Monday, September 1, 2014

The Writer's Blog Tour


The writing life: artist's impression
I’ve been tagged in the Writer’s Blog Tour by Tim Sterne, author of many fine blogs, articles, reviews and my heart. Also a very tall man.

What am I working on?

I’m not working on anything specific at the moment, in terms of ‘a project’. I still write my book reviews to deadline (good girl, ARPy), and sometimes I write a poem or two. I’m always in the cycle of sending stuff out to journals, receiving the responses and sending stuff out again (I’ve always been a bit of a submission-junkie). Sometimes I go through all of the poems that are “in circulation”, edit the crap out of them, tear some to shreds, ditch some altogether. Being vicious is kinda fun.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Reviewing: I guess as I only review children’s and YA books, it means my criticism falls into a fairly narrow genre. I feel like it’s the only genre I can bring enough back-reading and critical confidence to, without feeling like I’m talking out of my arse. I like to feel like I know what I’m doing. So does my arse.

Poetry: This is a question doesn’t really apply neatly to ‘poetry’ as a genre, but I’ll have a crack at teasing out some common threads I notice in my own work (in the Cliffs Notes, this will fall under Themes and Motifs). I mostly write poems that are ‘stories’, I like a narrative. I rarely write imagistic poetry and even less experimental/abstract poetry. A few non-writer friends have told me “I don’t like poetry, but I like yours”, which probably means they’ve just had the wrong poetry inflicted on them, but I think if I’m telling a story, everyone can access that, and not have to worry they’re not picking up on Homeric references.* I like to write with restrictions on both time, form and content, as in the years I have done Month of Poetry – if I have to work 12 phrases suggested by 12 different people into one poem overnight, it makes me feel a bit like a magician (I am also a show-off.) I’m interested in how the Big Things like birth and death are intricately bound up with the mundane, domestic and trivial. The slow death of a loved one is tied to the sense memory of uncomfortable cups of hospital tea. I’m fascinated by how we struggle to create meaning out of a kind of sensory Gestalt – the interconnections of perception and memory. None of this is ‘different’ to other poetry in any unique way; it’s just where my interests lie. I also like to make jokes about cocks.

Fiction: It happens rarely, though I know I should make more time to try to write it. When I do write stories, I often write about children (though not really for them), especially children in the twilight of childhood, not quite teenagers, but just old enough to begin to notice things about adults, the things they say, the things that don’t quite add up. I can remember eavesdropping on my mum and her friends talking when I was about 11, and realising they were talking about how one of their husbands was having an affair. There’s a strange door of awareness starting to open at that age, and it feels really weird.

Why do I write what I do?

Reviews: I’ll be honest: I write them mostly for the money these days. Writing commissioned reviews is hard because you rarely get sent the books you’d really like to review (both on the positive and negative side), and I’ve been burnt by reputable journals treating their reviewers like crap (not publishing, not paying, not answering emails, dragging this out for over a year. Really poor form. You know who you are.)

Poetry: I can actually answer this one properly. Poetry is the only creative endeavour I’ve attempted where I’ve felt that the end product actually mirrors what I wanted to create. I find the process of writing uncomfortable and messy and it makes me feel fucking stupid, but in the end I can often look at my poems and think “Yes, that’s what I meant”, even if I can’t say why or how it works.

Fiction: Up front: I haven’t written a short story since 2010, and before that I hadn’t written one since 2008. Perhaps I should come back to this one when I’ve made a bit more effort?

How does my writing process work?

Reviewing: I read the book (usually advisable), fold down a bunch of corners, bitch/gush to Tim about it for like a really long time, then finally sit down and write the review in one go. Quick edit the next day, send it off. Brutal.

Poetry/fiction: I used to joke that I’d write a “brilliant” last line of a poem first, then write the rest of the poem, then cross out that last line. It’s not exactly true, but often the word or line that inspires a poem will be cut out by the time I’m finished. My writing process for poetry and fiction doesn’t work in any structured way in that I don’t have time allotted to writing. I’ll write at various times of day or night, when I’m sick, when I’m drunk, when I’m at work, when I want to (fun!), when I don’t want to (less fun). I take notes of ideas and lines of poetry in far too many different places and eventually drag them together. If I want to write a poem but I can’t think of anything to write about, I steal a phrase from a random book off our shelves, and go from there. I also don’t like to leave things incomplete – I resent any unfinished poems or short stories languishing on my computer, and try to make sure I go back to them. Those words are there to be submitted, and they gotta earn their keep.

When I decide a poem or story is too old/not as good as I thought it was, I cannibalise it for lines and phrases to recycle in another piece. Sometimes I rewrite a poem into a story, and vice versa. I write by hand, on computer, and on my phone. Once I’ve finished writing a poem or story, I give it a rest, an edit and then I send it somewhere. I like my writing to be ‘out to work’ as soon as possible (hence my submission junkie status). When something is rejected, by the time I send it somewhere else it’s usually had another edit. And another, and another. This constant editing has resulted in me not always recognising my poem or story if it’s published, as the first draft is the one that tends to stick in my mind. When I read the printed version (sometimes edited and rewritten over 10+ years), my first reaction is usually “Hey! This is much better than the one I remember!”

In general:

Over the years I’ve gotten more comfortable with the fact that sometimes I am writing, sometimes I am not. It used to scare me, like if I stopped I would never start again. But I’ve gradually become more chilled about the idea of peaks and troughs in my output. Because there’s always other stuff to be doing, and if I’m not writing ‘for publication’, I’m still always keeping my diary and corresponding with my 20 snail mail penpals. I work a full time job, and I have a wonderful boyfriend and children who I want to spend my best hours with. Writing for me is something I stuff into the little gaps, something I do around the edges, and I think that for me, that’s just about perfect.

Tag time:

Sean Elliott: Writer, very tall man, explainer of science in amusing and inventive ways.

David Witteveen: Writer, very tall man, tactfully fixes problems with the library computers when it turns out I just haven’t noticed the plug has fallen out.

Alice Cannon: Writer, not a very tall man, publisher of the fantastic journals Materiality and Crank (the former whose Pozible you should totally throw money at).



* There aren’t any.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Recently I did...

At the request of two people (overkill really, one is all I need), here a round up of my last few publications (excluding reviews, as I put them on Goodreads after a bit anyway).

Most recently, my poem 'Evicted' appeared in Epigraph Magazine, a US online poetry magazine you can read for free!

My short story 'Human Surface' appeared in Atticus Review, another US online journal you can read to your hip pocket's content. I love Atticus, I'd recommend reading it even when I'm not in it.

My short story 'Only After School' appeared in issue 6 of Tincture Journal, an Australian epub journal (issue 6 is currently on special for $5, so get to it). I know - what's with having short stories published? I don't write many, so I'm as surprised as you are.

My poem 'Footprints' appeared in The Gap-Toothed Madness, a US print magazine with an excellent title.




My poems 'Tropical Fruit' and 'Soothe the Savage' appeared in foam:e, an Australian online poetry journal that's free to read.

My short story 'Delivery Day' appeared in Materiality: Precious, an excellent themed Australian journal piloted by the lovely Alice Cannon. Incidently, the next issue of Materiality (which I'll also be in) has a Pozible running, so fling it some money if you can!

My love poem 'Enough' appeared in the Poetry D'Amour 2014 anthology - it sold out but I finally got my hands on copy, so those of you who asked to read my poem now can. Guess who I wrote it for.




My poem 'Treasure Maps' appeared in the Australian print journal Westerly. They still pay by cheque, which I think is the way it always should be. Cheques are so nice and tangible!

My poem 'Newborn' appeared in Tincture Journal issue 4, which is also only $5 to buy now.

And my poem 'A good nose for a road trip' appeared in The Age, which is always a thrill because I can say 'The Age' to old relatives and they know what I'm talking about.




Thursday, August 14, 2014

Four-Sentence MIFF Reviews #5-8: I Hired a Contract Killer, Clara and the Secret of the Bears, Jack, Patema Inverted

I Hired a Contract Killer (Aki Kaurismaki)

Henri shuffles between his dingy apartment and his equally dingy job pushing paper from one side of a desk to another. When he loses his position at work, he tries to commit suicide, but can't quite get the job done, so he hires a contract killer to take himself out. This is a nicely odd film which manages to make something strangely lovable out of a series of deadpan encounters between unlikely people. It's the film version of a really dry, really crumpled, really black t-shirt that actually looks quite good once you put it on.



Clara and the Secret of the Bears (Tobias Ineichen)

13 year old Clara lives in the Swiss Alps with her mother and step-father, and is delighted one day to encounter a bear cub in the mountains. But as she is drawn into fraught disputes among townsfolk about the bears, Clara discovers her connection to a past wronging of nature, and to a ghost girl with unfinished business. The time-slip elements are perfectly handled, Clara's friendship with a new local boy is pleasingly unromantic, and the father-daughter elements are very touching. Twelve year old me would have killed to see this film, and thirty-three year old me loved it too.



Jack (Edward Berger)

When Jack's mum has him bundled off to a children's home for convenience, and dumps his younger brother with a friend "for the night", we work out that she pretty much sucks. But resourceful Jack believes against all evidence that his mum still wants them, so he takes off to find his younger brother and reunite the family. Wonderfully unsentimental, this is a film that never manipulates the audience or even demonises Jack's mother (though I would really like to punch her in the face). The moment at the end of the film where Jack ages emotionally a few years in a few seconds is a real credit to the film's subtlety.



Patema Inverted (Yasuhiro Yoshiura)

When a scientific experiment went wrong, half the population were suddenly inversely affected by gravity, sending scores of people and buildings 'falling up into the sky'. Those that survived retreated below the surface, walking on the underground ceilings of those left above. As soon as I saw the detailed animation of Patema's grimy, mechanical world, I was sold. Absorbing, beautifully animated, often incredibly tense and demanding full concentration - and featuring a male and female protagonist who were balanced in agency and importance.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Four-Sentence MIFF Reviews #3-4: Ping Pong Summer, The Galapagos Affair

Ping Pong Summer (Michael Tully)

Radford is on summer holiday and makes an instant best friend in Teddy (who is honestly what I imagine Luka will be like as 13 year old). There's girls, too much sugar, and naturally a pair of bullies who try to make Radford's life hell. The movie is saturated with 80s nostalgia and overacting in a way that the 80s never was (apart from possibly the overacting), but I happily accepted this movie as a feature-long cross between an episode of Round The Twist and Ship to Shore. Complete with gurning bullies and a freeze frame happy ending.


The Galapagos Affair (Dan Geller)

In 1929, somewhat berko doctor (and Nietzsche obsessive - always a bad sign) Friedrich Ritter and his devotee Dore Strauch embrace their shared misanthropy and move to the uninhabited Galapagos island of Floreana. It's gonna be great - then other people show up and things go bad and holy crap disappearances and possible murders and this shit is crazy. This documentary left me saying "wow, that was real?", and given how many fucked up documentaries I watch, that's saying something. The sheer weight of actual footage, documents from the islanders, and interviews with surviving family members are the only things that make this unbelievable story even faintly believable.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Four-Sentence MIFF Reviews #1-2: Life Itself, Irma Vep

Yes folks, it's that glorious time of year (otherwise known as about the only time I post on this blog any more), where I get to go to 13 films at the Melbourne Film Festival and post a review of each one in four sentences. You know what they say: "slightly longer than a tweet - it's the way of the future."



Life Itself (Steve James)

An intimate documentary following film critic Roger Ebert in his final months of life, stretching back to cover his life, career, family and contemporaries.
The impact of Ebert's film criticism cannot be overestimated, but in this funny and moving documentary I also learned more about the circle his life encompassed: his friends, family, colleagues, and his perfect fit for the time he was born in.
It's a deeply emotional portrait of a man facing death, which left me holding it together (for the most part) but still shaking with emotion.
And the answer to why on earth a man like Ebert decided to write Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and work with Russ Meyer: "Boobs".



Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas)

Maggie Cheung is flown to Paris to work with an unstable avant garde film director; nobody is entirely sure why.
There's interest and amusement in the chaotic scenes of film-making, but I found my attention drifting in and out over the course of the film, and overall it doesn't quite seem to make full use of the story it's trying to tell.
Also: if you're going to cat-burgle someone, a latex catsuit is the noisiest possible outfit you could choose to wear.
On the upside: Maggie Cheung in a latex catsuit.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The letters I'd love to write - letters to asylum seekers

The recent GetUp! letter-writing campaign to let asylum seekers know that we care, and that we disagree with how they are being treated, caught my eye. Not just as a regular letter-writer, but as a human being.

I eagerly read the instructions for the campaign, and was discouraged when I realised I couldn't take part.

Letter-writing for a purpose: you're doing it wrong. It starts well:

1. You're asked to write a letter to a non-specific asylum seeker: obviously fine.
2. You're asked to say who you are and make it personal, so the recipient knows that you're not acting on behalf of the government: also fine.
3. You're asked to include a self-addressed envelope so the unknown person you write to can see exactly where you live: this is not fine. If the person you are writing to is randomly assigned, wherever they are in the world and regardless of their status, this is problematic.
4. There are no details provided as to whether your name, address, details of your letter, details of who receives your letter, whether they respond to your letter, etc, are recorded by Julian Burnside, any government agency, or the companies running camps on Manus Island or Nauru. This is problematic.

As a long-time letter-writer to both private penpals and charity letter-writing programs, I'm both sad and annoyed I can't take part in something that could be much better organised with a bit more effort.

This is why, for example, child sponsorship charities have a very careful system of letter-writing - you write to a general office, and your letter goes through this 3rd party which strips the letter of your address on the way. It's not a particularly difficult system - and if, as with charity systems, it would cost me the price of an overseas stamp then I would take up my papers and write and write and write to asylum seekers who I wish could be treated better, and tell them how it fills me with disgust that they are treated in such a revolting way in our country's name.

But with this program, to say it again - you're doing it wrong.

Letter-writing charities have been doing it right for decades - if you can do it right too, I'm happy to pay double for the stamps. Sign me up.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Popularity contest

And the most liked poems from Month of Poetry were:

First days
Pit stop
Australia Day
Powerful element
Best spot near the box
Breadline
Winter

So if you couldn't be bothered reading all thirty poems, there's a shortlist instead!