Let’s celebrate by reading Janet Frame’s ‘Gorse is Not People‘.
Or by watching this:
Or by wearing something glamorous.
Or by drinking this (I wish):
Thanks, as always, for reading x
Let’s celebrate by reading Janet Frame’s ‘Gorse is Not People‘.
Or by watching this:
Or by wearing something glamorous.
Or by drinking this (I wish):
Thanks, as always, for reading x
My travel story/memoir ‘Amsterdam’ won the Australian Festival of Travel Writing 500 word short story comp and was published in the April issue of The Victorian Writer. Writers Vic have kindly allowed me to reproduce the story here. I hope you enjoy it.
My last week in Europe. All the dorms at the hostel are full, so I’ve been placed at the top of a tight, winding staircase in a tiny attic room sliced in half by the roof.
I sit at the bar alone, trying to own the romance of loneliness. For the rest of the month I’d thrived on being alone, even trying for days to shake off Brisbane-boy who followed me from Venice to Vienna.
Maybe it’s because I’m so close to going home.
I look around the bar, my stomach twisting, annoyed at my own desperation (‘but you love being alone’, I remind myself) until an olive-skinned young man comes over to talk to me. His name is Fadil and he’s from Cairo. He produces a cartoonishly large, cigar-shaped joint from his pocket and asks me if I’d like to join him. We go up to the back of the bar, and smoke and talk. He answers his phone a few times, displaying his popularity, then invites me to hang out with him for the night. I’m relieved and grateful.
We enter a pool hall above a café, filled with smoke and Arab men. Fadil doesn’t play but needs to check in with about eight different people. I stand back shyly but not too awkwardly, relaxed by the drug.
Next we walk down an alleyway and Fadil presses a buzzer on a metal door. Someone draws back a flap, like in the Wizard of Oz when they reach the Emerald City. A fat man in sequins lets us in and leads us ‘darlings’ to the upper level (past rooms cordoned off with cherry-red velvet drapes). The nightclub has one long, elevated lounge around its sides and café tables and chairs on the dancefloor. The music is slow trance and there are arty white-light projections on the walls. The people around the edges have bare feet and bottles of Moet in buckets. I think one of them is Ralph Fiennes. We sit at a table and chair, exposed, and I order a glass of Moet from a menu, because I never have.
The next day Fadil and I eat among Kama Sutra tapestries in an Indian restaurant. He pokes at his phone during dinner, frowning and complaining about having too many friends. It is as though he’s complaining about having to be with me. I have not risen to the top, the cream of his many acquaintances. I have not passed some invisible test. I feel underappreciated and disappointed, so I fight the terror of loneliness and leave him to the rest of them.
That night there are such storms over Europe: rib-cracking thunder and the sky swirling, like Van Gogh’s starry night without the light. The anxiety of the possibility of flight cancellations compounds my melancholy and I drink, alone in my hovel, until I feel sick.
On the last day of my trip I take 80 self-portraits with wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s.
The Stella Prize 2013, the inaugural prize, was awarded last week to Carrie Tiffany, for Mateship with Birds, which you know I enjoyed very much (here’s my Big Issue interview with Carrie from last year). She very generously donated $10,000 of the prize money back to the shortlist, noting that it was a selfish act because it gave the authors time and she was looking forward to their next books! Very sweet.
Helen Garner was invited to speak, prior to the prize-giving. She spoke honestly and personally about how prizes can be tricky, if you don’t win or aren’t nominated at all. You have to remember, she said, that prizes are judged by people, driven by unconscious urges. It’s also true that even the most intelligent, studied, insightful and well-read critic is a person. There is always a factor of subjectivity.
Slowly shedding the naive shell I carried when I moved to Melbourne five years ago, I’m starting to realise that the industry isn’t quite so humble. (Yeah duh, you’re saying.) I’ve been privy to conversations lately, at festivals and events, where people are wearing envy on their sleeves, often around writers who have received big advances or won multiple prizes. I’ve heard words like ‘prize-bait’, and ‘flashing their advance’. Among all the good and positive stuff, mind you, of which there is a lot. Sometimes it just slips out.
But it’s healthy to (privately) express such things, because the industry is tough and getting tougher. Honestly, many authors whom you would think of as famous and respected are getting such tiny advances, like $4000. These are authors who have published several books. So it’s natural, don’t you think, that hopes become higher, maybe a little desperation creeps in?
Since I consider that I’m at the beginning of my career, I’m realising that it is a smart idea to have other work—a day job, freelance work, or whatever—that is regular, enjoyable (or bearable) and can be relied upon for an income. It’s a challenge in itself to find this, because ‘artists’ are not always easygoing. ‘Regular work’ can be a big deal, especially if you’re nervy, neurotic or prone to anxiety or depression (as many creative people are—no, I don’t think it’s a myth, they need to be because they need to see the inner workings of things, even if they misinterpret them):
‘All writers—all beings—are exiles as a matter of course. The certainty about living is that it is a succession of expulsions of whatever carries the life force… All writers are exiles wherever they live and their work is a lifelong journey towards the lost land…’—Janet Frame, The Envoy From Mirror City.
My own envy swells up when confronted with artists who seem free to be artists. My biggest obstacle to that is not money (though of course that’s an obstacle), it is myself. My unfortunate absorption of others’ opinions of what I should be doing, and the distraction of other genuine but smaller goals, means that I often put my biggest, shiniest ambition last. It gets blocked. And then there’s all the life stuff.
And I’m not brilliant, anyway. I need to work on something a lot to make it any good. An author I very much like suggested the other night that publishing a book might actually hinder my career. But most Australian critics that I respect have published books, fiction and/or nonfiction; and secondly, I obviously don’t see my career in the same light as she does. And that’s kind of depressing. It effects me, and makes me think my ambition is lofty. And it’s hard to shake those words when I sit down to write. Who do I think I am? All the while I watch the musician on the cello, moving his head like a mad person, being pure music; passion, and I envy that.
There’s a reason, then, that I’m drawn to characters in both my reading and writing who feel inadequate (would that effect my critical bias? Maybe). But also, adversely, characters who are supremely confident. Or eccentric, or glamorous; even arrogantly so. Not hard to figure that one out. Characters and figures to relate to, to make you feel less alone, and characters and figures who possess traits you aspire to. Both types are outward expressions of one own ‘truths’ and desires, though how confused it often all becomes. Always Kafka and always glam rock.
It’s my last chance to enter the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards as next year I turn 30 (and if I’ve read correctly, you can’t enter in the year you turn 30, even though my birthday will be after the comp ends). I won’t be a ‘yoof’ anymore…
You might remember that I was Highly Commended in the Written Word category last year. Yay! Well since then I’ve done a lot more writing and I’ve changed direction a little bit (with a strong focus on flash fiction). Hopefully I’m in with a chance. If you’d like to go and read some of my writing, and ‘like’ and share my profile page, that would be awesome.
If you are under 30, you should also have a go!
I was recently asked to write a blog post for Collaboration, the blog of the Book Industry Collaborative Council (BICC), explaining what I do and how I came to be involved in so many different facets of the book industry. It took me a while, as it felt strange to ‘explain myself’! If you are curious about how I got to be an all-rounder, though, in terms of books and writing, you may like to have a read.
Having a month off social media was wonderful, I’d highly recommend it. I was able to work on many different projects without distraction (and without comparing myself to others so much). Despite thesis and job-searching stress, my mind felt calmer, and I was able to concentrate for longer stretches. Most of all, as I’d intended, I was able to have a good think about the role social media plays in my life (and my career). And I’ve decided that participating in social media is beneficial to me, but it’s not essential. I really enjoy the interactions I have with friends and like-minded people through blogging, Facebook, Twitter etc.—I certainly missed the status updates of specific people—but I can also live a perfectly happy, fulfilled life without being constantly connected.
LiteraryMinded still plays a role in my career, which is wonderful, but I’ve realised that I’ve published and presented enough on- and off-line that even if I curtail my social media use, I won’t be missing out on any opportunities. So I’ll be writing just as much, but across the board: pieces online and for print media, and much longer pieces that will surface at some point in time.
The thesis is… getting there. And I’ve been very busy besides. You may have seen my piece in Crikey about David Bowie’s new song (which I am intensely excited about). I’ve also interviewed Graeme Simsion, author of the charming romantic comedy The Rosie Project, for The Big Issue, that’ll be out next Friday (8 Feb). You can also catch Graeme Simsion and I in conversation at Readings in Carlton next Thursday (7 Feb) at 5:30.
This year I’m running the Dog’s Tales storytelling events at Dog’s Bar in St Kilda! The first one is this coming Monday (4 Feb), featuring Meg Mundell and David Sornig. It’ll run monthly from then on (all the details are here). Come along, have a drink, and listen to some great writers. There’s also a short open mic slot at each event, and you must register your interest in advance. You can do that by emailing me: literaryminded at gmail dot com.
The programs are out for the Perth Writers Festival, and the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival. I’m chairing events at each of these lovely festivals, and I’ll also be giving a blogging workshop on the Sunday (24 Feb) in Perth.
I’ll be teaching a two-day course on blogging and social media for beginners at the NSW Writers’ Centre in April. It was great fun last year, and some wonderful blogs came out of it. Doing it over two days gives the students time to play around during the course and ask me lots of questions, which really works.
Phew! I’ve been saving that all up. I hope you’ve all had a nice, relaxing and productive month. See you when I see you.
2012 has been a crap year in some respects; a year of rejections, near misses and setbacks. There has been injury and some sickness. There has been grief. At times it has been hard to stay optimistic. I’ve also, at times, found it very hard to have faith in myself and my work. There’s been a cumulative effect of small difficulties, a sensation of rawness.
However, I have not been without a home, without friends, without love, without work, without money. I am incredibly grateful for all that I have, and have done, and I know that every year cannot be as wildly incredible as the previous few years. In fact, I think I was a little spoiled by them.
I do feel that 2013 will be a year where many things will change. With my writing, I need to both become more serious, and more patient. In terms of nonfiction/reviewing work, I’d like to write longer pieces, and for a range of media. I have to admit that writing regularly for LiteraryMinded is now holding me back in this regard. I need to read wider and deeper around the pieces I write, and when I’m keeping up one or two blog posts a week, this just can’t happen. So, after a complete break in January from social media (to break the habit) I think I will blog with less frequency. This is the first time in 5.5 years—the blog’s entire history—that I’ve come to a decision like this. I will still link to my reviews, interviews and articles in other places from here, and will still occasionally write original pieces/reviews/updates for the blog, ie. when at festivals. So it may not even seem that different. I’m just removing the mental priority status on the blog because now (unlike when I was starting out) I have to admit that it is hindering my practice and my progress.
Fiction-wise, I have the novel, one smaller project, and a planned project on the go. I want to dedicate more time to fiction. Through closer reading and analysis, as outlined above, I want to continue to develop as a fiction writer. Become more sophisticated in style, and bolder in ideas. I don’t want to be afraid to experiment, as an artist, nor do I want to be afraid to entertain.
That’s just some of the lit-related stuff. In 2013 I’ll also be finishing a doctorate, looking for work, editing an anthology (more on that soon), running the monthly Dog’s Bar St Kilda storytelling nights (first one is 4 Feb), attending festivals, and hopefully travelling. Travel is important to my writing as well as my personal well-being and growth. I also hope to learn more, be humble, be charitable, always honest, and if I can’t overcome my weaknesses I hope I at least don’t beat myself up too much over them.
So I usually end the year, on LiteraryMinded, with a list of achievements, events and random facts. As a summary for my readers, and for myself. It’s become a bit of a ritual. And this year the process will help me, I believe, to see that despite some difficulties, I have still achieved much!
In 2012, I…
interviewed Alan Hollinghurst, Ramona Koval, Irma Gold, Jessie Cole, AS Patrić, Annabel Smith, Jenna Williams of 100 Story Building, Courtney Collins, Emily Maguire, Belinda Castles, Sean M Whelan, Paul D Carter, a.rawlings, Simon Callow, Emily Perkins, The Rag and Bone Man Press, Deborah Robertson, Carrie Tiffany; and Kent MacCarter interviewed Johan Harstad
contributed to Varuna’s writer-a-day project
continued to read classic books I’d always meant to
completed the Australian Women Writers Reading & Reviewing Challenge
still yearned for a four-legged friend
wished I were as cool as Ron Charles
learnt about some fascinating characters in my family history
was invited to one writers’ festival and then the director never replied to my emails, meaning that I also missed out on another one that I turned down because I thought I was going to the first one
was jealous of G when Nick Cave said hello to him
tried to focus on the good things at Sydney Film Festival
was Highly Commended in the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards in the Written Word category
seemed to drop off the list for a few events to which I’m normally invited. But was invited to some different ones
pretty much abandoned my ereader
began a literary show called ‘A Drink with…’ and interviewed Lisa Lang, Omar Musa and Chris Flynn. The fourth interview still hasn’t been edited as my crew are getting a lot of work. I don’t know if it ever will be, to be honest
was very happy to meet my friends’ gorgeous bub
reviewed books for LiteraryMinded, Cordite Poetry Review, the Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, and Bookseller+Publisher; shared a ‘month of reading’ in the Victorian Writer, and started writing features semi-regularly for The Big Issue (links in the interview section above)
came close a few times but I’m still waiting for my cigar
started wearing lipstick
started learning German
exercised three times per week
ate a crap-load of cheese
did my best to support some people close to me dealing with mental illnesses and disorders
presented at Offset Festival, chaired panels at Sydney Writers’ Festival (and this is probably one of my best, if most self-indulgent, blog posts of the year), chaired and appeared on panels at Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival, hosted a Late Night Book Club event on short stories at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, taught a blogging course at the NSW Writers’ Centre (to be repeated this April, see their website!)
stayed on track with my thesis
shared my favourite books on Marilyn Monroe
once again failed to read the winners of most of the major literary awards
lost my beautiful Nanna
was Maid of Honour at my best friend’s gorgeous Fremantle wedding
remained madly in love
OK, this is it. A month off social media from January 1… I’ll be on email: literaryminded (at) gmail (dot) com. And on my mobile. And checking my PO Box (PO Box 6266, St Kilda Road Central, Vic 8008) if you want to send me a postcard. If you hear of any great jobs in Melbourne, preferably part-time at this stage (four days is ideal), do get in touch. I’m already applying for them.
Happy New Year everyone. You’re wonderful. Thanks, as always, for reading.
I’m extremely pleased to be invited back to the Perth Writers Festival in February 2013. The full program will be released in January but you can view a list of writers who will be attending here. It includes Margaret Atwood, Kunal Basu, James Meek, Anna Funder, Isobelle Carmody, Lawrence Norfolk, Anne de Courcy, Michael Leunig, China Mieville and tons more. Hope to see you there.
It’s election day in America and I’m about to go spend the day at MoMA. People seem a little anxious; here on the east coast they’ve just been through Sandy and New York City is only just beginning to get back to normal. Last night it was very loud on the Lower East Side when I woke up in the middle of the night, but it was kind of soothing since my first couple of nights were so quiet. Even though I’ve never been here before I knew it was unnatural.
I’ve had an amazing few days in New York. I might write about Georgia and the conference later, but ‘I’m in a New York state of mind’ right now. On Sunday I went along with the woman I’m staying with (who is awesome) to help clean up an artist’s studio in Brooklyn that had been flooded. It was devastating. She works with wood so there was a lot of warping, and mould. The water was brown and stinky so we had to wash and dry out everything. She’d been working on it for a couple of days and by the end of Sunday the studio was beginning to look like a studio again, with the help of many people. Her equipment was ruined, though. So sad. She wasn’t the only one in the building, either. Or, of course, in the suburb.
Anyway, I was glad I was able to do something, since I arrived just after the superstorm. I started my tourism proper yesterday by:
1. eating a cream cheese bagel where Harry met Sally
2. walking from LES to Times Square and buying MAC lipsticks (thanks to my friend Kate Middleton, who has made me determined to be a ‘lipstick-wearing person’)
3. ate at a Seinfeld-style diner and overheard many post-Sandy catch-up conversations
4. did an aerial yoga class
5. caught the subway, a bus and a yellow cab
6. saw Argo at the gorgeous Village East Cinema
7. went to The Strand bookstore (amazing)
8. celeb-spotted Jeff Daniels in dark glasses
Being in New York is not really like the abstract, piecemeal idea I had of New York. Yes, I relate almost everything to something in the cultural memory bank, but I never had a grasp on the grandeur of the place; actually being among those tall buildings. Also, the city belies stereotypes (so far) just as Paris did for me, in that the people seem very friendly: saying hello, smiling, talking, having a joke. I would say that the stereotype about New Yorkers always being in a rush, however, would be true. I don’t understand why there aren’t more traffic accidents! But it’s like a game you have to learn. As soon as you understand the logic of when to cross the road and how to react to a bike zooming past you, you can just fit right in.
Gerard and I were discussing the city the other night on the phone (he was here for a few weeks in 2010) and we agreed that there’s something surreal about it. When you’re in Manhattan it feels as though you’re apart from the world, almost like the island were floating a little above. Gerard said it’s a bit like one giant movie set, and I’d agree. The feeling doesn’t seem to be simply related to seeing the streets in films, but then maybe it is. Who knows how that accumulation of pop culture might affect your reactions? The film Metropolis was one of the first to enter my head when I arrived coming over the Williamsburg bridge. Then I’ve had flashes of Woody Allen (of course), the Nolan Batman films, Ghostbusters (especially with all the military vehicles in the street due to the relief efforts), King Kong and more.
So on my list still is art deco (including the Empire State Building), seeing this David Hyde Pierce-directed play featuring Sigourney Weaver (and as my sister suggested, I should combing this activity with a trip to Dana Barrett’s apartment building in Ghostbusters), lots of art, and maybe some comedy…
Feels strange that I’m flying to the US tomorrow as I sit here glued to live feeds from Hurricane Sandy. I’m due to arrive in Dallas on Wednesday afternoon, then fly straight to Atlanta. But it probably depends how far inland/south the storm comes. I’m a bit worried as I’m due at a conference at the University of West Georgia, in Carrollton, by Thursday evening. I’m also going to in NYC on Saturday, but with the volume of flights they’ve had to cancel, I wouldn’t be surprised if that one gets delayed.
I’ve never been to New York, and I hope when I get there it’s still intact… I’m feeling for all the people on the east coast, particularly those who may be separated from loved ones. Must be pretty damn scary.
The conference I’m going to is called Systems of Control/Modes of Resistance, and I’m giving a paper called: ‘”All can be and will be commodified”: bottom-up resistance and corporate incorporation in Dana Spiotta’s Eat the Document‘. Eat the Document is set in two eras—the 1970s and the 1990s—and there is a comparison between the way the characters in each era protest or resist corporate power. I argue that while the actions of the ‘radical’ protesters in the 1970s may have failed, the small, peaceful movements of the 1990s characters often only confirm, or conform to, the systems of power in a market-based society. I think the novel is pretty pessimistic, overall, about our ability to resist a culture that readily incorporates, pre-empts and commodifies resistance, but there is one character who remains hopeful, so she provides a contrast. It’s a great read, by the way, I highly encourage you to pick it up (my 2008 review is not very well written, but gives you more an idea of the story). I’m finally going to read Spiotta’s Stone Arabia, too, on the plane over (see James Bradley’s review of that one here).
And that gives you a bit of an idea of what I’m writing about in my thesis, too, something I’ve rarely talked about on LiteraryMinded. I guess because until now (where I have a complete draft of my novel and a very rough draft of my exegesis) I was very much still in a process of ‘working out’. There is also the case that in the academic world, you have to present original ideas to the examiners, so you can’t go spilling them out willy-nilly. When I’m finished, though, I do hope to write some more accessible-style essays for non-academic publications, on the subjects I’ve been looking at. And I’ll write more about the whole process of doing a DCA, here on the blog, when I’m finished in March.
I’m looking forward to the conference, not just listening to the papers (which all sound fascinating), but the Southern accents! And I look forward to eating some grits and drinking sloe gin. I’m sure I’ll have internet here and there, so I’ll send you a missive. I’m back in Aus on the 13th of November.