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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The people will sing their way through the forest

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

My writing studio is small, but lovely.

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

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

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

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Brussels

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

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

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Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland

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Joutsa, Finland (Photo by AmyMAndersonArt)

 

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

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Mulled wine at the Moat, Melbourne

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Beautiful domed Reading Room of the State Library, Melbourne

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

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Pearled antlers with coronets – my studio

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Snake skins and kingfisher skull – my studio

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

My writing studio is small, but lovely.

 

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