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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Belladonna and black cherries

December 28, 2015 at 9:39 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

When I was a child I used to count.

The shadows on my bedroom wall, the spines on my beloved books, the whiskers of my cat and the folds in the fabric of my flannelette Fraggles pyjamas. It was a ritual that never failed to comfort me.

I don’t count so much anymore. When I need solace there are adult solutions: deep breaths, basking under a ripe moon, pen strokes across thick parchment, phone calls to friends and occasionally, straight whiskey.

Adult solutions, like I said.

A frowny little fraggle

A frowny little fraggle

But at this time of year I pull out the abacus and string my days along it, and let me tell you, my smile is wide.

2015 saw half a dozen published stories, four more recorded at the ABC studios, one Hollywood actor reciting my lines in front of my wide eyes, one invitation to submit my work to the Australian Writers Guild Awards, performances at five literary festivals, two competition wins and one writing residency deep in a Finnish forest. Add to that one leap of faith in submitting a story to the New York Times (rejected, as perhaps expected, but so exciting to hit ‘send’ on that one), six collaborations with musicians and photographers, four applications for fellowships, one invitation to write and narrate a half hour radio show, and one nascent Instagram account to display all of the above.

That’s one lovely paragraph, I think.

Instagram photo - that first sip of Belgian cherry beer

Instagram photo – that first sip of Belgian cherry beer

Instagram photo

Instagram photo

Instagram photo - Porto, Portugal

Instagram photo – Porto, Portugal

2015 also welcomed in two taxidermy workshops as research for my novel, a deer skull with antlers, one bell jar for my many snake skins, one tiny kingfisher skull in a case on my bookshelf, and several porcupine quills to hold together my snaking red curls.

Books read: couldn’t even begin to count.

How I wish I looked while writing...

How I wish I looked while writing…

Friday afternoons spent with my coven of artists, discussing love, life, lust and art over wine and laughter, red notebooks dotting the tabletop among sketch pads and cameras: about thirty.

New tattoos: for once, none, but one request to extend my red swamp lilies down my right arm. So 2015 sees me with only three inky flowers, three cauldrons, three spirals, and thirteen black and blue snakes, their tiny heads writing across my skin.

Belladonna swamp lilies and snaky tresses

Belladonna swamp lilies and snaky tresses

This year there was one Finnish residency hosting four artists, five studios, three house cats, one sighting of the northern lights, six invitations to the sauna, three village pubs (Huutula!), countless meals of reindeer and bottles of cloudberry wine, and one protective wolf outside my window.

Squirrels sighted: only one, damn it.

Photo by AmyMAndersonArt

Photo by AmyMAndersonArt

Kiitos, Haihatus!

Kiitos, Haihatus!

Three jaunts to Helsinki, one zebra patterned bachelor pad, seven vintage clothing stores, one tiny chihuahua in a diamante collar stroked by a Russian man with unbelievably luxuriant dyed black hair, and one rockabilly bar with Soviet hot rod tractors, flames painted on the sides.

AmyMAndersonArt

AmyMAndersonArt

With the sassy southern Amy, at AmyMAndersonArt

With the sassy southern Amy, at AmyMAndersonArt

Ten days in Portugal saw one amazing motorcycle ride, five enormous glasses in a single port tasting session, one cable car ride over fractured red rooftops, dozens of serpentine streets running with scores of tough little alley cats, nine wrought iron balconies in the three apartments we rented, seven black and white photos in a Lisbon flea market, six sunsets over the River of Gold, several fado CDs, one nervous poodle peering over a balcony, and so many Portuguese custard tarts that I blush to even think of it.

My new house - I wish, I wish - in Porto, on the River of Gold

My new house – I wish, I wish – in Porto, on the River of Gold

Overlooking the River Douro, Porto

Overlooking the River Douro, Porto

Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto

Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto

Amsterdam gifted me with at least a dozen bridges stretching over sparkling autumnal canals, countless vintage stores, one big red rockabilly flower for my hair, one traditional Dutch fishing village, two men on bicycles wearing clogs, far too many plump salty bitterballen to dig toothpicks into, and many Irish coffees under Hallowe’en decorations. Rotterdam gave me one beautiful friend and her new baby, fifteen years of amazing friendship, ten Korean pancakes and so much laughter my ribs hurt.

Terugkomen is niet hetzelfde als blijven...Amsterdam

Terugkomen is niet hetzelfde als blijven…Amsterdam

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And Melbourne? One small flat filled with dictionaries and red high heels, a rotund black cat to watch over it all, one novel to dig deep into, two more residencies to consider for next year, an abundance of story ideas and a pile of little red notebooks to spill them into as the cycle turns and 2016 comes into view.

I couldn’t ask for more, really.

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Here’s to 2016…may it bring us all belly laughter, a wealth of friends to share it with, and as always, inky fingertips to splash across the page.

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Kiitos

November 30, 2015 at 9:55 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I woke this morning and for a moment, thought I was back in the forest.

There was no music coming from the ground floor studios though, and no purring Finnish kitties curled up on my bed. I would not be mashing up boiled eggs to fold over the top of delicious rye karjalanpiirakoita for breakfast, or pouring black coffee into the soup mug I’d bought my first day at a flea market, covered in the blueberries that were my first Finnish word on my 2011 visit; mustikka.

Melbourne is beautiful on the last day of spring, but my head is still in the forest.

I spent the whole of October at a writing residency in Joutsa, a rural town in the midst of Finland’s Lake District. I arrived after a week of ruby port and decadent pastéis de nata pastries in Portugal with my beloved Lisa. As soon as I hit Helsinki the temperature dropped, the prices doubled, and the hood of my red riding coat was up for the first time since my previous residency in Iceland, this time last year.

Back to the wild northern lands I love, with my whole heart.

Haihatus residency, Finland

Haihatus residency, Finland

Haihatus residency, Finland

Haihatus residency, Finland

No snow for me this time; Finland was in her full autumnal glory, and she’d never been more bewitching. The colours of the forest, people! The colours of the forest. I wandered every evening at dusk, and found myself in tears of awe on more than one occasion. The light was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and the trees looked as though they’d been dipped in gold. For a woman whose feet are utterly at home in stilettos on city footpaths, my writing residencies in remote rural places steal my heart in ways I’m still processing.

Joutsa forest, Finland

Joutsa forest, Finland

Joutsa forest, Finland

Joutsa forest, Finland

The residency was huge, with buildings scattered around the grounds that were a delight to explore; a gallery space here, a lookout on stilts there. On my third night the call went out – to the sculpture garden, quick! I grabbed my red riding hood and raced after the other artists. I didn’t even know we had a sculpture garden (oh, you Finns) but found myself standing with head back, mouth open, as the northern lights danced above our heads. Indescribable. How lucky am I that I saw them last year in Iceland, and now here? Pen in hand, heart in throat, it was a gold star moment of the most wondrous kind.

Sculpture garden, Haihatus, Finland

Sculpture garden, Haihatus, Finland

Cheerful Lobster in the sculpture garden

Cheerful Lobster in the sculpture garden

Protective wolf outside my bedroom forest

Protective wolf outside my bedroom forest

My favourite place was the Pitkospuupolku, a narrow wooden path through the forest that the Joutsa guidebook had described with the line ‘In the Joutsa forest you can walk all alone, feeling like it almost kindly swallows you.’ Bliss of the best kind, breathing in the silence and solitude, watching sunshine sparkle on the water as I wrote, snacking on smoked salmon and rye bread, washed down with cloudberry cider on a full heart.

The Pitkospuupolku through the forest, Joutsa, Finland

The Pitkospuupolku through the forest, Joutsa, Finland

My favourite image of my trip

My favourite image of my trip

And I wrote, Damn, did I write. The joys of a residency, where writing is not an indulgence, or anti-social, but understood, and welcomed! In a studio filled with turpentine and taxidermy, I spilled ink until my fingers ached. Then stretched, scratched one of the house kittes, Purhonen, Korhonen and Räisanen, and wrote some more.

My studio

My studio

My studio in the gorgeous afternoon light

My studio in the gorgeous afternoon light

Korhonen and my taxidermy muse

Korhonen and my taxidermy muse

I took a mid-month jaunt into Helsinki with Amy and Joao, artists from the U.S. and Brazil. I knew Amy was kindred when we turned up for a walk to the local Joutsa pub wearing matching animal print ear muffs, and I wasn’t wrong. I took them to my favourite Helsinki restaurant, Zetor, the setting for a previous ABC story of mine called ‘Every Good Day Deserves Gingham.’ We ate reindeer and lingonberries around Soviet era hot rod tractors, sang to AC/DC in punk bars, and revelled in the exuberant joy that comes with sharing a city you love.

Animal print and cocktails...Amy, let's go to HUUTula!

Animal print and cocktails…Amy, let’s go to HUUTula!

With Joao at Zetor, my favourite rockabilly bar in Helsinki

With Joao at Zetor, my favourite rockabilly bar in Helsinki

And then my suitcase came out again.

The rest doesn’t need to be told: the last reindeer steak, the last walk through the forest, the last time I turned the lights off in my studio. I know I’ll be back, to both Finland and Haihatus, the residency…at least, I have to keep telling myself that, or I never would have left.

A hammock in my final Helsinki apartment..yes, yes, a hammock.

A hammock in my final Helsinki apartment..yes, yes, a hammock.

Loving and leaving Haihatus residency, Joutsa, Finland

Loving and leaving Haihatus residency, Joutsa, Finland

Kiitos, Finland, and all I met there…thank you, for a month full of gold stars, and golden light.

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When the seas elongated the skies

October 8, 2015 at 9:13 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

Fado was born on a day,
When the wind barely stirred,
And the seas elongated the skies

We stopped eating when she walked in.

Everyone did.

I had one sliver left of salted cod on the tines of my fork, and wanted it, badly. As if she knew, she turned her head my way and fixed those dark eyes on me as she strode to the stage. Her floor length skirt provided no opposition as she climbed the stairs; each swirl of black silk seemed as daunted as we all were, and hurriedly flung itself out of the path of her stilettos.

I put my fork down.

The two guitarists on the stage waited, their gazes demurely at their feet as she picked up the microphone. Coolly, she surveyed the cellar.

And then she raised the microphone, and began to wail.

On the main rail of a sailing ship,
In the chest of a seaman
Sorrowful he sang.
Sorrowful he sang.

River Douro, Porto

River Douro, Porto

It was heart stopping. It was dramatic. It was fado.

We’d wanted to see a live performance of Portugal’s traditional melancholy music ever since we arrived, but the days had been so full of adventuring that we hadn’t found time until this, our last night. We’d been scorched by the hot Portuguese sun at the Feira da Ladra flea market in Lisbon and admired the beautiful Azulejo tiles decorating churches and crumbling derelict buildings. We’d crooned to alley cats basking on sun warmed cobblestones, creatures so tough they refused to move for cars and instead snarled ‘Go around, go around!’

Rua da Reboleira, Porto

Rua da Reboleira, Porto

Porto, Portugal

Porto, Portugal

There was the incredibly picturesque village of Sintra, whose Moorish castle high on the hill made our calves ache for days. A ride on a cute little funicular up Lisbon hill delighted Lisa no end, and a meal in an Art Deco wonder of a old jewellery store where the menu held ‘spiritual pie of cod’ and ‘smashed salad’ delighted me.

Rua das Flores, Porto

Rua das Flores, Porto

And there were more Portuguese custard tarts, pastéis de nata, than one woman should legally be allowed to consume, their delicious little tops scorched to a molasses black.

Lisbon holds both the world’s oldest bookstore, the Betrand, while Porto has the world’s third most beautiful, the Livraria Lello, and I will not argue about that, so stunning was it. And yes, Lisa, I finally admit that the bouncer outside making people queue was, in fact, entirely justified.

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But our favourite day started with a walk across the majestic bridge in Porto, a cable car ride down to Vila Nova de Gaia, and a port ‘tasting’ where six euros brought us this magnificent tray. And let me point out, those glasses are filled with port, not wine. Ahem.

Port tasting, Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto

Port tasting, Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto

Can you beat a ride through Porto’s serpentine cobbled alleyways in a vintage World War II motorcycle, racing out to where the River Douro, the river of gold, meets the Atlantic? Not if you then follow that up with some fado in a cellar restaurant where the singer growls at everyone ‘you will pay attention while I sing’ as we all put our forks down, and turn to the stage.

I’m going to assume that’s what she said. I have no Portuguese, but I do have a writer’s imagination, remember?

And it’s going to be given free rein here, for I’ve just landed in Joutsa, a village in rural Finland, for my second writing residency. The scenery is stunning, with tall elegant trees stretching into a bright blue Nordic sky, rich autumnal colours all around, and sub-zero temperatures that make my throat hurt when I breathe.

I love it already.

Finnish stories, coming up!

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Silver and song

September 5, 2015 at 10:43 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

It’s time to pull out the leopard print ear muffs again: I’m off to my second writing residency.

Finland is odd, stylish, quirky and absolutely beautiful. Four years ago I sat by the Helsinki harbour eating cloudberries and watching sunlight sparkle on the water around Suomenlinna island. I made a promise to myself that I’d come back one day and explore rural Finland, wandering in the snowy forests it’s famous for.

Another residency, another project proposal, a gathering of portfolio stories and editing of my CV, and another press of the ‘send’ button.

And they said yes.

Sauna elf

In three weeks I’m off to Haihatus, an artists’ residency 200 kilometres from Helsinki. Just like I did in Iceland this time last year, I will tip my little red notebook upside down and watch Nordic stories flutter out like snowflakes.

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If you’d like to keep up to date, I’ve just joined Instagram and will be posting there @rijncollins.

I had the good fortune to be interviewed in one of my favourite literary magazines, SmokeLong Quarterly, where I was asked about the relevance of setting in my stories. For a linguist and traveller whose battered passport is always close by, I’ve come to realise that setting is a key component in my ink, and a source of constant inspiration.

I’m very finely attuned to my surroundings. That might seem like an odd thing to say – aren’t we all? – but in my early twenties I spent several years agoraphobic, unable to even go to my mail box without a Valium shield. I still remember bracing myself against the door frame, fingers fluttering around my collarbone as I tried to will my feet over the threshold. The fact I can now stamp in snow in Iceland, swill voodoo daiquiris in New Orleans, and strut the serpentine alleyways of Hong Kong, fills me with immense gratitude.

My latest story, ‘Silver and Song’, has just come online in THIS magazine. Places can regenerate us, help us renew and recover…but sometimes, like this main character, it’s the last thing we’re ready for. The canoe trip years ago that inspired this story is real, through the Macalister River in rural Australia, with new buds poking through the scorched earth. I’ll never forget rowing until our arms ached, pulling the canoes onto the river bank for the night, and the sound of the guitars melding with the noise from the dogs.

Click here for 'Silver and Song'

As for the rest of it, well, the lines between fact and fiction are so blurred after all these years that I haven’t even tried to untangle them.

Maybe it’s better that way, hey?

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Mustikka month

March 22, 2015 at 11:27 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

The last time I was in Finland, I stayed in a castle.

Well, it was a hotel decorated to look like a castle…I’m a writer, you have to expect me to embellish. I ate breakfast each morning in the cellar dining room, smearing black bread with sour cherries. I tied on my ballet flats and walked all over Helsinki, past the markets with their pyramids of shiny fruit, past the houseboats whose windows I wanted to peek into, far north towards an elusive flea market.

I got lost, more than once, but I didn’t care.

I stopped to buy a drink. When the shopkeeper asked about Australia, he was amazed to hear that it was winter there. I was perplexed, assuming everyone knew the seasons were reversed in the opposite hemisphere. He stood with one raised eyebrow, clearly suspicious. ‘If that was true, wouldn’t I have heard about it by now?’ he asked. Satisfied with that logic, he waved me out of his shop. I drank an iced coffee on the footpath and retied my ballet flats.

I kept walking.

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When it was clear that I was again lost, I stopped an older man in a black leather jacket, walking a tiny sausage dog. He gestured at his throat and made chopping motions with his hands. I wondered if this were a strange Finnish custom. He pulled a small cracked notebook out of his pocket and wrote ‘Throat surgery. Keep talking.’ I walked alongside him, the sausage dog prancing around us, as I tried to pronounce the name of the flea market. He nodded, pointed at his chest, and then raised a hand over the other and made walking movements on one palm. ‘Me too,’ I thought he was saying. ‘Let’s walk together.’

We spoke for fifteen minutes, without him saying a single word. He gestured with ringed hands, mouthed some words, and scribbled with a blunt pencil whenever I needed clarification. When I tried out my Finnish pronunciation he laughed silently, chest heaving. I didn’t mind at all. His presence made me smile, right down to the tiny dog.

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The flea market was in an old building down by the river: I would never have found it by myself. He shook my hand goodbye, gave me a thumbs up, and turned away. Half an hour later he tapped me on the shoulder and handed me an old black and white photograph from the 40s. It showed a woman with wide legged pants, sitting on the ground with her back against a door. She held a glass in one hand and a book in the other, just like me at dinner the previous evening. I loved her immediately.

The silent man was swallowed by the crowd before I could say kiitos, thank you. I bought an old t-shirt of a Russian punk band, a pair of red high heels, and a punnet of fruit. I held a blueberry up as I walked back to the main road, practising the Finnish. Mustikka. I wondered if the silent man would have laughed, had he heard me.

I ate dinner that evening in a rockabilly bar, surrounded by chicken wire. I wore gingham and ordered reindeer, washed down by cloudberry liqueur. When I looked up I saw a middle-aged Finn in nothing but denim hot pants, literally skiing down the footpath, his poles jammed between the cracks. And I grinned, took another sip of cloudberries, and kept reading my book.

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Today I booked my ticket back to this wonderful, quirky, beautiful country. I’ve been awarded another writing residency, this time in the woods of rural Finland for October. As in Iceland, I’ll have a month with a house and a studio, and I will write every day.

I got dressed up for the travel agent in my red heels, pencil skirt, and sheer blouse with a bow. I even curled a little victory roll into my hair. It seemed like a day for it, somehow.

Then I had a glass of merlot in the late afternoon sunshine to celebrate the wondrous places my ink takes me to, when I have the faith to close my eyes, and leap.

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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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Every Good Day Deserves Gingham

April 7, 2012 at 7:44 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

When I first read the writing theme of New Beginnings, ideas immediately began to fall from my pen. There was the time I quit my three jobs, broke up with my boyfriend, gave away my eighteen year old cat and moved to Brussels to drink coffee in a bowl from my window above the cobblestones, learning Flemish terms of endearment and French curses.

Or maybe the time I first laid eyes on a certain blue eyed cowboy who was to shake my perceptions in several unbearable, unforgettable ways. Perhaps the first time I ever held a book of stories in my open hands with my name in the index, or maybe the wonder of standing at a Culture Club concert in 1984, watching the blue mohawked and tattooed freaks of Melbourne and thinking, You mean we’re allowed to DO that?!

But what eventually came out of my pen was…gingham.

And reindeer.

The resultant story, Every Good Day Deserves Gingham, was accepted by producers at the ABC, and in November I flew to Sydney and recorded it. Tomorrow morning at 10:05 am, it’s being broadcast on Radio National as part of their 360 Documentary series. If that doesn’t suit, it’s also available to download from the website.  A second story, The Secret Things You Know, will be aired later in the year as part of another project.

So if you can, brew a coffee and spend Easter morning around the radio, like in days of old.

Except this time with Soviet hot rod tractors in a Finnish rockabilly bar.

 

Remind me to tell you the Culture Club story sometime though. That day still has a lot to answer for.

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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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Not riding rabbits in Finland

August 14, 2011 at 11:25 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

My first day in Helsinki, all I knew were two words of Finnish. One was kiitos, thank you, and the other is apparently the most offensive word in the language. That first day, I was so jetlagged that each time I bought a coffee, I was afraid I would get the two mixed up and inadvertently call the barista a particular part of the female anatomy.

Thanks to my fascination with inappropriate phrasebook sentences, I’d also researched ‘This gentleman will pay for everything’, Tämä herrasmies maksaa kaiken, but so far haven’t managed to work it into a conversation.

I love Scandinavia. I adore the isolation up here, the weather, but most of all the languages. When I stopped someone to ask for directions to Kaartinkaupunki, I wanted to hug them for allowing me to even say the word in the first place. But unlike the other Scandinavian languages, Finnish is not Germanic – it’s a beautiful, complicated, quirky tongue whose closest relative is its cousin Hungarian, and even they haven’t spoken in years.

Quirky is an apt word. I did some youtubing (apparently it’s a verb now) before I left Australia and blinked at the rather bizarre results; Finnish hockey mafia. Charlie’s Angels speaking Finnish. Weird Finnish guy freaks out while eating liquorice. Jabba the Hut speaks Finnish.

Then there’s the loveliest idiom about not being in a hurry, Ei olla jäniksen selässä, literally ‘not to be riding a rabbit.’ Add to that the fact that the World Wife Carrying Championships, the International Phone Throwing Competition, and the World Air Guitar Championships are held here, and really, how could you not want to visit?

I’m drinking it all in, walking kilometres each day and relishing the fact the Finnish drink more coffee per capita than any other nation. From the huge flea market down by Uudenmarkt where I bought a Russian punk T-shirt and befriended a mute blues musician, to the cowboy pub on Manneheimintie where I ate smoked reindeer washed down with cloudberry liqueur, surrounded by tractors, to the boats down by the harbour loaded with crates of fresh fruit for sale, where I saw a Finn in hotpants literally skiing down the street…every day gifts you with stories, if you know where to look.

And I do, believe me.

 

My only regret is that in all my research, I failed to notice that I missed Helsinki Rockabilly Week by one day.

Now that would have been something…all that Finnish gingham!

 

 

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