New flash fiction

Greetings from post-blizzard New York City!

I’ve really been getting into writing flash fiction, or micro-fiction, lately. It’s fun to try to give a strong impression of a scene, a story, in few words. And other people seem to like my super short pieces too. Seizure has just launched a flash fiction section of its website, Flashers, and my story ‘My Sweetheart Saw a Child’s Face in the Train Window‘ is the first one up. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Do also check out the submission guidelines.

I also recently had two super-short stories published as part of the London Literary Project. It’s first challenge is based on the London Clock. One of my stories is set at the Green Park Tube Station, and the other features George Orwell. I’m happy to be involved in such an interesting project.

The London Clock submission guidelines are here.

Qantas SOYA People’s Choice: love me love me love me

Earlier this year I entered the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards in the Written Word category. I was highly commended, which was lovely—something to put on the CV—but now I have a chance at the People’s Choice Award, which comes with a flight voucher (which would truly come in handy).

If you’re a fan of my writing, fiction and/or nonfiction, you can click on my SOYA profile, scroll down, and click on the hearts on my pieces of writing. Click one, click ‘em all, I’d be ever so grateful.

Thank you!

’70s-style dystopia: This Perfect Day by Ira Levin

This Perfect Day is a dystopian sci-fi novel, published in 1970, in the vein of Brave New World and Logan’s Run. People are born into a happy (read: bland) unified society, ruled by UniComp, which is literally a giant computer. Over the generations heterogeneity has been genetically blended out, and every member of ‘The Family’ receives treatments to keep them ‘well’. Of course, there are aberrations. Chip, for example, was born with two different coloured eyes. In his formative years his ‘strange-acting’ grandfather and an artistic friend each have a lasting impact on him. Chip is slowly awakened to a world where one can smoke, learn French, and have orgasms more than once a week!

Aspects have dated, of course, but I never knew what was coming next. The plot is clever and action packed. I don’t know why it isn’t as well known as some of the other dystopias—perhaps because it was never filmed? Some of Ira Levin’s other works have become classic films: The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby.

It’s fun to read a retro futuristic novel and compare its speculations to the present. The aspect of ubiquitous computing—data everywhere—is prescient, but the fact the members have to scan themselves to get in and out of buildings, onto planes etc. wouldn’t work today. Their bracelets would, in a contemporary story, probably be implants, and the scanning would happen automatically (so, much of the plot would fall apart).

I did find the concept of one’s time as controlled and delegated to ‘useful’ pursuits relative to the present. At least, personally, this conversation between Karl and Chip, about Karl’s art, struck me:

‘I’d better get back to the group I’m with’ [Chip] said. ‘Those are top speed. It’s a shame you weren’t classified as an artist.’

Karl looked at him. ‘I wasn’t, though,’ he said, ‘so I only draw on Sundays and holidays and during the free hour. I never let it interfere with my work or whatever else I’m supposed to be doing.’

Anyone else explain their time like that?

One of my supervisors recommended this book to me, because my almost-finished-novel is set in the near future, and there are some similarities. But I think Brave New World may be closer, and I think (hope) there are some completely original aspects about my work (while I do deliberately play on the reader’s intertextual knowledge at some points). The main point is that in my work people do have choices, many choices, but they have been socialised by the media, dominant ideas etc. to watch over themselves. And they choose to, also, due to the anxiety of having so many choices. They need to feel in control. Contradiction is encapsulated by the mantra of ‘balance’. They are not forcefully drugged or anything, but they are socially pressured to ensure their ‘wellbeing’ and ‘functionality’ are intact. My society is not about uniformity, it is about controlled heterogeneity. It is not about efficiency in general—utopianism—but about efficient and controlled market growth. But my work is being written in the era of neo-liberal capitalist consumerism, not during the cold war, like this one…

If you’re a fan of dystopias, particularly kitschy ones (the sexy aspects are awesome) you’ll tear through this. And like any good sci-fi, it will still stir up political questions. Is it better to be happy or free, especially if ‘freedom’ is dirty and dangerous? What if you got to ‘reprogram’ the society so people lived longer and felt more, could you then be content with it? Isn’t it better than the uncivilised chaos that would otherwise descend?

You probably already know the answers, but Ira Levin definitely takes you to some intruiging, challenging places.

I wrote a winning haiku

I’m very excited to announce that a little haiku I wrote one morning is the winner of Australian Poetry’s haiPhone competition. It goes:

Potential faces
In steamy bathroom mirrors
Residue of stars

I’ve been invited to read it out as part of the Emerging Writers’ Festival on 1 June at the Poetry Cafe. G told me I should ‘Shatner’ the haiku – make it last as long as possible.

My other entry was:

Unutterably
charming fellows giving one
another roses

Lots of fun. I’m mainly a prose writer, as you know, but I write poetry in bursts. I don’t often show anyone or send anything off, but I really enjoy it. Some ideas just can’t be anything else. I hope to write a few small pieces while travelling soon. I’ve been encouraged, too, by Ali Alizadeh, a poet and prose writer I admire, after he liked my flash fiction piece on Capsule and we discussed the closeness between flash fiction and prose poetry. According to my rough research, there’s a very fine line between them. Prose poetry is often more abstract and works in the realm of metaphor, while a flash fiction piece will often maintain some semblance of narrative form: beginning, middle, end. But of course that fine line can be crossed. I enjoy working with imagery and mood in these short forms, and I hope to keep playing around with them and getting better.

Thanks so much to Australian Poetry and the Australian Poetry iPhone app. I’m really looking forward to my prize: a one-on-one with the wonderful poet and critic Chris Wallace-Crabbe.

Countdown to Byron Bay Writers Festival

I’ve been in a lot of aeroplanes lately – flying out from Melbourne, flying in novels, and in dreams. Sometimes the ports look similar. Familiar, unfamiliar. My life is literature, is writing, is reading, and always passion, and there are good and bad things about being intertwined with fiction, about consistent imagining. It can be expansive, but also irrepressible. It can thrill or bother me at three o’clock in the morning.

But then, flying somewhere to talk about it - to share on stage, in a workshop, over a glass of wine - these habitations of the mind, connections formed on the page, worlds opened up, emotional educations or confirmations.

The next chance to do this is somewhere close to where I grew up – Byron Bay. I can’t wait to dig my feet in the sand, and to dig deep into the minds of authors. Will you join me?

Here’s my schedule:

Workshop: On my own, blogging and self publishing
These days it’s so easy to create your own path and have fun experimenting in new or alternate mediums. From the basics of blogging and self-publishing, through to tips on embracing social media, and promoting yourself online and off, Angela Meyer will show you how to form communities of readers, how to choose what medium is right for you, what not to do, and how to maintain balance in your writing life while embracing technology. You don’t need a publishing contract or a massive audience to be able to write and create meaningful connections. The tools are there for you.
Thursday 5th of August, 9.30am -12.30pm,  SAE Institute

Our whizzing, whirling world: can writing reign supreme?
Tom Cho, Angela Meyer, Peter Skrzynecki
Chair: Susan Wyndham
Friday 6th of August, 9.15am- 10.15am,  BLUE MARQUEE

Kindle, blog, tweet: what the hell does it all mean?
Krissy Kneen, Angela Meyer, Susan Maushart, Alvin Pang
Chair: Janet Steele
Friday 6th of August, 12.45pm-1.45pm,  SCU MARQUEE

The firm: when writing is the family business
Georgia Blain, Kirsten Tranter, Brenda Walker
Chair: Angela Meyer
Friday 6th of August, 4.00pm- 5.00pm,  ABC3 MARQUEE

Fragmented identities: fractures, flaws and fears
Georgia Blain, Patrick Holland, Michael Robotham
Chair: Angela Meyer
Saturday 7th of August, 10.15am-11.15am,  SCU MARQUEE

Fantastical and magical: expanding the conventional world
Kim Falconer, Maria van Daalen
Chair: Angela Meyer
Saturday 7th of August, 4.00pm- 5.00pm,  BLUE MARQUEE

Yes, there has been a lot of reading to do…!

My BBWF bio can be found, here.

And don’t forget, I’m blogging officially for Melbourne Writers Festival this year. My posts have begun, and I’ll collate them here at a later date. Enjoy everything.

What I’m learning about my writing process

Thanks to the wonderful Victorian Writers’ Centre, I received a fellowship which allows me three months in a studio in Glenfern, St Kilda – a gorgeous heritage house. Seventy percent of my Doctor of Creative Arts will be fiction, and so - I have begun the novel.

As this is the first time since I was fourteen years old that I haven’t had a go-to job (I’m still doing some freelance writing, presenting and teaching) it’s the first time I’ve been able to structure my days – and find out what works for fiction writing. I’ve always been curious about writers and their processes – how they can vary so greatly – and I’ve been just as fascinated to learn what seems to work for me. I’ve been writing seriously since I was about eighteen, but the lengthy things I’ve worked on I’ve always had to work around everything else – eg. writing 1000 words a day after work and before dinner, or rising at 6am to write (and almost having a nervous breakdown). The thing is, I’ve always found a way, but now I think I’m starting to find my way.

I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been learning, in case they interest you as readers, or as writers yourselves. Please do share your own in the comments!

* I am at my creative peak between about 11am and 2pm. Thus, I’ve learnt to bring lunch or at least snacks to the studio so I can nibble between scenes or sections.

* I write best when I write in great bursts, and when I take a break between fiction writing days. This gives my imagination time to brew the next few scenes, and for bigger arcs and themes to develop and draw related elements together in my head.

* When I finish a big burst of fiction writing, I feel mentally drained but physically energised. I just want to leave the studio and walk and walk and walk and walk (or perhaps that’s all the food I’m eating while I’m writing).

* Food I like to eat during these writing bursts includes nibbly bitsy things like grapes, rice crackers or (unfortunately) pieces of chocolate.

* I need to have a coffee prior to writing.

* It’s a real gift to have a room where you can stick things on the walls. I have a vague plotline, as a series of scenes on separate pieces of paper, strewn across the wall. There are two threads for the two main characters. I can add to the plotline to tie things up later that I’m beginning to write now. I can also move things around. I can chart where the conflict and resolution should ideally be (though I don’t know exactly what the events are yet) and I can look at them and know the general arc of the characters – why he/she needs to go from there to there and why each scene makes sense to be where it is.

* It’s very dangerous that there are so many bottle shops on the way home. (I walk to and from the studio.)

* Unlike the two previous manuscripts, I don’t have to write in a strictly linear fashion. So far, however, I have remained around the beginning of the story. I am still getting to know my characters and I’m getting to know them through their actions and decisions. I’m aware that later on I may have to cut or move certain things which relate to this.

* It is compulsory for me to start a large work only when I really know the world of the story. The world I’m working in here is very clear to me. So much so that I’m aware I’ve hardly described it for the reader yet. I’m mainly writing action and dialogue. But the momentum feels right and I think I can insert the odd image here and there on the second draft which will give the reader enough of a picture to embellish with their own imagination.

* I have no idea if anything I’m writing is any good. I hope it is. I hope it’s really good (or at least will be after all the rewriting). I hope it’s original, too. And I hope it’s both enjoyable and moving, even meaningful. I’d like the book jacket to say something like ‘1984 meets Revolutionary Road. But for our generation. But you know what, I’m enjoying the hell out of writing it anyway (as draining and often hard as it is) so that’s all that matters.

* I don’t want to tell people too much about it – what it’s about, the story, the characters – until I’m finished a complete draft (or three). I can tell you, though, that it came out of a short story I wrote, which is being published in August. More on that in coming months. Why don’t I like to talk about it? Because it seems to interrupt the brewing process. And I do want you to anticipate it, dear readers, in case it is the one that becomes a book. There’s only one person who’s getting to hear all about it, dear thing (and having to deal with my post-writing space-brain).

* On that note, I’m learning how nice it is to be with someone who truly cares about what you’re doing.

* Unlike some writer friends I’ve spoken to, it seems I can still read other books, even books in similar genres, while I’m writing something large. But then I haven’t learnt yet whether those books are influencing my style. I think any ‘inspiration’ from them always comes down to character. I know I already ‘borrowed’ one thing, from Nabokov – just the way a certain character felt when he looked at another. But then I also ‘borrowed’ a memory from someone the other day. I think a writer doesn’t know what is going to take hold until it does (and often doesn’t know it has until it’s written).

Perhaps I’ll share some more when I’m further into the manuscript. What have you learnt about your process? Or, your favourite writer’s process? What do you think of the things I’ve learnt?

Frustration/inspiration

Frustration and inspiration. Sometimes one even bleeds into the other. I wrote a novel manuscript in a time of frustration, the first draft in just 12 weeks, as I saw it as a kind of ‘golden ticket’, a way through and out of my situation. Though it wasn’t (a way out) in the end - the act of writing, and of walking while thinking about writing, of characters and scenes and meanings, was one of the ways of coping with dissatisfaction.

The past couple of weeks have been a fascinating bundle of inspiration and frustration, and the one bleeding into the other. I’ve been productive – just in different ways than usual. The idea generator is still on overdrive. Notebooks are being filled. Poems are being written out of a combination of: longing, what I’m currently reading, conversations, and visits to art galleries (I go through phases with poetry, and it’s really something I just write for myself. Professionally I’m aware I’m a far better prose writer). I have just finished a draft of a new short story. I’ve taken great steps with the beginning of my doctoral project. I’ve been asked to write another article, run another workshop, and do a reading.

So where is the frustration? I think it’s simply not having sent much off of late. I feel I haven’t written anything to the point of submission… Everything is fragmentary or old or just begun. I’ve missed tons of deadlines for fiction submissions and competitions – journals I’d love to appear in.

And then I go to something like the Olafur Eliasson exhibition ‘Take Your Time’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, and I am blown away and would love to find some way to describe it. But how? And why? Strangely, some of my impressions have been trialed through Facebook status updates. This one is about the Eliasson installation piece, which is just a room bathed in intense yellow light:

stood in a big room under yellow lights and my eyelids were like big black beetles and a woman walked in all grey-green with enhanced freckles. The world outside (with Lego castles) was purple.

And this one is after a restless night:

dreams last night included a big brown & orange frog, too slippery to catch; and a monkey that tickled my ribs until I woke up, my stomach clenched like a fist

I think with these, I am experimenting with subtext, and I always find it interesting to see what comments people leave, or who will give it a thumbs-up. Do any of you use Facebook or Twitter like this?

I have also been keeping a journal called ’26 days apart’. I won’t elaborate, but it’s to/about/for sir who is in New York. And in it I expressed the Eliasson like this:

The coliseum of white where I went from pink to blue. I have never felt anything like it – colour washing over you. It’s a very physical sensation. In the yellow room, blinking black beetles. Kafkaesque. And surreal. A woman walked in and she was all grey. Her freckles were massive blemishes. She gave me the strangest look – ‘hey, you’re all grey.’ Looking at my arm was like looking at it through the lens of an old 8mm. The world outside, with the little Lego castles – formerly white – was purple.

You know what he forced me to do? He forced me to think about colour. In a way I never have before. And then he plunged me in a dark cave, a vortex, which smelt damp, and sure enough at the other end there was a misty veil of water, and a rainbow. An old couple stood behind it and they became smudged and mysterious. I felt compelled to tell them.

I went back to the white round place, I waited for the pink wash again. It turned my pink skirt orange. I want to do it again, it was like a ride, a ride of the senses.

I write all the time. Every day. Lately I suppose the audiences have been different – writing as philosophical figuring-out, for myself; writing to someone – one person who is at the forefront of my mind; writing to 500-odd Facebook friends to let them in on a moment’s sensory impression; writing and planning fiction with an awareness of wanting it to encompass all these things, in a way – to provide a philosophical question; to engage the senses, the intellect and the heart – of one person and of a group. To provide worth, and to challenge and confirm simultaneously - if you know what I mean.

And maybe the awareness of this is stopping me from sending things out willy-nilly. But maybe this is a good thing.

I’m off to do a second draft of that story…