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.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The verse novel

Yesterday Rowena Wiseman wrote about coming to terms with the fact that her latest work is probably going to be a novella. Fortunately she goes from 'dealing with it' to embracing the form and promoting  publishers currently publishing novellas.

I responded to her that when novella is the right length for the story, it's the right length for the reader. Maybe I'm more open to forms and lengths than "the market" but surely the examples Rowena lists as successful novellas are enough to validate the form. 

And as I happen to be reading a verse novel at the moment, I thought we should celebrate these too.

Poetry was my writing beginning, and still a form I treasure, perhaps even covet, thanks to my first love, David Malouf.

From 'Poem'
"You move by contradictions:
out of a moment
of silence far off
in Poland or January
you smile and your body
returns to my touch"
What hit me when I first read this was the line that offers 'in Poland or January' as though they are related, as though they could be alternatives when there is nothing that they share. Unless they are both far off. As a teenager this was remarkable, an opening to putting together all sorts of random thoughts and things, like the way I thought could translate if I could listen to rhythm and look at layout. 

It was incredible, too marvellous to speak of.

For poetry I'd always been more familiar with collections and anthologies than the verse novel, and read them with long pauses in between poems, or felt guilty if I didn't. I'd feel the author's hours or agonies searching for every word and placing it carefully, and if I finished a poem and moved on to the next, like turning a page in a novel, it felt disrespectful.

Then I read 'Rapture' by Carol Ann Duffy. I was on a train from Clapham to Haslemere and remember the journey just wasn't long enough. I was visiting family friends so I couldn't get off the train and ask them to leave me alone for another hour though I wanted to. This book was another marvel for me. Another world opened.

Recently I caught up with Melbourne poet Kristin Henry, who had taught me in short story classes more than a decade ago, which prompted me to read some of her recent work. And so I found her verse novel, 'All the way home'.

I'm still reading it, but this book is another marvel for me. Perhaps this time a stunning reminder rather than an introduction, but no less powerful.

I feel like we're in a time where forms are all sitting down to the table together - short stories and flash fiction and poetry - like an extended family. As I've been reading Henry's work I feel like the verse novel is the relative that sits alongside the anthologies, novels, best-of essays and poetry collections, and is the one that can hold court with everyone. There's the story arc, character development, plot, dialogue, all the bricks, but there's also scaling and refining that results in tightened, necessary prose. And that doesn't mean it is dense. Henry's poems are conversations and thoughts that we can all, as readers, access and respond to.
"This story is irresistible. Kristin Henry untangles the yearnings and frailties of the human heart. Her characters are real." Andrea Goldsmith
Yesterday was National Poetry Day in the UK, an event held on different dates internationally. Perhaps in the future we'll take time to acknowledge verse novels, and novellas, and and and...

Some of my published poetry: