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) (, , , , , , )

Rilke

 

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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I have been her kind

June 30, 2016 at 11:14 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I like things I’m not supposed to.

When every other person in Melbourne is looking out their window and cringing at the grass bent heavy with frost, the skeletal trees and the sky darkening with storms, I’m secretly beaming. When I can pull on my red riding hood coat, pour a glass of mulled wine, and reach for my leopard print ear muffs, it’s a fine day indeed. Born on the cusp of the Winter Solstice, this is my favourite time of year.

Winter witch

Winter witch

Red riding hood in Iceland

Red riding hood in Iceland

Winter solstice bonfire, with my Wolf and his Cub

Winter solstice bonfire, with my Wolf and his Cub

I like things I’m not supposed to.

I tore into my birthday presents and instead of wishing for jewellery or something silky to slip into, my eyes lit up at what fell out of my card. The exquisite image of a woodcut graced the outside of the card, and my Wolf had written such gorgeous words within that I almost forgot the present. But then I opened the paper that had fallen into my hands, and found a voucher to a taxidermy workshop that made my heart flutter.

The opening scene of my novel is when my protagonist, Elva, attempts her own taxidermy of a mouse on her kitchen table in Reykjavik, Iceland.

In the process of writing it, my flat has slowly acquired an Icelandic dove, a bedraggled duck, a deer skull with magnificent antlers, dolphin vertebrae, a bell jar of snake skins, a kingfisher skull, a birthday bat skeleton, a striped quail, and a snow goose suspended above my writing desk, his wings outstretched towards me as I type.

Knowing my beloved people have allowed me the privilege of experiencing the art myself, is such a blessing.

Birthday bat skeleton

Birthday bat skeleton

Snake skins and deer velvet

Snake skins and deer velvet

Pearled antlers with coronets

Pearled antlers with coronets

I like things I’m not supposed to.

I stood backstage and watched the hall fill. A sold out show of 260 tickets meant a hell of a lot of noise, and as people settled I straightened my little black dress, readjusted the red flower in my hair, and went over my story again. It was my second time performing at the Williamstown Literary Festival with Stereo Stories, and my excitement at striding onto the stage had just grown with time. I know public speaking is something most people dread, but I absolutely love reaching for the microphone, looking up at the lights, and telling my tale. It’s just as well, as on Saturday I’ll be repeating the performance at Melbourne’s Newport Folk Festival, with my spot at the Write Around the Murray Festival booked in September.

Stereo Stories (Tony Proudfoot Photography)

Stereo Stories (Tony Proudfoot Photography)

I like things I’m not supposed to.

Welcoming winter, flesh eating beetles and admiring bones. Army boots slipping on mud, hood up to catch snowflakes, bonfires warming frozen fingers. A watchful crowd, a waiting microphone, steps to a raised stage.

Solitude, snow and solstice.

And stories…always, always, stories.

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The Sarah Awards

March 26, 2016 at 11:51 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

There are some characters that are difficult to pour into a notebook, and then leave there.

I’ve been spending time with Elva, the protagonist in my novel. She’s a half Australian, half Icelandic taxidermist living in Reykjavik, hiding the darkness of her obsession between the lavish pelts and flesh eating beetles of her profession. Sometimes when I’m writing, I can hear her boots crunching on snow, and smell the sulphur of the underground hot springs.

My time in Iceland is never far from my mind.

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Then there’s the foul tempered barmaid with a Welsh flower tattooed on her chest in ‘Early Dog Violet‘ and the kleptomaniac southern son in ‘Elvis Would So.’ I still smile at the Australian backpacker mistaken for a member of Lithuanian Big Brother in ‘I Like Your Deer’s Moustache, and Other Lithuanian Tales’, the sinister shadow puppeteer in ‘The Old Man With Birds For Hands’, the cherry beer swilling voyeur of ‘Street of the Candlesticks’ and the woman counting her rib bones on Rachmaninov’s old bed in Russia in ‘True, False and Floating.’

But I have a special place in my heart for my surly, splenetic taxidermy flamingo with a smoker’s cough, a foul mouth, and the inclination to sing Tom Waits songs on a Melbourne tram.

The resultant story in its ABC podcast, ‘Almost Flamboyant,’ will never be far from my heart now, as it’s just won a Sarah Award in New York. This competition from Sarah Lawrence College celebrating ‘the best in audio fiction’ is being advertised with the byline ‘Movies have Oscars, TV has Emmys…now audio fiction has The Sarahs.’ This definitely made all manner of exclamations fly out of my mouth, believe me.

I was on a packed peak hour tram to work when my producer, the amazing Lea Redfern, rang me to gasp that our story had been announced one of three finalists, with the first, second and third places being announced on Friday April 1st at the award ceremony in New York. Ahem. And did I, perhaps, feel like going with her to pick up our prize, with assistance from the organisers?

To my utter amazement, my flights are booked, my dress is laid out, and I’ve given Lea the address of my favourite café on the Lower East Side to meet her on Friday, just before the award ceremony. It’s being held in the Greene Space, in the New York Public Radio’s headquarters, organised by Ann Heppermann, a producer from This American Life.

The first thing I’ll do when I see Lea is reach over and give her a firm, ebullient, and utterly amazed ‘I-Can’t-Believe-We’re-Really-Here’ pinch.

So wish us luck! And as always…I’ll bring you back stories, people.

I promise.

TheSarahAwardsLOGO

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Fire Stories

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

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

Amen to that.

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

But I always come home.

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

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

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

At all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t mind me, people. As you were.

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Stories for a rijny day

March 7, 2015 at 11:38 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

    Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their names.
    ~Japanese Proverb

My name confuses people.

Rijn.

I love the way it looks, with the two tittles hovering perfectly symmetrical over the bottom strokes, as though they could, if they wished, just reach over and hold hands.

See, a tittle. Even the dots above an i and a j have a name.

The first time I held a book and saw Rijn Collins in the index of stories, I remember placing my hand over my chest. I didn’t speak. I thought that if I could feel my heart hammering, could feel that thump against my palm, it was proof that I was standing at the book launch with my elated friends and straight whiskey and highest heels and not, as I suspected, still asleep and dreaming.

The day I see my name down an actual spine will be pure gold.

rijncollins[1]

So the problem’s not how my name looks, it’s how the hell to pronounce it. This is especially important given that I’ve been working with ABC producers to adapt my stories for radio. Go on, have a go at pronouncing it, don’t be shy: we’re the only ones here.

Lean towards your screen and try it.

While my last name is Irish, my first is Dutch, so don’t feel bad if you’re frowning. It’s pronounced ‘rain’, and is the Dutch word for the Rhine River. There.

ChoukeliefCollins

The night I met my boyfriend, he added me on Facebook to send me an invitation to a gig the next night. And I felt a little thrill when I saw his surname: Proudfoot. I couldn‘t have written it better myself.

The students I teach come from multicultural backgrounds, and often have an English nickname. In the ten years I‘ve been heading a language class I‘ve taught Biscuit, First, Melon, On, Off, Lotus, Golf, Zero, and Bong, amongst others.

When I asked the latter if he knew what a bong was, he gave a Beavis and Butthead laugh that told me, oh yeah, he knew.

Naming characters is a challenge. If you’re planning on throwing them into a short story, you’ll probably have your own process for this, if you name them at all, that is. But a novel…well, if you’re going to commit 70,000 words to someone, you better get it right.

My novel has just gone through a complete shakeup, including rewriting the first 30,000 words. I’d tell you more, but then I’d have to eat three plums counter-clockwise, set a snakeskin on fire, and do the Nutbush in my bathroom. Just in case I jinxed myself, you see (not that I’m superstitious…no, not at all).

So I’m in the process of renaming some of the characters. It’s not helping that it’s set in Iceland, where choices must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee (itself going by the rather fabulous moniker Mannanafnanefnd). And here I thought naming my short stories was the tough part.

poison berries

I secretly love that, though. Scrolling through my titles, I can see I‘ve had great fun plucking words from the air and stringing them on my story necklace. If you haven‘t read these, pour a glass of pinot and feel free to take a peek.

And then they all ate poison berries, and died
The old man with birds for hands
Elvis would so
I like your deer‘s moustache, and other Lithuanian tales
Early dog violet
Shelter for the shipwrecked
True, False and Floating

And the title of my novel?

Well, I’ll let you know…just as soon as I do.

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