Words on a winter wing

July 20, 2019 at 10:05 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I asked Emily which was her favourite in the museum. She led me back to a Monet water lily, the first she’d ever seen, from 1919.

This is when I let her in on a secret: it can be yours. No different from falling in love with a song, one may fall in love with a work of art and claim it as one’s own.

‘Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me’ by Bill Hayes.

This gorgeous passage in Bill Hayes’ memoir brought my favourite artwork instantly to mind: the Betrothal of the Arnolfini by Jan van Eyck. At the age of seventeen I flew from Australia to Brussels for a year-long student exchange, and began a lifelong love affair with everything Flemish; the painting, the language, the architecture, and the divine black cherry beer. The first time I stood in front of van Eyck’s masterpiece in The National Gallery in London, my septum threaded with silver, my ripped stockings and army boots below a tattered punk t-shirt, I was instantly catapulted back into the Middle Ages. Its power was startling to me; still is, in fact.

betrothal

‘Betrothal of the Arnolfini’ by Jan van Eyck

Ownership of your artwork does not come free. One must spend time with it; visit at different times of the day or evening, and bring to it one’s full attention.

Van Eyck led me to delve into the witches of Goya, the intricate rabbit sketches of Dürer, the apocalyptic torment of Hieronymus Bosch, and the wry humour in Brueghel. As Hayes explains, it’s not just paintings that can provide these stories and their inspiration, but also books, songs, photographs, architecture…it can be anywhere, if you know where to look.

Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch

rabbit

Albrecht Dürer

Perhaps the best part about possessing art in this way is that what’s mine can be yours, and vice versa. In fact, I would not be surprised if half of New York City has also put dibs on the Monet that Emily chose. This made it no less hers.

There are streets in Brussels that belong to me. Rue Chair et Pain (Street of Flesh and Bread) is where I bought my coconut incense in 1989, my backpack full of French homework I didn’t quite understand. Rue des Renards (Street of the Foxes) spills its cobblestones into the site of an old leper colony, then a flea market, where I haggled for a tartan ‘mini jupe’ skirt in 2002 that made a workman lay his pipes on the road to slowly applaud me as I walked past. In 2006 I often walked through the Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés for a gingerbread salad and sweet rosé at Café Coco opposite the Jacques Brel museum, writing postcards home to Melbourne. And in 2011 I stood outside a red-walled house on Kandelaarstraat (Street of the Candlesticks) and beamed up at the window of the bedroom I dream I’m still living in.

1381987_10202167706653490_773116106_n

Brussels windowsill (photo by Lisa Jewell)

Which brings me to music. I don’t know if you can share ownership of a song, but if so, I’m going to claim Big Mama Thornton. I love her blues so much I wanted it played at my wedding a few weeks ago. Chris listened to the sultry sighs and moans in the song I’d chosen. ‘Is that really a wedding song, babe?’he laughed. ‘Your dad is going to be there.’ I hadn’t thought of that.

In the end we went with David Bowie’s ‘Word on a Wing’ as I walked down the aisle in my red velvet dress. I barely heard the songs we chose, I was so spellbound by Chris’ beautiful face waiting for me at the altar. We wrapped a red silk ribbon around our wrists in a witchcraft hand-fasting, and these two writers promised each other a life of words and their wonder. Etta James’ ‘Loving You More Every Day’ played as we signed our marriage certificate; Nick Cave’s ‘Breathless’ saw us back down the aisle and out of the chapel.

Wedding-LowRes-20

Wedding photos by Rebecca Murray

Wedding-LowRes-7

Wedding-LowRes-56

Wedding-LowRes-53

Our honeymoon is in Brussels in four weeks. We’re going to visit Brueghel’s house and play Jacques Brel songs. I’ll take him to the flea market, sit him down with a black cherry beer, and see if I can still haggle in Flemish and French.

I cannot wait.

But don’t be hasty. You must be sure you are besotted. When it happens, you will know. 

I brought Emily in closer to her new acquaintance: ‘Emily, meet your Monet. Monet, Emily.’ 

Words did not fail her. ‘Hello, beautiful,’ she whispered.

The morning of our wedding was damn cold in the mountains outside Melbourne. The witch in me had chosen the Winter Solstice, after all. I woke early, before him. We’d stayed up with whiskey and tunes the night before; our rings were ready on the bedside table, my dress hanging on the bathroom rail. I watched him sleep. His head was turned away from me on the pillow, his arms wrapped around himself.

I leaned down and gently kissed his sleeping shoulder.

‘Hello, beautiful,’ I whispered.

Wedding-LowRes-112

Permalink 1 Comment

My stack of spines

May 30, 2019 at 8:44 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I’ve been writing, as usual, but I’ve also been reading.

Lord, have I been reading.

I’ve always been a bookworm but it seems to have kicked into high gear recently. There’s a stack of spines on my dresser, but also in my kitchen, and the studio too. I almost hold my breath when walking past The Sun bookshop in Yarraville, or Brown and Bunting in Northcote, lest my feet automatically turn and walk in, my fingers opening and closing in readiness. As conundrums go, it’s really not a bad one, hey?

Here are some of the books that I’ve slid from a stack recently, and devoured.

Saga Land’ by Richard Fidler and Kári Gíslason

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows how much I love Iceland. Even my pharmacist, hairdresser and vet know how much I love Iceland. My novel is set there – currently getting stuck into manuscript revisions and edits, thanks for asking! I studied the language at university, and I’ve been there many times, including an incredible month-long writing residency in a tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle. Unforgettable.

novel edits

Editing advice from my Icelandic fortune cards: ‘Let go of it.’

‘Saga Land’ is deeply engaging. It offers twin strands of the authors’ personal history and travels across that wild, white land, woven in with tales of the sagas and their richly detailed insight into Icelandic culture and history. Definitely worth a read.

‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier

I was a latecomer to this classic. In all honesty, my tastes run more to contemporary titles: I still resent English Literature classes and their force feeding of Austen and the Brontës. Du Maurier is one of my partner’s favourite writers, so when I found this gorgeous version of ‘Rebecca’ in Ampersand, Sydney’s revered second-hand bookstore, I couldn’t resist (their brunch of black sticky rice, coconut cream and caramelised bananas with crushed hazelnuts also got a huge thumbs up). I started reading this book at the airport flying home to Melbourne and could not put it down for a week. I kept sending my man texts along the lines of ‘I can’t believe Max de Winter did (spoiler)!’ or ‘Oh my god, Mandelay (spoiler)!’ This glorious Gothic suspense novel makes me want to visit Cornwall, and scan more bookshelves for du Maurier’s name.

Rebecca at Ampersand

Delights at Ampersand Books, Sydney

‘Angry Women in Rock’ edited by Andrea Juno

This book is an old favourite of mine. I bought it in the 90’s when I joined several online communities dedicated to writing and putting out feminist punk zines. These interviews are just so invigorating: Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill), Lynn Breedlove (Tribe 8), Joan Jett and my absolute favourite, the incomparable Val Agnew from 7 Year Bitch (one of THE best bands of the 90’s). I love the fiery opinions, the delicate artwork, the Goddess tattoos, and the reverence of metal and punk music. I often pull this off the shelves for a dose of feminist fire.

Juno book

Interview with the extraordinary Valerie Agnew from 7 Year Bitch

‘The Natural Way of Things’ by Charlotte Wood

What the HELL just happened? This was my bellow to my bestie as I came to the end of just the first chapter (!) of this staggering, controversial and unforgettable book. I took it as a holiday read for a quick New Year’s jaunt to Tasmania, but I did not get much rest. The cover should have warned me, with its praise from other authors along the lines of ‘A haunting parable of contemporary misogyny…sly and devastating’ (The Economist) and ‘You can’t shake off this novel; it gets under your skin, fills your lungs, breaks your heart’ (Christos Tsiolkas). Ten young women are abducted and held in a makeshift prison in the middle of the stark Australian outback, the heat and desert a jailor in itself. The women come to realise that all they have in common is involvement in ten different sexual scandals with prominent men; kept away from society, they are all being punished and can either turn to, or against, each other. I will say the ending had me wanting to pull my hair out, but in all honesty, I hope a reader reacts with the same vehemence to one of my books one day.

Wood

Charlotte Woods’ astonishing ‘The Natural Way of Things’

There are many, many more books to detail! I would love to add:

  • ‘The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Culture of Longing’ by Rachel Poliquin (the first draft of my novel may have come to an end, but my love of taxidermy research that arose from it will never cease)
  • ‘The Tricking of Freya’ by Christina Sunley (more Icelandic stories)
  • ‘Beautiful Revolutionary’ by Laura Elizabeth Woollett (gorgeous writing about the startling People’s Temple cult)
  • ‘A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists’ by Jane Rawson (odd and engaging fiction that defies definition: part speculative, part cli-fi prose set around my area of Melbourne’s industrial west).

 

book store sign

Sign found in a bookstore in Kallista, the Dandenongs

Rebecca on Sydney windowsill

Windowsill bliss

And on my To Be Read list?

  • Lucia Berlin’s ‘A Manual for Cleaning Women.’
  • Daisy Johnson’s ‘Everything Under.’
  • Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s ‘Butterflies in November.’
  • Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Jamaica Inn.’

And I am always ready to hear your recommendations, or your thoughts on any of the above books. My stacks of spines are tall, you know, but they could always get taller.

book stack

 

Permalink Leave a Comment

Feasting season, with fire

April 30, 2019 at 10:46 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

59398213_352092395414592_4570417988372529152_n

My beautiful snake familiar, Elva

It’s Hallowe’en tonight in the Southern Hemisphere, and I’m feeling it.

Our seasons are reversed from the Northern Hemisphere, so our Sabbats are too. Winter is almost here. Melbourne is chilly, with the sky dark before I even put my key in the lock after work. I cooked a gorgeous wintry meal for my man and stepson, fed and scratched my rotund and irascible punk rock cat, and am sitting here with a glass of pinot noir, working on a submission for a short story anthology.

This month has been extraordinarily busy in ink-spilling scope. I’ve been poring over the suggested edits by my agent for my novel manuscript, researching Icelandic sagas and skalds and taxidermy techniques to put within its pages. I applied for a UNESCO Cities of Literature writing residency in downtown Reykjavik, for which I had to update my CV. It took a lot longer than I expected and resulted in me staring at newly added publications and festival appearances, podcasts and prizes, with my hand on my throat and an odd little murmur of pleasure. I entered a contest run by a feminist literary magazine, and another by a prestigious Australian publication. I recorded several short stories for All The Best Radio about ‘Feasts’, set in Brussels, Melbourne, New York and Darwin. And I loved the mail telling me a monologue of mine is going to be performed as a theatre piece next month in Sydney.

58570867_2230675893816225_5814225867160682496_n

Recording for All The Best Radio, on the topic of ‘Feasts’

59403858_2374942039453979_5981960738254618624_n

One of my favourite places to write; in my friends’ studio in Moyston, Victoria

58599010_2384560728485432_4442078361203769344_n

For when you need to step out of the books and back into the body: Sunday afternoon archery sessions

So forgive my absence, but the pen is always in my hand. I also don’t think I’ve ever read as much as I have this past year, sometimes several books a week. They’ve moved, infuriated and impressed me, and on quite a few occasions made me thump the table in heated discussion with loved ones.

Those are always good nights, hey?

Winter is just around the corner. Here in Melbourne it seems to have already arrived, but just between us, I love it. I want open fires and mulled wine, snuggling and snow. I’m getting married on the Winter Solstice in the mountains yet still stubbornly insist I’m going to do it in bare feet, winter witch that I am. Let’s see how that goes, shall we?

This is just a little wave to say I’m still here, and still writing.

Happy Hallowe’en to you and yours.

Permalink Leave a Comment

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?

Permalink Leave a Comment

As I sing my song to the sea

February 9, 2019 at 9:19 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I know I’ve been absent, but for the best of reasons.

I’ve been writing.

And I’ve finished my novel.

My last post described my retreat in the Dandenongs where I put my head down and worked on the last stretch of my manuscript, with nothing but walks in the rainforest and Big Mama Thornton singing the blues to distract me. Two weeks later I flew over to Tasmania in a propeller plane that had me clenching my teeth, but which brought me to a beach side house where I again sat for days, typing away as I listened to waves crash only metres away.

Tassie

Sisters Beach, Tasmania

I welcomed the first day of 2019 with a swim in the ocean, bobbing around under the bluest of skies as I sang my offering to the sea goddesses. Then I dried myself off, and wrote some more.

Tassie 2

Beach side bliss, Sisters Beach, Tasmania

Last week I could see the finishing line approach. I sat in my studio back home in Melbourne, surrounded by my skulls and snake skins, my Icelandic spell books and photos of my writing residency in the tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle that had inspired my manuscript in the first place.

And then I wrote those magic words.

End of Bird Spit MS

I barely had time to drink my champagne before I was given two weeks to edit it for the agent who’s been patiently waiting to read it since June. So now I’m back in my studio, head down, Big Mama crooning, honing my words as I edit, stitch and strengthen the project that’s been my passion for three years now.

All the emotions are swirling right now, but among them is joy.

I would love to stay and chat, but I have work to do.

Hold my whiskey: I’m going back in.

Finished novel!

Excited and exhausted at the finishing line

Permalink Leave a Comment

Ink and inspiration

December 27, 2018 at 1:48 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Kalorama 3

Kalorama, Victoria

I didn’t use to love this forest.

Growing up in the Dandenong mountain range, surrounded by towering mountain ash trees and the song of lyrebirds, I dreamed instead of big cities and punk clubs. I fled when I was seventeen, straight to Europe and an exchange year studying languages. It’s only now, decades later that I’ve come to not just appreciate the regenerative power of the rainforest, but to need it.

I’ve just come back from a solo writing retreat on the top of Mount Dandenong, about 30 kilometres outside Melbourne. I had a cosy cabin and a novel to work on whose protagonist, now living in Iceland, grew up in the hills as I did. My retreat was amazing: a thunderstorm brewed as I wrote, admired the mist, sang to Big Mama Thornton and fed kookaburras and cockatoos. The lovely email I got there from a literary agent keen to read my finished draft was pure inspiration, and kept the pen in my hand.

Kalorama 5

Kalorama cabin

Kalorama 1

Morning mist and cockatoos

This is not the only getaway to be featured in my December round up. This year I was fortunate enough to write in Sydney, Walhalla, Albury, Moyston, on the Gold Coast, and tomorrow, Tasmania. Road trips, then: seven.

2018 saw me perform at four literary festivals, both here and interstate. I had multiple new Stereo Stories published, and recorded new audio that was featured on All The Best Radio, Memoria podcast and played on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel at Docklands.

Memoria

Recording ‘The Eyes of a Bird‘ for Memoria podcast

Memoria Medusa

‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel’ at Memoria podcast

RRR

Recording for All The Best radio – story here

I was interviewed for a film documentary on my love of the West Gate Bridge, also the subject of a story for the Readings Victoria project celebrating Melbourne’s tenth anniversary of being designated a UNESCO City of Literature. Add that to two stories published in the Big Issue, and you get two kickarse Christmas parties for both the Big Issue and our City of Literature office, right down to a dancefloor of writers doing the Nutbush.

I had a dozen rehearsals and meetings with my fabulous Stereo Stories collective, and wrote about the joys of collaborating for the Writers Vic magazine.

Finale Bow _E Algra_0347 (1)

Deep Red Bells‘ at Stereo Stories (photo by Eric Algra)

Being accepted into the prestigious Hard Copy manuscript development program gave me immeasurable knowledge, inspiration and contacts, with my Digital crew being such a wonderful group of supportive and talented writers.

There were tens of thousands of words on my novel, multiple Icelandic spells and taxidermy techniques as research, and a rapidly approaching finish line. Uncountable new books read, red shoes bought, archery sessions, date night with The Wolf, writing sessions at State Library, snake skins collected and students corrected.

Spellbook

Beautiful engagement present

And one engagement, to a beautiful hirsute fellow writer I want to spend my life with.

2018 has been, as always, full of ink and inspiration. Hope yours has been likewise fulfilling…see you in 2019!

Espy 1

Closing out 2018 in stylish surrounds

Permalink 1 Comment

Out of the Blue

November 25, 2018 at 3:49 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

My parents have both begun writing down their lives. Stories are being sent around our family of childhood shenanigans and teen dreams, vintage cars and 21st birthdays.  As someone who’s kept a diary since the age of seven, I applaud this. How people cope without writing down their days is, frankly, beyond me.

Nov blog4

My parents

The above pic is from their engagement party. She was 19, and he was 21. They still look at each other this way, even after what will next year be half a century of marriage. Mum recently wrote that in their first house together they were broke but joyous; Dad was a bricklayer and used his trowel to slather butter on their toast. They were overjoyed to be free of their parents’ rules and used this independence to delight in eating chocolate pudding for breakfast. We can still hear them laughing like naughty kids at some in-joke during family celebrations, hand in hand, heads bent together.

Our latest celebration belonged to myself, and my Wolf. We threw an engagement party recently. We booked a room at our local pub and ordered blue cheese platters and tiny vanilla slices. I bought a 50’s pin up dress with Sophia Loren wrap around top, and hot air balloons and snakes around the hem. I then slid under it a petticoat so full that I had to bat it down to fit through doors. My shoes held big red roses that matched the red lilies tattooed down my arm. Half an hour before the party began we had to lie in bed together, hand in hand, and feed each other Valium to calm us down.

But it was wonderful; beyond wonderful, in fact. How can you not love being surrounded by people who can’t stop hugging you and wishing you well? Even though more than a few squeezed my arm and exclaimed ‘You? Getting married? YOU?’

Nov blog1

In Berlin, where this enigmatic city struck a chord in him the same way it has in me for thirty years

I understand their incredulity. I have, in fact, done a lot over the years to foster it, with my cynicism and independence, my polyamoury and adoration of solitude. So many of my stories have explored not the desire for intimacy, but rather the desire to shy away from it, a topic of much fascination for me, and my characters.

But quite quickly in our courtship, Chris and I bonded over the plague. And I thought, well, here is someone as macabre and melancholy as me: let’s see where this goes. His novel is set in Sweden; mine, Iceland…another good sign. We both have a shitlist that is horribly easy to be placed on, with our spiky tempers and long memories. He bought me a taxidermy workshop for Christmas, while I got him books on religious doomsday cults.

See what I mean?

 

plague pillow

A plague doctor pillow and rogue flamingo…just your average living room

Nov blog 5

Combined interests – witchcraft, the Black Death and apocalyptic painters

I make him spiced cakes for witchcraft sabbats and he gingerly moves my book collection to make room for our new snake tank. We both honour the solstices. My hundredth published story was about him. I’ve now stood on stage at literary festivals and told of our treacherous and terrifying drive across Iceland in sleet and snow, where only his soothing reassurances and Etta James’ sensual songs calmed my heartbeat.

gold-solstice-short-story-rijn-collins

‘Gold’, my 100th published story – read here 

unnamed (3)

‘Crawling King Snake’ at Stereo Stories – my tale of Iceland and intimacy

He’s the first writer I’ve fallen in love with. It changes the dynamic in heavenly ways, let me tell you. When we write side by side for hours, with only a forehead kiss or hand squeeze between us, no-one tells me I’m being selfish for communicating with my pen instead of my mouth. And that’s a blessing of the highest order, believe me.

My pen also threw out this little story for The Big Issue last month, ‘Out of the Blue.’ It details my emergence from the agoraphobia of my early twenties, and the role my pen pals played in that. The road in front of me used to look so narrow; completely lacking in freedom or potential, just a tiny slice of blue sky above factory chimneys. When I could control the panic long enough to creep to the window, that is.

Blue

Read my story for The Big Issue – ‘Out of the Blue’

The road looks pretty damn different now. I never would have guessed it’d involve an engagement party, a snake dress and Valium.

Just between us though, I always hoped the publications would be in there somewhere.

 

 

Permalink Leave a Comment

I no longer eat my stories

September 29, 2018 at 11:09 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

In September I had the lovely luxury of taking time off my day job to focus on my career: putting stories on paper. Woven through both jobs is my deep reverence for words and their wonder, and I still can’t believe I get paid to splash around in ink. My academic background is linguistics, leading me to now teach in a language college in Melbourne’s CBD where I can speak of gerunds and infinitives, pronouns and prepositions until the sky turns dark and I almost skip down Bourke Street afterwards. Have to love a job where you can ask students to analyse both Chaucer and Nick Cave.

Nick Cave Stereo Stories

Rehearsing for my Nick Cave song with Stereo Stories

Recently I caught sight of myself in the train window, glasses on, hair in a messy bun, bag full of books, looking for all the world like an actual grown up who Works With Words.

Still, it’s been joyous to take a step back this month to focus on the novel. With publisher and agent interest lighting a fire under me, I’m taking every opportunity to curl up in my studio, surrounded by snake skins, vintage heels and feminist punk on the turntable, and pour out the words.

Sept2018-2

My writing studio

I also finished the incomparable Hard Copy manuscript development program through the ACT Writers Centre, streamed live from the National Library in Canberra. Three exhausting and euphoric days of ‘Introduction to Industry’ lectures on contracts and copyright, signing with agents and negotiating publicity tours, and everything in between. When I heard the chairman describe us as ‘the next wave of exciting new Australian novelists’, I turned my Bikini Kill record up loud and sang along.

Sept2018-4

Taking a break from my Hard Copy notes

I also took the time to update my website with new publication and podcast links, an updated profile page, and a general spring clean. Go take a peek if you haven’t before.

There was also a trip to wonderful Albury for the Write Around the Murray literary festival, where I performed at a sold out Stereo Stories show after speaking on a panel about alternative forms of storytelling. A fast paced, utterly magical weekend of word work. When I checked into the hotel they’d booked for me and found a goody bag with my name on it, it was another gold moment in a month full of them.

Sept2018- 10

A tulle petticoat, a hotel bed, and a festival bag of goodies

WATM2018

The Form Guide panel on ‘alternative forms of storytelling.’

Sept2018 - 9

Rehearsal space for our Stereo Stories show

Sept2018 -7

Beautiful Albury, New South Wales

Sept2018- 5

A very happy writer, after coming off stage at our sold out show

There was no day more golden than last Saturday, when my Wolf and I took a walk at the water’s edge. All of Melbourne was spread out in front of us across the bay. The first spring blossoms were bursting out of our frozen landscape, and everyone we saw on the boardwalk was smiling at the approaching sunshine, right down to frolicking dogs. It was a moment of great pleasure and promise, and when he asked me to marry him, my yes was immediate.

Sept2018-1

My turquoise ring; vintage and odd, just like me

So that’s my monthly round up: more ink spilling, more punk music and road trips, far too many pairs of red shoes and red pen strokes on my manuscript, and a new life unfurling in front of me and my man.

See you in October.

Permalink 3 Comments

Tales from the Bowery

August 31, 2018 at 3:10 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

‘His favourite sound was the click clack of typewriters […] He knew exactly how much words cost and what consequences they can have: how they can start but also stop the opened organ of the heart.’

‘The Lonely City’ by Olivia Laing

The above book has kept me spellbound this month. An elegant, erudite look at intimacy (or lack thereof) through the prism of artists in New York City, Laing’s reverences for the words she selects is exquisite. This is such a moving, beautiful book to read.

The first time I saw the skyline of New York was through the window of a Greyhound bus, fat full moon hanging low over the skyscrapers. All the breath was sucked out of me. I had flown from Australia to meet a pen pal I’d been writing to from an online feminist punk collective, Erica, and we explored the area I knew would forever more be my NY stomping ground, the Lower East Side.

NYC

The Bowery, New York City, 2006

Four years later I returned, again with Erica, and smitten by the Bowery, I booked us into a hostel opposite CBGB’s that was so foul I’ve just spent a very entertaining fifteen minutes reading online reviews of its horrors. From the drunk men passed out on the floor of the lobby that we literally had to step over, to the blood stains on the sheets and walls that only reached head height, it remains the worst place I’ve ever stayed at. Even the reception cat had a broken leg and coughed up a furball of warning at my feet when I checked in. I do have a dollop of fondness for it, however, as it became the topic of my first magazine publication, a clipping I still have in a drawer somewhere.

flat,1000x1000,075,f (23)

New York City, 2009

New York

New York City, 2012

That trip I had a backpack stuffed with diaries, linguistic textbooks and my university degree. I was moving to Brussels, having left my boyfriend, my 18-year-old cat and my whole life behind in Melbourne. It was in Brussels, living in a medieval house in the Street of the Candlesticks with blood red floorboards and my makeshift altar in the corner, that I had my first taste of the loneliness that Olivia Laing writes so hauntingly about.

ssa40538

In Rue des Chandeliers, Brussels, 2006 – click here for story

ssa40549

In Rue des Chandeliers, Brussels – click here for ABC audio story

I’d lived in Brussels as a teenage exchange student for a year, and fallen in love with both the city itself, and the glorious bliss of solitude and independence. When I moved there again at 33, it was to put down roots and carve out a life of Flemish freedom. Or so I thought. The news that the man I left behind had moved on with a new partner, three months after I left, broke me apart. I drank whiskey for breakfast, I lost weight; I stopped speaking. I had no-one to speak to anyway, to be honest. I practised my broken French and Flemish on the alley cats. But the words did come out of my fingers too, and I wrote my way above ground again.

‘Art was a place where one could move freely between integration and disintegration, doing the work of mending, the work of grief, preparing oneself for the dangerous, lovely business of intimacy.’

‘The Lonely City’ by Olivia Laing

Being alone in a new city has immense challenges, but for me, the rewards are undeniably rich. Many of my travels have been solo adventures, loner that I am, including uprooting my life and moving overseas twice. I love to dine alone, with a book and a wine and a full heart. Some of my happiest memories have been me, in a new city – Helsinki, Albuquerque, Hong Kong, Reykjavik – walking the streets with the knowledge that no-one in the world knew where I was at the point in time. But I know the flipside also, and finding it within the cover of Laing’s book reminds me in beautiful, painful ways.

The protagonist in my novel knows this also. Iceland is a precarious place to find your feet, and she falls between the cracks in the language, the culture and society. But lord, how I love finding the words to describe it.

1959707_10205122934092329_3591073662946921942_n

Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland – click here for ABC audio story

My love of my hometown, Melbourne, has also been on display this month. I was delighted to be one of the writers selected for the Melbourne Writers Festival this year, with my story for the Reading Victoria project being recorded and played on an audio loop in the Star Observation Wheel. I took my Wolf on the wheel, and the joy of hearing my own voice tell of my love for my city, while we soared above it, was one I won’t forget. Being part of the celebration of Melbourne’s 10th anniversary of our UNESCO City of Literature designation is also a joy.

MWF

On the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel with the Wolf 

I keep thinking of New York. My last trip, in 2016, was for the ridiculously exciting reason that one of my audio stories, ‘Almost Flamboyant’, had been selected as a finalist in the inaugural Sarah Awards for International Audio Fiction. I was so stunned when we won that I pinched my producer, hard, and then gave a bemused speech where I named all my taxidermy. Waking up to our photo in the New York Times the next morning is a jewel I keep taking out and polishing, and admiring the light that shines from it. New York sure looked good that trip.

New York Times

Picture from the New York Times

12974321_10209467557385196_2071082377148961985_n

Celebratory dirty martinis, New York City

13925145_10210413711878467_7303042067136703476_n

To hear our winning story of a taxidermy flamingo possessed by the spirit of Tom Waits, click here 

So that’s August for you! Next month I’m heading interstate to perform at the Write Around the Murray literary festival in Albury, New South Wales…more travel, more words, and always, always, more stories to report.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Rapunzel, Rapunzel

July 31, 2018 at 2:55 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I read about Rapunzel syndrome, where sufferers ate the hair they wrenched free. The strands knotted inside them, plump and dark, deep within their belly like a swallowed secret.

‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel’ by Rijn Collins

Of all my ink, my Medusa tattoo is my favourite. She stands proudly on my left arm, hands on hips, draped in a long flowing skirt. Thirteen blue, black and silver snakes writhe in front of her bare breasts, wrap themselves around her pointed feet, or curl out from her beautiful face, almost feline in its angularity.

Matt Burke Medusa

Matt Burke Photography

My skin tells other stories too; a trio of cauldrons, glossy red holly berries, words from an Irish spell, a scarlet and black swirling triskele, and my most noticeable – and colourful – tattoo, nine blood red trumpet lilies wrapped around my right arm and curling over my shoulder, behind which snakes charcoal Art Nouveau ivy tendrils.

Again with the snakes, hey?

Wesley Anne tattoo

Belladonna trumpet lilies

My Medusa tattoo features in my latest story, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel’ up now at Memoria. This wonderful podcast focuses on short memoir extracts, ‘micro-stories about the moments that shape us, and how memories change over time.’ I narrate my tale of obsession, regeneration and yes, more snakes, all beautifully produced in a little slice of audio lasting 5 minutes and 32 seconds. So settle back with a glass of red and let me read you a story…and take a wander through the other stories on the site while you’re there.

Memoria Medusa

Illustration by Peta Manning – click here for story

I ran a hand through my hair, falling in deep red waves to my waist. I imagined my snakes as they writhed, glowing in the late afternoon sunshine. It’s all I could do not to reach up and pat them.

‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel’ by Rijn Collins

If you think I’ve finished with the serpent stories, you’re wrong. My lovely Wolf has decided to buy me a snake for my birthday, and we’ve been searching. We have the tank (and a rather alarmed cat, sniffing the scales of the previous tank tenant), and are fitting it out with a thermostat and hide. In Australia you need a licence to acquire one, just in case you were tempted to go out and catch yourself a wild one. My licence arrived on the same day that my Medusa story came online, which also happened to be World Snake Day. Little bit witchy, me.

In other writing news, I headed to rural Victoria for some red dirt, kangaroos, a bonfire, and a studio to pour out chapters of my novel. There was also the wonder of my Wolf chopping wood, and the opportunity to mix whiskey with toasted marshmallows, and feel this little cutie snuggle into my mane.

July2018 3

Moyston, Victoria

July2018 1

Moyston, Victoria

July2018 2

Moyston, Victoria

I’m also delighted to be part of the Melbourne Writers Festival this year, where sections of my recent Reading Victoria piece on the West Gate Bridge will be adapted for audio, mixed with six other writers’ tales of our home suburbs, and played on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel in August. To hear the story in its entirety, go to All The Best Radio and listen to their wonderfully produced audio version.

Bridge

My West Gate story on All The Best Radio – link here

Pair that with two more Stereo Stories performances lined up in September, and an invitation to be a panellist at the Write Around the Murray festival in New South Wales, and as always, I’m never short of reasons to pick up a pen.

Look at that…I managed to finish this without more references to snakes.

Almost.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »