Progress

I’ve had this song stuck in my head for the last couple of days.

I love the bluesy guitar, and the lyrics of the chorus are just perfect for channelling one of the POV characters in my current WIP at the moment.

Take me to church

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life

This WIP is sitting on about 94,000 words and I’m pretty much committed to getting it done by the end of the year. Wish me luck. I’m almost there.

Spring love

I have a bunch of fun stuff in the pipeline, but I can’t announce any of it yet! So have some beautiful snippets of my garden in full Canberra spring glory.

And the beauty of close up photography means I don’t have to show you any of the weeds that are rather more abundant than the pretty bits.

Glimmers of sun in the pouring rain

aurealis-95In a week that has spelled disappointment, grief and gloom for many of us, I’ve had a few small, personal glimmers of sunlight. Here’s one. A lovely review of my story Breathing, out in the recent Aurealis #95, from Kat Day over at Tangent online. She’s given it a “highly recommended” (squee!) Achievement unlocked.

A lovely piece of work, very thought-provoking and actually rather moving.

And here’s some Leonard Cohen for you. Because even though he’s gone now, that’s one life that is definitely worth celebrating.

Object Therapy Part 2

Remember that broken crockery and the dismembered rocking horse?

Well, here is the happy ending to that story.

The Crockery

This treasure chest of beautiful brokenness went to artist Halie Rubenis who did remarkable things with not just the chipped, cracked and shattered contents of this “big box of abject clumsiness”, but the actual box itself and all the bits of plastic bag and bubble wrap that it was all nestled in. From all this she created the objects in The Surgeon (below left) and Warts and All (below centre and right). In The Surgeon the porcelain cup has been repurposed as a whetstone for the knife; the handle of the knife is made from the plastic bags all the bits were wrapped in. In Warts and All, those oozy, fungal growths are made from the styrafoam box.

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Best of all, this isn’t even the end of this story. Check out Halie’s Instagram account to see what else she is doing with the contents of my box of broken china.

The Rocking Horse

My rocking horse was delivered into the hands of award-winning Sydney-based furniture designer, Liam Mugavin. I had no idea what to expect. It’s a very plain, utilitarian object; all natural wood. So I’d wondered if maybe the artist it went to might jazz it up a bit by painting it, perhaps.

Well, Liam jazzed it up. But…wow.

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I was blown away by the artistry and intricacy of Liam’s work. What you can see beautifully in this photograph is the way Liam’s repair honours my grandfather’s original construction of the rocking horse by echoing his use of dowel in the joints of the horse (you can see how the end grain of the dowel is contrasted against the larger bits of wood in the horse’s eye, shoulder and belly). But Liam has taken that to a whole other level in repairing the horse’s neck. In some ways his repair is completely understated. You have to look quite closely to appreciate the beauty of the construction in the repair. It’s still all natural wood. Not a lick of paint in sight! And the entire rest of the rocking horse is untouched, down to the ratty mane, missing ears and odd crayon scribble bestowed here and there by one generation of kids or another.

But once you get up close and really look at what he’s done, it’s astonishing. All those obliquely-set inserts create an incredibly complex pattern in the wood. Crazy beautiful. And that punk-rock collar of protruding wooden and brass rods is pretty ostentatious. I took my sister to the opening of the Object Therapy exhibition at Hotel Hotel to see it and we spent about an hour talking about it afterwards over dinner.

So there you go. Happy endings. It’s worth heading over to the Object Therapy website to check out some of the other repair projects. My personal faves were Alison’s bag, Skye’s glass ring and Kristie’s Kenwood Mixer. That last one was hilarious.

Also, if you’re interested, Object Therapy has a Vimeo channel where they’ve collected some snippets of the “before” and “after” video interviews they did of each of the contributors. You can hear me waxing lyrical about the history of the rocking horse, the value of creative time and our throwaway culture.

Leife’s 1st Interview, Rocking Horse and Ceramics, 1. The Rocking Horse and its head, it came off from Hotel Hotel on Vimeo.

Leife’s 2nd Interview, Rocking Horse and Ceramics 2. hours and hours or work, the value of creative work from Hotel Hotel on Vimeo.

New story: Breathing

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Hooray! My new story Breathing is out today in Aurealis #95. This one is science fiction, which is a bit unusual for me. I’m still figuring out how to describe it.

This is one of those stories that grew out of my response to a song. I’ve got a few like this. I often find my way into a story through the mood generated by music, or an evocative lyric. I’m a particular fan of using crazy word associations through misheard lyrics (or mondegreens) to spark my creativity.

In the case of Breathing, though, I was caught by the lonely mood of the music and one particularly powerful lyric in the song Hello, by Evanescence:

Has no one told you she’s not breathing?

That line is intriguing. It is rich with unacknowledged tragedy and cruel revelation.

I’ve since found out there is a sad story behind Hello: it was written by the multi-talented Evanescence frontwoman, Amy Lee, about an early tragedy in her life. But I didn’t know that when I wrote Breathing.

I won’t say any more (spoilers!), but if you read the story, let me know what you think!

Awesome words – Graceless

I love this word. It has so much story at its heart! At a basic level it means clumsy or awkward, but because it is a word that defines itself by the absence of a characteristic, it becomes so much more. It’s almost accusatory.

And “grace” is such a complex word, too. It doesn’t just mean “elegance” (of form, motion and manner), but can also refer to being in a state of favour or having been extended mercy. So to be “graceless” is not just to be awkward, but there are also overtones of having fallen into disfavour and being denied clemency. Pitiable indeed!

Furthermore, there are also some nice ecclesiastical overtones from “being in a state of grace”, which call up echos of a deeper fall into ignominy.

Favourite use of the word “graceless”… In the inimitable Florence & the Machine’s Shake It Out.

And it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back

So shake him off.

And I am done with my graceless heart

So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart.

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Conflux 12 wrap up – Part II

conflux12headerrgbThis year at Conflux we decided to do something a bit different with the writing workshops and run them throughout the weekend instead of all on the first day (Friday), which is how we’ve done it previously. One thing I found is – probably due to the interactive nature of workshops – these are a really good forum to hook up with other people at the convention. I managed to get in three workshops. (Although one was in two parts and probably counts as two.)

I’d asked Alan Baxter to run a version of his Write the Fight Right workshop, mostly because I’d never done it and I really wanted to. (A perk of being in charge of programming!) It’s usually a whole day, so he did a condensed version of it over two hours. It’s great, I highly recommend it and I’d love to do the full version one day. It covers stuff like what it feels like to be punched in the face, the physiological effects of fighting (far more complex than you’d expect), how to use space and even some handy first aid advice. As you’d expect he provides plenty of anecdotes and stories from his own life experience and even pointed us at a few clips of fights to give us a sense of the difference between cinematic show and what a real fight might look like. Hint: the fight between Darcy (Colin Firth) and Cleaver (Hugh Grant) in Bridget Jones’ Diary is more realistic than you might think (quintessential smashing-through-shop-window scene notwithstanding).

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I did a two part workshop conducted by Kaaron Warren and Nick Evans called Spray and Wipe. This involved a trip to the Green Shed (a store that sells recycled items donated through Canberra’s tips), where we had to choose an item from the shop as an inspiration point for a story. Kaaron then took us around to the Green Shed Underground (a separate store run by the Green Shed where they sell all their donated books and clothing) and made us choose an outfit for one of our characters and dress in it to write the story.

I decided to have a stab at generating an idea for something for my suite of colour-themed stories I want to begin work on soon, and picked out a very orange biscuit tin to start with. This got coupled with a really terrible orange mumu-style shirt and some fairly tacky orange jewellery. It was when I happened upon some great 1970s cookbooks with predominantly orange covers, however, that my story brain kicked in and an idea really came together.

After that, it was back to the con venue and in the afternoon Nick Evans, a journalist by trade, put us through a fairly brutal regime of cutting, rewriting and reworking the 400 odd words we’d got down in the morning with Kaaron. I was completely exhausted at the end of it, but I definitely have the beginning of a story and I’m pretty sure I know where this one is headed!

Finally, on Monday, I did a workshop with life coach Kenny Snable on overcoming negative thoughts to increase writing productivity. This one was great. She took us through the relationship between thoughts, behaviours and emotions and gave us a bunch of strategies to manage the negative ones, and some exercises to help identify and articulate what the actual issue is that is causing us grief.

And this is only a small selection of the smorgasbord of professional development that was on offer this year!

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Conflux 12 wrap up – Part I

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Conflux is over for another year, and once again I’m looking back on it through the golden glow of a post-con high. We were incredibly lucky in our Guest of Honour and MC lineup this year, being David Farland, Alan Baxter and Sean Williams respectively.

Sean came along to Conflux 11 last year and his frank discussion about how he manages his RSI made the Paying For Our Passion panel (inspired by David McDonald’s blog series of the same name) one of the standout sessions of the con. He spent September 2016 as the eminent writer in residence at the ACT Writers Centre, so us Canberra folk have been lucky to see a lot of him recently, including a Guest Author session for the CSFG and a session on his 10 1/2 commandments of writing at Old Parliament House last week. We jumped at the opportunity to have him on board for Conflux 12 and he didn’t disappoint. In his typically warm, funny and approachable style, he set the tone for an exceptionally convivial con.

We had the privilege of featuring David Farland in his first trip out to Australia in something like 15 years. He was really something special, providing a feast of stories, knowledge and industry insight. His contribution to our Breaking the US & UK markets panel was a particular highlight of the convention. And getting to hear more stories and ask him questions at his kaffeeklatsch session on Monday afternoon was a personal highlight for me.

Alan Baxter was our Australian Guest of Honour this year. He ran a condensed version of his Write the Fight Right workshop for us, in which he draws on his background as a Kung Fu instructor, and provided a fascinating running commentary on the Lion Dancers that came along on Friday night to open the con. Alan launched his new collection of short stories, Crow Shine, from Ticonderoga, on Saturday evening, complete with Crow Shine moonshine (not for the kiddies, but then neither is his book).

 

Being on the con organising committee I don’t get to go to as many panels and sessions as I’d like to. But those I did get to were great and I heard good things about the others. What stands out for me, though, at each and every Conflux I go to, is the people. Each year I hook up with old friends and make new connections and it’s these relationships that are really the root cause of that lovely golden post-con glow. I just meet such great people at Conflux. Lucky for me and my dodgy phone camera, Cat Sparks takes great photos of people. Here are a small selection of her pics that make me happy.

Whilst I didn’t manage to attend many panels, I did manage to get to a few workshops, so I’ll cover those in my next post. But to finish off, here’s a pic of the gorgeous cover art Shauna O’Meara did for the con magazine (she did the Red Fire Monkey logo at the top of the page, too!)

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