Friday, 24 October 2014

#MWF14 Blog to book Update 4

Hello blog – I have missed you!

I have so much to tell you, and always so little time! Here are some thoughts big and small, and an update on what I have been up to lately:


Indigenous Australia is, to use a cliche (sorry!), on the cusp of change. Policing a silence won't arrest change, and talking about it won't jinx Aboriginal people either.

Debate falls apart when we succumb to the temptation to explain emerging trends with a sweeping reference to outside pressure. This response will serve, until it becomes impossible to describe what is 'inside' and what is 'outside'. 


I was a part of a Masterclass recently in Indigenous filmmaking. Barely any of the participants used Twitter. None appeared particularly averse to the micro blogging platform, they just didn't see the need for it. I happily tweeted for a day, then quietly put my phone away. Quite frankly, I would have missed out on too much if I had spent any more time staring at my palm.

Between them, the people who generously gave up so much of their time - and their practical, insightful, inspirational advice - have produced some of the most enduring screen works on offer in recent times. 
Their influence is enormous - if you have an interest in Indigenous filmmaking, you would know all their tv shows and movies. They choose to tell stories via the one-way screen. 
They chose that route because they have the skills – they love filmmaking, and they are very good at it – but also because if you wanted to tell a story these days – the type of story that changed your world - that is where you would do it.

Not all of us are going to get to do that. ‘We’ are sure trying though.

But my point is this: the emerging Indigenous social media presence has been a game changer and Twitter in particular is the pinnacle of that - but only a tiny percentage of the Indigenous population is 'active' on Twitter, especially when you compare this platform to Facebook.

If you were curious about Aboriginal Australia, you have a few places you can go, and the most convenient route is straight to the tiny screen that spends most of it’s time in your hand.

But just as a film only really works if the characters are true to themselves and the story catches your attention, the demand for Indigenous representation rises and falls on how real a deal the observer thinks they are getting.

Keeping it real

When it comes to my writing, I’m often asked 'are my stories ‘real’? Not only that, they’d prefer it if they were.

It has happened far too often to me for it to be idle curiosity. The most revered screen works are those that people readily agree is ‘honest, brave, heartbreaking’ and the like. 

It makes me wonder – and I am not looking for simplistic, ‘opt out of an awkward conversation’ answers – but yes, it makes me wonder out of all the words produced and appearances on film, when does the question arise over what is ‘real’ about Aboriginal people? 

An example of change is already emerging in who engages in that discourse, on the grounds they don’t think it applies to them and there are other priorities they’d much rather talk about.

There are words that can trigger an abrupt end to a conversation. ‘Authentic' and 'Aboriginal’ would be two of them, when put together. But it’s inevitable that the dominant narratives are going to evolve. No amount of resistance will hold back the tide. 

There is a phenomenon in the arts, and elsewhere ('the collective unconscious') which has been cited during court cases when one innovator sues another for copying an idea that both parties - independent of the other - designed and built, or dreamt and wrote in their sheds over years spent working in the light of a single light bulb under the scorn of their family. It happens. 

Family history stories humanise Aboriginal people. They are stories that will never end, and that's as it should be. 

What about if a person wanted to write science fiction, or horror, and created characters who just happened to be Aboriginal, without one eye on whether they would be received sympathetically?

Aboriginal people are people too. When seen beneath the surface of negative stereotypes as a person, rather than a victim or someone better than average (??), or special or 'other', they don't stop being Aboriginal. An opposing view would have to come up with a better argument than judging Aboriginal identity on some grade of victimhood. 

Aboriginal identity is not determined by disadvantage. There's a growing discomfort from being locked into following a script, weighed down and caught within the victim paradigm. Divisive narratives will be in full swing before we get around to intergenerational conflict. That is surely coming - urban Indigenous youth is the fastest growing demographic in the country.

I imagine those in the future looking back on my time and realising that the dominant narrative was about the colour of a person's skin, in all it's shades. And looking back further still, to a speech that is only available in black and white footage, and wondering why so little attention was given to the person inside.

These are some of the things on my mind, when I am not crafting stories just like any other (aspiring) novelist or screenwriter.

And now time for me to get back to finishing off some editing. So far my greatest hindrance has been my love of the ‘Oxford comma’. After discussion with Ed. we agreed all the Oxford commas would be removed because it’s too ambitious for a first time book type person, even if it’s a better match for the cadence of my voice.

If you’re not sure what an Oxford comma is:

Standard comma: 
You know Bob, Sue and Greg? They came to my house.
Oxford comma: 
You know Bob, Sue, and Greg? They came to my house.
Christopher Walken comma: 
You know Bob, Sue, and Greg? They came, to my house.

That joke, kills me, every time.

If the commas were ‘real’ I would have formed them into a ball – something like Roald Dahl’s Chocolate Wrapper Ball that still sits on his desk. They say it looks like a canon ball and will fill the palm of your hand.

My Oxford Comma Ball would be about the same size though perhaps not as weighty.

If I had added the foil from every chocolate bar I have eaten in my life to a ball, it would be the size of a basketball and you’d have to leave it in the corner because if it rolled off the table it would break a toe.

On Dusk, the blog book - available soon!
When: November 2014
How: print & ebook from Amazon

The usual pattern of a writing project...
  • Yay, I am going to write something right now!
  • Thinking, thinking, thinking. Find a nice spot on the verandah and drink tea and listen to the birds. Find a nice spot on the lounge and jot notes in between prime time tv. Wake in the middle of the night to make more notes.
  • Write.
  • Rewrite.
  • Check deadline.
  • Reread my piece, wondering who wrote it.
  • Decide they are a terrible writer.
  • Remember the wise words of a mentor - ‘back myself’.
  • Read my piece out loud to the birds.
  • Submit some time between the deadline and the red zone of ‘they will never ask me again’.
  • Turn my face from the piece for hours, then re read it again.
  • See it published and see where improvements could be made if only I had one more chance.
  • Accept another writing commission. Yay. 
This time has been a little different...

It is rather a lot more words than usually leaves my control. Out of the 135 posts that appeared on my blog over the past two years - now stripped from my blog and carefully scrutinized - 45 posts have made it into the blog book.

What did I notice?

My writing transformed. I had to describe myself every few months and emphasis my independence. The only thing that wasn’t clear was 'why the constant reminders?', 'who was I independent of?' and 'why?'

For the blog book to make sense, I’ve included some mortar to pull the 45 blog posts together as well as bridge a few other gaps.

Want to know more? Upcoming appearances…..

6.00 – 6.30pm 8 November
Sydney Emerging Writers Festival
Reading: ‘Honey’ with illustrations from Sam Wallman.
Unwind to some illustrated readings from up-and-coming writers in our Indigenous mentorship program. Held in the Writers’ Centre garden with visual accompaniment provided by some of Sydney’s best comic illustrators. 
For more of Sam Wallman’s work please take a look at his website.
And in case you missed it, read the Serco story that created a buzz recently with illustrations by Sam Wallman.

Sam Wallman has been nominated for a Walkley! 
Category: 'All Media Multimedia Storytelling'
Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism - 2014 Finalists

Conference presentation: Live story telling
‘Your stories never end’
Tuesday the 9th of December 2014

Stay tuned for blog updates and a new series of Tweetyarns (twitter fiction).

It’s happening. In between a lot of editing and layouts, I have also done the fun things like deciding on book covers and the wording for my dedications and acknowledgements.

OnDusk blog book - previous updates
The blog-to-book journey so far…

Joint Winner! 2014 Melbourne Writers Festival 
Blurb Blog-to-Book Challenge starts here

Update post 1 here
Update post 2 here
Update post 3 here

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


Peak hour traffic in a strange city, and I had managed to get lost with a flashing fuel gauge letting me know my predicament could only get a lot worse. A missed turn and I was heading towards a bridge that would take me so far out of my way, I would run out of petrol before I found an exit on the elevated motorway.

I had no choice but to take the only turn left that didn’t have disaster guaranteed, and motored down into a tranquil streetscape of luxury apartments and boutique bars. There was not going to be a petrol station in that area.

My car was belching fuel laden smoke from a dirty engine all over the joggers and cyclists I passed, slowly, in a desperate effort to conserve fuel. I hadn’t passed anyone in a state fit for me to ask for directions, that wasn’t indifferent to the world courtesy of their earphones. I rolled past them all in a cloud of foul air. To get their attention I would have had to stop crying and choke back the fear spiked nausea, before nudging them gently with my car. Then I spotted what was surely my last chance, walking towards me. A young couple, talking, strolling, hands linked loosely in matching strides. I pulled up and got out just as they were set to pass me by in my despair.

Excuse me….

He was sure there were no petrol stations nearby.

I’m lost, I don’t know this city... my car is on empty.

And then there was that second that my life has always depended on. Would he help me? Or was it just not worth his while? Or maybe it was none of his business? When his companion smiled, my hope soared. My whole being had been reduced into one tiny moment and I felt reprieved.

He shot off some directions to a petrol station. 'Left, right, dog leg, get to the end, follow the main road', and in about a kilometer I’d find a BP petrol station. I asked him to repeat it again, because to my ears it had sounded like 'follow the dog' and then my over wrought mind had inextricably fastened on thoughts of a three day old hot dog rolling slowly in a cradle.

I knew it was my last chance to memorise the directions, as he was fast approaching the no mans land where I couldn’t follow, where we don’t expect a stranger to twist their head past a certain point to explain anything, let alone a vital piece of information.
I wanted to write it down, speak it into my phone, carve a mud map into my forearm but all I could do was parrot what he said and hope it stuck.

Back on the road the first tentative turn was easy enough, the second was accomplished with a slight falter into a dead end, and then approaching a maze of streets and roundabouts I stopped fighting the pull, and fell into a river of cars and hoped for the best. It didn’t look like I was on the road to anywhere fruitful, there was no rainbow, no large illuminated signs that said ‘petrol station this way’. And then I saw it, the large BP sign standing clear of the city that spread around me in all directions. 

It required me to cross all four lanes of homeward bound peak hour traffic and maybe they’d all had a good day at work, or because it was Friday, or maybe there was an air of desperation about the way my head was flicking around, but in unison they all slowed down and I shot cleanly across the road and into the service station driveway like a pebble out of a sling.

I wanted to drive back and find the man of bountiful directions and say 'thankyou'. I wanted to reward the happy couple with a beaming smile and maybe a bouquet of flowers for her. I wanted to say ‘have a good night’ with a cheery wave as I headed for the city limits. That I was almost killed two hours later on the open highway erased my good cheer, though how were they to blame?

No one was to blame really. It was just one of those stupid things that happen, a sequence of events, hardly out of place on any given day, and then people die. It happens all the time, it's possibility lost in the seconds that make up most of our lives. 

I’d had no hint of it when I’d pulled off the highway into a large service centre to stock up on fuel and coffee and stare at iced donuts through the glass fronted racks.

The gloss had disappeared from the donuts when I’d noticed some other travelers close by because out of all my people watching, they are my least favourite kind to study.

She was hunched and gripping both biceps through a thin, loose jersey top. He was tall, thin, with no shoes and short hair. Hair covered his head with no interest, atop a body that did not fit into the air around it. He was arguing under his breath and snapping his arms and head around while he found something wrong with everything. She wasn’t saying anything. But they never do. Not in public. It was all him and he was getting more and more agitated. I moved on from the iced donuts and wandered down the row of fast food counters till I found food that I could eat in a moving vehicle. By the time I passed back through the food hall, the only trace of their presence was the violated air.

The open highway was pitch black, lit up yet lonely with the passing of the occasional car among lines of trucks, sometimes in convoys of three or four, running in both directions. I was picturing myself home, back in my study, refreshed from a trip away and brimming with the words I wanted to include in my manuscript.

I’d picked up a station, and radio playing, listening to a poet mutilate his own work out loud over a mismatched backbeat, I rolled the window down to let his tortured rhythm out into the night as I approached a section of road works.

I was still going at a rapid pace because I was surrounded by a bottle neck of prime movers all with multiple trailers, reluctantly slowing down as the only means of merging into single file to shoot the needle of usable highway.
Then suddenly, the house sized truck in front of me moved across so fast it swayed, to reveal I was about to slam into the back of a car that looked to be sitting in the middle of the highway.

Bearing down on it I could see the car was moving, though barely. The car was crawling along, without hazard lights to warn anyone blinded by the expanse of temporary blinking, flashing, pulsing road works.

I could see arms flying around through the back window as unbelievably, the car limped along. I think what saved me was the truck drivers on high, could see this, or were speaking to each other on their two ways, or the way some jumped on their air horns was enough to snap them all out of long range driving stupor fast enough to make room for me to slow without being crushed from behind, and squeeze past the offending vehicle and miss the temporary concrete barriers erected down the middle of the other lane.

And as I passed I saw who was in the vehicle. It was the couple. He was yelling, alternating between gripping the steering wheel, pounding the steering wheel, and clawing at the air. The last thing he seemed to notice was the rest of the traffic around him, as he continued to drift and roll along, half on and off the highway, his head twisted in the direction of his companion.

I think if I had hit him from behind at that speed I would have taken his head off. Shorn it clean off. He would have seen my lights too late in his rear vision. Or maybe in his rage caked mind he would never have noticed, or heard poetry mixed with truck horns and air brakes.

Having escaped alive, my first thought was I wanted everything to stop so I could get off and scream at her ‘he will never get better. He has passed the point of ever being a decent human being! He almost killed us all. Unravel your arms and start living!’

I can’t claim to have been distracted by the radio poet being strangled by his hideous accompaniment of music, but to have died hearing that as the last sound would have been a tragedy for a writer.

Maybe I knew I would survive, or I would have seen the whole car crash in slow motion right up until the very end, but all I recall thinking is my life did not flash before my eyes as we’ve been lead to believe to expect.

All I could think about was mulberries.

I have a large over grown tree in my back yard. When I’d left only days before, I’d passed it, heavy with fruit and ripe for eating. I had missed sampling the whole crop the previous year because I had been away for work, and my only thought was in two years of living with that enormous fruit tree, I never got to eat a single mulberry.

I had never shared them with my son, or showed my grandson how to use gentle fingers to pick the fruit.

I would have tasted my childhood and seen my fingers stain. I would have felt the river water wash away crushed fruit that as kids we had rubbed into each other’s hair. I would have smelt the bushland as the last rays of afternoon sun penetrated the leaves and lit my way back to the house. I would have heard my mother’s voice again.

Essential for completing a blog-to-book....
coloured tags, noise canceling headphones and cheese.

Melbourne Writers Festival 2014 Blurb Books Blog-to-Book Challenge...
Coming soon - Publication ... OnDusk: Blog-to-Book, with accompanying narrative and archived 2013 and 2014 blog posts.
Will be available for purchase in print and ebook from Amazon.

I will be reading from my freshly printed book 8 November at the Sydney Emerging Writers Festival Storytelling in the Garden 6pm – 6:30pm