I have patrons for my writing!

The last couple of weeks I’ve been peeking through the growing pile of debts, at my computer screen – reading arts grants, job pages, and other sources of potential income. And, as usual, spending too much time procrastinating on Twitter.

As is often the case for me, it was on Twitter that a potential solution was found. A means of managing the practicalities of living AND pursue my long-time dreams of writing. Another artist I follow on Twitter, Alysha Herrmann, was promoting her page on somethings called Patreon. What is this……

Curious, I did some research: starting with a read of the official blurb on the Patreon site. Ah, another crowdfunding platform. This one is aimed at linking arts patrons/supporters with creators. So they can do what they do best – create! There is a choice of per project, similar to other crowdfunding platforms, or monthly contributions, which sounded a bit different.

I’ve read a lot about crowdfunding, but have not gone there before. Some sites and projects are great, some not so. So I did some more looking into Patreon. I searched for reviews exposing the darkside of Patreon. Scam or not? And other than people saying how hard it is to attract patrons, supporters or backers, I didn’t find anything too worrying.

Having self-published my debut novel, I know it takes nerves of steel to promote yourself as an indie. But I’ve also learnt a fair few social media skills along the way. Why not give it a whirl? Nothing to loose, and perhaps something to gain.

First up, the platform is really easy to use. Very similar in usability to Google+ or Yammer. Setting up a creator profile takes about the same amount of time and skills as designing a WordPress blog. My newbie tip: have at least basic skills or find someone to help you.

The most time consuming part is what to say. So do some thinking about your goals, rewards, creator needs, and capabilities before you start. It will make it easier. Look at accounts by artists/writers/designers similar to you – what are they wanting, what are they offering, what tone do they use?

Patreon recommends using videos to attract sponsors, but that’s not my thing. I have a morbid dislike of putting my image and voice out there. Many introvert creators are the same. So I had to make sure my written words could do a good job of promoting me. Luckily, I’m a writer so could manage this without too much stress.

Setting up the financial side of a creator account was fairly easy for me as I already had a PayPal account, and had my financial details nearby. I’ve been selling my book online for three years, so the USA tax forms weren’t daunting. It was great that they have the form ready to fill in electronically. Many other US-based platforms don’t give users as much help and information.

Links to commence promoting my page was not too difficult for me, again because of my experience as an indie author. I already have a fairly strong author platform (i.e. social media presence) so it was fairly simple to link these accounts.

Coming up with goals, rewards, background, intended use of funds etc wasn’t too daunting for me, as I’ve years of experience working in project management, grants writing, research and policy. All I needed was to downplay the corporate speak, don’t overshare, and write a clear plan for potential backers. I’ll go back and tweak these sections, once I get the hang of crowdfunding.

So I set up my creator account, wrote embarrassing things about myself, invented some rewards, and clicked the launch button. Simply by posting on Twitter, I had three patrons within the hour, and reached six by the next morning. For a newbie, and having peeked at other accounts, I think that’s a promising start. I still have to do a proper launch, but its a good start.

And something that surprised me – although very grateful to my first patrons, I didn’t suffer from my normal feelings of not being worthy, guilt of taking other peoples’money or other forms of self-doubt. This is an important milestone for me. And a massive step to overcoming my dislike of being too visible – as well as my fear of success.

If interested, my Patreon site is here. I just used my real name to make it easier for people to search for me, as I read that Patreon’s search engine is one of its weaker points.

Feedback is welcomed. I see typos every time I look at the page. So its still a work-in-progress. I won’t mind if you point out more typos.

Would you like to support me to develop my career as a writer, but the thought of monthly payments put you off? You still can. Simply use the PayPal button on here (ie WordPress blog) > over there in the right-hand sidebar (not visible on mobile devices). I also have a PayPal button on my Wyld Words bookshop website, for people who’ve expressed an interest in helping me keep another local bookshop from closing.  I love book lovers   🙂

Okay – time for me to get back to being a bookseller / writer.

Media Decolonised

20160402_135730

Basketry and fibre-sculptures by Karen Wyld

Similar to other colonised nations, Australian media is white. And, let’s not mince words, it shamelessly displays ignorance, cultural bias and racism. I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Not when there’s support for such outdated views – and a profit to be made.

And its not just mainstream media. The multitude of independent media can be just as uninformed, uncaring and unsympathetic. And while I think of it, let’s put the literature industry into this bucket of white entitlement and exclusion goo.

What? You want evidence of my assertion? Sure. I could point you to decades of evidence. Instead I’ll focus on three recent events and how people reacted (or didn’t). And because solutions-driven is in my blood, I’ll do a part-two. An upcoming post containing a few suggestions to assist the decolonisation of media (and literature).

The first event came in the midst of outrage on how children were being abused in the justice system. In the midst of Aboriginal lives lost through deaths in custody. And in the midst of hundreds of years of no justice, and decades long inaction to stop Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders deaths in custody. It came in the midst of more incidents of black people being fatally shot by police in American. It came in the midst of horror, despair, grief and anger.

This particular incident was the callous murder of an Australian child. Killed by a vigilante. By an angry racist white male. Rather than feeling outraged by the death of a young Aboriginal boy, countless non-indigenous people were more concerned with a few broken windows. The media whipped up a frenzy. And people willingly responded. This concern for damaged property soon moved on to the usual I’m not racist…but narratives: he should have been in school, his parents are to blame, he was no angel. What these people really meant was > he wasn’t white.

The perpetrator’s history was not dragged through the mud. His act of extreme violence towards a child was not discussed. The ongoing vigilante behaviour within this town was ignored, as were the online Facebook communities inciting racialised violence. Because the boy was black.

The sound of racism

Within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, in their family homes and online communities, the feelings of raw shock, loss and grief were evident. As was the anger that this extreme level of violence could occur and still non-indigenous people don’t want to discuss the impact of racism on First Nations peoples.

Before the mainstream narrative slid into an even darker place, I was expecting an uproar from allies. If not from Australians who support First Nations peoples, then from people and organisations that advocate against violence towards women and children.

The sound of silence was deafening

Ok. Forget them. The black lives matter advocates and allies from around the globe will surely step up, speak up, support us. Many of us have supported their causes, especially in recent time. Solidarity! Global connections! Black power!

The sound of silence was heartbreaking

Support did come from other indigenous people from around the globe. Those that know what this type of grief and loss is about. And have felt the pain of the resulting blame-game or mass silence. Solidarity! Global connections! Aboriginal lives matter!

Meanwhile the media continued their biased, non-evidenced (offensive) reporting of this tragic loss of a young life. And people continued the unwanted critique of parenting skills, damaged public property – and the false premise of criminal instincts of Aboriginal people. Non-factual, racist arguments that have been circulating since the British first invaded our nations.

I temporarily silenced this clamouring racism with a poem

The next incident was an American author who said some ill considered, white entitled tosh at an Australian writers’ festival. She said nothing new. Started nothing new. Added nothing new. Her views are not dissimilar to what can read in newspapers, on social media, in online women’s writing communities, or  heard around the board table of a book publisher or Australian literary peak organisation.

Some people chose to react to her inane ramblings by walking out, blogging their views or engaging in online discussions. Then the mainstream media picked up their ears – domestically and internationally. Some of this advanced an ongoing discussion; most of it didn’t.

I’ve got no problem with people expressing how this insensitive public talk impacted on them. Or highlighting how it relates to centuries of oppression and ongoing inequity. And I’ve no problem with respectful debate within the media. But, to be honest, I was a bit dismayed that the pen/mic was not being handed to First Nations peoples – even after everyone else had their say.

(I acknowledge that Aboriginal or Torres Strait writers, bloggers and commentators might have responded to this event, but I didn’t see any among the flood of other blog posts, articles and panels.)

Reading and listening to the tsunami of responses to this event, I was a bit concerned how discussions and articles lacked an awareness of how colonisation continues to impact on us (Aboriginal people). Despite a visible strengthening of collective support amongst/for non-white migrants and descendants of non-white migrants, First Nations peoples seem to have even less of a voice. We get pushed to the bottom of the heap – always.

This single incident at a writers’ festival was given a lot of media coverage. The (very valid) feelings of a diverse range of people who feel marginalised was given more media coverage, and the incident incited more public outrage, than the death of an Aboriginal boy. Feelings of writers are obviously of more public interest than the tragic loss of life.

Now the latest, and third, incident. Until today, I followed a twitter account called Media Diversified. Its a UK-based organisation that, according to its website, is: ‘…a young and growing non-profit organisation which seeks to cultivate and promote skilled writers of colour by providing advice and contacts and by promoting content online through its own platform.’

Now you’d think that a organisation that advocates for *POC/BAME writers would be respectful towards First Nations peoples. Strength in solidarity!

(* POC = people of color / BAME = Black, Asian, and minority ethnic)

Yesterday morning I opened twitter and noticed a few Australians I mutually-follow were tweeting to @WritersofColour (ie Media Diversified) with concerns about a recent article they’d published. A few of the people tweeting their concerns were respected Aboriginal people.

Media Diversified’s response: no response.

So I went to their website and found a long list of published articles that mentioned Australian invasion/colonisation/settler history and First Nations peoples. Sadly, these articles contained disrespectful and/or outdated identity terminology. Articles that misrepresented invasion/colonial/settler history, and the ongoing impact on Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.

Nothing new. I’ve read this type of outdated, white entitled mis-telling of our history from many sources. Except this academic author was not white. And neither was the media outlet that published their work. But the impact of these articles is the same as the centuries of words about us, written by invaders/colonisers, settlers and their descendants.

Yesterday afternoon I emailed Media Diversified the following:

“I noticed with some concern your lack of reply this week to a number of tweets from First Nations peoples and other Australians. They were raising valid concerns about an article posted on your website that appeared to erase our histories. I then looked in to other works by this contributor and discovered a long stream of problematic articles that no only erased our experiences, but contained offensive identity terminology and an unfortunate re-telling of our histories. The emotional impact of reading these works was no different than reading the work of uninformed white writers. So I will be writing a blog post later about this, and naming your organisation. Diversified media is a positive goal, but not if Aboriginal people have to endure a new form of colonisation from a new source. Let’s diversify AND decolonise, please. I won’t name names (ie not mentioning the author of the problematic articles) but I will be naming your media outlet. So thought I’d pre-warn you, in case you wish to address my comments publicly; and hopefully adopt better guidelines for writing about First Nations peoples. Nothing about us without us!”

Their response: no response.

How are these three incidents connected? All of them demonstrate how media (and literature) are not only culturally biased but they are far from diversified if they misrepresent, ignore or silence First Nations peoples.

Everyone working within media or literature needs to reflect on where they sit on the power and privilege spectrum. Many people working in these sectors may find that opportunities are rare. They might have to struggle to be heard. And they might be dealing with racism and inequity. But they’re probably not as disadvantaged as those who’s ancestral lands they occupy. So move over. Hand on that mic/pen. Be more inclusive.

Diversified media is a great goal but it is meaningless without a purposeful effort to decolonise media. And decolonise literature. Most people operating within media and literature sectors unconsciously participate in, and profit from, new wave colonialism.

Don’t trample us, First Nations peoples, in your endeavour to get heard or published.

And don’t stay silent when our communities and lives are ravaged by racism.

Don’t turn away when racism is behind the continued loss of children.

Update: Media Diversified has responded to tweets and are looking into our concerns. This is a positive early response from a small indie organisation. I want to acknowledge the respect they’ve shown so far.

I wish it was this easy to get Australian media and literature sectors to listen.

 


Please support me to continue writing by paying for content. There’s a PayPal button on the right hand sidebar (note: not visible on mobile devices).

 

 

Such as it was…..

100_1817

Here is another snippet of what I’m currently editing. Its some years past the previous piece I shared. Its from a work-in-progress, which will hopefully become my second novel, called Where The Fruit Falls. Its a rough draft, but I hope you enjoy the read.

As the last plutonium-loaded cloud settled over the red sands in the south-west, many miles away three strangers emerged from a sister-desert; seeking rest from a road seldom travelled. Even though they had entered town cloaked in dawn’s light, news of their arrival had spread before the last rooster finished crowing. This flurry of curiosity was not because it was unusual on the gibber plains for people to suddenly emerge from out of nowhere; others have arrived in such a manner. Nor was it unusual to see strangers, even though the town was in the middle of nowhere; as the train, in passing, often spewed out adventurers, government officials, wayfarers, those of a missionary-bend, and other lost souls. And it was not the shock of seeing a young woman unaccompanied by a man; for strong, independent women were a familiar sight in the desert terrain. No, the inquisitive stares behind curtains and the gossip that raced at the speed of wild-fire was fuelled by the peculiar guise of the two girls that walked alongside the woman. For even in this era of fast-tracked social change, it was still unheard of for one of her kind, for the woman’s bloodline was unmistakable, to be travelling unaccompanied with a white girl.
And such a pretty little girl, a precious rose – many would add to their recounting of the tale. Obviously cared for, loved dearly, despite the marks of a long trek clinging to her clothes – others would remark to their neighbours later that day. Such flawless, milky skin – sighed many behind sun-withered hands. And what eyes, they pronounced, like precious opals – they all pronounced. Even though, in all reality, her eyes were more akin to a less precious but equally enchanting gemstone: malachite.
Once they could tear their attention from this child, they took in the other girl; reluctantly at first. They openly appraised this child, and not with kindness in their eyes or truth in their hearts. This other one, wearing the trials of the road so well, brazenly strode into town; or so they thought. With the steadied gaze of a sun-browned cameleer from days long gone, this girl kept her bright blue eyes focused on the road, ignoring the crescendo of disapproval. Clearly she hasn’t been taught her place in the world – some muttered. She needs to be knocked down a peg or two – grumbled others. Such arrogance, but what can we expect from the likes of them – verbalised a few. Giving them the vote will ruin this country, mark my words – others predicted.

That last comment drifted down the street, carried by the wind, towards the town’s edge, where it floated over the unseen boundary and fluttered around a gathering of makeshift homes. Those still trying to catch a few moments more of sleep tried to shoo the words away with the flick of a hand, not at all concerned about being bitten in exposed places. Others took a broom to the nonsensical declaration, sweeping the air until that unwanted opinion was encouraged to move on. As smiles of redemption began to brighten sun-toughened faces, they soon realised that there was now an unpleasant smell in the air. One by one, the fringe dwellers gathered outside, trying to locate the source of such a rank odour. An old man caught the eye of another, and then another, and another, Until soon they were walking away from the town, carrying only the essentials. They hadn’t needed a second whiff, for they had smelt this unpleasant odour many times before. Younger kin, refusing to follow, instead walked closer to the main part of town, allowing curiosity to be their guide.
Standing unseen, in the shadows cast by the rising sun, they saw the town-dwellers staring at a trio of travellers. The new spectators were also taken aback by what they saw, even if their comments were vastly different than those already dying in the dust or floating off on the air. For rather than seeing what was different, they had immediately noticed the similarities. Eventually, everyone began to see. It’s something in the bone structure, some thought – such high cheeks. No, it was the way they both moved, the way they hold themselves, certain aura. They could see that those girls had shared secrets, for they speak in a clandestine language only known by twins. Those young ones were the mirror images of polar opposites.
Never before had the townsfolk seen such non-identical twins; one white and the other brown. Only the fringe dwellers could see the truth of the matter, even though it was so very obvious: both girls were in fact black.

While all this was unfolding, the woman kept moving, oblivious and quite accustomed to the astonished stares and whispers of strangers. As she walked down the main street, such as it was, the woman took no notice of fingers clasping at almost-closed curtains, nor did she acknowledge the slack-jawed affliction that her progenies left in their wake. Steadfastly she walked up to the veranda of the general store, such as it was, dropped her bags and shook the red dirt from her skirt. Leaving the uncanny twins sitting on a pile of road-worn bags, she walked into the store, with her head held high enough for trouble to find her.
A short time later, the three of them turned a rusty key in a dusty lock, entered a pre-loved shack and set to turning it into a home; such as it was.

Work In Progress: chapter one

feffd683ae5f481b632265299ada0819

This is an extract from a manuscript I’m currently re-working. Its just a rough draft, so don’t expect too much. And formatting is even rougher. Despite its many flaws, I hope you enjoy reading it.
(I found the above image on Pinterest, I don’t know the original source)

 

As the door closed, pushing back spring’s last attempt to invade the eventide cottage, Maeve heard a fluttering of tiny wings. Instinctively the corner of her lip rose slightly, just enough momentum to displace wrinkled skin. That sound took Maeve back to a forgotten moment, when she had intimately known such wings beating against her own chest. Back to a time when the younger Maeve had not yet discovered corporeal yearnings. However, that was then, this is now. Maeve Cliona Devlin had slowly and surely shed all sense of innocence but, as life tends to be cyclic, carnal matters had long since been replaced by a more ascetic view. Nestled in a wrought-iron bed that had seen better days, Maeve did not have a sense of nostalgia for the distant undulations of a life lived well, as she was more than content with the uncomplicatedness that ageing granted.
Brigid entered the room quietly, not wanting to disturb her grandmother. She was obviously unaware of the fluttering wings that had caught the attention of her grandmother. It could perhaps be said that the young woman was generally oblivious to many nuances, both the everyday kind and the extraordinary. Still, Brigid shuddered unconsciously as the coldness of her grandmother’s house hit her. Brigid didn’t notice that shudder squeeze through just a sliver of a gap, as she shut the door closed. Her grandmother did but took no offence, as she was had the good sense to know that not even a shudder would willingly spend time in a space where light was fading.

Maeve patted a space beside her, ‘Birdie sit down. Tell me about your day.’
Brigid walked towards the small kitchen table, placing upon it a well-laden basket, ‘Let me catch my breath first, Mamó. And I should open a window, let some fresh air in.’
The older woman nodded, as a few moments more of waiting were of no consequence. It was enough that someone had arrived, fleetingly bringing sunshine to the gloomy space Maeve had entombed herself within. She felt no animosity towards family, not really, but sometimes it felt as if they had already executed their final good-byes. Only the granddaughter willingly remembered the old woman at the bottom of the garden. Numerous times a day, Brigid brought her Mamó distractions from the outside world; to dilute the endless hours of waiting. The others, when they remembered, came out of a habitual sense of duty. Those strapping children on the brink of manhood, that physically reminded Maeve of beloved male kin left behind on a distant shore, rarely stepped over her threshold.
In the bluntness of age, Maeve no longer felt any attachment to the sons of her daughter. Unlike the familiarity she had for the oldest grandchild, Brigid: her Birdie. The grandsons didn’t know of Maeve’s sense of disconnect. Even Margaret, her daughter, was unaware. Perhaps those bonnie boys reminded Maeve too much of home; of love lost, and lands never to be seen again. Or perhaps the way they filled a room simply reminded Maeve that she was shrinking.

Opening the window, Brigid caught sight of a small black and white bird. Maeve raised her head seconds before the bird broke out in song. It was a cheeky tune, alluding to promised embraces and stolen hearts. At least it was to Maeve’s well-travelled ears. Birdie didn’t hear the same tune. She heard spring blossoms and warm afternoons. And had a sudden longing to hide in the long grass, to watch wispy clouds make patterns in the blue.  Maeve smiled, as the bird-song had brought back cherished memories. In cahoots with an old woman’s fancy, the wind floated through the open window to kiss Maeve’s paper-thin skin; bringing lost whispers of forever and ever, and then some. It had been decades since her husband had passed, but some things are never forgotten. Kisses on yesterday’s skin last forever.
If her eyes had not grown milky, Maeve might have cast them over the room she now lay in. Not much more than that one room, Maeve had practically built this cottage with her own hands. The room she now lay in served as lounge, kitchen and bedroom. Later a small bathroom had been added by her son-in-law. Not an inside laundry though, as Maeve had insisted on using the tarnished copper tub in the detached laundry out the back; right up until her sight had completely gone. If she had the ability to look around the room now, she would have found more than a few shadowy memories lurking in corners, but none of her husband. He had never set foot on this land that Maeve had built a home on.

Setting sail as a young bride, Maeve had disembarked as a widow. The grief of leaving behind her family, knowing she would never again see the emerald island of her childhood, was overshadowed by the loss of her first and only love. His body had been sent to the bottom of the sea mere days before land was sighted. Having recently returned from war, he had been far from robust. He was certainly no match for La Grippe’s frenzied tango; this unwanted dance partner had barely raised a flamed hue on the other passengers’ cheeks, before dancing him to the end of time. Stepping away from the rail, having witnessed their shared dreams become entangled in the shroud that floated from sight, Maeve turned her thoughts to staying afloat.
Fortuitously, before his fated journey, Maeve’s husband had the foresight to secure a modest slice of land in the country they had chosen to sow their marital future. When Maeve arrived alone, heavy of heart and womb, she took comfort in the realisation that her love’s legacy was a patch of good earth. Using coins that had weighed down her hem during the ocean-crossing, Maeve purchased timber and set to work. Ignoring strangers that scoffed at her determination, she welcomed extra hands when offered. Unable to pay for their labour, Maeve acknowledged her new neighbours’ kindness with lovingly prepared food, resulting in full bellies and warm laughter. This did not gain her any friends among the women in the small town by the coast. Not to begin with. Once word had spread that Maeve was not only recently widowed but expecting, primly downturned mouths became welcoming smiles. Maeve soon had a one-roomed home and caring neighbours to shelter her for decades to come.
With her bridal trousseau finally unpacked, Maeve made her acquaintance with the land. Removing a sea of stones, she put them aside for a future wall. She imagined a simple wooden gate sitting between low stone walls, opening to a path that led to her front door. On either side of the path would grow an abundance of fragrant herbs and flowers; familiar plants from her homeland. These pleasant images made time pass quickly as she tilled the land, building callouses on her long-fingered hands.
First Maeve planted the sprouting potato eyes that she had kept damp all through the ocean crossing. Unbeknownst to her husband, who had sworn that his bride would never have to eat another potato for as long as she lived, Maeve had hidden precious peelings in her luggage. She had listened attentively at the feet of her elders, and knew that there are times when the most humble of vegetables makes the tastiest meal. Reassured that a good future-crop of potatoes nestled in the Spring-warmed earth, it was time to prepare her modest home for the little stranger’s arrival. Having been so intent on grieving, building and planting, Maeve had put off pondering the child she was growing. Until mild pains in her lower back reminded her that time could not be controlled.

At first sight, her daughter’s resemblance was confronting – dead man’s eyes on a healthy cherub. Later Maeve fond comfort in these bluest of blue eyes. The midwife, and female visitors, had laughed at the inexperienced mother, before kindly informing her that all newborns have blue eyes. Maeve knew her daughter’s eyes would never change.
Maeve named the child Margaret, a moniker an expectant-father had chosen. And even though she knew it to be foolish, she conferred her with Boudica as a middle name; as she felt her daughter might one day need strength from the homeland. There was no saint’s name given, for grief had caused Maeve to question, and then abandon, her once ingrained faith. Shortly after her milk was flowing, Maeve had returned to the field. And with help from her neighbours, she brought in the first crop of potatoes.

‘Mamó, are you alright?’
The old woman startled. Dragged from days past. It took her a few moments to recognise the voice.
Maeve coughed, ‘I’m fine. Quit your fussing.’
Brigid moved away from the open window, and perched on the edge of her grandmother’s bed.
Maeve reached for her granddaughter’s hand, ‘How are the apple trees?’
‘Father managed to get rid of those woolly aphids. He made up something smelly, to wash them away.’
‘That man was born with a green thumb. You mother did right finding him.’

The apple trees, and other fruit trees in the orchard that surrounded the cottage, were important to Maeve. They connected her to many people, and the home of her childhood. Maeve and her husband had brought cuttings of fruit trees from home, wrapped carefully in dampened moss and cloth. With careful coaxing, Maeve had got those trees to adapt to a new climate, and to bear fruit for generations of offspring.
In addition to creating this orchard, Maeve had made preserves, pies and other treats. She sold the excess to neighbours, and then later at the local market; where she had been selling potatoes and other vegetables for years. This had enabled her to live modestly, and to support a child.
Those earlier years were tough. At first she was lonely, far from family and widowed so young. Although devoted to her daughter, Maeve was never without affection of a different type. There would only ever be one true-love for her, but that did not stop her from taking a lover here and there. In her cottage on the outskirts of town, Maeve was able to be discreet.
As Margaret grew taller, it became apparent that she had not inherited her mother’s green-thumb. Instead she had her father’s wanderlust. She left home too soon, travelling north-west to follow a young man. A few years later she returned, causing quite a stir.  Having children out of wedlock was considered wicked, but not uncommon. Still, the colonialists could not fathom what Margaret had done. Maeve did not see things the same way as her neighbours. Instead, she was instantly besotted with her grand-daughter. She marvelled at her curly dark-brown hair, so like her own, and eyes of deepest brown. The first time someone had dared call her little Birdie a piccaninny, Maeve had flashed them such a look of contempt that no one ever said that word again. At least, not when Maeve was in ear-shot.
Not everyone had ostracised Margaret. It wasn’t long before she had fell in love again. And soon, perhaps too soon, she was expecting another child. This time as a married woman. Maeve accepted Frank into her home and family, even before she had discovered he was skilled in horticulture. Frank’s presence in the home also provided Brigid protection from the Protector.
With the cottage now overcrowded, Frank built his wife a house of her own just before their son was born. Three years later, Brigid had three blue-eyed brothers. Although it was a nice home, and her brothers were nice enough, Brigid spent most of her spare time at her grandmother’s cottage.
Maeve and Brigid shared many things. Like those soft curls of the deepest brown. And they both had wide-awake eyes, although Maeve’s were hazel and Brigid’s brown. They also shared a love of birds, believing that birds talked to them. Which is why Maeve called her granddaughter Birdie.

‘How peculiar,’ remarked Brigid.
‘What is it child?’
‘That bird that was singing just now has perched on the window sill.’
Maeve shifted in the bed, ‘What does it look like?’
‘Small. White on black.’
Nodding sagely, Maeve replied, ‘Ah. It’s already that time.’

 

Before the tale of the little white on black bird can be told, other birds must be heralded.  Three, to be precise. For a conspiracy of ravens was taking place just outside the small cottage at the bottom of the garden. The first one had settled in the tree out the front of the cottage. Then two. Maeve knew it was only time before the third would appear, but she was ready.

These large black birds did not frighten away the smaller bird. A willie wagtail goes where it will, does what it wants. And what it wanted was Brigid’s attention. It had first appeared at her bedroom window, on an unmemorable morning a few weeks past. It took a few days before Brigid noticed it; first by its cheeky song and later by its persistence. That bird sang at her window every morning, greeting her as she woke to a new day. The novelty soon wore off for Brigid. She’d open the window, to swoosh it away, but that cheeky bird just hopped around a bit, before recommencing its song.
Her brothers also tried to get it to go away, rushing at it with flailing arms, but still the bird sang. On the third morning of the third week, that willy wagtail was at the door, waiting for Brigid. When she walked to the washing line, it followed, chirping away. When she went to the shop, it hopped down the road in front of her. She couldn’t go anywhere without that bird.
In the fifth week, sick of its carrying on, Brigid’s stepfather chased it away with a shovel. Not with malice, just frustration. It made the family laugh to see a tall man yelling at a tiny bird. By the time Frank had shut the door, that bird was already out there again, singing even louder than before.
That bird was beginning to annoy the whole family, so it was time her grandmother told Maeve what that little bird was saying.

Maeve knew the secret language of birds. She had learnt it from her grandmother, who had learnt it from her grandmother. Surprisingly, these local birds weren’t that much different from those in her homeland. For example, Maeve knew that those ravens were waiting for the third to arrive. And once it had, it was time for her to leave. Although she’d miss her Birdie, Maeve knew that her granddaughter had a journey of her own to go on. Who would be leaving first was still undecided.
Maeve told her that small bird had a message for her. A message that needs to be heard in a faraway place. So that willy wagtail would not be going away anytime soon. Instead Brigid must follow it. Brigid had no plans on going anywhere, ever. She laughed at her grandmother, and laughed even harder when she was told about birds and destinies.
There are two types of birds: those that lead you to good fortune, and those that lead to trouble. And it’s often too hard to tell the two apart, until it’s too late. Maeve had a feeling that this bird was the type that would escort a young woman to find love, but she had no idea if that would end up as being fortunate or trouble.

The day the third Raven appeared Maeve didn’t need to be told. She had already felt its presence.
‘There’s now three of them,’ Brigid said, as she closed the door.
Placing a warm plate on the bedside table, Brigid removed the cloth that covered her grandmother’s dinner. A pungent but pleasant aroma hit Maeve.
‘Leave it,’ she said.
‘It will go cold, Mamó.’
Maeve shifted slightly, letting out a pale sigh. Brigid helped her to sit up, fluffed the pillow, before re-settling her grandmother. With sightless eyes, Maeve looked towards the window.
Brigid lifted the fork, ‘Have just a little. Its roast lamb, peas, and mashed potatoes with gravy. I made it for you. Please Mamó.’
‘Just the mash, then.’
Brigid carefully lifted the fork, and placed it on her grandmother’s tongue. Maeve thought of potatoes and ships. And a husband resting on an ocean floor. Suddenly, she longed for his embrace. The memory of his strong arms around her shoulders was still vivid as if it was only yesterday.
Yes, it was time.

Did you hear….?

Did you hear the news?

They found…
A pile of discarded clothes.
An old drunk.
A crumpled bird.
A boy.

Did you hear he took….
A bike.
A pack of smokes.
A jumbuck.
An orange.

They hunted him down….
In a ute.
On horseback.
On foot.
On Facebook.

He was killed…
In revenge.
By accident.
In blind-rage.
With hate.

Its his fault…
He shouldn’t have stolen.
He shouldn’t play hookey.
He shouldn’t be black.
He shouldn’t be.

They arrested…
Your neighbour.
Your friend.
Your father.
Your son.

The boy’s family is…
Grieving.
His family is grieving.

 

 

And begin again…….

My view of the 2014 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

My view as a First Aid volunteer at the 2014 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

I’ve really neglected my blog this year. Going from weekly posts to monthly to whenever. I could blame it on a severe case of writers’ block. Or be honest and call it procrastination. Maybe take the angle of too busy dealing with grief & loss. Or just too busy. I’m sure I could come up with some great excuses, but to be honest it’s because I got bored with reading my own work. How can I expect other people to read my blog if I find it boring?

Why is it boring? I’m over writing about myself. My “writer’s journey” or reflection on “the craft”. Blah blah blah. I’m also over writing about who and what I’ve lost. I’m over being whiney. Making everything about me. Writing trivial fluff when there’s more important issues that need writing about.

So, its time to begin this blog again. And to get back into writing. Less wasting time on social media. More nose to keyboard.

And its time to get back out into the world. My new bookshop can do without me for a while. (Oh yeah, I opened a bookshop recently. That’s one of the many distractions-from-writing that I’ve been doing lately). Those that now depend on me can survive without me for a while. I’m running away from home.

Tomorrow I’m flying to Bali, to once again volunteer at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. Honestly, I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea. Sure, now that I work 7 days a week (another story I’m over talking about) I really need a break. So why am I using scarce money to go overseas to volunteer? If I’m going to max out my credit card, wouldn’t it be better to sit on a beach with a cocktail?

Why? Because I need some humility. And some fresh air and exercise wouldn’t go astray, as all of my jobs (I have a few – another dull story) involve sitting. Also, I need inspiration to get creative and Bali is the Island of Creativity. I need to be challenged by ideas; Ubud festival always has a great mix of speakers and themes – covering a range of important social, environmental and political issues.

Ooops. I’ve made this about myself – again.

Anyway, tune in to this blog or via instagram, facebook or twitter as I’ll share my trip to Bali. And I’ll do summaries of the sessions and guest speakers at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Perhaps share reflections of being a volunteer. My aim is to make my writing less about me, and more about others. Let’s just see if I can……….

There’s no fantasy – just realism, with a sprinkle of hope.

Hat and photo by me.

For the past two years, I’ve participated in Zoe Brook’s annual blog-hop. This year, life got complicated. However, I put my name on the list, hoping by the time late July came around, life would have stopped wobbling, and I’d be writing again. Well, things have settled down (a little) but I’m still not writing. Haven’t written for about five months. And it’s now late at night on the 31st July, and this year’s Magic Realism Blog-hop is coming to an end. So it’s now or never. But how can I write a post when I’m still dealing with so many huge changes (aka chaos)?

Perhaps it can be done with magic realism.

If you’ve ever read some of my previous posts on magic realism, or comments in online groups, you’d have noticed that I’m a tad protective (aka pedantic) about my favourite literary mode. That’s not a typo. Magic realism is not a genre. And it’s certainly not fantasy. I will let Glen Guest, a first-time Magic Realism Blog-hopper, explain why its a literary mode. And as far as discussing why magic realism is not fantasy – that will have to wait.

I’m only just coming out of this fog I’ve been in. I’m just not capable of theories, fancy words and deep discussions right now. I can’t possibly write coherently about magic realism; a difficult, intangible, mostly misunderstood subject.

Rather than withdraw from the blog-hop, I’ve decided to apply magic realism to steer me further out of the fog. If, as I’ve argued many times, magic realism is about meaningful aspects of life, both the micro and macro of ordinary and extraordinary lives, and a safe way to talk about difficult moments in shared histories – then why not apply this literary mode to what’s happening in my life? Autobiography, with a touch of magic realism. As it’s a literary mode, and not a genre, then this is possible. And doing so would also serve the purpose of personal healing, not just allow me to meet a writing commitment.

So I did. And this is the result > The Man Who Would Live Forever

And with that, I will now crawl back under my warm bed-covers, to the safety of my ship on a sea that is beginning to calm, now that this latest storm has passed.

 

If you’re wondering about the hat in the above photo: I made that recently for a Mad Hatters social event, that my work colleagues and I attended. After weeks of sorrow (massive job losses at work, loss of role models, death and illness in the family etc), I just didn’t know how I could muster the right energy to attend a social event. Knowing a break would do me good, but still immersed in grief and loss, I made my own hat. It has symbols relative to loss and hope, death and life: skull (death), snake (life), rose (beauty), moon charm (creativity), Star tarot card (hope); and feathers of a peacock (luck), willy wagtail (trickster), eagle (guidance), and raven (wisdom). Dressed wholly in black, I wore my hat with pride and danced off some doom & gloom.

 

blog-hop-2015-dates

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Over twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2015) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

The Man Who’d Live Forever: A Eulogy

That moment between dreaming and awake, listening to my heart beat. thump….thump….thump

The phone rang. I picked it up, even though I’d normally ignore it this early on a Saturday morning. Some how I already knew. The sound of the beating heart was not mine. And that sound – that heart – had stopped.

At the gathering, words were spoken. Stories shared of a brother, a cousin, a friend. A workmate. A running buddy. A husband, life-long mate. 

As I read out my mother’s words, her eulogy, the sounds of a distant ocean gave me courage. Laughter was shared as I spoke of how my parents met. Only I heard the sounds of a tail, softly hitting the cold ground.
The soldier with the red beret, when spying the mermaid for the first time, had no doubts. He even said so, to the mermaid, the day they’d met: they would marry. With a flip of her tail, she laughed him away. She was still young; enjoying her freedom after too many years spent in harsh captivity. Determined, he wooed her, in the dance hall by the sea. And not long after he whisked her away, across the plains of red sands, in a tiny red convertible. Too soon, both uniform and fish-tail had been put aside, and the convertible was exchanged for a much larger car.

In present time, as the speeches unfolded, similar threads could be seen. A good man. Quiet. Humble. Determined. Health-concious. Fit for his age. Cheeky sense of humour. And achievements were listed. What wasn’t voiced, but heard by all, was the shared-shock. The disbelief. How could he be gone so soon? He wasn’t supposed to die yet. Not until at least a century of years had been spent on this earth. If anyone could live forever, it was him.

Nice memories, but who will speak of a father? Will not one of you come forward?

Not the ghost-brothers, although they are certainly here, unseen, to bear witness. My older brother will share memories in his own time, with friends. Not the absent sisters. Although their distant whispers are heard by some. Feathers flying, beaks reaching for soft spots, talons scratching. Even monsters have fathers.

Yes. And somewhere, deep inside, they hold close memories of childhood.

Can you not give a eulogy? Speak of a father, who was somewhat mysterious but still beloved.

No, speaking up would anger the sisters further.

Poor excuse! You’re just scared.

Scared of what?

Of accepting he’s gone.

Be grateful that there were no loose threads, nothing left unsaid between you. Be glad that he lived a good life. And remember that he died doing what he enjoyed most in the world – running beside an ocean.

It is now later. So much has changed. So many challenges have been confronted, dealt with, absorbed. The process of grieving, accepting and letting go will take some more time. That is how it should be. So now its the time for treasure hunting, finding good memories.

To recall a childhood. We didn’t have much, but we had space – an old falling-down rented farmhouse. Like moths to a light, we would fly wildly, occasionally returning to circle around our father as he worked in the shed or out in a paddock. If asked, he would show us what he was doing, passing on knowledge that we were too young and foolish to pay attention to.
The third oldest of six, I was the first to master the art of riding a bicycle, thanks to my father. Although he used an unorthodox (ie dangerous) teaching method, it worked. And it also set me on the path of overcoming fear. He would take us to the top of a small hill that met a rocky road, which ended at a stone barn wall. Holding on to the seat, he’d instruct us to start peddling, following behind us, holding on to the seat. It was at that moment when I turned, to discover that he was no longer holding on, and I was a few metres away, that I had to make a split-second decision. Let fear get in the way, so I’d wobble and eventually fell over. Or keep going, and watch the wall get closer. Or believe that I can do it, and steer the bike away from impending impact, and off down the road. I took the third option. And learnt how to take control of my own path.

A short time later, my fascination with horses developed. There were two, plus one donkey, during my childhood. And none of them were fond of being ridden. My favourite was Arabella. When I first saw her, in the auction ring, I knew she was destined to be mine. More unicorn than horse, she would only let young maidens handle her. Even though she tolerated my company, she’d rarely let me on her back. Sadly she had a most tragic accident one stormy night. I shed a tear the next day, as she was carted off. Not because she was destined to be the food of caged kings, but because I had loved her.

My father was somewhat an absent father, even when present. As a travelling salesman, there’d be times when he was gone for weeks at a time. And when finally home, he would don running shoes and head off. For hours and hours. Behind his back we would joke that he ran to get away from us; far away from the noise of so many wild children. Perhaps he did. Still, it was what he loved doing. He ran and ran, right up to his last moments on earth.

As a quiet person, he’d also escape to the solitude of his own space – in an office full of books. As I got older, I’d sneak into that space when he was away from home. That library was a place of learning, full of non fiction; mostly books with maps on how to be a better person, how to set goals, and personal growth. In that library I developed a passion for learning. A short while before that, my father also helped me to combat my dyslexia – gifting me a gadget that taught speed reading. Memorising the patterns of words opened up pages of new worlds for me, and once I could read, I devoured any book I could find.

Then I grew up and moved out. Soon busy with children, study, work and interests of my own, time with my parents became rare. Even rarer after they bought that ancient caravan, and became grey-nomads. Happily drifting around Australia, chasing the sun’s warmth for the sake of ageing bones. 
It wasn’t until fairly recently that I started to make an effort to communicate differently – to ask questions, consciously collect family stories. And over the past eighteen months, although they were usually in another state, I had a few unexpected opportunities to spend time with them. Increasingly, it was in those moments that he’d share stories, mostly of relatives that I had never met or barely heard of.

With time, those memories, those stories, will become even more important. Now, they help me to stay strong. To accept that the young soldier has gone. As has the son, brother, husband, friend, uncle, father, father-in-law, grandfather, great-grandfather.

Still, he lives forever. Even though, all too soon, people will have forgotten what he looked like; needing photos for prompts. And sometime in the future, perhaps after a hundred years have passed, he will be spoken of no longer. His features will no longer appear in the faces of children. Particular characteristics or quirks no longer attributed to him.

Still he lives forever. In the blood, the DNA, of those who are yet to be born. And, perhaps, the good deeds they are yet to do, the personal goals they will achieve, will have been possible because of my father’s legacy. There is no ending, not really.

On Country

100_1817An ancient ocean roars under the red dirt. Hush. Be still for just a moment. Hear its thundering waves crashing on unseen shores.

This vast ocean was there in the beginnings, as it will be in days not yet begun. Alongside their gentler brethren, massive creatures once tumbled in the ocean’s depths; jaws chasing tails. This harsh water-ballet continued until the meek inherited an evaporating body of water. With budding legs they crawled onto land and spawned. With the passing of time, their descendants and descendants’ descendants’ procreated. Each generation becoming less and less like their forebearers, as they roamed unhurriedly, populating a new-born world.

Creatures of all sizes and shapes have left their marks on terra.  Pawmarks in an empty creek bed, claw marks on fossilised trees, impressions of a thumping tail across a gibber plain. Alongside a slithering trail in red dirt, footprints appeared – the biped had arrived.

The originals co-existed alongside mega-beasts, taking only what was needed. Until time circled once again, and the era of colossal rulers was no more. By the time their bones mingled with dust, other creatures already roamed the earth. Beasts of many sizes have lived alongside us, playing witness to both extraordinary and commonplace moments throughout time. Together we have watched mountains birthed, oceans recede, and whole species return to the earth from whence they had sprung. Compared to all that has come before, these ripples sweeping over Country now, heralding the arrival of a new beast, they are nothing. The tide will once again turn, as dictated by eternity’s ebbs and flows.

The ancient ocean isn’t trapped underground, confined to the interior basin. This briny mother has sent her progeny far and wide, to travel further than you or I could ever imagine.  Droplets of this ocean can be found in sun-warmed rock pools. They are carried along by snaking rivers, or nestle in shallow puddles in lush fields. Dewdrops ride on the wings of birds, eager to try exotic flavours in faraway lands. The earth’s tears keep watch from omnipotent positions in the mists. Thirsty wisps of clouds travel far and wide, growing fatter and fatter, until they can hold no more. Spilling their loads over land and sea, this generative liquid is quickly absorbed. The circle is complete.

The ocean travels far, but never once forgets from whence it came. People soak up this ocean too, catching its life force as it falls from the skies; unaware that the water that caresses their upturned faces was once home and sustenance to long-forgotten creatures. When all else has departed, water survives in its many guises. Cry not for those that are gone, for traces of ancients waters live on within us; connecting us to all that is, was and will be. We are all one, kin to that ancient ocean.

“Grandfather, who are they?”
The old man turned, brow buckled from eons of sun, wind and rain. He blinked, focusing on the girl who stood by his side.
Shifting from one leg to the other, the girl pointed towards the raising sun, “Over there. Can you see them? What do you think they want?”
“Country,” replied the man, as he looked out on the plain of red dirt. “It’s always land they seek.”
Nodding, the girl looked up at the old man, “Under the name of which god do they now come to claim what is not theirs?”
“These ones worship something called ‘the economy.’ They appease it by making big holes, to take out the shiny rocks that have slept within the earth since the beginning. And, to make matters worse, they create a mess in the process. Such destruction that they almost sully the eternal waters.”
“It’s not theirs. Neither the land or waters.”
The old man shook his head gently, “No. And it’s not ours either.”
“Why do they not care for Country? Why do they seek to own what cannot be owned?”
“They still don’t understand.”
“Are they simple or something?”
Sighing, the old man turned away and walked towards a cliff-face. He put his hand on a rock-tapestry of browns, reds and blacks, “Not all of them. Some have listened, shown that they are willing to learn.”

“Grandfather,” cried the girl. “Why are you leaving? Shouldn’t we do something?”
“There are enough warriors here to deal with this. Or, should I say, there’s a deadly mob keeping an eye out for Country.”
The girl chuckled, “Don’t”
“Don’t what?”
“Try to sound young. It won’t work, you’re too old.”
“I’m not old! I’m only a few hundred of thousands of what these goonyas call ‘years’. Come, lets rest until the next time we need to visit Country.”

The girl watched her Grandfather walk forwards, through the rock. Turning back towards the plain, she noticed something waving in the early dawn light. Shielding her eyes with a raised hand, she looked to the east. A large black, yellow and red cloth undulated in the wind. Underneath this banner stood hundreds and hundreds of people. People of all ages.

“Grandfather is right,” she said under her breath. “The People will weather this current storm. After all, they’ve been here a very long time.”
She walked towards the edge of the rock platform they had been standing on, and jumped. Disappearing, with barely a ripple, into a small rock pool that lay on the red earth.

Inked

4zNCsnba-myy3Gt5EXqJwteg4FpqsUwUgY8gfMTBcRo=w529-h709-no

Freshly Inked – let the healing process begin! (Friday 13th 2015)

Last week I got inked for the first time. The process reminded me of the arduous and painful road to publishing. Just like publishing my first novel, getting a tattoo had been on my wish list for many decades. It’s not something I rushed into. And it’s not something that didn’t require a lot of plotting, research, preparation and courage.

Firstly, I did a lot of on-line research into the pros and cons of being inked. Then I checked out styles of tattoos – there are many different types. I found watercolour tattoos appealing. Then I had to find an tattoo-artist specialising in this type of tattoo. This process was similar to all the hours I had spent researching the pros and cons of the different publishing pathways. Then, I chose self-publishing. Or, as we like to say in the biz – indie publishing.

Once I had located a tattooist with a strong portfolio in watercolour tattoos, and an arts background, the next step was dreaming up the design. Like a book, a tattoo tells a story. I have many stories I want told, so I needed to be specific; choose just one. There is nothing worse than a plot that is too complex or all over the place. I wanted to be inked with an autobiography. So I chose a raven to depict my Celtic/Anglo heritage, and a snake for my Aboriginal Australian background. This way, I also honour those that have gone before me. The snake, an earth creature, is grounding. It’s also representative of creation, life force and death. There is no life without death, no happiness without sorrow. I don’t see that many snakes around any more, but I’m always seeing Little Ravens on the side of country roads. Especially when I am tired, as if reminding me to be more conscious of where I am going. The bird is air energy, freedom and the arcane. The splash of colour is a magic spark; its inspiration and creativity, possibilities and playfulness. With a few stars thrown in, just for fun. All together, this image represents elements of me.

Conveying the picture from my imagination, and the story behind it, to the tattoo-artist was similar to the process of commissioning a cover for my first novel. I wanted to be clear, so as not to waste anyone’s time with too many drafts, whilst also not supplying an over abundance of information – to allow the artists’ own creativity to flow. I think this approach worked, because both my cover and tattoo needed only minor tweaks to the initial drafts. I think this came down to being clear on what I wanted, trusting the artists and being able to communicate changes in a constructive manner.

Design down, and research done (from horror stories to recovery tips), I should have been confident. Instead, I woke up full of doubt on the morning of getting the tattoo. What the hell was I thinking? A middle-age woman getting a tattoo? Was buying a motorbike and solo-travelling overseas not enough to quell the mid-life craziness? Did I really have to tick everything on my to-do list? To silence my inner nag, I packed a nana bag to take to the tattoo shop – water, e-reader, travel pillow, android phone and back up battery, Rescue Remedy and an emergency Protein Bomb. Walking in with my calico bag full of ‘what ifs’, when everyone else went in baggage free, I felt a bit silly. However the water, phone and Rescue Remedy did come in handy. Just like all the prep I did to ensure my manuscript was the best I could write at that point in time, and was ready for the pre-publishing process.

When I got to the studio, I read and signed the legal form. I made sure everything was explained to me, and threw in a couple of foolish questions. Knowing that the only foolish question is the one you didn’t ask. Big breath – it was time to break skin.

I won’t lie or act tough. That first cut was the deepest. Being on the bridge of my foot, it hurt. Nothing I couldn’t handle, though. What’s a flesh wound after birthing kids…walking on fire…operations…etc etc. More than anything, the pain was annoying. Except when it was over my ankle bone, or hit a nerve in my foot. That was particularly painful. Anyway, I had my phone for distraction. I micro-blogged the process for a while, via the twitter handle #TweetATattoo. Sure, there weren’t many people following, but it took my mind off the pain – sort of. There were a few people on Twitter who were curious about getting a tattoo of their own, people my age, so were interested in hearing how I went. This was similar to the pre-publishing stage. There is a very vibrant and supportive network of writers on social media. It was through a few on-line groups, meeting like-minded people on Google and Twitter, that I gained the confidence and information needed to self-publish. I could not have got through the pain of publishing, or getting a tattoo, without a few people willing to be my cheer squad. And now that I’ve published, I pass my hard-earned tips on to others.

Towards the end of getting inked, a friend from work popped in. Micro-blogging ceased (sorry everyone), and laughter began. Laughter is one of nature’s best pain killers. Even though I was getting a bit tired of the process, and the dull pain, having someone familiar to talk to made those last minutes fly. I was also appreciative to have a second opinion when the tattooist asked if it looked done. Just before I chose the final draft for the cover of my novel, from a choice of three diverse concepts, I asked friends and co-workers for their opinions. I ended up going with the one I liked at first sight, but felt confident it was the right one because of other people’s input. I shared the drafts of my tattoos too, and got some feedback that led to the final design being much more than what I had envisioned.

It’s now the end of day three, and so far the healing process has been easy. The swelling is hardly noticeable, and there is no redness, seeping or soreness. I have been taking care of it, though. Which might be contributing to the healing. Unlike publishing. After the pain of formatting and uploading a manuscript to on-line distributors (Indies will know that pain I speak of), the real work started. Marketing. Trying not to feel despondent when sales were just a trickle. Waiting for the first review.

As with my writing, this tattoo is still fresh. It might look good now, but I’ve still the scabbing and itching stage to get through. It’s all part of living with ink. I can prepare, lessen risks, but I can’t totally control the process. Once the first cut has occurred, and the ink is dried, a tattoo is forever. As is a novel. Once inked, you can never again have clean skin, or a blank page. No regrets – my story has been set free from my imagination.

 

I was inked by the talented and sure-handed Jess Hannigan – check out her website Little Miss Jess Tattoos   I highly recommend Jess, especially if you are interested in watercolour tattoos. She is based in South Australia, but I believe she occasionally attends tattoo conventions in other states.

 

 

 

Opening the jar of wishes

20141219_221933

LillyPilly Tree, decorated by author (Dec 2014)

You know that saying…..the one about cups. Well, it’s always bothered me. My cup is neither half full, or half empty. I’ve suspected for a while that my cup is just about right. Opening the Wishes Jar reinforced this belief.

On New Years Eve 2013, a group of us put wishes in a jar; scribbled lists on scraps of paper. Some wrote resolutions; aspects about themselves that they really wanted to change. Others wrote wishes; things that they would like to do, have or achieve. We wrote these lists in secret, and promised to keep them sealed in a jar until the next New Years Eve, where we would share what we had written. As we had shared a number of New Years together, there was no doubt that we wouldn’t be doing it once again, in twelve months time.

When the calendar came to an end, I had forgotten what I had written. So I had no idea if I was ‘on track’. A couple of days ago, we gathered on New Years Eve for a barbeque and drinks. Eventually the hostess brought out the jar, and we all randomly selected a piece of paper to read out. I was very nervous, even reluctant, to let someone read mine out. Especially before I even had a chance to read it privately. However, I went along with the group norms. And was surprised at what the 12-months-ago-me had set as goals. As someone who never even attempts to write an annual list of resolutions, I was surprised at the outcomes. So what where these wishes?

1. Ride a Motorbike: I think at the time I generally did mean to ride, not own. And I did ride a motorbike. Late one January night, I jumped on the back of a motorbike near Kep, in southern Cambodia. The region’s electricity had just gone off, leaving me in the dark and far from town. A stranger, who I had been having a beer with, offered to take me back to my motel. Being the safest option, and most appealing, I jumped on. First he showed me his amazing shack, with a three-walled bedroom that was open to the sea, facing a pier that fishermen tied up to every morning. I had a great time, riding through the dark, feeling at ease on the back of a bike.

Later in the year, I jumped on the back of a scooter in Bali, Indonesia. It was the best way to get to and from the closing party at the Ubud Writers Festival. In my purse I had a newly acquired International Drivers Licence, hoping to hire a scooter when I was in Bali. Which I didn’t end up doing, as the streets were extremely hectic; I’m not that silly.

When I wrote wish number one, I think I was just wanting to jump on the back of a bike. However, by the end of the year I owned a brand new V-Star Cruiser. Crazy, I know. Now, 6 weeks later and a few instances of wobbling, I’m really loving being back on a bike.

Verdict: Well and truly Achieved

2. See Uluru: Originally I had hoped to see the sunrise over Uluru on the day of my 5oth birthday, in January. Instead, in July I joined friends on a road-trip to see Uluru for another Karen’s birthday. Just being there was amazing. Being there due to the generosity of others was more than amazing. (People answered a plea to buy my book, so I could afford to go on the trip after my job had disappeared).

Verdict: Achieved

3. Publish my Second Book: The Procrastination Bird made a huge nest in my writing room, and invited all its friends to move in throughout 2014. Well, not really. Having hit about 75,000 words into the draft, I realised that the point of view was all wrong. Not only faced with the need to change first person to third person omni, the chronological order was also out. Making these changes is like wallowing in a pit of lumpy custard. It’s just so hard to get out off. And sticky. I’m sure I’ll eventually get out, and book number two will be published late this year.

Verdict: In Progress

4. Go Overseas: Not sure why I put this one on the list. I had only ever been overseas once (Independent Samoa), and had no plans to leave Australia again. Well, about 2 weeks after putting that piece of paper in the Wishes Jar, I found myself overseas. passing through Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam. And not for a holiday. My younger brother passed away whilst travelling. I accompanied my parents to Cambodia to deal with the various authorities, as they had never been overseas before and they are getting on in years. One day I might write in-depth about that particular journey. Not yet, though. The rawness of those memories still need to fade a bit more.

In September, I found myself overseas yet again. Not really planned, but part of my new philosophy of living life to the fullest. I’ve seen enough people I care about leave earth too soon, too suddenly. Being faced with mortality is the kick I needed to stop wasting my allotted time. I also wanted to jump back on the saddle, and not let the Cambodian experience put me off travelling. So off to Indonesia I went, to volunteer at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Bali. It was a truly wonderful experience, and I can’t wait until the 2015 Festival. I’m also planning to go to Myanmar (Burma) in March, alone, having discovered that travelling solo is very rewarding.

Verdict: Achieved with Mixed Feelings

5. Take a Sunday Mystery Drive: Mystery Drives is something I used to do with a particular friend. Over the years, we are still friends but our lives aren’t the same any more. We didn’t do any Sunday Drives in 2014, despite promising each other that we must do it soon. However, I still participate in mystery drives, on my own. Now that I have a motorbike, mystery drives are not just confined to Sundays.

Verdict: Ongoing

6. Say ‘YES’ to Opportunity: There are way too many instances where I have said ‘yes’ to share here. Many times in 2014 I have taken a different path, tried something new, grabbed life by the horn, and successfully silenced my inner introvert. Turning 50, as well as grief and loss, is the perfect incentive to saying yes to opportunity.

In Ubud I crossed paths with Jenny, an expert in the Art of Yes. An older woman than myself, Jenny has spent a large part of her life travelling the world, saying yes to adventure along the way. Despite being in her company for such a short time, I learnt not only the importance of saying yes, but how practising this fine art can lead one to the Fountain of Youth.

Verdict: Perfecting

7. Meet New People: Perhaps a year ago I meant that I would like to widen my friendship group. Not sure if that happened, but I think that I’ve taken steps to do so. I have tried to be a bit more outgoing in social settings, instead of hiding behind my mobile phone. At the end of 2014, I made myself go to every single network/industry seasonal event I was invited to. It was scary (especially the state Writers Centre drinks, where I didn’t know anyone), but I enjoyed getting out a bit more, and listening to people.

I made more connections in the on-line world, networking and sharing with people on Twitter and Google+. Some of these kind people inspired me to write, sent messages of support during the dark moments, and wrote very touching reviews of my first book. So I don’t care what anyone says: real communities can be found via social media.

Verdict: Just Getting Started 🙂

All up, as my list was read out on New Years Eve, I was pleasantly surprised at all the wishes that had come true. And for those that hadn’t, or were not yet completed, I am confident that they will eventuate in due course.

Everyone else, plus a few extra people, wrote new lists, and placed them in the Wishes Jar until the next New Years Day. I didn’t. I don’t really know why. I just didn’t feel it was the right thing for me to do. Perhaps I’m now happy to accept whatever comes my way. Maybe I’ve got enough to work on at the moment. I wonder if I’m scared at jinxing things, or finding out that what I put in the jar is not really what I want.

More likely, it’s because my cup is just right at the moment. Despite some steep downs amongst the ups of 2014 (some of which I have shared in previous posts, and some that I won’t share publicly), I’m doing more than okay. I’m content with my just-right, half-way cup.

 

Wishing everyone Happy New Year. May 2015 fill your cup with good health, laughter, love and peace!

Don’t Eat the Bugs: Things Learnt While Riding A Motorcylce

2014 - 1

Watching the sunset at Gulls Rock, Port Willunga. Dec 2014

Recently I got back on a motorbike. Despite not riding for a few decades, I was leathered-up and down the road about fifteen minutes after my new bike rolled off the truck. It was relatively easy getting back on. Some things you just never forget. It was a bit like….well…..riding a bike.

A few weeks on, memories have returned from the time when a motorbike was my main source of transport. Being older, and perhaps a tad wiser, I’ve got a new perspective to riding. In case any readers are planning on implementing their own mid-life crisis on two-wheels, here are some of my lessons from the road:

Everyone wobbles at the beginning – the 50-year-old version of me is not the same as that girl of 20 who taught herself to ride on a compact 100cc, before moving up to a lightweight Kawasaki 250cc. My new 250cc Yamaha V-Star cruiser is a bit heavier than the bikes of my past; and so am I. The current version of me has the muscle strength, eyesight and reaction time of an overweight, middle-aged woman who has birthed four babies.

So of course there has been some wobbling. It’s not pretty, but its part of the learning (or re-learning) process. I plan on taking things easy, not be in a rush, and take the bends with care; until I’m more capable and confident.

Be prepared and gear-up  – unlike the younger me who had not yet realised that I was mortal, I have learnt the importance of being prepared. That’s not to say that I can’t be spontaneous, it just means that I need to be a bit more cautious. Investing in the right gear, and making sure I use it, is essential. Thinking before I act is also a good idea. No one is immortal.

It doesn’t matter what others think of you – when I’m riding, I feel strong, happy and free. That’s probably not how other people see me. I’ve noticed the odd sour-faced look from women of my age. And I don’t care. Let them think what they will. I’ve found just enough courage to put aside restricting notions of body-image, femininity and ageing, and doing something that makes me feel alive. My life – my choice.

It’s not all laughing behind my back, though. In the first week of getting the bike, I got up the nerve to take the highway to the next town. With the road all to myself, I opened up the throttle to 80kms/hour for the first time. Wind in my face, I remembered why I love riding. Then I saw a biker approaching on a Harley. He gave me the nod. He knew what I was feeling. I smiled to myself, and nodded back.

Keep Your Mouth Shut – like bugs between the teeth, some words leave a bad taste. Its fun to ride with your visor up, but you risk a mouthful of insects. So its visor up and mouth shut. Much like life, really. It’s okay to be wide-eyed, see what’s happening around you, but it’s another matter to speak in a judgemental manner about what you think you’ve observed. I’ve noticed lately that the oddest statements sometimes come out of my mouth. I’m beginning to sound like a bitter old lady. I’m aware that its important to think first, judge less, and use the power of words well – I just need to work on that some more.

Feel the fear: do it anyway – I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the idea of getting back on a bike didn’t scare me. After ordering it, I thought ‘what the hell was I thinking?’ Fear is good. It keeps us from doing dumb things, protects us from harm. Letting fear rule your life is not good though. It’s important to try new things. It’s good for personal growth.

I’ve done a few new, and scary, things this year. I walked across the Cambodian border into Vietnam, alone, with barely any money in my pocket and no idea where I was headed. I went to a Rodriguez concert on my own. I went to Indonesia for the first time, travelling alone once again, to volunteer at the Ubud Writers Festival. I drove all the way to the centre of Australia, to see Uluru; sleeping in my car along the way. I approached some bookshops about stocking my novel. I attended a couple of corporate/networking Xmas functions alone, and forced myself to meet new people. And I bought a motorbike. All of these things were scary, especially for an introvert. These events, and others, all turned out to be enjoyable experiences.

Don’t get too cocky – my life is on a bit of a roll at the moment. That’s not to say that I haven’t had challenges and bumps in the road this year. I used to be scared when things were going well; wondering when the rollercoaster would plummet again. It always did. However, now I have a bit more resources (financial and emotionally) to deal with whatever comes my way.

I need to make sure I don’t get too cocky, though. I need to keep an eye out for hazards on the road. Even the smallest bump can be disastrous when riding a bike. When we get too cocky, mistakes happen.

Enjoy every moment – last weekend, the odometer clicked over  the first 100 kms. I was on a country road, travelling back to the coast after visiting a few nearby country towns. I watched open fields and rows of vines flash by, observing the occasional bird ahead of me. It was at about that moment that I had an epiphany. It was just me and the road, sans the protective metal coating of a car and distraction of a car radio. Instead of feeling insecure, I felt one with my environment, and really alive. Yeh, that’s cheesy. It’s a great feeling, though.

I might still wobble in life, especially when learning new things, but I’m making the most of what time I have. I’ve learnt that you never know when your last moment is due. If I could only remember to keep my mouth shut, so I don’t get bugs between my teeth, then I’d be content with how life is progressing. And maybe I should stop procrastinating, so I can finish my second book. Another day, perhaps. For now, the open road is calling.

What a Ridiculous Book!

karenwyld_whenrosacamehome_web_finalIts simply ridiculous how I can string thousand upon thousand of words together to create a story, but ask me what my book is about and I instantly become incoherent. It’s nearly a year since I released my first novel, When Rosa Came Home, and I still haven’t mastered the Elevator Pitch. As an indie author, its crucial that I learn how to effectively promote my work – even when put on the spot.

Some of you may have already deduced that I love Dangerous and Difficult Books. The type of books that challenges the reader, in both style and matter. They say that writers should write books that they themselves would like to read. Unfortunately, my novel is neither dangerous or difficult. In fact it’s quite ridiculous. Truly, it’s a ridiculous little book, if I do say so myself. In fact I have said that many times. Even to people ‘in the biz’. Probably not an effective marketing pitch. Such a jagged response; more escalator than elevator.

When asked “what’s your book about”, having the author laugh and call it ridiculous is probably a tad off-putting. I know I’ve already put potential readers off buying my book, and industry professionals from bothering to crack open their complimentary copy. Is it just nerves? Lack of confidence or a off-shoot of introversion? Or another bane of the self-effacing creative? Yes, a little. However, after pondering my (lack of) sales pitch further, I realised that my book is indeed ridiculous. And I’m proud to call it so.

For in addition to Dangerous and Difficult Books, I remembered my love of Ridiculous Books. Like many adults, I have fond memories of reading the works of those most skilled in the ridiculous. And as a parent I shared with my offspring the wonders of the likes of Lewis Carroll, Dr Seuss, Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl. Stories that were absurdly entertaining, delightfully whimsical, and profoundly meaningful. They were ridiculous stories, written by authors brave enough to be truly creative. And still they explored real life issues, in language suitable for all ages, without becoming moralistic.

Having written my novel during yet another difficult time in my life, I purposely created a story that steered away from violence, sex, and dark sides of humanity. Instead, influenced by both the playfulness of the above mentioned authors, as well as the rich prose of other favourites from my past, I had indeed created a book that I would like to read. A delightfully ridiculous book. From the works of the writers of my adolescence (such as DH Lawrence, Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vladimir Naborokov, Francine Prose and Gustave Flaubert), I had developed a healthy reverence for prose. An appreciation of rich descriptions of place, measured character development, complex relationships, and a story that unfolds at a leisurely pace. More than that, I discovered both the power and beauty of words. As a person with dyslexia, discovering the world of literature, after a painfully faltering start to reading, is indescribable.

Anyway, I digress…..back to my ridiculous book. So nearly one year after publication, I have realised that my novel is a ridiculous little book. And I couldn’t be happier. Its set in a nice-enough place, with nice-enough people. However, through the use of wonderful words (delicious verbs, adjectives and….yes Mr Stephen King….adverbs), transformations are possible. Almost magically (well, more a dash of magic realism as opposed to magic) the setting blossoms. (Yes, I said blossoms. Read the book, and you will agree that it’s an apt description.) And more importantly, the cracks of a family, who had shattered into the mundane, are mended. And the adrift lives of the secondary characters are anchored to kin and place. Even villains and foes are treated kindly.

It’s all very nice, really. Who doesn’t like a happy ending? Children’s stories have them, as well as generous scatterings of magic and absurdity. So why can’t we?  And, like my favourite children’s stories, as well as in the tradition of folk-tales globally, my story touches on a few topical issues. However it is done so lightly that most readers won’t even notice the hint of Dangerous amongst the Difficult. Sneaky, heh.

It would appear that I am not the only one who yearns for children’s tales (sans fairies and mythical creatures) for adults. Without my knowing, a reader entered When Rosa Came Home into a literary competition. As its been short-listed for a People’s Choice Award in the 2015 South Australian Readers and Writers Festival, it would appear that ridiculous little books do have a valid place on the bookshelf.

Just knowing that other readers connect to my story gives me warm-fuzzies. Perhaps others also yearn for alternatives to commercially popular books. Maybe they are also seeking less action and suspense; more description of place; lots of lovely words, including adverbs (it’s not a dirty word, really). Could it be time for Ridiculous Books? I hope so.

 

And for my next trick…..

Despite the rain, work and family commitments, I’ve clocked just over 30 kms on my new toy. I should really be sharing how many words I’ve 2014-Yamaha-VStar-250awritten this month, as I did intend to participate in NaNoWriMo. Instead, I’ve been participating in life – with no regrets.

As some of you may recall, I’ve had a bit of a year. A few unexpected circumstances that pushed me close to the edge, testing my mettle as they say. And other moments where I’ve willingly jumped off a cliff or two. Jumping isn’t a bad thing. It can lead to all sorts of adventures and new opportunities, as well as a means of self-development.

Two jumps that I took this year, which have led me to taking my most recent decision, involved travel. The first was a much needed road-trip to the centre of Australia. Made possible by the kindness of others. On that trip, I remembered how much I loved being on the road. The wind, the sense of freedom. When I returned home, I promised myself not to wait so long between trips. Taking the responsible-but-quirky option, I began to research vintage caravans. I spent many hours happily day-dreaming about locating a rare pre-70’s bondwood, doing it up and going on jaunts. I would be a writer-in-transit, working on my novels in various caravan parks around Australia.

And then an adventure further afield distracted me. Out of the blue, I was contacted about volunteering at the 2014 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. In Bali. A place I had said I wasn’t interested in seeing. In fact, earlier this year I had declared my overseas travelling days over – despite only leaving Australian shores twice. Never say never. Trading in my frequent flyer points, I jumped off a big cliff. And had a fantastic time. In Ubud, I met a few women, my age or older, who inspired me. They were following their creative dreams, saying yes to whatever adventure came their way, and living life to the fullest. Having left Australia whispering ‘I can do this’, I returned knowing that I can indeed do anything. The only limits are those I set myself.

What tends to happen in my life, especially lately, is that opportunities come out of the blue. It’s up to me to see them as opportunities, and to say yes. So when I got a call from a broker about re-mortgaging my house, I said ‘show me what you’ve got’. He did, and I negotiated for more, than said yes. My intention was to pay of my credit card and do some home repairs. Maybe even finally build a deck out the back. Instead, I got a bike.

Not a safe vintage caravan. Or even a retro push-bike. I brought a motorbike. It’s not really a rash decision. Its something I have been planning to do for over 25 years. As a young parent, when I reluctantly sold my two motorbikes of my early 20’s, I promised myself that I would get back on a bike when I turned 50. That date came – and went. Life had other plans for me. Or so I had thought. Last week, taking control of my life once more, I went shopping. Three days ago, I eagerly stood by the window, curtain drawn, waiting for a delivery. Ten minutes after the truck left, I was leathered-up and down the road. Scared, looking stupid, but still down the road – on my sparkling, brand new motorbike.

Being back on a bike is scary. Its heavier than the bikes of the past. And with more oomph. I’m older, less supple, heavier and no longer have 20/20 vision. However, age brings a certain wisdom. So I’m more cautious and patient than the 20-something me. For starters, I now take the need to wear protective gear serious. I know that I’m not immortal and I plan on having many more adventures. So, over the last three days, I’ve taken it easy. Re-learnt how to take corners without wobbling. Practised operating throttle, clutch, gears, two brakes, and indicators (in the right sequence). Slowly getting my groove back – I mean balance.

After work today, I clocked up my first 30 kms. And sometime before that, I relaxed, and began to once more feel one with the machine (yes that’s cheesy, but if you’ve ever ridden a motorbike, you’ll know what that feeling is like). I also accepted fear as a friend. Fear is good. It keeps us alert. Reminds us that we are alive – and intend to stay that way.

I have many more kilometres, and hours, before I’ve properly mastered riding. It’s foolish to think that I can just wipe away over two decades of not riding. However, I’ve made progress with achieving yet another milestone. And I’m not stopping. The road is calling. There are many more adventures to undertake. I have remembered how to say yes to life. Yes to me.