An anniversary of plotting

The writing desk

In February as I was embarking on all things Fringe and Festival, I marked my second anniversary on the WIP, or better known amongst friends and family as “the writing saga.”

Little did I know when the inspiration for this story first popped into my head where the subsequent journey would lead. Two years later while I have a better idea of the path ahead, well at least of the plotline to my story with its working title Searching for Orlena, that alluring mystery still remains.

Even now I can still recall quite clearly my lightbulb moment. I was pondering over a book I had just finished reading. I must point out that writing anything, whether it be a blog post, short story, non-fiction book or novel, was the last thing I had on my mind.

Anyway I digress. On the night when inspiration struck there I was with the finished book sitting in lap as I was digesting what I believed to be a less than satisfactory end to the story. I was actually somewhat angry at some of the behaviours and attitudes of the characters and before I knew it the following lightbulb switched on in my head…

Just what motivates people to do what they do? Why does someone choose to go down a path that seems quite unfathomable and out of character?

From that little philosophical moment a germ of an idea grew that two years later is still growing, even if it is a little slower than I anticipated.

While there were other story ideas that I had been musing on for years, and to a certain point are still at the back of my mind bubbling away, this is the one that for now has got the most legs. It is also a great reminder how inspiration can strike you when you least expect it.

I’m still surprised that this flash of inspiration wasn’t during a writing session, an even rarer occurrence back then compared to now. 

So this two year journey has been however one of relevation, not only of the story itself but also in my approach to writing.

Over the years I’ve regarded myself more of a ‘pantser’ than a ‘plotter’, probably due to the fact that as a journalist and media/communications consultant I am usually able to write to a deadline with speed. Even at university I was also able to write most of my essays with very little review or rewrite. However there was the odd that was like like drawing blood out of a stone.

However this WIP has proven I can do the plotter bit too. I suspect this is due to a couple of things, one being that it is the longest long-form of writing I have done in quite some time and the other is that there is no pressing external deadline to write to, except my own. Already I’ve missed my first imposed deadline which was to have the first draft done by the end of last year. At least I can still say here I am still tapping away at it. 

The other factor that I feel contributes to the plotter element is with this WIP being a work of historical fiction I am forced fto stop the writing process from time to time to make sure the facts line up. Then there is this blog which needs feeding every now and again but I enjoy this side of the writing process too. It provides a great avenue to enable me to contemplate my broader world away from the WIP and indulge in other writing projects such as my recent reviews of the 2019 Adelaide Festival.

Many writers have written about the psychological aspect of writing and that little demon that is such a part and parcel of the writing life that questions the work you are doing. Believe me I’ve had those moments too. The thought bubble, that comes up for air every now and then, is if I have actually bitten off more than I can chew.

Until now I haven’t mentioned much about the plot for Searching for Orlena on this blogsite, partially as I didn’t think I was ready to talk about it, but also because describing it is a bit of a struggle. To be honest even now two years later, I am really not sure what genre it is and I suspect any such label may not become apparent until the first draft is complete.

One of the ways I describe the work to people is as an erotic spy thriller/historical novel with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

I think you get the picture for my confusion.

I can also reveal that Searching for Orlena is a complex multi-generational tale set in France and Australia and spans a timeline from the 1930s to the early 21st century.

I often describe writing as a bit of a journey and with Searching for Orlena I can say it really is. One of the things I have loved with this project is how some of the ideas that have come to me as part of the storyline, while initially seem far fetched, do in fact on closer examination line up. It is always the loveliest surprise and provides some validation to the concept and the work. I am in awe as the characters reveal themselves to me and take me to places I didn’t expect them to go.

To help and support me along the way I am a member of a couple of Facebook writing groups and they have definitely proven to be a writing cheer squad. Recently I came across a post on one of these group pages which I found particularly enlightening. The author spoke about the joy writing gave her and how publication for her was not the end goal.

It made me wonder just what it was that I am seeking with Searching for Orlena and just why I am prepared to continue with it two years in, other than just believing in the story (admittedly an important step). I can confirm that publication is the ultimate aim in this journey.

However in the meantime there is a comfort when I am able to engage in my own private writing whether it is the book or the blog. These snatched private writing moments indeed provide a stress release which on one level does seem paradoxical for someone who is lucky enough to write for a living. I believe this could be because I am letting my own thoughts, hopes and beliefs have a life.

The main thing above all else is that I am still writing! Let this journey continue.

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Adelaide Festival Review: Pictures at an Exhibition (Quilty, the Violet Ballet, the earth sighed… and Grand Finale)

Self portrait (Ben Quilty)

As the curtain falls on the 2019 Adelaide Festival, the @adelaidefestival visual arts program was a feast for the senses encompassing the harrowing reality of Afghanistan to questions on the health of our planet and a salute to one of the 20th century’s cultural icons – the Ballet Russes.

While the main festival program has now come to a close, some of the visual arts exhibitions will continue into the coming weeks, providing one with a chance to overcome festival withdrawal symptoms.

Beautifully rich in humanity, Quilty is a wonderful exhibition that skilfully captures the career of one of Australia’s top contemporary artists, Ben Quilty. His thought provoking works are an important commentary on 21st century Australia.

While the exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia has been described as a retrospective of his work, there are only a couple of pieces from the early Torana series, along with his 2011 Archibald winning portrait of Margaret Olley. Instead curator Lisa Slade has concentrated on more recent series that highlight his increasing push for social justice. These cover such topics as the plight of refugees, acknowledging Australia’s frontier wars and his campaign to save the lives of Bali Nine pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

My work is about working out how to live in this world, it’s about compassion and empathy but also anger and resistance. Through it I hope to push compassion to the front of national debate.

(Ben Quilty)

It is an emotional exhibition. Some works such as The Last Supper, painted at the time of Trump’s rise to the U.S presidency noisily clamour for attention; while others, such as the haunting Seeking Refuge or the despair of the returning soldiers such as Captain Kate Porter featured in the Afghanistan and After series, lead to quiet introspection and thought.

Quilty is an emotional exhibition that illustrates the energy, passion and empathy of this remarkable artist and of his genuine drive through his art to give a voice to those who are unable to get their message out.

and the earth sighed…

and the earth sighed… at the South Australian Museum is an absolutely fascinating and riveting immersive experience that draws you into Australia’s vast landscapes.

Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski, combine cinema and aerial photography (via drones) to comment on the our relationship with that landscape.

This stunning installation brilliantly brings home the impact of climate change on our fragile continent. The large scale floor projections show us how our environment is changing now and not at some far off future point. While embracing the moment as you watch the projections unfold, you are also aware of an urgency to the questions and the earth sighed… raise. It’s powerful and moving with the images lingering with you long after you leave.

What’s behind the curtain? The Violet Ballet.

Sally Smart’s The Violet Ballet is another immersive multi-media experience that pays homage to the Ballet Russes through a combination of collage, video, text and Indonesian wayang (shadow puppetry).

It is a wonderful kaleidoscope of colour, movement and sound as Smart, one of Australia’s foremost contemporary artists, makes a triumphant return to her home state. In The Violet Ballet she looks particularly at Ballet Russes’ production of Chout, performed in 1921. It is a macabre story that provides an opportunity for Smart to reset it to the 21st century through a lens that also includes the legacy of colonialism and orientalism.

Here they are leaping across, puncturing surfaces, assembling themselves on the go

Out of scraps, swirls,

Out of feeling passed on as movements…

Movements passed on as feelings.

(The Violet Ballet)

Just like a collage, the medium that Smart is best known for, The Violet Ballet is a multi layered work that is open to many interpretations. The Ballet Russes made a deep impact on early 20th century dance, art and music. This exhibition clearly illustrates how their legacy continues to influence artists such as Smart almost a century later.

Although not part of the visual arts program, as this is my final Adelaide Festival 2019 review it would be remiss if I didn’t include commentary on my final AF event – the extraordinary Grand Finale by the Hofesh Schechter Company.

This is a dance for the end of time as this phenomenal work takes your breath away. Grand Finale is an explosion of sound and movement; it is powerful, arresting and just beautiful on so many levels. There is an allure in the macabre.

Sitting in Festival Theatre just hours after the harrowing events in Christchurch, it seemed somewhat fitting to contemplate on the things human beings do to each other through this mesmerising work described by artistic director Hofesh Schechter as an apocalpytic response.

Despite the bleak undertones in Grand Finale as it grapples with the themes of death, disaster and disintegration; there is also a message of hope and resilience. There is a wonderful moment during the interval when the show’s musicians lead the audience on a brief sing a long.

In a festival that had so many wow factor moments for me Grand Finale was indeed the stand out of the 2019 Adelaide Festival.

Other highlights of this year’s program included the heartbreaking beauty of the Another Life: Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys exhibition, Kassem Eid’s poignant description of the day his village in Syria was subject to a chemical attack by the Assad regime during Adelaide Writers’ Week; and By Heart, the moving and inspiring love letter to books and words.

In an uncertain world, Adelaide Festival 2019 was ultimately a celebration of our humanity. For 18 days we stopped, paused and remembered that there is in fact more that unites than divides us. To Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy, along with the rest of the AF team, thanks for enthralling, entertaining and challenging us with a brilliant program. I for one already can’t wait to do it all again next year.

Quilty is showing at the Art Gallery of South Australia until Sunday 2 June. Admission is free. For more details visit https://www.agsa.sa.gov.au/

The Violet Ballet is showing at ACE Open, Lion Arts Centre until Saturday, 27 April. Admission is free. For more details visit https://aceopen.art/

And it’s goodbye from Elder Park and The Palais.

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Adelaide Festival Review: Musical notes (Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Picaresque and Forces of Nature)

One of the joys of the Adelaide Festival is how over the space of one glorious fortnight Radelaide becomes the epicentre of the performing arts world as national and international acts descend on this city.

This was definitely the case with the 2019 Adelaide Festival’s music program as local legends including Tim Minchin, Richard Tognetti, Robyn Archer and Paul Kelly, shared the bill alongside such international acts as cello superstar Natalie Clein and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, currently regarded as one of the best orchestras in the world.

This orchestra definitely delivered on that hype with their  program one  – Schubert’s Symphony No.3 in D major and Bruckner’s Symphony No.4 in E-flat major – at Adelaide Town Hall.

Comprising of 45 musicians from 20 countries, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is considered a democratic orchestra, and being no classical music expert (despite my love for it), I did wonder on its chamber label. Thankfully my companion for the evening put me straight, pointing out that any group comprising of less than 50 musicians can be regarded as a chamber ensemble.

Despite their numbers the playing is intimate. It is clear that under the direction of Conductor Laureate Daniel Harding this is a tight knit orchestra.

My overriding sense on listening to both the Schubert and Brucker in performance was one of majesty.  The Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s vibrancy, tonality and contrast was just sublime. To me this was simply classical music at their best; a view supported by the enthusiastic and appreciative reaction from the audience at the end of the night.

While the Mahler Chamber Orchestra was bringing international brilliance to Adelaide, our own local legend Robyn Archer was taking us on a magical mystery ride around the world in 60 minutes with the very clever Picaresque.

Against the backdrop of 200 marquettes, collected over 40 years of travels which she describes as evidence of her carbon footprint walk of shame; Archer brilliantly and skilfully reviews her career and travels through song. Virtuoso accordionist George Butrumlis provides wonderful support as the duo literally busk their way through a cardboard world.

The associated exhibition, which also includes other travel memorabilia such as hotel do not disturb signs, airline menus, ticket stubs, and baggage labels; illustrates an extraordinary international cabaret career. It is however her vocal and musical prowess that confirms just what a talent she is as she performs songs from the Great American songbook, Bertolt Brecht, Dean Martin and a yodelling tribute to Mary Schneider. At the show’s core is Archer’s passion for the music. Picaresque is a work from the heart.

Part of Robyn Archer’s minature world, just some of the marquettes that inspired Picaresque

Then there was another National Living Treasure to catch up on – Richard Tognetti. This time joining forces with Erin Helyard to present Forces of Nature. An absolutely wondrous program that featured Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in G major and Violin Sonata in A major, along with Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat major.

Forces of Nature celebrated a pivotal period in chamber musical history as it reflected on a changing era as the Age of Reason, epitomised by Mozart, gave way to the birth of romanticism, embraced by Beethoven. Tognetti on violin and Helyard on fortepiano brilliantly capture the emotion, colour and passion of this important time. The shades of lights and dark in all three pieces were sublimely captured by this duo.

Their explanation of the social mating rituals associated with chamber music provided a wondrously humorous touch to the evening. This was a time when the woman’s place was strictly either playing the piano, the harp or singing, with the violin a male domain until Mozart met Regina Strinasacchi. The sonata in B-flat major was written especially for her. As the notes from this piece wafted through the Adelaide Town Hall, I not only thanked Mozart for overturning musical and social conventions of his time but for the fabulousness that was Tognetti and Helyard with their passion and virtuosity.

Picaresque continues through to Sunday 17 March 2019 at the Banquet Room, Adelaide Festival Centre. For further information on this show and other Adelaide Festival productions visit www.adelaidefestival.com.au

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Adelaide Writers’ Week 2019 Review: Telling Truths 2

Isn’t this the most beautiful setting for a writers’ festival? (David Marr)

One of the highlights of the Mad March period here in Adelaide is the wonderful Adelaide Writers’ Week (#AdlWW).

As the incomparable David Marr asked as he surveyed the crowd before him from East Stage; “isn’t this the most beautiful setting for a writers’ festival?” Having sat under the trees of the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens for six days in March for many a year, I can only but agree.

Marr is indeed a living national treasure and he was in full flight during this year’s event; either reviewing an extraordinary career with his memoir My Country, or while chairing the Writers on Writers session with Bernadette Brennan and Ceridwen Dovey. His sparring with the equally legendary Kerry O’Brien during O’Brien’s own memoir discussion was an #AdlWW highlight. I am subtitling that session the battle of the memoirs.

True legends: David Marr and Kerry O’Brien

With a new look and a new director Jo Dyer, #AdlWW once again didn’t disappoint. As flagged in my overview blog of week 1 of @adelaidefestival, the core theme of Telling Truths was also a central part of this year’s #AdlWW conversations. In an era where the truth is increasingly a fragile commodity, questions such as – what is truth, what truths are we telling, who can tell certain truths and what happens when truth is suppressed? Were raised over the six days.

In the early 21st century there is no greater debate on truth and which voices are being listened to than in the area of asylum seekers and refugees. This conversation was kicked off right at the outset of #AdlWW with Gillian Triggs on her memoir Speaking Up.

Triggs let the facts, rather than her personal experiences, tell the story as she covered a range of topics including refugees, human rights and gender equality. Her grace, compassion and rigorous search for the truth shone through.

Here in Australia our understanding of the refugee story tends to occur at a political level, either through activists and intermediaries such as Triggs or our politicians. However this year’s #AdlWW provided opportunities to hear the refugee story first hand as Ben Okri, Kassem Eid, Sisonke Msimang and Future D. Fidel revealed their truths.

For me one of the great moments I have ever encountered at an #AdlWW was Kassem Eid’s poignant description of the day his village in Syria was subject to a chemical attack by the Assad regime. Describing it like “the day of judgement” the whole audience shared his anguish, his confusion and ultimately his anger on the events that unfolded during and immediately after the attack. Living the experience with him, the audience was so riveted that it seemed that you could virtually hear a pin drop. Special mention must also go to session chair Jon Jureidini on his sensitivity, allowing Eid the space to tell his story in his own time.

Nazanin Sahamizadeh’s account of bringing the play Manus to light, based on Behrouz Boochani’s award winning book No Friend but the Mountain provided another intriguing angle to the refugee/asylum seek tale.

All I have is my art and as a person of peace my art is what I have to make a difference (Nazanin Sahamizadeh)

Investigating just whose truth we are telling was another fascinating topic among the #AdlWW conversations. For those of us who have a voice, do we have a right to speak for others? This is a question that seems to be particularly fraught when dealing with the Holocaust, as discussed by Morris Gleitzman, Bram Presser and Maria Tumarkin.

It was also one of the questions at the core of the analysis on white/black relations whether it was Australia’s shameful Aboriginal past, post-Apartheid South Africa or the slave story of the Americas. Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, Reg Dodd and Malcolm McKinnon with Talking Sideways, Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip, Aunty Sue Blacklock and Lyndall Ryan with Remembering Myall Creek, Marlene van Niekerk and her body of work, Ndaba Mandela with Going to the Mountain, Patrick Nunn with The Edge of Memory and Molly Murn’s Heart of the Grass Tree; all contemplated this vexed issue. In some of these cases the prism of class relations was also applied.

While historical fiction can, to a certain extent, circumvent the question over who can discuss certain truths, nearly every writer of this genre pointed out how behind their fiction the facts still matter. The experience of the World War II comfort women, depicted in Jing-Jing Lee’s How We Disappeared, is also a story of her Grandparents generation, while Gina Apostol looks at the tricky history of the Philippines and United States, juxtaposed with today’s Philippines under Duterte in Insurrecto. Rebecca Makkai brings back the AIDS era of the 1980s with The Great Believers, Andrew Miller looks at the impact of the Napoleonic Wars on its combatants in Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, while Amy Sackville recreates the court of Spain’s King Philip IV through the life and times of the great Baroque painter Diego Velazquez in Painter to the King.

An always exciting element of #AdlWW is the introduction to new authors, particularly international writers. With quite a few debut writers generating significant buzz within the book world over the past year, it was no suprise that #AdlWW 2019 featured a considerable number of this new wave to the program. MUD Literary Prize winner Trent Dalton (Boy Swallows Universe) led the crop of first time Australian authors accompanied by Chris Hammer (Scrublands), Margaret Morgan (The Second Cure), Molly Murn (Heart of the Glass Tree), J.P. Pomare (Call Me Evie) and Jane Harper (The Dry). International debuts included Annaleese Jochems (Baby), Oyinkan Braithwaite (My Sister the Serial Killer), Singapore’s Jing Jing Lee (How We Disappeared) and Preti Taneja (We That Are Young).

Winner of the 2019 MUD Literary Prize Trent Dalton (Boy Swallows Universe) with Yours Truly

Debut writers from the non-fiction ranks included Gabrielle Chan (Rusted Off), Soraya Chemaly (Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger), Kassem Eid (My Country), Ginger Gorman (Troll Hunting), Ndaba Mandela (Going to the Mountain: Life Lessons from My Grandfather), Rick Morton (One Hundred Years of Dirt), Sarah Smarsh (Heartland) and Sujatha Gidla (Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India).

Finally, you can’t discuss the theme of Talking Truths without involving politics and politicians and #AdlWW had plenty of them and some of the leading political commentators on hand to look at the 2019 political landscape both globally and internationally. Whether it is the dawn of Eurasia, the ascendency of China, the Disunited States, the rise of the right or recent events in Canberra; there was plenty of fodder for a political junkee like me.

The Hon. Bob Carr, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, George Megalogenis, Fiona Patten, Bruno Maçães, Richard McGregor, Bernard Keane, Katharine Murphy, Don Watson, Carolin Emke, Nancy MacLean, Damien Cave and Jeff Sparrow brought national and global geopolitics and issues to the stage.

There is so much more I could say about #AdlWW. I haven’t even touched on the various conversations over such social issues as cyber bullying and hate, gender relations, the rise of AI (artificial intelligence), mental illness and rape/domestic violence.

This year’s event included several new initiatives such as the opening address (given this year by Ben Okri), twilight talks, the Zeitgeist Series at Elder Hall, the New York Times Crossword Challenge, the Middle and YA Readers Day and the Queerstories event. These events all provided an opportunity for new voices and truths to be contemplated and discussed.

To Jo Dyer and her hardworking team, thank you for a wonderful six days in March and I am looking forward already to the 2020 #AdlWW. In the meantime there is always the pile of books I brought home via the book tent to sustain me for the next 365 days.

I don’t read for the distraction, I read for the hunger. I read to save my life. (Ben Okri).

Oops, visited the book tent. I wanted to get so many more…
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Adelaide Festival review – Week 1: Telling Truths

With 10 days of @AdelaideFestival now under my belt, the theme of Adelaide Writer’s Week – Telling Truths – has also very much been a constant part of my broader festival journey.

How we reveal, tell and interpret truths has been explored, investigated and dissected through a myriad of ways. From the hauntingly beautiful photojournalism of Another Life:Human Flows/Unknown Odyssey’s at the QBE Gallery (Festival Centre Foyer), the chaotic dislocation of Sri Lanka’s Civil War in Counting and Cracking, revealing the power of words and memory with By Heart, to the physicality of the Man with the Iron Neck. At the core of all these is the most important question – what is the truth, whose truth are we telling and who can reveal what truths?

Having fallen in love with photojournalism since a teenager, one of the inspirations behind my decision to seek a career in journalism, I believe in the power of the camera. The truth that it reveals is stark. There is no-where to hide and this is exquisitely the case with Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys.

The exhibition from the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography involves 26 photographers, including some of the best photojournalists in the world and features 160 works chronicling the drama, despair, hope and humanness of the refugee flow out of Africa into Europe in 2015/2016.

Curator Hercules Papaioannou says the aim of the exhibition is to show how people seeking a safe haven is not a new thing. It has been with us for millennia. Photography, since its inception, has been the medium that has powerfully illustrated the modern history of the dispossessed. Yet Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys documents a change in that gaze. Possibly thanks to the internet, the refugees of the 21st century are no longer apathetic or oblivious towards photography. Not only do they allow others to document their journey undertaken in the hope for a better life, for safety, but also use selfies to depict their gaze as they look out on an uncaring world.

Those who do not have much to lose, do not hesitate to expose their nakedness, without knowing exactly how their image will be used. Their only hope lies to its excessive and exaggerated strength. (Hercules Papaionnou, Curator Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys)

Hercules Papaionnou, Curator – Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys

It is an unflinching, brutal and haunting but also a beautiful exhibition. I recommend that you take the time to absorb all that is portrayed before you, particularly the images rolling on the two TV screens. If you truly want to understand the human condition or are just a lover of the power of photography, this is a must see.

It is also worth noting that during the past week one of the doyens of international photojournalism, Reuters’ Yannis Behrakis, who has captured the best and worst of humankind in the late 20th and early 21st centuries sadly passed away. Some of his Pulitzer Prize winning photos on the exodus feature in this exhibition.

The search of a better life and what prompts someone to flee their country is also at the centre of the joint Belvoir and Co-curious joint theatre production of Counting and Cracking. This account of the Australian refugee/migrant experience is set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war.

Set in both Colombo and Sydney, Counting and Cracking covers a 50 year time span involving 16 actors from five countries who effortlessly switch languages to provide a voice to the migrant experience with its associated tensions between the old world and the new, between young and old. Playwright S. Shakthiharan has fused his own family experience with others from the Sri Lankan diaspora to create an epic saga told with humour, empathy and poignancy.

The minimalist specially created theatre set in the Ridley Centre at Adelaide Showgrounds enables time and place to be transcended effortlessly. It is easy to imagine yourself in the tropical heat of Colombo or the dry scape of Sydney’s western suburbs.

For one who was not overly aware of the background to this long running civil war, watching how a country can so easily descend into chaos and the impact of such events on families and lives change in an instant, was an eye opener. It is also a brilliant commentary on the insidious nature of Australia’s current asylum policies. This is very much a play for our times that also reinforces not only what it can mean to be an Australian in the 21st century but also our humanness.

Fittingly with Writer’s Week still raging in the background, Teatro National D. production of By Heart with Tiago Rodrigues, reveals the truth of words and memory. It is a beautiful work that brilliantly and passionately celebrates words, memory and love – which together is a very powerful combination.

In each performance, 10 audience members are asked to join Rodrigues on stage to learn a poem by heart with Yours Truly one of those volunteers. As we take on the task he weaves a magical tale that links his grandmother, Boris Pasternak, a Dutch television show, George Steiner, Farenheit 451 and the greatest storyteller of them all – Shakespeare.

From the stage and I suspect it is the same from the audience’s perspective, you are held spellbound. This is a collective experience. Like a choir master, Rodrigues’ warmth, humour and patience puts those of us on stage learning the poem at ease. When one of my fellow volunteers admits that it is French, not English, that is her first language, he breaks out into fluent French. Yet despite a few nerve wracking moments, in the end the 10 of us all combine together to recite the poem – by heart. 

Thought provoking, inspiring, funny and moving. Ultimately By Heart is a love letter to books and words and how in a period where truth is questioned, our memory of stories not only helps to keep them alive, but I suspect us as well. It is simply theatre at its best.  

Tiago Rodriges in By Heart.

Finally the painful truth of youth suicide, which has reached epidemic proportions in too many Aboriginal communities, is cleverly confronted and investigated with the Legs on the Wall production of Man with the Iron Neck

The use of physical theatre and video in this engrossing work generates an energy that permeates throughout the whole production. While this is a story told from the Aboriginal perspective, it sensitively crosses the cultural divide to shine a light on the devastating impacts of suicide. This is an issue that has no boundaries.

Man with the Iron Neck is important Australian theatre. While suicide and mental health is at its heart, the Aboriginal cast and writers have superbly illustrated how the direct and indirect truama suffered by their people through colonisation and ongoing disadvantage, provides that final breaking point that has led to so many, like Bear, in this story, to decide to take this most final of steps. 

This is a message that resonates on so many levels. 

In an era where truth is constantly questioned the seeking and telling of truth is of paramount importance. Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy with this 2019 Adelaide Festival program are shining a wonderful light on our truthtellers. The reviews above are only a small sippet of my 2019 @AdelaideFestival journey undertaken so far with seven days still to go.

A summary of Adelaide Writers’ Week and the musical notes enountered with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Robyn Archer’s Picaresque will be the subject of separate posts. 

I can’t wait for what the remaining seven days will bring. 

The 2019 Adelaide Festival continues through to 17 March. For further information on the program and events visit adelaidefestival.com.au 

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Fringe Review: Honest

IMG_5802I suspect most of us have our moments in the workplace; whether it is our workloads, the boss who seems supremely unqualified to manage people, led alone their job, or the numbing paperwork requirements of HR.

Then there’s that minefield of the office drinks when you have had that unwise one drink too many.

So it’s only natural that working for the man, or the system, has provided much fodder for creatives over the years. For me some of the best examples being The Office, The Hollowmen and Utopia.

DC Moore’s satire ‘Honest’ has added to the working life genre with a wonderful one man exploration of the world view of a British Civil Servant (Public Servant here in Australia). It’s Australian Premiere at the Adelaide Fringe, performed by Matt Hyde is a delight.

Although set in England and primarily centred on those in the government employ, this is a work that transcends geography and space. No matter what your working background is, whether it is public or private, Matt Hyde’s Dave is really Everyman, there is something in this work that we can all relate to.

With The Treasury bar providing the perfect backdrop, Dave is at a work function and as the night progresses and the alcohol starts to take effect we come to find out just what he thinks of his workplace and his colleagues, most particularly his boss.

The nods and laughter of the audience acknowledges that this is a shared space with Dave, most of us have probably been in his shoes at least once in our working lives. His commentary on the naming of Government departments and sections is a classic highlight.

As the work function reaches its predictable crescendo, we then follow Dave through a drunken tour of London. Matt Hyde so eloquently takes us through this journey that we’re strapped in with Dave for the ride. The attempted ordering of a Big Mac is spot on.

The stunning twist at the end is an added layer to a gorgeous tale that while on one level looks at the mundane and ordinary, reaffirms the beauty of life.

Modern life with all its dramas and pitfalls, and how we interact with others, is cleverly explored here. Matt Hyde is brilliant and engaging as Dave. This one-man show is simple story telling at its best.

If you ever had one of those work drink moments or work in the public sector, this show is for you. Ultimately no matter your working background this is a show that’s not to be missed.

Honest is performing at Treasury 1860, 144 King William St, Adelaide until 3 March. Tickets $25 ($20 concession). For more details visit http://www.adelaidefringe.com.au

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Hot in the city

Hot in the city

It’s been a tad warm in my home town this month.

Adelaide as long been described as the driest city, in the driest state, in the driest continent. This summer has seen no exception to that description.

Having said that it has been an unusual summer, even by Radelaide’s standards.

Yep this city decided to go out and recreate the fires of hell with the peak of the heatwave breaking an 80 year old record as the mercury rose beyond 46C.

Needless to say this is a weather record that I really don’t want see broken again for a little while.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it meant the last two weeks of high temperatures saw any chance of writing going out of the window.

On our record breaking day and even with the air conditioner going full tilt, the creative impulse just dried up. It became even worse when the power went off at 10.30pm that night at the slightly cooler temperature of 35C. If the brain wasn’t fried at that point (and it wasn’t overly happy) it certainly melted after that.

Cooler climes have now mercifully returned and being a long weekend I have been able to squeeze in a couple of writing stints, although not enough to make up for the lost time.

So the #100DaysOfWriting challenge mark II has had somewhat mixed results this month.

It hasn’t been, I am pleased to report, all doom and gloom. The first two weeks of January, saw some progress before the temperatures soared,with a significant milestone met when the WIP passed the 10,000 word mark.

Another step forward, was trying new ways to squeeze in writing time. For the first time ever I started writing first thing in the morning before heading off to work. Before the weather kicked in, along with nights of little sleep, this approach helped build a slight bit of momentum up and it is something I am actively trying to get going again.

With the new year and new approach, I started using a hard copy notebook again, so I can more readily capture those moments of inspiration, before they flew away. This was also a helpful part of the process and it seemed that finally I might be getting into some sort of groove, then disaster struck…

Family commitments, hectic days at work and a virus started to play havoc with the routine. The advent of the hot weather was the final straw and the momentum was once again broken. Another case of one step forward and two steps back.

After this latest round of frustration and self-flagellation, which is I am fast learning is part and parcel of the writing life; the words are thankfully flowing again.

So having been impacted by the weather and as the Australia Day long weekend comes to a close as I write; it seemed appropriate to reflect on summer life Down Under. I don’t know about you but every time I think about this particular season, more than any other, childhood memories come to the fore.

I suspect that in coinciding with the long school break it is a time that speaks of being carefree.

Looking back, a picture unfolds of days at the beach; of bikinis, salt water, the hot sand between your toes and looking for starfish among the rock pools. If it wasn’t the seaside, there were pool parties either in your backyard or at the neighbours’ and where one learnt to swim armed with Floaties.

In the rare moments you were inside, the TV was all about the cricket or tennis. During the breaks, if the weather allowed, you would be back outside emulating your heroes by bashing the tennis ball against the wall or a hit of totem tennis. If there were enough of you around, it would be a quick innings of backyard cricket.

It was a time of BBQ dinners, lime cordial, dixie ice cream cups (complete with little wooden spoons) and Sunnyboys. In fact now that Violet Crumbles and Pollywaffles are coming back into our lives, I feel the need to start a campaign to bring back Sunnyboys. Those orange frozen triangles along with their dairy version – Snips – were a fabulous way to beat the heat. Kids you don’t know what you are missing!

Despite Mum applying layers of sun screen all over me I still managed to one major sunburn each summer. If that wasn’t enough, my teenage years saw myself and school friends eagerly sitting along the balcony of Gillam Building trying to tan our legs. I think it was the only time we were quite happy to wear our school straw hats. Despite all efforts, including an attempt at fake tan, my legs stubbonly remained either lily white or bright red.

So far my skin seems to be OK against such moments, but for how long I fear. Those South Australian and Northern Territory youthful summers are a key reason why I now try to avoid being out in direct sunlight at the peak of the day.

There were times when the Adelaide and Alice Springs summers of my youth were at times too endless, like last week’s heat.

Despite enduring days of 40 plus heat with no air conditioned cars (something I am actually facing again this summer), resorting to fans to keep the house cool and tiled floors usually a more attractive mattress than your own bed at night; we somehow managed to survive.

Australia is certainly a land of contrasts and summer is the season that illustrates this best. Away from the benign, lazy golden days that we love it also brings bushfires, droughts and flooding rains. They are the ferocious part of an Australian summer.

Our summers are certainly legendary for all the right and wrong reasons and I am glad that it has been such a spectacular part of my life. Despite it often not being a great time of the year to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard, there is certainly something about it when she sparkles back at me across the page or screen.

Photo credit: Catherine Boomer, a fellow traveller in the writing process. You can follow her journey at https://catherineboomer.com

 

 

 

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Another year and new writing adventures dawn

Happy New Year dear readers.

Yes, it has been a while since I was last on the blog, a hiatus I can partially blame on writers’ block once again. Sigh.

While crossbordertales has had a rollercoaster ride with many starts and stops, I am pleased to report the past 12 months has been its busiest year with the grand total of 12 blogs!

Over the past eight years whenever I have sat down to post on this site, admittedly not as often as I would have liked, I have never been short of a topic and the words have seemingly flown onto the screen. However in November the yips struck… two blogs just didn’t work!

As you may recall, I acknowledged a case of writer’s block in my July blog – Creativity through tears – following the sudden and untimely death of my brother. Interestingly I was never overly concerned at the time as I understood it to be a natural part of the grief process. However when it struck again in November however I just couldn’t explain the why or wherefore of the abyss, other than the rest of my life was incredibly busy at the time. Maybe it was just case of trying to do too much and not providing a space for contemplation and absorption for writing.

So rather than force something onto you all at the time something that was not quite right, I decided to take a break. Given the whirlwind that the end of the year ended up being it was I think in hindsight a wise move although I was very grumpy about it at the time.

So here I am sitting at the computer on 1 January 2019, with the Festive season shenanigans now over. Thankfully the words are flowing once again – phew! Yes the break seems to have done me some good.

So given it is the first day of the new year, it is time to look back on the year that was and contemplate my writing plans for 2019. This year for the first time I am avoiding the big resolution declaration to concentrate rather on smaller goals, one of which was to write today, so already there is a tick. I believe that given the curveballs and surprises that can occur, especially with the year that has just gone, it is probably a more realistic outlook.

So back to 2018… just how did it go?

It was however a target that initially seemed to be on track during the first quarter of the year, despite some competing priorities, until the end of April when my brother’s untimely and sudden death brought things to a crashing halt.

For those who have been on this journey all the way through you will probably recall my grand resolution announcement with the 2 January 2018 blog – In fear and trembling or the latest attempt to overcome procrastination – that my resolution for the year was to have the first draft of the WIP completed by 31 December 2018. Um, yes well… as you can see that didn’t occur and as much as it would have been nice to have typed ‘The End’ yesterday I am not beating myself up on my missed deadline.

It was to be another 10 weeks before I felt able to return to my own writing again, a process helped by my Writers of Adelaide group, a local Facebook support group that morphed during the year into physical form. For a short period during the year we had a monthly block chain which provided the inspiration to the August blog – The importance of creativity | crossbordertales and the September blog Challenging Writer’s Block | crossbordertales (ironically another discussion on writer’s block). These exercises certainly helped to kick things along so to the WofA team thank you and hopefully we can try the chain again in 2019.

Then during September I came across a simple Instagram trend called #100DaysOfWriting.

As someone who struggles with finding the time to write, unfortunately a somewhat regular theme of mine as you have all probably noticed, I decided to give this concept a try, setting 1 October as the starting date. The October blog – #100daysofwriting | crossbordertales – was an update on the first 15 days of the challenge.

Initially this challenge seemed to be a good support in developing the writing practice until the second half of the month when organising a reunion of my Advertiser colleagues took over whatever spare time I had. It is probably no surprise to you all that the second writer’s block for the year then kicked in November.

During the abyss there were two blog attempts – one on the reunion and another on the centenary of the armistice – and you now know the story about what happened to them. I am sure they will resurface in some form, somewhere one day, I am a strong believer in that nothing is wasted in writing. I think it was a case that the time wasn’t right for them to see the light of day.

The Advertiser reunion was a personal highlight of 2018, providing a chance to reconnect with old friends. In some cases it was 30 years since we last saw each other and for one weekend it seemed as though time indeed stood still.

Despite impacting on my personal writing time, the reunion still had a link to the writing craft by providing an opportunity to look back on my journalism career. It was also a chance for all of us who attended to salute a grand profession and consider how lucky we have been to be a part of it.
Journalism may not be what it was during the 1980s and 1990s but I think whatever form it unfolds into the future, telling the news story remains paramount for a healthy society and democracy and I believe in some way it will survive. It is that belief and in celebration of my colleagues, some of whom are still on the road and some who are like me and trying their hand at different forms of writing, that our group photo is today’s blog pix.

So as to 2019 what are my writing goals?

It is quite simple, to write as often as I can, to post up on this blog as often as I can, to read as often as I can, to spend less time on social media and TV and maybe just maybe, get the first draft of the WIP completed.

The good news is that two years on from when I first came up with the idea I still believe in it and I want to see it reach full fruition. Enough to inspire one to continue.

As previously mentioned, already on day 1 of 2019 I’ve ticked off the first 2019 goal with writing on News Year’s Day. Today also marks commencing my second attempt at the #100DaysOfWriting challenge. A challenge that is due to finish on my birthday! I believe this is somewhat fortutious timing and when this attempt is successfully accomplished, it will be a fitting double celebration.

So whatever writing or reading you do during this year, may it be a wonderful adventure. So 2019 come at me and let this journey begin… now back to writing the novel.

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#100daysofwriting

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This latest post is initially brought to you from the lounge of the Maylands Hotel, armed with the iPad & a glass of wine, awaiting the monthly Writers of Adelaide face to face meeting.

Such a setting – writing ahead of a meeting to discuss writing – provides a good example of my writing life since I commenced the #100DaysOfWriting challenge at the beginning of October. The aim being to get a little bit more discipline back into the writing practice, particularly on the WIP.

Now that I’m half way through the first month I feel it is time to reflect on the early stages that I’ve experienced with the challenge so far.

For those new to this particular approach to writing practice, it is an Instagram driven challenge, created on a whim by British novelist, Jennifer Ashworth. For her it was a way to fall back in love with the WIP after her writing routine got out of whack. It didn’t take long for it to take off on social media and is now a considerable movement.

Regarded as a gentle way of getting a writing routine up – being more of a carrot than a stick approach – the main premise is that via Instagram you show evidence of having presented to your writing. You can be either at the desk in the study, the kitchen table, a cafe or bar, the train or even the lunchroom during a quick break at work. So yes on day #15 as I began to generate this piece, I presented to the writing sitting in a comfy lounge chair and typing away with a very nice glass of Down the Rabbit Hole Tempranillo by my side (yes it is the glass of red in the photo).

Even the day before (day #14 of the challenge) had me presenting to the writing at Norwood Cibo when I was able to squeeze in some time before the weekly grocery shop. The challenge, I’ve therefore found, is a really great way of showing that you can sit down to write anywhere. I no longer feel that need to only write when in the study and in front of my desktop computer. I now can write whenever and wherever I can.

Having said that the desktop computer and study is still my primary modus operandi and it will probably always be that way.

One of the other delights of this challenge is that it doesn’t matter if you don’t actually write any words that day, the aim is to just present yourself to it. Even if you take a photo of you procrastinating that still counts.

So with that all in mind, how have I fared with this task you may ask?

The answer is not quite that simple.

I presented every day for the first 10 days, which given my crazy life is quite good. Even when I was on a roll with the WIP earlier this year I was only looking at it two or three days a week at best, so this is significant progress.

However the bad news is that I’ve been presenting to the writing on most occasions at the end of the day, after I had finished work, made dinner and dealt with other chores. As a result I’ve been often so tired that there has been very little new writing, opting instead to do research or reading through some notes as that was all one’s fried brain could cope with.

However on some nights I have been amazed to find that I would start the session initially dog tired, but as the writing unfolded I seemed to become energised. This has also meant that I tended to head off to bed way later than I should. It is therefore no surprise that this challenge has coincided with sleep deprivation.

Then there have been the occasions when I have made a breakthrough with the WIP when I have least expected it and on the verge of switching off for the night. A good example was the night I suddenly found a pivotal scene in a chapter that come together all of a sudden after months of trying to work out just how it was going to happen.

So then after presenting to the challenge 10 days straight and thinking this was all ticketyboo, the rest of life kicked in on days 11,12 and 13. It would end up being day 14 before I picked up the challenge again. But not all was lost. During this three day hiatus while I didn’t physically present to the writing, I did find I was still writing mentally during this period, particularly on day 13 . What is it about getting inspiration while in the shower? Yes, one of life’s great creative mysteries.

In fact when returning on day 14 I was able to get that shower inspiration down and now it looks like the idea will fly, so maybe I can count day 13 to the challenge after all!

So inch by inch I am noticing the development of some sort of writing discipline, even it is only 15-30 minutes a day. I should point out however this challenge hasn’t been totally about minutes of writing snatched here and there. Some days have indeed resulted in writing bouts that have lasted a couple of hours or more. However a full day of writing has yet to emerge since I’ve started this caper but I am sure it will happen by the time I reach day 100.

What have I found now just over two weeks in is that this gentle prompt nevertheless works. I feel now that the day is not quite complete if I haven’t presented to my writing and by default the #100DaysOfWriting challenge.

Looking back at these last few days, I now believe I have experienced in a microcosm the writer’s existence in all its forms. From snatching any writing time when one can (even late at night), thinking of plot and character while doing chores and being very grumpy if the writing doesn’t happen.

And that is the quiet beauty of #100DaysOfWriting. Organically the writing practice seemingly evolves around you. It’s still not a finely tuned discipline yet, but it definitely feels as though it is baby steps in the right direction. Stay tuned for what happens during the remaining 83 days.

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Challenging Writer’s Block

September has been yet another crazy, busy, hectic and chaotic month with the Royal Adelaide Show, a fairly intense work environment, family commitments, the health not being on its best behaviour, a weekend dash to Melbourne and taking on the organisation of a reunion of my Advertiser colleagues. Phew!

So it is somewhat fortuitous that my local writer’s group, Writers of Adelaide, has set writer’s block as the topic for this month’s blog chain.

Initially when the topic was set, I thought, somewhat smugly: “Hah! I don’t experience that.” However as this crazy month unfolded, I started to wonder if this initial reaction was in fact actually correct. Somewhat evidenced by the fact that I am scrambling to get this written by the end of the month deadline now only hours away. Thankfully it is a long weekend so if I have to be up until midnight to post it up on time, then so be it.

Writer’s block is for me a somewhat interesting concept. While my initial reaction to the topic does have some truth, as I had no choice while as a journalist and now working in government media and communications, to always deliver a story or some form of writing to a deadline. There has been no room for writer’s block.

Over the years, I found some articles and stories to be very easy to write, while others have been like extracting blood out of the stone; but at the end of the day the goods have been delivered and pretty much to time. Even when writing university essays writer’s block was a rarity, again thanks to the deadline, although I must confess to successfully negotiating many an essay extension while in academia.

So staring at a blank page or screen waiting for some form of inspiration to strike hasn’t seemingly been an issue, I think partially because I’ve always had notes of some form to work off and thereby providing me with a starting point.

So while my professional and academic writing seems to have escaped the writer’s block curse, I am now starting to wonder whether I have been experiencing it with my personal/creative writing and not realising it.

Like many an aspiring author, I have started numerous writing projects over the years that have never been finished. Each time I have blamed the realities of life and while on one level that is true, could it also be the case that I didn’t ultimately believe in the project?

I am also starting to think that the form of writer’s block that has impacted on my personal/creative writing may in fact been because I haven’t developed a discipline to this area of my writing compared to my professional work. It is after all amazing how the need to pay the bills can be an incentive!

At the beginning of this year when I reactivated this blog site I made a somewhat scary New Year’s Resolution with my January blog – In fear and trembling or the latest attempt to overcome procrastination. At the time I declared I would finish the first draft of the existing work in progress by the end of this year. While there have been quite a few competing priorities along with way, it still seemed like an attainable goal until the end of April when my brother’s untimely and sudden death occurred.

It was to be another 10 weeks before I felt able to return to my own writing again, describing that period through with my July blog – Creativity through tears. Now thinking about those recent weeks in the context of this post, while I didn’t recognise it as writer’s block at the time, I am now realising that it was indeed the case.

In doing some preparation for this post, Googling “grief” and “writer’s block” produced a plethora of articles detailing the grief/writer’s block link. There are too many to list here, however if you are interested in the topic rest assured they are easy to find. That Google list also provided me with the solace that I was not alone in experiencing this problem.

When I returned to my desk back in July, instead of bashing myself up over the writing plans going AWOL, I decided to be kind to myself resetting my self-imposed WIP deadline to mid 2019 and committing myself to the writer’s group blog chain initiative (the latter ensuring there would be at least a monthly blog on this site). While I have kept up the blog chain commitment – even if it is at the 11th hour this month – the WIP is however been a bit of a struggle, not through the idea but in the time commitment to progress it.

So in thinking about writer’s block and my own writing I’m starting to think about the need to implement some discipline to the personal/creative writing space, following this timeless advice by Louis L’Amour:

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” – Louis L’Amour

Earlier this year when I was far more diligent about the WIP, it did flow and even now, despite the hiatus of recent weeks, I still believe in it, probably more so than any other WIP I have commenced. So as we roll into October I am going to try some new tricks that I have come across this month to instil structure and discipline to my writing process and in turn hopefully kickstart the manuscript back to life.

The first idea came to me courtesy of A.J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window (by the way an amazing debut novel), during his author event at Norwood Town Hall earlier this month. He discussed his schedule of writing every night, after finishing his day job as a book editor, from 8-11pm. After this talk, chatting to friend and local author Victoria Purman who interviewed Finn that night, she made me realise how quickly I could get a word count up by such a regime. Which made me think my initial WIP deadline is do-able. Thanks Victoria for the push!

The other idea, which I came across thanks to another local author Lia Weston, is the following Prolifiko article she shared on her Twitter account – #100DaysOfWriting – the gentle approach to writing productivity

This article looks at how British author Jenn Ashworth came up with the #100DaysOfWriting challenge. The idea she said was more of a whim than a significantly planned concept. The exercise also started as she was coming out of a period of grief.

She posted the idea on Instagram with the #100DaysOfWriting tag. It was not to be about about productivity, hitting goals or word counts or even nailing her then work in progress, for her it was about an approach to falling back in love with writing. As she said:

“Every day for 100 days I would turn up to the book. There was no obligation to write for any amount of time, or to a word count every day, but just that I would turn up. I hoped that after these 100 days, I would’ve made friends with the book again, maybe finished it, maybe got over my terror. I put this up on Instagram, kind of as a way of holding myself accountable. I thought if I sent it in public, then I’ll have to do it.” – Jenn Ashworth

During that initial challenge others joined her and the #100DaysOfWriting is now a well established movement on Instagram, and has expanded beyond writing to include all forms of creativity.

I feel that both approaches by A.J.Finn and Jenn Ashworth are not only attainable but provide a practical path to instilling discipline to my own personal/creative writing. As tomorrow -1 October – doubles as a public holiday here in Radelaide, it provides me the perfect starting point to give the #100DaysOfWriting writing challenge a go. I might not get the first draft of the WIP completed but I should be well advanced on setting up a far more disciplined approach to this craft that I love.

So follow me at my Instagram site @fontyk for daily updates on my progress with the challenge along with weekly updates here at Crossbordertales. Stay tuned…

I am the last of the Writers’ of Adelaide group to make the blog chain. To see how the rest of the group have tacked this common aspect of a writer’s life please visit their blogs:

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The importance of creativity

To be a creative I believe is something that is innate within you, it drives you, and to a certain extent, is your life force.

Creativity is probably one of the most important characteristics of being human. It is one of the main traits that makes us successful not only as individuals but as a species.

Therefore there is much to be said about the importance of creativity in our lives.

According to the Oxford dictionary creativity is defined as the use of imagination or original ideas to create something. Therefore we often think about creativity as making, but I have also come across a description of creativity meaning ‘to grow’, a definition I think is the closest to describing just how creativity operates.

When I am creative I feel as if the world, and all that is in it, is vibrantly alive and that indeed I am growing as a person.

Whether it is something that is a part of one’s nature or something that can emerge through nurture, I will leave to science to determine. However in my case I have been one of the lucky ones who has been surrounded by creativity all my life. It is probably why I have been prepared to embrace it not only as an important, but a vital, element of life.

With an artist father and a foster father who was a master craftsman in shoemaking, there was no way I could escape creativity. I have never known a time where there hasn’t been someone doing something creative around me. Even my grandfather who could be described as an ‘Ocker’ Australian – a football, meat pie and Holden cars type of guy – was also to me a creative man. He built his own veranda extensions, the barbecue, a fountain and even a caravan, before his untimely death to cancer. Things all made his own hands (and often part of family projects).

While that familial male creativity was of a practical nature, there is also a history of what I would call intellectual creativity within my family, particularly on my father’s side.

My father’s three brothers all had creative careers at some point in their lives involving such fields as advertising, acting, music and copywriting. I recall going to the Dunstan Playhouse a few times during the 1970s and 1980s to watch Uncle John perform in State Theatre Company performances (the sets usually also painted by my father), or seeing him appear on the television through South Australian Film Corporation miniseries productions such as Sarah Dane and For The Term of His Natural Life. His wife, my Aunt Judy, was also an actor, one of her most notable roles being the schoolteacher in the 1976 adaption of Storm Boy (and yes I am looking forward to seeing the new movie when it is released soon). Even their children, my cousins, have been dancers, musicians and writers.

I also suspect that growing up in Adelaide during the Dunstan in the 1970s provided a significant backdrop to this creative output that surrounded me.

Unsurprisingly most of my childhood hobbies tended to revolve around creativity. Being the youngest by a few years, I developed the knack of entertaining myself and regarded creativity as a friend. In addition to piano and dancing lessons, I would spend many an hour absorbed in writing, reading, drawing and listening to music. It was also not surprising that many of my friends also had a tendency towards creativity.

Given this background it was obvious that creativity would also play a large part of my adult life. The big debate of my secondary school years was over what form that adult creativity would be, as I vacillated between journalism or acting. I still remember clearly a wintry Saturday afternoon sitting in my bedroom and all of 15, when I made the momentous decision that whatever uni course I got into would probably determine my future professional creativity. Essentially, as a good creative I really left it up to the universe to decide my my fate. In the end that toss of the coin landed on journalism after successfully obtaining a cadetship at The Advertiser. As they say, the rest is history.

Looking back now it was probably always going to be the path I pursued. Although I have since crossed over to the ‘dark side’ to work in public relations and communications, writing remains my true creative outlet. While creative hobbies have included singing along with dabbling in drawing, painting and photography; my creative muse is strongest when I’m doing my own writing.

Maybe because of self-imposed deadline pressures, I know how I feel when I don’t get to take up that chance to write. I can be somewhat antsy when day-to-day life and other commitments get in the way of progressing either this blog or the work in progress.

Even when I don’t feel well, allowing a creative moment and getting a little bit of creativity happening always makes me feel so much better.

As I said before, when I am creative it feels as though all is right with the world and I feel alive.

However creativity is not just important to my own self being. I believe it is also vitally important at a broader level for our society. To me, if creativity was to cease around us there would no such thing as a civilised society. It is why the current culture wars I see occurring both here in Australia and elsewhere around the Western world scares me.

Without creativity and culture we would not grow, we would not innovate and worst of all beauty would, I believe, disappear. It would result in a very grey world. Such a world unfortunately presents the perfect ingredients for democracy to die and totalitarianism to flourish. The consequences of such tyranny is stagnation. It is why I will continue to embrace, practice and promote creativity and encourage you all to do the same. The price simply is too high.

This piece is part of the August 2018 Writers of Adelaide blog chain. Dean Mayes has kicked off the conversation with his take on the importance of creativity. Others who will be joining in include:

Please feel free to look at why my fellow Writers of Adelaide colleagues believe creativity is so important.

Posted in Family, memoir, This creative life, This Writing Life | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Inspirational Adelaide

Adelaide – the Festival City.

It is one of the reasons I praise my ancestors who not only decided to jump on leaky boats from European ports for the arduous colonial sea voyage to Australia but had the sense to make South Australia, rather than the eastern seaboard, their destination.

As a born and mostly bred South Australian (there is a part of my childhood linked to the Northern Territory but I digress), my whole life has been imbued with the creativity and excitement that comes with having one of the most significants arts festivals in the world on your doorstep. Even when I have lived away from Adelaide and South Australia this influence remained with me.

While we are all aware of Mad March with the flurry of Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Writers Week, the Fringe and Womadelaide; Adelaide is in fact a hive of cultural expression all year round. No matter where your creative instincts may lie, should it be either in fine arts, music, crafts, performing arts or writing, there are a myriad of events that we can indulge in for the remaining 11 months of the year. This includes the Cabaret Festival, the Guitar Festival, the Umbrella Winter City Sounds, SALA, OzAsia or Feast. Then there are our cultural institutions such as the Festival Centre, State Theatre Company, State Opera, the Art Gallery of South Australia and the South Australian Museum that provide further opportunities for cultural pursuits. You can see why Adelaide’s nick name – Radelaide – has emerged.

If that isn’t enough inspiration for creatives living in Adelaide there are the artistic support networks located around the city. From my own writing perspective I have gained much from Writers SA with their resources, services and regular courses.

This cultural intensity also leads to some amazing community based and informal artistic and creative support around Radelaide. A good example of this level of support for me has been a local social media based writers’ group which I joined last year. Not only has it been a great source of support while embarking on the latest WIP but is also has also provided a forum to discuss and share articles and ideas on the writing craft.

The group – Writers of Adelaide – is quite an eclectic group with the membership ranging from those lucky ones who have reached publication status to others, like me, still wrangling that first draft together. One of its great joys for me is the opportunity to swap notes on juggling the writing life with real life, reminding us all as we sit down to write whether it is at our computers, on other electronic devices or handwriting down ideas with pen and paper, that we are not alone. The other thing we all have in common is our passion for writing.

This year the group has evolved away from our computer screens to now include monthly face to face catch ups providing further support to the creative life. A more recent innovation has been the establishment of a blog chain. With many of us sporting blogs we felt the concept provided an avenue for cross promoting each other’s blogs in turn hopefully generating more followers for us all. It also greatly helps in providing a blog topic prompt. It is in fact this month’s blog chain topic – Adelaide a source of inspiration for your writing or your job – is providing the mojo for this post.

Away from the support for creativity this city provides, Adelaide itself is a great source of inspiration as a writer. A former journalist with The Advertiser (Adelaide’s daily morning newspaper) I was fortunate to meet so many interesting people and cover some great events across this city during my time on the editorial floor. It won’t surprise me if any of them ever pop up in my own writing some time.

Away from the glitter and glam as a city renowned for its support of the arts and culture, there is a darker side of Adelaide. A dark side that also provides a source of inspiration for writers – its predilection for the unusual, brutal and in some cases still unsolved, crimes. Radelaide with its hot summers and long western coastline of sandy beaches provides a backdrop to one of the most baffling crimes ever – the mystery of the Beaumont Children. Having grown up and gone to school in Glenelg I must confess the spectre of that mystery very much played into my childhood consciousness. It was easy for my parents and teachers to just mention the Beaumont name for us to be very aware of stranger danger. There was no need to invent fictional ogres.

I was still at school when the victims of The Family and Truro murders went missing (a further contributing factor towards stranger danger awareness) and was at The Advertiser during the subsequent trials for those convicted. Where else but in South Australia could you come up with the Snowtown body in the barrels case?

They say that truth can be stranger than fiction and Radelaide certainly knows how to write a damn good crime story.

It comes as no surprise that this history has attracted the interest of writers and was certainly a topic of conversation at Adelaide Writers Week in 1984.  The event’s major drawcard British writer Salman Rushdie certainly got tongues wagging (and much newprint produced) when he declared the city the perfect setting for a Stephen King novel or horror film. “Adelaide,” he said “is Amityville or Salem.”

Away from the dark side, the romantic soul of Adelaide with its food and wine, gardens, parks and relatively close proximity to the Mount Lofty Ranges and South Coast also provides inspiration. Friend and romance writer Victoria Purman has included Adelaide (and other parts of the state) in her published works and one of my all time favourite local novels, Where The Queens All Strayed by Barbara Hanrahan is very much an ode to Radelaide.

Adelaide – the Festival City. I am a very lucky writer to be able to call her home and revel in the source of creativity and inspiration she provides to me.

I am the last Writers of Adelaide blogger to post my thoughts on Radelaide but the group through this blog chain have all provided some great takes on just what makes this city tick for them. For some it is an inspiring place to raise a family while for those who have come from elsewhere, inspiration has come through the joy of discovering Adelaide and ultimately deciding this was a good place to establish roots.

So while this is my creative take on Adelaide please feel free to look at what my fellow Writers of Adelaide colleagues have had to say about this grand girl:

 

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Creativity through tears

I will not say; do not weep; for not all tears are an evil – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King.

At the end of April my world was rocked by the sudden death of my brother, Werner.
Beset by a debilitating skin condition for most of his adult life he was not the most of well of men, his unexpected departure from this world was nevertheless a shock.
Having no partner or children, my Mother and I had very little chance initally to absorb the impact of his death as we quickly dispatched ourselves to Hobart, where he lived, to organise his affairs and say goodbye.
While a sad time, this immediate period after his death spent in Tasmania was also a cathartic time. In packing up his possessions, catching up with old mutual friends or meeting new people whose lives who had been touched by him, I was able to update my picture of a wonderful, crazy, and passionate man who left us way too soon. That mental picture has become central to my sense of remembrance of him.
The initial grief period in Tasmania through exchanging the stories of my brother and the shared experience of sorrow, confirmed for me how unique the journey of grief is for all of us. I now believe there is no right or wrong way in going about this fundamental life experience.
I am well aware that as time unfolds my grief and sense of remembrance will also change, particularly as major milestones such as birthdays and holiday celebrations including Christmas unfold in coming months.
However Werner’s death has not been the only one. Unfortunately Death has decided to remain active around me although not quite as directly. Since my return from Tasmania close friends and other family members have joined me on the grieving journey.
With Death being so prominent in recent weeks, it is probably needless to point out that writing, either on this blog or the work in progress, has not been a high priority.
My brother’s affairs had to be sorted out (a process that still continues), family members to support and friends searching for answers. This coalition of grief needed each other and the space for creativity was simply not a high priority.
Having made certain pronouncements on my writing goals at the beginning of the year , I quickly realised I had to be kind to myself and therefore decided not to get stressed about the fact that my writing projects have taken a hiatus. This wasn’t the time to force the writing.
Deep down I always knew that the need to do my own writing would return along with the reappearance of the muse. As you can see it is slowly emerging, although only baby steps at this stage.
However the creative life has not been void in recent weeks. It has been somewhat more a passive than active pursuit as the creativity of others guide me through these initial stages of grief. Solace has been gained through looking at a art, listening to music, attending a concert, reading books or watching fine acting. This passive absorption of creativity has been fitting. For my brother and I the creative world was a mutual sphere for us and through these activities I have been able to find him.
Indeed I can say that the creative world has been a blessing.
However these recent experiences have prompted me to ponder on the impact of grief on creativity. I am well aware that for some it can hinder the muse, while for others it becomes a central aspect of their healing process.
As everyone’s ability to grieve is unique I therefore believe the combination of creativity and grief is an unique process. We never know quite how it will hit us until we are in its midst. I also suspect that how I am experiencing it now could well differ the next time I confront grief and loss.
One of the most poignant experiences of grieving and creativity I have ever come across is the experience of one of the my favourite composers, Nigel Westlake following the murder of his son Eli in 2008.
For the first 12 months after the event composing and creativity was the last thing on his mind, as he recalls in the CD notes for his work Missa Solis:

“Many things, including music, completely lost their relevance and meaning. I was cast into an abyss of grief and yearning. All plans went on hold, future work prospects were postponed or cancelled.” – Nigel Westlake, Missa Solis CD notes.

At the time of Eli’s death Westlake had already started composing Missa Solis as a secular mass to the sun, however by the time the work finally premiered in 2011 it had turned into a requiem for Eli. As Westlake recalls:

“When I finally worked up the will and the courage to revive my interest in composition, in the forefront of my mind was the desire to express my grief at the loss of my son through music.
As the pages of Missa Solis stared back at me from the desk, I saw within them the potential to further expand upon this material in a way that might somehow reflect the enormity of my loss. As I pondered the parallel between the words ‘sun’ and ‘son’, Primavera’s ancient ode, ‘My joy is born every time I gaze at my beautiful sun’ now assumed a portentous significance. Here lay the blueprint for Eli’s requiem.” – Nigel Westlake, Missa Solis CD notes.

Since then Westlake’s grief and honouring of his son has continued to influence his creativity which has included the beautiful song cycle Compassion created in association with Lior. A piece of music that has been a part of my own grief soundtrack.
As my own words finally once again flicker from the screen, I suspect grief’s impact on my creativity is yet to fully express itself; however I am thankful that green shoots of creative expression are once again starting to emerge from within me.
Time will tell where the juxtaposition of grief and creativity will lead me, however I am already certain of one thing. There is beauty through tears.
Werner, may I continue on the creative journey for both of us. xo

adult alone anxious black and white

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

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Looking at war and conflict

Perth ANZAC Yellow Rise

Today is Anzac Day and like many Australians I have spent the day in contemplation and thanks for those who have served my country.
Despite the fact there have been limited direct action on Australian soil, it is nevertheless a very rare Australian family indeed who have not been touched by war.
There are those like me, who are descendants of those original World War One Anzacs or of the subsequent generations that fought in later 20th century conflicts ensuring the continuation of our lifestyle and society that I suspect we so often take for granted today.
Then there are others whose family background doesn’t include the Anzac tradition. Instead they are the descendants of soldiers from the opposite sides of the front. Their families having decided that Australia provided an opportunity for a fresh start away from their war torn countries.
Unfortunately there are those recent families who still have had to flee war and persecution. Some of whom are still waiting in limbo for that new life of freedom.
Born 20 years after World War 2 and with the Vietnam War already raging in the background, I recognise that my life and that of my family’s has been shaped by war.
I might have been a child of the Cold War but I also very much grew up in the shadow of both World Wars.
The family war stories started with the legend of my Great Grandfather, a veteran of the Western Front and whom, unlike two Great Great Uncles on my Great Grandmother’s side, did make it back to Australia. Unfortunately he died years before I was born but his stories that were passed down to us, nevertheless ensured his presence was still around.
Then there were my Grandparents who both joined the Air Force in 1940 just months after their December 1939 marriage; a Great Uncle who was a Rat of Tobruk and my Great Aunt and foster Mother (my complex family makeup is for another day), who worked in munitions. I grew up hearing all these stories and understood that the years between 1939 and 1945 shaped not only their lives but that of subsequent generations.
Through my Bulgarian foster Father and other family friends, the Europeans who decided that Australia was far enough away from blood soaked soil of Europe to regenerate their lives, I also grew up understanding the reality of being a refugee and how their experience also shaped my world.
It is probably somewhat not surprising with these tales swirling around me, that I developed an interest in war stories from a young age. I still fondly remember the first book I read featuring a World War 2 background – “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.” Strictly speaking, this memoir by a German Jewish girl about her childhood fleeing Hitler, leading to a journey through Switzerland, France and finally Britain, was set in the 1930s before war broke out. However to my nine year old mind even then, Nazism and World War 2 were seemingly synonymous. As a story reflecting on the impact of politics and war on civilians it was a book that was to have a profound impact on me, leading to my lifelong interest of the home front both in Australia and abroad. That interest has included a particular fascination with stories involving children and war.
That absorbed knowledge over the years either through family tales, reading or formal study is driving my latest WIP. It is probably of no great surprise that the themes of war, conflict and their impact should emerge.
With the family background and my intellectual interest in the period, it is probably of no surprise that World War 2 is a partial setting to the work. However not only are historical conflicts and political events shaping the work, the impact of terrorism on our 21st century lives is also making itself felt.
I am now as a result relishing one of the great joys as a writer, the opportunity to place yourself squarely in a world which until now has only been available to me vicariously. There is however, I believe, a balancing act in having this privileged position.
Although this is a fictional work the fact that my story is set in real time and place means I need to honour that. Consequently there have been times while writing that I stop and think about whether, given that I haven’t had a direct experience on what I am writing about it, should even be writing about it in the first place. I suspect, and hope, that many writers of historical fiction have this same debate.
This is where the legend and memory of the Anzacs and all the other experiences of war I have come across over the years have proved to be pivotal in helping me to reconcile that indeed I do have a right to do this.
Having studied history at university I am a strong believer that if we forget the lessons of the past we are set to experience it all again. Therefore I have decided that reminding people about the reality and impact of war, even as part of a fictional work, is an important part of ensuring those lessons remains alive.
Once the manuscript is finally complete and the story is out there for all to read, I suspect there will be others who will then debate about whether I have that right to write about such experiences. However again that is one of the joys of being a writer – to generate that debate.
If at the end of the day I honestly feel that I have made a meaningful contribution towards reminding us all on the folly and consequences of war it is really all one can ask for.
Indeed Lest We Forget.

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The power of empathy

As March comes to a close, I bid farewell on the period that is Mad March and my foray as a culture vulture.

For most of the month Adelaide Writers’ Week, the Adelaide Festival and the Fringe Festival have dominated my time. A wonderful way to have the creative well replenished and energised.

Now that these events have called a wrap,  I usually go through somewhat of a grief period. However this year the withdrawal process will be somewhat easier thanks to a significant number of new additions to the ‘to read’ pile.

In reading them I will be able to once agin ponder on the many wonderful words, thoughts and discussions that permeated, particuarly at Writers’ Week, making it the great event that it known for.

This year was no exception with an array of writers who entertained, provoked, delighted and/or pushed me to a deeper understanding of why writing and books are still so central to our culture.

In 2018 a dominant theme emerged from the diversity of topics covered during this year’s event. Empathy.  Not just by writers as they discussed their stories, but among readers as well.

So since then I’ve been musing on what is it about empathy in reading and writing that makes it so powerful?

First of all what exactly is empathy?

The Oxford Dictionary defines empathy as the ability to identify with a person or object. However when considering it in the context of writing and reading I think the Scrivener dictionary definition – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – hits the nail on the head.

Empathy, I believe, is therefore at the heart of any writing and reading. In fiction however it is vital.

As a writer I need to be empathetic to my characters in order to achieve a depth and complexity in their creation. While at the same time I’m doing this I am also inviting you dear reader to transcend your thoughts, worlds and own lives to experience another’s.

Story therefore provides both us as writers and readers with a pathway to connect with the rest of humanity. It’s powerful stuff.

That central role of empathy in literature for me further illustrates the importance of books, writing and words to society and why ignoring them is at our peril.

In an interview with the New York Times as he departed the White House in January 2017, President Obama described how reading fiction and the associated empathy was important to his decision making.

“I think that I found myself better able to imagine what’s going on in the lives of people throughout my presidency because of not just a specific novel but the act of reading fiction. It exercises those muscles, and I think that has been helpful…And perspective is exactly what is wanted. At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted, the ability to slow down and get perspective, along with the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes — those two things have been invaluable to me. ”

— Barack Obama, “President Obama on What Books Mean to Him,” New York Times, January 16, 2017

Given our current political climate where division and divide are increasingly becoming the norm rather than the exception, just think what it would be like if all leaders were avid fiction readers?

However I digress. It does however lead me to believe that by promoting empathy, and in turn the opportunity to experience someone else’s world through writing and reading, provides a way to counteract the propaganda, misinformation and intolerance that is now so pervasive in both mainstream and social media. When we walk in each other’s shoes, it is harder to misunderstand or hate one another.

So as a writer I feel there is a sacred duty to promote empathy in my work. It also means that I am required to reach a level of empathy that goes beyond what is necessary for reading.

The best way for me to achieve the writers’ empathy is through the creation of my characters. While I’m well aware they aren’t real people I nevertheless need to empathise with them as if they are so I am successful in their creation.

It is why I spend so much time in working on the backstory as I need to know my characters inside out, consider their lives and their choices from their perspective. Ultimately I need to allow them to take control and choose their own path.

Even if I don’t personally agree with their choices I must be empathetic to that decision and direction.  Let’s face it isn’t that what a part of being a creative is all about, to push ourselves out of our comfort zone?

Once away from the desk and the computer screen, that writerly empathy, can then assist in our interactions back in the real world. It makes us more aware that others are strugling with the same joys, pressures and mistakes and in some cases their situation could even be worse. It forces me to consider how my choices can effect someone else.

Powerful stuff indeed.

Looking back at Adelaide Writers’ Week, words and their power is truly what this event is all about. To hear a group of wonderful writers to tell their own and others’ stories and all for free. We are truly blessed here in Adelaide.

As Australian author Robert Drewe mentioned while discussing his latest novel Whipbird during one of the Writers’ Week session. “Everyone talks about the death of the novel but you only need to walk into the book tent to see that’s not right. Fiction is very much alive in Adelaide.”

If that is the case empathy is also very much alive here in Adelaide.

Until next Mad March, happy writing and reading.

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The power of Shakespeare’s history plays

Kings of War_1920x1080 Shakespeare productions come and go but Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s production of Kings of War, surpasses everything I have ever seen to date featuring the Bard’s words.

The Dutch company’s triumphant return to the Adelaide Festival with this production that conflates Shakespeare’s five history plays – Henry V, Henry VI (Parts I, II and III) and Richard III, clearly illustrates how the themes of power, greed and war are still so resonant in the 21st century.

I had missed TG Amsterdam’s previous visit with Roman Tragedies in the 2014 Adelaide Festival but as with that production, Ivo van Hove has combined a thematic series of Shakespeare’s works that through his translation provides a new respect for these great plays.

It is a production that is both complex and simple at the same time.  The main stage setting of a modern war room, counterpoints to a behind the scenes warren of white corridors which through live video are relayed back to the audience on a large screen above centre stage. Through these stark settings along with the interplay of technology, scenographer Jan Versweyvel has cleverly projected us into a world of intrigue and murder. It provides a sense of watching the TV news until you realise that in fact we have gone beyond the main story and are for once privy to the backstory.

The Shakespeare history plays, set during the last stages of The Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses in the 1400s have long been regarded as part of Tudor propaganda, written to firm up the claims of the Tudor dynasty to the English throne. Whether such claims are true they nevertheless 500 years later still powerfully depict how propaganda and cynicism shapes power, priviledge and rule.

However Kings of War isn’t all intense and seriousness, van Hove’s pared down script and the stellar cast masterfully portray comedy and irony. One of the highlights is the interchange between Ramsey Nasr as Henry V and Hélène Devis as Catherine of Valois when the former tries to overcome a language barrier to woo her. There is also the nod to the current political climate with Hans Kesting’s Richard III’s imaginary telephone conversations to Trump, Hitler and Stalin/Putin. Kesting as Richard III and Eelco Smits as the tragic and peace loving Henry VI are the standout performances although this ensemble cast are on point all the way through.

In addition to the use of technology, the story is also amplified by the use of music with brass instruments creating a sense of pomp and ceremony and the tension and darkness that lurks all the way through, while countertenor Steve Dugardin’s beautiful voice transports us back to the 1400s. Another clever way of illustrating how the themes of propaganda, power, politics and greed are indeed timeless.

While I walked into the Festival Theatre wondering if I could cope with 4.5 hours of Shakespeare in Dutch (with English subtitles), I walked out mesmerised. This is indeed theatre at its very best.

Kings of War is a must see. Through this work Ivo van Hove has created a beautiful prayer for peace.

Kings of War is being presented at the Festival Theatre until March 13. For further information or to book visit http://www.adelaidefestival.com.au

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Reading with benefits

sunset-hand-garden-book.jpgWriting time remains unfortunately as elusive as ever while work continues to be all encompassing, sucking up any chance not only for writing but also for reading.
However finding reading time, no matter how brief, has been luckily a little easier to come by.
It is through a recent reading experience that I have come across an element of this most wonderful of pursuits that I had never seriously contemplated until now — reading as therapy.
Like any bookworm I enjoy the fact that stories can take me to parts of the world that I am yet to traverse, or remind me of cities and towns that remain fond holiday ports. I enjoy the fact that someone else’s characters become, for a brief period of time, part of my life, breathing an existence of their own. There is also the opportunity in reading, to embrace worlds and activities one can only dream about.
Reading for me is discovering more about life and my own place in an increasingly complicated world.
One thing about reading that I never really experienced until recently is reading as a distraction.
During the heatwave that descended upon Adelaide earlier this month and feeling that one was at the gates of Hades, I decided to pick up my book rather than turn on the computer to write. I plead this was not procrastination and the reading was linked to my current work in progress, the heat sapping energy was making the brain feel passive than active so reading it was.
Anyhow I digress, having picked up my book in 43C heat I proceeded for the next couple of hours to reacquaint myself with one of my most favourite cities in the world – Paris – and the fascinating story that antiques can sometimes provide. Immersed in a world of auction houses, Parisian apartments and cafes and flirtatious French men I forgot for a brief while about the burning hell that was occurring outside.
A couple of days after my heat escaping read I came across a news article discussing the impending change whereby codeine products were to be only available by prescription. The article included comments by a chronic pain sufferer on the new pain management techniques he had implemented to not only overcome the change but to reduce his reliance on codeine. The new found methods he had embraced to reduce his suffering included reading.
This emerging theme of reading as a distraction came up again the next day while talking to a girlfriend about her stress in trying to find a new house at short notice mentioned how she spent the weekend reading as a way to calm herself down while waiting to see if her application for a new place would be successful. I am pleased to report she also got the house.
These three instances got me thinking… so what it is about reading that makes it more than just a pleasurable pastime and possibly something more transcendental.
Virginia Woolf once wrote that a book “splits us into two parts as we read for the state of reading consists in the complete elimination of the ego, while promising perpetual union with another mind.”
In remembering that quote I immediately understood the importance of reading as a transcendental activity and in turn explaining, to me anyway, why reading can be therapeutic. I also now realise that I have unconsciously used reading for therapy and healing over time without realising the effect it was having on me. Yes, indeed story telling is powerful stuff.
Since this great dawning reality I have started looking at my fiction reading and writing in a new light. Is it my leap into mindfulness, placing me into a meditative state to process and deal with the world?
It seems that science agrees, with its own scientific field — bibliotherapy.
Research around the world indicates that reading can place our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, providing the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Reading has been shown to reduce stress by 68%, more than listening to music, going for a walk, or having a cup of tea. Readers seem to sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers. Now I know why I embrace reading so much.
Last year (2017) I came across for the first time the Australian Reading Hour. This year it will be held on September 20. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you choose but as long as we all find an hour to enjoy the beauty of a printed word. Last year I found my hour by turning off the TV and going to bed early. I really should endeavour to wind down like this more often.
The aim of the day is for Australians to either rediscover or introduce themselves to the benefits of reading.
Given a book tragic like myself has only recently realised the therapeutic benefits of reading, it makes sense why there has to be a day set aside to promote and encourage the benefits of reading for both young and old. Even if you have never been a bookworm in your life, don’t worry it is never too late to pick up a book. It is a journey, I promise you won’t regret.
As another’s words provide therapy for me, I look forward to the day when my own words can be a source of healing for someone else. That’s something for me to aspire to with my writing.

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A railway tale

As I come towards the end of the first month 0f 2018 I am already aware that my grand plans of focussing on writing this year is getting a serious battering.
I suppose one really needs to be a little more realistic when setting holiday writing goals I did however manage a couple of writing blocks, a fair whack of research and the reactivation of this blog, but that was it.
Then January came along with a series of emergency management issues involving fires and fruit fly. Not only did this cause an early return to work by three days early but also a three week blur of long hours and weekend work again minimising precious writing time.
I am well aware that I am not alone as we make the transition from holiday mode back to day to day reality as I became involved in many a conversation in various Facebook writing forums about finding that elusive time to write.
To my fellow writers who have taken to early morning writing starts I applaud you. Well done you!
Not being a morning person and particularly before at least one cup of coffee, an early writing sprint is currently a little beyond my abilities. Such a plan also clashes with my other grand scheme for 2018, to improve my fitness levels. This is particularly to counter the long hours already spent sitting at a desk. So any early start I have been able to muster so far this year has been reserved for the exercise sessions.
One evening last week however a moment of inspiration led to a combination of exercise and writing occurring in one full swoop. While taking a late evening walk Yours Truly suddenly came across an idea for a particular scene in the novel. I had heard how exercise can help creativity but I had not heard how one can take advantage of this moment and not lose the opportunity to keep up with the fitness regime at the same time.
However all was not lost. Realising the importance of capturing this light bulb moment, I flicked open the smartphone, switched on the microphone and dictated the scene while continuing on with the walk. While some might think it is taking multi tasking to the extreme, I did go to bed happy that night knowing not only had I made my 10,000 step goal for the day but also managed to add 400 words and a scene to the manuscript.
I should probably stop gnashing my teeth on my minimal writing time so far this year and look upon any chance for writing that I have been able to snaffle, no matter how big or small, as steps towards the my goal of a more focussed writing year.
So here I am finally once again able to fire up the computer, sit down, start typing away and tell you a story.
As today’s temperature in Adelaide reaches beyond 42C and the town seemingly in hibernation, it is appropriate to discuss a new form of story telling I have embraced recently – Slow TV – thanks to the SBS program The Ghan.
Despite no plot, dialogue or narration, I was mesmerised while watching both the three hour and 17 hour versions in recent weeks. To me it was story telling at its simplest.
While I didn’t watch both versions from woah to go, when I did sit down in front of the TV I found the concept absolutely captivating. Is it because it is just paring a story back back to it’s most basic or the fact that it is train travel lived vicariously? I believe my fascination might actually be both.
I’ve always adored train travel. From the Murder on the Orient Express, The 39 Steps, Anna Karenina, the Railway Children and others; I’ve loved the depiction of railway travel in stories. It is the thought, I suspect, of a captive cast who emerge to create a new world of possibilities, incidents and characters while the outside world rushes by.
As a young child taking various trips around Adelaide with my father at weekends on the old red hen railcars, I always had the feeling on the train that one was in a separate and complete world away from the scenes that flashed by the railcar window. It was only once you were back onto the platform would the two worlds merge.
Often freezing in winter or wilting in summer as you were stuck to the red vinyl seats the red hens nevertheless would take you out of your own backyard and allow you to explore the wider metropolitan area and beyond. I recall the joy of going through tunnels on the way up to Mount Lofty, playing with the the autumn leaves at Belair National Park, eating ice creams while walking along the beach at Brighton, Semaphore or Grange and going on the longer trip out to Gawler. In those days it was still a country town rather that an outer metro area and like the train journey to Bridgewater, it provided an opportunity to step out of Adelaide.
Yes train travel and I are like peas in a pod. It seems to be a natural fit.
It is no surprise that my first great travel adventure should be by train, although to be fair I should preface that statement by admitting my first interstate journey actually involved flight.
However there is something about your first great railway journey. It also now seems fitting in discussing my recent encounter with Slow TV my first great railway trip was in fact on the old Ghan – the Central Australian Railway – from Adelaide through to The Alice and included the original narrow gauge line from Marree to Alice Springs. That adventure is seared in my memory.
For little six year old me, going on the old Ghan was also my introduction to Central Australia, an area that was to play a further role in my childhood, although I wasn’t to know it at the time. What I do remember however is a three day journey north that made me realise how big our great country truly is.
It was December 1972 and I was part an extended family group travelling to Alice Springs to spend the festive season with family members living up there. This was the era when the Stuart Highway was still unsealed, so if you wanted your car at the end of the journey, the best way to ensure the vehicle reached Alice in one piece was via The Ghan.
A very early summer morning saw me walking through Adelaide Railway Station’s Marble Hall, holding Mum’s hand and in awe of the beautiful stonework, providing a calmness that promised great things. However the peace didn’t last long as one was suddenly became immersed in the hubbub of checking in luggage, making your way through the crowds to the platform and ultimately our carriage. There was a further burst of activity as conductors punched tickets, valets directed you to your cabin and rushed goodbyes were made to family members staying behind in Adelaide as the final call and whistle rang out.
Waving goodbye through the window, a little thrill ran through me as the train pulled out of the station, through the parklands, the northern suburbs and finally onto the mid north countryside. For the first time I was finally in a train that was going beyond Gawler!
My fondest memory of that initial leg to Port Pirie was my first foray in the dining car and being allowed to choose my own dishes (for a six year old this is significant). It must have been for lunch as I recall having cream of chicken soup. I know I was already a fiend of chicken noodle soup but this seems to be my first recollection of cream of chicken soup and it also seems to be the meal that fostered my ongoing love affair with pepper.
I was continually fascinated as I sat in the carriage lounge watching the country side pass by. Boredom strangely was not a factor here. There was something always seeking your attention, whether it was the ever changing landscape, being hypnotised by the ongoing thread of the electricity and telegraph poles and lines, observing one end of the train from the other while as it rounded a bends, or waiting in the siding as a goods trains rushed by.
After the change of trains at Port Pirie the clocks dotted through the train gained in significance with me as I moved through the carriages from the lounge to our berth and into the dining car. Whenever I came across one I would start to work out how long it would be before we reached our next stop at Port Augusta and onto our the change of trains at Marree that night. I was learning quickly that keeping a track of time was very much a part of train travel.
However I was also about to learn that in the case of the old Ghan keeping to timetables was not its forte.
The first inkling of this train’s idiosyncratic time keeping occurred just north of Port August while in the dining room having dinner.
Unlike the chicken soup of lunch I no longer recall what I was eating when the train came to a halt. By now used to the train stopping at various stages of our journey so far to allow for the passage of the goods trains past us, neither myself or anyone around me thought this stop signified anything different and we continued on with our meal.
However the longer the train remained stationary and without the accompanying rumble of a goods train passing by, it soon became apparent that this was no ordinary stop. In time one of the conductors came into the car to confirm our suspicions. This time the stop was due to a derailment of a goods train further north of the line. We would shortly be continuing on with our journey near to the derailment point and staying in the train overnight until the buses arrived in the morning for us to continue to Marree.
The old Ghan was once again showing how she was the mistress of her own timetable and not Commonwealth Railways. Derailments, from buckled rails brought about by the searing heat and floods that often came from no where to wash away the line, were a common part of life on the Central Australian Railway. I was soon to learn that it was a rare occurrence for the Ghan to ever complete the journey on time.
By the time dinner finished the train had once again set off and subsequently Yours Truly was packed off to bed to enjoy for the first time the delicious pleasure of being rocked to sleep by the gentle motion of the train moving through the starlit desert night.
The next day emerging out of the train in the morning light, we were all able to see the damage ahead of us caused by the goods trains. Twisted rails and wagons concertinaed across the sands. It was clear that our train was going nowhere.
This was also the first time I had step out of the train onto the parched country side and already the morning air brought the promise of the heat that was to come. It was quickly apparent the bus trip to Marree was going to be uncomfortable. This was before we even saw the buses.
A short while after breakfast the buses turned up. I can’t remember clearly the older family members reactions to what we were going to be travelling but salubrious they weren’t.
Our transportation to Marree was to be via buses used by Leigh Creek coalminers. While you could see a hint of the past lives as a part of Adelaide’s metropolitan bus network, they had nevertheless gone through a serious transformation in their new role of carting miners through the desert. All now remained was a ghost consisting of just the metal skeleton of the bus frame, the glass having been removed to enable as much air as possible to flow through.
My grandfather, realising that as being the youngest passenger on board the train I was going to need all the help I could get in making it to Marree. So as the transfer of passengers and baggage occurred he walked through all the carriages, obtaining empty drink cans and filling them up with water before stocking them in the bus. All I now remember of this bus journey was the searing heat as we bounced along the unsealed rocky road with my mother pouring water from the collected cans over me and constantly wetting the face washers that were wrapped around me neck in an effort to keep me cool. Thank you Grandpa for coming up with your great plan.
After a while we finally made it to Lyndhurst and the pub.
Taking a break in the shade of the Lyndhurst Hotel verandah, you could see the shimmer of the heat into the horizon as you looked out on the treeless plains beyond. It was at this point I fully appreciated just how unforgiving our big brown land could be. I was also grateful for the cold glass of lemonade that had come my way.
Looking out onto the sunburnt plains I overheard the adults behind me discussing the fact that while it was 42C in the shade, it was more like 50 degrees or more out in the sun. I didn’t doubt them.
However Marree still beckoned and all too soon it was time once again to rejoin the skeleton bus, the heat, the dust and the flies for the remainder of that bone shaking journey and more cans of water being poured over me.
On reaching Marree and sighting the train, we thought that worst of the adventures were over. The old Ghan still wasn’t done with us yet.
As we settled into our cabin we were advised by the conductor that the air-conditioning in our carriage had broken down and they hoped to replace it with one that worked. So for the rest of the afternoon the train shunted to and fro as other carriages were reorganised but for us it was to no avail. As our carriage contained the lounge car there was no choice but to continue on with our journey sans air.
Even in departing Marree The Ghan’s sense of humour continued.
As sunset approached an announcement came through to ask passengers who had been fortunate enough to have their carriages changed over to go onto the platform to identify their luggage. Given our carriage hadn’t changed we were sitting in the lounge area watching the activity occurring outside.
Seemingly without warning the train started moving. As with the collective thought process the night before just north of Port Augusta, the initial movement seemed no different to the shunting activity that had been occurring throughout the afternoon. However it soon became apparent that this time the train was starting to speed up forcing many to make a dash back into the moving carriages.
It is still one of the great mysteries of this adventure that the luggage seemingly left on the platform at Marree was somehow available for pick up on arrival at Alice Springs. I never found out just what happened but I suspect it was put on one of the goods trains that overtook us during that final leg north.
As we travelled into the night and into the next day slowly inching our way towards Alice Springs and despite our adventures encountered so far on the journey, I was still in awe of the country that was unfolding outside our carriage windows. Standing in the passage way with my cousin we marvelled as emus and kangaroos travelled along with us. Seeing them in their natural environment moving along the red sand and scrub suddenly gave life to the school and library books that until then had been our only reference to these magnificent creatures. For all her dramas The Ghan was still better than any classroom.
With no air conditioning and only a steel floor between you and the searing desert sand below, there was no way one could walk with bare feet. Jokes were abounding around the carriage about being able to cook an egg on the floor. It was one of my great disappointments that no one was game to try to test the truth of theory. However when going to bed during that our final leg to Alice Springs thongs were always strategically placed on the bunk in case one needed to get up during the night.
Finally in the early hours of Christmas Eve, three days after our departure from Adelaide we arrived in Alice Springs. My first great adventure on The Ghan was over but it was not to be my last, however the tale of those adventures are for another day.
In 2004 the 19th century colonial dream of a North/South transcontinental railway was finally realised when the new line via Tarcoola reached Darwin. I have yet to go on this full journey all the way from Adelaide to Darwin, other than what I have recently seen on SBS, but it is on my travel bucket list. I am looking forward to making the comparison of what I suspect will be a far smoother and comfortable journey against The Ghan of childhood adventure.

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In fear and trembling or the latest attempt to overcome procrastination

Another festive season is over and once again here I am at the starting line of a New Year with yet another resolution.

Like many I spend the last weeks of the year reviewing the achievements or otherwise of the past 12 months and begin to consider goals and aims for the coming year. Like many I then set myself up in great expectation with various resolutions.

Over the years I have taken on the more health related resolutions such as no alcohol consumption until my birthday (which being in April means a fair whack of the year of being teetotal), getting fit, setting weight goals, dieting and giving up smoking all with mixed results.

They have also all followed a similar pattern. December usually sees Yours Truly taking advantage of the seasonal festivities to indulge in good food and wine with the background thought that on 1 January I will suddenly go cold turkey and live the life of a nun by abstaining from alcohol, get fit and lose weight (not necessarily in that order) for the first few months of the year.

Well that is the plan.

Then suddenly the New Year arrives and the deadline clock clangs. “Hey baby there are no excuses now, it’s time,” says the little voice inside your head that you just know can’t be easily ignored.

So yes here I am on 2 January 2018 facing that shrill alarm clock.

I’ve now closed the chapter to 2017 and looking at the new page/chapter/story that will be this new year

However unlike past years 2018’s opening lines – the New Year Resolution – is already different.

This time around there is no declaration of getting fit, losing weight, going through a period of abstinance or even setting some unrealistic total on the number of books to read in the coming year. Yep 2018 is all about writing.

This year I am even publicly declaring it.  In past years I have tended to keep my resolutions to myself and in doing so probably set them and I up for failure.

So the resolution/aim/plan/ goal is to have the first draft of my novel written by the end of 2018.

A necessary and tricky ingredient in ensuring this goal is met is to increase my writing time and to get the writing itself more out there. I say tricky as like many things the rest of the world will get in the way. I know I am very much not alone in stealing whatever time I can for this endeavour against full time work, dealing with ageing family members and in ensuring fitness, a balanced diet and a social life are not totally sacrificed as well. As you can see the themes of those other past resolutions are still a factor in this overall scheme.

At the moment a helping hand to this grand plan is the fact that I am still on leave, yet this has had its own distractions, the initial recovery from a hard year at work, preparing for Christmas, recovering from Christmas, catching up with friends and family who are in town for the holidays and then getting ready for the New Year.

Just as I was starting to worry that I would fall at the first hurdle, I cam across a wonderful blog piece this morning written by fellow local writer Jennifer Sando (http://www.jennifersando.com/festive-battle-or-break/), that reminded me on the need not to place too much pressure on oneself at the outset and in ensuring balance and patience with this endeavour.

Suddenly the procrastination and distractions that have occurred these holidays disappeared and the panic on hearing the screaming alarm clock about already being in 2018 and yet to commence my first writing steps for the year also dissipated.

So here I am on 2 January writing and already a part of this overall goal is about to be met – reactivating this blog.

Instead of a deadline of weekly blogs, I’m choosing instead the goal of having regular blogs that reflect on this 2018 writing journey. I may blog once a week or even more, while at other times it could be up to a fortnight before a relevant post is able to come along. Whenever it is I am committing myself here and now to regular blogging

As I embark on this journey over the next 12 months, I am already well prepared for the moments of frustration and tears that I know will come, but I also believe there will be highlights as well. I will reflect on those junctures such as the disappearance of the creative muse, dealing with the various competing interests on my precious writing time and share achieving the various baby steps to this project.

So 2018 come at me and let this journey begin… now back to writing the novel.

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Views along the country commute

Sunset over forest wetland

Sunset over forest wetland by the Glenelg Highway (between Casterton and Mount Gambier)

There are just some joys to doing the country commute.

It may still take me between forty minutes to just over an hour everyday to cross the border to get to work, the time being dependent on which town I am working from, but on a wonderful sunny day with nothing but farmland, forests and sea to look at the kilometres literally just fly by.

However I will be honest and confess that an issue with this commute is the dodging of our native and not so native fauna. Over the past two years I have had close encounters with kangaroos, eagles, emus, koalas, deer, echidnas, wombats, foxes, rabbits, cats, dogs and cows with contact fortunately so far avoided.

There are times I have had to scratch my head or do a double take as one of the above mentioned species decides to come into my line of vision, or worse stray onto my side of the road. The majesty of an eagle taking off, needs to be seen to believed and I never knew that koalas could be so big. I’ll won’t write here what I said when “Bambi” decided to hurtle across the road.

Nevertheless it still beats traffic jams…

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