I’ve got Byron on my Mind

I always wanted to live in one of those ultra cool share houses, full of ultra cool people with ultra cool things to say and do. Thus my love of The Secret Life of Us in the early 00’s. For a while, I lived with my soul sister and that was loads of fun, but it was also in my late twenties, when I had no money, we were over parties and the wild life and both of us were being screwed by full time work and for me, full time study.

That’s what I loved about Byron Bay. Yes the festival was fun and I bought some great books, heard excellent writers talk and had amzing chance encounters with people like Tim Ferguson… but it was played out against the backdrop of the fabulous house and the even more fabulous collection of writer friends living in it. At night, when it was quiet (yes, I enjoyed several nights of insomnia) the motion of the waves floated up over the scrappy bush along the beachline and up through our window. A relaxing (but apparently not sleep inducing ) symphony, weaving and mixing with the gentle sound of of Jason breathing  in the bed on the other side of the room (damn him for sleeping!)

The entire weekend ended up being better than expected. No share house goes without it problems, and yes, we had ours… but in a way, it made the perfect moments even better. You get to see people at their best and worst and in a way, you can only love them more for seeing both sides.

…The shared Tex Mex burrito experience the first afternoon we were there, in the near to perfect hot winter sun at the beach, the shared BBQ on the deck the first night we were there, meeting much missed friends, glasses of bubbles, bottles of beer, Margo’s most fabulous cocktails, dancing until the wee hours of the morning, random encounters with lovely young Penguin editors, morning coffees with people you wish you could enjoy every day of the week, lots and lots and lots of conversations about writing, stories, characters and the imortal “in your pants jokes”. And yes, at the ripe old age of 37 I got to short sheet my first bed.

Perhaps the most humbling experience was missing those who could not be with us – especially Adam Byatt, Laura Meyer and Lily Mulholland, not to mention all our favourite overseas based writers including (for me) my two bestest writing mates Chris Chartrand and Dan Powell as well as Paul Anderson my business partner(who for the last four years has had to put up with drunked phone and text messages while I’ve been at Byron).

On cold, lonely nights I’ll think back to the weekend just gone, and be grateful for the beautiful, generous, funny writing friends I have and try not to pine too much, or too deeply for the next time we’re all brought together again, knowing it will always be bigger and better (perhaps the only time in life?)  It’s the heightened experience of living which feeds the soul. And my soul is amply  sated.

Pass-Ported

How difficult should it be to organise a passport renewal?

It’s not like my existing passport had elapsed or I’d got married and changed my name. It should have been a walk in the park.

The website makes it look simple and easy. That alone should have sent alarm bells ringing. After all, it’s a Government website. It went swimmingly until I got a question regarding someone who had signed a form and a photograph for me TEN YEARS ago. Did I know the full name of my guarantor? No. Did we even know where said guarantor was these days to ask? No!

So, the post office told me to go to the website. When the website didn’t do what it was meant to do it referred me to their hotline. The hotline after punching in several dozen numbers and different options, referred me back to the website and not to a human who could actually answer my question. It was the perfect bureaucratic loop.

It was also Mercury Retrograde. I should have know better.

Fast forward three weeks to the start of this week. With the date for our departure to Malaysia getting closer, I knew I had to do something about my passport. I tried asking at the Post Office again for a RENEWAL form. Turns out they don’t have those type of forms, but a lovely lady who was thoughtful and kind despite the fact it was 5pm and the door was closed, and she probably just wanted to go home, told me just to fill in the standard form.

The problem with the standard form is – you don’t get the quick turn around which a renewal guarantees. So I took the form home, added it to the two existing ones I had. Tuesday I got jack of all the paperwork and logged back into the website to see if it could do what it said it could. Voila! The guarantor question was gone and I was able to proceed through.

I know that question was there – I was barred from the site enough times to remember it was most definitely there. Now I’m just happy it was gone. Dave says perhaps the lady I spoke to in the post office Monday afternoon, who was heading home to renew a passport via the website for a friend was struck down by the guarantor question and rang the office first thing in the morning to have it removed. And he says he can’t write fiction!

Wednesday, with printed form in hand, I went out to get my passport photos taken (hello – don’t they see you coming – good-bye $20.00 for four of the worst photos ever taken) Yes for the next ten years I will be able to travel looking like a suburban hitman mother with a nasty double chin. At least they don’t insult me and askme to smile. That alone made that part of the process bareable.

The lady in the post office (a different one to Monday) processed my application on the spot and come 10:30am yesterday… yes, you guessed it, the passport dilemma was over. Now to  wait for the new one to arrive. Though the upside, I can justify buying the Lonely Planet guide and allowing myself to be just a little bit excited.

A Week Later

I’ve been noticing lots of talk recently about getting back to basics. Not just in my writing community, but in the community at large.

Yesterday at my son’s parade, the Principal spoke to the student’s about organisation, Organisation is the green key (one of five coloured keys which provide the emotional and social framework for the academic curriculum to slot into).

He explained goal setting, as one of the most important elements of organisation and gave a fabulous analogy. He told the kids a dream is really just a nice idea – I’d like to get fit, I’d like to improve my spelling… I’d like to get back to basics in my writing. He said it was good to have dreams, but at the end of the day they were really just nice ideas. They weren’t a practical way of getting what you want.

To make a dream a reality you had to take conscious steps to manifest it. It required both reflection and action. What can I do to get fit – Walk every day to get fit. What can I do to improve my spelling – spend time every night practising spelling. What can I do to get back to basics in writing – work with the elements I listed last week.

Looking back, a week on from my revelations post, I’m no longer sitting bemoaning the state of disrepair my writing life has fallen into. No… rather than it be a nice idea, I’ve actually been doing something about utilising those basic building blocks.

In my Monday column I spoke about something having to give, in order to make writing a priority. In my case, I’m sleeping less. That’s OK, because writing fills up a need in me, which stabilises my moods, compels me to connect with those around me and generally makes me happy and chilled out (despite the lack of sleep, which would normally cause me to be a cranky, nasty harpie!). Everyone in my house has been smiling this week.

Since Monday I have written a new (prequel) episode of Captain Juan based on last week’s Fiction Friday prompt. I have edited up the final episode of Captain Juan for this cycle and posted it. In addition, two stories (one which had been languishing, the other forgotten) have been critiqued, reworked and are now ready to be sent somewhere. I’ve also done one major edit for someone else, and a critique for another. And last night, for the first time ever – I wrote a first draft of my Write Anything column – days in advance.

While the creative juices have been flowing (fighting an uphill battle with procrastination which wants to keep me safe from failing or tackling the too hard stuff), there have been numerous blog posts rolling around in my head.

So expect to see this space less sparsely populated in the future. There’s posts about conflicting advice on rewrites and how to pick the wheat from the chaff in a critique, a post about dreams (of the nocturnal landscape variety) and a couple of posts about the short stories I have been reading.

Thank you to all my friends and writing colleagues who rallied last week. It was the soul food I was lacking and the creative support which, like my basics for writing, is a cornerstone of my craft. I am a better writer, and produce high quality stories because you are in my life.

Image via The Road Ahead

Revelations and Back to Basics

Over the last couple of days I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and a lot of reflecting about where I currently am as a writer, what was important to me when I started writing and what I want to do from here out.

Two things occurred to me:

  1. I wasn’t writing, and
  2. I wasn’t happy about that fact.

It was a bit like going off on a safari full of enthusiasm for the thrill and adventure, then getting lost, only to discover you are going around and around in circles, and really just wanted to go home.

Small signs started to appear this week to confirm I was lost (because there is nothing like denying and making excuses to legitimise the fact you are not writing).

There had been niggling jealousy and envy of those around me who continue to produce. There was the contemplation of how my lovely friend (and talented writer) Em Newman manages to fit the demands of family, work and writing. There was a throw away piece of advice (from me) in a virtual interview a few weeks ago saying, you had to make writing a priority and then that very line being picked up by the fabulous Jen Brubacher (who continues to read and comment here although there’s not much to read or comment on, or the fact I’ve become an infrequent reader at her blog). There was a tweet from one of my followers with reference to why we can’t treat ourselves like clients (ie. bend over backwards to get it done, stop the world type of behaviour we flick into when we’re working on someone else’s project) Then there was Tony Noland’s wonderful essay earlier this week “Rule #1 – You Must Write” – which was like the nail in the coffin of the self delusion.

You must write.

I must write.

And I decided I didn’t want to be lost, stuck out in the wilderness, on the fringe any more. I wanted to go home.

But where is ‘home’ for me as a writer?

Home is what I was doing when I first decided I wanted to write seriously. It was the foundation from which all other great things were built on (Reclaim Sex After Birth, Chinese Whisperings and eMergent Publishing)

There were four things which were the cornerstone of those early times:

  1. I wrote [Fiction] Friday every week – usually as part of my Friday night ritual. It was getting blood on the page, it got me connected in with my foundation group of writing friends (many of which have continued on the journey with me in new and innovative ways), it got my writing out there – read and critiqued. But more so, it gave me insight into how my writing worked… that I needed a prompt to get and keep writing.
  2. I wrote Captain Juan and was always itching for the next person to write so I could have my go again. It was my ‘writer’s candy’ or ‘comfort writing’… despite whatever else was going on… there was always Captain Juan.
  3. I blogged – almost every day and my blog was a lifeline to other writers who were also on the journey. It challenged me, supported me and spurred me onto greater heights. It was what got me connect in, before there was Facebook and Twitter.
  4. I made reading a priority for the first time in my life.

Three years on I find weekly writing has slipped to something which is a ‘treat’ every now and again, when the time opens up (rather than opening up the time to write). I think I have written one new episode of Captain Juan (the Christmas special) in the past year and every day there is a dull ache, like an amputated limb. Blogging? What blogging? Unless there is some new piece of writing to put up (see back to the start of this paragraph) the blog lies idle and forgotten. My connection to the rest of my writerly folk is now made through Facebook and Twitter, which quite frankly, while convenient is just not the same soul food of connection or insight. And reading… well it is still there, though has been teetering lately into falling the way everything else has gone.

This month, as I was setting my goals, I developed a theme for the month, ‘Back to Basics’. I want to go back to what was important and what kept me nourished when I first started out.

This month writing will be a priority.

And the other little piece of wisdom which came to me this week. Life isn’t a balancing act – so let’s can the image of scales, or tightropes, of seesaws and the likes. It is not about balancing at all.

Life is a jigsaw and it is about the investment in making the pieces fit. Sometimes they pieces fit easily – especially when they’re very different… but when you’ve got 100 pieces of blue sky.. the task takes on new meaning. And when your work is editing and publishing and writing… the ability to make them all fit, because they look so similar, can be a greater challenge. It is easier to take the pieces which belong to others and make them a priority to have fitted into the bigger picture and leave your pieces behind.

But no one ends up being happy – least of you all, when you relegate yourself to the poor third cousin.

So over the next month – expect more blogging and a new look blog, more fiction and some exciting news about Captain Juan.

Bonfire of the Vanities

Ashes to AshesI did something slightly crazy today.

I took all my old drafts and mark-ups ( a pile around 4cm thick) which had just been sitting there, doing nothing… and I burnt them in a mini bonfire in the back yard. I took some rocks from around the pool and made a fireplace (something I’ve been meaning to do for the longest time and just never moved beyond the idea of..) and set about the task of turning them to dust.

Before you call the mental health professionals there was method in my madness. As I was cleaning up my desk (so I could finally return to it after an 8 week absence due to piles of CRAP!) I came across a timeline/flow chart I wrote out in the dead of night in December last year as I was checking all the stories for The Red Book actually fit.

It seemed disrespectful to then take that and throw it in the recycling. So I hit on the idea of burning it. I took the mortar out on the back verandah and watched it burn. That’s where I got the idea to burn everything I didn’t want any longer. I love fire (I’m a double fire sign) and there is something cathartic about committing something to flames.. the ashes then go in my vegie garden.

The Phoenix is one of my favourite mythical images and I am hoping that by committing these past works to ashes something brand new and brilliant will rise from the smouldering remains. To prove my timing will always be impeccable this year… just as I committed the final pile to the flames the rain came down. Standing in it I felt cleaned and empty in a good way. Ready to fill up on new writing adventures.

#129 First Day

#129/365, originally uploaded by tigerlily4865.

Today I became the Mum of a primary school student. More tears on my part and feeling sad that it is the end of an era and the start of another.

He was VERY brave. Looking forward to hearing the joys of school this afternoon.

The best summation for me was a mixture of relief, grief, happiness, freedom and emptiness.  You know the feeling you get in your tummy… but you never tell anyone about. That was me!

So the next great adventure is just around the corner, peeking and winking at me…

#87 The Chameleon Pushing Boundaries

After a story developing (a bit like a storm) overnight, I had to find time today to put it down before I lost the intracacies of it or it became stale. And “The Chameleon” was born. So excited by my efforts I rushed downstairs and asked Mum if she wanted to read it. The first time I’ve possibly let her read any of my writing since I became an adult. Then had a moment were I realised there was swearing in it, violent deaths and a rather lurid mention of sex.

Turns out she loved it. Then got herself bent out of shape later when we were discussing the microchipping of humans (which is a prominent feature in all my sci-fi stories). Gratefully, micro chip or not micro chip she still loves the story… and the bonus, I am actually ploughing away successfully at my goals for this month. Now to sow and reap the rewards.

PS: just thinking – I might rename this story Chameleon Nightmares on a twist of the name Chameleon Dreams an album by Kiwi songstress, Margaret Urlich’s, which I have from the early 90’s.