Sunday, 30 June 2013

Couldn't get tickets for David Sedaris, but hey, I saw Kevin Barry!

Post-holiday-what-do-I-do-at-this-laptop-confusion is gone.

I walked out on it on Friday morning. I don't miss it, and I have the photos to remember the holiday.

Last night I went to the Word Factory's June event. It was a warm night, Pride night, and the event was over-subscribed. The doors were open, and all sorts passed by, lost in the lanes and closed streets of Soho, curious about the people in the doorway, the concentration in the room, about what exactly was going on in The Society Club.

NOT to detract from Keith Ridgway and Mary Costello, if you've never seen Kevin Barry interviewed or reading his work, do*.

He read us 'Ox Mountain Death Song', a short story in 17 parts, published in The New Yorker last year. The crowded room in turn laughed, looked pensive, nodded, wry smiled, laughed, and clapped long enough for Cathy Galvin to say, 'We can't really call encore, can we?'

I'm sure many of us would have liked to.

I'm back in the writing swing of things after my holiday. Though it is Sunday. And sort of sunny. And I've got all these souvenirs to sample, so...

Spoils from Sat night in Soho
Looks like Sunday

*There's plenty of clips to choose from, but 'The Apparitions' is a fine one to start with.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Uh oh...

Mel and I had a list of things to do before we turned 40. We probably started it when we were teenagers and it was more like things to do before you’re 25. Maybe it was just after we went to our first Neil Diamond concert.

Anyway, at some stage, along with climbing the highest peaks in every state in Australia (Mel), being rich enough to not have to choose which book to buy when you see three you like (me), running a marathon was added. I can’t remember the so many others on the list. I mean really, seeing Neil Diamond live had been a long awaited dream.

When we were in our 30s, after Mel had her first daughter, she rang me one day and asked if I would do it. This year.

I was probably hungover and guessed I’d missed some essential part of the conversation while I was trying to make a coffee or get the cure of blue Powerade into me. Maybe I was even having a cigarette to finish the pack I’d bought as a social smoker the night before.

‘Sorry,’ I asked her, ‘do what this year?’

‘Do it.’

I didn’t want to say but I wasn’t any more enlightened.

‘Run the marathon,’ she said, sounding a little incredulous that I hadn’t been waiting for this call, so helpfully she spelled it out, ‘Run the Melbourne marathon this year.’

'Oh. Okay.'

At school Mel and I were lapped running the 800 metres. We had some stuff to learn. We bought the training book her sister had used a couple of years before. We bought new sneakers. I’d never run more than 3km before.

One of the best pieces of advice I was given early - and of course I was given loads of ‘useful’ information, right up until the morning of the race, because for 4 months the training and recovery and food and sleep was all I talked about – was to decide that my only target was to finish the race and not have any time goal.


Which went well. Mostly. Except it was hard not to check your watch in the dark of a winter morning when everyone’s asleep and it’s drizzling and you have to make sure that it is actually 6am not 3.30am.

And then there’re all those clocks as you run around. Time’s everywhere but I tried not to look. Because quickly, as the distances started stepping up, there was something else more private and significant to worry about.

That uncomfortable sensation that starts in your lower belly and recedes when you do your mind games and visualise yourself smiling and striding out with gazelle-like ease. But then it strikes again and you think that if you don’t stop running there’s going to be an incident of the sort you haven’t had since you wore nappies.

I couldn’t really understand how all of the information I’d read and been told didn’t cover: YOU WILL NEED TO GO TO THE TOILET.

And just to be clear, I don’t mean the likes of if only I was a man and I could just pull over quickly, cause I’d be happy to stop and have a quick wee behind a tree myself, but I’m not talking about that sort of need.

And then while you’re thinking about it and running for a little bit it goes away. Because you’re focused on thinking about it instead of actually feeling it, you can get into a more philosophical rumination about things that become necessary at the most inappropriate times, and so for a little while you can think about those and the need recedes so you can keep running.

And that leads again to the question: why is it that this topic isn’t addressed openly? Anyone who’s travelled in third world countries and spoken with other travellers at any length usually gets onto bowel movements at some stage. Why hadn’t other runners warned me?

I’d read about nutrition, which tiptoed around the issue under the guise of digestion times. I’d been warned about losing toe nails and nipple chafing. I mean having someone I worked with but didn’t know very well caution me about my nipples felt pretty personal. Could he not have hinted that I’d want to work out my toilet needs as I was experimenting with whether to and what to eat before a long run?

I hate to think how I looked, pulling up sharp as though I’d done a hamstring, clenching my buttocks and holding it in for a bit. I needed to go to the toilet!

So I slowly jogged, pulled up, stopped still, walked, breathed yoga breaths and did my mantra: I am a marathoner, I am a marathoner, I’m proud of the training I am doing, I love hills, I am a marathoner. 

Finally I made it home and as I was going up the second flight of stairs to my apartment I had to double over and force a last hold – that final hurdle is always lethal. 

You don’t need any more details. Let’s just say I made it.

From then on I checked for public facilities when I plotted my training runs and I added some loo paper beside my jelly beans in my running belt. 

And recently, training with friends for the Berlin marathon, I was very quick to discuss the toilet issue with them.

* * * * *

Written as submission for the Write To Run Retreat competition - comments welcome!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Time Out Track - Where I'll Be (Horse Feathers)

"It's not a lack of will, but a lack of time.
It's the road and the miles of it that's on your mind.
What you get is exactly what you see.

But, if it's where you are that's exactly where I'll be."

I love this film clip - a black and white animation whose mood perfectly matches the band's piano, banjo and Ringle's voice to deliver minor key solemnity.

Horse Feathers is never dark enough to depress, but never bright enough to blind.*


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Identity crisis

Enlightening a German friend:

I'm from Melbourne, so you'd call me a Melburnian.
Collective terms for people from other Australian cities?
Um, well, there's Sydneysiders; Brisbanites (though we just say they're Banana Benders or that they're from BrisVegas); Darwinians are in the Top End; Adelaide, hmmm, well they're part of the Croweaters; for the Sandgropers maybe you'd say Perthians...

I pause here, not sure how this is going in translation. And then quite seriously he places his stein on the plastic tablecloth and looks at me.

'So does that mean I'm a Hamburger?'

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Shadows: response to story writing exercise from Morgen Bailey

Tourists would visit the town on Wednesdays for the market, a cobbled square stalled with vegetables from the local farmers, men and women trying to sell clothes they can afford to live without, the lamps and pictures they have cleared out of the homes of their deceased.
Michéle’s husband works in the boucherie. He wears a white coat and white rubber boots. He comes home bloodied from hosing down the back room, and wiping his hands on the over-sized pockets after slicing the remnants from the bones for the mincer.
When their youngest daughter, Monique, told them she was engaged to be married, they congratulated her and then privately shared their relief. Soon they could start trying to save for themselves.
Michéle wanted the wedding present to be something special. The newlyweds had arranged to live in a small house in the middle of a dull street on the outskirts of the town. An area where tired young husbands and fathers dragged home heavy in the dark of late evenings.
On the day of the wedding Michéle carefully handed a large, neatly-wrapped present to her daughter.
The next day Monique took down the faded curtains from the front window and a few hours later, when her husband was home to help, a pair of white lace curtains with a pattern of shells appeared. Beautiful fan-shaped shells, with detail of the ridge paths and rippled edges, arranged in uneven groups as though washed up on shore on a beach.
Quickly the curtains became a talking point in the town. Women queuing for their vegetables asked if their friends had seen them, and over the next weeks footsteps could be heard slowing down as they passed the house to look at this fancy new display.
And then it wasn’t long before the curtains in other windows were replaced. The Tabac owner’s wife hung a lace display of butterflies in her window, pleased with the neat rows of delicate wings.
The lace maker, an old woman who had learned the craft from her mother and thought that her retirement was as good as secured, was suddenly popular amongst the younger townsfolk. They invited her to coffee, offered pastries, and invariably ended up discussing designs and dates.
She made curtains of birds on twigs reaching for berries, an ocean of leaping dolphins, an ocean scene where large yachts and smaller, distant ships sailed above a band of fish and the floor of shells and coral.
The lights of sitting rooms all around the town cast shadow shapes across the footpaths.
Tourists came to walk the course of the designs that the town had become renowned for. None of them passed the simple window of Monique’s house.

* * *
Written in 20 mins - Exercise 1 from Morgen Bailey on Monday 24th June
Keywords to include: curtain, tired, last, home, footsteps

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Time Out Track - from the Continent

Awake since 5am with day-before-holidays-and-it's-sunny-outside-excitement. And a moment of regret for that third pint last night, but have you had Moor No'Or Hop and stopped at one? It's worth ordering another just to see if you can say the name. By the third I think I pointed at the tap, but could still taste how good it is.

And if I don't read what I wrote at my window seat in the pub I can rest happily in the knowledge that a paragraph of hand scribbled notes was embellished into a 1,500 word story of commendable quality.

So this morning I wanted to post a couple of current and cool songs from Spain and France, my destinations. In both countries Daft Punk are killing the charts, and they don't really need more promo. Just so it's clear, I'm a big fan, and seeing them live is an unforgettable experience.

From Spain I like We Are Standard (but a lot of their music videos star puppets) and Phoenix from France (but I just couldn't find that holiday feel track), so here's a few old school sound numbers from these fine countries. They're good packing tracks...and I'm excited!

Caveat: I have no idea what these lyrics are about, and don't really want to know. I'm just going for the sound. And the clips!

And if you've got any other bands from these countries you like I'd love to listen to them. Or if there's a country you're looking to explore, just let me know.

Adios, au revoir, hasta luego, santé

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Since getting serious - coming out of the closet

My job finished earlier this year and I decided to give this hobby of mine a proper go for a few months. I spent 4 nights at Retreats For You and as well as writing set up a plan of attack.

Since then I've been writing and editing every day and submitting work, but mostly I really wanted to immerse myself in the word world.

I'm dipping my toe in some social media spaces, which has been an inspiring introduction to writers, successes, skills, reviews, opportunities, and plain old random thoughts at times. The people and groups who put so much time into promoting these, you are greatly appreciated.

No doubt one of the most exciting moves has been to get along to events. 

In the last couple of months I've heard Ros Barber, Andrew Blackman, Gavin Extence, Jenni Fagan, Roshi Fernando, Ben Fountain, Gabriel Gbadamosi, Colin Grant, Sam Mills, Helen Simpson, Anna Stothard. 

We've sat on stools in Clapham Books, in a room in a Herne Hill pub (where curious punters wandered through to get to the mens'), at a long communal table in The Society Club, Soho and a gallery room in Foyles at Charing Cross.  

Hearing writers read their work really influences how I then read their books. I can hear their distinct voice - like Gabriel's metered pace and Jenni's accent - and it makes reading their printed work like a one-on-one audio reading experience. 

And what I love about London is there's always something exciting to go to.

My few months of 'giving it a proper go' is almost up, and I've just reconnected with a recruitment agency to start the 'real work' hunt. But this time has been so valuable to firmly establish writing in my life, and whilst I won't have as much time to dedicate to it, I'll never retreat from this world.

I am a writer.

In terms of publications, I was very lucky to get out of the gates early with a paid acceptance from the second Overland audio journal

The strike rate has bottomed out since, but with some honest editorial services (thanks Amanda Saint at Retreat West, James at The Word Hut) and really useful general reports from competition judges, I'm continually seeing how to improve my work and who to target.  And Shaun Levin's daily exercises are great for when I look at a story and have no idea where to take it next.

Reading reviews from a much wider range of people has not only added to my 'Must Read' list, it's made me explore work I might never have thought of trying. And rather than feel overwhelmed by how  talented other people are, I'm embracing it as valuable, rich, thought-provoking: a world I cherish being a part of.

I have a colour-coded spreadsheet, due dates, word counts, and some talented writing friends to work with. And a dream (as I said to the guy in the bike shop last week after an accident where my only concern was the survival of my laptop).

After a recent week of rejections and a budgetary wobble, a good friend of mine said to me - 'Man up. Grow some balls.'

So I've got all the infrastructure in place. (Then she sent me this recipe which is tasty, and goes a long way - Indian dal).

Thanks to friends for support, and the writing community for letting me in. I hope to hear from and meet more of you soon.

Oh and here are the spoils from the author events I've been to since getting serious.