If your life is burning well

February 28, 2017 at 9:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

They say that on a list of fears, public speaking would rate highly for most people.

Here’s the thing: I love it.

Seeing audience seats fill is a beautiful sight. The butterflies generally kick in at this point, watching just off stage. But they’re the joyous, I-can’t-believe-I-get-paid-for-doing-something-I-adore flutters of excitement that make me reach happily for the microphone.

No, my list of fears is markedly different from most. It includes, just so you know, an absolute horror of people who walk on stilts, and a case of trypophobia that renders me mute in the face of crumpets.

But that’s another story entirely.

Noir Exhibition

Performing ‘The Old Man with Birds for Hands’ with Michael Madden on cello

I hit the road again last weekend as part of the wonderful Stereo Stories. I perform regularly with this talented and dedicated troupe of writers, singers and musicians, and love every moment. We tell the tales of why a song resonates for us; whether it reminds us of our first lover or our last birthday, the people who’ve bruised us or the places that have nestled under our skin. On stage we have a full band performing the songs as we read, or sometimes a lone singer/guitarist. This combination elicits heartfelt responses from the audience, with many appreciating the songs with a fresh perspective, or even hearing them for the first time.

And when they approach me after a performance, I often ask them ‘What songs would you write about?’

My own writing pieces on the Stereo Stories website cross genres, ages and moods. I’ve written about wanting to see Babes in Toyland in concert in my feminist punk obsessed 20’s, yet being held prisoner by my agoraphobia. I wrote about sitting in a karaoke bar near my artists’ residency in a tiny rural village 200 km from Helsinki, listening to a poignant Finnish version of Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down.’


The Pitkospuupolku through the forest, Joutsa, Finland

There’s a tale of mine about narrowly escaping sexual assault my first night living alone while listening to Ike and Tina Turner, and another about dragging my suitcase along a U-Bahn platform blissfully humming my time honoured return-to-Berlin song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

I once ended up in Jackson, Mississippi only to realise I was there purely for the Johnny Cash song. And I had the unique experience of watching a character of mine come to life in an ABC recording studio, in the shape of a surly taxidermy flamingo singing a gravelly Tom Waits songs.


Berlin Wall


My latest addition to my flamingo collection

My most personal story on the website, however, is a tribute to both Leonard Cohen and the man who’s changed the course of my life with his gentle yet wolfish ways: my partner and fellow writer, Chris. It was at times daunting in its intimacy, but what are songs if not conveyors of human emotion and experience? Listening to ‘Undertow’ by Leonard Cohen in our first flush of love is a gorgeous memory, even more so now that Cohen has left us.

For all my Stereo Stories, click here.

On this latest road trip for Stereo Stories, Chris and I hit the road with the Rolling Stones on the stereo, bad petrol station coffee, and excited thigh squeezes. Australia is made for jaunts like this with its wide open roads and sun bleached landscape. We passed kangaroo and koala road signs as we drove 250 km north, before hitting Wangaratta and our motel.

Rehearsals gave way to quick pizza and beer refreshment before the stage lights lifted. And it was, as always with Stereo Stories, a joyful experience. The Wangaratta crowd was warm and welcoming, the band and readers hit their stride beautifully, and then there were long and lovely chats back at our motel well into the night, discussing life, love and everything in between, with glasses of shiraz and shared slots on the stereo.

Stereo Stories (Tony Proudfoot Photography)

And there you have it. Be it Williamstown Literary Festival, Newstead Short Story Tattoo, the Emerging Writers Festival, Brimbank Readers and Writers Festival, Newport Folk Festival, Write Around the Murray Festival or any future adventure, it’s always a joy to climb on stage and reach for the microphone.

So in closing, let me ask you…what songs would you write about?

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Smokestack Lightnin’

April 18, 2014 at 1:12 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

When an editor accepts a story for publication, they ask for a short bio and more and more frequently these days, a publicity photo to go with it. I’m fortunate enough to have many photographer friends generous with their time and talent, who know how to help me relax in front of a camera (we’ve found that whiskey, Nick Cave and teasing tend to work best).

Steph Tout Photography

Steph Tout Photography


Helen Isabella Photography

Helen Isabella Photography

Photography by  Adrian Carmody

Photography by Adrian Carmody

Matt Burke Photography

Matt Burke Photography

The bio is another matter, with this being my current version:

Rijn Collins is an Australian writer with a fondness for red notebooks, black coffee and stories about circus folk. She’s had more than fifty short stories published in anthologies and literary journals, performed at festivals in Melbourne and Chicago,and broadcast on Australian and American radio. She’s currently working on a novel, and trying not to include Elvis in it: so far, so good. More of her work can be found at www.rijncollins.com.

I meant it about Elvis: he finds his way into many of my stories. I’m not the kind of writer who can sing along to music as they work, as I get so involved that I forget about the page. I listen to mostly blues, and the melancholy magic of those big, big voices spellbinds me, every time.

My inky news involves quite a lot of music this month. I’m pleased to have my work included in Grace Notes, an exhibition celebrating music that’s on at the Yarra Hotel in Melbourne until May. I wrote nine short mixed tape vignettes…here’s a little taster.

2008 – ‘Stagger Lee’ – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

You watch this one sleep. You reach past the whiskey glasses on the bedside table and place one finger on the dial, wanting him to wake up. The slow, hypnotic waves of music wash over the room. The pillows have fallen to the floor and your throat is sore from arguing and he’s burst the zip on your jeans. As his chest rises and falls you can’t imagine ever wanting anything more than right now, right here. He doesn’t wake. Your song together holds so much darkness you don’t stand a chance.

I’ll also be performing at the Williamstown Literary Festival next month as part of Stereo Stories, a fabulous website that publishes tales of how and why songs resonate for people. My story involves being chased by a hurricane into Jackson, Mississippi, singing the Johnny Cash song as the Amtrak train pulled me out of New Orleans.

Thirdly, I’ve just had a story published in SmokeLong Quarterly, one of my absolute favourite literary journals. And the music link? Curled up in Rachmaninov’s old apartment in St Petersburg, counting my rib bones in Russian. Click on Leith O’Malley’s wonderful artwork to read ‘True, False and Floating.’

Artwork by Leith O'Malley

Artwork by Leith O’Malley


Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s a thunderous afternoon and I feel the need for some Howlin’ Wolf…a perfect match, no?

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