MWF 2014, Flashing the Square, Memory Makes Us

Melbourne Writers Festival has been fantastic so far. Stimulating keynotes from Helen Garner and Chris Hadfield, and I really enjoyed yesterday’s panel ‘Crossing Cultures’, about cultural hybridisation. There were some great insights into contemporary China from Zhang Tianpan: contemporary China is very complex, but also very simple. There are many commonalities with the West—’we all love beauty and freedom’. The Chinese are ‘so clever they can make simple things complex’, and there are two Chinas: the real China and the one on the internet. Which is more beautiful? The one on the internet, Tianpan said, as it is ‘vibrant, free, and active’. Tianpan was born the same year as me; I found him informative and also very warm and funny. I’m a bit sad I missed the Beijing panel as well. I’d love to go to China one day.

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But what I meant to come on here and tell you about are two events at the festival next weekend. I’m helping to launch Flashing the Square, which is both a book and an audiovisual project, featuring pieces of microliterature. I helped to judge the joanne burns competition, and the winner and shortlisted entries are included in the anthology. I was also invited to contribute a piece myself. My piece and many others have been made into videos, which are being projected onto Fed Square during the festival. Keep an eye out for them! The audio recordings are available for a limited time for free on the Spineless Wonders website. The launch is on Saturday 30 August at 7pm in ACMI’s The Cube, and I’ll be in conversation with Flashing The Square’s curator, Richard Holt, writer/ critic Cassandra Atherton and writer, A.S. Patrić.

I was on a panel about microliterature yesterday, too, with Oliver Mol, chaired by Samuel Cooney. I was delighted to find a very healthy tweetstream afterwards. Thanks to Sonia Nair and Veronica Sullivan for recording the following quotes from yours truly:

‘I want to be an artist. Not just a writer. Different ideas can take different forms.’

‘I would never tell people which of my stories are fiction or nonfiction, because it doesn’t matter.’

It was great to sign a few books afterwards, too, including one for an author I admire very much, Meg Wolitzer.

I’ll be a guest on The Morning Read session on Friday 29 August at 10am, alongside Lauren Beukes (yay!), Chris Flynn & Mark Henshaw.

And the other MADNESS in which I’m participating is a live-writing event called Memory Makes Us, alongside Paddy O’Reilly and Nicholas J Johnson. My subject is ‘desire’. From 10–4 on Sunday 31 August we’ll be in the Atrium in Fed Square, constructing stories from our imaginations and your prompts. Contribute on the day, and here. Also, bring me whisky and images of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Appearance on Jennifer Byrne Presents: Envy

Angela Meyer J Byrne

I was honoured to be a guest on Jennifer Byrne Presents, an offshoot of the First Tuesday Book Club, to discuss one of the seven deadly sins, envy, along with Greg Sheridan, Lyndon Terracini and Kate McClymont. The show aired on 19 August on ABC, and will be available for a limited time on iview. There’s also an outtake up on YouTube, where I discuss Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

What was it like? It was a surreal and wonderful experience. I always suffer from nerves, a terror that I will say something incredibly stupid or not be able to say anything at all. I worry that I will freeze, say ‘uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’ until everyone wonders why the hell I was invited to be on the show, let alone do anything in public, ever. The nerves are physical. You can’t tell on screen but my knees were juddering the whole time.

My reading around the subject was crammed; the shoot happened during the busiest period of my life so far. But I did find I had plenty of opinions on the topic of envy, and books from which I could draw. Study comes naturally to me. I love to read deeply, probe books through to their guts and bones (meaning, themes, context, structure). I probably don’t have to mention that—it’s why I do so much of what I do!

As soon as I knew about the appearance I saved to buy a dress just for it. Funnily enough, the green was an accident. Which is quite embarrassing to admit. The dress was chosen for me by Tracey at Frocks & Slacks in St Kilda, who is incredible and knows your size and what will suit you just by looking at you. I didn’t realise I was dressing to theme until Jennifer called me out on it (she was going for subtle green). It might sound like a superficial detail, but dressing up, wearing make-up (thanks ABC make-up department), doing my nails—these are part of preparing for the stage or a camera. Not armour; more coaxing out the confident part of myself, trying to sneak her past the quivering, doubting part. Because of course I want to do this, am capable of doing it, and may even be good at it. 

It was all a bit of a blur, because of the adrenaline. Walking onto the set was exactly how you’d imagine it would be: bright lights, lots of cameras pointed in your direction. There was a small studio audience, which I found very helpful. I’m more used to speaking to an audience.

I didn’t remember much of what I’d said, afterwards, so I felt relief when I watched the show the other day and realised I did just fine. Jennifer also said some kind words to me afterwards. It’s not that I ever fear I don’t have the knowledge (because I always prepare); it’s more a worry of being unable to articulate what I know. I imagine being caught in this absurd, Beckettian loop of miscommunication. ‘My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.’ I also have a shocking memory, which fails me more when I panic.

When I left the ABC studios, I was on a high. It did feel like a step in a new direction, and that’s been confirmed by the amount of people in my Facebook feed who never normally talk to me but suddenly think I’m famous. (Publishing a book wasn’t enough for ya, ay?) But I’m also aware it’ll fade, as anything does. I’ll just enjoy this glow for a little longer, while getting on with my work. Dentist bills are certainly keeping me down here on earth.

One other thing: out of the other guests I most enjoyed meeting Lyndon Terracini, the director of Opera Australia. We clicked over Kafka, and I found him a very warm person. That’s something I’m grateful for, with all the travel and gigs I get to do: meeting interesting people. Jennifer Byrne, as you can probably tell from her screen presence, is also incredibly warm, smart, and funny.

Thanks to all of you who watched, and those who have come by the blog afterwards. Subscribe to my YouTube channel if you want to see more of me talking to camera about books!

Flash fiction is like a good dram

Cross-posted from the SA Writers’ Centre blog. I wrote this post ahead of my flash fiction workshop at the SA Writers’ Centre in Adelaide (this weekend: 22 June, book here). I also have workshops coming up at Writers Victoria (see also my interview), the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre, and at Byron Bay Writers’ Fest!

Glencairn_Whisky_Glass

On my desktop is a whisky wheel, a device that’s supposed to help you with your tasting notes when sampling single malts. Does your drink have a touch of black pepper on the nose? Or is it orange blossom? Is it lactic or nutty on the palate? Is the finish more toward the end of mint or tobacco? And how long does it linger on the tongue?

Those who know me have probably realised I’d eventually get around to using whisky as a metaphor for writing. Flash fictions—stories under 1000 words—are like a good dram. You savour them, roll them around in your mouth, are left with resonant remnants.

Here’s a little guide to tasting flash fiction:

The nose

The tone, voice or mood is set in the first few lines. Or if it’s a really short one, in the first few words. Some flavours the opening might go for: intriguing, dark, buoyant, amusing, suspicious, arresting. Or, indeed, honey, smoke or cloves.

The palate

We’re into the story now. There’s a character or characters. Something happens, has happened or is about to happen. The flavours (if it’s a good dram of story) are working together to create a cohesive effect. Something could be coming through very strong, like smoke or desire. The flavours are setting off little pings of association in your brain: your childhood, your fears, his garden, her lipstick.

The finish

All good things come to an end. But there’s a lingering in a good, complex dram or story. Did it slide down smoothly? Or is there a hint of bitterness left at the back of the tongue? Are you experiencing a jolt of sweet sherbet? There might be a warming in your chest, a sudden clarity, or a fading melancholy.

How powerful some flavours are: fresh cut grass, wet dog, roses, butterscotch. The flavours themselves, and the associations they uncover, can remain in the memory long afterwards.

With flash fiction, you have so few words to work with – 30ml worth, perhaps. There are many different types of flash stories, though a series of them from one author might take on a certain flavour profile (like single malts from a single region). Reading a range of stories from different authors will help to build your palate, help you to find out what you yourself can do.

Join me in the bar and let’s enjoy a dram or two.

Interviews in The West Australian and Tincture

Picture by William Yeoman for the West Australian.

Picture by William Yeoman for the West Australian.

In the West Australian:

‘I thought of (Captives) as a pillbox of stories,’ Meyer says. ‘There are different coloured pills – a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one—and they produce different effects and maybe you can’t take too many at once. And they’re a little dark and a little strange. But I think they have to be that way to get across those ideas of fear and that we’re captives within our own minds. We can’t escape ourselves. I hope Captives taps into peoples’ fears—but in a good way.’

Read the rest.

And interviewed by Daniel Young for Tincture Journal (where some of my stories have been previously published):

‘[The themes are] definitely something that emerged organically, although I’ve been aware for a while that my best writing tends to emerge from the place where my anxieties lie (which is not far removed from my passions). There’s a knife’s edge between happiness and melancholy, to paraphrase Virginia Woolf, and my writing is attuned to that. The knife’s edge also separates what is considered ‘normal’ from what is not. That’s something that fascinates me and is another theme that runs through the book.’

Read the rest.

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LiteraryMinded is seven; Captives is born; writing-work balance

CaptivesFCR (1)I missed my blog’s birthday. For the first time. You can imagine why. Something else I’ve written has just been released, my tiny book of short fictions, Captives. 

Actually, there’s more to it than that. I haven’t felt like I’ve had a proper chance to let publication wash over me, that now when I say to someone ‘I’m a writer’, and they ask, ‘what’s your book?’ I have an answer.

It’s just that I’m back in extraordinarily-busy-saying-yes mode… That’s why I truly missed my blog’s birthday. I’m working on two contracts (one editing, one writing), have started an awesome new casual job at Nant whisky bar, have two reviews, one essay and one academic paper due, am judging two writing competitions, preparing to report on a conference, preparing an interview, preparing for a HUGE amount of festivals, events and workshops, and trying to keep on top of social media etc. around my book’s release (and continuing to promote The Great Unknown). I’m a little stressed, admittedly, but I’m also grateful. When I got back from overseas it was so difficult, at first, to find work. I’d much rather have too much work, than too little. And everything feels (almost) balanced: a little reading, some writing, a bunch of emails, some editing, and then whisky.

Except for one thing: not enough creative writing going on. I’m managing about once a week at the moment. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Do many people manage to write a lot when they’re in the throes of promoting the current book? And how do other authors manage balance between book promotion (and career building) and making enough of a living? This is a question that’s been fascinating me, last year (when I finished my doctorate) and this year: what is the ideal job for a writer? Is my bar job ideal, because it’s casual and flexible, and still stimulating (I love the smells in the bar, and hearing people’s different stories about how they came to like single malts—it often involves travel). Or is freelance editing ideal? I just love putting that logical part of my brain to work: problem solving; knitting text, spaces and punctuation into something neat. I get to put the control freak to work, purge her a little. Editing feels powerful, I think. But it does use up a lot of brain power, not exactly from the same area as the writing (at least the drafting) comes from, but close by. Enough to drain you of words for the evening. I don’t think I’d want to edit full time.

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I don’t think I want to do any one job full time.

Can I manage this ‘juggling’, then? And still write, and still pay the bills? I’m going to try.

A grant would be helpful, of course! Or an advance. I am so enjoying writing this novel and it would be great, after some of these contracts ended, to have more time in the week to immerse myself in remote 19th century Scotland.

But hang on, let me take a moment here. I have a book out! (Always thinking of the next thing.) And it’s even receiving some lovely reviews and attention. The other day I received an email from an author whose book I very much admired, telling me she admired my book! It made my day. I couldn’t quite believe that she’d written to me as a peer (I know, but I’ve admitted to my inadequacy complex on here many times over these past seven years).

I’ve linked in the past few weeks to some of the guest posts/interviews I’ve been doing around the book’s release, but recently Captives has also been reviewed in Readings Monthly by Brigid Mullane, and Bronte Coates interviewed me for the Readings blog. Author Annabel Smith also interviewed me (on the writing process) on her blog.

And The Great Unknown is kicking on! It received a review in the Australian last weekend, by Kirsten Krauth, alongside the latest Sleepers Almanac. I still have to put up the last of my author posts from TGU on here. Will do soon…

Please also check out my events page while you’re here!

And while I’m rambling on, I must say that I’m reading some incredible books for upcoming festivals: Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest is bowling me over, and Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals is lingering long in my mind. I put a small note on that one on Goodreads.

But I also feel I’ll never catch up on all the books I want to read: Alex Miller’s Coal Creek, Chris Womersley’s Cairo, Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book (not to mention Carpentaria), Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda, Emily Bitto’s The Strays, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil, Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, and now Paddy O’Reilly’s new novel, The Wonders, has just landed on my desk. And I have an advance proof of Jessie Cole’s Deeper Water… (!)

All the books.

OK, I best get on with my work for the day. Thanks for coming by, it’s been swell.

Flash fictions: key words and after-images, on Booktopia

franz-kafka

On the Booktopia blog today, I discuss flash fiction and short fiction; my own and others’ stories, intentions and possibilities. Here’s an extract:

In a short story, every word must count. What is left out is as important as what is left in. The writer must create and maintain a particular tone, or mood, and create a piece that feels whole (not a fragment) but that may evoke much outside its confines. With my own very short stories (also called flash fictions or microfictions), I want the characters, images, themes to live long in the reader’s mind. I want them to have some impact.

You might compare a very short story to a complex painting – a narrative-based painting – where the symbols nestled in the setting and upon the figures work together to not only suggest a particular story but hopefully move you to feel something, something you may not even fully, consciously comprehend.

I hope you enjoy reading the rest.

Signing a contract for an unfinished manuscript, on Writers Bloc

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Click here to read my piece on Writers Bloc about signing the contract for Captives before it was finished, and the ensuing writing process (while travelling). Here’s an extract:

I wrote a few of the stories around sessions at the Edinburgh International Book Fest, including a couple which are postmodern or referential. This reflects the fact that, like the narrator of Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman who knows Lolita’s mother better than she knows her own, I don’t like to separate out my ‘real world’ and ‘cultural’ experiences too much, because I’ve spent so much of my life immersed in fictional spaces. Not only in books, but in places like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, or the post-apocalyptic glam world of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs.

CaptivesFCR (1)Captives is available for pre-order from my publisher, Inkerman & Blunt, until 30 April (free postage). And the book will soon be available (or at least available to order) at all good bookstores. The official release is only days away! The ebook will also soon be available…

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