Hex signs at midnight

December 27, 2016 at 6:23 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

I may be alone in this sentiment, but for me, 2016 managed to sneak in great gold.

I’ve been hearing laments about the darkness of this past year, especially in regard to the slew of writers and artists we’ve lost. For a child of the 80s, as I am, this has been particularly striking. Don’t get me started on politics this year either. But what’s writing if not stepping stones out of the bleakness and into the gold? So here is my personal round up of a year that has been, to be honest, pretty damn rewarding.

2016 held performances at five literary festivals, three visits to the ABC studios, more writing paycheques than ever before, one gig as a short story competition judge, one interview feature with the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas here in Melbourne, and several emails of interest about my novel from a publisher. There were fourteen stories performed, recorded or published, and one exciting literary award that had me throwing a cocktail frock, notebook and passport into a bag, and jumping on a last minute flight to New York for the ceremony.

And we won first prize.

With the wonderful Lea Redfern, producer extraordinaire

With the wonderful Lea Redfern, producer extraordinaire

The link to the New York Times article

The link to the New York Times article

Winning the Sarah Awards for Audio Fiction remains one of my proudest professional achievements as a writer. Photos of me in the New York Times: one. Congratulatory messages from friends, family, editors, publishers and producers: about fifty. Dirty martinis in celebration: you don’t want to know! ABC producer by my side and in my heart: one lovely Lea. Two amazing friends to put me up, one in New York and one in Philadelphia. One extravagant lunch at the Waldorf Astoria with lobster, caviar and champagne held high. Years spent writing to my Philly penpal: about seventeen. Number of tattoos she’s got in that time: pretty much uncountable. One trip to Amish country, and numerous slices of divine Shoo Fly pie. Distelfinks on walls: two. Ribs cracked upon hugging both my US loves goodbye: at least three. What a joyful, ebullient, unexpected trip!

Manhattan martinis

Manhattan martinis

Amish country, Pennsylvania

Amish country, Pennsylvania

Amish county with Erica

Amish county with Erica

Distelfink hex sign in Philly

Distelfink hex sign in Philly

Flamingos sent my way to honour the story, ‘Almost Flamboyant’: about ten.

My latest addition

My latest addition

Four blood red trumpet lilies tattooed down my arm in long, painful sessions, to join the three already there. Delight at finding a trumpet lily tree outside my new house: immeasurable.

In progress...

In progress…

Completed...for now.

Completed…for now.

Bella donna trumpet lilies

Bella donna trumpet lilies

A move to the west of Melbourne, after 25 years lived north. One reason for this: my beautiful Wolf. Two arches of the iconic West Gate Bridge beckoning me home, seven bookshelves in our new house, and one writing studio. After a tiny kitchenette with only two burners for a decade, a new kitchen with huge stove allowing me to cook Jewish feasts of slow cooked Tzimmes, root vegies in a glaze of cider, cinnamon and golden syrup, til our house smelled divine and our bellies and hearts were full. One wary cat, still hesitant to explore her new home. Hours already spent on the sun deck, welcoming summer: dozens.

Back yard bliss.

Back yard bliss.

2016 saw many trips out of town, from the canola fields of Ninety Mile Beach to the sun bleached bones of rural Moyston. One trip brewing for next year…Iceland, I’m coming back!

Moyston, rural Victoria

Moyston, rural Victoria

The Wolf in Moyston, rural Victoria

The Wolf in Moyston, rural Victoria

One taxidermy workshop, nine meticulous hours of skinning and stitching, and a TV crew to film it. Uncountable headshakes from my man when I suggested our new home contain a tank of flesh eating dermestid beetles. Next year, perhaps?

Scalpel and shiraz at taxidermy class

Scalpel and shiraz at taxidermy class

Here’s to the joy and promise of 2017…may it bring you indulgent nights with friends, steps on welcoming soil, and always, always, words spilling from your fingertips.

To 2017, and all its stories.

To 2017, and all its stories.

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The Sarah Awards

March 26, 2016 at 11:51 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

There are some characters that are difficult to pour into a notebook, and then leave there.

I’ve been spending time with Elva, the protagonist in my novel. She’s a half Australian, half Icelandic taxidermist living in Reykjavik, hiding the darkness of her obsession between the lavish pelts and flesh eating beetles of her profession. Sometimes when I’m writing, I can hear her boots crunching on snow, and smell the sulphur of the underground hot springs.

My time in Iceland is never far from my mind.

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Then there’s the foul tempered barmaid with a Welsh flower tattooed on her chest in ‘Early Dog Violet‘ and the kleptomaniac southern son in ‘Elvis Would So.’ I still smile at the Australian backpacker mistaken for a member of Lithuanian Big Brother in ‘I Like Your Deer’s Moustache, and Other Lithuanian Tales’, the sinister shadow puppeteer in ‘The Old Man With Birds For Hands’, the cherry beer swilling voyeur of ‘Street of the Candlesticks’ and the woman counting her rib bones on Rachmaninov’s old bed in Russia in ‘True, False and Floating.’

But I have a special place in my heart for my surly, splenetic taxidermy flamingo with a smoker’s cough, a foul mouth, and the inclination to sing Tom Waits songs on a Melbourne tram.

The resultant story in its ABC podcast, ‘Almost Flamboyant,’ will never be far from my heart now, as it’s just won a Sarah Award in New York. This competition from Sarah Lawrence College celebrating ‘the best in audio fiction’ is being advertised with the byline ‘Movies have Oscars, TV has Emmys…now audio fiction has The Sarahs.’ This definitely made all manner of exclamations fly out of my mouth, believe me.

I was on a packed peak hour tram to work when my producer, the amazing Lea Redfern, rang me to gasp that our story had been announced one of three finalists, with the first, second and third places being announced on Friday April 1st at the award ceremony in New York. Ahem. And did I, perhaps, feel like going with her to pick up our prize, with assistance from the organisers?

To my utter amazement, my flights are booked, my dress is laid out, and I’ve given Lea the address of my favourite café on the Lower East Side to meet her on Friday, just before the award ceremony. It’s being held in the Greene Space, in the New York Public Radio’s headquarters, organised by Ann Heppermann, a producer from This American Life.

The first thing I’ll do when I see Lea is reach over and give her a firm, ebullient, and utterly amazed ‘I-Can’t-Believe-We’re-Really-Here’ pinch.

So wish us luck! And as always…I’ll bring you back stories, people.

I promise.

TheSarahAwardsLOGO

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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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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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Telja

December 31, 2014 at 3:18 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )


Margir eru marlíðendr.

Many kinds of people sail across the sea. Read the rest of this entry »

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Can I borrow your rat comb?

May 7, 2014 at 11:40 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

‘So you make the first incision just above the rat’s womb – did I mention this one’s a female?’

The man next to me sucked in his breath as he listened.

‘After we’ve skinned it, we’ll remove the organs for analysis. The fur’s come off in places because we froze her, but no problem, folks: she’ll be a fine looking wrap once we’ve finished with her.’

The enormous screen in front of us showed a close up of the scalpel, digging into the rat’s belly. The man next to me audibly groaned. I’d lost my friends as soon as we walked in, but nothing could tear me away. By the time the Senior Museum Advisor popped her little rat tail from its sheath – ‘just like peeling off a sock!’ – I was leaning forward, my wine glass clutched to my chest and my eyes huge.

I’m fascinated by taxidermy. Did I mention that?

Julia Deville

Julia Deville

 

And so, it seems, is just about a third of Melbourne. On a freezing night, the queue stretched out in front of the museum surprised me. They’d better not get in between me and a snake, I scowled. I’m quite a scowler too, but you probably already know that. After a few swigs of spiced Czech liqueur to warm us up we were in the door, and heading straight for the seminar.

Yes, true words: a taxidermy information night at the Melbourne Museum, one of many reasons I love this quirky and unpredictable city. And it was packed. There was music and wine too: had they thrown in a cowboy or Bessie Smith blues number, it would have been a night custom made for me.

There were trestle tables with plump birds, an ebony bat and even a coiled snake, all ready for stroking. For the less faint at heart, you could watch an actual procedure right in front of you, with, I have to say, the coolest rock and roll taxidermists I’ve ever seen, right down to peacock tattoos and rockabilly fringes. I was mesmerised…the wine glass barely left my chest all night.

My interest in taxidermy is relatively new, typically obsessive, and utterly reasonable – the main character in my novel is responsible for acquiring and maintaining it in the Cabinet of Curiosities where she works. I do tend to throw myself into the research stage of stories (you don’t want to know what I got up to in Kaartinkaupunki in Finland, for example) so it didn’t take long for me to start delving into the art of skinning and stuffing creatures.

This in no way clashes with my love of animals; in fact, it enhances it. After twenty years of vegetarianism and sharing my life with an assortment of fangs and fur, I see it as a way to honour the animals. The days of showing off the spoils of the hunt are long gone, and most taxidermy these days comes in the form of beloved pets. The rat being prepared in the seminar was part of a previously undiscovered species in Sulawesi, and the museum scientists were keen to learn more.

Julia Deville

Julia Deville

And lord, were they proud of their work. When he’d finished with the rat, the scientist put his tools down and held her up for the camera, beaming. He placed her back on the tray and then picked up a small brush and slowly, tenderly, began to stroke the sawdust from her fur.

‘Grooming is the key to a smart looking rat’, he told us proudly.

Good to know, I nodded, reaching for my pen.

Good to know.

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Those three hisses

June 11, 2013 at 11:06 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

My weekend did not go as planned. I was getting ready for a vintage swing dancing ball at the Melbourne Town Hall, listening to big band music and checking the seams were straight in my stockings. But I kept creeping back to my computer, wanting to do just one more piece of research…and so I found myself with high heels in hand, feet tapping to the horns, as I bent over the screen and learned how to perform my own taxidermy on small rodents.

It’s a skill every woman should have, don’t you think?

My novel is waking me up at night, and after a long period of focusing on short stories, I couldn’t be happier about that. The protagonist, Clementine, works in the taxidermy department of a wunderkammer, and I’ve found myself increasingly fascinated by this intriguing industry. She has quite the obsession with cockroaches in particular – and you thought swing dancing was the strange part of this entry – and I’ve been jumping into my research with both feet.

photo source: infectiouslearning.tumblr.com

photo source: infectiouslearning.tumblr.com

So when I saw the bingo prompts in Bayou Magazine’s flash fiction competition, I couldn’t resist. Their beautifully creative prompt was a bingo card of twenty-five squares, from which writers could choose several to incorporate into a story of up to 300 words. And yes, one picture was a cockroach.

Did you know the Madagascan hissing cockroach has three types of hiss? Neither did I until I began to write my story, but if we were to meet for a whiskey, I’d now be able to show you all three. Yes, yes, I’ve been practising the hisses.

collins-bingo-option-1

My story, ‘The Disturbance Hiss’, is one of the three finalist stories in the competition. I’m especially pleased because Bayou is the wonderful literary journal of the University of New Orleans, a city I hold close to my heart.

My friends are pleased because maybe now I can stop practising the hisses.

Just wait until I tell them about the taxidermy lessons.

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