For those left behind & Black dog

For those left behind

 

Behind our eyes

beneath our faces

beyond skin colour

creeds and races,

our worlds crossed

similar paths,

by dead man’s lane

the killers’ wrath

were all the same.

 

An empty chair

an old hat,

with locks of hair.

A favourite skirt,

muddy boots,

still caked with dirt.

 

We can never

replace those,

who did not plan

to leave so soon.

All that remains

are the ghosts

of those we grieve.

 

Seán Maguire

 


Black dog

 

The black dog

never leaves

my side,

gnawing heavily

at my wounded pride.

 

When I try leaving

it behind,

it is hot

on my trail

wagging its tail.

 

If I go for a walk,

I cannot think

I dare not talk.

 

The black dog,

is a serial beast

feasting on my

darker side,

pulling me below

the swirling tide.

 

I will not weep

when, I put

the black dog

to sleep.

 

Seán Maguire

 

To Write or Not To Write?

How can I put into perspective how difficult I find the practice of writing a novel? Words with purpose. Sentences that express some truth. Scenes that join thwritinge dots.

I don’t know?

At times, I feel my attempts at writing a novel may be the hardest thing I’ll ever do. Harder than maintaining the two most important relationships of my life (my wife and my son)? Harder than continually challenging myself and developing my career in the hospitality industry? Harder than simply being a person on this planet at this moment in time?

Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, I think, so hard, too hard, the skills required to write a novel that holds together from beginning, through the muddle to the end.

Other times, I’m harsh with myself – ‘First world problems, man.’ I have a good job. I have a loving family. I have a roof over my head and food in the pantry. I am living in the most abundant era ever. I lack for nothing.

And so, yeah, I could give up writing. Why should I struggle so much? I could choose not to face the keyboard and blank page-on-screen every morning. Who needs that 5.15am alarm?

Viggo-Mortensen-in-Good-007

Seriously, 5.15am. It’s dark when I get up and it’s still dark when I finish writing at 6.15am. There’s no audience. There’s no pat on the back. There’s no-one there to say, ‘Good job, dude. Love your work!’

There’s just me, my practice and this tornado inside of me that demands I continue to ‘Show Up’.

So, giving up, chnew-crescent-2.jpgoosing not to write is an option. Of course it is.

But that won’t stop the feeling inside that needs an outlet for the ideas that are always swirling around my head. They won’t go away. They’ve flowed through me like tributaries trickling from the
mountaintop down into the valley where the river masses and swells my whole life.

As a writer I’m trying to navigate these waterways. Trying to craft my voice, my style, my unique and sincere self through the stories I want to tell.

And this is hard for me. Almost every day, in some way, I struggle with how best to communicate my literary ideas through story. Often, I feel like I’m failing. Sometimes, I have some positive self-talk: ‘Keep turning up, Ken. Keeping working the problem through showing your dedication to your characters, your story and your practice.’

Other times, most times, I’m not so gentle and generous. One day I may finish a novel that ends up somewhere near where I want it to. I really hope for the day. And as best I can, I will fight my corner. I will continue to show up, because while my confidence waxes and wanes, the urge to tell stories and write never does.

Applications Open for Hardcopy 2016

HC logo 2016The ACT Writers Centre have opened applications for the 2016 Hardcopy program, a professional development course for writers of fiction manuscripts.

Hardcopy is run over several weekends throughout the year, giving participants the chance to learn about manuscript development and industry secrets, as well as have their material workshopped by peers and professionals.

This year the program will again benefit from the input of industry giant Mary Cunnane and esteemed editor Nadine Davidoff, among other literary professionals yet to be confirmed.

Past participants have secured agents and publishing deals as a result of their participation in the program, and more have gone on to publish work in national periodicals and online journals.

Places are limited to thirty writers, with a chance for ten of those writers to proceed to a final stage of discussions with publishers and agents from a range of local and international institutions.

Submissions are open only to those who have completed a full draft and are ready to progress their work to the next level.

Further information can be found at the ACT Writers Centre website.

Applications are due Friday 11 March 2016.

Happy Writing!

I finally worked out what my novel is about

I finally worked out what my novel is about.

This came on the back of some anticipated anxiety ahead of going to a BBQ with some new family friends over the weekend. My passion for writing is not something I volunteer unless directly asked. But I always imagine under what circumstances the subject may arise and how I’d handle it. And with this chat-route programmed into the Google (Conversation) Map app in my head, I played out a scene every writer and wannabe author has encountered in response to the statement, ‘I love to write’:

 

Them:   Oh (as if this is in some way unfortunate). Have you had anything published?

Me:        No.

Them:   (look of both disappointment and smugness right away apparent) What sort of, um, (searches for a word that might bridge the gap between their understanding of what a writer is and does and what I might do), things do you write about?

Me:        Fictional stories, mostly, in a modern, contemporary setting. I’m interested in journeys that see a person pushed far beyond what they thought they could handle and what happens next.

Them:   Are you writing anything now?

Me:        Yes. I’ve been working on a novel for a little over a year.

Them:   (here it comes…) What’s it about?

Me:        Um…(pauses, uncertainty and bashfulness writ large upon my face)

Laptop-with-blank-notepad

I always felt I needed to be able to sum up whatever I am writing into one brief sentence, into a tag-line, or log-line. This statement needs to convey the totality of my novel and my inability to do so (see my previous post about the dreaded synopsis) confirms my failure as a writer and communicator.

Not that I’m in such an insecure place as a writer at the moment. But now and then doubt creeps in.

In fact, while this situation was playing out in my head I happened to be washing dishes, the sudsy water especially hot. I’ve decided that washing dishes is akin to hot showers and the link to creativity and idea-generation. Any act that can sufficiently absorb us and consume our primary attention can be a godsend when it comes to releasing repressed epiphanies.

In the middle of my gentlest attempts to clean our best champagne flutes, it came to me, what my novel is about.

For so long, I’ve being trying to formulate it in the following way:

My novel is about [this].

This’ being the one singular and overriding theme or purpose of the story.

As I rinsed excess soapy bubbles off the base and stem of the glasses, it all became so evident. My novel is actually about [this] and [this], and [this] too. There’s a few other things I could throw in, but hey, for right now, it’s a good place to start.

It’s what any novel is about. One sentence just won’t do it. And it doesn’t have to.

interstellar-posterIt was while watching the film Interstellar a year ago when I saw how the many tectonic plates that comprised the world created by writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan fused together to form one larger world. A world where there was not one prevailing idea, but many, all co-existing, each ebbing and flowing as the story unfolded:

 

  • What does having hope, making a promise and faith in others cost us?
  • When are we best served by being brave or cautious?
  • Love as truly a tangible, observable phenomenon
  • To be able to move on (in the case of the movie, survive) we have to be willing to let go and lose something

 

On some level of comprehension, in that cinema, it made perfect sense to me. Though it’s taken another 12 months before I’ve been really able to absorb this understanding and make it manifest in my own writing.

christopher-nolan-jonathan-nolan

So much of my own writing journey over the past 4 years has been about unlearning what I thought I knew, then humbling myself and my presumed abilities so that I can learn anew what’s really important about writing, and myself as a writer and person.

As I left the glasses to drain and went to work on the breakfast plates, this all felt very big. And so I did what I’m learning to do more often. I took a breath, dried my hands, grabbed a pen and paper and wrote down a few notes. Then I finished the rest of the dishes, a little happy with myself, a little awed by how much I still have to learn.

How to change the world into words

My top three pieces of writing advice? Stop whining and write. Stop fucking around and write. Stop making excuses and write.    – Nora Roberts

Screen-shot-2011-04-01-at-9.05.04-PM

Sean Macgillicuddy: There’s writing, and there’s being a writer. Writing doesn’t always make you a writer any more than being a writer makes for better writing. That said, a good rule of thumb in becoming and being a writer is to turn up. Whatever that might be – a couple of hours a morning, late at night, or a number of assigned days a week that slot in with your other job, the one you do part-time for money – the hours you turn up are like surgery, or a precision athlete mid race. It’s a contract, this turning up to write. If you want a personal day or you don’t feel well, it’s a big deal. A really big deal. And don’t be shy. Let everybody know that this space is where and when you turn up to write and, within, reason, if the world wants you for anything it can go fuck itself. Alternatively, and this applies more to emerging writers than writers with an established path or agent or contract, find a writer you admire and pretend to be them: clothes, habits, hair. If they’re alive, attend a function as them. If they’re dead, the same. Transcribe one of their better known works – Illywhacker, say, if you’re Peter Carey – and look for a publisher under your own name. Enter it into competitions, a master class or two at Varuna, use it to find a mentor. If people ask what you’re working on, tell them. If they say it sounds a lot like Peter Carey’s Illywhacker, deny you’ve read it, or accuse Peter Carey of plagiarism, or confound them with some sleight of hand question like, ‘You’re not one of those people who never read anything they haven’t written themselves, are you?’ When you’re inevitably discovered, the lesson to take from the exercise, the tip, is to believe you have something to say. That inherent within you is something that matters, that’s legitimate, that carries with it an urgency and how it’s told will come. At that point, see above.

Ken: The view from my desk.

Ken Ward: Write when it’s hard to, when you don’t want to – are too tired, too disinterested, not inspired enough. It’s here your efforts will satisfy you the most.

The view from my desk.

 

 

Jane: Current workplace.

Jane Abbott: Forget everything the books tell you. Write with passion, as one possessed; write what you would love to read. Sacrifice everything else in order to write. And never, ever give up.

 

 

 

Elise: The State Library of NSW is most conducive. Except they won't let me sleep here.

Elise Janes: Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Life’s too short, and there’s too much to be said and done to waste time measuring sticks. You may need to leave the country to get any useful artistic work done because Australia is small and insecure and so are most of its cultural gatekeepers. Don’t let them trick you into thinking the world is small. They are just afraid. Don’t be afraid. Write what you want to write and forget everyone else.

Conan Elphicke: When my children’s books ‘go Rowling’, or even get published, then I’ll start dispensing tips. You won’t be able to shut me up. Until then …

Carmel: My workspace is wherever I happen to put my laptop. Usually, I have a mug of tea by my side.

Carmel Purcell: I don’t feel that I am skilled enough to give tips because I am still learning. But, I guess if I have any advice it is…learn to appreciate criticism. Criticism is inevitable and very important in the field of writing. I am a very stubborn person so this is something I will always struggle with.

My workspace is wherever I happen to put my laptop. Usually, I have a mug of tea by my side.

 

 

Ashlee: An obvious addiction to Apple products.

Ashlee Poeppmann: Keep writing! Every day, about something or about nothing! It’s all about practise and finding what you’re comfortable with. This is the best advice I’ve received from other writers, and it works best for me.

An obvious addiction to Apple products.

 

 

 

 

 

Narcotics, love, and Colombia: An interview with Vanessa Blakeslee

Vanessa Blakeslee (2014 IPPY Gold Medal Award winner) talks to Heather Vasquez from the University of Central Florida about her new novel, Juventud.

Juventud tells the story of young Mercedes Martinez, who seeks the truth about her father, Deigo, a wealthy Colombian sugarcane plantation owner with narcotrafficking ties. When she falls in love with Manuel, a fiery young activist with a passion for his faith and his country, she awakens to the suffering of the desplazados who share her land. Following one tragic night, Mercedes flees Colombia for the United States to a life she never could have imagined. Fifteen years later, she returns to Colombia seeking the truth, but discovers that only more questions await.

Headshot_Vanessa Blakeslee

In the acknowledgments, you mention that the story of Juventud began at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. What inspired you to place the story in that specific time period in those places?

Fiction isn’t born in a vacuum. The initial inspiration for Juventud had struck me in college. One night I sat among a group of young women, all of us sharing stories about our first loves. One of them, an international student from Colombia, told us that her first boyfriend had been killed—shot to death by a masked gunman in a nightclub. We listened, riveted, as she described how he died in her arms at sixteen. But even more disturbing was her admission that she couldn’t be sure, but she suspected her father might have arranged for the young man to be killed—the father hadn’t approved of their relationship, and was determined for his daughter to leave Colombia and finish her education in the United States. Oddly enough, she admitted that in time she’d come to see how her father’s reasoning was correct even if his methods were not. Had she stayed in Colombia, married the young man and not sought a higher degree at a well-reputed school, her life would have turned out much differently—her opportunities and worldview greatly limited.

The student and I didn’t stay in touch. But her story haunted me—the lover’s bloody end on the nightclub floor, the father’s insistence that she find a better life in the US. For her to even suspect her father of carrying out such a ghastly deed—what must this man be like, and how did she maintain a relationship with her father, if at all? For years the questions simmered in my imagination before I put a word to paper. But I finally did, in my first semester at Vermont College, and a voice emerged. My professor urged me to explore where it might lead. That voice belonged to Mercedes.

 

How did the place and time influence the story?

In studying the sociopolitical events of 1990s Colombia, a certain period of tumultuous unrest in early 1999 caught my attention, in the southern city of Santiago de Cali. This, then, was the backdrop that I inevitably had to set the dramatic questions against, for the personal conflicts of the characters to emerge from place and resound thematically. So from early on I had a distinct vision that I was striving to capture.

At first, Google searches and Wikipedia sufficed to lay the broad strokes. I chose Santiago de Cali as a backdrop—a lesser-known, southern city and hotbed of violence in the late 1990s. As I turned up more websites about human rights, guerilla activity, and so forth, I uncovered a series of events in early 1999 that ideally worked as a backdrop to propel the characters’ motivations—the ELN’s hijacking of an Avianca passenger plane, the surge in threats, bombings, and assassinations of public figures and peace advocates including humorist Jaime Garzón and later, Archbishop Duarte. I ended up condensing the timeline of Part One to a specific five months.

From early on in the process, I understood that I had to include the Church if I was going to be true to the time and place. Colombia is an overwhelmingly Catholic country; the very philosophy behind the guerilla movements in South America is that of Marxist Liberation theology. This ideology interprets the Christian faith from the perspective of the poor, and in the early days of the guerilla movements, the 1950s and 60s, the members adopted Marxist teachings in their advocacy for social justice. When I came across the ELN revolutionaries kidnapping the congregation of La Maria Church in a wealthy district of Cali, I knew this had to affect my characters somehow. La Maria Juventud and its leaders, Emilio and his impassioned brother Manuel, were born.

 

Juventud_CoverThere are specific details about Colombia, FARC, and the ELN. You mention sources you used to in your acknowledgements. While you were researching, what information and facts were you most surprised to learn about?

The most surprising and disturbing facts I learned concerned the paramilitary atrocities of the 90s and early 2000s. In the US, we have been led to believe that the FARC and ELN guerillas were the most brutal forces to contend with, the “enemy” so to speak – when in fact the “paras” carried out just as many terrorist tactics, if not the majority. Yet the mainstream media remains silent on these privately-funded, unofficial “armies” who carry out the dirty work of politicians, the wealthy and multinational corporations against the poor. I was also keenly aware that many Americans have a cursory, if erroneous, understanding of the conflict in Colombia, gleaned from sound bites they’ve picked up about the drug war, cartels, maybe the FARC, but little else. In Juventud, even though the characters are fictitious, Manuel’s idealism, Diego’s protectiveness, and Mercedes’ suspicions are all informed by real events.

 

What else did you do to learn more about Colombia? Did this influence you on a personal level? For example, do you now have a favorite Colombian food?

In addition to academic texts, I consulted primary resources: online footage of peace marches in Colombia in 1999, news articles from that year, archived interviews with notorious paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño Gil from before his death in 2004. These placed me even more fully in 1990s Colombia. On a personal level, I was also in the midst of shifting away from the fervent Catholicism I’d been practicing in my mid-twenties because I couldn’t reconcile my personal stance on women’s and gay rights with the Church’s doctrine, but found myself reluctant when it came to Catholicism’s stance on social justice—a cornerstone that I believe Christianity, but especially Catholicism, very much gets right. I’m a huge proponent of “faith in action,” in that respect—the only way spiritual principles make sense to me is if they are lived out in practice. Otherwise, what’s the point?

When the time came to title the book, the editors and I decided on Juventud, which translates to “youth” in Spanish. “Juventud” speaks to our tendency in youth to see the world in black-and-white rather than shades of grey. But it also captures the ongoing humanitarian crises in South and Central America—the tens of thousands of children illegally crossing the US border and the drug-related massacre of 43 students in Mexico in 2014, even as the Colombian government and the FARC move toward a lasting peace. Fiction can show readers how events effect people like Mercedes, Manuel, and Diego, in ways that a news article can’t.

As for food, you can’t beat a homemade arepa.

 

How did your research influence the story? Did you make changes to what you had planned as your learned more about Colombia?

Research largely shaped the story, especially early on, and while I don’t feel that I over-researched, there was a lot of material that ended up getting cut. For instance, I knew Diego Martinez had to be complex and not just a one-dimensional villain, so I needed him to have a legitimate occupation but with room for some shady activities to go on. I guessed he might own a plantation, and I researched the agriculture of the Valle de Cauca region. Growing sugarcane was a perfect fit. In research, some of what you learn informs the narrative directly—for instance, in the scene when Mercedes first accompanies Diego to their cane fields and he partly confesses; there she briefly describes his farming operation. But often, a lot ends up on the cutting room floor. I’ve spent more hours than I like to admit watching YouTube videos of alpaca shearing, only to have scrapped those sections.

At one point, in trying to figuring out what would lure an adult Mercedes back to confront the individuals from her past, and mainly Papi, I tried to write a parallel plotline of her as an FBI agent. I read the official FBI training manual, researched different possible career paths for her—embassy police, DEA—all of which felt out of my purview and ability to pull off convincingly. I wrote about a hundred pages, all of them horribly weak. And in the end my research revealed that for someone with Mercedes’ background, having any ties at all to a family member who’d been involved in narco-trafficking, even if she wasn’t herself, would have eliminated the possibility of her having any kind of U.S. government career with top-secret clearance. So that steered me toward making her more of a scholarly expert and researcher who ends up doing more of what I’ll dub, “the D.C. bounce-around”—working in government for a time and then the private sector, in this case, finding her way into journalism.

But that failure wasn’t for naught—I ended up mentioning that this was why she didn’t end up someplace like the FBI, and the research on top secret agencies and their joint task force operations with other nations’ special forces units certainly helped when it came time to build Asaf’s character swiftly and effectively. So I’m afraid mostly the alpacas lost out!

 

There are influences of the Catholic and Jewish faith in Mercedes’ life. How would the story have changed if she didn’t have those? 

The novel would be enormously different, absent of the religious context—I suppose I might have invented a way for Manuel to lead a secular human rights’ organization. I imagine I’d have mined the thread of the desplazados more, or the narcotrafficking, rather than touch on the sexual coming-of-age and women’s rights subplot. But leaving out the Catholicism, certainly, wouldn’t feel true to the culture nor historical fact. The Church has very much been involved in all facets of Colombia’s civil war—civilian and guerilla.

The Catholicism created a conduit for me to bring in the Jewish thread to the book—I’m always looking how to complicate threads further to create more contrast and meaning. Wouldn’t it be interesting, I thought, if her mother is not only American but Jewish, and if her mother is on an identity-quest of her own, and if Mercedes eventually goes to visit her in Israel? And then we have the contrast between another decades-long conflict, that of Israel and Palestine, and the Colombian civil war. So in the latter half the book expands outward to reflect not just the issues of social justice and violence in South America, but the global conflicts still raging today. The common ground between Judaism and Christianity is unearthed, but also the divide between the religious and secular. Not to mention the resonance of what Mercedes has escaped from, after she learns the history of her maternal Jewish family prior to World War II.

I suppose I also could have structured the narrative differently—say, three third-person narratives, one following Mercedes, the others following Manuel and Diego—but I was more interested in Mercedes as an embodiment of the global citizen of today, the highly-educated Millennial who inhabits several different identities and cultures, and how she navigates the paths available to her. Education and access to birth control are enabling women around the world to make strides and command their destinies for the first time in human history; I found myself more invested in giving a female protagonist full rein, seeing how her roots in a conflicted country leave their imprint on her emotionally as she otherwise achieves success.

Mercedes’ story is ultimately about how our perceptions very much shape our desires and decisions, not always to our own best interest. Inevitably we are molded and driven by what happens to us in our youth and how we perceive those events, a perspective which is limited and therefore flawed, yet unbeknownst to us at the time, and often for many years afterward. Through Mercedes, the novel reveals how we grapple to make sense of these formative individual experiences – and how as adults, we have the opportunity and means to gain clarity, responsibility, and forgiveness, and ultimately understand and transcend our past even if it will always remain part of us.

 

Vanessa Blakeslee’s debut story collection, Train Shots, won the 2014 IPPY Gold Medal in Short Fiction, was long-listed for the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and has been optioned for a feature film. Blakeslee’s writing has appeared in the Green Mountains ReviewSouthern Review, the Paris Review Daily, the Globe and Mail, and Kenyon Review Online, among others.

Juventud is available for purchase from Curbside Splendor Publishing.

 

 

A picture speaks a thousand words (and all that)

We asked our writers to recount a literary experience and provide a pictorial state of mind. One says as much as the other.

Ashlee Poeppmann

My feet relaxing at the beach where I feel most at home.I recently volunteered at the Brisbane Writers Festival last month, and while it was hard work I really enjoyed myself. I was lucky enough to get time to meet and see a few different artists. One of my favourites was Sophie Hannah. It was interesting to hear her story about becoming the ‘new’ Agatha Christie, as Hannah mentioned that it was all just chance that the Christie Estate chose her for the new series. She said you can’t plan luck but you can prepare for it.

My feet relaxing at the beach where I feel most at home.

Carmel Purcell

CarmelLately, most of the literature I have been dealing with has been business-related. I am doing an internship that requires reading many tech-related articles and reports. This has been a positive experience as it has sparked an interest for me in marketing. I intend to learn more about marketing over the next few months and plan to experiment with writing on a variety of different platforms.

This is a picture of me at the markets. I am always in my element when I get to try new kinds of food. I’d love to be a food blogger.  

 

Conan Elphicke

ConanIf I’ve ever had any, they took place years ago, such as when I got tongue-tied in the presence of dissident journalist John Pilger at a book signing, or drove two hours at short notice to see Douglas Adams do a superb book reading at the Harold Park Hotel in Glebe, Sydney.

This conveys my tendency to be a poseur, if nothing else. It was taken in the Noel Coward suite at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore on my honeymoon. I have less hair now and am more dilapidated, physically and psychologically.

 

Elise Janes

Elise beachI’ve taken to streaming author interviews and literary podcasts while I run or do the housework or something else that negates the ability to hold a book in my hand or type. The honesty of some writers is wonderfully liberating but also a constant challenge to my mindset, especially during those long redrafting months when it feels the end will never come. The legendary Maria Popova from Brain Pickings delivered the most recent of these, a rediscovered NYU lecture from Kurt Vonnegut, where he spoke for 50 minutes straight out of his subconscious. He observed that at the age of 47 he’d outlived George Orwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence and Jack Kerouac. That gave me pause. As with anything of value it’s the daily getting-up-and-doing that makes it worthwhile, not the so called light at the end of the tunnel. To write everyday, to create, is a privilege. I hope I never forget that.

Jane Abbott

JaneWithout doubt, the most significant experience was when I recently received an offer of publication from Penguin/Random House for their Vintage imprint; a two book deal, with an option on the third. The first book, Watershed, is slated for release next June/July. To have one’s work acknowledged in such a way is the very best possible vindication that you’re on the right track.

 

 

Ken Ward

HMD40-climbing-mountainI’ve never been a big viewer of American TV series. The idea of up to 22 episodes a series with no guarantee of a resolution in the end – not for me. This past year I’ve started to delve into some of the big series over the past 10-15 years, including The Sopranos and Friday Night Lights. There’s so much to love in these programs but it’s what I learnt from the things I hate that’s helped inform my writing of late.
To be specific, Janice Soprano, Tony’s sister. From her first scene, I’ve hated her. Every time she’s on camera, every time she’s talked about while absent my blood pressure boils. I just wish the creators would’ve written her out.
Here’s what I’ve come to understand: Every character has their own agenda, is living their own life and sees events through their own filter. The tension Janice brings to scenes is really important to the drive and push of the story. She’s so blinded by her own sense of entitlement and how unjust life can be, it shapes everything she perceives and does. This impacts the story a lot.
Each time I come to the page and a scene has multiple characters interacting, I’m actively considering this notion from EVERY character’s side: ‘How does this affect my agenda? How is what’s happening here make me feel?’
It’s pushing my scenes and story development in places I didn’t expect I’d go.

 

What inspires you?

A tired enough question at face value, but an important one to ask yourself if you’re an artist of any kind. What is it that gets your fire burning? What do you surround yourself with? What motivates you, educates you, informs your attitude to life? Some inspirations stick, others come and go. So what’s inside you right now?

Arnold_Böcklin_-_Die_Toteninsel_-_Google_Art_Project

Favourite books, authors, artists, works:

Ken Ward: I’ve just finished Perfidia by James Ellroy. In nearly 700 pages not a line, not a word is delivered without juice. Reading his novels are like watching the fight scenes from the Adam West Batman series – Zlonk, Kapow, Bif.

Carmel Purcell: Currently, I am reading What Westerners Have for Breakfast by John McBeath. It captures the experience of being in Goa (in India) perfectly. The last book I read was Tea with the Taliban by Ian Robinson. It was brilliant. I love reading books about the unique experiences people have had in challenging places.

Ashlee Poeppmann: I love reading Fiction, especially Science Fiction and Magic Realism. Currently reading Volume Four of Philip K Dick’s collected Short Stories. But how can you ever choose just one favourite book? I’ve been staring at my bookcase to find an answer. But each book has a different feeling and memory inside it for me. Harry Potter will always have a space in my heart. It was the first novel I read, and I grew up with the characters. I remember saving my small amount of pocket money each year for the next book. I was recommended Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel in High School by my English Teacher. It now has a special place in my heart. On my first day at University, I was recommended The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Carter took another slice of my heart.

Sean Macgilliduddy: Currently reading Dennis Lehane’s World Gone By and before that Anna Funder’s The Girl With the Dogs. Recent exhibition I wish I’d seen but didn’t – Banksy’s Dismaland in the UK.

Elise Janes: At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien still fascinates me: lyrical, strange, brutally intelligent, and funny. Not quite sure how he got it all so right. Author/journalist Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stare at Goats, among other things). I heard him speak recently and he’s a rare thing, an honest, humorous thinker not afraid to show us up for what we are. (Plus his name rhymes with Ron Swanson). The compositional advice of Stephen King, Strunk & White, Van Gogh, and Robert McKee. And always, Martin Scorsese. Storyteller, genius, auteur, an original in every sense of the word

Conan Elphicke: Well, I’m a middle-aged man so my current books tend to be about all things military – anything by Max Hastings or Antony Beevor. Which is shockingly embarrassing. I might as well wear slippers and a cardigan, smoke a pipe and grow dahlias. My all-time favourite books include Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia, Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Also the better work of Douglas Adams and Clive James. That doesn’t sound very high-brow so I better throw in Joyce, Goethe, Rimbaud and Dostoevsky, though I’ve never read a single work of theirs and probably never will.

Jane Abbott: It’s safe to say I have no new favourite books. No sooner do I finish one and think, ‘Wow, that’s going to the top of the list,’ than another takes its place. (Although I have to say, it’s hard to beat McCarthy’s The Road.) Like most people, I do have some old favourites, which I read as a child and still re-read every now and then, as a kind of reminder: Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, Tolkien (of course), Stephen King’s The Stand, L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. These preferences are nostalgic as much as they are admiring.

 

Current inspirations:

Ken: Kyle Chandler’s portrayal of Coach Eric Taylor in Friday Night Lights. His sense of integrity, hard work and personal responsibility make me confront head on, and without aversion, who I am and how I want to be.

Carmel: I am inspired most by people my age who carry themselves professionally and have done very well for themselves so early in life. It inspires me to work hard at the things I love.

Ashlee: I wouldn’t consider myself a poet, but I love reading poetry. Some of my favourite poets are unpublished – I usually find them online. One blog that’s inspiring me this week is ‘mythpoetrynet.tumblr.com’, which is dedicated to poetry inspired by mythologies.

Sean: Spring.

Elise: The visual art of Arnold Böcklin. An Infinity of Lists, Umberto Eco. Anything written by Tennyson. And the sea, as ever.

Conan: My wife and kids.

Jane: Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin, not least for their endurance. Also Charlotte Wood, Elena Ferrante, Robyn Cadwallader. I think it’s interesting that they are all women.

 

Quote or idea to live by:

Ken: When you speak from the heart, you speak to the heart.

Carmel: Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.

Ashlee: What is important in life is life, and not the result of life. – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Elise: Stuff your eyes with wonder. – Ray Bradbury

Conan: Mindfulness and resilience.

Jane: The biggest challenge we face is shifting human consciousness, not saving the planet. The planet doesn’t need saving, we do. – Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez

 

Who are you?

In celebration of a whole year of Cringings we asked our regular contributors, both past and present, to tell us about themselves: who they are, why they write and what inspires them in life and art. The answers are as varied as they are entertaining, a symbolic cross-section of the vast range of writers working in Australia today. Here follows the first in our series of interviews. Enjoy.

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Who are you?

Jane Abbott: I’m a single mother, living (mostly) in Melbourne with my two teenaged sons. Prior to 2013, despite a deep-seated desire to ‘write … one day’, I’d never really put myself to the test.

Conan Elphicke: A former travel writer and freelance journalist, I’m now working on yet-to-be-published children’s middle-grade fiction. When it comes to the Cringe, I’m among other things the ghost-writer for confused visionary Sir Partridge Gormley. Though he seems to have died or something because I’ve not heard a peep from him for months.

Elise Janes: I sing jazz, I play violin, I read read read, I go to film festivals, I watch theatre, I wear bright colours and I drink red wine. I have lived in Montreal and on an island in the Whitsundays. My ideal date is Spanish food, spicy cocktails and a table to myself. I watch too many Vine compilations. I laugh at hipsters but eat their food. I often say too much.

Sean Macgillicuddy: I once knew a man who believed he was living his life backwards. He wasn’t joking, or being clever, or on anything that might have led to this odd conviction. At the time, I didn’t get it. However, as I near the end of my 52nd year, the awkward father of a nine month old boy, my first, I’m beginning to understand what he meant. More and more I feel isolated by the adult world of accumulated wisdoms and expertise, of knuckling down and taking responsibility and having opinions about things like politics and food. If I once had a cultural or national identity it is long gone, being unable to comply with the draconian rigours of what is and is not Australian, and who I am is increasingly determined by the day-to-day essentials of what I do as opposed to any grand narrative of self. I live in the tiny village of Gundaroo, about 30 minutes north of Canberra, having moved here seven years ago from Sydney. I’m a husband, a father, a cook, a son, a brother, a gardener, a man. But even these are just words. I know no more about being a father than I do about being a man. Which is perfectly OK, until an adult comes along with a wagging finger brandishing some garbage about the unexamined life not being worth living. To which I’d say the unlived life isn’t worth examining, and brandish back some garbage of my own. The aim of life is to live and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware. Henry Miller.

Ashlee Poeppmann: 21 and a fresh graduate from Queensland University of Technology. I studied Creative Writing and Interactive Design. I’m currently working part time as an admin assistant but will someday go back to university for further study. Someday.

Carmel Purcell: I am a third year uni student studying Creative & Professional Writing and Entertainment Industries at Queensland University of Technology. In my spare time I like to watch American Horror Story or go out to lunch with friends and drink lattes and hot chocolates. I am passionate about food and travel and always change my mind about where I want to go. At the moment I am interested in travelling to Israel, Turkey and Morocco.

Ken Ward: I’m someone for whom writing is my Everest. A finished manuscript that delivers on the promise it makes, is the ultimate achievement.

 

What do you write and why?

Jane: I had always imagined myself to be a writer of no particular genre (both my current manuscripts are quite different), but apparently my publishers believe me to be a writer of dystopia. Who knew? For me, writing is simply about telling a damned good story, one that the reader can’t bear to put down. Within that story, the themes will be as various, and as hard-hitting, as I can make them.

Conan: I just answered part of this question. My main focus is children’s writing, in part because my own childhood was improved markedly by some of the greats: CS Lewis, Kenneth Graeme, Tolkien and even the wretched Enid Blyton. Children’s writing also demands you distil narrative, which is an appealing challenge. It’s all about story.

Elise: I love a good, flawed character engaged in conflict that challenges their integrity and fear. Genre-wise I write dystopia because humanity is terrifying; fantasy because reality is small; and literary fiction because I’m processing some stuff. Who isn’t. I also write academic articles because there’s too much knowledge to know and I want to know it all; and, let’s be honest, I write a lot of opinionated articles because too many people don’t know enough and yet think they do. There, I said it.

Sean: I love books. I love the idea of books, their look, that someone somewhere created this thing and there I am in their hands. As they are quite literally in mine. I love the private elegance of reading words that have been rolled into a shape that transports me intellectually and aesthetically and emotionally to spaces I can’t otherwise inhabit. And in some cases, don’t want to. Bukowski springs to mind. Oblomov. But I love them all the same. I love the craft of books, of stories. I love the grip a book can place on your soul, when it refuses to be put down. I write narrative fiction, with four novels and a collection of short stories gathering dust in a drawer or drive waiting to be buried or resurrected, who can say. The composition of a novel is an enormous task, and, like anything of value, hard work, but the rewards of writing well, of perfecting a sentence, a page, a chapter, are difficult to describe. I write to feel that thing, and to understand it, to bring it into other areas of my life, perhaps, that symmetry, capacity, that grip on your soul.

Ashlee: I write fiction, as I find that’s the easiest way for me to express my ideas. I also go through a lot of phases with themes. Lately I’ve written a lot about ghosts, wolves, my family and things I think about on public transport.

Carmel: I write for uni because I have to. I write a range of things for the cringe blog because it’s good fun and it’s important for me to document parts of myself and my experiences in stories. I also write corporate pieces because I am a Content Writing intern.

 Ken: I’m drawn to personal struggle. The moment when we go from being disconnected to connected. This journey towards realisation excites me.