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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September 21, 2013 at 5:22 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

I don’t know how I got through while the others were stopped.

One moment they were all behind me, the next I could hear a man barking in loud and pissed off Czech. I turned, but even while Erica was trying to argue with him, her hand was gesturing to me behind her back:  keep going, keep going.

And so I strode on through.

It was a long way to go for a story, after all.


I know that my novel could take any number of unexpected turns: after all, when a character grabs control of your pen, writing plans can go out the window. But I do know that my protagonist, Clementine, is named after the Klementinum in Prague, and that a pivotal scene takes place on its steps. I also knew that with three of my closest friends scattered around the world eager to meet me in Europe, renting an apartment together in Prague and doing a little research at the same time would be a damn good way to end my holiday.

I wasn’t wrong, I have to say.

The first day, after a celebratory meal outside Prague Castle that involved bottles of Bohemian Sekt champagne opened with a sword by the waiter, and some prime twerking that I don’t think the red rooftops of Prague had seen before (that’s a whole other story), I took my girls to the Klementinum.

I was a touch overwhelmed, to be honest. In writing about it for so long, the building had taken on epic qualities and to stand in front of it was utterly bewitching. I stared at it for quite a while, taking deep and delighted breaths as I tried to visualise Clem sitting on the steps.

But here’s the thing: there are no steps.

It took me a while to realise. I turned my head to the east, trying to peer down tiny cobbled Karlova, frowning as it dawned on me:  I’d come halfway around the world for this, and there were no god damn steps, not even when I walked around the entire building.



That wasn’t the only problem. I needed Clem to sit there as the Baroque Library inside housed a particular book that held great importance to her, one that had triggered quite ferocious OCD in my crooked toothed heroine. That’s not too much to ask, right? My tour of the Baroque Library rendered me speechless; the ornate detailing of everything, from the book covers to the floor to the beautifully painted ceiling, was superb.  But when I eagerly asked the tour guide ‘So they add classic books to this library, am I correct?’ her curt and utterly Eastern European ‘Exactly no…not since the 1800s,’ made me again snap my notebook shut with a frown.

National Library, Prague

Baroque Library, Prague

I know what you’re thinking…just make it up, right? No-one would know; and either way, it’s a work of fiction. But for someone whose writing honours a distinct sense of place, it was important to me to make it as authentic as I could, at least in my own eyes. And I couldn’t help feeling just a bit…well, jinxed. If I ever needed a hint from the universe that I was on the wrong track (and wouldn’t that be worth flying around the world for?), this was starting to look like just that.

Day three, we were stumbling around the serpentine alleyways in search of lunch when we came across Hotel Clementin and its lovely outdoor restaurant. A couple of bottles of Bohemian Sekt and some goulash and dumplings later, I’d used their free wifi to find that the Klementinum had another library in its complex, a more modern one.

Picture four rather liquored up women on the slippery cobblestones, marching towards with Klemetinum with a mission, a red notebook, and the odd sekt-fuelled hiccup.


And I was so determined to find my story that I walked right past the guard in his little booth without even glancing his way, straight into the National Library of Prague.

As a laughing friend who’d lived there told me later, ‘You must have looked Czech!’ The girls weren’t so lucky, and as the guard berated them about entrance fees and guided tours, I strode the corridors, nodding at the books like old friends and murmuring Clementine, Clementine, come out and play.

And she did, she did.

A glass door covered in snaking ivy caught my eye. A beautiful little courtyard opened up behind it, deserted and bubbling from a fountain in the middle. On one corner was a statue of a woman with her feet in the water, an open book on her lap.

When I approached, I saw that there were stone steps leading up to it, and I exhaled so deeply the courtyard almost span.

This was where my Clementine sits.


My whole holiday was rich with joy and colour, and it’s sure to come out in blog posts to follow – caviar and Pushkin in Russia, riding the U-Bahn in my beloved Berlin, haggling in Flemish at a Brussels flea market – but that moment in the courtyard of a Prague library was pretty damn special, imagining my Clementine curled up on the stone.

Now, all I have to do it work out HOW she gets there…

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The old man with birds for hands

May 3, 2012 at 2:13 pm (Uncategorized) ()

I don’t know, because I wasn’t there, but apparently there was an old man who had birds for hands.

He stood on the east corner of the Old Town Square and showed people for money. I hope he made enough to live on, because it sounds like tiring work.

He stood there with his hands under his coat and told people, Look, look, I have birds for hands. Come gather and I will show you. And they did, because not many people have birds for hands, not even in the Old Town Square; not even at that time of year, although it might be different in autumn.

I don’t know, because I wasn’t there.

Kyle Robinson

When enough people had gathered and thrown coins into the wrinkled hat at his feet, he drew out his hands from his tattered coat sleeves. It was dusk, just when the lamps were lit on the corners and long shadows threw themselves onto the cobblestones. People leant forward, women held lace handkerchiefs at their throats and prepared to gasp. A dog poked his head into the circle and waited, head cocked to one side.

When the man drew his hands out and people saw only his fingers, the hisses began.

I think the dog ran away, but I can’t be sure.

But before they could reach for their coins and spit on his shoes, he made the birds appear.

A wing came first, rising slowly. And the people stopped with their hands outstretched towards their coins. They stopped, and they watched the wings rise, heads turning as the feathers formed.

The man drew his hands together.

He clasped thumb around thumb.

He hooked them and held them high.

The lamp light fell and the shadow of his birds rose, dark against the bricks. The feathers grew and grew as the shadow loomed large above them, until his birds took up the entire wall of the Town Hall and even the dog looked back over his shoulder, and whimpered.

The crowd was so focused on the enormous shadow wings above them that they didn’t notice the talons opening. And in one fluid moment, each and every bystander was snatched between the claws and lifted, their feet dangling above the cobblestones.

The man with birds for hands stood in the Old Town Square, and watched them soar into the dusk of the evening sky.

Two shoes fell, and one person kicked a brick loose from a smoke streaked chimney.

The dog got away, which is nice, when you think about it.

The man with birds for hands kept sight until their shadows dipped behind the spire of the Mikuláše  church.

And then he slowly dropped his hands to his sides.

He bent, picked up the hat, and folded the brim over to the keep the coins warm. He turned his face from the spire, and slipped the hat inside his coat.

And the man with birds for hands walked slowly out of the Old Town Square.

I don’t think he looked back, but I wasn’t there, so I can’t be sure.

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