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.

Medusa

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

herring museum

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.

Midtun

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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Vogelsong

July 4, 2014 at 2:11 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

I was trying to go to bed when I heard it. I was sitting on the heater – literally – and listening to rain lash the lounge room window behind me. I was warmed as much by the heater as the whiskey which friends had given me for my birthday last week, and did not like the prospect of my unheated bedroom. I had the TV on low and was daydreaming, but when I heard the word it cut through the sound of the rain.

Vogelsong.

It was a character’s name on some late night crime show. I didn’t pay much attention after that. I didn’t need to: I knew I’d get a short story from that one name alone. Birdsong, sliced in half, part German, part English, and to my midnight ears, utterly beautiful.

But here’s the thing: I couldn’t see a pen to write it down. All writers know the promise ‘I’ll remember it in the morning’ is tragically and patently untrue, but I couldn’t quite lift myself from the heater to rummage through my writing desk. So I did the next best thing. I reached over to the top of my desk, and took hold of a container of snake skins.

I am serpent obsessed. I have snake skins all over my house, and rubber snakes on my windowsills to hiss their protection around my home. I have thirteen of them tattooed down my left arm in blue, black and grey ink, writhing around my Medusa with her hands on her hips and a stare of defiance. I admire the regenerative nature of their skin shedding, and their symbolism often works its way into my writing.

I love my snakes, oh yes.

Matt Burke Photography

Matt Burke Photography

I opened one of my containers and took out a coil of skin, shed by a coastal python. And I placed that carefully in the middle of my lounge room floor. That, so my midnight whiskey logic went, will remind me of the word Vogelsong when I wake tomorrow.

And it did. I stumbled out in search of coffee, saw the skin, and immediately said to my cat ‘Vogelsong!’ I think she was just as surprised as I was. I nodded, started imagining what kind of character could carry that name, and turned the kettle on.

I did not, however, pick up the snake skin.

Later that night I came home from dinner with friends, red riding hood up against the hail that left my umbrella in shreds. I tumbled in the front door, and the first thing I saw was the snake skin, glowing in the light from the street. And I said, so softly this time, ‘Vogelsong.’

It still felt beautiful on my tongue.

The skin has been there for five days now. I’m learning to step around it. I don’t think I’m ready to stop saying ‘Vogelsong’ just yet. The story is still brewing; my focus these last two months has been my novel, so to take up a pen and give birth to an entirely new character, in an entirely new life, is just intoxicating.

I will keep you informed.

In the meantime, here’s one that is ready: ‘They broke my name in half’ has just been published in 21D, and is available on Smashwords through the link below.

21D

I’ll also be performing at the Newport Folk Festival this weekend. Stereo Stories is a wonderful website that celebrates the stories behind songs, and I’ll be reading about my trip to Jackson, Mississippi in honour of Johnny Cash. The songs will be performed by local musicians alongside the readings, so something for everyone. Head on in, and I’ll do my best to do a southern accent as I read.

stereo stories

 

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