Thursday, 30 July 2009

spotty poems and Murphy's Law

It was bound to happen, and some may even suggest I should have expected it to happen during one of the busiest page seventeen weeks I have throughout the cycle. Yes, a child is sick.

The good news is that it is a minor ailment that will have no lasting impact on his health. The not so good news, other than the obvious incovenience, is that it involves spots and is highly contagious, so he must be temporarily banished from society.

That means I lose the entire twelve hours for this week I have to write and/or do magazine stuff. Yes, I have only twelve hours weekly, less if I have apointments or other errands, and almost none during school holidays. And what a week for it to happen, with the selection meeting this Sunday.

Of course I have not finished reading the submissions I need to before then, let alone begun determining how many pages each piece might take so we fill the correct amount of space. And if I check my list, I'm sure there are a few other things that need doing by then too. But I trust they will all happen in time, somehow. The writing however, will have to wait.

A while back I mentioned something new and exciting for this year's page seventeen without saying what it was. Well, now I'm ready to share. This year we selected two poems before submissions even closed. One is a piece by Bec Graham that Vicki Thornton (from our editorial committee) selected at a heat of the Melbourne Believer Slam. The second is a piece by Jonathan Hadwen that he performed at SpeedPoets (Brisbane), selected by Graham Nunn on our behalf. Huge thanks to both Vicki and Graham.

From the feedback I've had so far, choosing a poem at each of these events has been well received, although I am always interested in more feedback. At this stage, I suspect I will look to do it again next year, although will hopefully organise pieces from other states too. Let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, I might go and count some pages while the baby sleeps his spots away.

Monday, 27 July 2009

trains, poetry and birthdays

It's been a crazy few days and there are too many birthdays in July.

After a productive Thursday, I treated myself on Friday by going to the Quilt and Craft Fair at Jeff's Shed. A free ticket tempted me to spend dollars on the train, lunch, coffee, the odd pattern or three and a smidge of fabric. Although maybe the main motivation was knowing that, stuck on a train for longer than two hours in total, I would make a good dent in the page seventeen story submissions I need to read.

On Saturday, I spent almost two more hours on trains to get to the Eltham new voices festival, and I still have stories to read.

But the festival was great. I caught up with a friend for lunch (although I was unable to hang around to see her presented with her poetry prize) and attended two sessions, the second being a poetry panel featuring Friendly Street Poets from SA and an open mic section. I grabbed a copy of Friendly Street New Poets 14, and then, given my kids had been screaming 'mummy' through the window for the last ten minutes of the session, rushed off with my family to my brother's 40th. Although we left his present at home :(

After yet another birthday yesterday, I'm hoping for a quiet few days to start the week. And good naps by the baby.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

new voices

Almost forgot to mention I'll be dropping by the new voices festival in Eltham this Saturday. Right before I go to my brother's's that for dedication?

new work

I've been asked to write another article. This is excellent, although it means there's no chance I'm going to have a break from writing while I go through the busy page seventeen period. But, as long as I come out at the other end in one piece, this will also be a good thing.

This new piece, while brief, actually requires research, so I have started on it straight away. I am not accustomed to doing research, other than in my past uni-lives, so hope that collating information for a week will be long enough. I have a fairly tight deadline. I also started doing research for another article I'd like to write, although with no placement, there's no deadline. Even so, I don't want to put it off too long.

Today I redrafted my EWF Reader piece and have sent it off to the editor. This is amazing for me, given I am definitely one of those writers who either sends things off with a day or so to go or misses the deadline altogether. And without having an exact statistic, editorial experience suggests about half of us do this.

Now, with less than an hour before school pick-up, I find it hard to decide what to do next. I could start reading the stories from the general submission that are still under consideration, or I could work on a story. There's one I've been working on that I'd like to get back to (and finish before an end of August deadline), but I may need to let it stir through the back of my mind for a while longer first. I guess there's one way to find out for sure.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

yum mum

Today was a mum kind of day, like all Tuesdays, so not a lot happened in my writing world. I did book a ticket for a poetry workshop and for Liner Notes at the MWF, so I guess that's something.

In mum kind of news though, I thought I'd share this pic. My darling Claudia (3yo) painted the pot at creche, planted a miniature daffodil bulb, and presented it to me on Mother's Day. Hope you've had a bright day too.

PS. I also baked a choc mud cake for the playgroup mums/dads to eat tomorrow (while the kids eat fruit).

Sunday, 19 July 2009

purple pens and raging fires

One of the things I couldn't mention sooner is that I have been commissioned to write a piece for the upcoming Emerging Writers' Festival Reader, which will be launched in October. Needless to say, I've been rather excited about this, and began writing it almost as soon as I found out, even writing the second half during the week I could barely see anything within two metres.

I found it refreshing to write by hand too, although that wasn't a creative decision, but a decision to stay near the raging fire I'd built that night. The creative decision was to use a purple pen. While I don't want to say too much about the piece itself yet, I can tell you it is a personal essay: one of my first non-uni-assignment non-fiction pieces, which is exciting in itself.

Typing it up was a little strange. Great to engage with it again and to redraft as I went, but since my op, I seem to need a different magnification in specs for computer work than I do for reading, so neither pair seemed just right. (Please somebody, tell me I WILL get used to this.) I emailed it to a couple of writing friends for feedback on Friday and I plan to attack it again this week before sending it to the Reader's Editor, Dion Kagan, who also edited Vignette Press's The Death Mook.

Friday, 17 July 2009


I love structure. All kinds of structure. I've always loved numbers and mathematics, science, I make lists, I like order and rules, instructions, and I only choose symmetrical patterns when I'm going to make a new quilt. So, you'd think I'd be one of those writers who routinely writes 1000, or even 500, words every day. Or at least during a few specified timeslots every week.

But I'm not that writer.

Sure, I do schedule in writing time every week, and now that my baby is almost one, I mostly stick to it. But most of my writing, especially over the last eighteen months, has been done when I've been inspired, which is what I spoke about at the recent Emerging Writers' Festival. Certainly that's when I do my best writing.

Maybe the idea of writing when I'm inspired is crazy, but it's true that I rely to a fair degree on writing when I'm inspired (and perhaps also that I am a little husband certainly thinks so). I've been thinking about my processes and habits over the last year or so, and have found that writing when I'm inspired seems to work for me. Although there is a catch.

There's always a catch, huh. This time, though, the catch is good. The catch is fun.

The catch is that I make sure I'm inspired. I treat is as my job to be inspired. I constantly do things to catch that inspiration. Things I have learnt over the years that work, for me.

Events are the most inspiring. Festivals, author talks, poetry gigs, launches, seminars and workshops. Particularly workshops. It probably helps that I'm generally wide awake when I get home, no matter the time, because it's an hour or longer in the car. So I often write straight away, even if it's just notes. I often write notes at the event too (although I expect more than just notes from a workshop). Being a mum of three, my youngest not yet one, it's often difficult to get out, and maybe this is where the structure comes in...organising home life such that I CAN go. Planning ahead.

It's not always practical to go to an event. So, I also use 'how-to' writing books for inspiration. There are many in my bookshelves and I doubt I've ever read any of them from cover to cover. But reading a chapter, a section, maybe even just one page, can offer inspiration. And sometimes I go straight to the writing activities, not that all the books offer them. Even if the writing task doesn't offer me a new idea or help me learn something about a character/story I'm already working on, I find it useful to kick my brain into the right frame. I don't always even DO the writing activity, instead letting my mind soak it up, perhaps in images. My thoughts at the time guide me towards which writing project I should tackle.

I also take opportunities to notice what's going on around me. Characters often appear on the train, in cafes, anywhere in public. Add imagination and there's a story/poem right there.

Of course I didn't know this about myself when I started writing years ago. And perhaps this is the other catch. To get to now, I needed to trust myself, needed to be open to trying new things, to accept that sometimes I would fail, sometimes, maybe often, I would write crap, and that writing crap would be good for me. Writing crap could serve as a writing task in itself, give me practice, help me identify when something could be salvaged and when something should be abandoned. And of course, I had to be patient, to be open to getting to know myself as a writer, to learn what works for me and what helps me kick-start when I need it. To believe that I am capable. To choose to be confident.

This is where the structure comes in. In making the decisions. Writing the lists. Setting the goals, and the self-imposed deadlines.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


Things are almost back to normal now that I have had both eyes done and the patch came off the second one this morning. I am still suffering a little shock every time I look into the distance and can actually see things properly. If I'd known how much difference it would have made, I might have done it sooner. Although I did have to wait until I stopped breastfeeding. I wonder how many others can say that of cataract surgery. Hmm.

Anyway, I did manage to get to a workshop at the weekend with children's writer and illustrator Alison Lester. The workshop was organised by a local (ie Belgrave) writer's group, the Lazy River Writers, who have a different workshop every year, although usually in October. I have been lucky enough to score an invite to the past few.

The workshop had a different format to what I'd expected, but I think I came away with what I'd hoped to.

As a writer, I've found that, since having kids, people often tell me I'll become interested in writing for children once mine are old enough to really appreciate books. My eldest turned seven last week and both he and my three year old love books. In fact, we often encourage Claudia to take a book on longer drives because she'll be so absorbed in it she'll ignore her brother's taunts. But the interest hasn't really come my way (yet).

I am ready, however, to start thinking about whether I might like to have a go at it. So, perhaps, over the next few months, I might keep an open mind, actively think about it and maybe even make some suitable journal notes. All this while I venture into a bit of non-fiction, which, other than university essays, is new to me. I'm sure I'm not alone in admitting that having a go at a new genre/style/form can be a little scary. So I'll stick to one at a time.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

new eyes

I’m typing in Word with the font size set to 24 and I am still straining to see the letters because I’m using only one eye. The new one.

Technically, of course, it isn’t a new eye, although I do have a brand spanking new intraocular lens in my left eye. I began the process of cataract surgery on Monday and while I am pleased with the result in all the ways that really matter, I have been having a tough time seeing since.

My left eye seems to work well. In fact, I think I can already see from it better than I remember seeing ever before. The right eye, with contact lens, can see just as well as it has been able to for months, perhaps years. But, the two are not cooperating. My brain hasn’t worked out how to combine images from each eye into one nice one. Result = weirdness. I can’t really explain what it’s like, other than weird. Close up is easy to describe…everything’s pretty much double, unless I use only one eye, which of course results in strain and then, when I look in the distance afterwards, an almost dizzy sensation. Hence, I’ve been quiet online, and in fact, will probably not post again until after my other eye has been done and they have settled to some level of cooperation. My right eye gets operated on next Monday, 13th, and the patch comes off the next day. I hope I will be back to normal soon afterwards, but I’m not going to get my hopes up too high.

As for looking into the distance, things are clear but it’s like my right eye switches off at some point and I end up using just the new one. My depth perception is lacking, which means there is no driving and in fact, I have no idea when I will be able to drive again.

So, without being able to read, write, sew, drive or even watch TV comfortably, I have been going a little crazy. Being school holidays has perhaps helped, although the biggest distraction has come by way of tomorrow being my son’s seventh birthday. I have been baking, closing one eye every time I need to read a new line in the cookbook/s. I have not been brave enough to use the sharp knives. I am glad I made him a new apron before surgery.

I am making everything in one person serves (ie. muffin sized). So far, we have caramel mud muffins, lemon cheesecakes, lemon cream-cheese cakes and plum jam swirl cakes, and the mix for the snickerdoodles is having its half hour in the fridge before being rolled into small balls in cinnamon sugar and going in the oven. I am yet to decide what else to make.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

hiatus from hiatus

So much for my hiatus. I am not sure how long it lasted, but it wasn't long. Maybe a week.

I'm not sure whether it was the spinning room, the overload poetry festival programme becoming available, the submissions and entries being farmed out to others to read, or the fact that I've been home alone. Or something entirely different. Whatever, I have been writing.

Mostly I've been working on a story that you'll have to wait to hear more about. I even wrote the old fashioned way, with pen and paper, although this was mainly to be in the room with the kick-arse fire I built. It's hard to know how many words I've written, but I'd guess about 1400. I'm aiming for 1800, so when I write the other two sections I have in mind and then edit, it should be just right.

I've also been tinkering with the two new performance pieces. This was minor, until this morning. Even before I got out of bed, I had a breakthrough with the piece I wasn't sure about, and now it has gone from being a tad over three minutes to being a one minute poem. I might even perform it for the one minute round of the Slam final I'm competing in on Tuesday 4th August at the Spinning Room. Meanwhile, I'll try it out this afternoon at The Word Tree at Burrinja.

I have also written two propsals, but that is not so exciting.

While I was in the depths of this creative energy, I also went and registered for the Overload Slam. Maybe I'm a little crazy, but I think it's going to be fun.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

spinning room

Trudged through stormy weather and the backroads of Menzies Creek last night to get to the Spinning Room to see Yvette Stubbs feature alongside two of her talented singer-songwriter sisters. Was a great night, as it has been on past occasions. I even won one of the raffle prizes, a copy of The Penguin Book of Limericks. And Eric Beach was kind enough to gift me a copy of his chapbook red heart my country.

It was my first opportunity to try out one of the new pieces I mentioned a while ago. So I did. It's a piece called 'Focussing', which was inspired after attending a performance poetry workshop led by Nathan Curnow in May (as well as the luck of the perfect 'subject' hopping onto my train afterwards).

I wasn't all that happy with my actual performance, although it seemed to be well received. Maybe more well received than I realised at the time, as I was invited back at the end of the night for an encore performance. Lately I've been trying to be organised and have been carrying my performance pieces in a plastic folder, but of course last night I'd chosen to leave this in the car.

Fortunately I had one other piece in my bag (because there's only one thing I've ever written that I can recite), so I performed that. It's called 'The Facts' (with the silent subtitle 'Childbirth'). It's a fairly new piece, although I have performed it a few times already and had positive feedback. Well, last night I had to pause at the end of one stanza long enough for everyone to stop laughing. That, I decided, was excellent feedback.

The only (possible) negative of the night was that Yvette didn't perform her piece about having (or dreaming of having) sex with Anthony (co-convenor), despite the repeated request of an eager audience member. Will have to bribe her for a performance another time.

Meanwhile, maybe I'll try out the other new piece at the Word Tree this Saturday (feature is Kristen Henry).