Tuesday, 24 February 2015

When P is not for Politics

I love doing writing prompts when I have a coffee in the morning, but at the moment most of them aren't working for me because I don't know what I'm working on. With so many stories in different stages it's hard to respond to a prompt like 'write about what's in your character's pockets.'
But a list is always a great way to get working, and here's my 10 minute list of things that start with the letter 'p' -


I hadn't thought of the 'pattern' word as I wrote, but when I'd finished I started looking for some in my 44 words.
There's only 10 adjectives in there, and 9 of the words can be more than one word class. Though I started out with a couple of complex words I simplified things quickly, and favoured nouns over verbs.
I can see some influence of my surrounds, sitting at a table in the street, but am surprised at others that dropped in - preface? pliable?
Product then placement is the sort of logic I'd expect to see when you're just spilling words, similarly priory after prior, but there's plenty of randomness, which pleases me. I would hate to be too predictable.
And for some reason though it's impossible to avoid it anywhere you look or listen at the moment, I'm pretty chuffed that I didn't even think of politics.

Do you use lists to help when you're writing?

Written in response to Sarah Selecky writing prompt (30th Jan 2015)

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Words Out - Nicole Hayes at Santucci's

Nicole Hayes is a writer, editor, tutor, talker, mother, wife and passionate Hawthorn supporter. I joined one of her creative writing workshop groups when I came back to Melbourne last year, and from the first session knew I was in the hands of a generous and talented guide. Like Shaun Levin (one of my tutors in London), she has that rare ability to listen, analyse and offer insightful critique to work after a quick first read.

Though a lot of her time is spent developing others, an important part of Nicole's routine is getting away from distractions to focus on her own writing, and she's been coming to Santucci's in Carnegie to do this a couple of times a week for about 6 years.

Unlike meeting Else Fitzgerald at Carolina, I didn't have any trouble finding Santucci's, but they certainly keep a low online profile. The family-owned cafe has been here for decades and has a homely quirk to it. The coffee machine is an important feature and there's bookshelf displays of old percolators and grinders, old lamps on the tables and pictures with a loose Italian theme hung in collaged groups - it all adds up to make a loungey, informal-dining vibe. And they make good coffee.

Nicole arrives with a load that would fail commercial airlines' weight limit for carry-on luggage, although she assures me she took this much when she flew to London last year for the inaugural Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature & Arts. She carries a laptop for writing, piles of hardcopy for editing, and "just-in-case" files. Nicole's a busy person who values alone-time as a precious commodity that should be spent on her writing (guilt is a great motivator), so it's important that here there is no wifi and though the staff are friendly, they don't bother you when you're head down.

It's usually crowded so fortunately Nicole doesn't have a favourite table or chair, she just grabs a space and gets to work. When we're there the lunch crowd is as mixed up as the furniture, and it's loud. It's the sort of incoherent noise that cafe writers like Nicole love - she'd find it far more distracting to be in a quiet cafe where a private conversation would really carry. If she does get stuck, Nicole uses a freeform exercise to get her work moving, shared with Writers Victoria here.

And did I mention that the coffee's good?

There used to be couches and toy boxes at the front of Santucci's, and on Saturdays a woman sat at a window table and read tealeaves for free. One day the woman asked Nicole if she could do her reading. Maybe the scribbling in the notebook (pre-laptop days) gave it away, but she asked Nicole if she was 'the creative type? a writer?' and Nicole felt convinced this stranger could see a powerful creative spirit in her. After the ceremony, the woman told Nicole that she would definitely be published. That was some years ago and the woman has since moved away, but wouldn't it be lovely to tell her that she was right. Nicole's first novel, The Whole of My World, was published in 2013 and is the first book about AFL to feature a female fan (not groupie, football-loving-female). Since its publication she's been interviewed and joined panel discussions covering a broad range of topics - Dark issues in Young Adult fiction, role models for girls and young people, women writing (and loving) footy, and writing what you love.  Her second novel, One True Thing,  will be published in May and she's already set to take part in the Melbourne Writers Festival Schools' Program in August.

Nicole has said that she has to write about a subject or a theme that really matters to her. "And I have to be angry about it, too - an injustice or a crime - in order to maintain my focus." She's choosing important themes in her work and pushes her students to call on the same passion and purpose in their own writing.  Santucci's is one of her places for holding and harnessing that focus, and on the way out I realise that their quote of the day when we met is a fitting tribute - a message that could come from one of Nicole's students for how much she helps them - to a writer fast becoming the voice for "girls finding their way in traditionally masculine worlds."
I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I'm with you. I love you not for what you have made of yourself but for what you are making of me. George Eliot
 *  *  *  *  *

Nicole Hayes is an author and writing teacher based in Melbourne. Her debut novel, The Whole of My World (Random House 2013), about family, friendship and football, was longlisted for the 2014 Gold Inky Award, and shortlisted for the 2014 Young Australians’ Best Book Award (YABBA). Her second novel, One True Thing, will be published by Random House in May. She has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing, and is nearing completion of a PhD at the University of Melbourne where she taught fiction and screenwriting for more than five years. She runs writing workshops for Australian Writers Centre and is the Creative Writing Facilitator at Phoenix Park Neighbourhood House. Previously, Nicole has lived in England, France, Japan, and Hawaii during her extensive travels before finding her way home to Melbourne. To find out more, visit her website: www.nicolehayesauthor.com or follow her on Twitter: @nichmelbourne.

Words Out is a series of interviews with writers in the cafes they like to work in.  I'm making Melbourne's future literary map for tourists in the years to come.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Time Out Track - Undiscovered

Laneway Learning is an adultcation group that offers "cheap, fun classes in anything and everything." In their update email this week they announced even more expansion in Melbourne, spreading north and south, but are still busy offering fun learning in the CBD. I wandered around (online) looking at courses and venues and found one of their CBD bases that I'd never heard of - Henley Club.

Sounded like somewhere to check out, and landing on their home page I thought I'd found yet another space to remind me how much I love the eating and drinking options we have in Melbourne. But actually it's not a space I can go to. It's a clubhouse for members "selected from diverse backgrounds who represent the future of Australian leadership."


Scanning the list of members revealed a collection of people I couldn't imagine coming together without an agenda, or purpose, and certainly not without introductions. It's fascinating. There's founders of small businesses (I now follow YourGrocer and cookingbooking but it's not all about food, for the club that is), techxperts, lawyers, medical professionals…and musicians.

They have a comprehensive set of working groups designed to discuss opportunities, issues and risks in their focus area, and heading the Arts and Culture group is Gemma Turvey - pianist/composer and Founder and Artistic Director for The New Palm Court Orchestra.

I listened to her album 'Landscapes for a Mind's Eye' and it's gorgeous, so it was so disappointing to see I'd missed her playing last week at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, which will probably be her last performance before the venue sadly closes.

In an hour of, well you could call it procrastination but I prefer research, I found a club that looks cool but I can't go to and a club that I've been to and love but is sadly closing.

I think the least I can do is share Gemma Turvey, and how better than to show her playing 'Undiscovered' live at Bennetts Lane (2011).

And hopefully I'll find a chance to see her play soon.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

What I Loved: Love Begins In Winter

I'm not surprised that according to Goodreads I've been "currently reading" Love Begins in Winter (Simon Van Booy) for a year. It is a collection that whispers, 'Take your time. Savour me.' It's subtle, considered, and I stop all the time when I'm reading it.
"Grief is a country where it rains and rains but nothing grows. The dead live somewhere else - wearing the clothes we remember them in." 
I have to stop and think and appreciate prose like that.
And this...
"Los Angeles is a place where dreams balance forever on the edge of coming true. A city on a cliff held fast by its own weight."
And that's just the first story.

In the title story each chapter could stand alone as a short short - they feel complete - so it's almost a bonus that they flow to build the story they do. That the POV shifts feel natural but not contrived. This is a writer I will go back to again and again and notice new things each time.

I feel like I need to absorb each sentence that van Booy gives me, and it makes me want to write myself. He makes me want to strip whole paragraphs, pages even, right back to the essence that is poignant, significant and provoking.

As I was reading I was reminded of Vienna, thinking that was where I first started this book. I was alone sitting on a bar stool on a busy Friday night, and at one stage I ordered a drink in Spanish. The Austrian waitress answered me in fluent Spanish as though it was natural. When I'm away and alone there is marvel in everything foreign - supermarkets, train stations, a menu. I started Van Booy in Austria, but his observations and simple, succinct language helps me to see the details where I live with the same wonder.

Nicole Hayes shared a writing prompt with Writers Victoria recently: to write your way out of not writing by writing what you're not writing about. I've used this and found it really helpful for getting me  back on track with something that's stuck. And now I have Van Booy to help me start when I have no idea what I'm not writing about. I read a few pages and look at photos on my wall or people on the tram or in the cafe and I'm in the creative zone where everything is art and deserves to be captured and I want to be the one who does it.

I've just realised that I spoke Spanish in Innsbruck, not Vienna. And though I have now read the Love Begins in Winter collection,  I don't think my status on Goodreads will ever change.

If you need more convincing to get your hands on a copy, the Praise on IndieBound should help.

Oh okay, you can also read a hearty extract of the title story thanks to The Guardian, but you really should get a copy.

Friday, 14 November 2014

What I Loved: The Dangerous Bride (Lee Kofman)

I've just finished 'The Dangerous Bride' sitting in a sunny spot eating my muesli and feeling terribly indulgent for using working time this way. But I can justify the choice because this book is a fabulous resource for a writer, and although I've read it in only 2 days it's already sparked a lot of thinking about form, structure and tone that I'm sure will help my own work.

The story explores love, relationships, migration, sexual freedom, family, security, and above all (for me anyway) it is a quest that is informed and accessible - a brave and intelligent work.

Born with a broken heart, Lee survived open-heart surgeries in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, and wonders if her fairytale-rescue fantasies, her emotional heart-breaks and fascination with love may be a natural result of these month spent in hospitals "where people died frequently and openly." At 10 years' old Lee was hit by a bus and needed more surgeries, and while she talks about hiding her physical scars during her sexual explorations, in her work it feels as though nothing is hidden.
"I led Noah into my writing cell turned love den, where my lover and I, unnerved by the newness of each other, spent unslept nights. For the first time, I felt Noah to be an intruder.  This hurt. I hoped wildly that after all that time apart, he would now push me onto the bed with a passion strong enough to exorcise my pain, and possibly my lover. Instead, he scrutinised the room, his protective arm around my shoulder. In the remaining daylight, under my husband's critical gaze, the place turned into a pumpkin."
Structurally, this is a book that moves between non-chronological personal stories, meetings with people that are written as narratives, interviews that are captured with a lot of direct quotes, and extensive references to artists, literary characters and broader research into different forms of relationships. It's easy to imagine that creating, collecting and combining all of this material  could have resulted in an inaccessible mess, and I don't know how many drafts were completed or how extensive the changes made were, but the result is a really engaging, accessible exploration from an exciting voice.

In her acknowledgements, Lee says, 'Throughout the entire process of writing this book, Peter (Bishop) kept reading my confused drafts and helping me to deepen the work. Our lengthy conversations about what I was doing would leave me dazed and exalted.' Both he and Sally Heath (MUP Editor) should feel extremely proud of how their input has informed and shaped this work.

I hadn't heard Lee speaking until after I finished this book, and when I did listen to an interview I felt an even greater appreciation for her. Imagine learning English as an adult and having the command of language that she shows here. On the page I heard open yearning. I felt sadness, frustration and respect for all sorts of different reasons. Listening to her I was so pleased to hear her lightness, that the child seeking rescue hasn't been quashed, but it doesn't sound like need. She sounds more like a woman who won't be beaten or bitter; a vibrant, considerate woman who analyses and enjoys life, and I'm looking forward to meeting her.

I'm not strictly following Lee's 'Reading Diet' recommendations (or NaNoWriMo guidelines) at the moment, but perhaps my current appetite for a diverse range of writing is as close as I'll get to a non-manogomous relationship. Or at least as far as I'll admit to in public.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Understanding my response to Graham Greene

I was surprised to find a collection of Graham Greene books in one of the boxes I took out of storage recently. Surprised because I don't remember being a Greene fan, and I do remember trying to be ruthless when I packed up my worldly goods to store in 2008.

I picked up my 30c copy of 'a gun for sale' and when I finished a couple of days later I felt a bit disappointed. I wanted to feel like I'd just had the privilege of spending time with one of the 20th century literary greats, but I didn't.

I've since read a few recent reviews which talk about it reading like a less serious draft of 'Brighton Rock', a book confused about whether it is literary or a thriller, one of his most entertaining "entertainments" and a thriller to devour in a single sitting.

None of these observations really satisfied me, and I was still trying to understand my response to the book when I heard this quote from John Peel on a podcast -
"anytime he ever hears a piece of music that he doesn't like, he just assumes that it's his problem"
And I realised that was what I felt after finishing 'a gun for sale' - I was disappointed in myself.

I had a strong visual association throughout the book, and think it compares to watching a movie that I didn't mind at all, that maybe I'd be glad I'd watched on DVD rather than made a night out of going to the cinema to see.

It's a book that's based on an intriguing premise, and if we're talking about effective character names then I don't think I'll forget Raven as the choice for the protagonist, and I did read until the end. I've decided to apportion 'blame' for my disappointment to: the era it was written in (a victim of its time); my expectations; following two fabulous works by Janet Frame and Dorothy Porter.

While this isn't his most successful novel, and I didn't love it, I'm pleased that I wasn't satisfied with just saying, meh, that was okay. I wanted to understand my reaction, and am glad that I've been reminded to  look for the good in someone's work, an approach I hope that I use with people. After all, we know how much time and effort goes into the creative process.

Of course I haven't paid that respect to some books since I decided a couple of years ago that there is no obligation to finishing a book just because it has been deemed good enough to publish.

Guess I need to work on my consistency.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Words Out - Else Fitzgerald at Carolina

Else writes in Carolina, named after the Ryan Adams song, 'Oh My Sweet Carolina' at 11 Nicholson St, Brunswick East. Despite her warning that it was hard to find, and my google maps research, I had to call from Nicholson St for instructions. With the original business name still painted on the window glass it's a modest treasure. A bit like Else. Try finding her online and you'll get listings for Ella Fitzgerald or F. Scott Fitzgerald - not bad company to be associated with, and hopefully indicative of the respect this emerging writer will realise.
Else is welcomed with hugs from the staff when she arrives, like she’s part of this family, and it’s close. She works as well as writes here so it is sort of a second home, which Else things helps with her writing. She's comfortable and relaxed, it's a bit like being in her living room but without the distractions at home. There’s no wifi.

Enjoying an Earl Grey or a soy flat white, on warmer days she might use a table in the courtyard (with a power point nearby), but she’ll usually sit at the table in the front by the coffee machine looking out on Nicholson Street. An urban vista that certainly doesn’t appear in Else’s writing. Born and raised in East Gippsland, her stories are rooted in rural settings, characters and issues. Water is a key feature in each of her three published stories, and the influence of seasonality, drought and fire threads her work. Her writing is dense and carefully carved, so it’s not surprising that she spends a lot of time mulling and editing. You’re more likely to find her refining working in Carolina than developing something in its initial stages.

Unlike many café writers, Else doesn’t tend to steal too much from what's going on around her. Most of her characters have some foundation in someone she knows, usually from the dairy farming days, so you don’t need to worry about her eavesdropping. Anyone who knows my writing knows I am the exact opposite in this sense – the working title of my short story collection is ‘You are being watched’. Enough said.

We do however share a common inspiration: using music. The emotional response Else feels to songs will create the tone and mood of a story and she'll often have headphones on at her cafe table. It’s usually one song that she becomes obsessive about with each story - for ‘River’ it was ‘Youth’ by Daughter, which you can listen to below.

As well as the staff family, Else’s real family come to Carolina. Her mum lives locally and is also a writer - and the founder of Verandah. She often drops by, playing a key role in editing Else's work, and her sister comes in as well.  There’s no disparaging looks for taking up a whole table over a few hours, possibly because there are other artists working here, as in creating and as in on staff, including a painter and a graphic designer. It makes me look around wondering what other people might be up to while we're talking.

The following published stories have all spent some time in Carolina, and I can’t wait to read the current stories that are “pretty much finished but need editing.” If you happen to see Else working away at one of her tables, please don’t interrupt her for too long.

You can read Else's online portfolio of poetry and stories on Elsewhere
‘River’ won the Fiction first prize in the Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers competition (2014) and is published in The Victorian Writer (Sept-Oct issue)
The Appearance Of Earth’ was published in Visible Ink vol.24 (2012)
A Body of Water’ was Commended in Elizabeth Jolley Prize (2011)

Words Out: a series of interviews with writers in the cafes they like to work in.  I'm making Melbourne's future literary map for tourists in the years to come.