Transition Girl

Why transition girl?... Best answered by a quote from the Iliad....."The soul was not made to dwell in a thing; and when forced to it, there is no part of that soul but suffers violence."

Saturday, February 17, 2018

home stretch

I finished 2017 and started 2018 in a productive frenzy, reaching the milestone of a completed third draft of the manuscript for the Peithosian Gift and a draft of suitable quality that copy editing is now well underway. Will have something on the market by the middle of the year. Home stretch with a finish line within sight.

My feelings on reaching this milestone (with this book and all that have come before it) are always mixed. There's the achievement delight - something finished. There's the marking the moment - ruling a line on taking the story further (at least until I decide to write a sequel). No writer is ever really finished when the writing on any particular piece is done. There's always an urge to tinker a little more. But this needs to be balanced against that feeling of accepting the time in the particular world of that particular story is done and it is time to move on.

Sometimes I reach that point so ready to step away that I want to run at pace as far away as I can sprint. Three parts into the Panopticon series, I was ready to let my child of the light, Gabriel, take a holiday. I have a very rough story-board prepared so I could start drafting the next part, working title - the Helotry - but I'm just not ready to return to this family of characters.

In contrast, I remain excited about the world in the manuscript just completed. I feel there are enough seeds planted in what I have already written to offer some genuinely new directions and creative exploration. No story-board yet but a working title - the Peithosian Curse (obviously). The added bonus is that the lovely lady who has been editing my current manuscript is so excited at the prospect of a sequel, it is almost enough to inspire me to name this project as the next cab off the rank.

But there is a bit to do before I go there. I set a different goal for writing this year. Something to challenge me - something different. I set a goal of writing a stage play. Almost two months gone in the year and I have a working treatment (the scene by scene staging of the play). Two lines of dialogue and the terrifying thought that I have a hell of a lot more dialogue to write before it resembles anything remotely stage worthy. I'll give myself until Easter to see if I have set too hard a task for my writing skills.

And, in truth, I probably should have set a different goal if I was going to venture into contemporary fiction about a dysfunctional family. I was encouraged to consider converting one of my short stories into a novel and I believe the idea is worth contemplation. The short story - the Hunger - looks at an event in a young girl's life whose father happens to be a "fixer" in the underworld. I think it would be an interesting juxtaposition of the innocence of youth and the impact of a much darker world. It's probably been done before.

Finally, reporting on another short-story beyond a home stretch. I was recently asked to contribute to a new e-publication, 300and1 words, that specialises in sharing life experiences. The editor had read one of my poems and associated story in another e-publication - Poets Unlimited - about the passing of my mom. Here's the link to the micro-story as it was published in mid-January - - it is a good example of how one creative piece can be reshaped for a different audience.

Plenty of ideas on where my next creative escape will be - it's a hard choice because it will consume me for at least three years of writing anew. I am excited about the possibilities and many a moral dilemma to explore.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

a distant sun

Without fail, I change my bedsheets on New Years Eve, whether they need changing or not. Clean from a warm shower, and slipping into fresh pyjamas and linen with the scent of lavender on my pillow seems to me to be a perfect way to end each year. There's also a ripe symbolism to it. An early night, ear plugs in if there's a party near by (which of course there always is given the occasion), a good night's sleep alone wrapped cocoon tight in a cotton shroud, and then waking up to a whole new year fresh with possibility.

It's been a few years since I celebrated the actual start of the year in the company of others. Last year the celebration was over a lunch at the farm of an old family friend before I hopped on a plane at a very quiet airport well into the evening and returned home in time to hear the party next door counting down the seconds to herald in the new year as I crawled into bed with no time to spare. The year before I ignored several invitations because I still felt down about my mother's passing earlier that year. I think the last house 'party' I hosted was when my housemate was still in the country and the half a dozen close friends who still resided nearby joined us for a dinner and to shout from the rooftop deck at the storm lightning that shared the sky with the fireworks that night. My favourite housemate and several of my closest friends moved away the following year and the prospect of them ever returning diminishes by the day.

Before then, I attended every shape of new year's celebration including house parties hosted by vibrant IT software folk that lasted for days, party 'events' filled with a sea of colourful frocks, exposed flesh random hook-ups, copious amounts of booze and queues to the bathrooms that seemed to stretch for miles, B&B places or campsites with smaller groups in remote locations where stories were shared either playing Scrabble or next to a purpose built fire on the beach. They all had something to offer both in terms of creative inspiration as well as flashes of life and intimacy.

No matter what shape or size these occasions have taken, I cannot shake that feeling of remoteness inside of me. Surrounded by people, yet alone or lonely (I am unsure there's a difference), perhaps we've all felt that at some time in our lives. For me, it feels like a permanent state, as if my mind resides on a distant sun in another universe but my body is here and I'm waiting for the light and warmth that should belong to me to reach it. I hope that some heat will make me whole one day even though it has such a long way to travel. Assuming it is not a black-hole dead star and no light will ever escape it. And, in the meantime, I am destined to constantly shake half frozen from the icy coldness that emanates from my core. I confess at work that my voicemail message often gets confused for a robot but people could be forgiven for wondering what I am.

I've had hermit leanings most of my life. It's hard to know whether my passion for writing sparked first as a 12 year old came before this or whether because of this disposition. And it's fair to say that I have really thrown myself into the long stretches of isolated writing time much more in the last few years to escape the world. Since that damned pancreatic tumor nearly killed me in 2013, I should have embraced life more but I went the other way and retreated into my shell. Mum's sudden passing from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and my subsequent MS diagnosis probably didn't help but I can only use these events as excuses because I know I am who I am and these events do no more than shape me at the margins.

The latter perhaps more so given I've been on the Wahl's Protocol all of the last year and it has proven to be remarkable in keeping me physically the healthiest I've been in decades. I would say it's forced me to give up a lot more - it's harder to have fun with friends if you cannot enjoy the small pleasures in life like a huge bowl of gluten rich pasta and several glasses of wine - though a part of me sometimes wonders if I was slipping away before I had to give up gluten, refined sugar, diary, and so many other things and spent my evenings meditating alone rather than in the company of others. Buddhism should be easier to embrace now that I've had a practice run of adjusting to abstinence on so many levels.

The last few days have been a case in point. Other than a couple of conversations with my younger brother, I have shut myself away from the world for this stretch of time to write. It's been peppered with an occasional walk and a bit of movie watching (and binging viewing a TV show called Chasing Life - yes I appreciate the irony in this choice) but mostly I've been at my computer tapping away on the key board in a frenzy of flowing story telling as I shape the third draft of my latest manuscript. Uninterrupted and procrastination aside, I realised that this is what brings me satisfaction, what makes me content. It's been the thing that stops me from checking the expiration date on my stockpile of sleeping pills. Break the glass in case of an emergency. Do not use it to colour the warm bath water red. While I haven't needed to take any pills all year - I have been sleeping so well - I am struggling with the notion that I'm walking with my eyes closed as a fringe dweller who stopped embracing life a long time ago and the reason I'm resting easy is because I am a ghost - already dead. I half expect to float away some times, dissipating as a dispersing fog forgotten.

I found creative voice in my poetry as well as the long-form novel writing this year past. It was a good year in that sense. I found myself miles away from any real connection remembering that what comes out of friendships is what is put into them. It was a bad year in that sense.

I promised to myself that I would spend a year picking a weekly activity from the Broadsheet Melbourne website and get out more. Is this a resolution? I hope not. There's not a soul to share with. Not a soul to laugh with. That's a line from one of the first poems I wrote in my early teens. It seems not much has changed in the intervening years, in between the ebb and flow of the occasional snapshot moments of intimacy between the quiet silences. Sleeping in a crisp clean bed that is not a coffin.

Friday, December 08, 2017

tangent world

people around me are talking
debating impacts of nuclear testing
this is serious stuff
but all I'm thinking
as they speak
is Sponge Bob
and that annoying conspiracy theory
a megaphone-loud shouting thought
crashing in a wave of white water
eddy swirling conceptions
the Bikini Atoll tests thinly veiled
radiated freaks reside below remnants
of a mushroom cloud.

she's got that look again
the voice seems distant
we've lost her for a while
another spray of words
not a whisper
yet miles away
I wonder
can I keep it together
concentrate and listen
hear the scaffolding structures
logically constructed
around me.

how did I find myself
in tangent world again?
if my head were a perfect circle
perhaps the lines inside it
would stay corralled
instead they shoot outwards
porcupine needles
puncturing through the perimeter
those random thoughts expressed
air pressure released.

my mind is lighter
and an idea set free
swimming untamed
among the others
bearing no resemblance to anything
spoken out loud before it
incongruous fodder for disarray
thrashing everything in its path.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

sharing my writing journey

Just a short note today to share the thank you note from the lovely ladies (and gent) from the friends of the Yarrawonga library. I spent my weekend in northern Victoria near the Murray River. Hay fever aside, it was good to be surrounded by fields of growing grains, with nothing but the sound of the breeze and many warbling local birdlife. Perfect for clearing my head and an uninterrupted sleep.

I was invited to speak by the ladies to talk about my writing experience. No book to pitch (at least not yet). Instead I provided a sample of my next manuscript (the original prologue - now shifted to later in the book at editorial request) and a couple of short stories aimed at providing some insights into both character perspective and different techniques to telling a story.

The first, Hunger, has a twelve year old female narrator and (as the narrator is a child) is told entirely in the present perspective. The story is about a home invasion and the child's response though it also covers themes of family dysfunction in circumstances that involve a largely absent father and a mother too young to be raising children. It's fair to say it's a "dark" piece. The ladies expressed strong reactions to the story, with one even asking if I could convert it to a full-length novel because the experience of the girl left her wanting to delve into this family and the before and after circumstances of this life changing event. I agreed - it would make a great full length novel so I'll add it to my life of potential ideas for books. I confessed I had a couple of projects to complete in between - I hope to write a stage play next year (converting a short story my first editor once told me would make for great theatre - she said it in a 'good way'). I also want to return to one of my old fictional families and write the fourth part of the Panopticon series.

The second, Two Days Later, is a story about two mine disposal marines and the consequences of failed communication between them after the loss of one of their mutual friends. This story is told 'backwards' so that the end is at the start - you see the consequence first and then the circumstances that led to that outcome are revealed. Okay, it was another dark story and I readily confessed that as soon as I sent this material to the group for advance reading, I realised I should have given them at least one of my whimsical stories (the one about a bee (from the perspective of the bee) landing in a pool springs to mind).

The (now former) prologue from The Peithosian Gift was told from the perspective of a woman 'possessed' (as the gent in the group described it), though technically it could be more accurately described as a puppet master than possession. (I explained the story concept to Mick afterwards though he remains convinced it can be classed as possession.)

I described my approach to these pieces of work and then answered many questions. I was not surprised that many of the ladies wondered about my background - whether I came from a military background (living in navy towns possibly gave me some inspiration but, no - my day job is a policy adviser in government). The ladies were also very curious about my sources of inspiration for the work. The first was based on a recurring dream (nightmare) I had as a child, the second took an extreme scenario of a much tamer road trip I did with a girlfriend many years ago and the third also came from a road trip with my best fabulous friend where the idea of influence in advertising was converted to a whole new world.

We talked a lot about when and why I became a writer. In summary, as a twelve year old shortly around the time I first moved from a city to the country-side, and it's been my main form of stress-relief ever since. We talked about what inspired me - this falls mainly into the categories of the fascinating . authors I read from a young age, my 'weird dreams', wide reading and passion for ideas, curiosity about many a 'what-if' question, and a mind that day-dreams a lot. I've been describing it as 'tangent world' for many years and my day-job team now recognise when my mind is wandering - apparently I get 'a look'.

One of the ladies asked how I managed through school and career with such a creative bent - did I find my English teachers supportive or obstructionist? With one exception, I have largely had teachers, colleagues and friends who have been entirely supportive of my quirk for whimsy. I have long accepted it's okay to day dream and the people who have been / are part of my life embrace the notion that as long as I deliver the goods, it's okay if my technique is not conventional. I told the ladies about the first world I created - an English project in early high school when my then English teacher (Miss Brickhill) asked us to write a story about another world. I returned an assignment as a book - new world complete with new language, culture, pictures, poetry and paintings. Suneidesis. It was a place with two suns. [This was possibly the first real evidence that I can be a bit obsessive about my work.]

One of the more interesting questions from one of the ladies was how I stopped myself from just writing about my family and my own life. The lady had read that most critics think books from first time authors are just that. I agreed - every writer has baggage they need to jettison. In my case, I got most of it out of my system by writing a piece of fiction about a girl who might have been me (if I'd made very different life choices) as my first book - Transition Girl. (I wrote it about the time I first started writing this blog, which was originally a travel blog but which has morphed into a writing blog, and, yes, it was a piece of shameless cross-promotion.) I never really liked my first book (perhaps I am a harsh critic about my own work as I have gotten some good feedback about that piece) but it did cleanse me. After that, it was MUCH easier to create and write characters that did not have a piece of me in them. (I still write a lot about dysfunctional families though, just not my own.) I mentioned to the ladies that I also use this blog to keep the 'blah' separate - so that when I write, my writing (rather than my irritation with members of my family) is the focus. I still channel emotion into my work (see comment about stress-relief earlier) - I mentioned that when I had particularly bad weeks in my day job, I would write battle scenes. Reimagining Hannibal's invasion of the Ancient Roman Empire was the product of a few really bad months. The pen is mightier than the sword - sorry, couldn't help myself.

We talked about my process. I covered the amount of preparation I do before I start writing a full length novel - the research, the story board (once done as cards on a cork board - now done on the laptop), the development of characters as I write (yes, I have favourites) and changes in direction through the drafting process as the story evolves. I also talked about how immersion in stories and characters can sometimes feel like you are spending time with a family. Sure, it's a fictional family but these are people I create.

We talked about relationships with editors. I explained the early editing of any major piece not only takes time (it's effectively the equivalent of a PhD thesis written every three years in my case) but can involve major changes in content though the collaboration with a good editor. Sometimes a dozen major redrafts before it even gets to copy editing stage. This surprised all the ladies (and gent). Trust your editor. Don't be precious about the content. Reworking usually improves the product. Stop at a certain point - you will never be happy with what you have done (nothing is ever really finished) - but you have to move on to a new project at some point.

We talked about other writers. I am personally not a fan of writers' festivals - I write in a genre that challenges many and there's a degree of competition at these events that I struggle with as an introvert. On workshops, I was perhaps a bit too scathing - the only two I've ever done started with the presenter saying they were in competition with me so they weren't going to offer any genuine insights. Figure it out yourself seemed a bit rich as a message when all of the students had paid to be there. My recommendation turned out to be a couple of books that were given to me as gifts from my first editor - my favourite being from Steven King 'On Writing'.

I managed to field questions for almost two hours. The time flew by. It was great to share some of my reflections of my writing journey with a wonderful group of avid readers.

Friday, September 15, 2017


It's been a while since my last confession. I think the last time I was here was shortly after my wonderful escape to the Kimberleys, just before I started a new role, riding the high of an unexpected crush and about to embark on a fresh round of redrafting of the latest manuscript of the Peithosian Gift. A little over two months later and I have been a productive girl - managing to create a couple of new characters that would make my editor proud, punched out some fresh poetry and ventured into a completely fresh write, delivering a short story with only a cliché as a theme to guide my effort. This last creative effort, an exploration of intergenerational karma - "what goes around comes around" - was challenging though fun.

I found myself thinking about 'belonging' as I was writing one of the new characters, Sam, for the manuscript. As a character, Sam is a boy in his late teens, with an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, who is still figuring out how to ride the manic highs and lows. He reminded me of a friend I knew in school a long time ago, who managed to survive a suicide attempt before being diagnosed. My old friend often complained about how numb he felt on his medication, and although he knew it made him better, some part of him hated that absence of joy for life. It was a price he had to pay in order to be acceptable to the crowd. Normal. I sometimes missed that intensity in him, too. To support each other, we slept-walked through the high school days we shared together, watching others seek out their home, their tribe, and conform to the group rules set for them. I suppose as a pair, my friend and I were our own clique, and we wore our fringe dwelling badge with honor.

Reflecting over that history, even though I do not have chemical imbalances in my brain like my old friend did, I was far more comfortable than him being a little different. I will readily admit there have been times in my life when I have tried to 'fit-in' - more often than not, the motivation behind that choice was a desire to stick to a path of least resistance - you are less likely to be bullied if you conform. And, as much as I preferred observing rather than participating, I loathed others noticing me (and the teasing harassment that came with it). The superpower I wished for as a teenager was to be invisible.

I have written previously about the influence my father's anti-establishment views on me. Just like my old friend of years gone by who wondered about the effect of his medication, I wonder about whether the attitudes of my father (a form of medication I was forced to take) have affected my psyche in a way that is both good and bad. The good? Is it okay to sit at the edge of a scene passing you by, watch without belonging to the players within it, accept it at face value or test what it has to say? I would say yes - what is the world without a degree of questioning? The bad? Is a never-ending sense of not-belonging, realising that there's never really been anything that filled you with passion, really a way to live? The jury is still out on the answer to that question though it's fair to say, there's at least one voice who wants to argue it is a price worth paying.

I notice it more now as I get older - the consequences of my deliberate choices over the years to steer clear of the crowd. (Moving around a lot in my youth may have contributed there - I seemed to have a talent to engage with strangers in a new town or new school in a way that connected though rarely anchored. Why engage beyond the surface when you know you are going to be living somewhere else in the time it would take to get to know someone? To the extent I invested in others, it was with those who aspired to be unseen as well. Kindred spirits, sort of.

One of those friends, who persevered with me for almost 13 years (in my 20s and early 30s), attempting to chip away at the barriers I built around myself, finally walked away offering these parting words - "in all the time I've known you, I've never really known the real you. Who are you?" It was a cruel thing to say, yet fair. To a point. I do not think anyone really knows themselves well enough to identify and understand their 'realness' let alone share that totally with any other living being. Since that particular friend's departure from my world, I have made more of an effort to hide less - especially since I've been living in the one town for a decent stretch of time. Like my old bi-polar friend in high school, there are close friends in my world now who know more about what exists in me beyond those barriers, some even know why those barriers were erected in the first place, and they accept the different beat of my defective heart.

Perhaps my teenage wish to be invisible was not because there were things I did not want others to see but because there was nothing to see. An emptiness. I am not hollow, though sometimes I think I am.

Still, I do not belong. My near-death experiences (ill-health related) have been more 'near-life' experiences (one of my favourite concepts from the film Fight Club). I have never found my home. I am not even sure if I am looking for it.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

the start of July

The winter solstice (shortest day of the year) has been and gone in Australia. The weather reports say the days are colder. I went for a walk yesterday just after dawn and let my breath create fog as the air escaped my mouth. It was bracing. Yet I was fueled by a warm glow that was not just a result of the crispness adding a rosy hue to the cheeks on my face.

Maybe it's the holiday I've just had - fulfilling an (almost) life-long dream to visit the Kimberley region in remote north western Australia, a dry summer experience in the middle of winter. Maybe it's the job offer that came at the tail end of that break - finally an opportunity to move roles after almost 13 years into a new area, which coincidentally is a role I've wanted to try for years (first time advertised in that time). Maybe it's the report back from my Beta readers - those six anonymous avid readers who invested time reading a draft on my latest manuscript and who all trumpeted the originality of the premise. Maybe it's my latest celebrity crush - a (much) younger man who I admire from afar for their writing talent as much as their adorable smile.

The walking in heat. The walking in cold. The opportunity to explore new things in my real world as well as in my writing imagination. These are the things that inspire me. It is not the middle of winter at all as I am sitting at my writing desk with my gas log fire burning, drinking chai-spiced tea to inflame the creative spark running through my veins.

I am about to start working on the third draft of the Peithosian Gift. I have lost track of the plethora of ideas for plot, character, and story structure that came to me yesterday afternoon (after a long walk where I let my mind wander through a tangent world singing songs by Neil Finn). I have a whole new character to create to help balance the moral stance I have taken in drafts one and two - even out the stakes so my readers can decide for themselves which characters are right and wrong rather than trusting my choice. I need to develop more detail about time and place, flesh out the world of the story and the characters that inhabit it. I need to decide whether one of my characters is a real saviour or just a vessel of something much stronger. I need to decide when I reveal one of the key plot twists in the story.

So much to do.

I am so excited.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

There are a lot of rocks in the Kimberleys

It's been some time since I have travelled to a remote place in the middle of nowhere for that "edge of the earth" feeling. This particular trip has been on my wish list for many years, and there have been several false starts attempting to find my way there without success. In the end, it was a safari planned by another - all in the name of breaking a travel curse that has plagued me for several years with a few major holidays cancelled due to illness during that time. (I've spent the last five months in as close to a bubble environment I could create without actually being the "no touching" Bubble Girl - all to avoid infections that might knock me over before I could fly. It paid off. The curse is broken, finally!)

The Kimberleys region in far north western Australia has been number one on my must see places for as long as I can remember, probably first desired not long after I caught the bug as a child accompanying my parents travelling across the globe. Along with the World Heritage listed Bungle Bungles, it is unquestionably known as a place of natural beauty. It is pretty much on every list of places to see before you die for natural wonders of the world. It is also a place where, if you say you are going "off-grid", it is true. Over the vast expanse of land out there, there is no access to phone or internet. For this aspect alone, it was a miracle to be free to connect with only the surroundings unchained from the world wide web.

I went "old-school" - packing my journal and camera along with hiking boots and swimming* gear among essential clothing, and as much sunscreen and insect repellent as I could carry. (The Australian sun is harsh, capable of burning skin in as little as 5 minutes, and the bug life here can have a nasty bite.) This was about as much preparation required in an otherwise completely personalised experience, courtesy of Helispirit Safaris. No expense spared, two years of my travel budget savings blown in one trip, enabled by two friends willing to do the same, we had our own pilot (Sam) and helicopter able to take us to places no car could ever reach. (An experienced hiker might be able to do in several months what we did in six days). (*Swimming is only possible in rock pools on the plateaus above the salt waterways and sea - too many salt-water crocodiles with their vice-like jaws hidden in the mud and shade.)

I won't gloat with blow by blow details of all the incredible places we stopped and explored during our flight across this extraordinary land. A map of our path is shown below.

But I will say this - there are a lot of rocks in the Kimberleys. This place would be a geologist's wet dream. I hiked over sand, through gorges, over many river stones, and across rocks and boulders of varying sizes, scaling and slipping my way awkwardly on walks of varying difficulty (Grade 2 through to 5). This included crawling through a cave into a pitch black cavern (with only forehead torches to light up our way). After a particularly abundant rain soaked wet season, there are also a plethora of waterfalls cascading over some of the red rocks. Of course, we see faces in the rocks, we cannot help ourselves. There is a word for this phenomenon, how we humanize things, it's called paradolia. Yet there are micro-organisms in the rock - for example, bacteria coat the stone in the Bungle Bungles, protect the sand from erosion. It is alive!

Sunrises and sunsets over the coastline barely touched by any human took my breath away. As did the aerial views of rivers fanned by mudflats, multiple varieties of mangroves and the turquoise sea lapping the land. The colour in these surroundings is eye-popping bright.

It takes a bit of effort to see the wildlife that resides in this remote land. But there is a wealth of birds (ospreys, sea eagles, kytes to name a few), fish (red perch, barramundi, golden salmon), turtles and frogs (splendida tree frogs are native, alas the cane toads are not). These are mostly harmless, as are the orb spiders. The same cannot be said for the snakes and crocodiles. I confess, the birdlife was so impressive, I purchased a copy of the "Field Guide to Birds of Australia" on my return home. Bird watching has been an incidental bonus of my hiking pursuits but it's time to get serious and accept I should embrace this part of my inner Thoreau personality as an ongoing hobby proper. The flora was also interesting (trees thriving as they clung to cliff faces). Allergies aside, the red flowers of native wild grevillea a unique light in the surrounding green.

No travel report is complete without some reflection on the spiritual insights acquired when standing in the middle of nowhere. In truth, the journey was over before it really started - there was barely enough time to take in the remoteness. (There was much more written in my private journal which will remain so.) A few more months would have made this version of mindfulness a fulsome commune between nature and my inner-self. The local walks near my home will allow me the time for more head-clearing, purging the past, embracing the now, and letting go of any anxiety about what the future holds.