Heather Taylor Johnson and the #metoo Movement

Earlier this year, Natalie Kon-yu, Christie Nieman, Maggie Scott, and Miriam Sved produced the anthology #metoo, an anthology of essays and poetry by Australian writers on the subject of the #metoo movement. The Tulpa team has recently been in contact with writer Heather Taylor Johnson to discuss her involvement in the anthology and the importance of #metoo as a political movement.

Why is the #metoo anthology so timely?

Feminism has always been inevitable (it existed long before a man named Charles Fourierit so generously named it for us) and it will forever be a force. The #metoo movement is another phase of history’s (herstory’s) feminist wave and so it follows that the #metoo anthology is a document of its time. Look around at what’s happening now with the rise of populism and the eerie what-if of The Handmaid’s Tale. This is where we are and it’s scary times. Toxic masculinity is killing women at regular and alarming rates through domestic violence, killing hoards of people through mass shootings, encouraging rape cultures in universities and rugby clubs, forcing women to be compliant if they want to keep their jobs. At this point in feminism, I’d say most of the women are on board. Here is where we gather the men. In my opinion this anthology is about educating ourselves, women and men – especially men – so that we can responsibly raise the next generation of boys. Here is where we make a radical cultural change.

How does the #metoo movement in Australia differ from its American counterpart?

I don’t see the two as separate, maybe because I’m American Australian. I left America as a fiery twenty-five year old woman who thought she could do anything so long as no man ever kicked in her front door to touch her while she’s sleeping again. Now an angry forty-five year old woman baffled that a man at the gym thought he was complimenting me by saying he was glad to be sparing with me and not the man in the corner because that man ‘boxes like a girl’. Nothing has changed in the nearly 14,000 kilometres I’ve travelled and nothing has changed in the last twenty years. I’m sure the movements, as geographical entities, have been influenced by and will continue to influence each other, but I see #metoo as universal – that’s what Twitter is meant to do for political issues today. That a 280-word story can be broadcast to the world and that the world can respond through a love heart or a retweet or a shared hashtag proves that this movement is community-making, and that’s what ‘global’ should mean.

Where do you see the future of the #metoo movement in Australia?

I think it’ll keep pushing the boundaries of intersectionality. Just as with Trump’s brand of popular sexism, I think, too, his overt racism – indeed the racism we’re becoming so accustomed to seeing all over the world and in shocking regularity in our own country – encourages more outspokenness among racial minorities, and people seem eager to listen. I see this in the publishing industry now where publishers are actively pursuing stories by people of colour and suddenly literature is opening up. I think the confluence of women’s stories and minority stories is where the movement is at now (and thankfully where the anthology is situated) and where it will continue to go. ‘Minority’ can mean race, it can mean disability, it can mean sexuality or gender, and these stories are enlivening the #metoo movement. There’s more discussion. There’s more room for empathy. This can only mean growth.

What does the #metoo movement mean to you and why did you decide to get involved with the anthology?

It’s not any small coincidence that the #metoo movement gained momentum during Trump’s first year as president. Women were angry, unwilling to quietly accept that someone can get elected President of the United States after saying “When you’re a star, they let you do it, grab ’em by the pussy, you can do anything”. I’m an American Australian, still struggling with what Trump means to me as a displaced citizen and still ANGRY as a woman whose body seems to be fodder for legislative decisions. Seriously? We’re still arguing about the right to have an abortion? The best I can do as an artist is to work harder, so I’m trying to focus on issues that matter to me. The poem I sent into the anthology is about a lifetime of innate fear and low expectations due to gender, and how I’d like things to be different for my daughter, and how I get the feeling that they won’t be. I didn’t know until I’d finished the poem that I was writing it for my daughter, and that’s sort of what we’re all doing: trying to make change for our daughters.

How does poetry compare to the essay as a means to discuss issues surrounding the movement?

Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was the beginning of a new type of political awareness for me in terms of my art. I’ve written dozens of poems calling out sexism since then and not because I want to be didactic or self-righteous, but because I simply need to get this anger out (apologies I keep bringing him up but he certainly has a lot to answer for). I write poetry and I write essays – I also write novels – and the choice to use one form over the other is often process-driven. When I need to explore questions and ideas, I write novels. When I need to rip apart incongruities and find commonalities, I write essays. When I need to release intense emotion, I write poetry. Poetry is the quickest, most satisfying way for me to dig into something I’m feeling too much and violently regurgitate it. Then I can move on. The fact that I’m still writing the poems calling out sexism means there’s a lot more for me to discharge, plenty more word-vomiting to come. I’m envisaging a collection that does just that through imagery and testimony, and the poem in the #metoo anthology is one of them.

 

You can read more about the #metoo Anthology here and the book is available for purchase online and from all good bookstores.

 


Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

 

 

The Angel

It would be silent if it weren’t for the echoing hymns, the lingering seminal cries and the whispered prayers of ghosts. It would be silent if it weren’t for his footsteps.

He acts as if he is making a choice, running his fingers along the cold, unsaved wood, looking left and right. Eventually, he chooses a pew halfway down the middle row and settles in, just like he does every evening.

He forces himself to remember. Wading into the shallows, colder than the cellars of hell, his skeletal fingers stretch, searching. Into the reminiscent void, he cries out for guidance. There is no answer. The tide tugs his overcoat until the woollen fabric is heavier than lead. And with a guttural sigh, he lets go. The tidal wave of memory drags him under. The flood fills his lungs. This is not holy water with which to cleanse. It is holy water with which to drown.

On the stain-glass windows, there are angels, floating over the Virgin in the sombre evening glow. One is different from the rest. Instead of revering the hallowed infant, her eyes glass the boughs of the Church. The man raises his face to meet her gaze.

In the cherubic creature he sees a likeness to himself. He’d cradled a similar likeness once. Held her hand. Tied her shoes. Told her stories. Watched her feathered soul ascend from the petite casket to be captured on the way to paradise. There she stays. A little angel immortalised in the stained-glass.

 


Words by Laura Benney

As well as studying to become an English teacher, Laura Benney has a passion for writing. In between completing assignments and reading voraciously, she is currently working on several projects, including a novella. Her childhood dream was to become an author.

 

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

In Conversation with Lucy Moffatt

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honour of sitting down for an interview with Lucy Moffatt, author of Some Days. Over a cup of coffee, she delved into the process, emotion and the power of female friendship in her memoir. Written as a last conversation with her best friend, Chelsea, who she lost to cancer in 2016, Moffatt explores their friendship, immortalising Chelsea and finding a way to heal from such a devastating loss.

You describe your memoir as “one last long, winding chat with the memory of your best friend.” What was the catalyst for writing it this way?

I initially wrote my first manuscript in the traditional memoir style and it was okay, and I think I could have made something pretty good out of it. I can’t really remember how the idea came to me and at one stage I thought ‘what if I change this?’. Instead of talking about Chelsea, I addressed her directly. About the same time, I felt that I’d like to include her writing in the story. Once I started rewriting it that way, it was like the heart of the story suddenly came to life. I’d been struggling a lot with feeling like ‘oh this is so self-indulgent,’ writing a memoir. Like who cares?

Reframing it as a last conversation with her really brought out what I wanted the book to be. That’s what our friendship was. Especially those last few years when she was really sick, it was just sitting in her bed, with the T.V. on in the background and just chatting all day. It felt really good once I started to evoke that.

Two big concepts that came up in Some Days were regret and vulnerability. Could you talk about that a little bit?

For me vulnerability came first. There was this really clear idea that I could go one of two ways. I could try to run away from the things I was feeling and try to conceal it. Or I could take a deep breath and turn around and face it. And the way I thought I could do that was to try and be vulnerable and be publicly vulnerable. To ask for help and to talk about how I was feeling and more and more I started to feel like that could be the source of my strength. I could make something beautiful out of what I’ve been through.

The regret thing took a lot longer. It took a long time for me to feel like it was okay to say I made a mistake and I regret that. It’s so taboo and even now people are like: ‘oh no, no don’t say that you did what you had to do’, but the outcome was really awful. That was my call, and I made the wrong call and I have to own up to that. That was a chapter I wrote quite late, I don’t think it was until the third draft that I even wrote about regret because it was such a massive hard thing to tackle.

It’s the first time in my life that I could say I was in the wrong, but also be kind to myself about that not haranguing myself about it, not punishing myself for it.

You say in the epilogue that you put “our” story down, and you did this through Chelsea’s blog posts. How important was it for you, to have Chelsea’s own voice in your book?

As soon as I had the idea, [her words] were the thing that made it all hang in the balance. If I couldn’t include Chelsea’s words, then there was no point in writing the memoir.

She was a good writer, it wasn’t that she wanted to be a writer. I like her voice and I know she would have loved to be in print that way. Part of it was being a loyal friend. I also knew it gave an edge and a strength to the book.

You also touch on some very personal yet common issues such as mental health, the struggle to fit in, and sexuality. How important was it for you to record these difficulties you had growing up?

Initially, when I started writing it, I wasn’t going to write about anything separate from Chelsea. As I was writing I was realising how these other things fed into the grief I was feeling and into my friendship with Chelsea. One of the reasons our trust and our love and our friendship ran so deep was because being with her was like being apart from some of the things I faced growing up. We just accepted one another.

This experience of losing my friend is fairly specific, some people experience this loss, but these other things are quite universal. Lots of people don’t fit in. Lots of people struggle with who they are. Lots of people have difficulty accepting themselves. And if I’m writing about something so vulnerable, that I want to share, why not be vulnerable and use my voice?

You talk about positive female friendship and that it wasn’t until you got into your twenties that you were able to understand and grasp that. How important do you think it is to have these representations of positive female friendship?

Art can represent life as it is and represent life in a way that it can be. I’m speaking for myself here, but I have a tendency to emulate what I saw on screen, or what I read in books. If I was watching Gossip Girl my friendships were very different to what they were supposed to be. I love that quote: you can’t be what you can’t see. I really believe in role models and I really believe in representations of all kinds. Particularly with positive female friendships.

What was the personal transformation you feel you underwent while writing this book?

I think, what really shone out for me once I got towards finishing the book, was that I always wanted to be a writer, and I’d had some quite good ideas over the years but never followed through on them. I thought that was some kind of personal failing on my part like ‘oh you can’t focus’ or ‘you don’t have what it takes’. I think all it was, was that I had all growing up to do. I needed to work out what I have to say and how I want to say it. And to reach a point of self-acceptance where I can comfortably believe that what I have to say is valid and valuable. I think that was the biggest thing, learning how to put [my doubts] to the side and believe in what I’m doing.

Because it’s a memoir, I got to know myself a lot better. There were lots of things I wasn’t going to write about until I realised they’re all interconnected and that was really freeing. All of these things impact me and have impacted me. They are just a part of my journey and that’s important.

Do you have any events coming up that people reading should, know about?

I’m getting to do a podcast, called Just Make the Thing. We’ll be talking books, but really the podcast is about creativity and doing the work. We’re going to talk about how creativity can be a way to cope with grief.

If you could say anything to someone who was about to pick up your book what would you like the say to them?

Firstly, most of the feedback has been to keep tissues handy, because it’s sad. But I don’t just think it’s sad but kind of funny and some parts are neutral.

My big message is really to allow yourself to be vulnerable and allow yourself to be connected to people. Those two things are wells of strength that are far too often overlooked. That we’re stronger together than alone. Don’t be afraid of those big, scary feelings because they’re a part of it, they’re a part of all of us. It can be a source of strength if you allow it to be.

I want to say to anyone who is terminally ill, or who loves someone who is sick or who has just lost a loved one, or to those people who are struggling with mental health or self-acceptance, that whatever you are feeling is okay! Even the big, terrible emotions are fine and normal, and they do pass. And you are loved! There are so many people who want only to see you happy and at peace. Again, vulnerability and connection give us power and strength.


Words by Georgina Banfield

In Conversation: J R Koop

J R Koop is a fantasy writer from Adelaide whose debut novel, Racing the Sun, was released on April 12 this year. Koop has spent years building up her world and her novel to the completed version we see today. The self-published book is available in paperback or as an ebook on all major ebook retailers. Racing the Sun is a queer throw-back to Sleeping Beauty and a tribute to her fiancé, Salsabil Hafiz, set in a South-Asian inspired land. Tulpa’s Kayla Gaskell had the opportunity to chat with Koop about the book and her writing journey.

Having already spent time shopping her book to traditional publishers, earlier this year Koop decided it was time to self-publish her long-time project, Racing the Sun. A stand alone in her fantasy world of Abrecan, Koop has spent four years developing the novel. From a first draft with a typically Western setting, Racing the Sun has come so far. Koop decided to alter the novel after feedback from Hafiz suggesting Koop make it “more interesting”.

And by interesting, she means diverse. Racing the Sun has a wide spectrum of characters ranging from the blind oracle, Taeng, through to the PTSD and chronic-pain suffering faerie Qadira. With plenty of input from a variety of sources and sensitivity readers, Koop says “a lot of people helped make this book what it is and made sure I’d written in a non-offensive and accurate way.”

Set in a South-Asian inspired land, Koop says that the conflict between the Praitosi Empire and Delorran was reminiscent of the conflict between India and Pakistan. While this is a fantasy, Koop was sure to discuss these allusions with friends and sensitivity readers, keeping in mind that the world is inspired by ours but at the same time very much its own. The novel turns away from a more traditional Western-centric fantasy vision, presenting more POC than not. When asked about this choice, Koop replied: “If I just wrote white characters it would be a boring world.”

IMG_20190319_151156_236

In terms of challenges, Koop’s greatest one was accepting that Racing the Sun was finished. She says: “I could keep staring at it for years, or I could put it out there.” Having done countless edits on the manuscript Koop says she was starting to wonder when it would be enough. Once the decision was made, Koop turned her mind to researching self-publishing where-upon she settled on a joint e-publication and print-on-demand package with publishing service IngramSpark. Koop didn’t want the limitations of e-publication to hold her back when so many readers who prefer physical books.

Koop goes on to discuss how expensive self-publishing her novel was, although she was lucky enough to engage an illustrator who has become a great friend. Sylvia Bi took to the project with enthusiasm and produced a gorgeous cover. Koop decided on an illustrator for her book because she wanted Racing the Sun to have a professional feel as well as take a little of the pressure off of the process.

In earlier drafts of the novel, Koop says there was a pronunciation guide to help readers with the many and varied unfamiliar terms, however, in the final version this was scrapped. “I kept adding to it, there are too many things in this list, people might get scared.” Like with many fantasy novels however, Koop confirms that you can easily pick up the terminology as you go.

The world of Abrecan is already a vibrant alternate world and Racing the Sun is just the beginning. A stand-alone within the world, Koop has plenty of plans in various stages of completion to bring more of Abrecan to life. As she says: “people are just coming across this one book, they’re not seeing the other works just yet.” With more than twenty folders of ideas on her shelf, there is always something to work on. Her next project is a circus novella set in a French-based area, although she also has plans for a Cinderella retelling and an Egyptian-based retelling of Cupid and Psyche.

 

To keep up with Koop, follow her on Twitter or Instagram or visit her website.


 

Words by Kayla Gaskell
Images provided by Jasmine Koop

In Conversation: Matt J. Pike

When Adelaide indie author Matt J. Pike started his writing career, the publishing landscape was nothing like it is now. Indie publishing was still new and risky while traditional publishing was still more appealing, being less risky. The multi-award-winning author attempted to make his start with traditional publishing, but after many rejections for Kings of the World and having a major publisher drop Apocalypse: Diary of a Survivor, he turned to indie publishing – he hasn’t looked back since.

Of his books and series, Apocalypse: Diary of a Survivor has been by far his most popular. Told in a first-person perspective point, Apocalypse: Diary of a Survivor follows Jack Baldwin, a teenager living in Adelaide who survives a meteor colliding with the Earth. The series has been a success in both ebook and print and has won three bronze medals in teenage and young adult categories on Amazon in the UK and US. Kings of the World (Starship Dorsano Chronicles) and Scared to Beath (Zombie RiZing), the first in their series, have won the Global Ebook Awards in Teen and Juvenile Literature in 2013 and 2015.

ExhibitionPic-SydSupa18.jpg

Pike’s various sci-fi worlds aren’t just created for pleasure, he’s hoping to find a cure for his daughter. Pike’s youngest daughter has Rett Syndrome, a neurological disorder which can hinder someone’s ability to do everyday tasks, such as walking and talking. It’s a childhood disorder, affecting more girls than boys (about 1 in 9000). All earnings from his books are donated to helping to find a cure. For those who are interested in finding out more about Rett Syndrome, visit his page here or AussieRett here.

Writing and publishing indie fiction, according to Pike, is both fun and challenging, with creative and marketing control being one of these. “I think having creative control, as well as marketing control is a pretty powerful combination,” says Matt, “as is having the worldwide rights to my work. Sure, it means a lot more things to do (like, lots), but I like all those challenges.  You have to be dedicated, but it’s rewarding.”

As for the future, Matt has plenty of stories coming up for avid readers and fans. He will be releasing the final entry in his Apocalypse series, entries 7-9 in the Zombie RiZing series. A “very inappropriately funny sci-fi action novel” he is co-authoring with fellow Adelaide indie author Russell Emmerson is also currently in the works. He also plans to start work on a side series to Apocalypse soon.

For those interested in Matt J. Pike and his works, check out the link to his website here. He will be doing the convention circuit at numerous Adelaide events, including AvCon in July and Supanova in November. He will also be at the upcoming Sydney and Brisbane Supanovas.


 

Words by Cameron Lowe

In Conversation with Lynette Washington

To Rhyme Or Not To Rhyme is a children’s book of poetry by Kristin Martin and Joanne Knott. It is also the first publication of Lynette Washington’s new South Australia-based Glimmer Press publishing house. In the week before the launch of To Rhyme Or Not To Rhyme, I caught up to chat with Lynette about the ins and outs of her huge new venture.

Martin’s manuscript would eventually become To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme, a set of thirty rhyming and another thirty non-rhyming poems aimed at children. The poems are all nature based and are accompanied by the beautiful work of Joanne Knott reading the manuscript, Washington tried to help Martin place the work at more established publishing houses. Impulsively, she promised Martin if no one else would take it, Washington herself would publish the work.

LW: I wasn’t really thinking about what that meant too much! Kristen thought the offer over and came back to Lynette a few days later, wanting to publish with her long-time friend. Well, once I said I’d do it, I had to follow through.

RK: Yeah, well, I suppose publishing someone’s manuscript is not something you can back out lightly.

It’s obvious that Washington loves what she does. It’s clearly a nerve-wracking project but you can hear excitement and passion when she talks about her role as publisher.

LW: Well, you know what it’s like – it means so much to writers to get published and to get acknowledged in that way.  I’ve known Kristen for so long and she’s such a good friend that I knew she would be cool with me finding my way through the process and figuring it out as I went. Although I worked for MidnightSun for years, I was really only involved in certain aspects of the business, so there were parts of publishing that I knew really nothing about. So it was nice to publish my friend’s book as my first book because I knew she’d forgive me any blunders.

RK: It’s kind of like a first pancake, isn’t it? You know how they’re always a bit iffy?

LW: Yeah, that’s so true, you always have to throw out the first pancake.

Given the relatively small size of Adelaide’s publishing community and Glimmer’s infancy, I was curious about the publication’s next steps, beyond To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme.

RK: Is Glimmer primarily interested in children’s books or are you a bit easy either way?

LW: Definitely not just interested in children’s books. I think the next book I publish will be a book for adults, although I don’t know what that will be yet. I’ve also got a particular interest in short stories and stories that really play with genre conventions.

RK: I suppose it makes sense with you being a short story-ist that you would want to publish those things. Short stories are also wonderful to sit and read and just kind of have piece meal.

LW: From your mouth to the world’s ears. I just wish more people thought that because there’s still a bit of reluctance, I think, for the reading public to pick up a short story collection. I would love to see that change. But then, it goes in cycles and there have been eras where short stories have been the preferred norm.

RK: That’s for sure. Charles Dickens seemed to have a good time with it.

LW: Yeah, it worked for him, didn’t it?

Washington’s desire to publish adult fiction next turns us briefly towards MidnightSun, another small SA-based press. Washington worked at the press for a time and some lessons stuck past her tenure at the publishing house.

LW: Anna (Solding) always used to say you publish something that you love and that’s true. When you work for a small publisher you invest a good twelve months or more in a book and unless you really passionately love that book there’s no reason to take it on. There’s a huge amount of work that goes into very little reward financially; there are other rewards of course, but I think you have to fall in love with something in order to take it on. And that’s really what happened with Kristin’s book. It’s so special and I knew that a lot of big publishers would run from something like this; [a project] that’s not going to make anyone lots and lots of money, but should be out there in the world. I guess that’s what I’m looking for: those little projects that should be out there in the world, but maybe other publishers would shy away from.

RK: I think it’s important in Adelaide specifically, because our publishing industry is so small, to have those pushing off places or catch alls for forgotten projects.

LW: Absolutely, and I think little publishing houses are definitely pushing off places for writers. I saw that happen a lot at MidnightSun. A writer would get their first break with them, have some degree of success, and then they’ve got a publication record and when they approached a bigger publisher, they’re more likely to be taken on. It definitely serves that purpose for emerging writers, which is good thing, a really valuable thing.

 

Glimmer Press can be found at their website glimmerpress.com.au, on Facebook as Glimmer Press and on twitter @glimmer_press.

 


Interview by Riana Kinlough

Photo by Bruno Martins on Unsplash

The World Was Whole

The World Was Whole
Fiona Wright

I found out about this book during the hazy final days of editing my thesis, a body of work all about Fiona Wright’s first essay collection Small Acts of Disappearance (2015). My first thought was, ‘Oh no, now I have to go back and mention a book I haven’t read so my research is up to date’. It wasn’t until this year that I felt ready to tackle another essay collection, especially one by an author I’d studied so intensively for a year. Boy am I glad I did. Nonfiction lovers: this is a must-read.

In many ways The World Was Whole acts as a sort of sequel to Small Acts, though the two can still be enjoyed on their own.  At the centre of both books is Wright’s personal experiences living with anorexia nervosa and anxiety. In The World Was Whole, Wright uses her personal experiences to explore the modern world’s relationship with the home. She doesn’t look at the home as just the physical buildings we live in, or the spaces we interact with, but also the bodies we inhabit and how they can represent both sanctuary and uncertainty.

Throughout the essays in The World Was Whole, Wright examines her own life, which is built heavily upon repetition and routine, both of which are upset constantly by the circumstances of her health and finances. Like many millennials, particularly those with unstable financial situations, Wright rents. This means she is almost always on the move from house to house, from space to space. Forever trying to settle in and make these spaces her own, only to be flung elsewhere by circumstances beyond her control. She gets to the heart of the constant anxiety and uncertainty of renting when she writes: ‘I want to be able to get attached to a place, without knowing that my presence there is always subject to someone else’s needs or whims’.

Another strong aspect of Wright’s writing is her exploration of her own experiences of chronic illness. Within literature there is a tendency towards stereotyping the sick, particularly the mentally ill and female, as helpless victims or self-obsessed attention-seekers. Wright brings a strong current of humanity to her writing, showing what her lived experience of anorexia nervosa is like. She isn’t afraid to critique the limitations of Australia’s healthcare system, which often causes a great deal of grief and frustration for people struggling with chronic conditions. Importantly, Wright describes her illness in terms of the constant shift back and forth between getting better and getting worse, and the anxiety and fear that comes with this flux. ‘On the first day in the hospital,’ Wright writes, ‘I curl on my bed and cry for a full hour after every meal, and I keep thinking, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I don’t think I can do this. I panic at the piece of meat that’s on my plate for dinner, I gulp for breath, great ragged gasps that hurt my sternum and then I sob outside the dining room because I hadn’t realised, somehow, that I’d gotten quite this sick. I’m so afraid of what I’ve done and of who I have become.’

There is a rawness, a brutal honesty, to how Wright writes about her illness that is so important. It’s the kind of writing that gets under your skin, touches something familiar within you and forces you to experience, even for just a moment, what it is like to live with such an illness. The rawness isn’t always shown through pain. There’s also joy. Wright shows the complexity of her life in all its facets, both difficult and special.

Wright’s essays are a delight to read. Often painful, always beautiful, they represent the growing skill and relevance of Australian essayists today. Personal essays like these allow for engaging discussions of issues that affect contemporary society: from poverty to racism and the need for change on a government level. Wright is only one of many Australian essayists using the essay to spark conversation and give readers a new way of looking at these issues by engaging them through the personal, as well as the purely factual. To avid essay readers and newcomers alike, this is a book worth putting on your list this year.


Words and photography by Lisandra Linde

Flights of Fancy and a Writer’s Imagination

Possibilities

A notice pops up in my inbox, something unexpected: a call for applications for a month’s writer’s residency in Granada, Spain, the city I first visited twelve years ago. Suddenly, I am transported there. I can fully imagine myself being the resident writer, speaking my intermediate-level Spanish, participating in local literary events, adding some more to the writing about Spain that I have already done.

I am so fully taken by such a possibility that during the night I start to feel anxious. I worry about leaving home to travel across the world and all that I would have to organise to make that possible, as well as all the things I would miss about home. It plays out in my mind like a movie, drives me crazy, my imagination giddy with anticipation. I toss and turn as my mind wanders in and out of potential scenarios: the long flight alone; the writer’s room near the university; whether I’d be able to make a cup of tea (should I take my thermos?); the weather; the clothes I would  wear; the people I’d meet; the activities, seminars, readings, or various social events. Would my Spanish would hold up? Would Marina, my flamenco dance teacher, be able to recommend a class I could attend?

 

Anxious and willing

Anxiety is both a physical and mental experience. Once I remember to breathe, my thoughts become clearer. All that seemed confusing or impossible during the night seems lighter and more manageable to me in the morning. I remind myself that people travel all over the world all the time, for work, for pleasure – a month here, two weeks there, ten days elsewhere. It’s no big deal. The distance, the time, the different culture.

I have useful conversations about this possible adventure being realized. What an opportunity, if it were to come off, if it all fell into place. I meet with a fellow writer at a local café and we speak in Spanish about the trip. A good thing for me to be practising if I am going to have discussions or readings or give lectures in Granada. In the meantime, I hope for peace, equanimity and courage.

 

Commitments

I have made a commitment. I have written and organised my application. Three people have written letters of recommendation. I send it all in five attachments to Carmen, the contact person in Granada, and I wait for a response. Did she receive it? It’s there in the outbox saying it has been sent, but how can I know for sure? It’s the last month of winter here, but perhaps over there she’s on holiday, escaping the August heat wave?

If I were to be chosen, I would travel across the globe to the south of Spain and spend November in Granada. This is when I could do with more of the subjunctive in English: if I were to be chosen I would take my work about Spain and share it with Spanish writers, readers and audiences. I would risk the exposure this would entail and the possible criticism for it being inappropriate or for misunderstanding their culture. I would risk being misunderstood myself. Or perhaps they’d appreciate it.

I have made a commitment for this experience to throw further light on my work. I have made a commitment to be immersed in the Spanish language, to participate in the cultural life of Granada, as much as opportunity will allow. I have made a commitment to write, to read, to research and to communicate my interests as clearly as possible.

I have made a commitment to sleep on my own in a foreign city, to face the night demons if necessary, to rely on my inner reserves of strength and to remain open. I have made a commitment to uncertainty.

Chances are this trip will not happen.

I am only one amongst many applicants from around the world. I already know I will be disappointed if I don’t go, even knowing I’ll be nervous if I do. I am preparing myself practically and psychologically for the journey. Now that the application has been sent, I feel a sense of space. Along with all the others it will be considered. What will be, will be. I will stay focused. I feel surprisingly neutral.

I turn to face the wind.

I push myself into it, pleased with the effort.

 

What if . . .

I begin to wonder again, what if they don’t approve of what I have written about their country, their culture, their iconic poet? What if they are offended by this work from an outsider to their culture? Sensitive topics, sensitive themes. I’ll have to risk what little reputation amongst friends, colleagues and readers I might have, lay it on the line. Yet in the end this application might be nothing more than a process. Time will tell.

I need not have worried about my application disappearing into digital space. I guessed rightly that the staff had been on holidays all of August, and as it turned out, early September too; and anyway, as Carmen explained to me on the phone when I eventually rang, in her casual, friendly, no-nonsense Spanish way, also the weather had been a pain because it had been too hot. Too hot to do anything.

 

Yesterday’s surprise

Yesterday’s surprise was that I look as old as I am. If in doubt, just see my latest passport photo. See how my face has lost its roundness, see all the new lines and folds in the skin, like a crumpled piece of waxed paper, moist enough, but too thin to resist gravity. Line up all the old passport photos: 23, 43, 63 . . . see how I’ve progressed through the decades from a black-haired, young woman to one of late middle age, happy to have made it this far, but astonished at the changes nonetheless. We like to say that photos are deceiving and perhaps they are, the camera can manipulate, but so can our eyes – our failing eyes – when we look into the mirror in a favourable, softening light, instead of the stark white light that lays the truth bare, reminding us of the ultimate journey we all have to take. I celebrate being here now. I celebrate all that makes life a curious wonder, including my changing self.

 

Equanimity

Today I have reached the peak on the mountain of equanimity. On the mountain that overlooks our river-city of Hobart, I sit, listen and look around, just one small being; here temporarily, in this ancient, natural world, breathing in the scent of solid earth, grounding myself. My vivid imagination is both a gift and a burden, the weight of some possible scenario carried like a back-pack full of provisions “just in case”. The waiting game is a strange place to be. Things come in their own time. There are people waiting all over the world to take the next step: waiting for permission, for rain, for answers, for love or compassion. Waiting and hoping. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that ultimately there is nothing to chase after, that we can go back to ourselves and enjoy our breathing. So for now I am here on this solid mountain listening. Listening to the birds and the breeze, absorbing the peace. Equanimity. We come. We go. I am one being in a magnificent universe. Here now, beyond thinking, beyond anticipating. Que sera, sera.

 

Soy escritora (I am a writer)

I am, at this point in my life, able to live everyday freely and as I chose. In our culture people like to say they are busy, that they are active because it tells themselves and others they somehow live a worthy life. What do you do? is one of the first questions we ask people when we are getting to know them. I no longer join the flow of people in the mornings on their way to paid work. For the past 18 years I have been finding my way in the world of books and literature, writing, reading and publishing my work, participating in the literary life of my community. This is how I spend most of my time. Every now and then I still have to remind myself of what this means. One of my first daily activities is to write sitting up in bed, looking out my window at my neighbourhood valley and, with my fine-point pencil, discover the words that are ready to fall onto the smooth, inviting paper of my notebook. Call it a task and it already sounds more acceptable to our culture’s work ethic. Call it work. But I have always wanted my life, this one life, to be more than just a list of tasks that get ticked off every day. I want spontaneity, uncertainty, freedom. The purpose of being a writer is to be a writer which means writing, reading and thinking from morning until night. But also, of course, attending to those “dear tasks of continuance” so affectionately described by Denise Levertov, that keep body and mind together and sometimes spark some unexpected flash of inspiration. The question in Spanish is: to what are you dedicated?  To answer this in English is to uncover another side to the question what do you do? In my life I am dedicated to writing and literature, learning Spanish, learning the art of flamenco dance, creating gardens, maintaining my home, responding to injustice, having good relationships with friends and family, looking after myself. I am no longer the frustrated writer with little time to herself. I am the poet with space and time, my work is out in the world finding places to be. I feel most purposeful when I’m writing a poem or a piece of prose. Who am I still trying to convince? Perhaps my internal critic who tugs at my confidence as I wait to have my application considered by an international panel of judges.

 

Life is what happens . . .

The silence of a sun-lit morning is like a prayer. My eyes drink in its astonishing beauty. These last few weeks I’ve been thinking about death, about life ending or transforming as Thich Nhat Hanh says and how each day of our lives is precious. We have had a significant death in the family, our dear, elderly father-friend. A man with a loving smile and of gentle persuasion. To be the eternal writer-witness, not only of other people, events and things but also of yourself, gives me a serious gaze. I feel the need to smile and laugh more. Every thought, every act, every word carries a signature says the wise monk. Anne means grace. Can I live up to my name?

 

The significance of zero

Today is the day the selection panel will announce their decision. It is still night time in Granada but already it feels like the answer is “no”. I’ve been ahead of myself these last few months, anticipating a time to come that for all intents and purposes is not going to happen for me. On this side of the world we are always ahead of agreed time. And for these last few months I have been, in my mind, three-quarters convinced that I would soon be in the opposite time zone, leaving the brighter, longer spring days here for the shorter late-autumn days there. Now I feel sure I am not going to be making that journey. All should be confirmed by tonight. And all my practical preparation to date will be for naught – the books, the plans, the ideas for workshops and projects. Perhaps not for naught entirely. Zero is a significant number. A chance to begin again.

 

El compromiso

How to tempt fate? Name it, decide on an alternative course of action, pretend you are taking initiative,(water the garden so it will rain), make other plans, reach a conclusion, a compromise – only to have fate shout back at you. “But wait!” Wait another week as it extends the question mark over your life for a few more days. Let me just trick and tire you out, it says, deflate your new resolve, stretch it out, beyond the limit. We’re on Spanish time here. In Spanish compromiso means promise not compromise. Beware of false friends. Suddenly I feel tired of it all: of being ahead of myself. The waves of adrenalin have worn me out. I’m ready to go but will I be going? I’m over it. Over it.

 

The Art of Living

This morning, in this part of the world in our little city beneath the mountain it is blessedly quiet. I have slept and woken again. The Earth has turned. Again, I have arrived at D-day, the extended D-day. I’m sure I know the decision already and it’s time to leave this strange land of waiting. Time to let go. For the past three months I have been encapsulated in a bubble of possibility. Time to burst the bubble. Time to become un-encapsulated. This year has been a year of waiting for all sorts of things: replies from publishers, application results, calls from the hospital. The art of waiting involves effort and patience. As does the art of writing. Lorca once proclaimed, “true poetry, true effort, renunciation.” A writer recognises these sentiments. I have learnt that the art of waiting takes me to the present moment, wherein is found the art of living. I smile at the cloud in my tea.

 

Re-viewing

I am not going to Granada in November. As I had strongly suspected by the end, I was not one of the two writers selected out of, what turned out to be, seventy international applicants. Time to relinquish all that build-up. Time to close the file. Time to wind down, to sleep more peacefully. Time to return to my life in this small city with its own concerns. Time to reflect on the power of the imagination and how it can draw you into its intricately, detailed and convincing world, a world that is as big or as small as you want it to be, but a make-believe world nonetheless.

 

November 2018.


Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Words by Anne Collins

anne-collins-photo.jpgAnne Collins’ last book of poems The Language of Water (2014) tells the story of a modern day odyssey. Her two earlier poetry collections are titled Seasoned with Honey (with three other poets, 2008) and The Season of Chance (2005). Her landscape memoir titled My Friends This Landscape (2011) is a collection of prose and poetry. A forthcoming collection of poetry How to Belong will be published in 2019. Her manuscript (prose and poetry) with the Spanish themes is currently under consideration.

 

Super Indie: Indie Fiction at Supanova

Indie fiction was the rising star at Adelaide’s Supanova convention in 2018. Indie fiction being a title self- published by the author rather than a house publisher. As part of Artist Alley’s Indie Press Zone, indie authors and publishers have become more prevalent at Supanova in recent years, and are now a part of the core experience. This prevalence has increased as the tools to self-publish have become more accessible. At the 2018 event I attended panels by local indie authors and had a chance to speak with some of them. Below are just some of the interesting discoveries I made about both indie fiction and the convention.

Kylie Leane, author of Chronicles of the Children series, is one of the longest exhibiting local indie authors at Supanova. She began selling her books at Supanova in 2013 and has seen the community and enthusiasm around indie fiction grow since then. She was only one of two indie authors in 2013 and only had half a booth in a very small Artist Alley. This began to grow slowly over the years, becoming four authors by her third year and now roughly 15-20 authors (fiction and comics included) as of 2018. Leane has also said she likes the enthusiasm the Supanova committee has for indie fiction. This support has been to the aligning of their interests and passion for the craft.

Kylie Leane Booth.jpg

Indie publishing appeals to some writers because of the opportunity for representing diversity Katie Fraser, author of Realm of the Lilies series, said indie fiction has given an outlet for people to tell their stories without gatekeepers, be it an agent or a head editor of a publishing company. This was a recurring criticism of traditional publishers, mentioned also in panels by authors like Maria Lewis, writer of The Witch Who Courted Death, who has been published both independently and traditionally. Even these authors have said self-publishing allows diverse voices to emerge, especially for stories traditional publishing may see as difficult to market even though they might be good. These diverse voices can be ones related to gender, disability, and minority voices to name a few.

This idea of gatekeeping makes indie fiction more appealing to some writers. Matt J. Pike, author the Apocalypse series, compared indie fiction to the Adelaide Fringe and traditional publishing to the Adelaide Festival of the Arts. The Adelaide Fringe offers a wide range of different performances where performers can experiment with their craft, compared to the Adelaide Festival, which has a more traditional arts and arts representation. Pike was encouraged to turn to indie publishing because of the long waits on hearing from agents and publishers. This frustration was also felt by Fraser, it would take months to hear from an agent and then even more time for a publisher to respond to a submission. This is what drove her to go indie with her first book, Through the Fig Tree, in 2016. However, aforementioned authors have said there is some hurdles that you will face by going indie. One of these is that you will be doing a lot of the hard work like advertising and hiring artists yourself. The authors have mentioned too that it is best to know or hire a great structural and line editor to help with your project.

KE Fraser Panel.jpg

Many indie authors mentioned the local indie community is a major benefit to them. Fraser said the indie community is amazing and they often catch up with each other, be it at Supanova or at dinners. Pike said that there is amazing support from within the community for each other.

When asked what advice they would give anyone interested in going indie, the aforementioned indie authors gave a similar response: “Just do it.” Both Fraser and Leane stressed the importance of knowing someone who is a good editor. Both were lucky to know good editors, but Fraser says you can also find good editors through Twitter as well. She also says to write what you know and that there’s no right or wrong in the indie world. The world of indie fiction offers a chance for all voices to be heard, regardless of genre or idea.

The genuine enthusiasm Supanova has for local indie fiction is undeniable looking at the schedule for 2018. Over the course of the weekend, there were at least three panels dedicated to indie authors. These were spread over comics and fiction, all headlined by local indie authors. This is a vast improvement compared to a few years ago, where an occasional indie author would join one of Supanova’s literary panels. It shows Supanova is eager to promote local indie fiction at their events and to give these authors more publicity.

Going indie allows you to get your stories out there, even if they’ve been rejected numerous times by traditional publishers. If your work is experimental then it can become a good place for you to showcase it to a niche audience. Indie publishing is a growing field, and certainly something to consider when delving into the publishing world.


Words and photography by Cameron Lowe.

Meet-the-Team-Cameron2Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.

One Morning on a Melbourne Rooftop

When Simon vomited the grief of his father’s death into a plastic bag on the rooftop of a Melbourne hostel, I couldn’t help but consider what a poignant narrative climax it would make. I was standing in fog freckled with security-light orange, hiccupping Smirnoff bile when he moved to the low wall by the edge. Ben ran after him; we were terrified he’d fall or throw himself over. He was trembling and wet-dog snivelling, but he hadn’t been stuck in his end-of-the-world grief all night. Not like he was then.

It was 2008 and we were twenty. Far too young, really, for that kind of grief. The weekend escape had been concocted just days before, the kind of flyaway ‘why not’ you can get away with between university semesters when there’s nothing but long nights in friends’ backyards to fill the space of days. We’d started late in the afternoon with a bottle of vodka and pink and orange slushies from the 7Eleven. We played brain freeze and a game of Presidents and Assholes with Mexican girls who were in town to see the Pope for World Youth Day. It hadn’t been a remarkable evening except that he’d been smiling through most of it. Sitting in the hostel corridor floor, his knees didn’t seem to jut so much from his too-big pants and he had that goofy look like he used to have, back when we’d welt our fingertips from too much Guitar Hero and fall asleep at 4am amongst soda cans and melted M&Ms. So instead of worrying about him, as I had for days, weeks, months, really, I’d been mentally composing a gothic piece set in the Old Gaol just over the road. Flood lights cast shadows on brick beyond the windows and I watched for spectral faces behind the bars — I’d had strange shivers in a cell the day before, one renowned for its paranormal visitations, and there was a story in it, I knew.

When we said goodnight to the Mexicans, I should have expected the hug that began with a moon-smile and ended in his fingers clenching tight to my back, that silent quiver in his bones. That he’d slip through my arms to a bundle on the floor. And that my own heart would break, again, because I couldn’t heal his.

We came up to the roof and he pushed his fingers firmly against me: ‘Fuck off.’

But Ben and I crept up anyway, pressed our ears against the door. We listened to the thud of fold-up chairs, benches scattering against the concrete. The gravelled roar of his yell. That’s when we rushed. We found him standing still, his beanpole silhouette striking against the broad grey of the gaol.

‘I’m gonna be sick.’

Ben ran with a plastic bag pulled from his pockets. The heave of vomit was spectacular. That’s when he stumbled to the low wall by the edge. When I thought he might jump.

The ghosts next door disappeared.

He looked up at us and a shift came over him. Something in his eyes. He peered over the edge, looking down at the wet street: a cat curling around a lamppost, the short white apartment building opposite. He rocked back on his heels and grinned. Then he threw it. The wobbling bag, strangely graceful in its own way, sailed across the street and landed on slanted tiles above a porthole window. The liquid threatened the plastic, then after a tense moment, rested.

A strange stillness passed.

‘Fucking hell,’ said Ben. ‘That was beautiful.’

Simon gripped us, tipped his head back and, throaty with catharsis, he laughed.

It was difficult not to see the narrative potential.

 


Art by Rhianna Carr
Words by Lauren Butterworth

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALauren Butterworth is a writer, academic and editor with creative work published in a variety of outlets including MeanjinVerity LaWet InkMidnight Echo and more. She is co-director of The Hearth, a readings event that aims to platform exciting local voices in a space that nurtures creativity, conversation and ideas. She is also a host and producer of the podcast Deviant Women which tells the stories of women who dare to break the rules and subvert the system. During the day, she teaches at Flinders University and is editor at MidnightSun Publishing.

You can find Lauren at laurenbutterworth.com and deviantwomenpodcast.com