Subscribe to my blog. Fresh words in bite sized pieces!

Emilie Collyer, who had an awesome piece in the latest Torpedo, has a creative, thoughtful and immediate kind of blog, between the cracks

- Literary Minded

Between the cracks is an ongoing collection of moments and observations, captured in words. Designed to give pause for thought, maybe a laugh or other kind of cerebral refreshment. I hope you enjoy.

The work on here is a small sample of what I do.

Words from between the cracks.

Where sometimes you unexpectedly find fifty cents and sometimes you find whole new worlds.


Entries in writing (4)


The Waiting Space

That scratchy place between one project and the next

I have just finished a new draft of big play and now need to let it settle until a workshop later in the year.

A novel manuscript is out in the world, a few agents reading it, I’ve no idea what they will think.

Got a short story rejection this morning after a few small wins. A reminder of that sting, oh yeah it’s not good enough, you’re not good enough.

For the first time in a long time I am not ‘mid’ a few big projects. I am waiting to see what will happen with them in the outside world.

I am not a waiter by nature.

This is probably why I write in so many forms and work on several things at once.

Right now I know I am at the start of a big new phase of work.

Ideas are scurrying inside my mind. I wrote each one down on a piece of orange paper the other night and laid them on my lounge room floor. Four potential novel ideas. Five new play ideas. Which to start on? Which has the pull? What should I consider? Having been in end-game mode on a novel and a play for a while now (into the polishing, the sending, the pitching, the re-drafting, the interfacing with the industry) I now feel stunted.


Can I just start a new project for the joy of it? Or do I need to plan now where it might fit, who might want it, where it sits within my bigger body of work. Which sub-sector of the publishing world or the theatre industry do I want to nudge towards?

Or should I just start and try to defer all those thoughts until later?

It feels like I imagine a phantom limb might. Something is bugging me, needs my attention, wants to be scratched but I don’t know what it is.

I feel distracted and incompetent and aware of the huge mountain of starting a few major new projects.

I feel like I don’t have the skills to make up anything new.

I don’t feel whole.

I know enough from experience to know that this itchiness, this discomfort is an important part of the process for me. It’s little things germinating but none solid enough yet to feel how they might grow.

So I tinker with old short stories, write notes about new characters popping into my head, start folders for projects that don’t yet exist.

It’s a kind of waiting but I fill it with activity.

I'm thinking, obsessing, over the best name for a new character, the best title for a non-existent new piece. I think while eating, while walking, while watching theatre, while working.

But it's not ready, yet, any of it, to really start writing.

I read a lot.

And sometimes I just wander around the house. Aimless. Restless. Not able to settle. Study. Kitchen. Lounge. Check the mail.

Aware that things will start to take shape, fall into place. Some of the seeds will sprout and I’ll know, soonish, which ones to nurture and move ahead with.

Until then, the prowl of the in-between writer. Vaguely scratching at thin air, waiting for clouds to form a picture, a mirage to firm up into view, the mountain to form so I can take the first step.


Feminist Literary Icon Double Act

On Monday 16 May, Melbourne put on a heavyweight feminist literary icon double act. I attended two talks, back-to-back and recorded some messy, immediate thoughts ...


Walking down the steps of Flinders Street Station I am hopeful. I’m booked in to see Gloria Steinem and Jeanette Winterson and I imagine these women, these writers, might have some words to inspire. I feel like I need it. A non-specific malaise has settled over me, within me. Partly to do with being between major creative projects, waiting to hear about a few outcomes and being not quite sure what my next new work will be. Partly a sense that no matter what I do, what project or piece of writing, it will never quite be enough. I will never quite be enough. In lighter moments of the heaviness I’ve phrased the question to myself: Is it genetics? Is it capitalism? Or is it just me?


To be specific, I’ve booked in not so much to see these two women, but to listen. And I think wow it’s a lot of pressure. For them. Hundreds of people like me scurrying along the city streets, clutching our printed out tickets and smart phones, eager to hear words of wisdom, to be reminded of why it might all be worthwhile and how we, as humans, might find ways to get it more right.


My boast post on Facebook about the feminism literary icon double sparks much interest and a few friends ask me to write about what these women say. I don’t take notes so this record will be imperfect. A gathering of paraphrases and recalled words. Probably I will get much of it wrong but I’ll try and capture an impression of the things that were said that hit me or moved me.


Gloria Steinem is in the Melbourne Town Hall. She gets a standing ovation when she walks onto the stage. The amplification on her lapel mike is not quite strong enough. So she takes the microphone off and holds it close to her mouth. She uses both hands to speak. She has long fingers. Elegant. Like a musician. Or an artist.


She speaks about #BlackLivesMatter being an effective grass roots movement that has as its philosophy, among other things, Low Ego and High Impact and Move at the Pace of Trust. And reminds us it was started by three African American women.


How violence against women is the root cause and concomitant cause of so many other forms of violence including racism and entrenched poverty. How the measure of how likely a country is to enact violence on its own people and on other countries connects directly with how much violence in that country is enacted against women. Whether that is domestic violence within homes in countries like USA and Australia, child marriage, genital mutilation, war rape, the murder of girl babies in countries where only boys are valued.


She speaks about how important laughter is. This is in relation to her relationship with an indigenous American friend and leader who died recently. Gloria spoke of how much more this woman knew about history than she did. And in particular the history of how much knowledge and power women have had in many indigenous cultures. And how important laughter is because laughter is the only free emotion. You can force fear on people and even love, but not laughter. And laughter is like prayer because it is about the unknown and in fact prayer cannot happen without laughter.


When asked what feminism has got wrong, how it might have failed us, she says: We have been too nice. Because, as women, we are socialised to be nice and make things easy for other people.


She speaks about wombs and how patriarchy is, by definition, about controlling the means of reproduction i.e. wombs and the people who have them.


She also speaks, finally, about how it would only be possible to perpetuate the strange notion that one kind of person is ‘less than’ another if those considered ‘less than’ have somehow internalised that idea. And how then, if people from that group refuse to wear that identity, they may be pulled down, by both men and women, all of whom have internalised the notion of ‘less than’ and ‘better than’. And how in fact we need more of that and more. All of us refusing to wear particular identities that we have inherited and taken inside. And how we must support each other, all of us, to speak out more and stand up more and refuse more.


And how unhelpful binary and bifurcated ways of viewing human identity is.


Did you know Gloria Steinem is in her 80s?


She encourages us all to talk to people in the crowd that we don’t know. She is a big advocate for talking circles and what can be achieved when people come together and act. Her overall message is about externalising and refusing and creating alternatives.


She has a gentle but passionate way of speaking. She met earlier today with young people from the Fitzroy High School Feminist Collective and says they were fan-fucking-tastic.


I leave while the applause is still resounding.


Down the stairs, out onto Collins Street, into the Athenaeum Theatre, up some more stairs, to sit and listen to Jeanette Winterson.


She walks onto an empty stage, carrying a book. Over the loudspeaker we hear a male voice. He seems to be reciting Shakespeare. We join the dots and assume the speech must be from A Winters Tale, as Jeanette’s new book – the one in her hand – is a novelised version (a ‘cover’ she calls it) of this play.


Jeanette talks us through the first act of A Winters Tale and speaks of how unusual it is for a play of that time. It is one of Will’s later works and is notable for two things. One, is that women of three generations play key roles in the play and are all alive at the end. Two, is that it is a play where the action is driven by the internal, not the external. It is about what a man imagines his wife and friend are doing, not what they are actually doing. In this way, Jeanette says, it is a Freudian play written several hundred years before Freud.


She says the play is like Othello on speed. That everything that happens in Othello happened in this play in the first act. She speaks about the trajectory of the story (a baby banished because the father cannot be sure she belongs to him, the baby taken in by a shepherd and his son, fast forward to sixteen years later, the baby is now a teenage girl) and how there can only be three outcomes: tragedy, revenge and forgiveness.


Jeanette posits the notion that this play is striking because it takes the third option and it seems likely that the reason it can take the path of forgiveness is because of those three generations of women alive at the end and how they choose to forgive rather than punish or seek revenge.


She goes on to speak about this same choice in all of our lives. And how the only way to forgive ourselves and others is to be conscious of what it is we need to forgive. And of how painful but how very necessary it is to be conscious. Rather than to simply suffer in our re-telling over and over of the past. I sense that this is what creativity is for her. For all of us. The capacity to imagine and re-imagine our way into consciously being human, with all of our flaws and failings. Not to fall prey to fantasies – or realities - of tragedy or revenge.


We are then treated to a spectacularly theatrical reading from the novel. It goes for about twenty minutes. There are sound effects. Eleven sound cues to be precise. We know this because at the end Jeanette berates the tech team – with a light touch – about how they managed to fuck up even such a small number of cues.


The language is mesmerising and her delivery a lesson in poetic narrative and crystal clear story telling.


It is question time and she is jovially merciless with a slow speaking audience member who wants to say thank you but has no actual question. Only 14 minutes to go! Jeanette cries. Let’s keep it moving!


She is asked about arts funding, here and in the UK. She extemporises with unabashed passion. The arts are integral and essential to every human being. They are not elitist. They are not disposable. The story of austerity and how we can’t have hospitals and education and roads AND art is just that – a story. A narrative made up. It is not the truth.


She speaks about the human imagination and how it is the beginning of everything. Of all things that happen. And how we need to feed that imagination with books and plays and music and art and all of these things so that the imagination is rich and varied and well nourished. How the more language we take into ourselves the more language we will have with which to express ourselves. How robbing people of language (by taking away their access to art and books and words and stories and theatre) is what disempowers people because then all they have is rage and sadness and anger. And without the language to express these things, people will act out their rage and sadness and anger. Acts for which they can be put in prison. Given language, humans can – and will – articulate what is wrong and ask for what they want.


Jeanette too, speaks about the absurdity of binaries. Black or white. Male or female. Hospitals or art. How reductive and ridiculous this way of labelling the world is.


She speaks of how difficult times can shape us, how they shaped her, the strange oppressiveness of the woman, her adoptive mother, whom she refers to as Mrs Winterson. Who wanted Jeanette to be a missionary. And asked Jeanette why (now famously), when Jeanette left home at 16 because she was in love with a woman, Jeanette would choose to be happy when she could be normal.


And how this shaped Jeanette because here she is now, a missionary, preaching to us, her audience, about art and imagination and creativity. That she sees it as her job to inspire us and give us something to take away. A kind of hope or purpose.


And so these two women have presented a kind of yin and yang and given me two hours of energy. They both spoke about the liberating moment, in their youth, of realising they did not have to live the life laid out for them by society or family. They were – I muse – blessed with the insight, fortitude and circumstances to see that they could choose another way. And they did.


They take their mission seriously, both of them, and they have lived up to the pressure I had placed on them as I walked down those Flinders Street Station steps.


I leave feeling connected and energised. They have given me a way of re-imagining my own imagination and creative life that is something other than the heaviness I have been wearing. The heaviness of: is it enough? Am I enough? A reminder that this very way of thinking is something I, we all, have inherited or internalised and it is just one way of thinking. A story that doesn’t suit and never fitted.


I arrive home. Buoyant. My tax return has arrived in the mail. For the first time in years, I owe the government money. How will I pay that off? I don’t have a spare few thousand dollars to give. Why should I when they are so intent on ripping money from the arts to stop funding our so-called artist lifestyles?


My buoyant bubble bursts.


I recall another thing Jeanette said, about contemporary life being so very focussed on the external, the superficial. That of course we all need to earn money and pay bills and watch the nightly news.


But that much more importantly, we need to pay attention to the life of our imagination. Our internal world.


A final question she was asked: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? She takes every question seriously. She says yes and no. Because, she says, sometimes the urge and the expression is conscious and sometimes it is not yet conscious but it is still there. She says she likes this phrase: the unthought known, rather than the unknown thought. That there are things we know that aren’t yet ready to be articulated in thoughts and words.


But they are still there. The knowns. Inside of us. Waiting to be discovered.


Three little words

That ease the trauma of a jaw aching, bloody mouthed clean and polish at the dentist  ...

He doesn't have to say them, sometimes they just grunt and ask how often you floss.

But today, he must be able to sense the extra level of stamina it took to stay sitting in that chair.

He shakes my hand and as we part, he smiles and says:

'Well done today'


Confessions of a festival convert

Festivals can inspire or enervate. How much comedy, jazz, food, wine, fringe, community and mardi gras is too much?

My guilty admission as a writer is that I have always been wary of Writers Festivals.

I know writers who immerse themselves, loving nothing more than devouring the words and company of other writers, being surrounded for a brief time by their own kind, reveling in being out, being social, being away from the chair and the screen and the keyboard.

Whereas I tend to feel a creeping suspicion that I will be overwhelmed with ideas and my cynical streak – usually more or less under control – will spurt out, showing anyone in its path with nasty vitriol and anti-social over-reaction.

But this year, in the spirit of ‘doing things differently’ (to avoid the self help curse that befalls those who always do what they’ve always done) I steeled myself for two sessions of the Melbourne Writers Festival.

I have a few simple words to report in response.

Yes, rooms full of writers and readers can be overwhelming. There is so much information. There are so few opportunities. There are so many things one should have read and so many people one should know. There are so many pitfalls and so many writers of greater talent, success and renown.

But rooms full of writers and readers can also be humbling. And inspiring. And grounding.

A shift in the kaleidoscope turns a new light on what could appear to be a room full of desperate people, waiting for pearls of knowledge to drop and change their lives forever … to see what is actually there: a room full of passionate, caring, interested, ordinary, funny, flawed people – all of whom are willing to give their time (and money in some cases) to care in a public way about ideas and words and life and literature.

And truly great writers can remind truly aspiring writers of some of the really helpful tips to keep you going when you’re down.

Have faith in what you are doing (not necessarily faith in how well you do it).

Write in good faith (don't write what you don't believe in).

Work harder.

Try and do it better.


Work harder.

Revise again.

And don’t forget – when in doubt – to work hard.