If your life is burning well

February 28, 2017 at 9:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

They say that on a list of fears, public speaking would rate highly for most people.

Here’s the thing: I love it.

Seeing audience seats fill is a beautiful sight. The butterflies generally kick in at this point, watching just off stage. But they’re the joyous, I-can’t-believe-I-get-paid-for-doing-something-I-adore flutters of excitement that make me reach happily for the microphone.

No, my list of fears is markedly different from most. It includes, just so you know, an absolute horror of people who walk on stilts, and a case of trypophobia that renders me mute in the face of crumpets.

But that’s another story entirely.

Noir Exhibition

Performing ‘The Old Man with Birds for Hands’ with Michael Madden on cello

I hit the road again last weekend as part of the wonderful Stereo Stories. I perform regularly with this talented and dedicated troupe of writers, singers and musicians, and love every moment. We tell the tales of why a song resonates for us; whether it reminds us of our first lover or our last birthday, the people who’ve bruised us or the places that have nestled under our skin. On stage we have a full band performing the songs as we read, or sometimes a lone singer/guitarist. This combination elicits heartfelt responses from the audience, with many appreciating the songs with a fresh perspective, or even hearing them for the first time.

And when they approach me after a performance, I often ask them ‘What songs would you write about?’

My own writing pieces on the Stereo Stories website cross genres, ages and moods. I’ve written about wanting to see Babes in Toyland in concert in my feminist punk obsessed 20’s, yet being held prisoner by my agoraphobia. I wrote about sitting in a karaoke bar near my artists’ residency in a tiny rural village 200 km from Helsinki, listening to a poignant Finnish version of Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down.’

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The Pitkospuupolku through the forest, Joutsa, Finland

There’s a tale of mine about narrowly escaping sexual assault my first night living alone while listening to Ike and Tina Turner, and another about dragging my suitcase along a U-Bahn platform blissfully humming my time honoured return-to-Berlin song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

I once ended up in Jackson, Mississippi only to realise I was there purely for the Johnny Cash song. And I had the unique experience of watching a character of mine come to life in an ABC recording studio, in the shape of a surly taxidermy flamingo singing a gravelly Tom Waits songs.

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Berlin Wall

Flamingo

My latest addition to my flamingo collection

My most personal story on the website, however, is a tribute to both Leonard Cohen and the man who’s changed the course of my life with his gentle yet wolfish ways: my partner and fellow writer, Chris. It was at times daunting in its intimacy, but what are songs if not conveyors of human emotion and experience? Listening to ‘Undertow’ by Leonard Cohen in our first flush of love is a gorgeous memory, even more so now that Cohen has left us.

For all my Stereo Stories, click here.

On this latest road trip for Stereo Stories, Chris and I hit the road with the Rolling Stones on the stereo, bad petrol station coffee, and excited thigh squeezes. Australia is made for jaunts like this with its wide open roads and sun bleached landscape. We passed kangaroo and koala road signs as we drove 250 km north, before hitting Wangaratta and our motel.

Rehearsals gave way to quick pizza and beer refreshment before the stage lights lifted. And it was, as always with Stereo Stories, a joyful experience. The Wangaratta crowd was warm and welcoming, the band and readers hit their stride beautifully, and then there were long and lovely chats back at our motel well into the night, discussing life, love and everything in between, with glasses of shiraz and shared slots on the stereo.

Stereo Stories (Tony Proudfoot Photography)

And there you have it. Be it Williamstown Literary Festival, Newstead Short Story Tattoo, the Emerging Writers Festival, Brimbank Readers and Writers Festival, Newport Folk Festival, Write Around the Murray Festival or any future adventure, it’s always a joy to climb on stage and reach for the microphone.

So in closing, let me ask you…what songs would you write about?

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The location of the library

January 26, 2016 at 11:39 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library
– Albert Einstein

I spent Sunday rehearsing at the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre, a multi-million dollar domed building that resembles an enormous golf ball. I was there preparing for a gig with Stereo Stories, a wonderful collective of writers and musicians telling our stories behind the songs we love. I’ve been fortunate enough to perform with them at literary festivals such as the Newstead Short Story Tattoo, Williamstown Literary Festival, and the Brimbank Readers and Writers Festival, with several more booked for 2016.

I know I’m supposed to be wary of public speaking, but just between us…I love it. Give me a stage and the opportunity to discuss my ink, and watch me strut! Just last week I spoke at a Scribble Salon event where I relished telling of my love for Babes in Toyland’s beautiful feminist punk, and snarling ‘Liar! Liar!’ into the microphone in emulation of Kat, the singer.

So the two hour show next Sunday, Feb 7th, is something I’m really looking forward to (bookings available on the link below). The performance space is extraordinary too – a real indication of how libraries have changed since I first set foot in one.

Geelong Library  (book tickets here)

Geelong Library
(book tickets here)

Performance space,  Geelong Library

Performance space,
Geelong Library

Like most writers, libraries have always been a sacred space for me. I can still recall the nook I’d curl up in at my high school library, nestling Erica Jong’s ‘Witches’ or ‘Go Ask Alice’ on my knee. Well, once I’d graduated past the Sweet Valley High series and its, to me, exotic American take on teenage life.

Then there was the tiny library on Rue de L’ecuyer in Brussels, where I spent my seventeenth year – in that city, not the library, although both would almost be true. It was one of the few places I could find English books when the burden of French became too heavy, and it was the place where I found one that irrevocably hooked me: ‘The Journals of Sylvia Plath.’ I fell into them so deeply it took years for me to re-emerge, and I was not the same person afterwards. It was the first time I was ever tempted to commit the ultimate library sin and consider not returning the book, ever. In the end I bought a series of red brocade journals and, ashing my Gauloise cigarettes away from my Doc Marten boots, wrote out dozens of pages by hand, not wanting to spill a single word.

The Journals of Sylvia Plath

The Journals of Sylvia Plath

In my twenties I almost lived at my local library here in Melbourne, at the Northcote branch. This new thing called the internet had arrived, and in the days before dial up modems were affordable, I’d book into their computer room to print out my emails, and take my precious clutch of pen pal messages home. I was addicted to pagan and punk message boards, loving being able to connect with like-minded people all over the world, many of whom I’m still in touch with.

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My favourite library, however, is one that still takes my breath away – the Klementinum, the sprawling National Library of the Czech Republic, in stunning Prague. I went there in search of one of my characters, named Clementine after the building itself, and joined a tour of the amazing Baroque Library room. Clementine had an obsession with Kafka, and so I asked the guide, excitement making the pitch of my voice waver, ‘Are there any Kafka books here?’ Her curt, efficient and utterly charming ‘Exactly no’ made my shoulders droop at the time, but now gives me much mirth.

National Library, Prague

National Library, Prague

And so next Sunday I’ll take the lift up to the performance space of the swanky new Geelong Library and Heritage Centre, past ‘The Great Wall of Stories’ and the enormous balcony looking out over the water. I’ll spread out my writing on the lectern, straighten my pencil skirt, push my glasses back up to the bridge of my nose, and attempt to tame my unruly mane.

Photography by  Adrian Carmody

Photography by Adrian Carmody

Before I begin to read, I’ll take a deep breath to inhale the presence of all the pages of ink around me, beneath me, beside me, thinking of the day when my name will be written down a spine on those very shelves.

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Solstice stories

June 28, 2015 at 6:33 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

It may be the ever present influence of my time in Iceland, but I’ve never enjoyed winter more. I’ve been striding all over Melbourne in my Red Riding Hood coat and leopard print gloves, watching my breath cloud in front of me. There’s been mulled wine and cloves, open fires, purring kitties and bubble baths, and my birthday.

Yes, I was born on the cusp of the Winter Solstice…no wonder I keep getting drawn to snowy northern lands.

And there have been stories, as always.

I performed with the Stereo Stories crew at the Williamstown Literary Festival recently, and had just about the most fun on stage since my award winning dance troupe’s performance of Duran Duran’s ‘Wild Boys’ in 1984. I love that burst of adrenalin when I stand in front of the microphone, so I’m happy to be doing it all again next week at the Newport Folk Festival.

Tony Proudfoot Photography

Tony Proudfoot Photography

I’m delighted to have a story of mine, ‘Honey Island,’ included in the inaugural issue of The Vignette Review. This makes me particularly happy because it also holds one from the wonderful Lisa Jewell, a beautiful writer whose work I’ve always admired. We met almost a decade ago in an artists’ collective, and have since jumped on planes and gathered stories together in places as far afield as Russia, Sydney and New Orleans. And without realising it, we both submitted a vignette set in lush Louisiana…some places definitely cast a spell.

The Vignette Review

And my final snippet of inky news is one I’m pretty excited about. I’ve been working with a lovely ABC producer in Sydney, Lea Redfern, to develop one of my stories for broadcast on Australia’s Radio National. It’s my tenth story for the ABC, but for this one we were joined by the wonderful Hollywood actor Jacek Koman, of ‘Moulin Rouge’ and Vulgargrad fame. To be sitting in the studio going over our lines together, and listening to him bring my surly taxidermy flamingo alive, was an experience like no other in my writing career so far.

It’ll go live to air tomorrow morning at 11:35am, but has just been put online, so you can have a sneaky little listen by clicking on the feathers below:

Almost Flamboyant RN

If you’re in the mood for a cantankerous bird, a walk through Melbourne’s laneways, and some Tom Waits, sit on down and have a listen.

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Fire Stories

May 28, 2015 at 11:08 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world – Freya Stark

Amen to that.

A recent writing competition asked for ‘A letter to the trip that changed my life.’ Let me tell you, I had so much joy in pulling out my old photo albums and diaries. My background in linguistics and my ever present need to trawl for stories often leads me to new lands – working three jobs and living in an unheated flat all seems worth it when I can tumble off a plane and onto snow, or cobblestones.

But I always come home.

Click here for a video of me explaining my love of Melbourne

Click here for a video of me explaining my love of Melbourne

There’s something about being Australian that just leads to battered passports, I think. We’re so far from the rest of the world, and I’m forever stirring that isolation into my stories. I love writing about characters who are missing some link in the chain of intimate connection, whether the isolation is literal or psychological. A month in a remote Icelandic fishing village up near the Arctic Circle taught me my utter comfort in solitude is only growing with my years, and I’m not unhappy about this.

At all.

I won the ‘Letter to the trip that changed my life’ competition, for Penguin Publishing and Women of Letters. I wrote about being a teenage exchange student in Brussels, and how that whole incredible year opened my eyes to the wild and wonderful adventures available in this beautiful world of ours. And it made me realise just how much my travels are woven through my stories.

So here are a few snippets of recent news that combine my pen, and my passport:

– The Vignette Review has just accepted a story of mine, ‘Honey Island,’ set in lush Louisiana. It’s for the inaugural issue too, which I’m so happy to be part of.

– I’m back in the ABC studios tomorrow to record a story that combines my love of Iceland with my adoration of Big Mama Thornton – bliss all round, then.

– I’m booked in to perform at the Williamstown Literary Festival next month as part of Stereo Stories, who’ve published several tales of mine set in Berlin, Mississippi and Melbourne.

I had a fabulous time in the Australian countryside recently with the Stereo Stories crew, performing at the Newstead Short Story Tattoo as part of Fire Stories. We had a fat little moon, flowing wine, blankets to rug up in, and flickering bonfires as we climbed on stage…one of the best ways to tell stories I can possibly think of.

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Big love to my man, Tony Proudfoot, for both the stellar photography and the perfect road trip music.

Oh, and so as not to jinx it, I’ll tell you at the very end that I’m one of surely thousands that have just applied for a Travel Writing Scholarship with Lonely Planet and Word Nomads.

I’ll just leave that snippet here, and quietly head back to my notebook.

Don’t mind me, people. As you were.

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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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Smokestack Lightnin’

April 18, 2014 at 1:12 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

When an editor accepts a story for publication, they ask for a short bio and more and more frequently these days, a publicity photo to go with it. I’m fortunate enough to have many photographer friends generous with their time and talent, who know how to help me relax in front of a camera (we’ve found that whiskey, Nick Cave and teasing tend to work best).

Steph Tout Photography

Steph Tout Photography

 

Helen Isabella Photography

Helen Isabella Photography

Photography by  Adrian Carmody

Photography by Adrian Carmody

Matt Burke Photography

Matt Burke Photography

The bio is another matter, with this being my current version:

Rijn Collins is an Australian writer with a fondness for red notebooks, black coffee and stories about circus folk. She’s had more than fifty short stories published in anthologies and literary journals, performed at festivals in Melbourne and Chicago,and broadcast on Australian and American radio. She’s currently working on a novel, and trying not to include Elvis in it: so far, so good. More of her work can be found at www.rijncollins.com.

I meant it about Elvis: he finds his way into many of my stories. I’m not the kind of writer who can sing along to music as they work, as I get so involved that I forget about the page. I listen to mostly blues, and the melancholy magic of those big, big voices spellbinds me, every time.

My inky news involves quite a lot of music this month. I’m pleased to have my work included in Grace Notes, an exhibition celebrating music that’s on at the Yarra Hotel in Melbourne until May. I wrote nine short mixed tape vignettes…here’s a little taster.

2008 – ‘Stagger Lee’ – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

You watch this one sleep. You reach past the whiskey glasses on the bedside table and place one finger on the dial, wanting him to wake up. The slow, hypnotic waves of music wash over the room. The pillows have fallen to the floor and your throat is sore from arguing and he’s burst the zip on your jeans. As his chest rises and falls you can’t imagine ever wanting anything more than right now, right here. He doesn’t wake. Your song together holds so much darkness you don’t stand a chance.

I’ll also be performing at the Williamstown Literary Festival next month as part of Stereo Stories, a fabulous website that publishes tales of how and why songs resonate for people. My story involves being chased by a hurricane into Jackson, Mississippi, singing the Johnny Cash song as the Amtrak train pulled me out of New Orleans.

Thirdly, I’ve just had a story published in SmokeLong Quarterly, one of my absolute favourite literary journals. And the music link? Curled up in Rachmaninov’s old apartment in St Petersburg, counting my rib bones in Russian. Click on Leith O’Malley’s wonderful artwork to read ‘True, False and Floating.’

Artwork by Leith O'Malley

Artwork by Leith O’Malley

 

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s a thunderous afternoon and I feel the need for some Howlin’ Wolf…a perfect match, no?

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Swings & roundabouts

July 18, 2013 at 9:49 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

I dance a lot.

Just so you know.

You probably wouldn’t think so, to look at me. I’m not a perky person; in fact, my fingers didn’t like even typing that word. I’m quiet, but with a redhead’s temper, and extremely high heels that make dancing wildly impractical.

But just between us…I LOVE it.

I do several classes of partnered swing dancing a week. We listen to music from the 30s, 40s and 50s, and my wardrobe is showing the influence. We whirl around the dance floor doing the lindy hop and the shag, throwing down Johnny Drops and Tacky Annies like you wouldn’t believe.

I didn’t make those moves up, I swear.

I’m building myself up for aerials; being thrown over the man’s shoulders in true jitterbug style. And I cannot wait.Swingandthecity05

 

The man decides which moves to do, and the woman follows. This is not in my nature. The unpredictability of it –stepping onto the dance floor and giving up all control – used to make me sick. I’m the kind of person who needs to know what’s coming next, in class and in life. But being spun around to dirty, swampy blues, not knowing which move will follow and just giving in to the joyous freedom of it, is absolutely intoxicating.

I also tend to drink champagne during class. I should probably mention that.

swing-dancing

When I finish a story and prepare to submit it, I do everything I can to make it ready for the world. But I have to accept that once I send it, I have absolutely no control over how it’s received. Hitting send is like stepping onto the dance floor, holding your breath and nodding and saying, Ok, I have to trust this will work.

There have been several ouchy rejections this month, and more than a few frowns. But then the emails come through saying Yes, yes, we want this, and you feel as though you’ve just done five swing outs in a row to Big Mama Thornton with your eyes closed, laughing.

So here we go:

Stereo Stories is a wonderful new Melbourne online magazine specialising in the personal tales behind songs. They’ve just published my story about the Babes In Toyland song ‘Bruise Violet,’ and accepted another about Johnny Cash’s ‘Jackson,’  coming soon. They’re looking for more authors, if you’re interested, so go ahead and click on the image.

stereo stories

A very short story has just come online in literary journal Carnival, full of all manner of gems…you can read ‘Jawbreaker’ here.

Another story, ‘Falling Under the Rabbit,’ has been selected for an American anthology, and my ‘Street of the Candlesticks’ audio story has been chosen for a festival in Chicago.

To top off this wondrous month, I did a spoken word version of ‘The Old Man with Birds for Hands’ at a Melbourne exhibition opening last week, accompanied by my lovely friend Mikey Madden on cello. I also exhibited artwork based on my story, which took me totally outside of my comfort zone.

But that seems to be what 2013 is for, and though it doesn’t always work out, lord does it feel SO damn fine when it does.

Noir Exhibition

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