Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Sitting in - Melbourne voices

Last week I had a few where-am-I flashes. My front door confused me, because it wasn't my London front door. I saw a woman I vaguely knew, but I couldn't work out which city I knew her from. I went out for a coffee to the same cafe I've gone to nearly every morning for nearly 6 months, and was surprised when I got there that it wasn't the same cafe I'd gone to nearly every morning for over 12 months in London.

But yesterday well and truly anchored me.

My Monday morning writing group, led by Nicole Hayes, is the ideal way to start the week. We're a mixed bunch in terms of ages and backgrounds, each working on very different projects. Yesterday we read an extract of a novel set in Melbourne in the 70s and 80s, captured brilliantly through the POV of a teenage girl desperate to be on the stage. In a plea to her father to take her to the ballet, "he can't bloody well miss the Richmond vs Collingwood match to watch a bunch of poofters prancing on a stage," can he.

Brilliant. We know where we are and when.

Driving home I stopped at the lights by Dairy Bell. And remembered. Getting off the train at East Malvern to go and get an ice-cream after school / delay going home to Glen Waverley. Walking from my old apartment, down Belgrave Road, holding hands with my nephew when he was young. I kept driving along Malvern Road and saw the buildings of my old school up on the hill, turned down High St, passed Harold Holt where I've swum more kms over the last 30 years than I could count.

So I was in a pretty contemplative mood when I arrived at the Malvern library for the Tales Out Loud session with Sofie Laguna.

The small group of us were taken to a room upstairs that looks out over the oval I walk the dog on most mornings. We were offered coffee, tea and biccies, and a choice of listening to Sofie reading from her new (not yet published) book, or Q&A, or a bit of both. She started reading.

Sofie's trained as an actor, so it's wonderful to hear her read with Jimmy's 6 year-old energy, and an intensity that doesn't seem quite right from the start. The Eye of the Sheep wastes no time and in our session we're firmly placed with the Flick family in Altona and Laverton with Holdens and Passiona. We've got Dad retreating to Merle Haggard with a bottle of Cutty Sark, and Mum doing her Doris Day - a brilliant balance of comedy, tension and a hand placed on the heart getting ready to grip.

The official launch is on Thursday night at Readings (Hawthorn). I'd get there if you can.

To cap off a Monday of sitting in with fantastic Melbourne writers/ing, I started reading Nicole Hayes' first novel, The Whole Of My World. Another thought I'd had driving home was how come I haven't read this before? Every week Nicole is fresh and keen to listen to our latest work. She has that rare talent of giving valuable feedback and suggestions after just one read, and I haven't read her first book yet! She's already finished writing her second!

It's my first YA novel as an adult, and even though I like footy I wasn't sure that I was going to really enjoy it. I mean, I'm a long way from the target demographic. Shelley, with an e, is a Glenthorn Football Club fan who tracks more footy stats than the professionals. Starting at a new Catholic girls' school, she's doing her best to stick to her dad's saying: Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back to position.

After just a few pages I was thinking I need to buy it for one of my dearest friends (from old girls' school days), and I'll get Nicole to sign it, and I should turn the light out now, I need an early night, okay just one more chapter.

I read the pre-season (about a quarter of the book). I turned the light out and put an eye mask on. I thought about my day, the writers here, how there's so many opportunities to meet them, hear them and learn from them.

I knew I was in Melbourne.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

What I Loved: Patient: The story of a rare illness

I was at a pre-program launch for the Melbourne Writers Festival a couple of weeks ago.  It was a civilised gathering in Aesop on Collins St, with wine from Mount Langhi Gihran.

The ever-smiling hostess, Lisa Dempster, stood before us with a few pages of text that she barely referred to. Clearly, orchestrating a diverse and innovative program doesn't mean she's out of touch with any of the details.

I was grinning as she talked about the In Conversation session with Ben Watt. Maybe it was Lisa speeding up and (have I imagined this?) fanning herself talking about the lead singer of Everything But The Girl and his books? Maybe she, too, knew a boy that had given her an EBTG album a few decades ago?

Whether it's fair to 'blame' Lisa or not, the Ben Watt session was highlighted at my program planning session the next morning. Ticket booked I thought I'd better have a look at what he's been up to over the past 20+ years.

I borrowed Patient: The True Story of a Rare Illness and started it late one night, just to knock over a few pages. It's a good thing I knew that this stuff happened a while ago and Ben is alive and touring and "well", because I was tense and teary in my 75 page quick opening read.

I'm wary of true stories in the actual people's hands. If they're not written well I'm saddened by the waste of a good story, and then I experience a little self-disgust for responding like that. But there's nothing to worry about here.

Watts' journey of dreadful physical illness includes more medical specialists than one hospital hires, surgeries and drips and hoses in and out of his body, and we learn all of this with blends of facts and his reflections. I never thought I'd be rooting for levels of his cell counts and blood culture tests, and I held my breath while they slow-bombed him with cyclophosphamide.

But where he really gets me is writing about other people. Several aspects are analogous to the prison experience, and "like a lone diver among sharks, I would watch the cool-eyed doctors and anaesthetists glide round my bed." During his first days in hospital he doesn't want to face other patients and their illnesses, but over time they become part of his community. We see the arrivals of long-term patients who know the drill, and newcomers who look as confused and dis-interested in others as Watts did at the start.

One morning a patient had been prepped and drugged for theatre, but was left waiting in the ward. He was stoned and couldn't stop giggling, "like a little boy in bed on the morning of his birthday." It infected the whole ward so patients gigged at anything, at the nurse apologising for the delay, the porter arriving with a trolley. For a few minutes these terribly sick men are like little boys in a mini-pageant. It's one of the many places Watts uses humour that is natural and a delightful release.

I'm not sure my nerves are ready for his recent memoir - "a remarkably intimate portrayal of his parents." This was enough on how his relationship with his father evolved during his illness to send me back to the tissues -
"We sat together with our little legs side by side, and just started talking in quiet voices - nothing demonstrative or loaded with meaning: just odd things about the car, about jazz and the cricket. I felt like we were boys. And I realised that was how he wanted it. He didn't really want to be my grown-up dad. He wanted to be on equal terms, conspiratorial and even-handed. Good fellas. Little musketeers. I told him I liked his shoes, and he said he would get me a pair. It was something concrete that he could do."

Interestingly I didn't have EBTG in my head while reading this, but couldn't shake James Taylor -
"I feel fine anytime she's around me now, she's around me now almost all the time. And if I'm well you can tell she's been with me now. She's been with me now quite a long, long time, and I feel fine."
I'd like to think that Ben and Tracey would be okay with that.

What I Loved - work I have read and must share

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Ugly words

Write a list of 10 words that you dislike for their ugliness 

I haven't been doing daily prompts for a while now, but liked the look of this one. Well actually I thought, I can't do that. I'm a word lover. Language is everything - when I write I have no plot and I struggle with dialogue. I need to be able to use EVERY word available. That's what I thought and sat down with a bit of I'll-show-you there's no such thing as ugly words.

1. Flux. Just arrived, straight away. Don't know why.
2. Khaki. But I like olive. Maybe the issue is more sound than sight.
3. Winningest. It's just wrong. I might be old-fashioned and a bit slow to take up new lingo but if it's good, I'm all for it. I was so excited about folktronica I had to share it. But this one? Unattractive. Unsightly. Disrespectful. For many reasons it is indeed Hideous.
4. Presenteeism. Yes, another new-ish addition that is a visual insult.
But enough of the new vernacular.
5. Stakeholder. My eyes well up when they see this. Of course, writing CVs for a living I do actually use it, a lot, but it hurts. And don't even get me started on "touch base" as an expression.
6. Experiential. I misspelt that when I typed it. Enough said. Actually misspelt isn't pretty either.
7. Fugitive. Don't think I like that "fug" is pronounced "fuge". Too trickster.
8. Umbrage. Can't remember ever using it.
9. Cutthroat. Doesn't look right as one word, and loses the impact of its meaning when it's rammed together.
10. Glut. Because they can't all be long words.

Well that was pretty easy. There's clearly a range of attributes that make a word ugly, to me, and I'm a little disheartened that I could keep going here. But I won't.

I'll restore my love of language with my favourite word. I remember reading it for the first time in a David Malouf novel. It must have been about 30 years ago, and I didn't know what it meant but I loved the sound of it, and when I looked it up in the dictionary, I knew it was the one. Indelible.

Dare I ask - do you have any ugly words? I'm starting to think that a good list will be valuable. Not as words to avoid, but a vault of expressions for the unlikeable characters in our stories.

Response to Sarah Selecky daily prompt - 24th July.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Time Out Track - Elemental

Since moving back to Melbourne, 176 Little Lonsdale Street has become an office, a writing thinking and listening space, and tonight somewhere to hangout with friends.

Residents of the building are the people behind The Wheeler Centre, Writers Victoria, Emerging Writers' Festival, The Small Press Network, Express Media, Australian Poetry, and those slightly busy right now folk from Melbourne Writers' Festival.

What an incredible space.

And tonight, a few friends I used to work with, yikes must be nearly 10 years ago now, are catching up for a drink. I'd been saying how much I'm enjoying "discovering" Melbourne since moving back, so I was charged with sussing the coolest places to hang.

I was looking for somewhere we could sit down, drink and eat. Somewhere with a bar after work feeling that wouldn't make us feel too old, and offered real food (rather than go our old Friday night dinner of eating the olives in our Martinis).

Another friend said, "To access the 'coolest' places we either needed to book about 6 weeks ago or spend an hour in a winter's line. My main criterion was 'a place to sit' (perhaps a rug and a thermos)."

His suggestion, a brilliant one, was The Moat. So tonight I'm going back to 176 Little Lonsdale St.

The Wheeler Centre event upstairs, Press Freedom vs Political Power, will include discussion on important issues by intelligent writers and thinkers.

But another Wheeler Centre event, 'Elemental', is happening at The Bendigo Planterium, and inspired by this sold out session here's a Time Out Track from Rezonate.

On a Friday with dreadful international headlines, I hope you enjoy these few minutes of 'Elemental', and that you, too, are lucky enough to have a warm friendly space where you can spend time with people you care about.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

What I Loved: City of Bohane

I've just finished 'City of Bohane' and am full of expletives and remarkable wardrobing ideas. But I have no west coast future city of hoors and dream pipes near me, so the magic can't continue too long. And magic it is. Of the dark kind.

Last year I was lucky. I'd not read, or even heard of (why do I always feel like I'm confessing on here) Kevin Barry, but I went to a wordfactory 'Irish' event on a hot Saturday evening that happened to be during Pride in London, and Kevin Barry read. It was a brilliant short story and perhaps more importantly, his delivery is so animated and accented that once you've heard him, he's reading to you from the pages in your hands.

If you haven't read City of Bohane yet, let me pick a random page and sling you a sample…
"Mouth of teeth on him like a vandalised graveyard but we all have our crosses." (p. 4)
"See him back there:
A big unit with deep-set eyes and a squared-off chin. Dark-haired, and sallow, and wry. The kind of kid who whore his bruises nicely." (p. 53)
I want to go on, to get you a line that's setting, maybe about the Back Traces, de Valera Street or Big Nothin'. But instead I'll leave you with the thirst to read it yourself, and a little help from Kevin to get you started.

What I Loved - work I have read and must share

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Time out track with genres - She's The One

After enjoying a portugese tart with Alison Croggon's genre-bending feature in this month's 'The Victorian Writer' magazine, I sat back to do some work, after a quick Twitter check.

Thanks to Steve Palfreyman asking if anyone needed some entertaining, I listened to this song by Quintessential Doll, and discovered a new music genre that will now be one of my answers to the question, 'What music do you like?'


YouTube have again shown me that I am well behind the music, and genre times. But though the f-term was coined years ago, like finding Voodoo Jazz in August last year, it's an exciting discovery for me.

And then I find that I own quite a few artists who are classified here on various sites…well shame on you iTunes with your 'Electronic' tag.

Here's one from my vault.

Now, back to that work thing.