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Introducing Extras

Extras

 Introducing Extras, bonus content through our blog to complement the works in our issues. Commentary, stories, and more curated by Headlander Allan Drew.

First up, we have ‘Sociology’ from the man himself. A sequel to his story ‘Anthropology’ which features in Issue 6.

Allan is a PhD student at Victoria University Wellington, where he studies creative writing and English literature. His short stories and poems have been published in a number of journals and magazines, and he has won or been short-listed in several writing competitions.

Sociology

 

By the time I texted her, I’d forgotten what she looked like. Amelia, I mean. That girl from the party. I could put the individual facts of her appearance together—her accurate hair, her collarbones, legs, that straight mouth—but I couldn’t assemble her in my mind.

Pete gave me her number. Asking him to get it for me was a little session of torture. We were watching cricket. “Pete?” I said.

“Yeah?”

“Can you get me Amelia’s number?”

“What?”

“Amelia’s number.”

“Who?”

“Amelia. From that party. You said you could.”

“That party last year? Symphony’s mate?”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck,” he said, and stared at the TV. So did I.

“So?” I said.

“What do you want her number for? What precisely are you going to do with it?”

“Call her.”

“Oh, really?” He was going to go on, I think, but began yelling at the cricket instead. The Sri Lankan captain was caught at second slip. It was a relief for me too, the wicket and the interruption. And then, suddenly, Pete rose from the couch, announced, “I’m going to the gym,” and left, leaving his phone on the cushion and a dead sausage on a plate.

I was alone with the TV. A Bunnings ad came on, with a narrative as follows: If you shop at Bunnings you save money therefore you can buy more stuff therefore you can get more done therefore your wife will love you more. I got caught up in it for a second—I found myself threaded into its twisted logic, tiptoeing along its haltering non sequitur. I felt a surge of panic. But I don’t have a wife, I thought.

 

A few days later Pete left a note for me, stuck to the kitchen bench with a plug of bacon grease. It said, Wade, go get her, with a phone number written on the bottom.

So I texted her. It was quite long. It said, hi amelia its wade we met at a party last year I used to know symphony who used to go out with a friend of mine, and actually I still know symphony, I am the guy who told the story about the rats, was wondering whats up and maybe we could catch up for a coffee or something but only if you’re not too busy let me know cheers wade

After I sent it, I deleted the message from my sent items to remove the agonising possibility of reading it again, and then immediately retrieved it from my trash folder and restored it to my sent items. I reread the message. Rats? Jesus. Nothing more memorable about me than the rats? Then, for fun, I panicked about my use of apostrophes.

Amelia replied about two minutes later. Her text said, Call me later. At work now.

It was a Thursday, that day when I texted her, and I was alone in the flat. First day of the second test match. Sri Lanka were mashing our faces into the dirt. It was humiliating.

Another Bunnings ad came on. Surely, surely, one day, surely one day everything that needs to be DIYed is going to have already been DIYed, and then Bunnings is going to be right in the shit. Home improvement cannot be an inexhaustible resource. What’s the long-term value proposition?

Pete got home around 3pm. He was on fire, like he gets sometimes. He stormed in and yelled, “Worms!”

“Worms?”

“Those little segmented bastards. Mouth at one end, arse at the other, and a straight-through tube for turning mud to food.” He thrust his arm straight out and tilted his hand vertical when he said “straight-through”. He held this gesture while he pivoted and pointed towards the fridge. He opened the fridge and found a sausage. He took a bite of it, then shook the remainder at me. “They’ve got whatever sex parts you might want. It’s all on for man and beast. Take it as it comes and any which way, loose as you like for my dirty tubular purple wormy buddies.”

“Okay.”

“Worms! Holy shit!”

“All right.”

He walked back to the fridge, grabbed a beer and opened it. He came back into the lounge flipping the bottle top like a coin, shaking his head. “Those little hermaphroditic bastards. Good on them. Good on them.” He walked around the lounge for a bit, thinking about worms no doubt, then sat down beside me to look at the TV. “Oh fucking hell.”

“I know,” I said.

“Those Sri Lankan pricks.”

“I know,” I said.

Pete said, “You see I got you Amelia’s number?”

“Yep, thanks.”

“Did you call her, sausage?” Pete sometimes calls me whatever he’s eating at the time. It’s weirdly intimate.

I didn’t feel much like talking about Amelia to him. I was ruffled by the rant about worms. So I just stared at the cricket, thinking about puking because of the cricket and also because of my overly long text messages and the state of my life.

“Wade, mate?” said Pete.

“I texted her.”

“And?”

“She texted back and told me to call her later.” Pete turned to me with a serious look on his face like he was going to tell me that maybe he had terminal prostate cancer, and said, “High-five,” and put his palm towards me. Despite my terror of high-fiving, I went through with it.

“I’ve been thinking about her, Wade, and am ready to give you my opinion. Stand by.” He went to get a beer. On his way to the fridge he accidentally kicked the wheel of his bike that was leaning against the kitchen bench. He didn’t make a sound but pulled an outrageous face, like a cartoon character in silent, indescribable pain.

The sad thing was, I was nervous about what he was going to say. Instant anxiety. And even worse, he knew it. He got the beer, then walked with an exaggerated limp back to the couch, and waited, I guess to elevate the tension, I guess to stretch out my anxiety. He used a beer burp to focus my attention, like a judge uses a gavel, then said, “Therefore, be advised: she’s a honey.”

“A honey. Okay.”

“Aaaaa-ffirmative.” He saluted.

“I’m so glad,” I said, with heavy sarcasm that I didn’t feel. I was relieved, even against my desire not to care what he thought. It must have been that relief, that feeling of mateship you get when you get another guy’s approval, because before I even had a chance to stop myself I blurted, “I like her collarbones.”

This comment filled the room. No-one moved. The atmosphere grew heavy and still, the air mouldering. Then, after exhaling through his nose, Pete said to himself, “Collarbones,” and got up off the couch. “I’m going for a shower.” He stopped before he left the room though, turned and said, “Wade, you’re not a hermaphrodite are you?” and then, abruptly, “Don’t answer that!”

 

The front of our flat faced south, which is why it was always dark, and the back of the flat faced north, so that’s where the sun was and that’s where the landlords had built a small balcony. From there, Mt Eden Road ran narrow and busy through the village.

Pete took a sack of Mad Butcher sausages out of the freezer. Pete mostly ate sausages. You wouldn’t know, because he was so buff, but it’s a fact. He cooked them in bulk, straight from the freezer, and they lasted a few days, sometimes a week, depending on how many he cooked. I followed him out to the balcony where the BBQ leaned against the rail. He put forty sausages on the BBQ, in four rows of ten, and stood, prodding.

“Where are you taking her, on your date?”

I didn’t know. I was a complete amateur and needed to be euthanized for my own protection and to prevent me from breeding.

“I hadn’t thought about that,” I said.

Pete put down his tongs. He held up the palm of his hand as if it were a mirror and said, in a plain tone, “Oh my fucking God.” He then picked the tongs back up and poked at his sausages, rolling them all over a quarter-turn, revealing incomplete parallel black stripes. I had a fairly strong surge of nausea.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“Straightforward. Go to the whisky tasting they have at The Forkers. That way, if she hates you she can at least get drunk, and if she likes you, the booze can loosen her up and increase your chances of giving her the worm.”

His logic was infallible. Except: “What if she likes me but I don’t like her?” At that, Pete pretended to throw his tongs at me. “That’s the spirit.”

 

It would’ve been better if I could have remembered what she looked like. But the harder I tried, the worse it got. By the time I made the call, she was nothing but a disembodied haircut.

“Hello?” she said.

“Hi, Amelia? It’s Wade.”

“Hi.”

“So, you remember me, right? From that party at”—Jesus, I couldn’t remember the guy’s name—“from that party last year?”

“Yes, of course, I remember. You shook my hand when I left.” That was right but not right. She’d shaken my hand. But now that I heard her voice, I remembered what she looked like. I saw her there, in that dress carrying her shoes to the door and saying goodbye. Shaking hands.

“Ha, yeah.”

“How’s Pete?” she asked. I had somehow forgotten that she knew him, but of course she did.

“He’s—he’s the same.”

“And how’s your study going?”

My study had stalled because I was supposed to be writing the final version of my research proposal and I wasn’t, because whenever I sat down to start writing I felt a sudden and expansive combination of sleepiness and humiliation. I was avoiding my supervisor in person and sending him emails detailing the progress I wasn’t making. “Pretty well,” I said.

“Anthropology, right?”

“Oh, yeah. No, actually. I changed my major. Sociology now.”

“What area?”

My supervisor had rejected the first three projects I’d come up with, and it looked like I was headed to do some sort of qualitative study of social factors affecting people’s emotional responses to public transport, which meant I was probably going to be asking strangers on the street what they liked about the bus. “I’m still nailing it down.”

“Uh huh.”

“But it’ll be in urban psychological sociology with a tie into public health.” I sounded, suddenly and predictably, like a wanker.

“Right,” she said.

“How’s work?” I asked, hating myself.

“Work’s work. Busy, draining. So—”

“Yeah?”

“You want to catch up for a coffee, then? That’s what you texted, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right. But, no, do you know The Forkers?” Oh, shit. Shit. It was all shit now. I had forgotten, when Pete had suggested The Forkers, that I had originally asked her for coffee. Now I was pushing the Forkers plan, throwing the coffee out the window. But I had to proceed. “They have whisky tasting once a month, I thought we could check it out and sample some of what’s on offer.” It sounded pretty much like I was trying to get her drunk. Or implying she was an alcoholic.

“I don’t really like whisky.”

“Oh. You can probably drink something else.” To satisfy your alcohol addiction, Amelia, obviously.

“Right, but—”

“Oh,” I said.

“What?” she asked.

The Oh had meant, oh okay, I see it was tolerable for exactly half a second and then I ballsed it up and it doesn’t really matter but it’s all gone straight to hell and I’ll let you go.

“Wade?”

“Yeah, I’m here, sorry.”

“You said about coffee in your text?”

“Yeah,”

“Wade, will you meet me for coffee, then?”

“Yes.”

“Sunday after next?” She talked a bit more. My hands were on my forehead, and I was squeezing the phone to my ear with the point of my shoulder and my cheeks ached with whatever facial arrangement I had adopted.

“Okay, see you,” she said.

“K bye thanks see you then,” I said.

About ten minutes later I realised I hadn’t listened when she gave me the details. I had a subclinical panic attack and then made a plan. I would text after a suitable period of time and say my idiot flatmate has thrown out the piece of paper on which I had jotted down the details, and could you please remind me again where and when we were going to catch up?

I reckoned it would work, the text plan, and I drafted the message right then and there. I swapped details for deets, then swapped it back again, and saved the text to drafts. It was about quarter to nine, but I went to bed anyway. I lay awake until 4:30am, at which time the neighbour got home and puked into his shrubbery and slammed his door, so I got up.

 

It was Sunday afternoon, the Sunday before the Sunday when I was to have catch-up coffee with Amelia. I didn’t know where yet, or what time—that draft text was still unsent.

Pete and I were sitting outside on the front veranda, in the shade. Pete had a bad hangover, so I was keeping things quiet. I was thinking about my research project. I had agreed with my supervisor that by Monday I would create the formal project outline and complete the draft of my questionnaire. I’d done none of it. On Friday night Pete and I had got Chinese from the smorgasbord place down the road and watched American Idol. On Saturday I did nothing at all during the day and then at night I played video games until about 2am. Pete had gone out.

Even though I was sitting there thinking about my project, I wasn’t contemplating actually doing any work. I was thinking about how to explain my project to Amelia next week and still sound like a worthwhile human being. I hadn’t cracked that nut yet.

“I fucked up,” said Pete. His eyes were closed.

“How?”

“Symphony hates me.”

“Symphony?” He hadn’t talked about her for a long time. They’d broken up two years ago.

“I saw her last night.” His eyes were still closed, and he didn’t say anything more for maybe a minute. “I’ve been stalking her, you know?”

“What?” I said. Pete opened his eyes and looked at me and sort of half smiled.

“Not really stalking. Just thinking about her. And watching a bit.” Another pause. “And sometimes I phone her.”

“That sounds like stalking,” I said.

“I told you, I fucked up.”

“Okay.”

“I saw her last night,” he said.

“Why?” I asked. He tried to sit up straight, failed, and slouched down again, easing back into his hangover, and closed his eyes.

“I talked to her the other day, you know, to get Amelia’s number for you. I had to call her about five times before she would talk to me. So once she actually rang me back and gave me Amelia’s number, I asked if she wanted to go out on Saturday.”

“And?”

“She told me to fuck off, but after I made a cock of myself for asking so many times, she gave up, and we met for a drink. I think she pretty much just wanted to see me so she could tell me to fuck off in person. She left pretty quick. Then I met up with some of the guys and just drank.”

“So, okay.” I figured that now was a good time to ask. “Why did you and Symphony split, anyway?” I asked.

“I was too much of a man for her.”

“No, really.”

“Yes, really.”

“No, really.”

He looked at me. “What does it matter?” he said. I shrugged and he closed his eyes. “She figured she had had enough of sleeping with someone she hated.”

“Why did she hate you?”

“Why does she hate me, present tense.”

“Okay, why does she hate you?”

“Fucked if I know,” said Pete, “You’d be better asking her. Why don’t you, she liked you.”

Huh? “What do you mean?”

Pete took in a long breath, like an inverted sigh, and raised himself off his chair. “Look, last night I told her thanks for giving me Amelia’s number to give to you, and she said she couldn’t work out why you and I were friends anyway, and why a guy like you would bother hanging around with a fuckwit like me. No, hang on, she didn’t say fuckwit. She said wanker. She said why’d you hang out with a wanker like me. So I said ‘What makes it so Wade isn’t a wanker?’ and she said you were ‘good to talk to’.”

When Pete said “good to talk to”, he made inverted commas in the air.

He continued. “Oh yeah, she also said you looked at her titties all the time.”

“What? Hang on—”

“Okay. Fair play. She didn’t say that. What happened was I said ‘Oohh so he’s sooooo good to talk to is he?’—look I was being a real prick by then— and she said ‘Yes!’ and then she like whacked me with her fist, and then I told her that Wade probably looks at your tits when you’re not watching, and she said that she wouldn’t care if you did. Or wouldn’t mind. Or something.”

“Which was it?”

“What?”

“Care, or mind?”

“What? Look, what does it matter? She has had a gutsful of me and there’s nothing left to say. Jesus I have a massive fucking hangover.” He paused for a while then said, “I’ve got to get out of this house.”

Blood surged in my temples. I ignored it. “We could hike it up the mountain?” I suggested.

“I don’t see why fucking not,” he said, so we got up and walked up Mt Eden. By the time we were at the top, Pete was sweating something shocking and I could smell last night’s alcohol on his breath and seeping from his pores and probably evaporating off the gunk in the corners of his eyes. He really stank.

 

Over the years, Pete has called me, among other things, Nana, Grandpa, Womankind, Girl, Liberal-Arts Enthusiast, Baby-Baby Doll, The Journeyman, Princess, Prince, and The Count, along with all sorts of foodstuffs, and all at different times depending on his mood. From that day when he first studied worms, he sometimes called me Hermaphrodite, which he shortened to Herm, and then re-lengthened to Herman. When I said I was going shopping for clothes for my catch-up with Amelia because all the stuff I owned looked like Mum had bought it for me, he called me Eunuch.

“Balls and clothes shopping are incompatible.”

“You buy clothes,” I pointed out.

“But I don’t go bloody shopping.”

It’s a sad business, a single male in a shopping mall searching fruitlessly for items of clothing to make him appear to be anything other than what he is. Looking for trousers that give him some sort of an arse, a shirt that gives him some sort of pecs, and shoes that imply he is better in bed than his hair might suggest. Excuse me Miss, do you have any clothes that can change your physical and metaphysical being? Do you do lay-buy?

I tried on a shirt and had decided I didn’t like it, and, just as I was just taking it off, I bled all over it. From my nose. Sometimes things happen in real life that are so outrageous or unlikely or sad or unfortunate that you don’t believe it even when it’s happening to you.

I get bloody noses. I used to get them all the time, when I was a kid. I had to have the blood vessels in my nose cauterised when I was eight years old, which means that a doctor carefully and precisely set fire to my nostrils. It worked for a while, then those nose bleeds returned. When I moved in with Pete, I was getting them maybe ten times a year. The first time he saw it he asked me how often it happened. “Once a month, on average, I’d say.” From then on he called them my nose periods. “You should get yourself some nose tampons, mate,” he’d said. And he actually made me some nose tampons out of toilet paper and cotton buds. He put them in a zip lock bag and decorated it with flowers from the overrun garden out the front. Sometimes, when he gets on to something, he just won’t leave it alone. I used those nose tampons the next time I got a bloody nose. They worked, too.

I took the shirt off and walked out to the shop assistant to show her. She had been nice to me when I was browsing, and smiled as I approached.

“Hi there. Sorry, I accidentally bled on this shirt.”

“What? Why?” she said.

“I didn’t mean to.”

“Oh my gaaarrd,” she said, taking half a step back when I showed her.

“Yeah, sorry, I’ll buy it, of course.”

She nodded and said, “But are you okay?”

“Yes, it happens sometimes.”

“Really?”

In the end, I was mostly just glad when the eftpos machine said “Accepted”. It had cost more than I had been planning to spend.

She packaged it up nicely, putting tissue paper around the still-fresh blood stain so it wouldn’t spread. I was, for all intents and purposes, an invalid who was trying to retain his dignity and she was the nurse cleaning me up after I’d soiled myself. But, in the end, it was just another shop I couldn’t go into again. No big deal. I guess, in some ways, the whole blood-on-the-shirt thing saved me the time I would otherwise have spent looking for the mythologically perfect shirt.

I took the shirt home and washed the blood out. Blood comes out okay, when you know what you’re doing. I decided to wear the same jeans I wore to the party when I met Amelia. They had a small tear at the right knee, in the place I put my foot when I cross my left leg over my right, but they actually fit me almost properly.

 

On the Thursday before the Sunday of my coffee-date with Amelia, I was sitting on the couch, watching the third test match finish. It was going to be three-zip to the tourists. I got a phone call.

My phone was in my back pocket, so I’d been sitting on it when it started ringing. I lifted that butt cheek and pulled it out and looked at the little screen. The screen said Amelia.

In about a ring-and-a-half, I worked out what was going on. Amelia was calling to say she’d made a mistake, that when I’d called her she thought I was Pete, and that she’d figured the other guy, who was actually me, would never dare to call her and ask her out, and it was only when Symphony said, no, Wade was the strangely overweight skinny guy who had arms like wrinkled sausages and who hung around with Pete, and it was Pete who was the big guy with the arms and the pecs and everything, and therefore she would have to cancel our catch-up because she wasn’t interested after all and sorry to have taken up my time.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hi, Wade?” When I heard her voice I remembered her again, what she looked like with her collarbones and her thin wrists and the smooth skin of her neck that glowed like clouds backlit by the sun.

“Yeah, hi Amelia.”

“How’s it going?”

I was miserable. “Good.”

“Hey, I’m really sorry but I have to cancel our catch-up.”

“Oh, okay.” I said. It’s equal parts horrifying and satisfying when your anxieties turn into realities.

“Not cancel, really, just postpone.”

“Oh, right.”

“I’m in Sydney. I had to come over for work. I’ll be here for at least two weeks, but not sure exactly how long. Could be longer. Maybe give it some time and call me in a month or so.” She sounded distracted, like she had turned her head away from the phone.

“Of course, yes, I mean, no worries.” I said, and began worrying. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to ask her out for a second time. I’d put more or less everything I had into that first text.

“Okay great. See you soon,” she said, and she was gone.

“Sweet.” I said, after the connection had died.

On the television the teams were walking off the field, shaking hands and patting each other on the back. I thought about all the blood I spilt, like a warrior, on that shopping trip. I wondered if maybe Amelia would stay in Sydney, permanently, and if that might not be better for everyone. She could easily find some enormous Australian lawyer with huge hands and tanned shoulders and nuts like cannonballs. They’re everywhere over there.

Pete got home maybe an hour later, and I was still on the couch. He asked me what happened.

“I see,” he said. “So. Beer?”

“Alright.” He brought me one from the fridge, and poured it into a glass. We usually only drank from glasses when we wore collared shirts.

“Sausage, sausage?”

“Alright.” And he trotted off back to the kitchen and microwaved a sausage and brought it to me on a little plate. It had sweated in the microwave and a brown oily liquid had seeped from the small tears in the casing. Pete sat down next to me and muted the TV.

“Cheers,” I said.  We sat for a while.

“You know what might help?” Pete asked.

“What?

Showgirls.”

“No.” We sat for a bit longer. Evening slid into the room.

“Want to go get drunk?” Pete asked, half-heartedly.

“Nah.”

“Me neither,” he said.

I looked out the window to what I could see of the sky above the treeline.

“Want to climb the mountain?” he asked.

“Yeah, alright.” It was quite dark by then, and the air had a chill that felt good as we walked outside. Mt Eden wasn’t really a mountain, but you know all about it when you climb it. It’s a big bloody hill. About half way up, Pete began running, so I did too. It was just a jog to start with, but then we picked up the pace until, near the top, we were sprinting. We were side by side until just before the summit, when I overtook him. We stood by the monument to catch our breath. He took longer.

I went to sit on the bench but it was damp with dew, so I stood on it instead. The crater of the volcano plunged away from my feet like a cliff. A helicopter scooted across the horizon, buzzing towards the cranes at Mechanics Bay. If I could see around corners, and over great distances, I might have been able to see across the Tasman, to Sydney, and to Amelia.

My phone buzzed in my pocket. Message from Symphony, it said, underneath her Facebook profile picture. We had been Facebook friends for a while. Years. I hardly ever looked at her photos, though. Almost never.

I stared at the picture. This was the first time she’d messaged me. I tapped the screen.

—tell P to go fuck himself

My fingers felt big as I typed on the tiny keyboard. —I think he already did

—tell him I told u to tell him again

—ok

I looked up from the screen and called to Pete. “Symphony says to go fuck yourself.” I held up the screen as evidence.

Pete squinted. “But I already know.”

Symphony buzzed my phone again. —what r u doing

—standing on a park bench up mt eden

—why

I wondered, and replied with —what are you doing?

—messaging u

—why?

She ignored that one, and wrote —did u call amelia

—yes

—and

—she’s lovely

—why did u not ask me for her number ur self

—I don’t know, I wrote, although I did. How can you ask one beautiful girl for another beautiful girl’s number?

The thread ended. One crease in my brain held the idea of Amelia, and another, so recently sparked, held the image of Symphony. I was horribly in love with both of them, without any hope of resolution or reciprocation, and all of life, at that moment, was delicious. And there, right there, was my perennial problem.

“Wade, you’re terminally heterosexual,” said Pete, out of nowhere.

“Really?” It seemed kind of accurate, at that moment.

“Yes.”

“Why is heterosexuality terminal?” I asked.

“Not just hetero. All of them. Lesbian, gay, bi, queer, trans, hermaphrodite, they’re all terminal.”

“What if you’re asexual?”

“Terminal,” he said.

I wondered now, standing on that bench looking down on my friend, and with Amelia wedged in one fold of my cerebrum and Symphony in another, about Pete. I had the habit of thinking of him as my guide, but all he ever offered, or could give, and all he ever wanted, was friendship; he just wanted to know me, and for me to know him. From my prospect on that wonky seat he seemed now to look an awful lot like me, a kind of clown with ruffled hair and worn-out shoes.

I looked at the horizon. The lights from the city were blinking and flickering.

“So?” Pete said.

“What?”

“What can you see from up there?”

I took another look around. “I can see all of it,” I said.

Observations, Aphorisms and Rules for Writing

We asked a couple of our Issue 5 writers, “How much of an island are you when it comes to your writing? Are you part of a writers group, do you seek feedback on your work, or do you predominantly work alone? Do you have a writing mentor?”.  In the first piece ‘Community and Positive Black Holes’  Kathie Giorgio shared her love for her writing community that she founded and directs.

In this second post, Sian Robyns author of ‘I Guess This Is It’ shares her thoughts on writing solo and with a community. Sian is a PhD candidate in literary translation studies at Victoria University of Wellington, where she is working on an annotated translation of Le Complexe de Caliban by the French writer Linda Lê. Sian has worked as a journalist, a press secretary and public sector communications manager (with an emphasis on economic development and innovation policy) and has finally got round to calling herself a writer. Her translation of Linda Lê’s Conte de l’amour bifrons will be published by Mākaro Press in Wellington in 2016.

 

Observations, Aphorisms and Rules for Writing

The question was, “How much of an island are you as a writer?” And as I began thinking about it my internet feed filled itself with observations, aphorisms and Rules for Writing. Here’s one from the Swiss writer Robert Walser: “Anything great and bold must be brought about in secrecy and silence, or it perishes and falls away, and the fire that was awakened dies.”

 

shells (1)

 

Then there’s Walter Benjamin who, in the second of his thirteen theses on writing tells us we may talk about what we’ve written but mustn’t read from it while it’s still a work in progress. “Every gratification procured in this way will slacken your tempo. If this regime is followed, the growing desire to communicate will become in the end a motor for completion.” (He also recommends treats at key milestones and an abundance of good quality papers, pens and inks.)

 

pebbles - headland

Pithiest of all, as you’d expect, is Stephen King’s advice – to write with the door closed and to rewrite with it open. I like this. It sits nicely beside the advice they give you in post-grad orientation programmes, that writing is thinking on paper. Who can think clearly when the world is tugging at your clothes, saying that sentence is too long (which in my case, it probably is), that bit’s confusing, why don’t you do this, you should do that…I need to think with the door closed. Once I know what I think, once I know what the story looks like, what it wants to look like, I’m ready to open it, to share it with my writing group and trusted reader.

 

Island Bay, Wellington

So yes, I’m an island when it comes to first and second drafts. But not an isolated pimple of rock in the middle of the ocean, blasted by storms, spattered by guano and littered with the skeletons of lost sailors. More an island in an archipelago, within easy reach of other islands. Or perhaps one of those islands just a little way offshore, that seems to move closer to land as the light and the tides and the weather change.

Read ”I Guess This Is It’ and other stories by talented New Zealand and international authors in Issue 5, available on Amazon.

Community & Positive Black Holes

Are You an Island?

We love reading your submissions. They make us think a lot about writers’ processes and about preferences (if you’re curious about our selection process, check out ‘How Do We Select Stories’). We asked a couple of our Issue 5 writers, “How much of an island are you when it comes to your writing? Are you part of a writers group, do you seek feedback on your work, or do you predominantly work alone? Do you have a writing mentor?”. There is no correct answer to this question, but we were fascinated enough to see what a few of you thought.

Kathie Giorgio, author of ‘Out of Hibernation’ shares her thoughts on writing with a community with us. Kathie’s fourth book, a novel titled “Rise From The River”, was released by the Main Street Rag Publishing Company in 2015 while Kathie was Visiting Author at Carroll University. In 2016, MSR will be releasing a book called “Oddities and Endings: The Collected Stories of Kathie Giorgio”, a collection of 40 of Giorgio’s stories previously published in literary magazines. Her first two novels and a short story collection were also released by MSR. “Clocks” received the Outstanding Achievement award by the Wisconsin Library Association Literary Awards Committee and was nominated for the Paterson Fiction Award. “Lifetime”, the sequel to “Clocks”, debuted to a standing-room only audience of over 200 people at the 2013 Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books, where Kathie was the welcoming Keynote. “Hearts” was selected as one of the 99 Summer Must-Reads by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2012. Giorgio’s short stories and poems have appeared in over 100 literary magazines and in many anthologies. She’s been nominated for the Million Writer Award, the Write Well Award, and for the Best of the Net anthology and has been interviewed for articles in Poets & Writers magazine. She is the director and founder of AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop, an international creative writing studio.

You can read Kathie’s story and 9 other pieces of short fiction and creative non-fiction by New Zealand and international authors in Issue 5, available through Amazon for Apple and Android now.

 

Community & Positive Black Holes

So I admit, when I was asked to write a blog on the subject of whether writers need community or if they need isolation, I laughed. After all, besides being a writer, I am the director and founder of AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop, an international creative writing studio that offers workshops and classes in all genres and abilities of creative writing, as well as coaching and editing services. Above all, AllWriters’ is a community – a thriving, passionate community of writers that spans the globe. The support and encouragement felt here is incredible, and the knowledge shared is priceless. So I think I would fall on the side of community!

However, as I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel room three hours away from my home. The door is locked, the Do Not Disturb sign is up, the social media is turned off, my cell phone is turned off, the television is turned off…all for isolating myself to get some much-needed quiet and a chance to work deeply and creatively.

 

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So do I think that writers need community? Or do I think that writers need isolation? Yes. To both.

When I first formed AllWriters’, the motto or tagline was, “Writing is an act of isolation, but writers don’t have to be isolated.” Over time, another sentence was added to that: “If you’re a writer, welcome home.”

What we actively do as writers is very different from what most people do with their jobs. Writers don’t have coffee breaks, lunch breaks, gatherings around the water cooler where they can lift their heads from their work and talk with others who are doing the same thing. When we are at our desks and we lift our heads, there’s not usually anyone there. If we go downstairs to the fridge for a cold one or the coffee pot for a hot cuppa, there’s no one to talk to about what we’ve been doing. Even if we’re a coffeehouse writer, we’re surrounded by strangers; there’s no one to share with, commiserate, moan and groan and rejoice. You finally figured out the epiphany your character has to have? High five! But with no other palm. You’ve guttered to a stop on a sentence because you can’t think of a way to describe the blue of a Wisconsin sky in August at three o’clock in the afternoon, just after a rainstorm? Talk it out…but to yourself.

Writing communities such as AllWriters’ provide that palm and that listening ear. We share our work and receive expert help. We talk about our acceptances and rejections and receive a cheer or a pat on the back. When we talk about how a character simply refuses to do what we want him to do, we get boisterous understanding. Talk about something like that with a non-writer, and you receive a blank look and then a suggestion for the nearest therapist.

So yes, writers need community. Without a doubt. Over twenty years of teaching, and eleven years of running the studio, I’ve watched friendships and bonds grow deeper and deeper. Thanks to the glory of the internet, my students connect with each other, no matter where they are. And when they do meet face to face, the joy is boundless. I don’t feel like I run a business. I feel like I sit at the head of a massive dining room table, filled the entire length with family.

But then what about isolation? Why am I all alone in a hotel room if community is so important?

I believe the act of writing, the act of creation, needs isolation. You need to be alone with your thoughts and your imagination. When we write, we dive into a part of our brains kept hidden from public view. And we disappear into it for a while. Particularly with fiction writers, but I believe across all the genres, we enter a positive black hole of sorts. Something mysterious, something unexplained, but something wonderful. Our own personal worlds disappear and the world we’re writing about surrounds us. It’s what we see, it’s what we hear, and we lose ourselves in the writing.

But sometimes, it’s hard to lose oneself in the middle of life. We start to write, and the dog asks to be let out. We start to write and the child has to be picked up from school. We start to write and we hear the mailman come and we wonder if he brought any acceptances and wouldn’t that be wonderful. We start to write and the phone rings. We start to write and our partner chooses just then to decide to become amorous, and well, who’s going to turn that down?

And so for me, this hotel room. AllWriters’ is three hours away. So is the studio phone. My daughter is at home and so is my husband. I’ve learned that in order to really get down and dirty and get some work done, I have to completely remove myself. Though even here, well…there’s this blog, you know…

In general, writers don’t have to go to such extremes to get some isolation. I heartily recommend setting up your own spot to write, preferably with a door. Let others know that you’re going to be working and unless someone is bleeding or dying, you are not to be bothered – and then stick to your word. Send away the teary, but non-bleeding child. Put up with a dog puddle on the floor. Dive!

Years ago, when my big kids were little, I had one of those hairdryers that you sit under. When I sat under that, the heat on and roaring, even in the middle of July, my kids knew that Mom was in her inner sanctum and she was not to be disturbed. A physical sign like that does wonders to the outside world. Find something – a closed door, like I said, or a hairdryer – that says to the world, “Not now. Talk to me later.”

That isolation is important for the creative process. It’s where the best work comes from. The chance to be profoundly immersed allows you to become your writing. To be the writer. Drop all of the other roles and responsibilities aside and just revel in creation.

Well, now I’ve gone all Yoda on you.

So I see it like this – during the actual writing of the piece, writers need isolation. During the finessing of it, the high polishing, writers need their community. And while living the ups and downs of the writing life, writers simply need other writers.

Writers need a heaping helping of both isolation and community. We’re kinda weird that way. But lovable.

I’m diving into my black hole now. I’ll be out in a week. And then I will embrace my community. See you then.

 

 

Two Tūrangawaewae

Exploring Sense of Place – Do We Write What We Know?

In this Issue 4 series, we asked a few of our writers to reflect on whether they write what they know, and share their thoughts on how this applies to setting and sense of place in their stories. Google ‘write what you know’ and a plethora of think pieces and advice articles will come up. To paraphrase, they range from from ‘DON’T – your only limit is your imagination’, to ‘stick to your own range of experiences for authenticity’.

In Seeds of a Story, Jane Percival said “To make it real I have to put myself in the picture and draw from my own experiences.”.  David Morgan O’Connor took us on a trip to his places and their meanings in Names of Place and Sense.  For our final post in this series, Antony Millen, author of‘ The Homeless Men of Mahuika’ talks about his new setting through the lens of his country of birth, and how this informs his writing.

Antony is a Canadian living and writing in New Zealand, having shifted from his beloved Nova Scotia to the storied town of Taumarunui in 1997. He has published two novels since 2013, both of which feature settings in the North Island of New Zealand: Redeeming Brother Murriihy and Te Kauhanga: A Tale of Space(s). In 2014, he won the Heartland short story competition and was highly commended for his entry in the New Zealand Society of Authors Central Districts competition. His work features realistic, intriguing and even slightly mysterious events in rural, small-town New Zealand. Antony is currently completing his third novel. He also writes reviews and blog posts at antonymillen.wordpress.com

 

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I think a lot about place. I’m an immigrant to New Zealand—an expatriate from Canada although when I think of expats, I think of Ernest Hemingway or Katherine Mansfield in France and it connotes a rejection of homeland which I would never do. However, the concept of homeland is challenged by emigration and immigration. We migrants experience a perpetual duality as we live in two places at once, a sort of bilocation of the mind and spirit. We have two tūrangawaewae—two places to stand—a foot in both camps. Even after eighteen years in New Zealand, I still start sentences with, “A buddy of mine back home…”. I’m aware of how obnoxious it can be, but I am always interpreting my current physical setting through the lens of the former—a life of continual comparisons and contrasts.

 

There is an advantage for a writer in this. You become an astute observer of human behaviour and language. You notice inflections and habits, and others notice them in you. People who live in small towns naturally do this as well, comparing city life with our rural, remote situation. Small towns are my preferred settings, not only because they’re all I’ve ever known, but because these observations are made on a continual basis by their inhabitants, often to convince ourselves of our lifestyle supremacy over that of city-dwellers. “Parking is easier,” we say and, “If you wait for three cars, it’s a traffic jam here.” We note the stars in the sky after returning from a visit under the bigger urban lights and count our blessings we don’t need to listen to traffic as we drift into our provincial slumbers. In Taumarunui, we don’t live in the middle of nowhere, we live in “the middle of everywhere”.

 

So, a writer does write what he knows, but, like the immigrant and the small town observer, he does so by comparing it and contrasting it. I write a story about a mother and daughter fishing the Pungapunga stream in Ngapuke, New Zealand but the river resembles the brook behind my grandparents’ place in Nova Scotia and I draw on memories and feelings from there to communicate familiarity and belonging. If I create a scene around a boy ostracised by his peers, I draw on similar experiences from my youth or from those I’ve witnessed as a teacher, though the circumstances, culture and setting are completely different.

 

In New Zealand, I’ve learned the concept of tangata whenua, a concept our writers here and elsewhere should consider when discussing a sense of place. The famous whakataukī from the Whanganui River area says, Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au—I am the river and the river is me. What does that mean to a Nova Scotian mind? What does it mean to identify with a mountain or a river when you introduce yourself in your whaikōrero? In New Zealand, I have associated myself with Ruapehu or Hikurangi, with the Whanganui and the Pungapunga, for these places have connected with me, surrounding me during my time here. I greet the Whanganui when I arrive alongside it during a bike ride. I acknowledge the presence of imposing trees in Ohinetonga and in other bush walks. In a way, it is not me who has chosen them as significant, but in a form of whāngai it is they who have adopted me, though I am aware of the limited connection and understanding I have compared to those whose ancestors have lived here, inspired and nurtured by them for generations.

 

But, originally, my maunga is Green Hill in Pictou County, Nova Scotia and my awa is that brook behind my grandparents’ house or Middle River whose shores hosted the field upon which I played softball. They bear less exotic names and exist without the grandeur and myth surrounding the Waikato or Taranaki, but it is in coming to this place and learning of tangata whenua that I feel the connection to the maunga and awa of my Canadian childhood. In his song about Taumarunui, my son writes of the Whanganui and Ongarue, “two rivers that melt into one”. That’s me—two homelands melted into one. I believe it’s also symbolic of the multiple iwi who reside here. It is a mystery rivalling the Trinity really and that is a good thing.

 

And that is a good thing for writers who are creating a sense of place. Place, like time, is mysterious. Try and describe the place you are in as you read this and you will find the options for doing so are limitless. Do you list all the objects and colours you see? Do you include elements that will appeal to all five senses? What about the history of the place or the background to how you arrived in it? What about its future? What will it be like when you no longer occupy it or when it is inhabited by another soul? What about the souls who have breathed and loved and raged and created in it before you? What place do they still have in the narrative of your place?

 

In describing place and creating a sense of it for readers, we must be selective and in doing so, I believe we do write what we know, but not always in the obvious sense. It is one thing to set your story in an actual town you’ve lived in, comfortably detailing street names and landmarks, but more often we are selecting aspects of places with which we are familiar for other reasons. Websites and Google Maps are invaluable tools for sourcing details about unfamiliar settings, but that sense of place comes from the author’s familiarity with the atmosphere and significance of another place entirely, from their own experiences or from those they have encountered in books or on screen, comparing and contrasting them. Even the most imaginative world-building must consist of familiarity for the writer and for the reader so they can inhabit the world together—two in one.

Read Antony’s story and more in Issue 4, available on Amazon.

Names of Place and Sense

Exploring Sense of Place – Do We Write What We Know?

We are continuing our ‘Sense of Place’ series with a second piece of writing about setting and bringing one’s own experiences to one’s writing. Do we really write what we know? We started our Issue 4 series with Jane Percival’s ‘Seeds of a Story’. Next up we have an essay from David Morgan O’Connor.

David’s story  ‘Berging’  appears in Issue 4, available hereDavid is from a small village on the Canadian coast of Lake Huron. After many nomadic years, he is based in Albuquerque, where a short story collection and an MFA progress. He contributes monthly to; The Review Review, New Pages and The MFA Years. His writing has appeared in; Collective Exiles, Cecile’s Writers, Bohemia Journal, Fiction Magazine, After the Pause, The New Quarterly and The Guardian. He is very happy to be published in New Zealand, and cannot wait to visit one day.

Names of Place and Sense

When I was eight years old I went to a production of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. My cousin Fiona was my chaperone. She was maybe sixteen, I was so excited to go out at night under her care. After the show, we crossed O’Connell Bridge, where a crowd had gathered. Some lost soul had committed suicide by jumping into The Liffey.

In the play, the three characters, who were never on stage at the same time, recited village names. Those names linked and anchored three versions of the narrative. For many years, before I re-read the text, I could only remember the recitation of those names and that I wanted to be Donal McCann, who, I later discovered, off-stage battled depression and alcoholism, while on-stage, was a charming lyrical god.

Kinlochbervie, Inverbervie,

Inverdruie, Invergordon,

Badachroo, Kinlochewe,

Ballantrae, Inverkeithing,

Cawdor, Kirkconnel,

Plaidy, Kirkinner … Welsh—Scottish, over the years they became indistinguishable.

This is my aunt’s horse farm, somewhere south of Cavan or Wicklow. I was there once, probably that same summer. I haven’t been back since.

 

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Now that I live here,

 

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I want to go back there. And never leave. I want to feed the horses and milk the cows and go to the local pub every Friday evening and down my pints and stare out the window and count the raindrops.

I grew up at 168 Lakeshore Drive, Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada, on the shore of Lake Huron.

That address is now something Shoreline, Drive, Lambton Shores, Ontario, Canada. The town changed names to expand the tax net and so the ambulance can find people faster. I don’t know the new number. I need to look it up every time I send a letter, which is rare and actually not a letter anymore, but an Amazon package. I learned to swim there.

 

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But I pretend I learned to swim here:

 

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This is the Forty Foot swimming hole in Dún Laoghaire (a name I must always Google to confirm the spelling). It is a few hundred metres from where the Holyhead ferry arrives in Dublin. Joyce’s famed Martello tower is just out of frame. They have a sign: TOGS MUST BE WORN. They used to have a sign: FORTY FEET. MEN ONLY. The MEN ONLY restriction was painted over soon after my grandmother decided to plunge into the ice cold snotgreen Irish sea. She would bring me swimming there whenever I visited. It was our little terrifying ritual. The name has not changed. Just the sign. She was the first woman to swim there. Or at least that is what I choose to remember. Men used to swim naked, now they wear togs. I believe I learned to swim there, but I didn’t. That’s the beauty of memory.

The last time I visited my mother’s house in Etobicoke (don’t you just love that name) near the Toronto airport in Ontario, Canada, I looked through her old-school leather address book. Under my name she had filled half the book:

301 Larch Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia

1208 92nd Street, NY, NY

33 Crosby Street, NY, NY

179 Delaney Street, NY, NY

117 Swindon Lane, SW, London

267 Shakespeare Road, SW, London

23 Via Fratelli, Porta Nova, Verona

800 Al Saad, Airport Road, Doha

16 Old Brompton Road, NW, London

1 Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY

406 Calle Putget, Barcelona

9 Pasaje Sant Felipe, Barcelona

501 Brickell Bay Drive, Miami

3239 MacDonald Street, Coconut Grove

1201 Capistrano do Abreu, Rio de Janeiro

354 Avenida de Nossa Senhora de Copacabana

1826 29th Place, SE, West Adams, L.A.

1905 Gold Ave, Albuquerque, New Mexico

For a year I lived in a favela called Chapéu Mangueira in Rio de Janeiro, above the neighbourhood of Leme. We had no address because there was no mail. To arrive, a visitor had to ask for “Joao the Portuguese”. The house was impossible to find, for the first month every time I drank I got lost, like in Venice after a good lunch.

 

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The trick is to ask a small boy who’d love to walk you there and tell you about his whole day on the way. There was no doorbell. You had to shout, normally the boy would. They loved shouting and they loved Joao. It was liberating not to have a formal address. No bills, no deliveries, no need to check the mailbox, I saved a lot of money. We were six hundred flip-flop-slaps from the sea and the morning sun made my blood flow with glorious anticipation of diving straight into a wave. We ate great meals and had profound, often heated conversations. An oasis from the chaos, a place of healing. When I left, Joao handed me a key and told me to return.

 

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For several months, I was a caretaker of this closed-for-the season-resort just south of Jericoacoara (say that with a mouth of biscuits) in a fisherman’s village called Prea in Ceará, northeast Brazil.

I almost bought some land there and put down roots. I wrote a few good poems and read Dickens and Bolaño. I tried to make friends but there was no one around. I started talking to palm trees and lizards and the sea. I learned to open coconuts with a hammer. I burnt my mouth eating a raw cashew fruit. I hallucinated for hours, vomited for days, kept to rice and beans and flour mush for a month. I realized the danger of unknown beauty. This is not pine cone and chestnut territory. This is cactus and spider and sand land. I killed my first snake with a machete.

 

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This is either Painted Rock or Tent Rock, I always get the name wrong. It’s between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico, just off Interstate 20. About a thirty minute drive from my current rented studio. If I ever get “sideways”, as my mother likes to say, about terrorism or racism or injustice or greed or pollution or hate or the general state of my own existence, I just go there and sit on a peak in the wind and recite the names of places and my sense returns. In three weeks, I’ll be in Bali and I promise to learn and remember more names. A sense of place is the memory of a name.

2015 Headland Prize & 2015 Frontier Prize

We are excited to congratulate the inaugural recipients of our 2015 Headland Prize for best story, and 2015 Frontier Prize for best story by an unpublished author.

2015 Headland Prize is awarded to Kathryn van Beek for ‘Frangipani’, Issue 2 ($200).
 
2015 Frontier Prize is awarded to Caoimhe McKeogh for ‘Lemon’, Issue 4 ($100). 

We chose to single out these two pieces because not only were both a good story well told, but they presented us with voices that we kept hearing. There was something meaty at their hearts, while maintaining a light touch. We think they’re something special.

Kathryn told us she is “thrilled and honoured” to be the inaugural Headland Prize recipient, noting: “I may be better known for my rescue kitten Bruce than for my short stories, but I’ve been writing fiction in a serious kind of a way for the past two years. I took the 30 Week Fiction Writing Course at Auckland’s Creative Hub, where Director (and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize winner) John Cranna encouraged us to submit our work to Headland. Having my story ‘Frangipani’ published in Headland was a delightful experience from start to finish.”

In 2015 Headland published 58 stories, four issues, and 14 pieces by previously unpublished authors. We set out to boost aspiring New Zealand writers, and it is a huge privilege to share works from first-time authors.

Caoimhe’s story was her first submission to a literary journal. “Being published in Headland, followed by the news that my piece had been chosen for the 2015 Frontier Prize, has been so affirming and encouraging for me. Before sending ‘Lemon’ to Headland, I had never submitted writing to a journal, so I was steeling myself for the first of many rejections and was surprised and thrilled to receive a lovely email from the Editors saying that they wanted to include it in Issue 4. It is particularly heartening for me because ‘Lemon’ is the opening chapter of a book that I am working on at the moment, so to be told that people enjoyed reading it really is the best possible news.”

 

Headland in 2015 FINAL

Seeds of a Story

Exploring Sense of Place – Do We Write What We Know?

We are curious. Do you write what you know? When you choose a setting, do you sink your story’s roots down in familiar territory, or do you head to places unknown?

Kazuo Ishiguro said: “Write about what you know” is the most stupid thing I’ve heard. It encourages people to write a dull autobiography. It’s the reverse of firing the imagination and potential of writers.

We know it’s a very individual thing. Issue 4 features a diverse array of settings. So this series, we proposed this theme to three contributors, specific to setting and a sense of place.

 First up writing about her approach is Jane Percival, whose story ‘The Pouākai’ appears in Issue 4. Jane lives on the Kaipara Harbour, north-west of Auckland, New Zealand. On a typical day she juggles gardening, household tasks and writing; a good day being one where she manages to write for a couple of hours, garden for a couple of hours, cook up something tasty for tea, and walk at least 10,000 steps. Lately she has been focusing on speculative fiction. See a full list of Jane’s previous publications below. Read Jane’s story, and more in Issue 4 here.

Seeds of a Story

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Maize

When I sit down to write a story, I usually only have a very vague idea of what it’s going to be about. It’s as if stories are trapped inside waiting to be set free. That’s what it feels like. And I’m not sure where most of the ideas spring from or what their origins are. In fact, until a story starts to develop, I don’t even know it’s there; that’s the interesting thing.

So, let’s say I do have the seeds of a story starting to sprout in my head … do I write about what I know?

Yes, especially at the beginning. But also throughout the stories. (I had to consider what I’ve written in the past year to work this out, so it’s a good question.)

Writing a story is a very personal process. Actually it’s very similar to a pregnancy. An idea starts to grow, then it gets nurtured and fed and parts of it start to form and mature, until finally it’s finished and you think, “Thank God that’s over!” (until next time). And you’re usually quite proud of the product … you’ve lived with it long enough and gotten to know it pretty well. Of course, there are difficult births and turbulent pregnancies, but at least when the story is born, it’s OVER. (Actually, I think writing a story is much better than a pregnancy, because it really is over with the birth.)

So yes, I can really only write about what I know. Sure, I can imagine scenarios—this is fundamental if I’m to be writing speculative fiction—but they’ll always have my own spin on them. To make it real I have to put myself in the picture and draw from my own experiences. Or from what I know about people and places. And the things I know stem from being a Pākehā woman, born into a Roman Catholic NZ family in the 1950s. It’s natural for my writings to be coloured by my upbringing, the choices I’ve made in life, the people I’ve met, the places I’ve lived. I can’t imagine separating ‘me’ from the complicated process of writing the story.

Jane, March 1960

I think that many of us living in Aotearoa are drawn to the isolated parts of the country, whether it be to the wide open spaces or to untamed bush. We love the cold and the sting of sand and grit on a West Coast beach, or the perfume of mānuka and harakeke rising from a gully of ferns on a hot day, or the way the pōhutukawa looks as it fringes a dazzling white beach, or the way dense mist can box you in amongst luminous green vegetation, or the way the black sky shimmers, stippled with a million stars, far away from any street lights.

I particularly enjoy writing about the sense of loneliness within the environment. How people interact with their surroundings and how they shape their thoughts and actions. With The Pouākai, I started out thinking about a desolate beach. And wondering how it would feel to be literally washed up with no way of escape. I could picture the cove itself. Wild. God-forsaken. Lonely. Beautiful.

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Whanganui

I’ve also always liked to observe people; the way they talk, the way they dress, their odd looks and quirky behaviours. I have a good memory going back to when I was very young and many of the scenes from my early years are fixed in my mind. So, it’s easy to call them up and re-examine them.

And after the process of writing it is over—whether it takes hours, or days or weeks or months—I frequently look at the finished product and think, “Where on earth did that come from?”

Writing about what I know doesn’t mean I’m restricted to only my own experiences. But it does mean that I can’t avoid applying my own experiences to every story that I write.

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Moonshine Road (01/11/2015) Crab Fat Magazine

The Bookshop (2015). In SpecFicNZ Shorts. New Zealand, Speculative Fiction NZ. (SpecFicNZ Shorts is a free e-book. Links to where it can be downloaded can be found here.)

The Pouākai (2015). In L. McNeur & L. Nunns (Eds.), Headland Issue 4. The Maisonette Trust. ISSN 2422-9016.
(Headland Issue 4 is available from Amazon. A link to the purchase page can be found here.)

The Mysterious Mr Montague (2015). In A. Pillar (Ed.), Bloodlines (pp. 117-133). Australia, Ticonderoga Press.

Blue (22/06/2015), Micro Madness, National Flash Fiction Day NZ,

Red Blood Cell Deficiency (23/04/2015). In Flash Frontier April 2015: Iron,

Water Baby (16/11/2014) Fiction on the Web UK,

The Tobacco Tin (01/06/2014), 2nd Prize, WWI Centenary Competition, Speculative Fiction NZ,
(also published on Fiction on the Web UK, on 13/01/2015, )

 

 

Anna’s pre and post-writing workspace

Where do you write?

We are continuing our Issue 3 blog series,  exploring the writer’s space. Previously ‘Estranger Danger’ author Keysha Whitaker wrote about her space in A Writer’s Room of One’s Own. Next up Anna Forsyth, whose short story ‘Running to Hamilton’ appears in Issue 3, tells us about her where she writes.

Anna is a writer, poet and musician (Grace Pageant) from Auckland, currently living in Melbourne. Her work has appeared in FourW, Landfall, Cordite and n-Scribe, among other publications. She is currently working on a radio play and experimenting with amateur theatrics.

*Note – this post was written back during the colder months, but we are great at using our imaginations aren’t we?

Anna’s pre and post-writing workspace

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It’s very cold here in Melbourne at the moment. The words “arctic blast” have been used more than once in The Age recently (South Islanders are rolling their eyes right now). I must say, it does feel that way. Hence the set up you see here. If someone invented a productivity meter and measured my output levels from this vantage (pictured), they would be virtually nil. But there are several elements to these environs that are going to make me more productive than ever as a writer, I can tell. These are scientifically proven methods for being a successful writer. The first thing is warmth.

Sports people know that warming up is vital. They wouldn’t think of participating without first warming up their muscles. I’ve ticked that box. I have my trusty men’s hiking socks that I bought at Kmart in Auckland last winter, for a Bear Grylls-inspired tree planting adventure to Tawharanui (don’t ask–it was to impress a lady). Anyhoo, these socks now have no heel, hence I will be encasing them in my trusty snuggle blanket pictured in a few moments. I just braved the arctic blast for this pic (you’re welcome!). (On a side note–sometimes I feel like Linus from Charlie Brown, lugging this trusty blanket from room to room, but I’m telling you, it is the ultimate in fake mink luxury. This post is obviously sponsored by Kmart…)

Now, the next feature of this photograph is of course the glass of red wine. This is basically melting my brain and is scientifically proven to do nothing except put me into a stupor. But sometimes, as writers, we just need a good old-fashioned brain melt now and then. Hang it–it’s warming and it tastes damn good!

I was asked to write about my writing workspace. I call this my pre and post-writing workspace. This is where I go to relieve tension (urm…yes that means what you think it does), to sleep, also known as a good-old detox for the brain, and just to lie there and let the ideas and events of the day percolate. It’s the equivalent of letting the coffee breathe and brew before squashing it together with the plunger and getting that good stuff out.

Some of my best ideas have arisen in this state. I let my brain do the work of making sense of all the thoughts and ideas that have found their way into my addled psyche, giving them some sort of semblance of order in there. I don’t know how it works, but it does! When you live a life of words, sometimes it’s really nice to just rest in silence for a bit. Sometimes I will journal or write poems, but usually I just stare at the ceiling. I’m practicing mindfulness at the moment. It’s amazing how building your awareness of your surroundings and being present allows you to tune into the fascinating machinations of humanity that every writer wants to capture. And let’s face it–who doesn’t want an excuse to lie in bed and drink red wine? Thought so.

A Writer’s Room of One’s Own

Where do you write?

We are continuing our Issue 3 blog series,  exploring the writer’s space. Previously ‘Crumbs’ author Clayton Foster wrote about his space vs the The writer’s space in myth and legend. Next up is Keysha Whitaker, whose creative non-fiction work ‘Estranger Danger’ appears in Issue 3, tells us about her writing space… or spaces. Like most questions, “where do you write?” is not as straightforward as it seems.

Keysha holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School in New York City. Her work has appeared in Brevity, The Forward, and Full Grown People. She hosts and produces Behind the Prose, a podcast for writers.

 

A Writer’s Room of One’s Own

This is where I’m supposed to write: at a designated desk in a designated den at a designated time.

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In this Pennsylvania apartment, my first with a study, I imagined waking up, making coffee, then clicking away in the wee hours of the morning. The room’s windows overlook the city of Reading, straight across to the heights of Mount Penn where The Pagoda–the only one of its kind in the United States–stretches and yawns on the side of the mountain.

Back when I lived in a South Bronx studio above the 6 train, I envisioned a writer’s room. One with four walls and a cat-proof door. Warm walls adorned with writerly words of wisdom, talismans strategically placed to ward off the Spirit of Block, framed magazine articles to remind me that yes, I can. Yes, I will.

Then, in 2010 as an MFA student at The New School, I began collecting methods of established writers, hoping for that one magic technique to unleash the writer kracken. Once, one of my teachers, Robert Antoni, invited us to his NYC Chelsea apartment. A fancy joint with an elevator that opened right up into the shiny hardwood open kitchen. I’m sure the place had at least two bedrooms. A mansion by New York City standards.

As my classmates and I whispered about how we wanted to be writers who could afford such a place and debated whether he landed it from book money or if his family came from cash, I spied the writing desk and comfy chair he’d spoken of in class.

And there, around the back of the chair, was the belt.

The leather belt he used to fasten himself in when he sat down to do his work. Writing as physical restraint. Mental restraint.

The strap intrigued me most. At home, I had a large, round, cushy, spin-able thing I called my writing chair, but I could too easily get up from the chair to complete a more pressing task or snuggle into its plush cushions for a five-minute turned two-hour nap.

This writing chair is no good, I’d say when I woke, drool-faced. I had a where then but I didn’t get anything done. Now I realize that I had no why.

The why began to emerge for me in 2012 when I attended Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation where I learned and felt encouraged that writers of color need to tell their stories, but it became most clear when I found myself in Pennsylvania last year in the name of a job–one that is suited for me but not one that I’d dreamed about since I had my first essay published in a local paper at six years old. Granted, it was a picture essay, but still.

As I pondered the sacrifice I’d made, moving miles away from family, friends, and the cultural life I thrived on in New York City, I found my why. I realized when I’d gone the way of ashes and dust, if I hadn’t been a writer, if I hadn’t died trying, gone writing, then living would have been in vain.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

And for me, the how is still evolving. Mainly, the den remains undecorated and unused. On most mornings, at least during the summer when I haven’t had a.m. classes, I’ll open the French doors to the Juliet balcony and plop myself in a maroon recliner. The hand-me-down from my aunt’s dead old-lady neighbor weirdly connects past and present, life and death, family and strangers, other people’s lives and my own.

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After I’ve exhausted my recliner hours, or in lieu of them, I move to the couch, a classic looking brown microfiber Raymour and Flanigan find I bought to match the love seat I purchased a couple years ago. The couch works if I rest my feet on the leather storage ottoman; it’s a half-work, half-play position I’ve just adopted, since writing with my feet on the couch lengthwise leads to drool-face eight out of eight occasions.

Other days, I contemplate going to a cafe or coffee shop. Writing alone in a crowd seems to inspire me the most; it’s a balance that combats the solitary nature of writing and keeps me from many of the home distractions–fridge, furry family members, TV, and drool-face.

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And then of course, there’s still the unfinished writer’s room. I started this piece there, but in ten minutes, my bum had fallen asleep in the hard chair and I moved to the couch. But as I think of my progress within the last year, I’m not bothered as much that I don’t really have a writing place. Maybe if and when I get book money (or any money really), I can HGTV it out writer’s style, but what’s important to me most is that I’m writing.

This is what I’m supposed to do.

The writer’s space in myth and legend

Where do you write?

In our Issue 3 blog series, we’re exploring the writer’s space. That spot where authors put down the words that later come to life in our heads is a constant source of fascination. You too, may have pored over occasional articles picturing where your favourite writers work.  Where you choose to do it, what works for you, and what doesn’t. That’s a very individual thing, with no prescribed answer or ‘best practice’. With that in mind and a healthy dose of curiosity, we asked a few contributors to tell us about a bit about their writing space.

First up is Clayton Foster, whose flash fiction piece ‘Crumbs’ brings a quiet slice of life in New Zealand’s capital to our third issue.  Clayton lives in Wellington. He writes online content and does other marketing-type things for a living. He lives with his partner and his dog, both of whom steal the blankets in the middle of the night. Say hi to him on Twitter at @sixfootmonkey.

 

The writer’s space in myth and legend

A writer’s space carries a sort of mythic quality, at least for a writer. When we’re young, those of us inclined to believe that sitting hunched over desks straining to pick the perfect pronoun might be a good sort of life daydream of what the ideal spot might be. We travel to go see where the writers we admire most wrote. We think, maybe, if we hover around, inhale, inspect the minutiae of the scene, we’ll inherit a little bit of genius.

This is what mine currently looks like (my space, not my genius):

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I’m already kind of lying to you. I actually removed a pile of unfolded washing from the corner of the table before I took the photo (which was difficult to take; I had to push myself up against the ironing board to get an appropriate angle). You can see that I forgot the shirt and jeans over the back of the chair. Sorry.

My writing space is not impressive. It’s difficult to imagine starry-eyed future literature students beaming down via molecular teleporters into Mount Cook, Wellington, to ogle and gape at the $60-off-Trade Me desk and the crappy Vodafone wireless router that switches off once an hour. Though admittedly, the Michelangelo in the background might be worth something by then; I should order the glass display cabinet lest any of those sticky-fingered futurists get any ideas.

What on earth does it mean, that my writing space is in the back corner of the spare room, surrounded by boxes, board games and the warranty documents of cell phones purchased last decade?

It’s certainly a long way from what I thought my writing space would be, back when I thought being a writer was daydreaming of the perfect desk. Back then, it was all going to be ornate desks in massive studies (the types of rooms with ladders on rollers). Or perhaps the window seat of a hip café where the staff—and this is where you can tell it’s a fantasy—don’t mind how long you sit there.

(Note: the best writing spot I did ever have was in fact a hip café in Seoul: the MMMG. The staff honestly didn’t mind if I sat there for hours—I think they kind of liked the weird white guy frowning in the corner—and the fact that I couldn’t understand a word of Korean meant that I had the joy of being among people and swaddled in the aroma of coffee without ever being able to get distracted by conversations or magazines.)

Of course, back when I was daydreaming, I was to be a bestselling multimillionaire author (critically adored as well, of course). That hasn’t happened, in case the photo above didn’t convey as much.

Is the reality of my writing space, then, a representation of how my writing practice has been similarly sidelined into the metaphorical corner of the metaphorical spare room of my life? Is the writing space another in the long list of accidental symbolisms of childhood dreams compromised that I find myself stumbling over so often in my thirties?

Crikey, this is getting confrontational. I heard the comedian Patton Oswalt once say, “Wherever you are in your career is where you deserve to be.” Ruminate on that for a while should you ever want to ruin your day.

However. There is a second photo I took of my writing space. It’s this:

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Sitting while writing at my cramped little desk in my cramped little room, I can look out into the lounge. I like writing with the door open. That’s a new thing. It used to be that I liked the door closed.

On this particular occasion, my dog Avon Barksdale is doing that weird thing that he does, sitting on the arm of the couch keeping an eye on the driveway. Today, he’s waiting for my partner to return home from the farmers’ market. So am I; she promised coffee.

See, this is where the dream writing space differs from the reality-based writing space in an unexpected way: the reality-based writing space isn’t shut away in a large room or anonymous in a hip café. It exists in my life, surrounded by the detritus of a real existence, both meaningless (a box for an iPhone I sold years ago) and profound (my dog, a creature to whom profundity may not be naturally applied, but who I am sure understands something I don’t about the universe. Apart from when he licks the toilet seat).

It’s not as magnificent as the ideal space, but it’s less lonely. There’s a dog and a soon-to-return girlfriend (with coffee). They’re both representative of a newfound stability that actually helps me write, as opposed to the chaos and drama that I thought a writing life would have to be based upon back in my twenties. Yes, it’s true that writing doesn’t happen as often as I once believed it would, but it’s better when it does. And when I’m finished, there’s a dog and a girlfriend (with coffee) to play with.

And credit where it’s due. No matter how long I sit here in my corner—writing, frowning, sighing—they haven’t yet asked me to pay the bill and leave.

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