow of water, and somewhere in Romania a man burst into flames.

The pen has rarely been out of my hand since I returned from the Sarah Awards in New York last month, still amazed at having won. I keep meaning to write a blog post about my jaunt to Philadelphia afterwards, exploring Amish country with Erica, one of my most long-standing pen pals. We first met on a feminist punk mailing list almost twenty years ago, and seeing this wondrous woman stride towards me with tattooed arms outstretched at Philly’s Penn Station is still making me smile.

Steam dusted the bathroom mirror. I pinned back the damp curls of hair around my temples while high above Venezuela, two young women peeled the lids off trays of aeroplane food. They were armed with eight words of Spanish for their first step on foreign soil, in a land that would give one woman a broken collarbone and the other a green-eyed son.

I want to write about having four more audio stories accepted yesterday by the ABC, discussing possible recording dates and broadcast options. It’s a dream having producers who don’t baulk at stories of ventriloquist auditions at the circus, burst cloudberries in Helsinki airport or a rogue kangaroo hunter at war with his wife. I can’t wait to get back into the studio.

I chose the burgundy towel. I folded it over the edge of the bath as lightning tore the sky apart in Chennai, monsoon rain sending fish bones and cigarette ends coursing down faded stone streets. Two tourists stood under an awning advertising cola, jeans rolled up in the deluge, watching cats run along the gutters at the top of the houses as the night lit up.

I’d love to tell you about my forthcoming words in Press 53’s ‘Everywhere Stories’ anthology, and ‘100 Lightnings’ by Paroxysm Press. And when I find the time, I’ll fill you in on my appearance at the Williamstown Literary Festival in June, and the fabulous Write Around the Murray Festival in September.

I stepped slowly into the water and lowered myself, letting the heat creep up my skin. Three suburbs over, my next lover slid a finger inside the mouth of a woman with a short temper and a long memory, who would later stand outside my window and watch our shadows move behind my rice paper shades.

I also have an opportunity in late June to pitch my novel to several publishers and agents, so need my manuscript to be in the best shape possible. So if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll tiptoe back to my writing desk, pick up my new glasses, and get to work.

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Somewhere in a desert country, a cat perched in the dust and wrenched the head off a mouse. It paused to lift its face to the sun, blood on whisker tips. Its tail flicked from side to side as I closed my eyes, and slid under the water.

Excerpts from ‘Step into the Fishbowl’, first published in Paper Darts

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Solstice stories

June 28, 2015 at 6:33 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

It may be the ever present influence of my time in Iceland, but I’ve never enjoyed winter more. I’ve been striding all over Melbourne in my Red Riding Hood coat and leopard print gloves, watching my breath cloud in front of me. There’s been mulled wine and cloves, open fires, purring kitties and bubble baths, and my birthday.

Yes, I was born on the cusp of the Winter Solstice…no wonder I keep getting drawn to snowy northern lands.

And there have been stories, as always.

I performed with the Stereo Stories crew at the Williamstown Literary Festival recently, and had just about the most fun on stage since my award winning dance troupe’s performance of Duran Duran’s ‘Wild Boys’ in 1984. I love that burst of adrenalin when I stand in front of the microphone, so I’m happy to be doing it all again next week at the Newport Folk Festival.

Tony Proudfoot Photography

Tony Proudfoot Photography

I’m delighted to have a story of mine, ‘Honey Island,’ included in the inaugural issue of The Vignette Review. This makes me particularly happy because it also holds one from the wonderful Lisa Jewell, a beautiful writer whose work I’ve always admired. We met almost a decade ago in an artists’ collective, and have since jumped on planes and gathered stories together in places as far afield as Russia, Sydney and New Orleans. And without realising it, we both submitted a vignette set in lush Louisiana…some places definitely cast a spell.

The Vignette Review

And my final snippet of inky news is one I’m pretty excited about. I’ve been working with a lovely ABC producer in Sydney, Lea Redfern, to develop one of my stories for broadcast on Australia’s Radio National. It’s my tenth story for the ABC, but for this one we were joined by the wonderful Hollywood actor Jacek Koman, of ‘Moulin Rouge’ and Vulgargrad fame. To be sitting in the studio going over our lines together, and listening to him bring my surly taxidermy flamingo alive, was an experience like no other in my writing career so far.

It’ll go live to air tomorrow morning at 11:35am, but has just been put online, so you can have a sneaky little listen by clicking on the feathers below:

Almost Flamboyant RN

If you’re in the mood for a cantankerous bird, a walk through Melbourne’s laneways, and some Tom Waits, sit on down and have a listen.

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Fire Stories

May 28, 2015 at 11:08 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world – Freya Stark

Amen to that.

A recent writing competition asked for ‘A letter to the trip that changed my life.’ Let me tell you, I had so much joy in pulling out my old photo albums and diaries. My background in linguistics and my ever present need to trawl for stories often leads me to new lands – working three jobs and living in an unheated flat all seems worth it when I can tumble off a plane and onto snow, or cobblestones.

But I always come home.

Click here for a video of me explaining my love of Melbourne

Click here for a video of me explaining my love of Melbourne

There’s something about being Australian that just leads to battered passports, I think. We’re so far from the rest of the world, and I’m forever stirring that isolation into my stories. I love writing about characters who are missing some link in the chain of intimate connection, whether the isolation is literal or psychological. A month in a remote Icelandic fishing village up near the Arctic Circle taught me my utter comfort in solitude is only growing with my years, and I’m not unhappy about this.

At all.

I won the ‘Letter to the trip that changed my life’ competition, for Penguin Publishing and Women of Letters. I wrote about being a teenage exchange student in Brussels, and how that whole incredible year opened my eyes to the wild and wonderful adventures available in this beautiful world of ours. And it made me realise just how much my travels are woven through my stories.

So here are a few snippets of recent news that combine my pen, and my passport:

– The Vignette Review has just accepted a story of mine, ‘Honey Island,’ set in lush Louisiana. It’s for the inaugural issue too, which I’m so happy to be part of.

– I’m back in the ABC studios tomorrow to record a story that combines my love of Iceland with my adoration of Big Mama Thornton – bliss all round, then.

– I’m booked in to perform at the Williamstown Literary Festival next month as part of Stereo Stories, who’ve published several tales of mine set in Berlin, Mississippi and Melbourne.

I had a fabulous time in the Australian countryside recently with the Stereo Stories crew, performing at the Newstead Short Story Tattoo as part of Fire Stories. We had a fat little moon, flowing wine, blankets to rug up in, and flickering bonfires as we climbed on stage…one of the best ways to tell stories I can possibly think of.

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Big love to my man, Tony Proudfoot, for both the stellar photography and the perfect road trip music.

Oh, and so as not to jinx it, I’ll tell you at the very end that I’m one of surely thousands that have just applied for a Travel Writing Scholarship with Lonely Planet and Word Nomads.

I’ll just leave that snippet here, and quietly head back to my notebook.

Don’t mind me, people. As you were.

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Red Riding Hood strikes again

January 31, 2015 at 11:46 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

‘Just sign in at reception, they’ll be expecting you – you know the routine.’

To my delight, I did. I was smiling before the doors had even swung open. I had on a black pencil skirt, a fire engine red blouse tied with a pussy bow, and matching red lipstick. Although no-one could see me on radio, it was my version of armour, and it made my spine just that much straighter as I strode up to the ABC reception desk.

‘Rijn Collins, here to record for Radio National.’

It was a damn good day. The whole process is extraordinary, from sitting in the booth with headphones and enormous microphones, to the gentle guidance from the wonderful producers as they coax my stories from the page and out of my mouth.

Last week I recorded two of my stories for Australia’s national radio station, and loved every minute. One was set in a Paris metro station, reuniting with a beloved pen pal to a soundtrack of Bikini Kill. The other was set on a bus as I headed north from Reykjavik up to the tiny Icelandic fishing village that was to be my home for the next month.

To my amazement, the latter was my ninth story recorded at the ABC, and my 70th story acceptance.

To add to my joy, I’ve just been accepted for another writing residency, this time in rural Finland. In October I’ll head off to the forest, reach for my leopard print earmuffs again, and wait with my hand outstretched for snow.

Until then, this is a story I recorded for the ABC about my last trip to Finland, where the lure of that quirky, glorious country first took hold of me. I can’t wait to get back to this rockabilly restaurant, sit at the hot rod tractor, and order a glass of cloudberry liqueur.

I promise to bring you back stories, ok?

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In the night air

October 24, 2012 at 9:11 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

I was early.

I was also, I have to say, pretty damn excited.

Sitting in a cafe with a strong coffee and an open notebook, I rolled the pen between my fingertips and tried to write. But I couldn’t take my eyes off the building opposite, watching everyone who came in and out.

The day before I headed off on holiday in August, I got an email from a producer at the ABC, asking to record four of my stories for Radio National. I packed this little nugget of joy in my suitcase and at times in Mississippi, Louisiana or Tennessee, I’d reach under the red pencil skirts and gingham halterneck tops in my luggage for a quick stroke of this delicious news; truly something to look forward to on my return.

And so I finished my coffee, closed my notebook, and headed across the road into the ABC’s Southbank studios.

I’m fortunate enough to have recorded my stories for the ABC before, in Sydney last year. This time, I’d well and truly rested my vocal chords in preparation. After three hours in the recording booth last November, I’d come out sounding like Marianne Faithfull after a night of moonshine. And Cuban cigars.

This time, I was put in a tiny booth with a cup of water, a microphone, and headphones. I knew to remove my jangly bracelet and pull my stories, edited to within an inch of their little lives, out of their noisy plastic pocket. And then down the line from Sydney came Lea, the producer, and Phillip, the sound engineer, and we were off and running.

I leaned into the microphone and spoke of sinister puppeteers lurking on the cobblestone corners of a Czech city, of an obsessive compulsive disorder involving an ink stained tongue, and a carnival where the fairy floss turned black and withered on the sticks, one by one.

And let me tell you, it was SO MUCH FUN.

Two of the stories, ‘The old man with birds for hands’ and ‘Swallow,’ will be broadcast this Sunday (October 28th) on ABC Radio National, as part of their Night Air programme. It’ll also be replayed the Friday the following week (November 2nd) at 8pm, and will be available as a podcast on the Radio National website soon. If you’re in Melbourne tune in to 621AM, with different frequencies for other Australian cities. If other parts of the world greet your feet each day, it’s available to be streamed live on the Radio National website.

So if you’re home on Sunday, curl up on the couch, uncork a bottle of red, and let me tell you some bedtime stories.

And if I mispronounce the name of the Czech church the old man loiters at, please don’t tell me.

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To the year of the cat

December 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

As someone who’s kept a diary since they were seven years old, I look at the closing of a year with the same reverence that others reserve for finding truffles or unreleased Nirvana tracks. So here is what’s come to my attention in 2011.

My research for stories can lead me to literally eat paper ripped from my notebook, investigate the fine art of taxidermy,  the last days of Kafka, and the marketing of 80’s lollies, learn Finnish terms of endearment, and spend far too long doing online personality tests, where I was told ‘You are reclusive to the point of being sociopathic.’ Indeed.

I feel so much better now that my friends and I have an apocalypse plan. I can’t reveal all the details, but it involves martinis, pool ponies, and cyanide teeth.

Old school rockabilly ruled my i-pod this year: Wanda Jackson, Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette, early Elvis…the hardcore punk took a step into the background, and hell, did it scowl about it.

The moment I speared a chopstick into a dumpling at my first yum cha, I couldn’t believe I’d lived without it for so long.

Having your words raked over the coals at a writers’ workshop makes the spine straight, but the stories so much richer. I resolve to organise more in 2012; hold me to it, ok?

I can never read too many Rainer Maria Rilke poems, or Vladimir Nabokov short stories.

Being brought a glass of Moet et Chandon champagne in the spa, and then handfed caviar from the outstretched fingers of one of my closest friends, Jessica Tremp, as we readied ourselves for our French dinner party whilst singing to Serge Gainsbourg, is truly one of life’s finest moments.

The Finnish language is inexpressibly beautiful, impossibly complicated, and utterly unforgettable. How could you live without a language that has a word for ‘bouncy cushion satisfaction’ – Hyppytyynytyydytys?

Every single time I head back to Berlin, there’s a flat in Cotheniusstrasse in Prenzlauer Berg waiting for me with lobster coloured walls, a balcony to write on overlooking the cobblestones, and every ‘Mad Max’ movie dubbed into German: Seine Frau haben sie fast umgebracht. Seinen besten Freund getötet. Seine einzige Waffe ist sein 600 PS starker Turbo-Wagen!

I am capable of producing characters who train cats for flash mob performances, indulge in trichotillomania, cheat at card games during a thunderstorm in Estonia, point their rifle at their wife while kangaroo hunting, get paid to seductively lift their petticoat in alleyways by their university professor, hang by their tails from the treetops in Berlin whilst philosophising, think they can control traffic lights, and drink martinis at the Lithuanian Redhead Appreciation Society. And this year, only once did I write a story with Elvis in it. I’m getting better, I think.

It’s never too early for a Bloody Mary breakfast.

Spontaneity is not my strong point. Waking up one morning in Berlin, however, and turning to the glorious Gretchen Cello to ask ‘Babe, do you want to go to Poland today?’, unearthed all manner of richness. Returning after sunset with a smattering of Polish words, a damn fine pair of red polka dot high heels, a plan to visit Krakow next time I’m in Europe, and bellies full of pierogi ruski smothered in sour cream and salt, made it a day to remember.

Lastly, I sent numerous stories out into the world, and my acceptance rate is still outweighing my rejections. With writing accepted by Metazen, Necessary Fiction, Lowestoft Chronicle, Defenestration, Paroxysm Press, No Printer Zone, Untitled, and recorded by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and My Audio Universe in the United States, I can rest my pen in the spine of my little red notebook with a smile.

To 2012…may it be full of ink to spill, rockabilly to dance to, and more than one dirty martini raised in celebration.

And probably at least one Elvis story. I’m trying, people…I really am.

 

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