Count to ninety, and leap

June 30, 2018 at 10:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Ninety seconds is not a lot of time.

In ninety seconds I could read some flash fiction, mix a martini or translate one of my Icelandic fortune cards. But is it enough time to sit in front of a waiting publisher or literary agent to pitch my novel?

I’m possibly making it more dramatic than it was (which is my job, after all). To be specific we had three minutes in front of each person, half of which was recommended to talk about our publishing achievements and pitch our project, with the other ninety seconds left free for any questions they had. With a roomful of other writers waiting in queues behind me, and a loud timer ringing constantly, there was no room for timidity. I had a straight spine, a handful of business cards, a blood red dress that stood out in a sea of Melbourne black, and a sold out performance at the Williamstown Literary Festival to head straight to afterwards.

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My business card

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Rehearsals for the Williamstown Literary Festival – photo by Eric Algra

A big day, then.

And a rather spectacular one. I apparently managed to make a novel about a taxidermist with an obsessive compulsive disorder in the snow and solitude of Iceland sound ‘odd and beautiful’, and walked out of there with three invitations to send in my manuscript when it’s finished. The advice I received was invaluable, as was the professionalism and expertise of those who donated their time; if you ever get the chance to attend a ‘literary speed dating’ event, jump at it. I am even more enthused to KEEP WRITING, stick to my schedule, and focus on the story that has had me enthralled for some time now.

My participation in the Hard Copy manuscript development program from the ACT Writers Centre has also been astonishingly inspiring. Designed to nurture ‘the next wave of exciting Australian novelists’, the first round involved three 9am-5pm sessions of lectures and workshops from the National Library in Canberra. As a member of their inaugural digital program, I accessed these from my writing studio via live streaming, with a constant supply of coffee, a loving partner bringing me snacks, a curious cat intruding into microphone range, and some very stiff neck muscles.

Point of view, present or past tense, interior struggle versus exterior atmosphere, titles and word count, with chats in the side bar and moving camera angles. My pen flew, and my fingers on the keyboard also. So many of us put value on talismans that helped our ink flow; my ring holding a chunk of Icelandic lava, my fortune telling cards bought from the Kolaportið flea market in Reykjavik, and my framed chart of the skeletal system of a small finch above my antique writing desk, to guide my protagonist’s hands through the taxidermy that opens my first chapter. Knowing this is a peculiarity of many writers felt like a blessing.

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‘Let Go Of It’

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Bird bones in my writing studio

Sharing the digital program with five other inspired and inspiring women from all around Australia was a dream come true, and we’re already talking about flying in to meet each other for a group whiskey weekend.

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My writing studio

As the Luddite of the group, I fared remarkably well. Given that the following is the opening paragraph of my recent article in the Victorian Writer magazine, I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief that my participation in the Hard Copy Digital stream was so seamless.

The first time I used the Internet, I was reluctant. So I could just type in any subject, and articles or photos would magically appear? A technophobe at heart, I hid my intimidation behind scorn. ‘Who would want that?’ I remember asking. ‘It won’t last.’

Round Two of Hard Copy begins in September, a week before I’m booked to appear at the Write Around the Murray literary festival in Albury, NSW. Last night I performed with Stereo Stories at the Glen Eira Story Telling festival, and two weeks before that there was the sold out show at the Williamstown Literary Festival. In between I recorded my love story to the West Gate Bridge at RRR studios for All The Best Radio, a piece that was first published in the Readings Victoria project to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Melbourne’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature. Also due soon is my contribution, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel’ to the wonderful Memoria podcast, airing on July 16.

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At the RRR studios for All The Best Radio

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Stereo Stories at the Willi Lit Festival – photo by Eric Algra

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Just a woman and her giraffe dress – Williamstown Literary Festival

As if I needed more reason to spill ink, last week saw my birthday and the winter solstice, and a lovely, loving group of friends in a haunted house with open fire, Nancy Sinatra singalong and full heart.

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Walhalla, Victoria

 

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Walhalla Cemetery, Victora

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Walhalla, Victoria

Let’s see what inky wonders July brings, hey?

 

 

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Artemis April

April 30, 2018 at 10:05 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Full moon, black cat, snake skins and open notebook…that’s how I see this cycle in.

My March entry had me sending so many of my words out into the world, and I’m happy to say that many of them returned rosy-cheeked and full of joy. Here’s a little roundup of what’s happened over the last month…

  • I recorded two stories with the wonderful Nat for Memoria Podcast, and loved every moment. Writing for audio requires a different approach to words, an awareness of how they sound instead of look. This makes me step outside my comfort zone and look at my writing from a fresh perspective, something I always love. Stay tuned for release dates on both stories.
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Memoria recording

 

  • I’ve just been asked to speak on a panel at the Write Around the Murray literary festival up in Albury, New South Wales in August. This is one of my absolute favourite lit fests, set in a gorgeous town scattered with Art Deco architecture and run by some of the most passionate arts folk I’ve met. I’m looking forward to it greatly.
  • The current Victorian Writer magazine holds one of my stories on their collaboration theme. I wrote about my work with musicians, painters, photographers, producers and other writers, including my performances with Stereo Stories, and the magic such collaborations can produce.
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The Victorian Writer collaboration issue

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My story in The Victorian Writer

  • Speaking of which, rehearsals are currently underway with my Stereo Stories crew for our next performances: we’ll be at the Williamstown Literary Festival and the Glen Eira Storytelling Festival, both in June. Line up and ticket details coming soon!
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Rehearsing with Stereo Stories for the Williamstown Literary Festival in June

  • There’s been a production meeting for the film being made from my short story, ‘Snowblind.’ This is entirely new territory for me, but talks of screenplay, cast, set, location and music are immensely exciting. What was I saying again about taking me out of my comfort zone, and looking at words from another angle?
  • Finally, an email that made me beam: I’ve been accepted into the HARDCOPY manuscript development program, which aims to develop writers who will have ‘longevity in the Australian publishing industry.’ This amazing opportunity helps writers hone their manuscript and have their work seen by high-profile agents and publishers. Little bit exciting, that.

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So that’s why my monthly roundups have been coming at the last day possible – because I’m so busy writing, editing, recording, applying, rehearsing and rewriting that I can barely put the pen down.

But when I do need to step outside the page and clear my head, to focus on my body instead of the books, this is how I do it. Sometimes I channel Anne Sexton, sometimes Artemis.

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April, you’ve been gold, you have.

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March’s muse

March 30, 2018 at 11:58 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I have the kind of bone weary, heart proud tiredness that comes from putting everything else aside in a push of solid dedication to my writing. Feb and March have seen applications for a fellowship, scholarship and travel grant, preparations and rehearsals for two literary festivals, expressions of interest for two more, recording arrangements for two podcast stories, a submission for a theatre monologue, thrilling talks about casting and location for a short film of one of my stories, three rejections (alas), a story in The Big Issue, another one coming soon, yet another for the Writers Vic newsletter, and always, always, the snow and solitude of my novel and its Icelandic setting. I am exhausted, I am ebullient, and I am SO ready for more.

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Happy to be sharing space in The Big Issue with Tom Morello and Ai Weiwei

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Beautiful illustration from Danny Snell accompanying my story in The Big Issue

In between deadlines I hit the skies and headed for Queensland. A snow worshipper at heart, only one thing would beckon me to the land of surfers and sunburn, and her name is Helen.

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With Helen on my last visit to QLD (2013)

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Helen, Surfers Paradise, 2018

We met a decade ago as writers in an online artists’ collective, and have since enjoyed shenanigans as far afield as Melbourne, Los Angeles and New York. She knows me well, she loves me anyway, and her wry wisdom comes accompanied by Elvis singalongs, vodka and such a stylish home I wander in wonder.

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Helen’s house

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Helen’s house

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Helen’s house

Flying home to Melbourne, I scribbled on napkins and nibbled on cashews, thinking of all the vistas I’ve been fortunate to view in my wanderlust. My mid-flight routine is always the same: gospel music and gratitude, for the supreme privilege of gazing down at my world, and all those I love upon it.

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Tomorrow I head to the headquarters of Memoria, a wonderful podcast of micro radio dramas adapted from short memoirs. I’ll be narrating and recording two of my stories, and cannot wait to delve back into audio storytelling. Next week, my story on writing collaborations comes out in the Victorian Writers magazine, soon to be followed by my next story in the Big Issue.

And the meetings I’ve been having with a director and producer about adapting one of my stories, ‘Snowblind’, into a short film, are the cherry on top of this extraordinarily productive time.

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To read ‘Snowblind’ in Wigleaf literary magazine, click here 

For now, though, it’s back to my writing studio to curl up at the keyboard with some vinyl on the turntable and a plump black cat by my side …one of my favourite places to be.

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My writing studio

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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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The people will sing their way through the forest

August 29, 2017 at 5:07 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

My writing studio is small, but lovely.

It’s home to Icelandic fortune telling cards, a deer skull with pearled antlers, and a plush rug the colour of blood that my cat loves to bask on in the last of the winter sun. On the floor sit my scratched punk records and a vintage turntable. On the wall, a huge framed photograph from my beloved friend Jessica Tremp, of her bare back as she kneels in the forest, tendrils of hair cascading down her spine. The lush green vegetation in the image melds perfectly with my animal bones and snake skins, as though the forest has slowly crept out of the frame and begun the process of taking over my room.

Like I said, my writing studio is small, but lovely.

I’ve been writing about space – and the spaces in which we write – for a non-fiction submission. I’ve been thinking about my windowsill in the Street of the Candlesticks in Brussels, where I’d sit and swill black cherry beer as Belgian life paraded below me. They never thought to look up at the window, and my pen rarely rested.

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Brussels

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Click on this photo for my ABC audio story, ‘Street of the Candlesticks’

I’ve been writing about my studio at my first artists’ residency in far northern Iceland, where Viking tomes lined the shelves and snow hit the window so fiercely that one morning, the front door wouldn’t even open. My second artists’ residency was in the forest in Finland, where on my very first night the whole household – six artists, two owners and three cats – rushed outside to the sculpture garden to watch the northern lights snake across the sky. My studio there was flooded with late autumn sunshine, scattered with turpentine and stiffened paintbrushes, and often resounding with Big Mama Thornton or Elmore James’ sweet blues keeping me company as I wrote.

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Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland

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Joutsa, Finland (Photo by AmyMAndersonArt)

 

Then there are those places that are even more transient; tram stops where a first line just has to be written, hunched over in my woollen hood against Melbourne rain; my classroom desk when the students are doing an exam and my fingers are itching to spill words; a gold wall at the Moat next to State Library with mulled wine served in tea cups; and as assortment of train carriages, hotel rooms, café tables and park benches that can hold my notebook on my lap, feet curled under me, even just for the fifteen minutes it takes to get a title, an idea, a paragraph down.

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Mulled wine at the Moat, Melbourne

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Beautiful domed Reading Room of the State Library, Melbourne

Far back in my late teens and early twenties, agoraphobia took me away from the world for two long years. My space became only the walls of my house. It was a slow, painful kind of death – of my confidence, my social skills, my friendships – and even though I’ve walked back into the light and am now a professional writer, travelling the world with a full heart and high spirits, my indoor years have left an irrevocable shadow. My need for solitude is intense. But it’s done wonders for my appreciation of safe spaces, of looking up at café posters or soaring fir trees or medieval architecture or library shelves and thinking, yes, I feel good here: let’s get the pen out. Let’s write.

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Pearled antlers with coronets – my studio

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Snake skins and kingfisher skull – my studio

My studio here in Melbourne has a fat black cat at my feet, snoring gently in her basket. It has an antique station master’s desk with a fold out shelf to write on, inlaid with cracked brown leather. Today there’s Edvard Grieg’s recording of the music to Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’ on my turntable, and a cup of tea just brought to me by my ever supportive Wolf. The trees outside my floor to ceiling windows are still winter skeletal, but one day soon I’m going to look up and see that spring has brought the passion flowers back.

My writing studio is small, but lovely.

 

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Anthem

July 31, 2017 at 8:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

I’ve been thinking about beautiful things lately.

One of my stories, ‘Akathisia’, has just been published in the Beautiful Things column of River Teeth. This gorgeous literary journal of non-fiction narrative is one I’ve long admired, and this column is a perfect example why. It celebrates the golden moments in life: ‘the glimmers, reflections, river shimmers, keyholes, and cracks where the light gets in.’ I’m so honoured to have my work published by them, and recommend you go take a peek through some of their stories.

The column has inspired me to reflect on the beautiful moments in my life…and lord, there are so many.

  • Watching winter light pass through my writing room, and the gaze (and occasionally, the gentle snores) of my cat as she accompanies me.
  • Listening to the glorious voice of Mahalia Jackson in those moments I feel my balance faltering. For a punk little pagan, I sure do love my gospel music.
  • That email from an editor saying ‘Yes, yes, we love your work: we want to publish it.’ Nothing. Like. That. Feeling. In. The.World.
  • Walking in the forest behind my Wolf and his Cub, watching their animated conversation in the most gorgeous light, and feeling so privileged to be part of their journey.
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Ms Marlow, familiar and judge of procrastinating dance outbursts 

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Mount Macedon majesty

  • Standing knee deep in snow again outside my first writing residency, up near the Arctic Circle in Iceland, that most treasured of sacred spaces for me.
  • Workshopping my novel with the Wolf, also a writer, with a scarlet sunset outside, a jug of creamy stout on the table between us, and his hand on my thigh.
  • Seeing the joy on my nephews’ faces as they run towards me, calling my name.
  • The industrial edge of my new home in the west of Melbourne, and the enormous bridge at the end of my street that I always stop and smile at.
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Siglufjörður, far northern Iceland

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Spotswood sunset for scribes

  • The fur, feathers, skulls and skins in my writing studio, tracing the journey of the protagonist in my novel, and by extension, expanding my collection.
  • Watching my beloved best friend’s dimples flash on a cliff top in Italy in April, glass of sweet wine in hand, plate of lemon peel pasta in front of me, and the most extraordinary of ocean views before us.
  • Reuniting this week with an old pen pal from twenty years ago, who once took me in and showed me around Hollywood, and whom I’d always rued losing touch with. Bless the internet! The Pagan Profiles website introduced us all those years ago, and filling in the blanks of each other’s lives since will be a joyous journey. I already have an invitation back to LA, and I just might take it. The power of letters cannot be underestimated.
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Studio snake skins and skull

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The Amalfi Coast, shared with my beloved and her dimples

The story of mine just published in the Beautiful Things column is my 101st published, performed or produced story. There are always days where rejection letters hit the heart, where the pen falters and pages remain blank, or criss-crossed with the red lines that say ‘I doubt this, I doubt that, and I doubt myself.’ But when I read River Teeth’s description of the stories they publish in the column, I’m reminded of Leonard Cohen, and his wise words.

Even his pen must have faltered sometimes, but he still knew to pick it back up again.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen – ‘Anthem’

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Medusa knows best

May 30, 2017 at 10:55 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

My friends are particularly adept at selecting stellar gifts for me. These range from a taxidermy workshop to Culture Club concert tickets, a bat skeleton to a tattoo design. An artist friend drew me an astounding Medusa for my thirtieth birthday; she decorates my left arm with her mesmerising stare and defiant pose, reminding me whenever I need it most how to straighten my own spine.

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Icelandic fortune cards found at a Reykjavik flea market: ‘Let go of it.’

This present, however, was not on my birthday but as a random I-love-you-and-I-thought-this-would-make-you-happy gift.

The Wolf bought me a DNA test.

I’ve always known my heritage to be Celtic. My grandfather was from Belfast, and passed on to me both an adoration of books, and an Irish passport, in addition to my Australian one. I overdosed on the Pogues and Van Morrison by working in an Irish pub for almost a decade, and studied Gaelic for years (although it’s so challenging that all I can do now is order a Guinness, and tell someone to fuck off – a heady combination).

But while I’m deeply grateful to be able to travel so easily through Europe, it’s not Ireland or the UK that I’m drawn to.

I head for the fjords, every time.

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Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland

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Siglufjörður, northern Iceland

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Akureyri, northern Iceland

I’m so smitten by the snowy lands; always have been. Last month I returned from my beloved Iceland, with my Wolf and best friend Lisa in tow. We drove from one side of the country to the other on ice slicked roads in gale force winds, Lisa and I sharing capfuls of duty free vodka to stem the nerves. I showed them the tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle where I did my first writing residency, and where my novel ends (or will, when I finish it, all muses considered). I walked around Siglufjörður and Ólafsfjörður in my army boots and red riding hood, tracing where my protagonist eats, drinks and dreams, and then headed to Reykjavik to consider her stomping ground down south.

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The street in Reykjavik where Elva lives, the protagonist in my novel

It was my fifth time in Reykjavik. The city – and country – spellbinds me. The bright primary colours of the buildings, the veneration of literature and language, the crunch of boots on snow, the glorious northern light, the stench of sulphur water when you turn on the shower….wait, that last one was kind of hard to cope with, actually. But the magic worked again, as I suspect it always will in that otherworldly land. I’ve returned to Melbourne even more full of a desire to head there again and again, and importantly, to pour out more of my novel as often as I can.

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Downtown Reykjavik

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Blues gig poster, Reykjavik

My muse works well in sub-zero temperatures, as writing residencies in Iceland and Finland have shown me. She’s standing over me with a bowl full of Skyr and a snow boot tapping impatiently, reminding me to WRITE WRITE WRITE.

My DNA test results came back. When I saw the circles drawn on a map of Europe, showing me my ancestry origins, the 36% Irish surprised no-one. There were tiny traces of the Iberian Peninsula, Central Asia and Jewish heritage, which fascinated me. But damn, the intake of breath when I saw the second biggest area of ancestry, a circle drawn around the northern countries I adore.

Nordic: 35%.

The Wolf was right: happiness guaranteed.

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Siglufjörður snow in day

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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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Like all good westerns

November 28, 2016 at 12:34 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Let me get this straight: I didn’t much like it at first.

I’d asked a friend who worked out west what the area was like and she’d told me ‘Well, it’s a bit stabby.’

A bit stabby. Oh, good. Northcote, my home of 25 years, had been that way when I first moved in, but was now resplendent with cocktail bars, vintage clothing stores, and tattoo parlours. It was known as being home to more musicians and lesbians than any other area of Melbourne, a fact which pleased me greatly.

The west, in comparison, was gritty and industrial, houses dwarfed by enormous petrochemical vats and factories, right at the base of the gigantic West Gate Bridge.

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There was only one thing that could get me to make weekly visits out there.

His name was Chris.

Most of the men and women I’d dated were from my inner northern enclave of dirty martinis and bluegrass beer gardens. Chris lived in Sunshine, a suburb out west that I didn’t find quite as lovely as its name. Each Wednesday I took the train out there and waited at the station for him to pick me up. More often than not I would have a slew of essays to correct in my bag, a bottle of red wine, and a spring in my step that meant I would be seeing my lovely British wolf. And then a flash of blue, a door swung open, and a cheeky ‘’Ello darlin’!’ as I climbed into the car, and my new adventure.

I’d never dated a writer before. On our first meeting we spoke of the blissful solitude of snowy lands, with my novel set in Iceland, and his in Sweden. It wasn’t long before we were trading drafts, delighting in each other’s ink and talking long into the night about point of view, tense and setting. He shared my love of research, and we happily traded stories of pagan solstices, the sinister beaks medieval doctors wore when tending to plague patients, and ancient cartographer symbols.

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I’m not sure when it happened. Week after week I would listen to the blues as I watched Melbourne’s city streets give way to the west, on my way out to Chris. Sometimes I’d meet him at his studio, which he shared with laughing and lovely dressmakers from the Ivory Coast. I got to know the African shops near by, and the best place to buy fresh Vietnamese rolls. And then one day I found myself leaning forward in my train seat, eagerly waiting for the first glimpse of the West Gate Bridge. When it came into view I felt a surge of familiarity and joy; an actual rush of pleasure. The bridge, and the red-ringed stack of the Newport Power Station below it meant I would soon see Chris.

These symbols of the west used to feel so alien to me after 25 years on the other side of the city. Somehow, at some point, they had become beacons of comfort, landmarks of an area that was no longer ugly and industrial, but edgy and exciting. Slowly, they’d come to feel like home.

And now they are.

View of the West Gate Bridge from the end of our street

View of the West Gate Bridge from the end of our street

I thought I’d feel the melancholy swirl in packing up my Northcote flat after ten years of living there, but it was mercifully absent. Once the bookshelves were empty, I knew I’d already moved. I did stand on Northcote hill with my favourite view of Melbourne to smile goodbye, but I didn’t linger.

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We’ve been living in our new house out west for two weeks. There are still a few boxes in the garage, but my antique writing desk is set up, my taxidermy laid out, and my cat has finally come out from under the bed. After ten years with a tiny kitchenette, I’m loving cooking for my man and his son in our huge kitchen: tonight it’s a three hour slow cooked Jewish feast. I work on my deadlines while the boys fight with foam swords. We walk to the Stony Creek Backwash, an old bluestone quarry right under the bridge that’s now a wetlands sanctuary. And though it still surprises me, the industry and sheer scale of things out west brings me comfort and joy.

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Reading nook one.

Reading nook one.

Reading nook two.

Reading nook two.

Chris just told me that from our lounge room window, we can see the Australian flag on the top of the West Gate Bridge. I had to stand on a chair to see it (his six foot frame greatly exceeds mine), but I’m going to take it as a sign anyway.

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The Honeysuckles

August 30, 2016 at 11:59 am (Uncategorized) ()

I sat with Lisa, an open atlas, and a glass of wine.

We were planning our trip to the US at the time, which has since swirled by in a glorious haze of blues music, swamplands, jambalaya and voodoo tombs. We gazed at the map of the Deep South and discussed the possibility of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A few more sips of wine and the realisation dawned: we could identify no real reason to visit, other than the evocative name. It’s the same impetus for setting my stories in Cunnamulla or Manangatang, for living in Street of the Candlesticks in Brussels, and last week, booking a holiday house in a tiny beachside town called The Honeysuckles.

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The nautical theme knew no limits

The nautical theme knew no limits

Blessed with the luxury of two weeks off my teaching job, I headed for the waves. Yes, there were Elvis tunes on the radio, country opp shops to delve into, and a bottle of cinnamon whiskey in the car boot, but the pen was never far from my hand.

Canola fields in Seaspray, on the 90 Mile Beach

Canola fields in Seaspray, on the 90 Mile Beach

I’m applying for another writing residency, again in Iceland, where I plan to edit my (hopefully finished) novel, set in the snow up near the Arctic Circle. To my delight I’ve received some publisher interest, and am so enthused to keep pouring out ink. I’m booked into the ABC studios next week to record three more of my stories, working with the brilliant producer Lea Redfern, who shared the Sarah Awards first place prize with me in New York in April. And in early September I perform at my first interstate literary festival, heading over the border into New South Wales for the Write Around the Murray festival.

Our Sarah Awards feature

Our Sarah Awards feature

Tickets to our Stereo Stories show

Tickets to our Stereo Stories show

This year has been monumental for my ink, and I’m still smiling. I’m also, it has to be said, the proud owner of a growing collection of flamingos, despite my lifelong hatred of the colour pink.

My latest addition

My latest addition

My time in the Honeysuckles with my close friends and beautiful man was so regenerative. An open fire, crashing waves, rib cracking laughter, and dozens of ornamental fish…all well worth the drive.

I’m starting to think we should reconsider Tuscaloosa, after all.

Seaspray swamplands

Seaspray swamplands

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