Elva of the Equinox

March 23, 2019 at 1:42 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

BELL-10

Bird bones, cat box, leopard print…my writing studio (photo by Shannon McDonald)

I knew straight away I’d broken it. The pain was extraordinary. I managed to limp to the shower but stood under the water with my head against the tiles, trying not to throw up.

Of all the mornings to accidentally smash my toe against the brutal feet of our new couch, it had to be today.

There was no way I could cancel. I struggled into my clothes and with sheer bloody mindedness, zipped up my knee high leather boots. ‘It’s not too bad,’ I protested to my man, who winced as he watched me. ‘Why don’t you wear something more practical?’ he asked. We both knew why. I’d had my outfit picked out, professional with a tinge of rockabilly sass, and was determined to wear it: high boots, pencil skirt, and a red blouse with pussy bow, my tattoos spilling out of the cap sleeves.

And so off I limped to meet the literary agent who had requested my novel manuscript, and was waiting to discuss it with me over coffee.

Like I said, an appointment I did not want to cancel.

bench

Writing at the lake, in Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland

Melanie knows her stuff. She’s worked in publishing for over twenty years as an editor, publisher, consultant, educator and literary agent. It was an amazing opportunity to have her insight into my manuscript, and well worth limping into Melbourne for.

We chatted for two hours. My pen flew as we went over what did and didn’t work, about the Icelandic writing residency that inspired my novel in the first place, the cold up near the Arctic Circle and the myths and sagas of that wild white land. We spoke of spells and solstices, the taxidermy I’ve been doing as research, and the macabre and Gothic undercurrents that fuel myself and my ink. And in between I soaked up her wisdom on pacing and narrative tension, character charts and dialogue, scribbling as many notes as I could.

When I capped my pen I had five pages of ideas and inspiration…and yes, I had an agent.

I am beyond delighted to have signed with Melanie Ostell Literary. I pulled the contract from my letter box yesterday, smack on the Autumn Equinox, a perfect time to start a new cycle. I’m excited about the next draft, and the opportunity to hone and tighten my manuscript, and see where we can take it.

In the month between drafts, I really missed my protagonist, Elva. It’s felt odd not to delve into her life, her studio apartment in Reykjavik, her Icelandic lessons and taxidermy attempts. Putting the manuscript away for a month left quite a hole in my life. So in my own peculiar way, I filled it with a tiny baby snake, which I (of course) named Elva.

Elva

Elva, new member of the family

She’s a hatchling, so inquisitive and affectionate, who loves being handled and has captivated our whole household. No bites yet.

Maybe she thinks a broken toe is enough for me to deal with right now, hey?

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Kiitos

November 30, 2015 at 9:55 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I woke this morning and for a moment, thought I was back in the forest.

There was no music coming from the ground floor studios though, and no purring Finnish kitties curled up on my bed. I would not be mashing up boiled eggs to fold over the top of delicious rye karjalanpiirakoita for breakfast, or pouring black coffee into the soup mug I’d bought my first day at a flea market, covered in the blueberries that were my first Finnish word on my 2011 visit; mustikka.

Melbourne is beautiful on the last day of spring, but my head is still in the forest.

I spent the whole of October at a writing residency in Joutsa, a rural town in the midst of Finland’s Lake District. I arrived after a week of ruby port and decadent pastéis de nata pastries in Portugal with my beloved Lisa. As soon as I hit Helsinki the temperature dropped, the prices doubled, and the hood of my red riding coat was up for the first time since my previous residency in Iceland, this time last year.

Back to the wild northern lands I love, with my whole heart.

Haihatus residency, Finland

Haihatus residency, Finland

Haihatus residency, Finland

Haihatus residency, Finland

No snow for me this time; Finland was in her full autumnal glory, and she’d never been more bewitching. The colours of the forest, people! The colours of the forest. I wandered every evening at dusk, and found myself in tears of awe on more than one occasion. The light was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and the trees looked as though they’d been dipped in gold. For a woman whose feet are utterly at home in stilettos on city footpaths, my writing residencies in remote rural places steal my heart in ways I’m still processing.

Joutsa forest, Finland

Joutsa forest, Finland

Joutsa forest, Finland

Joutsa forest, Finland

The residency was huge, with buildings scattered around the grounds that were a delight to explore; a gallery space here, a lookout on stilts there. On my third night the call went out – to the sculpture garden, quick! I grabbed my red riding hood and raced after the other artists. I didn’t even know we had a sculpture garden (oh, you Finns) but found myself standing with head back, mouth open, as the northern lights danced above our heads. Indescribable. How lucky am I that I saw them last year in Iceland, and now here? Pen in hand, heart in throat, it was a gold star moment of the most wondrous kind.

Sculpture garden, Haihatus, Finland

Sculpture garden, Haihatus, Finland

Cheerful Lobster in the sculpture garden

Cheerful Lobster in the sculpture garden

Protective wolf outside my bedroom forest

Protective wolf outside my bedroom forest

My favourite place was the Pitkospuupolku, a narrow wooden path through the forest that the Joutsa guidebook had described with the line ‘In the Joutsa forest you can walk all alone, feeling like it almost kindly swallows you.’ Bliss of the best kind, breathing in the silence and solitude, watching sunshine sparkle on the water as I wrote, snacking on smoked salmon and rye bread, washed down with cloudberry cider on a full heart.

The Pitkospuupolku through the forest, Joutsa, Finland

The Pitkospuupolku through the forest, Joutsa, Finland

My favourite image of my trip

My favourite image of my trip

And I wrote, Damn, did I write. The joys of a residency, where writing is not an indulgence, or anti-social, but understood, and welcomed! In a studio filled with turpentine and taxidermy, I spilled ink until my fingers ached. Then stretched, scratched one of the house kittes, Purhonen, Korhonen and Räisanen, and wrote some more.

My studio

My studio

My studio in the gorgeous afternoon light

My studio in the gorgeous afternoon light

Korhonen and my taxidermy muse

Korhonen and my taxidermy muse

I took a mid-month jaunt into Helsinki with Amy and Joao, artists from the U.S. and Brazil. I knew Amy was kindred when we turned up for a walk to the local Joutsa pub wearing matching animal print ear muffs, and I wasn’t wrong. I took them to my favourite Helsinki restaurant, Zetor, the setting for a previous ABC story of mine called ‘Every Good Day Deserves Gingham.’ We ate reindeer and lingonberries around Soviet era hot rod tractors, sang to AC/DC in punk bars, and revelled in the exuberant joy that comes with sharing a city you love.

Animal print and cocktails...Amy, let's go to HUUTula!

Animal print and cocktails…Amy, let’s go to HUUTula!

With Joao at Zetor, my favourite rockabilly bar in Helsinki

With Joao at Zetor, my favourite rockabilly bar in Helsinki

And then my suitcase came out again.

The rest doesn’t need to be told: the last reindeer steak, the last walk through the forest, the last time I turned the lights off in my studio. I know I’ll be back, to both Finland and Haihatus, the residency…at least, I have to keep telling myself that, or I never would have left.

A hammock in my final Helsinki apartment..yes, yes, a hammock.

A hammock in my final Helsinki apartment..yes, yes, a hammock.

Loving and leaving Haihatus residency, Joutsa, Finland

Loving and leaving Haihatus residency, Joutsa, Finland

Kiitos, Finland, and all I met there…thank you, for a month full of gold stars, and golden light.

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Red Riding Hood strikes again

January 31, 2015 at 11:46 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

‘Just sign in at reception, they’ll be expecting you – you know the routine.’

To my delight, I did. I was smiling before the doors had even swung open. I had on a black pencil skirt, a fire engine red blouse tied with a pussy bow, and matching red lipstick. Although no-one could see me on radio, it was my version of armour, and it made my spine just that much straighter as I strode up to the ABC reception desk.

‘Rijn Collins, here to record for Radio National.’

It was a damn good day. The whole process is extraordinary, from sitting in the booth with headphones and enormous microphones, to the gentle guidance from the wonderful producers as they coax my stories from the page and out of my mouth.

Last week I recorded two of my stories for Australia’s national radio station, and loved every minute. One was set in a Paris metro station, reuniting with a beloved pen pal to a soundtrack of Bikini Kill. The other was set on a bus as I headed north from Reykjavik up to the tiny Icelandic fishing village that was to be my home for the next month.

To my amazement, the latter was my ninth story recorded at the ABC, and my 70th story acceptance.

To add to my joy, I’ve just been accepted for another writing residency, this time in rural Finland. In October I’ll head off to the forest, reach for my leopard print earmuffs again, and wait with my hand outstretched for snow.

Until then, this is a story I recorded for the ABC about my last trip to Finland, where the lure of that quirky, glorious country first took hold of me. I can’t wait to get back to this rockabilly restaurant, sit at the hot rod tractor, and order a glass of cloudberry liqueur.

I promise to bring you back stories, ok?

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She lives in this house over there

March 22, 2014 at 10:23 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

They’re calling this The Angry Summer.

They called the last one that, too. This is not an easy land to live in. I come from a country where ash from bushfires drifts into cities, birds drop dead from the skies with the heat, and the fat moon turns orange from the flames.

I grew up in the mountains outside Melbourne, with a fireman father. My overriding memories of those hills are the spiders as big as the palm of my hand, and the sound of the fire alarm jolting us out of sleep and Sunday dinners. I would pray for my dad to come home with my face pressed into the flannelette Fraggle sheets, hoping the spiders wouldn’t shimmy from behind my bunk bed and come my way. Even though I’m in the city now, I still jump when I hear that siren blare.

Australia is a land of unforgiving ferocity and staggering beauty. This summer just finished broke all manner of records for its severity: you’d think I’d be used to it by now, but lord, I’m a winter wench, and this land HURTS.

So I’m out of here.

Six years ago I found myself with my feet dangling over Reykjavik harbour. My fingers were so frozen I couldn’t work my pen, let alone my camera, but I tried. I drank Black Death schnapps in my coffee as I watched the sun rise over the snow. I sat, and watched the rosy colours sweep over the ice.

I was silent and solitary.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so serene in my life.

Ólafsfjörður

Ólafsfjörður

So I am beyond excited to say that I have been invited to be Artist in Residence at Listhús Art Space in Iceland for the month of October. I will live in a remote fishing village, Ólafsfjördur, in the north of the country, with a house and a studio to write in. I submitted a proposal outlining my intent to weave stories that explore how isolation can reflect on intimacy and identity, both cultural and individual, and how lands of extremes such as Iceland and Australia play a role in developing such an identity.

They said yes.

I said a few choice words of euphoria that I probably shouldn’t repeat here, and then bought winter boots that look suspiciously like I chopped the lower legs off a small yeti.

Ólafsfjörður

Ólafsfjörður

I’m ready.

Iceland is all I can think about…that, and the stories I will bring you back.

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