My stack of spines

May 30, 2019 at 8:44 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I’ve been writing, as usual, but I’ve also been reading.

Lord, have I been reading.

I’ve always been a bookworm but it seems to have kicked into high gear recently. There’s a stack of spines on my dresser, but also in my kitchen, and the studio too. I almost hold my breath when walking past The Sun bookshop in Yarraville, or Brown and Bunting in Northcote, lest my feet automatically turn and walk in, my fingers opening and closing in readiness. As conundrums go, it’s really not a bad one, hey?

Here are some of the books that I’ve slid from a stack recently, and devoured.

Saga Land’ by Richard Fidler and Kári Gíslason

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows how much I love Iceland. Even my pharmacist, hairdresser and vet know how much I love Iceland. My novel is set there – currently getting stuck into manuscript revisions and edits, thanks for asking! I studied the language at university, and I’ve been there many times, including an incredible month-long writing residency in a tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle. Unforgettable.

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Editing advice from my Icelandic fortune cards: ‘Let go of it.’

‘Saga Land’ is deeply engaging. It offers twin strands of the authors’ personal history and travels across that wild, white land, woven in with tales of the sagas and their richly detailed insight into Icelandic culture and history. Definitely worth a read.

‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier

I was a latecomer to this classic. In all honesty, my tastes run more to contemporary titles: I still resent English Literature classes and their force feeding of Austen and the Brontës. Du Maurier is one of my partner’s favourite writers, so when I found this gorgeous version of ‘Rebecca’ in Ampersand, Sydney’s revered second-hand bookstore, I couldn’t resist (their brunch of black sticky rice, coconut cream and caramelised bananas with crushed hazelnuts also got a huge thumbs up). I started reading this book at the airport flying home to Melbourne and could not put it down for a week. I kept sending my man texts along the lines of ‘I can’t believe Max de Winter did (spoiler)!’ or ‘Oh my god, Mandelay (spoiler)!’ This glorious Gothic suspense novel makes me want to visit Cornwall, and scan more bookshelves for du Maurier’s name.

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Delights at Ampersand Books, Sydney

‘Angry Women in Rock’ edited by Andrea Juno

This book is an old favourite of mine. I bought it in the 90’s when I joined several online communities dedicated to writing and putting out feminist punk zines. These interviews are just so invigorating: Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill), Lynn Breedlove (Tribe 8), Joan Jett and my absolute favourite, the incomparable Val Agnew from 7 Year Bitch (one of THE best bands of the 90’s). I love the fiery opinions, the delicate artwork, the Goddess tattoos, and the reverence of metal and punk music. I often pull this off the shelves for a dose of feminist fire.

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Interview with the extraordinary Valerie Agnew from 7 Year Bitch

‘The Natural Way of Things’ by Charlotte Wood

What the HELL just happened? This was my bellow to my bestie as I came to the end of just the first chapter (!) of this staggering, controversial and unforgettable book. I took it as a holiday read for a quick New Year’s jaunt to Tasmania, but I did not get much rest. The cover should have warned me, with its praise from other authors along the lines of ‘A haunting parable of contemporary misogyny…sly and devastating’ (The Economist) and ‘You can’t shake off this novel; it gets under your skin, fills your lungs, breaks your heart’ (Christos Tsiolkas). Ten young women are abducted and held in a makeshift prison in the middle of the stark Australian outback, the heat and desert a jailor in itself. The women come to realise that all they have in common is involvement in ten different sexual scandals with prominent men; kept away from society, they are all being punished and can either turn to, or against, each other. I will say the ending had me wanting to pull my hair out, but in all honesty, I hope a reader reacts with the same vehemence to one of my books one day.

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Charlotte Woods’ astonishing ‘The Natural Way of Things’

There are many, many more books to detail! I would love to add:

  • ‘The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Culture of Longing’ by Rachel Poliquin (the first draft of my novel may have come to an end, but my love of taxidermy research that arose from it will never cease)
  • ‘The Tricking of Freya’ by Christina Sunley (more Icelandic stories)
  • ‘Beautiful Revolutionary’ by Laura Elizabeth Woollett (gorgeous writing about the startling People’s Temple cult)
  • ‘A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists’ by Jane Rawson (odd and engaging fiction that defies definition: part speculative, part cli-fi prose set around my area of Melbourne’s industrial west).

 

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Sign found in a bookstore in Kallista, the Dandenongs

Rebecca on Sydney windowsill

Windowsill bliss

And on my To Be Read list?

  • Lucia Berlin’s ‘A Manual for Cleaning Women.’
  • Daisy Johnson’s ‘Everything Under.’
  • Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s ‘Butterflies in November.’
  • Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Jamaica Inn.’

And I am always ready to hear your recommendations, or your thoughts on any of the above books. My stacks of spines are tall, you know, but they could always get taller.

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Feasting season, with fire

April 30, 2019 at 10:46 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

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My beautiful snake familiar, Elva

It’s Hallowe’en tonight in the Southern Hemisphere, and I’m feeling it.

Our seasons are reversed from the Northern Hemisphere, so our Sabbats are too. Winter is almost here. Melbourne is chilly, with the sky dark before I even put my key in the lock after work. I cooked a gorgeous wintry meal for my man and stepson, fed and scratched my rotund and irascible punk rock cat, and am sitting here with a glass of pinot noir, working on a submission for a short story anthology.

This month has been extraordinarily busy in ink-spilling scope. I’ve been poring over the suggested edits by my agent for my novel manuscript, researching Icelandic sagas and skalds and taxidermy techniques to put within its pages. I applied for a UNESCO Cities of Literature writing residency in downtown Reykjavik, for which I had to update my CV. It took a lot longer than I expected and resulted in me staring at newly added publications and festival appearances, podcasts and prizes, with my hand on my throat and an odd little murmur of pleasure. I entered a contest run by a feminist literary magazine, and another by a prestigious Australian publication. I recorded several short stories for All The Best Radio about ‘Feasts’, set in Brussels, Melbourne, New York and Darwin. And I loved the mail telling me a monologue of mine is going to be performed as a theatre piece next month in Sydney.

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Recording for All The Best Radio, on the topic of ‘Feasts’

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One of my favourite places to write; in my friends’ studio in Moyston, Victoria

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For when you need to step out of the books and back into the body: Sunday afternoon archery sessions

So forgive my absence, but the pen is always in my hand. I also don’t think I’ve ever read as much as I have this past year, sometimes several books a week. They’ve moved, infuriated and impressed me, and on quite a few occasions made me thump the table in heated discussion with loved ones.

Those are always good nights, hey?

Winter is just around the corner. Here in Melbourne it seems to have already arrived, but just between us, I love it. I want open fires and mulled wine, snuggling and snow. I’m getting married on the Winter Solstice in the mountains yet still stubbornly insist I’m going to do it in bare feet, winter witch that I am. Let’s see how that goes, shall we?

This is just a little wave to say I’m still here, and still writing.

Happy Hallowe’en to you and yours.

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Elva of the Equinox

March 23, 2019 at 1:42 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

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Bird bones, cat box, leopard print…my writing studio (photo by Shannon McDonald)

I knew straight away I’d broken it. The pain was extraordinary. I managed to limp to the shower but stood under the water with my head against the tiles, trying not to throw up.

Of all the mornings to accidentally smash my toe against the brutal feet of our new couch, it had to be today.

There was no way I could cancel. I struggled into my clothes and with sheer bloody mindedness, zipped up my knee high leather boots. ‘It’s not too bad,’ I protested to my man, who winced as he watched me. ‘Why don’t you wear something more practical?’ he asked. We both knew why. I’d had my outfit picked out, professional with a tinge of rockabilly sass, and was determined to wear it: high boots, pencil skirt, and a red blouse with pussy bow, my tattoos spilling out of the cap sleeves.

And so off I limped to meet the literary agent who had requested my novel manuscript, and was waiting to discuss it with me over coffee.

Like I said, an appointment I did not want to cancel.

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Writing at the lake, in Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland

Melanie knows her stuff. She’s worked in publishing for over twenty years as an editor, publisher, consultant, educator and literary agent. It was an amazing opportunity to have her insight into my manuscript, and well worth limping into Melbourne for.

We chatted for two hours. My pen flew as we went over what did and didn’t work, about the Icelandic writing residency that inspired my novel in the first place, the cold up near the Arctic Circle and the myths and sagas of that wild white land. We spoke of spells and solstices, the taxidermy I’ve been doing as research, and the macabre and Gothic undercurrents that fuel myself and my ink. And in between I soaked up her wisdom on pacing and narrative tension, character charts and dialogue, scribbling as many notes as I could.

When I capped my pen I had five pages of ideas and inspiration…and yes, I had an agent.

I am beyond delighted to have signed with Melanie Ostell Literary. I pulled the contract from my letter box yesterday, smack on the Autumn Equinox, a perfect time to start a new cycle. I’m excited about the next draft, and the opportunity to hone and tighten my manuscript, and see where we can take it.

In the month between drafts, I really missed my protagonist, Elva. It’s felt odd not to delve into her life, her studio apartment in Reykjavik, her Icelandic lessons and taxidermy attempts. Putting the manuscript away for a month left quite a hole in my life. So in my own peculiar way, I filled it with a tiny baby snake, which I (of course) named Elva.

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Elva, new member of the family

She’s a hatchling, so inquisitive and affectionate, who loves being handled and has captivated our whole household. No bites yet.

Maybe she thinks a broken toe is enough for me to deal with right now, hey?

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As I sing my song to the sea

February 9, 2019 at 9:19 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I know I’ve been absent, but for the best of reasons.

I’ve been writing.

And I’ve finished my novel.

My last post described my retreat in the Dandenongs where I put my head down and worked on the last stretch of my manuscript, with nothing but walks in the rainforest and Big Mama Thornton singing the blues to distract me. Two weeks later I flew over to Tasmania in a propeller plane that had me clenching my teeth, but which brought me to a beach side house where I again sat for days, typing away as I listened to waves crash only metres away.

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Sisters Beach, Tasmania

I welcomed the first day of 2019 with a swim in the ocean, bobbing around under the bluest of skies as I sang my offering to the sea goddesses. Then I dried myself off, and wrote some more.

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Beach side bliss, Sisters Beach, Tasmania

Last week I could see the finishing line approach. I sat in my studio back home in Melbourne, surrounded by my skulls and snake skins, my Icelandic spell books and photos of my writing residency in the tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle that had inspired my manuscript in the first place.

And then I wrote those magic words.

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I barely had time to drink my champagne before I was given two weeks to edit it for the agent who’s been patiently waiting to read it since June. So now I’m back in my studio, head down, Big Mama crooning, honing my words as I edit, stitch and strengthen the project that’s been my passion for three years now.

All the emotions are swirling right now, but among them is joy.

I would love to stay and chat, but I have work to do.

Hold my whiskey: I’m going back in.

Finished novel!

Excited and exhausted at the finishing line

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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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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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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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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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Anthem

July 31, 2017 at 8:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

I’ve been thinking about beautiful things lately.

One of my stories, ‘Akathisia’, has just been published in the Beautiful Things column of River Teeth. This gorgeous literary journal of non-fiction narrative is one I’ve long admired, and this column is a perfect example why. It celebrates the golden moments in life: ‘the glimmers, reflections, river shimmers, keyholes, and cracks where the light gets in.’ I’m so honoured to have my work published by them, and recommend you go take a peek through some of their stories.

The column has inspired me to reflect on the beautiful moments in my life…and lord, there are so many.

  • Watching winter light pass through my writing room, and the gaze (and occasionally, the gentle snores) of my cat as she accompanies me.
  • Listening to the glorious voice of Mahalia Jackson in those moments I feel my balance faltering. For a punk little pagan, I sure do love my gospel music.
  • That email from an editor saying ‘Yes, yes, we love your work: we want to publish it.’ Nothing. Like. That. Feeling. In. The.World.
  • Walking in the forest behind my Wolf and his Cub, watching their animated conversation in the most gorgeous light, and feeling so privileged to be part of their journey.
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Ms Marlow, familiar and judge of procrastinating dance outbursts 

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Mount Macedon majesty

  • Standing knee deep in snow again outside my first writing residency, up near the Arctic Circle in Iceland, that most treasured of sacred spaces for me.
  • Workshopping my novel with the Wolf, also a writer, with a scarlet sunset outside, a jug of creamy stout on the table between us, and his hand on my thigh.
  • Seeing the joy on my nephews’ faces as they run towards me, calling my name.
  • The industrial edge of my new home in the west of Melbourne, and the enormous bridge at the end of my street that I always stop and smile at.
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Siglufjörður, far northern Iceland

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Spotswood sunset for scribes

  • The fur, feathers, skulls and skins in my writing studio, tracing the journey of the protagonist in my novel, and by extension, expanding my collection.
  • Watching my beloved best friend’s dimples flash on a cliff top in Italy in April, glass of sweet wine in hand, plate of lemon peel pasta in front of me, and the most extraordinary of ocean views before us.
  • Reuniting this week with an old pen pal from twenty years ago, who once took me in and showed me around Hollywood, and whom I’d always rued losing touch with. Bless the internet! The Pagan Profiles website introduced us all those years ago, and filling in the blanks of each other’s lives since will be a joyous journey. I already have an invitation back to LA, and I just might take it. The power of letters cannot be underestimated.
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Studio snake skins and skull

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The Amalfi Coast, shared with my beloved and her dimples

The story of mine just published in the Beautiful Things column is my 101st published, performed or produced story. There are always days where rejection letters hit the heart, where the pen falters and pages remain blank, or criss-crossed with the red lines that say ‘I doubt this, I doubt that, and I doubt myself.’ But when I read River Teeth’s description of the stories they publish in the column, I’m reminded of Leonard Cohen, and his wise words.

Even his pen must have faltered sometimes, but he still knew to pick it back up again.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen – ‘Anthem’

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Medusa knows best

May 30, 2017 at 10:55 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

My friends are particularly adept at selecting stellar gifts for me. These range from a taxidermy workshop to Culture Club concert tickets, a bat skeleton to a tattoo design. An artist friend drew me an astounding Medusa for my thirtieth birthday; she decorates my left arm with her mesmerising stare and defiant pose, reminding me whenever I need it most how to straighten my own spine.

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Icelandic fortune cards found at a Reykjavik flea market: ‘Let go of it.’

This present, however, was not on my birthday but as a random I-love-you-and-I-thought-this-would-make-you-happy gift.

The Wolf bought me a DNA test.

I’ve always known my heritage to be Celtic. My grandfather was from Belfast, and passed on to me both an adoration of books, and an Irish passport, in addition to my Australian one. I overdosed on the Pogues and Van Morrison by working in an Irish pub for almost a decade, and studied Gaelic for years (although it’s so challenging that all I can do now is order a Guinness, and tell someone to fuck off – a heady combination).

But while I’m deeply grateful to be able to travel so easily through Europe, it’s not Ireland or the UK that I’m drawn to.

I head for the fjords, every time.

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Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland

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Siglufjörður, northern Iceland

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Akureyri, northern Iceland

I’m so smitten by the snowy lands; always have been. Last month I returned from my beloved Iceland, with my Wolf and best friend Lisa in tow. We drove from one side of the country to the other on ice slicked roads in gale force winds, Lisa and I sharing capfuls of duty free vodka to stem the nerves. I showed them the tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle where I did my first writing residency, and where my novel ends (or will, when I finish it, all muses considered). I walked around Siglufjörður and Ólafsfjörður in my army boots and red riding hood, tracing where my protagonist eats, drinks and dreams, and then headed to Reykjavik to consider her stomping ground down south.

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The street in Reykjavik where Elva lives, the protagonist in my novel

It was my fifth time in Reykjavik. The city – and country – spellbinds me. The bright primary colours of the buildings, the veneration of literature and language, the crunch of boots on snow, the glorious northern light, the stench of sulphur water when you turn on the shower….wait, that last one was kind of hard to cope with, actually. But the magic worked again, as I suspect it always will in that otherworldly land. I’ve returned to Melbourne even more full of a desire to head there again and again, and importantly, to pour out more of my novel as often as I can.

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Downtown Reykjavik

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Blues gig poster, Reykjavik

My muse works well in sub-zero temperatures, as writing residencies in Iceland and Finland have shown me. She’s standing over me with a bowl full of Skyr and a snow boot tapping impatiently, reminding me to WRITE WRITE WRITE.

My DNA test results came back. When I saw the circles drawn on a map of Europe, showing me my ancestry origins, the 36% Irish surprised no-one. There were tiny traces of the Iberian Peninsula, Central Asia and Jewish heritage, which fascinated me. But damn, the intake of breath when I saw the second biggest area of ancestry, a circle drawn around the northern countries I adore.

Nordic: 35%.

The Wolf was right: happiness guaranteed.

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Siglufjörður snow in day

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