To the hundred and more

December 31, 2017 at 4:48 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Rilke

 

My muse loves December.

I’m a disciplined writer. I can spend whole days locked in my writing studio, breaking my focus only to brew more coffee or have a quick Ike and Tina Turner shimmy to get the blood circulating. I work on my novel, short stories, memoir and audio fiction. But in December, my muse demands more. She sits on the corner of my desk (she’s about ten centimetres high, redheaded and if you look carefully, ever so slightly cross-eyed) and urges me to write more, edit more, submit more, and aim high.

Every year.

And you don’t say no to her, believe me.

I feel buoyant stepping into January; I’ve spilled so much ink this year. 2017 saw me reach the milestone of 100 stories published, performed or produced for radio. I performed at festivals both here and interstate with more lined up for next year, talked to ABC producers about broadcasting more of my writing, slid my Sarah Award for International Audio Fiction onto my shelf next to my snakeskins and skulls, consistently earned pay checks for my ink (no mean feat in the creative industries), and have several new pieces coming out in 2018. Before the bells chime midnight, in fact, I will also have submitted two new audio stories and one long fiction piece based on my April visit to Berlin, one of the most influential cities in my personal history.

gold-solstice-short-story-rijn-collins‘Gold’, my 100th story (read here)

 

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‘Akathisia’ in River Teeth Journal (read here)

This year has also seen…my tenth visit to Berlin, the first time showing my Wolf around the city he also fell in love with, the thirteenth time I’ve sat with loved ones over martinis and sushi at Zaza’s on Kastanienalle, and the first time I’ve ever smelled smoke on a flight and seen the attendants literally running through the cabin. And the last time, fingers crossed.

There was my fifth visit to Reykjavik, adding to the 35,000 words of my novel set there, seven Icelandic ponies with snow-dusted manes, three pages of spells about elves and juniper berries under moonlight, many shrieks when I forgot about the sulphur stench of hot water in the shower, and the countless times I squeezed the hands of my Wolf and beautiful Lisa, whispering ‘I can’t believe you’re both here with me.’

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Siglufjörður, northern Iceland

 

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Pankow, Berlin

Before we hit the snow there was Italy with Lisa, and six nights with a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean and alley cats to throw prosciutto out to through a stained glass kitchen window. There were so many glasses of sickly sweet limoncello that the smell now makes me wince, dozens of hairpin turns weaving down the hill tops of Positano that made us wince further, and the man in Rome who was so busy applauding my dress and high boots that he walked into a lamp post.

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Positano, Italy

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Temple of the Vestal Virgins, Rome

2017 graced me with twelve months in my new home in the west of Melbourne, and two years with those I share it with, the love of my life and his beautiful cub. There were trips to Albury, Wangaratta, Woodend, the Dandenongs and Tasmania, with wallabies, speakeasys, Art Deco architecture, champagne, new writers to chat to and new stories to tell.

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The Wolf and Connie, our vintage caravan, Tasmania

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Beautiful Hobart, Tasmania

Ah, it seems that’s her cue. My muse just tapped me on the shoulder, pointed to the open articles on the Stasi and trichotillomania on my screen, and tilted her head towards my keyboard. I’ve been told, people. Back to work it is.

Wherever in the world you are, I wish you all the best for the coming year, and as always, I wish you the most wondrous of stories.

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I have been her kind

June 30, 2016 at 11:14 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I like things I’m not supposed to.

When every other person in Melbourne is looking out their window and cringing at the grass bent heavy with frost, the skeletal trees and the sky darkening with storms, I’m secretly beaming. When I can pull on my red riding hood coat, pour a glass of mulled wine, and reach for my leopard print ear muffs, it’s a fine day indeed. Born on the cusp of the Winter Solstice, this is my favourite time of year.

Winter witch

Winter witch

Red riding hood in Iceland

Red riding hood in Iceland

Winter solstice bonfire, with my Wolf and his Cub

Winter solstice bonfire, with my Wolf and his Cub

I like things I’m not supposed to.

I tore into my birthday presents and instead of wishing for jewellery or something silky to slip into, my eyes lit up at what fell out of my card. The exquisite image of a woodcut graced the outside of the card, and my Wolf had written such gorgeous words within that I almost forgot the present. But then I opened the paper that had fallen into my hands, and found a voucher to a taxidermy workshop that made my heart flutter.

The opening scene of my novel is when my protagonist, Elva, attempts her own taxidermy of a mouse on her kitchen table in Reykjavik, Iceland.

In the process of writing it, my flat has slowly acquired an Icelandic dove, a bedraggled duck, a deer skull with magnificent antlers, dolphin vertebrae, a bell jar of snake skins, a kingfisher skull, a birthday bat skeleton, a striped quail, and a snow goose suspended above my writing desk, his wings outstretched towards me as I type.

Knowing my beloved people have allowed me the privilege of experiencing the art myself, is such a blessing.

Birthday bat skeleton

Birthday bat skeleton

Snake skins and deer velvet

Snake skins and deer velvet

Pearled antlers with coronets

Pearled antlers with coronets

I like things I’m not supposed to.

I stood backstage and watched the hall fill. A sold out show of 260 tickets meant a hell of a lot of noise, and as people settled I straightened my little black dress, readjusted the red flower in my hair, and went over my story again. It was my second time performing at the Williamstown Literary Festival with Stereo Stories, and my excitement at striding onto the stage had just grown with time. I know public speaking is something most people dread, but I absolutely love reaching for the microphone, looking up at the lights, and telling my tale. It’s just as well, as on Saturday I’ll be repeating the performance at Melbourne’s Newport Folk Festival, with my spot at the Write Around the Murray Festival booked in September.

Stereo Stories (Tony Proudfoot Photography)

Stereo Stories (Tony Proudfoot Photography)

I like things I’m not supposed to.

Welcoming winter, flesh eating beetles and admiring bones. Army boots slipping on mud, hood up to catch snowflakes, bonfires warming frozen fingers. A watchful crowd, a waiting microphone, steps to a raised stage.

Solitude, snow and solstice.

And stories…always, always, stories.

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Those tattooed arms, and a green-eyed son

May 28, 2016 at 9:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I reached my hand under the flow of water, and somewhere in Romania a man burst into flames.

The pen has rarely been out of my hand since I returned from the Sarah Awards in New York last month, still amazed at having won. I keep meaning to write a blog post about my jaunt to Philadelphia afterwards, exploring Amish country with Erica, one of my most long-standing pen pals. We first met on a feminist punk mailing list almost twenty years ago, and seeing this wondrous woman stride towards me with tattooed arms outstretched at Philly’s Penn Station is still making me smile.

Steam dusted the bathroom mirror. I pinned back the damp curls of hair around my temples while high above Venezuela, two young women peeled the lids off trays of aeroplane food. They were armed with eight words of Spanish for their first step on foreign soil, in a land that would give one woman a broken collarbone and the other a green-eyed son.

I want to write about having four more audio stories accepted yesterday by the ABC, discussing possible recording dates and broadcast options. It’s a dream having producers who don’t baulk at stories of ventriloquist auditions at the circus, burst cloudberries in Helsinki airport or a rogue kangaroo hunter at war with his wife. I can’t wait to get back into the studio.

I chose the burgundy towel. I folded it over the edge of the bath as lightning tore the sky apart in Chennai, monsoon rain sending fish bones and cigarette ends coursing down faded stone streets. Two tourists stood under an awning advertising cola, jeans rolled up in the deluge, watching cats run along the gutters at the top of the houses as the night lit up.

I’d love to tell you about my forthcoming words in Press 53’s ‘Everywhere Stories’ anthology, and ‘100 Lightnings’ by Paroxysm Press. And when I find the time, I’ll fill you in on my appearance at the Williamstown Literary Festival in June, and the fabulous Write Around the Murray Festival in September.

I stepped slowly into the water and lowered myself, letting the heat creep up my skin. Three suburbs over, my next lover slid a finger inside the mouth of a woman with a short temper and a long memory, who would later stand outside my window and watch our shadows move behind my rice paper shades.

I also have an opportunity in late June to pitch my novel to several publishers and agents, so need my manuscript to be in the best shape possible. So if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll tiptoe back to my writing desk, pick up my new glasses, and get to work.

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Somewhere in a desert country, a cat perched in the dust and wrenched the head off a mouse. It paused to lift its face to the sun, blood on whisker tips. Its tail flicked from side to side as I closed my eyes, and slid under the water.

Excerpts from ‘Step into the Fishbowl’, first published in Paper Darts

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Flight of the flamingos

April 23, 2016 at 3:39 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I was curled up on the floor next to Gate 53, drinking a weak airport coffee and gingerly touching the travel dreadlocks that had already begun to form in my unruly mane, after only two flights. I debated whether it was worth turning my phone on, given it was almost time to board my flight to New York. But I did, and scanned through the emails that had been sent while I was soaring about the Pacific, headed from Sydney to L.A. When I found one from the organisers of the Sarah Awards, my reason for travelling, telling me a photographer from the New York Times would be at the ceremony and asking my permission for them to take my photo, I placed my phone back in my lap and stared with wide eyes at the other travellers in the airport lounge.

The adventure had officially begun.

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Earlier this month I had the amazing good fortune to be shortlisted for a literary competition showcasing ‘the best in audio fiction’, run by Sarah Lawrence College over in New York. One of my audio stories, ‘Almost Flamboyant’, was one of the top three finalists, and myself and my wonderful ABC producer Lea Redfern were both invited over for the ceremony. With travel assistance from the organisers and wildly enthusiastic encouragement from my people in Melbourne, I packed a bag with a week’s notice, took a deep breath, and leapt.

It’s easier to trust you’ll land on your feet when you have beautiful friends like Gretchen to welcome you with open arms, hand you a front door key to their apartment in midtown Manhattan, and mix you a dirty martini as you fox up and apply the red lipstick for the ceremony.

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I adore New York: this was my fifth trip there, and returning on the basis of my writing was a tremendous experience. I swayed as much as my vintage high heels would allow as I headed straight for my favourite café on the Lower East Side, to wait for my producer and fellow nominee, Lea. When she walked in the door an hour before the ceremony, all we could do was laugh as we met each other for the first time, interspersed with hugs and strong black coffee.

The Sarah Awards were held at the headquarters of America’s National Public Radio, with a waiting list for tickets to the sold out ceremony. Jet lag was held at bay with sheer excitement as we mingled, watched the live performances, and chatted to the other finalists and the lovely creators of the Sarah Awards, Ann Heppermann and Martin Johnson. And then we sat front row as silence fell, and the winners were announced.

In all honesty, I’d been so excited by even being a finalist that I hadn’t given much thought to actually winning. They announced the third place, and Lea and I clapped enthusiastically. Then they announced second, and it began to dawn that it wasn’t, in fact, us.

Our story had won first prize.

Lea and I turned to each other in slow motion, mouths open. And then I reached over and slowly, gently, pinched her in disbelief.

With the wonderful Lea Redfern, producer extraordinaire

With the wonderful Lea Redfern, producer extraordinaire

The night was incredible – I keep trying to pin it all down. I gave a dazed speech on stage in which I accidentally named my taxidermy, Lea holding the beautiful hand crafted award and grinning. When I texted my boyfriend in Melbourne to say ‘First place!’ I got an ebullient message back telling me he knew, as he’d been watching the live feed and sharing it with all our people back home.

There was euphoria, champagne, and an after party at a rooftop bar looking down on the East River as fireworks exploded over the Statue of Liberty. Poor Lea must still be carrying the bruises of my astonished fingers as I squeezed her and asked ‘Is this really happening?’

If I had any doubts about that, waking the next morning to a dozen messages that we were in the New York Times meant I would always have proof of this extraordinary, blissful night.

The link to the New York Times article

The link to the New York Times article

And that’s only part of the adventure. After a sublime celebratory meal at the legendary Waldorf Astoria courtesy of Gretchen, where we swilled whiskey cocktails and dined on lobster, caviar and oysters, I headed off to Philadelphia and another beautiful friend, Erica, waiting with open arms.

New York

New York

On the steps of the New York Public Library

On the steps of the New York Public Library

But that story will come, I promise. Until then, here’s an interview I did with the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas here in Melbourne, chatting about the awards.

The link to my feature at the Wheeler Centre

The link to my feature at the Wheeler Centre

And just in case you missed it, the above link lets you listen to the winning story itself, resplendent with a surly flamingo. I will never look at that creature the same way again after one pretty much flew me to New York.

Not literally, you understand…but what a story that would make!

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Stories for a rijny day

March 7, 2015 at 11:38 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

    Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their names.
    ~Japanese Proverb

My name confuses people.

Rijn.

I love the way it looks, with the two tittles hovering perfectly symmetrical over the bottom strokes, as though they could, if they wished, just reach over and hold hands.

See, a tittle. Even the dots above an i and a j have a name.

The first time I held a book and saw Rijn Collins in the index of stories, I remember placing my hand over my chest. I didn’t speak. I thought that if I could feel my heart hammering, could feel that thump against my palm, it was proof that I was standing at the book launch with my elated friends and straight whiskey and highest heels and not, as I suspected, still asleep and dreaming.

The day I see my name down an actual spine will be pure gold.

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So the problem’s not how my name looks, it’s how the hell to pronounce it. This is especially important given that I’ve been working with ABC producers to adapt my stories for radio. Go on, have a go at pronouncing it, don’t be shy: we’re the only ones here.

Lean towards your screen and try it.

While my last name is Irish, my first is Dutch, so don’t feel bad if you’re frowning. It’s pronounced ‘rain’, and is the Dutch word for the Rhine River. There.

ChoukeliefCollins

The night I met my boyfriend, he added me on Facebook to send me an invitation to a gig the next night. And I felt a little thrill when I saw his surname: Proudfoot. I couldn‘t have written it better myself.

The students I teach come from multicultural backgrounds, and often have an English nickname. In the ten years I‘ve been heading a language class I‘ve taught Biscuit, First, Melon, On, Off, Lotus, Golf, Zero, and Bong, amongst others.

When I asked the latter if he knew what a bong was, he gave a Beavis and Butthead laugh that told me, oh yeah, he knew.

Naming characters is a challenge. If you’re planning on throwing them into a short story, you’ll probably have your own process for this, if you name them at all, that is. But a novel…well, if you’re going to commit 70,000 words to someone, you better get it right.

My novel has just gone through a complete shakeup, including rewriting the first 30,000 words. I’d tell you more, but then I’d have to eat three plums counter-clockwise, set a snakeskin on fire, and do the Nutbush in my bathroom. Just in case I jinxed myself, you see (not that I’m superstitious…no, not at all).

So I’m in the process of renaming some of the characters. It’s not helping that it’s set in Iceland, where choices must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee (itself going by the rather fabulous moniker Mannanafnanefnd). And here I thought naming my short stories was the tough part.

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I secretly love that, though. Scrolling through my titles, I can see I‘ve had great fun plucking words from the air and stringing them on my story necklace. If you haven‘t read these, pour a glass of pinot and feel free to take a peek.

And then they all ate poison berries, and died
The old man with birds for hands
Elvis would so
I like your deer‘s moustache, and other Lithuanian tales
Early dog violet
Shelter for the shipwrecked
True, False and Floating

And the title of my novel?

Well, I’ll let you know…just as soon as I do.

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