Time to start hissing

August 1, 2015 at 8:52 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

One tug of a computer cord, and a hundred stories tumble out…

My trusty old machine has, alas, sighed its last breath. Windows Vista, what will I do without you? In transferring my writing from my old computer to my new, I’ve had a night revisiting stories, both published and unpublished, shaking the dust off some, and patting the earth over the graves of others. Quite an evening!

So while I get back to work, I thought my 100th blog post might as well be this tiny tale, runner up in the Flash Fiction Bingo Contest run by Bayou Magazine, the literary journal of the University of New Orleans.

I knew my cockroach fixation would pay off eventually…

photo source: infectiouslearning.tumblr.com

photo source: infectiouslearning.tumblr.com

The Disturbance Hiss

The cockroaches were the final straw.

She could put up with him calling her Wendy. He seemed to have forgotten he asked for her number in a Wendy’s, that wasn’t her name, but she didn’t correct him. She just called him Jack. He corrected her, you better believe it, oh yes.

But when he took her to the booth between the cotton candy and the elephants and bragged he was entering the cockroach eating competition, well, that just about did it.

She was meant to squeal, and squirm, and do what girls do. But she stared, and scowled, and did what came naturally, which was to reach towards those wriggling antennae and stroke, ever so tenderly.

Her Czech granddaddy had given her a taste for juniper brandy and Kafka stories, and she had a fondness for those little legs kicking. But Jack didn’t know “The Metamorphosis”, or how to read her dark eyes. And nobody seemed to know these were Madagascan hissing cockroaches, or they wouldn’t have had them lined up in glass jars, the route to winning a season pass to the rollercoaster.

Jack was half way through crunching a thorax when his swagger gave out, and his lunch came up. He pretended not to be embarrassed, and she pretended not to smile as they headed to the ferris wheel. She waited until they were almost at the top, until the toxin of the cockroach had begun to numb his mouth, to tell him about the hissing.
They have three hisses: the disturbance hiss, the courtship hiss, and the fighting hiss. He was trying to swallow, and finding it difficult. The first one is my favourite, she smiled. Like a song, it is.

Their carriage swayed as she put her teeth together, and began.

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Smiling like a honey cake horse

December 30, 2013 at 4:28 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Grinsen wie ein Honigkuchenpferd – To grin like a honey cake horse (German idiom)

I love placing my boot against the wheel, and kicking the new cycle into being: December is my favourite month. When else can I indulge my taste for nostalgia, and review a whole year’s worth of diaries without flinching?

2013 held six days in Russia, three meals in the Literary Cafe with bowls of violet borsch washed down with vodka, and a fair few tears shed in the library where Pushkin died. Visit to Berlin: my ninth. Hours spent on the balcony of my apartment in the old East Berlin imagining moving my life there: inestimable.

Berlin balcony 2


Year since I first lived in Brussels: twenty-four. Years since I last lived there: seven. Number of hand-on-heart-moments walking down my old street there, Rue des Chandeliers: five or six. Number of penpals filling our Prague apartment with red lipstick, punk music and bottles of Bohemian Sekt champagne: four.  Our amazing holiday then concluded with visits to three of Kafka’s old houses, eleven  potential band names, and six seconds of twerking in front of the astronomical clock in Prague’s Old Town Square.



The year also held nine hours of tattooing, countless swear words, and three blood red Louisiana swamp flowers curling around my right arm. New pieces of taxidermy acquired: one.  German classes: twelve. Number of awkward banjoed up German country songs I sang in class: one, and that was more than enough, believe me. Gigs in Melbourne watching stellar blues bands: thirteen. A blues dancing workshop of eight hours left me with a multitude of new dance moves and many aching muscles. New dances attempted: two, Balboa and Shag. Beats per minute of the latter: 190. Number of bras needed whilst dancing it: two. New cocktail frocks to dance it in: three. Ok, four. Current count of high heels now snaking in a line around my bedroom: 31. And climbing.

finished tattoo1

The Year of the Snake has also been deeply, richly rewarding for my ink. There were twenty-eight stories submitted, with eight accepted, seven still pending and five emails from editors with personalised feedback. My work was included in two exhibitions in Melbourne, as well as one festival in Chicago. Number of mulled wines before I was ready to climb onto the stage with a cello accompaniment and read my story: three. Placements in short story competitions: two, for the ABC and the University of New Orleans. Mail from a literary agent in the US complimenting my work: one. Exclamations when I opened and read it: uncountable. Number of short stories written and in consideration for a collection of my work: over one hundred.

this is the story

Excitement at stepping into 2014 and all the stories it’ll contain: inexpressible.

But lord knows, I’m going to try and express it anyway…it’s my job, after all.

May you step into the new year with a straight spine, warm heart, and ink on your fingertips.

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Metamorphosis of a kind

December 19, 2013 at 1:40 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

Franz Kafka

I’m swimming in Kafka at the moment. I have his short stories and critical essays on them lining my desk, plus excerpts of his original manuscript for ‘The Metamorphosis’ and its German revisions.

It’s all research for my novel, part of which is set in Prague, which led me to travel there in September and trace his footsteps. It turns out my apartment was three doors down from where he lived on Bilkova, and I couldn’t walk past his front door without tracing a finger down the wood.

Kafka writes often about the need for solitude when spilling ink, and I couldn’t agree more – shutting the door, turning off my phone, and picking up a pen always makes a gentle little shudder of bliss travel down my spine.

I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ – that wouldn’t be enough – but like a dead man.

Franz Kafka

However,  given my usual nostalgic glance back at 2013, it seems it was the year of collaboration, with no sign of that letting up.

This year has seen me explore new territory by working with other artists and melding my stories to artwork, photography and music, and I’m delighted to say that I have several more exciting collaborations to come – stay tuned! But one that gave me much joy this year was the 1000 Words Project, where award winning photographer Cam Cope issued the challenge for writers to choose one of his travel images and produce a short story inspired by it. The exhibition that resulted was then held at City Library in the heart of Melbourne, and produced in an anthology.


The exhibition is now the subject of a sixteen page feature in One Thousand Words, a new journal of critical reviews and essays on photography put out by the Ballarat International Foto Biennale, the biggest photography festival in Australia.

Go take a peek and read the interviews with both Cam Cope (page 28) and the wonderful Holly Ringland (page 42), a superbly talented writer who also participated, and one of my close friends (her story is on page 38).

1000 words

Holly and I sitting on my couch, listening to Big Mama Thornton in an Australian heatwave as we worked on our stories together, reminds me that although Kafka had many things right, the need to go it alone 100% of the time is perhaps not quite my style, after all.

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Kafka’s balcony, with lemongrass

March 12, 2012 at 3:06 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Kafka’s been watching me sleep.

I’ve scribbled strange lines in my little red notebook over the years – some involving Finnish cowboys, taxidermy snakes, and my inexplicable phobia of crumpets –   but this remains one of my favourites.  

I’d collapsed on the couch of the holiday apartment I’d rented, after a killer long haul flight from Australia. I’d flung the balcony doors open to the summer evening just before I dozed, and when I roused myself and sat up I saw, painted on shutters on the other side of Cothenienstrasse, the intense expression of Franz Kafka staring up at me.

No wonder I’d been having nightmares.


Berlin is one of my favourite places on earth. About once a year I pack up my red notebooks and head over there, and each time I do I’m less certain why I leave it. I go there for the glorious language – truly the most beautiful on earth, pure seduction. I go there for the regeneration the city constantly exudes, for the smell of the U-Bahn and the feel of the Berlin Wall under my fingertips, Nina Hagen CDs and Goethe books, for their huge cheese and pickle breakfasts and the ivy that covers many a crumbling building and holds it all together.


But this time, I went for Kafka.

I’ve been counting the steps I’ve taken across the world in search of ink, having so far written posts on Iceland and New York. In Berlin, it’s hard to choose one writer in a city that held Bertolt Brecht, W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Christa Wolf, Vladimir Nabokov, the Brothers Grim and yes, even John le Carré. Where the latter’s concerned, however, I have to admit I sat in the café opposite Checkpoint Charlie not so much because he used to watch the exchange of spies there as he worked on ‘The Spy Who Came In From The Cold,’ but more because they do the best apple strudel in Berlin.




The protagonist in my novel has crooked teeth, red boots and an obsessive compulsive disorder involving a Kafka short story. Come on, I’m not going to give it all away…I want you to read the damn thing, after all.

So to wake that first day and find his dark brows glaring my way, seemed a fitting sign.

One sunny afternoon I made my way to Muthesiusstrasse in Berlin’s southwest, where Kafka used to live. It’s a beautiful leafy street in a middle class suburb, and as I hadn’t been able to find the exact address, I did what any writer doing research would do: I walked slowly down the entire length of one side, crossed over, and walked back. If I told you this was so I could know my feet had walked where his had, you’d see that obsession is a trait I’m somewhat acquainted with. But then again, what writer isn’t?

I sat at a café on Muthesiusstrasse and worked on my novel, red book and black ink on a green street. I wondered if Kafka had sat on an ivy covered balcony to write, and if he’d ever come to this café. And I’ll be honest: I waited for something surreal and absurdist to happen, so I could pin a Kafkaesque moment down on paper.

All I could manage was a surly waitress in koala slippers, who plonked down in front of me that most traditional of German dishes: pad Thai.

You take what you can get, after all.

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Have you heard the one about the Lithuanian mermaid?

May 2, 2011 at 11:04 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

My cave was beckoning.

I had an idyllic weekend, the kind of nourishing, indulgent treat this time of year calls for. It was the southern hemisphere’s Hallowe’en on Saturday, and the chill in the air tells me that winter and its darkness is coming. I nestled inside my cave with fresh paper, a bottle of sparkling shiraz (hey, don’t you make that face at me!), some Supersuckers on the stereo, a boisterous kitty nipping at my feet, and time to myself.

And I wrote.

I submitted four stories to different publishers, and though my fingers might have trembled when I hit send, send, send, I did it anyway. And already, barely days later, I’ve just received an email from the lovely folk at Lowestoft Chronicle telling me they enjoyed my story and would love to publish it in their summer edition. The bliss each time I read those words is pure magic, and never fails to make my eyes close, my breath catch, and my smile just about leap off my face.

This story was written with them in mind, though I have no idea where the idea came from: a tale of sitting in a bar in Vilnius and being mistaken for a member of Lithuanian ‘Big Brother.’ Sometimes even my eyebrows arch at what ends up on my page, but when the muse calls I know to grab her by her tail and shake every last drop of ink out of her.

Strange…my muse appears to be  some kind of  mermaid. Never knew that before.

I decided to reward myself with a strut up Northcote’s main drag. The autumn colours lining my street are astounding, a riot of amber and lime, and my army boots crunched as I strode. I was wearing a red coat that’s been my trusty winter wear since I was nineteen – kept me warm even during a snowstorm in Iceland –  and I started to wonder if I should put some money aside for a new one. That thought was knocked out of my head by the blackboard advertising one of many secondhand bookstores on the main strip, with its chalky quote:

Wear the old coat and buy the new book.

Austin Phelps

Sure thing, Austin old bean. If you say so…I headed into Brown and Bunting, truly Northcote’s most wonderful bookstore, and got caught up in a collection of Somerset Maugham’s short stories, but decided on a biography of Kafka by Pietro Citati.

While on the subject of literary quotes, another one has slid into my notebook lately. I’m knee deep in plans for a trip to Finland, Estonia, Poland, a few weeks in my second home of Berlin, and a few days in Hong Kong on the way back. Dipping into these glorious languages and cultures, learning about Baltic mythology and Finnish linguistics and Hong Kong temples, makes me shine…I’m rarely happier than when my passport is ready on my bed.

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.

Saint Augustine

But one last quote has been causing me mirth lately…see if your sense of humour mirrors mine.

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

Groucho Marx

And if that doesn’t make you snort sparkling shiraz out your nose, well, I just don’t know what will.

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