Nostalgia night

December 30, 2019 at 3:54 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

It’s old school all the way for me. I love placing a blues record on the turntable. I rely on hand-drawn maps to navigate new places. I write long letters to beloved pen pals in faraway countries. I hand write bass tabs to punk songs to pick out when nobody else is home to hear me play.

Bronco bass and Marlow muse

And I print out photos. I label them and place them in albums. I slide them into frames, tuck them into notebooks, and paste them into diaries. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you: I write diaries too, but I doubt that surprises you.

I’m sitting on the floor of my writing studio, photos of this past year spread out on the red shag rug around me. These are some highlights of my 2019.

I celebrated typing THE END of my novel manuscript by welcoming a small snake into our household of bird bones and deer skulls. She was a hatchling, tiny enough to wrap around my fingers and snuggle inside my bra while I wrote. We were so proud when she shed her first tiny skin. The Medusa tattoo on my left arm never felt so fitting.

Beautiful little Elva

I finished the first full draft of my manuscript at the urging of a literary agent, who then met me for coffee a few days later. I had my outfit all laid out; my hands only shook a little. When I smashed my foot into the couch on the way out, breaking my little toe, I didn’t even think about cancelling. I just limped all the way there, hanging onto lamp posts for support. Her feedback was extraordinary, her interest buoying. Signing with her agency is still one of the most exciting moments of the year, painkillers notwithstanding.

Signing with Melanie Ostell Literary

Waking up on the Winter Solstice and smiling at my Wolf on the pillow next to me, knowing that in a matter of hours we’d be married in a pagan hand-fasting ceremony, was a golden moment not just of 2019, but of my life.

Hand-fasting ribbon, broomstick and black cat.

My Wolf and cub

The first stop of our honeymoon was Brussels, my old home. So many memories, so many diary entries written with a cherry beer in my hand and the cobblestones below my window! Standing in the Great Place, my absolute favourite place in the world, with my husband, was something I’d never even thought to imagine. When we were joined by my beloved pen pal of twenty years, whom I first met in an online feminist punk collective in the early days of the internet, and her man, the joy was intense. Cue Jacques Brel singalongs, walks in the rain, more cherry beer, and the tightest of hugs.

Serenity

Contentment and cobblestones

A month later, back home in Melbourne, I was putting a record on the turntable in my studio when my man called my name. He was staring at his phone. The email was the one all writers wait for: we love your novel, and we want to publish it. We’re sending the contract tonight. I cried and wanted to shout it from the rooftops: he needed to sit in silence and process it. The following photo is at the train station on our way home from dinner and drinks to celebrate. I still love the look on his face.

Stay tuned for details of his upcoming novel!

Though my writing focus this year has been on finishing, honing and submitting my own novel, there have still been road trips to perform at literary festivals, as well as short story publications, residency applications and even planning books number two and three. My Icelandic spell book is still open on my desk; the snow is still all over my writing desk. And I will have some news to share very, very soon.

Iceland…setting of my first writing residency, and my novel.

In the meantime, I wish you a new year full of words and their wonder, in whatever form you prefer. See you in 2020.

Photo by Shannon McDonald

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Words on a winter wing

July 20, 2019 at 10:05 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I asked Emily which was her favourite in the museum. She led me back to a Monet water lily, the first she’d ever seen, from 1919.

This is when I let her in on a secret: it can be yours. No different from falling in love with a song, one may fall in love with a work of art and claim it as one’s own.

‘Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me’ by Bill Hayes.

This gorgeous passage in Bill Hayes’ memoir brought my favourite artwork instantly to mind: the Betrothal of the Arnolfini by Jan van Eyck. At the age of seventeen I flew from Australia to Brussels for a year-long student exchange, and began a lifelong love affair with everything Flemish; the painting, the language, the architecture, and the divine black cherry beer. The first time I stood in front of van Eyck’s masterpiece in The National Gallery in London, my septum threaded with silver, my ripped stockings and army boots below a tattered punk t-shirt, I was instantly catapulted back into the Middle Ages. Its power was startling to me; still is, in fact.

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‘Betrothal of the Arnolfini’ by Jan van Eyck

Ownership of your artwork does not come free. One must spend time with it; visit at different times of the day or evening, and bring to it one’s full attention.

Van Eyck led me to delve into the witches of Goya, the intricate rabbit sketches of Dürer, the apocalyptic torment of Hieronymus Bosch, and the wry humour in Brueghel. As Hayes explains, it’s not just paintings that can provide these stories and their inspiration, but also books, songs, photographs, architecture…it can be anywhere, if you know where to look.

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Hieronymus Bosch

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Albrecht Dürer

Perhaps the best part about possessing art in this way is that what’s mine can be yours, and vice versa. In fact, I would not be surprised if half of New York City has also put dibs on the Monet that Emily chose. This made it no less hers.

There are streets in Brussels that belong to me. Rue Chair et Pain (Street of Flesh and Bread) is where I bought my coconut incense in 1989, my backpack full of French homework I didn’t quite understand. Rue des Renards (Street of the Foxes) spills its cobblestones into the site of an old leper colony, then a flea market, where I haggled for a tartan ‘mini jupe’ skirt in 2002 that made a workman lay his pipes on the road to slowly applaud me as I walked past. In 2006 I often walked through the Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés for a gingerbread salad and sweet rosé at Café Coco opposite the Jacques Brel museum, writing postcards home to Melbourne. And in 2011 I stood outside a red-walled house on Kandelaarstraat (Street of the Candlesticks) and beamed up at the window of the bedroom I dream I’m still living in.

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Brussels windowsill (photo by Lisa Jewell)

Which brings me to music. I don’t know if you can share ownership of a song, but if so, I’m going to claim Big Mama Thornton. I love her blues so much I wanted it played at my wedding a few weeks ago. Chris listened to the sultry sighs and moans in the song I’d chosen. ‘Is that really a wedding song, babe?’he laughed. ‘Your dad is going to be there.’ I hadn’t thought of that.

In the end we went with David Bowie’s ‘Word on a Wing’ as I walked down the aisle in my red velvet dress. I barely heard the songs we chose, I was so spellbound by Chris’ beautiful face waiting for me at the altar. We wrapped a red silk ribbon around our wrists in a witchcraft hand-fasting, and these two writers promised each other a life of words and their wonder. Etta James’ ‘Loving You More Every Day’ played as we signed our marriage certificate; Nick Cave’s ‘Breathless’ saw us back down the aisle and out of the chapel.

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Wedding photos by Rebecca Murray

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Our honeymoon is in Brussels in four weeks. We’re going to visit Brueghel’s house and play Jacques Brel songs. I’ll take him to the flea market, sit him down with a black cherry beer, and see if I can still haggle in Flemish and French.

I cannot wait.

But don’t be hasty. You must be sure you are besotted. When it happens, you will know. 

I brought Emily in closer to her new acquaintance: ‘Emily, meet your Monet. Monet, Emily.’ 

Words did not fail her. ‘Hello, beautiful,’ she whispered.

The morning of our wedding was damn cold in the mountains outside Melbourne. The witch in me had chosen the Winter Solstice, after all. I woke early, before him. We’d stayed up with whiskey and tunes the night before; our rings were ready on the bedside table, my dress hanging on the bathroom rail. I watched him sleep. His head was turned away from me on the pillow, his arms wrapped around himself.

I leaned down and gently kissed his sleeping shoulder.

‘Hello, beautiful,’ I whispered.

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