Going Without

Writers are erroneously linked to all kinds of vices and crutches… alcohol and various types of drugs at the seedier end of things, with cigarettes, chocolate and coffee at the more acceptable end of the spectrum. It seems we all have something we lean on, especially when push comes to shove. At the end of last year I decided it was time to lean on something other than chocolate, alcohol and tea.

In 2009 I kicked sugar for a month, cold turkey and kept it to a bare minimum for most of that year. That single change alone shaved 10kgs from the scales. Then the sugar crept back in, not as a treat, but as staple and then back to the high volume addiction levels. In 2010, in the three weeks leading up to the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival I pulled the unholy trinity of sugar, caffeine and alcohol from my diet and watched as my digestion began to function effectively again, I had more energy, I went to bed earlier, and was generally a happier person not at the mercy of rollercoaster moods and energy levels. But of course, it didn’t last. Byron saw to that with its orgy of beer, cake and short blacks.

Today I clock in four weeks without alcohol and sugar (a visit with my sister-in-law just after New Years ended with me quaffing G&Ts – at her insistence –and enjoying Italian gelato) and almost five weeks without caffeine. It is the longest I have ever gone without the unholy three.

Come the end of 2010, I knew it was time to give my body a chance to rest, recoup and re-energise. The final months of 2010 were busy, stressful and included far too much caffeine, sugar and alcohol. I thought I needed them to keep going. At the end of it, my body needed a break from it, so I decided to go without from the 1st January through to my high school reunion in late February. It wasn’t just the health angle, it was the hope some of the kilos might drop off before I met up with my old school friends.

January is normally a laid back month, given over to reflection, planning for the coming year and the summer school holidays. It seemed to be the best possible time to try to give up, given the excess from Christmas and New Years, and the fact it is usually a quiet month.

This year nothing could be further from the truth. This month has been my busiest on record, as I’ve juggled three active projects (From Dark Places, Nothing But Flowers and 100 Stories for Queensland) and three ‘inactive’ projects (Chinese Whisperings Red Book, and Yin & Yang Books, Write Anything Website)

I have discovered the fourth thing I can go without… sleep.

When 100 Stories came on line, and my sleep slipped down to around 10th priority, I wondered how the hell I’d go without caffeine, especially. But it turns out, the thing I miss the most is not chocolate, is not my cup of tea, but a cold beer or G&T – especially since the weather has amped up in line with what is meant to be like during Summer.

What has surprised me the most… the sleep deprivation doesn’t seem to hurt so much, it doesn’t seem to drain me like it has at other times, because I’m taking care of my body in other ways. It has been a real revelation. This is a good thing, as I’m not sure when sleep will return to normal transmission again.

Yes I will drink while I am away in Victoria next month, I’ll enjoy a pot of tea and a slice of cake, but I know I won’t return to the unhealthy levels of last year. I have proven I can weather the worst of any storm without them. No need to go back.

What are your crutches? Is there something you absolutely must have when writing? Have you ever tried to go without?

Image: the first cuppa at Byron, 2010

Long List Released for 100 Stories for Queensland

After a speedy weekend, we were able to release the list of names and stories which comprise the Long List for 100 Stories for Queensland. I’m so happy to see names in it I recognise, including names of well-known writers both here and abroad… including Alan Baxter, Krissy Kneen, Robert Hoge, Geoff Nelder and Sean Williams. I’m also thrilled to see plenty of emerging Australians and Brisbane writers on the list. The quality of the contributions was high and we’re going to have a hard job ahead of us this week, whittling the long list of 146 down to a short list of 120 and then finalising the 100 Stories which will appear in the anthology.

As always, the management team, joined by Nick Daws, is on the job!  The plan is to release the Table of Contents this time next week.

For now… here’s the list as it appears on the 100 Stories for Queensland website.

Diana Abela The Story of the Silent Japanese

Sam Adamson Kittens!

Marian Allen Dog Show

Tomara Armstrong Drake M. Causeway: Intergalactic Explorer

John Baird The Safe Option

Kim Bannerman The Turtle Inventory

Cath Barton Listening to the Muses

Michael Barton Tea with Mr Christopher

Alan Baxter The Speaking Tree

Patty Beecham Under the Rockhampton Sun

Kay Beer The Price of Lipstick

Jessica Bell Surviving the Kitchen Tiles

Sharon Birch A New Woman

Ev Bishop Riddles

Megan Blandford The Moving Sun

Julia Bohanna The Beach Where He is King

Stephen Book After All These Years

Deborah Brannon Binding Tides

Ellen Brickley The Magic Ticket

Nicholas Brodie Bubble O’Bill

Gillian Brown The Anniversary

Catherine Burrows Face to Face

Jeremy Bush Sleepover

Adam Byatt An Origami Crane

Joanna Campbell Please Turn Left

Rachel Carter Perfect Toothpaste

Chloe Charlton The Street Light Incident

Christopher Chartrand The Carver’s Daughter

John Chilton Easter Bunny

G.P. Ching Why I’m Overweight

Dave Clark Thumbnail Sketches

Patricia Clarke Bushmen’s Barbecue

Laurie Clayton Going Solo

Nicola Cleasby Weird and Creepy

Margaret Cobbett First Christmas

Ithaka Cordia The Speech

Penelope Cottier Beating Creativity

Vanessa Couchman The prince and the mistletoe: a fable

Vicky Daddo The Long and Short of Life in the Future

Susanna David The Rhubarb Fight

Mary Davies ANGIE

Justin Davies Bed and Breakfast

Jennifer Domingo One tenth of a second

Josh Donellan Stunt Kite

Miriam Drori Who Sees the Light?

Alison Earls Travelling Time

Laura Eno The Proof of Life

Kelly Erickson Queensland

Elaine Everest Words of Advice

Kari Fay B Is For Benedict

Corinne Fenton Lucy and the Lonely Hen

Karen Field Amunet’s Gift

Laura Fox Kittery Maine

Joanne Fox On Pegasus’ Wings

Fay Franklin Snow on a Summer’s Night

Pamela Freeman The Little People

Patrick Gallagher The Cape

Alexander Gates Antisocial Sciences

Sylvia Gundlack The Real Me

Ross Hamilton Triumph of the Scientific Mind

Heather Harris Sick Weather

Ryan Harron The Cinnamon Buns

Jo Hart A Penny for a Wish

Keith Havers Why Can’t I Take Life Easier?

Rosemary Hayes The Perfect Wedding Day

Lunar Hine Cake

Robert Hoge Real Rhythm

Sue Houghton Tough Love

Mandy James Ignorance is Bliss

Amelia Jewell Strange Little Boy From The Future

Rosa Johnson Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Benjamin Judge Coffee

David Kennedy Generous Bastard

Emma Kerry Confessions of a Toddler

Reni Kieffer Arrival

Krissy Kneen The Lounge Room War

Jean Knill The Prize Conger

Joanna Lamb A Slip of the Tongue

Patti Larsen Falling

Janet Lee The Act of Waking

Yvonne Lewis Gander Sauce

Linda Lewis Making a  Good Imipression

Peter Lingard Comfortable

Ruchira Mandal Little Hooligans

Kathleen Manson Flat Life

Gayle Marien Unnamed

Monica Marier The Night Faeries

Tracie McBride Breathing

Robert McCarter Soggy Shoes

Kristina Meredith Second Hand Rose

Philip Michaelson Cards of Fate

Catherine Miller In A Jiffy

Theresa Milstein Daisy

Virginia Miranda The Artist of Montemartre

Gracie Motley The Car Trip

Zulaikha Mudzar Destiny Driven

Jennifer Muirhead Red Planet Blues

Efrain Nadal The Miracle Tree

Christine Nedahl First Love

Helen Nedahl If Wishes Were Horses

Geoff Nelder The Examination

Emma Newman Her Smile

Ciara O’Brien D-Day

Brigid O’Connor Pink makes the boys wink ?

Lucy Oliver Secrets Between Friends

Cathy Olliffe-Webster Why Mr. Duka Laughed

Brigita Orel Martians Coming to Dinner

Sylvia Petter The Burka

Jonathan Pinnock The Wrong Bots

Aaron Polson The Ballad of Arkady and Nadia

Joe Ponepinto A Handout for the Ages

Natalie Potts Lounging

Sally Quilford Jets Vests and Broken Crockery

Angela Readman Tell Me a Story About Happiness

Jenni Redman The Night of the Prom

Joanne Robinson Is This The Face In The Photograph?

Barry Rosenberg Dr Jello & Mr Set

Alison Runham Pop

Melanie Saward Watch and Learn

Glynis Scrivens Short-sighted

Brenda Seabrooke Sweet Corn

Icy Sedgwick The Stripper

Stephen Shieber Sweet Juliet 1935

Pamela Storey Two and a Half Minutes

Judi Stroud Pecking Order

Simon Sylvester Number one-one-three Chinese Monk Style

Vicki Thornton One Winter’s Day

Luise Toma The Beast

Linda Tovey Jude’s Snake

Karen Tyrrell The Mandolin Player

Julio Varela Power’s Sunday Slam

David Vernon Another World

Devin Watson Transmutator

Christine Webb Long ago one summer

Winifred West A Tale of a Twist

Simon Whaley Painting by Numbers

Dee White Promises

Aliya Whiteley The Thready Treatment

Martha Williams Granny’s Mouth

Sean Williams This Magical Life

John Wiswell Two-Hour Delay

Brenda Wood A Whale of a Tale

Olivia Wood Emperor

Daniel Wynne Gut Feelings

Helen Yendall Fisticuffs

Les Zigomanis Spectrum

Gearing Up For Workshops

At the end of February I am off to Ballarat, my home town and site of many teenage escapades, for my 20 year high school reunion. For those who are regular readers… yes, that explains my #fridayflash Lily Lillian from two weeks ago. While I am in Victoria I am hoping to run one of my critiquing workshops,  firstly because workshops are a buzz, and secondly, I’m facing up to finding new and inventive ways to bring money in.

I ran my first workshop as part of the Logan Writers Week last year. It seemed like a good place to start, given I have never taught before (even though the Registrar of the high school I worked in a decade ago, said I missed my calling as a teacher? I was employed there as a Behaviour Management Officer… now stop that sniggering!) I thought I would ease into it with perhaps five or six people, so I was gobsmacked and not a little unnerved when I discovered the day before the workshop, 19 people were booked in. Nothing like a sink or swim moment.

I loved every moment… I can see the thrill of teaching, especially when you have a captive audience who are there to learn. And the feed back was so overwhelmingly positive, I decided I’d try my hand at a few more workshops this year. In fact without too much effort I’ve already had two people from last year’s workshop offer to write a testimonial to accompany the information about the workshop. One lady said she could write thousands of words… exactly how many did I want!

To assist me on my way, I’ve created a new page, detailing exactly what I do in a critiquing workshop. Now to start emailing writing groups and festivals, and generally spreading the word.

The awesome cartoon at the beginning is the infamous Inky Girl by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, used under the nominated Creative Commons License. And yes, it is the first rule of critiquing, even the worst story has something good in it.

Last Day for 100 Stories for Qld: reflecting both ways

Has it really been two and a bit weeks since we launched 100 Stories for Queensland?Is today really the last day for submissions? The answer to both is, incredibly, yes!

It feels like so much longer considering all that has transpired between the opening of submissions on the 12th and today. I feel older, wiser, tireder and definitely more clued on to the entire submissions process having seen it from the reverse side. I have also been blessed to have made some new friends along the way, people I definitely want to work with in the future if the opportunities find their way to me. The social networks at work, have astounded and floored me, along with people’s generosity. The team working behind the scenes is in excess of 30 peeople. The largest gathering of folk for one of these anthologies.

There have been some wonderful reads along the way, which I could share insights and snipets from, but then I’d have to kill you… all two of you who read this blog! No letting it drop who might have made it through – yet.

The stories which grabbed my attention were the ones that found a unique way to tell a tale, a quirk of POV or an ample dose of quality humour. There were others which teared at the heart strings also, or dragged me so far into the narrative I lost time and space while I read it. All ways to improve your chances of making it through to the next round for consideration.

There were also good stories and interesting premises let down by lazy writing or poor execution on the page; over writing, poor punctuation, grammar and spelling, plot holes and flat endings. All things which could have been turned around by sharing with a beta reader or line editor.

Of course the close of submissions at midnight today only draws to an end the first step of the process.

Over the next week the management team will be going through the stories which made the long list to whittle it down to 100. It is something I’m looking forward to with equal doses of tredipation and excitement, and very glad to be part of a team who have been through the process before.

To those who have sent in a submission, thank you. To those who miss out on a place on the long list, take heart. A rejection often means the story was not a good fit for the anthology (there were several excellent stories, but were set in flood ravaged locales, for example). A rejection is also an opportunity to review your work, to see how it may be improved for future submissions. If you haven’t had your work beta read, line edited or proof read, perhaps now is the time to make this investment in your story. It is obvious to us on the other side, the stories which have been put through their paces, with someone other than the writer, before submission.

And to those who make the long list, we promise not to keep you hanging for too long, waiting to know who will be included in the anthology. The long list will be release early next week.

Now… off to do some reading, and keep track of the numbers of submissions coming, to see who wins our ‘end of day submissions sweepstake’.

Friday Flash: Lily Lillian

Mirror Ball Amsterdam
“I’ll have a Crownie,” John said when the bar tender finally moved to serve him. He’d been waiting for more than ten minutes, watching the young guy in the black and whites, flipping his ridiculous hair while he flirted with women old enough to be his mother.

Mr Ridiculous-Hair spun to open the fridge behind in a flurry of activity reminiscent of a scene from Cocktail and a voice chimed in, “Make that two.”

John glanced sideways, taking in the trendy black suit, red shirt opened a couple of buttons, hair full of product and the nonchalant lean. They both wore the pre-requisite name badges but it was impossible to tell if this guy was a graduating class member or like him, a bored husband.

“Toby Strunk,” the guy said, extending a hand.

“John Lewis.” Long cool fingers closed around his slightly sweaty stubby ones.

“Ah, Lily Grenville’s husband. Hi, great to meet you!”

“Lillian Lewis,” John corrected and pulled his hand away.

“Yeah well, she was Lily Grenville 20 years ago and that’s what we’re all about tonight.” Mr Too-Cool-For-School stuck the hand he’d just shook into the pocket of his trousers.

The Crownies landed on the bar and John reached into his suit jacket for his bill fold.

“No let me,” Toby said, handing over a fifty dollar bill. “So you married Lily.” He shook his head slightly, as though it were the most amazing fact.

“Lillian.” John took a long swing from the tall elegant bottle to avoid any chance Lillian’s classmate might want to clink bottles in some chummy sense of reunion camaraderie which seemed to have infected the entire room.

John searched the crowd of half-drunk middle aged people, cringing at the way they yelled into each others ears over the music and clamped over-friendly arms around shoulders. All that unnecessary body contact.

Lillan was gone. She’d promised to wait there by the table while he went to the bar, but just like her, she’d snuck off.

“I thought they’d be playing all that crap music from the late 80’s, you know Bon Jovi and Belinda Carlisle, all that stuff Lillian still likes. But it seems like they went all out to just find crap music.”

“You’re not a fan of Primal Scream?”

John shook his head. “I bet they paid someone a ridiculous amount of money to choose this moronic stuff .”

“Yeah, me. That’s one of my guys up there spinning the records.”

* * *

John wandered aimlessly looking for Lillian. Eventually he gave up and took up a spot by the dancefloor to watch the embarrassing displays of spasticity others called ‘dancing’.’  That’s when he saw her, with him. Lillian in the embrace of Mr Too-Cool0For-School.

The Crownie slammed down on the nearest table, startling the woman sitting there, saggy boobed, staring out through glazed eyes to the dance floor. For a second John wondered if Mrs-Pathetic was Toby’s wife, watching the two of them cavort on the dance floor, her heart torn apart by the display, dancing close, whispering in each other’s ear and laughing.

The skin tightened across his face and his heart hammered in his ears watching Lillian make her way through the other couples at the end of the song, her eyes sparkling, reluctant to relinquish Mr Too-Cool-For-School’s hand at the edge of the dance floor to make her way to where he stood storming. No wonder she’d made an effort not to be found. She didn’t want to be. Not by him.

He met her halfway, fingers digging into the flesh of her upper arm the moment she came close enough and dragged her away from the dancing and the horrid music, off into the corridor of the toilets where he’d told her to wait.

“I told you to wait for me here,” he pointed to where she’d been standing. He didn’t know that while he’d been taking a slash, Toby had walked out, found her there, spinning off her favourite line from Dirty Dancing and whisking her out to dance. “I come out and find you’re gone… off dancing with that lecher.”

“Lecher… oh come on John, this isn’t Hawthorne’s New England.”

“You may as well be wearing the scarlet letter.”

“We were just dancing.”

“I saw you.”

He was close enough for to see his spittle darken spots on her foundation, but she didn’t move away.

“You saw what? Tell me John, just what did you see?”

“The way your face lit up when he spoke to you. How close you let him dance with you. How you didn’t move his hand when it slipped from your back and onto your arse.”

He had lowered his voice and the final word came out as a hiss.

“And what if Toby did?” She squared her shoulders and pulled the thin strap which had fallen off as he’d dragged her through those hanging around near the dance floor. The little back dress he’d never seen before. Mutton dressed up as lamb. “What are you going to do about it?” she asked.

“We’re going.”

“I’m not leaving.”

“You will do as I tell you.”

“No more, John,” the words tore from her, tears pooling in her eyes.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to say. NO more of this. No  more of you. It’s over. It’s finished. You and me.”

“But I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t.”

Image Mirror Ball Amsterdam by Yozza, via Flickr

100 Stories for Queensland: A Week On

A week on, we have a project!

We have 150 submissions with hope of at least the same number, if not more, on their way in the next eight days. We have stories pledged from Anita Heiss and Sue Moorcroft, along with interest from at least three other well known Aussie authors and several lesser known ones, from off the beaten mainstream track.

We have an amazing group of 20 volunteer readers who have braved a brand new submissions platform and all the glitches involved in getting to know how to use it effectively, who ploughed through a deluge of submissions in the first couple of days, as we were getting our heads around the new system. We have a brilliant core management team of Trevor, Maureen and David who cut through the bull shit, deal with problems which spring up, brain storm creative paths, and also know how to make you laugh and are just generally wonderful folk to work and chat with. We have a group of 10 editors on stand-by to work through the list of 100 stories in the first week of February, along with several dedicated proof readers.

We have Tehani Wessely ready to do the layout mid February and Russell B Farr working on the front cover. Both jobs I am so glad someone else is responsible for. We have a logo and website, designed and donated by Dale Challener Roe. We have Greg McQueen (yes, the man himself) committed to produce an eBook and Emma Newman, to assist in creating a podcast.

All in all, more than 30 volunteers are attached to this project.

The project has reached across the world, and genres, appearing in blog posts from The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne to Apex Books in the US, and countless personal blogs. Not to mention the steady stream of messages on the #100storiesforqld Twitter hashtag and Facebook links and comments. And tonight Annie Evett and I did what will be the first, hopefully of many, radio interviews.

To date, this is everything and more than I hoped it would be when Trevor called us all together last Tuesday evening.

While the project has found its legs and the global writing community has pulled together, the water has risen and begun to fall leaving behind a trail of destruction, thick layers of mud, homes destroyed,businesses oblitereated, thousands of displaced persons and a rising death toll. As I write this, townships are still cut off, without food and some with compromised water supplies, relying on supply trucks and chopper drops. Families wait to hear about loved ones, as the SES and army go about the grisly task of locating and indentifying bodies in flood ravaged locales.  And now, two years after the worst drought in a hundred years, the gathering of storms clouds and the distant rumble of thunder strikes a wave of anxiety rather than one of relief or hope for the coming of rain