scanned film mags – lots and lots and lots and lots of ’em
thank you internet
reblogged from the blogtastic blog of Geoff Lemon
I’m going to profess my ignorance of this writer’s work, but of the multitude of ‘writing tips’ I have seen, this list is simple, no nonsense and actually pinpointed a couple of things that I do – that I know waste time – but I do anyway…
There’s something about plonking yourself and your car on a ferry and crossing a bunch of water that makes you feel removed. Kangaroo Island has it’s own mood and pace, and there are no traffic lights. You very much feel like you’re ‘somewhere else’ and that’s precisely where I wanted to be for a little while. This is the first time I have taken a chunk of time out by myself, so there were was excitement and maybe a little reticence…
Would I wig out? Would I find myself unable to stand my own company for a week? Would I enjoy it too much and not want to come back? Would I become like the guy I saw at the Foodland in Kingscote with one singular dreadlock, indivisible from beard and scalp?
By nature I’m a reasonably social person. I love my friends and family and all that stuff but there’s also a part of me that enjoys, and needs solitude and silence every now and then. Sometimes it’s just an evening to myself. A few hours. A walk – whatever and as i ground through a fairly unrelenting winter of work and routine and groundhog day shit, it occurred to me that i needed more than just a Saturday afternoon plonked in front of my laptop writing. I need more than the couple of hours after work and before dinner.
I needed a week by the ocean. I needed to not talk and not worry about work or my phone ringing or the media cycle and I needed some serious sea-ogling, and when i wasn’t staring at it, i damn well wanted to be able to hear it because the ocean is my SSRI. I also wanted a fire. Because it’s winter, silly.
So I found a place and booked it and counted the weeks and then the days until i got on that ferry. And lo and behold! almost one week before departure I was struck down by a lurgy that appeared to be some virus borne out of a dying chicken fucking a diseased pig and producing some rotten biological bacterial aberration that destroyed remote farming villages and children and the elderly and even family pets – that’s how nasty it was. Somehow the fucker found its way into my respiratory tract and decided to call it home.
Let me tell you, it sure is wearing out its welcome. Now more than 10 days since – I am still not 100% well. I have coughed literally tens of thousands of times, some of the fruits of said coughs containing bountiful gifts of blood and caramel coloured phlegm. Meanwhile my sinuses have been filled with some form of roof sealant, some of which leaked also into my left ear, rendering it mute(d).
But who cares – I’m on the ferry. I’m recovering. And I’d rather be sick looking at the sea than stuck at my desk in climate controlled fluorescent purgatory. Plus I have pseudo-ephedrine and codeine and I can make a mean hot toddy so the chicken/pig virus will soon see the tables turned god damnit.
The ferry to Kangaroo Island is expensive for such a short trip but there is much excitement when the ferry docks at Penneshaw and drivers are told to go to their vehicles. So after picking up some KI honey for my hot toddies, I headed towards D’Estrees Bay to meet Ben, the owner of the place where I would be staying. Earlier, I learned that KI had recently experienced (or rather, was experiencing) a once in 100 years weather event. Unprecedented rain, roads flooded out. Not very cool for the locals, but I have to say that It was great to see Kangaroo Island so green and lush.
So I headed to meet Ben out closer to where the place was… to where the ‘main’ road leading to D’Estrees Bay was washed out. Ben was going to guide me ’round the back’ to the place. I was expecting a little mud, but wasn’t quite expecting to see the aftermath of such a big wet. It was a good opportunity to see just how ‘all-wheel drive’ my vehicle was too, as there were sedans and other cars parked on the side of the road – presumably neighbours with 4WDs would do the neighbourly thing and ferry people through the flooded bits to and from their cars and their homes.
In the previous years that I’ve come to KI – it has been pretty parched so this was quite a treat to behold. Everywhere was teeming with bird-life.
As Ben was showing me how the house runs (it’s all solar powered and ‘off the grid’) I got to meet Bella – a ferociously intelligent and adorable dog (there’s some poodle in there but i don’t know about all those fancy hybrids – or maybe she’s just an old fashioned poodle cross, not a spondoodle or a schnizoodle or whatever the designer fuck. The bottom line is she’s a great dog, and at least twice a day she would just pop by and check up on me and get some free pats. The little cape coat isn’t for show. It’s Winter, silly. Hell – there were a couple of times I wish I had one.
Seeing as how a major reason for having this little retreat was so I could get some writing done. I was pleased to see that the place offered a good table for doing just so.
And for a few days that’s what I did. I got a very decent chunk of writing done (expanding a short story, working on another short story and plotting a longer piece). Plus I cooked, drank , slept like the dead, spent a lot of time looking at the ocean and i coughed up around a birdbath full of yuk. Hey, better out than in!
I also drew a picture, which is a sign that I’m actually starting to relax. In fact the last time I drew a picture was I think – when I was last at KI about four years ago. I drew a picture of a crab. But this time I was using conte rather than pastels. Yes, all that time at art school wasn’t wasted (he said sarcastically).
I listened to a lot of music too. I wanted to mix it up a bit this time around. Because I was going to be by myself, I wanted a fairly strong mix of instrumentals and ‘longer’ type atmospheric stuff… did someone say prog?
Abridged Music List:
Pink Floyd, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Camel, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Brian Eno, Bowie (70s era), Ennio Morricone 5 disc soundtrack collection, DJ Shadow, Big Star, Swans, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, Goblin, Captain Beefheart, Kraftwerk, Television, Tom Waits, Mogwai, Dr John, Thin Lizzy, Sigur Ros, Straitjacket Fits, Calexico Einsturzende Neubauten, Cinematic Orchestra, The Fall, Miles Davis and more…
I also spent a fair chunk of time also listening to a Cormac McCarthy audiobook. It’s nice to have someone read you a story, particularly a story by the greatest living writer.
After three days of complete solitude I felt like a drive. I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find my way out of the circuitous detour that led me here and so I wanted to test my sense of direction. I was also in need of wine, and I managed to find my way back on to the main roads and headed to Kingscote for the wine. And that’s when I found a bunch of very photogenic Pelicans…
The next day I had some lunch and realised that for the first time in a week, I actually had some energy… the back of this lurgy had well and truly been broken and I was starting to feel normal again. I felt like another drive, and I was craving spaghetti, so I checked the map and thought I’d check out Emu Bay – by way of getting things to make spaghetti.
And I get to Emu Bay and guess what? no Emus. More fucking Pelicans. It’s like they just hang around making Kodak moments… but let’s face it, they are pretty excellent creatures, no? So after a bit more of a drive, it was time to get back and batton down the hatches for some more writing.
I guess I went into this little escape with the plan of some ridiculously prolific writing binge where my inner muse was going apeshit and I was churning out the words faster than my fingers could tap tappity tap them, but this turned out to not be the case. Though I still got a fair bit done.
I think I needed to defrag my head a little. Blank out. Decompress. It occurred to me that this little retreat was also about being empty just as much as it was about being full of ideas.
And there’s no better thing – for me – than looking at a big expanse of water and breathing in that air, and falling asleep to the sound of wind and waves and as it happened – it rained almost every night so I was also gifted with that most wonderful sound of rain on the roof ost nights.
but sadly, the week went all too quickly. I found myself there on the last night, already! and that’s when I began to take stock, while I watched a lone solitary pelican fly across the horizon presumably flying off somewhere to be impressive and photogenic.. I was told I might see a whale. No dice. But I did get a full moon on the last night. And that was pretty special.
And in a blink, I found myself back at Penneshaw, about to head back to the Mainland, on the same ferry but going the other way. It’s all pretty similar except I’ve made some great progress on a story and I’ve managed to empty my head and the fill it with better things – and thankfully less snot.
After getting off the ferry, I just wasn’t quite ready to deal with things like traffic etc… it is so nice cruising the KI roads at speed with music on, I wanted to do a bit more exploring, so I took a little detour and checked out Rapid Bay and surrounds. After that, I was ready to head back to town.
Anyway, time to get back to it…
* Remember that ‘place’ is an elastic term: it could mean ‘Australia’ or ‘Adelaide’ or ‘the Beehive Corner’ or ‘the place I came off my bike when I was ten’.
* When describing a place, try to emphasise the features that are typical of or unique to that place.
* If you’re making up a place-name, make sure that your made-up name is in some way suggestive of what sort of place it is. It could be ‘Peach Gardens’ or ‘Koala Creek’. Or it could be ‘Rivendell’ or ‘Mordor’.
* Use location as your starting point: begin with a tight focus on some object or person that’s significant to the story and then pan out, giving a broader and broader description of the location. You could start with an abandoned half-drunk cocktail and then describe the bar, the hotel, the street, the city.
* Or start with…
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That’s why I started this blog – as a public commitment to my writing. It was kind of like giving up smoking and telling everyone that you were doing it so they could publicly shame you when next they saw you light up.
And now I’d like to tell you a little bit about what I learned these past couple of months.
I commenced the story in April, for a Walpurgisnacht deadline. The story was for a themed anthology by a niche/micropublisher. In fact, an earlier blog post even shows that I was literally working right up until the submission deadline.
By day I earn a living as a writer. Speeches, media releases, media responses… I interact with journalists, ministers, chief executives and senior government types day in day out. I am the conduit between the press and the bureaucrats. Some call this being a spin doctor… sure. Spin is essential in commercial and mainstream media *sharp intake of breath* because some journalists are paid simply to fill in the gaps between the advertising. The advertising success is measured, in the same way that the success
This is not a judgement call – it’s just a simple fact that in a commercial space, journalists must keep themselves relevant. Some will do this via excellence in reporting. Others will do this via sensationalism, beat-ups and bullshit. In a very small way, that’s where people like me come in. To help one and hinder the other. And to be honest, it’s often more about the editors anyway. Many a time I have seen a story about a particular issue start off fairly balanced only to see a headline that is spurious and misleading… but anyway blah.
The thing is, it’s pretty much ALL deadline driven. In the 24 hour news cycle everything is urgent. Everything is reactive – and when there’s a major issue of public interest, and my phone starts ringing, it keeps ringing until everyone has got their information, had their questions answered, been given the quotes, attended the last minute press conferences etc. I’m used to turning and churning words out fast.
The Apeshit Continuum:
Naturally (to me at least) I figured this is how I would be writing my first short story. The fast-paced experience of my dayjob merged with my romantic ideal of the inspired writer going apeshit on a typewriter. I would plot when not at the keyboard and make notes, so that when I’m writing, it’s nice and fast. Uh uh. The dayjob thing is pretty unrelenting. I’m sure some really fit people or meth addicts or teetotallers can do 8 or 9 hours of fairly stressful work and then levitate home straight to their laptop and do it all over again for another 6 hours. I can’t. Or rather, I can, but not for very long. And I am pretty sure the output would be rubbish anyhoo.
The thing is, I didn’t really want to do it that way. I wanted to linger over the words and the sentences. To write them out, then rework them, and make them smaller and more concise but occasionally counterpoint them with description and detail. One of my favourite short story writers is known for his succinctness, whereas one my favourite novelists is known for his incredible use of descriptive language. I’m inspired by both, but I can safely say that I don’t have the skill to emulate either.
So the first thing I learned was that you don’t submit your first short story the same moment you write The End. Faulkner could do it. Those who actually like Kerouac will say that he also could do it.
I can’t do it.
But I did it.
Because I was working to a deadline.
And despite having to edit and proof bajillions of words each year… I missed a couple of typos and some syntax and all that jazz. If the story was brilliant straight off the bat, this may not have been a deal-breaker. And it was brilliant. Really it was. I had just spent a month writing it – my first short story since high school. I’d done it. Yes I’ve had some great professional and industry interest from a couple of screenplays, and my non-fiction has been published, but no prose. No fiction.
But it wasn’t brilliant. It needed work. I knew this in the cold light of day, approximately 12 hours after hitting the submit button. And then, because this whole thing was new to me, I already had it in my mind that it was going to be insta-rejected. Well actually it took a month to get the rejection.
What happened in that month?
Well, I learned about short story markets. I learned that by the time I finished my short story it had changed to a point where it wasn’t really even fitting the brief of that themed anthology any more. And then I set about trying to work out whether the story was in fact a genre piece or something else. I still don’t know, but I have a much clearer idea of the markets now than I did. And this was excellent fun.
I became rapidly immersed in dozens of small magazines and journals and most importantly I read a bunch of great short stories, by people in a fraternity that I very much wanted to join. Also, during this month, I sought feedback further and wider. Indeed, I sought feedback from a couple of people who were in that fraternity. And so while studying the markets, I reworked the story – incorporating some feedback and found that things that were obvious to me were not obvious to everyone else.
So after the initial month of writing, getting the guts of it down, the second month was spent looking at potential homes for it, and studying the existing residents of those homes, all the while, tweaking, reworking and cutting and polishing the story. 400 words just fell away.
So I submitted it to a couple of places. Four in fact. And the first one I submitted to came back to me pretty quickly saying my story had passed the first round of reading and had been sent on for further consideration.
So it’s been refined… it’s out there, and someone has said ‘Hey this is ok I’m going to pass it up the line.’ This is great!
And I then a few days later… an email FROM THOSE GUYS.
Aaaaand they’re going to pass.
But, from this ‘shortlisting’ I now have my first ‘proper’ piece of feedback. The writing was great but the ending was left field.
Because during those days between the first and second emails, I’d received some further feedback that said likewise about the ending. And I’d made the ending better. And more of a flow…
The story is now reasonably different to the one that was sent on Walpurgisnacht. It’s better. Stronger. Tighter. So I send it out to a literary journal I had discovered along the way. One that accepts most genres. And I get this response:
“Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to read and consider The Irishman. I’ve just finished it, and, after passing it along to our Editor-in-Chief, have agreed that it is a story we would be happy to publish.
Your prose is exceptionally strong, and your descriptive ability as a writer was apparent from your introductory paragraph. Your hook wasn’t as striking as we usually like, but it was absolutely present and compelling (especially at the end!)”
So that’s the story…
Naughty chair postscript
I made the faux pas of sending the story to a couple of places who aren’t keen on multiple submissions. My first task when I got the good news was to withdraw said submissions. I received a couple of responses congratulating me, saying that they would be happy for me to submit another story in the future, but please could I keep in mind that they do not take simultaneous submissions. Oops. Fair enough. Chalk it up to over-enthusiasm, and wanting to join that damned fraternity.
The ‘Klondike’ awakens…
made for nix using a green screen in my backyard, got national television airplay, which we were chuffed about