Monday, 30 May 2011

Where I live

It’s the last day of autumn where I live. As usual, the streets are spotted orange with fallen leaves, and even though I’m in my 20s, I still love to walk through them and hear the crunch under my feet. Melbourne weather is unpredictable. We had an almost non-existent summer, plagued by cold days and hoodies, and last winter there were times when all the layers would come off and I’d just be in a t-shirt.

But life has a way of changing during a Melbourne winter. Nights spent roaming the streets, getting ice cream or drinking cider in the hammock outside are replaced by nights curled in front of the fireplace and watching movies at home with friends. 

Melbourne is definitely the most awesome place in Australia (sorry all you Sydney dwellers) so I thought I’d write about where I live. I read this post on chictopia (a fashion blog) and I just loved the way the girl wrote. It inspired me.

I live in a suburb called Caulfield – like Holden Caulfield, only not as cool – which is a predominately Jewish neighbourhood. On Friday nights and Saturdays, the streets are ransacked with religious families, walking to and from synagogue.

My room has a feature wall, painted chocolate brown with an orange border. I have a bright red bookshelf and a black bookshelf, and everything else is adorned with chachkas from places I’ve been around the world (and a few imposter things from Ishka). Kinda looks bohemian.

I walk up the road to my favourite coffee shop, Whyte, where two cute boys alternate making me soy cap’s. I spend hours a day there, studying and writing and for some reason, that’s where my muse is. I also live really close to a street called Tantram Ave, where me and my brother like to pose with the road sign. 

I live 10 minutes from the beach, and from St Kilda where there is a sign that says ‘3 smiles per hour zone’. St Kilda is probably my favourite place to go. It brings out the best and worst in people. It's know for it's beach, hippies, cake shops and prostitutes. But it's genuine. Not many places are genuine. 

I love reading about places in books. I love beautiful descriptions and luring images, where after I've finished reading, all I want to do is go to that place. My new writing goal is to incorporate more of a place into my stories. 

Where do you live? Does place play a large part in your stories?

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Thursday, 26 May 2011

When words fail us

So lately I have been obsessed with the app Words With Friends. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it's basically scrabble, and you can play against friends or random opponents.
I. Am. Terrible. 
Absolutely terrible. 
Everyone seems to beat me: my mum, my friends, even randoms. And they all ask, ‘aren’t you a writer?’ or 'aren't you meant to be good with words?'
Yes. Yes I am meant to be good with words. 

As a writer, I find it strange that words often seem to fail me.
I was recently in a position where I had to express how I felt about a particular situation, and all I could manage to say was 'I just... I just feel... I feel... uncomfortable and I don't need to explain why!'
And again, that was followed by, 'but aren't you a writer? You should be able to express how you feel.'

I often struggle talking. I use basic language, I say things wrong (I can't tell you how often I say 'me and Ash' and my dad says 'you mean, Ash and I'.) Sometimes I feel like my entire adult vocabulary escapes me when I need it to verbalise things, but then when I write (most of the time), it all comes back. 

Other times it's there. Just a few weeks ago I was having a slight argument with my boyfriend and during on my girly-emotional-rant, I remember throwing in some similes and metaphors, and after thinking 'wow, those were awesome' and I wrote them down. (can't help but laugh at myself). 

And the worst is when I babysit, and the kids ask me 'what does this word mean' and I stand there like 'ummmm, it's when.... ahhh'. Even words I know, half the time I struggle to explain them.  

Have words ever failed you? Where?

Monday, 23 May 2011

My published story ... and other news

It finally arrived!! My short story 'Objects of my Affection' was being published by a literary journal called [untitled] and I have been waiting anxiously for it to come out. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to the launch last week but was jumping with joy when it arrived in the mail this morning (and to my surprise, a check fell out! Being paid for my writing? Hell yeah!)
You can see my excitement in the photo ... 

I also have two more stories (actually both flash fiction pieces that I have posted on my blog here and here) being published by local literary journals this month and next, so there is a lot of excitement the next few months.
It's really inspiring me to write more.  

In other excitement, I would like to congratulate my friend James Shackell, for selling out his zine at the Sydney fair! You can read all about it on his blog. I knew that kid was going places. 

I have been researching my new writing project the past few weeks, and I interviewed someone about it this morning. I'm getting very close to actually starting writing it. It is my goal for the National Young Writers Month, to finish the story in June. Some other goals I put down was to learn a new word every day (which is part of blog goals up the top, but I haven't been doing so well on that :S) and to read more and blog more. 
I came up with another good story idea, too, that I can't wait to start writing :) 

Speaking of reading. I have gone nuts. Obsessed. Bought 4 books off the book depository this week, and have 4 books from the library, and 4 books that my friend Sari lent me. Good thing I start uni holidays next week!

And to keep on with the excited tone of this post, 
I saw Li Cunxin, author of Mao's Last Dancer,  talk on Friday night (was such an incredible, inspiring talk) and 
I am seeing Michael Connelly talk at the Wheeler Centre on Thursday night! 
AND the Emerging Writers Festival starts this week so I'm super excited. 
Looks like June is going to be a big literary month for me.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Where I find inspiration to write

Often I find that I’m inspired to write, but have no writing ideas. 
Or that I have heaps of ideas, but no inspiration to write them.

Lately I’ve had a lot of both.

Thought I’d share with everyone where my inspiration and story ideas come from.

  • Often I find that I lack the inspiration to write, because I don’t feel confident in my writing ability. If I’ve had a break from writing, starting back up again feels like the hardest thing to do (which is definitely why I’m trying to write every day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes). To combat this, I like to read over some of my favourite bits of writing. I look at journals or magazines that I’ve been published in and use that reassurance and confidence to write something new.  
  • I have a scrapbook of all my favourite poems/descriptions/excerpts… I love reading over them and finding inspiration from the meaning and beauty of those words.
  • I also love reading literary journals or magazines. I find inspiration in the fact that other people are writing and the competitive part of me wants to write and be published, too. There is no better feeling that discovering a literary gem. It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside, and I just want to reread it over and over. I always wonder if any of my short stories have that affect on people, too.
  • Talking to other writers or going to literary events really gets me inspired. If I have writers block, or if I’m feeling a bit detached from the writing community, I look up events and book in straight away. Or I spend hours online reading about writing and authors.
  • Blogging, of course, is another source of my inspiration. Not only maintaining my own blog (and having to stick to my writing goals), but seeing other peoples blogs and reading about their writing and thoughts. 

Ok, to be honest, a lot of the time ideas just pop up at complete random. The other day I was driving and idea after idea just came into my head. I had to pull over and write them all down. Sometimes it's a situation that comes to mind, other times it’s a characters.

But sometimes, my creativity evades me and I feel like I have nothing to write about. 
Here are some of the things I do and places I go to when this is the case.
  • I go to a coffee shop and eavesdrop on conversations around me and people watch for character ideas.
  • Post SecretThis is a great website for ideas. Every week, 20 new postcards with people’s secrets are updated. I have a folder on my computer with saved pictures that I want to write stories about.
  • Photos. I love writing stories based on photos. A few years ago, I started buying old secondhand photography books and writing short stories on all the photos.
  • I like experimenting with writing styles, and writing in the same way an author has. It’s a good writing challenge. I usually write quite elaborately; I like similes and metaphors (although not in excess) that link with the themes of the stories, and I love writing descriptions. I recently read a book that was written with really colloquial language, and for descriptions, the author meddled with the format and made lists where every word was indented on the page. Like this:

He was

I plan on experimenting with this writing style soon. 

Where do you find inspiration from? 

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Writing to Music

I recently finished reading If I stay, and Where She Went, by Gayle Forman, and at the end of the first book, I saw that the author wrote,
“The song “Falling Slowly” was like my Pavlovian writing trick. It made me cry. Got me in the mood to write, and then I was ready to go.”
First off, can I just say that both of these books are incredible?  A real combination of heartbreaking, and heartwarming. I loved the way in which both stories were told (over a 24-hour period) and that the author alternated from one chapter in the present, to one chapter in the past. This meant that the more we read, the more we got to know about the characters, and the more we cared about what was happening in the present day story. Anyway, I could ramble for ages about why the books were so great.

The point is, that I absolutely adore the song "Falling Slowly", and it made me love the books even more, knowing that in a way, that song was the muse behind the story.
I write a lot to music.

When I was younger, I used to make albums on itunes to write to (most of the songs being lifehouse tracks). I haven’t done this in a long time. Lately, I just seem to listen to whatever, hear a line that I love, and a story just forms in my head around that one line. Most the time I have no control over it happened. And then when I’m writing, I have to listen to that song every time I sit down to write, and every time I’m stuck. I find the tone of the piece emulates the mood the song, too.
Whenever I think of the story, I think of the song. And vice versa.

Here are some recent songs that I have been writing to:
-Addicted, by Neil Finn (My novel idea stems from the song)
-Objects of my Affection – Peter Bjorn and John (which my last story is actually named after)
-Morning Theft – Jeff Buckley.

Does anyone write to music?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Who are your characters?

Harlan Coben is one of my favourite authors. I found this video of him talking about his character, Myron Bolitar, who is the protagonist in most of his books. Coben talks about the similarities and differences between Myron and himself, and looks at jealousy between them. 

It got me thinking about the characters I write about, and how much of ME goes into them. 
I remember showing one of my early stories to a writer friend (I was probably 15 and the reader was middle-aged) and he said that the main character sounded exactly like me. It occured to me then that ALL my characters were based on me, and that they were all pretty much the same. 

Since then, I've made a constant effort to create new, unique characters. 
Lately, I've been writing characters that I probably wouldn't be friends with if they were real. I've written about people with opposite ideologies to myself (which is challenging, but fun to write). I've taken pieces of my friends and family and molded them into unrecognizable characters. 

Today, I got a text message from a friend, Liam Jose (who is the editor of Crime Factory) saying: 
Can I name a character in a story after you? Feel free to say no, as it's going to be a fairly typical character ...
Really, Liam? You think I'm typical? 

Who are the characters we are writing? How much of them come from us and the people we know, and how much of them is truly fictional?

Reminds me of the saying about Australian author, Helen Garner, who writes 'fiction' using people she knows. (Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love her writing and envy her ability to be completely honest in her work) They say that for every book she writes, she looses 10 friends. 

Friday, 6 May 2011

Joined my first Blog Fest!! Flash Fiction

So I have joined my first Blog Fest! Which is very exciting. And it's a flash fiction blog fest by Cherie Reich, and you all know how much I love flash fiction. 

Anyway, I wrote this story a while back, but it's still one of my favourites :)
Looking forward to reading everyone else's flash fiction stories! 


We were watching Pearl Harbour in bed.
You always liked watching war movies, although I never understood why. Perhaps it made you think of your own luck and mortality, or maybe showed you techniques and weapons that made you feel stronger about your country’s army. I just assumed that watching these kinds of films would be hard, and would bring back memories of your own past in a country coloured by war.
I wrap myself around you and mould my body to your contour. You lie still like a rifle and watch the screen intently, making sounds when bombs explode and crude comments on the soldiers’ wives.
‘Have you done something like that?’ I ask, when soldiers lurk in trenches.
‘Have you been in a situation like that?’ I ask, when they run through bushes with bullets flying around their bodies like flies on a summer’s day.
 ‘Have you ever had a gun held up to you?’
You always answered yes.
Then Ben Affleck appears again after we all thought he died in a bombed plane, and he tells Evelyn, his love, that it was her that gave him strength and kept him alive.
I turn to you then, my large eyes wilting tears like a bullet hole oozing blood, and ask if I would keep you alive in a war. You don’t answer at first and I shake you lightly, saying ‘babe, babe, would you stay alive because of me?’ and you shuffle up the bed till you’re almost sitting upright and you mutter,
“Shhh, I’m trying to watch. It’s a stupid question,’
                                                                                    your words slipping out like a rolled grenade. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The importance of every sentence.

I have been reading an atrocious book. By this, I mean reading a chapter, putting it down in frustration, attempting again, putting it down in confusion…  I have a habit of folding bottom corners on pages with a part I really love. In this book, I have been folding corners on parts where the writing is just absolutely shocking.

In fact, I am starting to see it as a how-NOT-to-write book.

-The dialogue is completely 100% implausible. (Especially when the shy, secretive character launches into a two-paragraph rant on his life, completely unprovoked.)
-Remember the classic piece of advice, show, don’t tell…? Well, nothing is shown in this book. Everything is told, to the point where I feel like all the characters are merely character plans, and everything is forced upon me.
-Cliches. The book is full of them, including “better than she would ever have dared to dream”
The author wrote “And in the midst of … “ twice…merely three sentences apart.
And the 126 pages I have read, could EASILY be condensed to 50 pages. The author spends literally two pages talking about and explaining the EXACT same thing. Sometimes paraphrasing, often not even.
Goodreads reviewers were saying the same thing.

The book reads like a first draft. For all the reasons I have mentioned above. I am wondering where the editor was? And how this book (along with over 85 other titles by the same author) has been published? It concerns me that this author is a huge New York Times bestseller, but her books are so appalling and lacking in literary quality and basic editing. What does this say about readers and reading?

I also read online that the author uses a typewriter to write her novels. No wonder why there doesn’t appear to be any editing. You can’t go back and delete things.
Anyway, enough of my rant.

I think a lot of what I wrote above, comes down to not appreciating the following:

The importance of every sentence.

I’ve read short stories where there has been one terrible sentence, one flawed metaphor or a contradicting situation, that has pulled me right out of the story. And in short stories, especially, it is so important that every word and every sentence is thought out. That every metaphor somehow connects to the narrative.

In my early writing days, before I really understood the concept of editing, I was often lazy. When considering sentences, I would think ‘well, this could be better, but I’m too tired and lazy to change it, so it will suffice.’ I've learnt from my mistakes though. When architectures design, or builders build, they don’t have this option. Being lazy and not changing a flaw could end in disaster. Writing is no different.

Anyway, I have been working on a new short story and tomorrow when I start editing, I will be sure to look at every sentence carefully :)

Happy writing everyone

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Balancing my Reading self and Writing self

Last year, I had a particularly bad reading year. I just lost my reading mojo. I’d get half way through books and lose interest, or I wouldn’t be bothered starting them at all. It was quite upsetting actually. I went from 41 books in 2009, to only 15 last year! 
I could blame the fact that I was overseas for 4 months, or that I was busy with my last semester of uni. But these reasons have never stopped me before.

My reading bug has finally returned to me. I have become unstoppable. Reading in the car (fighting carsickness), reading while walking, reading while my boyfriend gives me puppy dog eyes and begs me to pay him some attention, reading instead of assignments ….

These are my latest purchases. A mixture of journals, YA books, other novels, and my favourite magazine, Frankie.

But I’m struggling to balance reading and writing. 

When I get so into reading, I find that I can’t write. All I want to do is read read read. And I’m so immersed in the world of that novel, that I can’t easily transfer my thoughts to my own writing.

Vice Versa, when I’m writing, I struggle to read. Everything becomes about the world I’m creating, and the people in it. Every spare minute, I’m writing more, researching or editing.
Perhaps that’s why my reading year was so bad last year. I was doing 4 writing subjects at uni and had 12 weeks to write 5 short stories.

Does anyone else struggle to separate their writing and reading self?

My goal is to learn to do both simultaneously. 
I’m going to embrace this time while I’m not working, to get into the habit of waking a bit earlier and writing for at least an hour. And then reading later in the day.

Also, I found this really cute blog, called 3000 books
I try to read 50 new books a year, and this blog records my attempts to get a handle on them. Literary grandstanding or the product of an untidy mind? No one knows.
To the numbers: when I started this blog I was 23 years old. The life expectancy for an Australian female is 83 years. 60 reading years left x 50 books = 3000 books.
Why yes, it is very literal. Some might also say it is numerical.
Cute. Gotta pick our reading wisely guys!