Nothing New to Begin – Tincture Journal

IMG_1185Earlier this year, my collection of vignettes “Nothing New to Begin” was lucky enough to find a home at Tincture Journal after a year cooling heels in competitions and slush piles.

I wrote it in August 2012 as I was waiting to hear back about “Elyora” (back in the days when it was a truly terrible barely second draft in the submissions folders at Review of Australian Fiction) and while Adam and I were neck deep writing Post Marked: Piper’s Reach.

I wrote it as a little bit of therapy. For those of you who read PMPR in its online incarnation, you’ll understand! I also wrote it as a challenge: to capture moments in less than 250 words. It was my hope that each section could be read alone, but together they would build and develop a shared narrative of the two main characters. I have Dan to thank for stripping it back to the bare essentials.

“Nothing New to Begin” is now available for free on the Tincture website.

The latest Tincture, Issue Six is available here, with stories by S.G. Larner, Adam Byatt, Tiggy Johnson and Sam van Zweden.

Social Media Sabbatical

Since the start of the year, I’ve been consciously opting out of social media on a regular basis. For the first few months of the year, I was taking a week every month. It’s been a while since I’ve taken a break from it.

I don’t normally plan it in advance, but I’ve noted several things:

  • it normally happens around the dark moon — an innate sense of wanting to withdraw from the world and spend time in my cave.
  • it occurs at times of fragility — a conscious decision to protect myself from the outside world.

Social media is so seductive. And pervasive. And intrusive if we let it. In 2011 when I had my breakdowns I would have done well to have taken myself offline rather than stay on.

I know now that the times when I feel alone, depressed and generally disconnected, social media looks to offer a genuine connection, an umbilicus to a world I feel separated from. But in reality social media when I’m vulnerable is an avalanche of information, opinion, news, photographs that compound rather than ameliorate my feelings. It sets up greater  dissonance in my head and despair in my heart.

When I find myself resenting, hating, people on my newsfeed — people with kids who go happily to school, excel at sport and anything else that pings off my own struggles, I know it’s time to take break. To stop comparing apples and oranges, to stop feeding my anxieties and negative self talk.

In the quiet there is a chance to recalibrate. Find equilibrium. To appreciate what you have.

Other times its a matter of just being miserable in private or taking the potential of all the bile and vitriol I want to spit out into the world and contain it, work with it, try and find a way to make peace with it… while I wait for the swing of hormones or thoughts or circumstances to come back in my direction, along with a little sanity, a little comfort.

It’s not until I remove all my social media apps (I spend most of my time on social media via my phone) and disable the websites, do I remember how compulsive my use of them is. It’s beyond habit, it’s an ‘automation of use’. It’s like a fucked up version of breathing. You don’t think to breath. You do it regardless. I don’t think when I’m reaching for Facebook or Twitter. But unlike breathing, I don’t need it.

The first day (like today) is always the hardest, the process of weaning off. It feels lonely and empty — reaching for something that’s no longer there — at a time when I’m feeling lonely and empty.


In time I’ll feel cohesive again. There will be an opportunity to relish the space, the quiet, the room to move in my head again. When I return there will be a frantic type of energy (there always is) that scares me. Like when I first moved to the city and driving in three lanes of traffic was overwhelming. It takes a few days to adjust to being part of the social amoeba again, to want to be part of it (even if I’ve been dying to get back into the thick of it).

Until then there is reading, housework, journalling, planning, prep work for teaching, time for introspection, movies and the other things from which time is regularly sucked from. And waiting, I know, are conversations that come about because the convenience of social media has gone.

Image via Photoree

#FridayFlash: Olives

The symbolism was as mashed as my nerve: the table set with a chipped and stained antipasto bowl filled with pimento olives drowning in oily marinade. It looked like you were making an effort. This time I didn’t care.The sweat leached from my back and armpits, sucked at my t-shirt even though it was a cool March afternoon, a pretend taste of sub-tropical autumn before the city melted in a final hurrah to summer.

‘You know Ally Lewis’s son went to a kinesiologist,’ you said, settling yourself opposite me, the olives between us. ‘Had his body temperature tweaked half a degree. You should do that. You’d be more comfortable.’

I knew you meant you would be more comfortable. I’d never worked out why you found sweat so offensive.

I’m fine most of the time, I wanted to say. It’s only you who does this to me.

But my tongue languished unresponsive in my mouth. I swore I felt it swell to fill the emptiness left by the unsaid words.

You read my t-shirt with brows sewn together. Anything you didn’t understand you automatically labelled rubbish and I’d got the feeling in the last few years you’d slipped me into that category too. And somehow I minded.

Your quizzical expression gave way to mild exasperation and in turn became mild disgust. You were infinite layers of wilting dissatisfaction. Being with you was like choking on insulation fibers.

I took an olive to occupy my nervous hands before you launched a monologue on the psychology of restless fingers. Rolled it between my fingers for a moment, an unintentional mimicry of you with grapes, before popping it into my mouth and chewing carefully.

‘You eat olives. That’s new.’

I hated olives but kept an impassive face. It gave tangible form to the sourness in my mouth and I wish I’d just left without saying good-bye.

‘Why not go to Sydney?’ you asked. ‘You love Sydney.’

Loved. When I was ten and the highlight was an Opera House snow dome and a Harbour Bridge ruler. Exotic souvenirs from travelling grandparents. Something shiny for show and tell on the first day of term.

‘We have friends and family there,’ you said.

We? Aunty Sue and Uncle Vic were hardly family. My friends who moved to Sydney had moved again. You didn’t know anyone else there. Ever. Besides, I wasn’t travelling for us. For you.

‘You’re going so far away!’

You said it as though I’d got hold of an atlas and ruler, worked out the furthest place from here and decided on that as my destination. Maybe you were right to think that.

This time I didn’t care what you thought. Or if you were right.

‘I just don’t understand. Why Morocco?’

Food. History. Architecture. Culture. Adventure.

Things you would never understand. Though you would’ve hit Google if I’d let you know yesterday what I was planning. I’d have spent this afternoon listening to you, the armchair expert on Morocco, tell me all about my destination. That’s how you worked. You who have never ventured beyond the state you were born in.

‘You can’t stomach chilli. It gives you the trots. Remember the time…’

And I tuned out. I imagined being there: the veiled women, the bearded men, the dusty marketplace, the smell of spiced meat cooking, the call to prayer, the bray of goats and camels, the hand of Fatima on the doors. I imagined myself in a dozen other places too. I imagined being so far away from you I could breathe. I saw the umbilical cord still lashed around my neck snap as the plane rose above the tarmac.

You see, I’m not like you, I wanted so badly to say. I’m not afraid to be alone.

‘Are you going to just sit there and say nothing? Tear your old Mum’s heart out and not even say sorry?’

What’s the point of talking? You haven’t listened to me once in twenty-five years and I don’t expect you to start now. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, you used to say, parroting Dr Phil.

I relish this moment, to be your anomaly.

‘I raised you better than this.’

You raised me to believe actions speak louder than words, though you always just talked louder, at me. Like now.

So I stood and pushed the bowl of olives toward you. The squeal of the wire door behind me ignited the pyre of your disappointments.

Image: Neeta Linda, Flickr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved (via the Frugal Cafe)

Six In Six

Weedy TypewriterI momentarily crawled out of my sick bed Friday to chase up what I hoped was not a rejection. Alas – another one. And with that it occurred to me I haven’t had a single short story accepted for publication all year. If I’m honest, I haven’t written anything that’s seen the light of day since 2012, given the year I had last year, my focus on longer forms and then this year my unexpected turn back toward shorter forms of the short and realism. It’s enough to sink you down into the deepest mire of despair.

And it did – for about an hour.

I decided to spend the next six weeks writing six new stories, because nothing blows away the cobwebs of submission doom better than new stories for submission (yes, there is a definite hint of masochism to it all that I am well aware of).

Making myself accountable, I went onto Facebook and declared my intention. This is when the surprising thing happened. Someone said they’d join me, then another and another. At the moment there are 11 of us hiding out in a closed group on Facebook ready to put pen to paper.

If you’d like to leak new blood onto the page, feel free to join us. It doesn’t have to be short stories – perhaps you have six chapters that you need to write or edit, six poems that have been aching to be released. I think we’ll be trading war stories on Twitter under #6in6 and on Facebook. If you are not inclined to join us, please feel free to bring your pom poms.

Blog Hop: My Process

Thank you to the lovely Chris White and all-round awesome editor Daniel Young for the invitation to share a little of the ‘back stage machinations’ here in my little corner of the world.

What are you working on at the moment?

I guess this question is not aimed at me talking about the course notes I’m writing for the ‘Introduction to Short Story Writing’ I’m giving this weekend at the Bracken Ridge Library?

The plan was to be working on the second draft of my gothic horror novel ‘Dalhousie’, but recent changes in circumstances here at home have left me devoid of the head space to unravel and rewrite 90,000 words, so it’s currently on the back burner. I’m certain the characters from “Dalhousie” are hamming it up with those from “Encrusion” (my birthpunk, in hiatus, novella) in my Scrivener Green Room.

Over the school holidays I had a piece of flash fiction rejected. Nothing terribly interesting or earth shattering in that, but it gave me the impetus (and the frame) to write a collection of flash fiction for a UK competition. It was perfect timing as my writing partner Adam was home on holidays too and did some epically fast beta reads giving me a completed collection of eight pieces in 10 days! Over the next few days I will be rewriting the opening story and doing the final tidy of the other seven stories under the guiding razor of my crit partner Dan Powell.

Beyond that there’s the inevitable short stories. I have five in various stages of finishedness: one about clones that has been brewing for a very long time, another that looks as though it will come out as a bit of a sci-fi meta-narrative about creativity, free will, writing and reading (thank you ‘If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler’), one which is a near futuristic interview, one which looks at rewriting history from a personal perspective and a last one which will be a horror set on the Go-Between Bridge in Brisbane.

How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?

How I differ as a writer, is perhaps more apt than how my writing differs. For a start, I write across genres, preferring to write stories and then work out what genre they fit into. I also write across mediums. While my first love is (and probably always will be) the short story, I also write poetry, short film scripts, serials, novellas, novels and I am hoping this year there might be time to write a feature length script and radio play. I also actively seek out chances to collaborate with other authors.

Why do you write what you do?

I write across genres and across mediums because I’m happy to be a jack of all traders, rather than a master of any one. I enjoy different aspects of each genre and each medium. For me, story is more important than the box it goes in and I’m always looking for new challenges to pit myself against in telling them.

From a genre POV, I write speculative fiction because it lets me explore social issues; poetry is permission to play with the beauty, power and catharsis of words, flash fiction forces me to think of a story in a different way as do scripts. I have always been lure by the darker aspects of humanity and I write horror to see if I can scare myself. So on, and so forth…

At the heart of all that, medium and genre aside, I write because words and stories are my anti-depressants. I am a happier, more grounded and satisfied when I’m writing, especially when I’ve had a deep immersive experience where the world around dissolves and I am at one with the words and the story. It will always be the first and only high worth pursuing.

What’s your writing process, and how does it work?

I often begin with a concept (this is probably more apparent in my work as a publisher and editor): could I co-wrote fictional letters with a friend, could I write a time travel story backwards, could I write a story that only contains dialogue. If it’s not a concept then it is the seed of a big idea that I will then whittle down as other ideas synergise and the characters, setting and general plot reveal themselves. Sometimes it’s a fast chain reaction (like the stories I wrote for my collection) and other times its a an excruciating process of unearthing and piecing together.

For example, the in-progress clone story, “I Wish I Could Tell You I Love You” came from the comment we bandy about all the time: I wish there were two of me. I put it in a domestic setting and waited for it to brew. It’s taken almost a year to get that original idea to fire. The catalyst came (as most of them do) by accident. I went down to the local shops and noticed a new business in the list out the front. I immediately knew the clone story was based around some kind of agency. Affinity Nursing became something a little different. With that laid down the central conflict finally revealed itself. The rest is in the writing and rewriting.

In terms of an every day practise, I have taken the advice of Jack Dann to heart. I always give the best part of the day to writing. This means, on the days when I intend to write, I get up and write before I do anything else. I have come to appreciate the fact my creativity and the impetus to write ebbs and flows like the tide, and to make the most of it when its flowing and to not beat myself up when its ebbing.

In a reflection of my own practice as a writer, I’d like to share with you insights from a few friends of mine, who are in their own rights poets, screen writers, wranglers of fiction and non-fiction.

Devin Watson

Rus Vanwestervelt

Sean Wright

Adam Byatt


Introduction to Short Story Writing

Weedy TypewriterThis Saturday, from 10:30am to 12:00pm, I’ll be presenting “Introduction to Short Story Writing” at the Bracken Ridge Library on behalf of the QWC.

The advertising blurb:

Explore the tropes and structures of short fiction during an exciting workshop for budding short story writers with Queensland Writers Centre.

I’ll be sharing:

  • why I love short fiction and the advantages of writing it
  • the different forms
  • the mechanics and anatomy
  • and a few tips on how to write compelling short fiction

Even though it’s only 90 minutes there will be plenty of opportunity to get fingers a little inky.

Places are free, but limited.

All bookings via Bracken Ridge library on 3667 6060.

Review: Meet Me At The Museum

ipod“Meet Me At the Museum” is a powerful, emotive and thought-provoking 40-minute theatre production best described as monologue-cum-radio play-cum-street theatre. Written and produced by Melbourne theatre creatrix and dramaturge, Nina Barry-Macaulay, and staged in the Queensland Museum, it is a multi-sensory, real time experience that defies traditional notions of theatre.

It is a dramatic gestalt: audio delivered by an iPod track, the stage set within several of the large permanent exhibits in the museum and live performances by a tiny cast of three (who act in a mime vacuum beyond the audio and look for all intents and purposes like any of the other patrons or museum staff on the day!)  All these combine for an interactive immersion of the audience where they are anything but passive consumers. Instead they create and redefine the narrative as their experiences within the museum combine and collide with Barry-Macaulay’s script.

The story of Amelia (researcher, zoologist and woman-interrupted) is at the heart of the “Meet Me At The Museum”. It is a raw, honest and at times very confronting insight into a life not-quite-fulfilled: a discourse on the imperfection of love and dreams as well as a philosophical exploration of entrapment, liberation and what it means to be human. Running in tandem with Amelia’s audio story is the real time performance defined by the problem of what to do with a nondescript box newly delivered to the museum.

The candid and often-brutal nature of Amelia’s story is undercut and cushioned by the beauty of Barry-Macaulay’s writing (which expertly balances the light and the shade, and is in itself a powerful piece of art). It combines with the exemplary narration of Amelia’s character and the low-key, pitch-perfect performances of the three actors, creating layers of nuance and emotion.

There is something almost voyerustic and stalky about following the characters through the museum: to be privy (from not too far away) to the innocent exaltation of the possibilities of dreams in the young Amelia; the grief and need for closure within Paul and the ‘professional’ confusion of the museum staffer trying to work out what exactly to do with the box.

The final scene is staged outside the museum, beneath the whales in the concourse, and it’s staggering in its simplicity and evocation of some of life’s big questions. It is also a stunning example of epistolary fiction at its very best.

finalsceneThe production work on the audio is outstanding, from the use of Flight Facilities’ haunting ‘Clair de lune’, the skills of the narrator and the understated, but timely use of sound effects to amplify the actual surroundings. The stage direction (aka herding of cats) is a stroke of genius, considering the often random nature of group dynamics and Barry-Macaulay’s intention to be present but absent as director within each performance. At the beginning of the audio, the audience is simply told to ‘follow the box’, thus seamlessly curating the audience’s movement through the museum.

There is also enough space and flexibility within the narrative to interact with the Museum. This overlay of a personal story on what can be, a rather impersonal collection, ultimately creates a timeless combined story between the audience, the exhibits and Amelia. I know every time time I visit the Discovery Room now, I’ll be hearing the story of Amelia’s mother and the cocoon. I’ll also be seeing my son walking toward Paul who is lingering at the display of owls, just as he was today.

There is something about being simultaneously part of a group experience (being privy to others comments and reactions) while at the same time taking a solo journey. I went with my almost 10-year-old son who didn’t once moan he was bored or ask questions to explain what he was hearing. He moved through the museum and the story with the same ease, amazement and emotional connection, as the adults did.

Like the best works of art, “Meet Me At The Museum” leaves more questions than it answers and I’m certain there will be many conversations in the future seeded from those raised today. Amelia’s thoughts on science and it’s implications on life and our understanding of humanity absolutely align with mine, but it won’t be congruent with everyone.

“Meet Me At the Museum” is proof that risking art outside of its ‘natural habitat’ is a risk in tradition and nothing more. Hopefully more performances find their way into places ‘beyond the glass’. And if the work of passionate and talented dramatists such as Barry-Macauley is anything to go by, the future of theatre in Australia is in safe hands.

“Meet Me At the Museum” is part of the Anywhere Theatre Festival and has a short run of dates, concluding Sunday 11th May. Tickets are $20 ($15 concession) and are limited for each session. Bookings can be made online at the Anywhere website.