Guest reportage: Eagerly awaiting Etchings 8 – Dusk till dawn

The launch of Etchings 8: Dusk Till Dawn could have been straight out of a how-to manual. It had every element you’d expect:

  1. a sexed-up venue with indoor-outdoor schmoozing space
  2. bar snacks (very important)
  3. bar service (more important)
  4. eager interns (Eliza-Jane Henry Jones and Lana Rosenbaum) taking turns to act as MC
  5. the metaphoric breaking of the champagne by appropriate famous person (poet Anthony O’Sullivan)
  6. a taste of said launch product to activate salivation (A.S. Patric read from his story ‘The Wife’, Georgina Luck, from ‘Clutching the Butterfly Shawl’, Kate Murfett her award-winning poem ‘The Red Queen’, and twenty-year-old writing student from Deakin University, Allyse Near, from ‘Venus in the Twelfth House’)
  7. a plug-in by one or more field professionals (Professor Jennifer Radbourne, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Education at Deakin University, celebrated the literary successes of Deakin’s past and present students)
  8. and most importantly, discounted launch product (I managed to score a copy of Etchings 8: Dusk Till Dawn and Etchings 7: Chameleons – which included drink cards – for not much more than the cost of an extra drink. Happy me).

Having said that, for an issue touted to be ‘dark and sinister’, which ‘delves into the obscure, goes undercover, seduces, spirals into obsession, journeys into other galaxies, and is haunted by the otherworldly and mysterious,’ I had been hopeful of a Tarantino tribute, or at the very least, volumes of vampiric verse.

Instead, with its fabulously floral-faced podium and 80s discothèque dance floor, I discovered a serious insufficiency of ‘Dusk Till Dawn’ décor. None of the guests even got into character or played dress-ups.

On the whole, a successful, if staid, evening.

Here’s hoping the issue itself provides what the launch lacked: some deliciously devious darkness.

-CP

My amateur photos (check out Ilura Press on Facebook for a more professional, less fuzzy and with fewer shots of the backs of peoples’ heads impression of the evening):

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Christine Priestly is currently studying for her Master of Arts in Writing and Literature at Deakin University. She writes fiction and creative non-fiction and knows you can never own too many pairs of stilettos or love enough cats.

The pros and cons of writing pseudonymously

Pseudonym.ψευδώνυμον (pseudṓnymon). ‘False name’*. I had a discussion with Dion Kagan about my pseudonym at the Visible Ink launch last night. Afterwards, I jotted down a couple of notes on the pros and cons of writing pseudonymously.

Pros

  • You get to keep your friends (and your job).
  • Writing anonymously/pseudonymously can be liberating for those who work with a particular style, genre, or content. Megan Lindholm also writes as Robin Hobb. Mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote Alice in Wonderland under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.
  • Pseudonyms are often useful for people with lengthy or difficult to pronounce names. 
  • Or it can be used to create a new identity (‘branding’) such as in the case of Helen Darville/Demidenko.

Cons

  • There’s double handling: two Facebook accounts, two Twitter accounts, two email accounts, two personal websites, two blogs, etc.
  • New acquaintances/readers can get confused: ‘So, what’s your real name again?’
  • There’s a lack of consolidation in one’s writing folio, especially if one uses multiple pseudonyms.

When I started writing pseudonymously, I was attracted to the idea of anonymity. I didn’t want to be hostage to my life, and the pseudonym helped me detach and meditate on what was happening around me. But the anonymity didn’t last long. It might have if I was a writer hermit, but as I started meeting others in the writer community, I had to take ownership of my words again. Despite this, and despite the fact that the name looks unpronounceable, I still like my pseudonym. It’s a way to reclaim my ethnic heritage, as well as giving me the opportunity to challenge the ethnic writer stereotype.

Am I hiding behind a persona? I was, I guess, but not any more. Am I selling out? Probably, ethnic lit’s the current cash cow (though I’m writing less ethnic lit nowadays, so maybe not.) Do I still have my friends and my bread-earning job? Check and check. It’s all good, Sunshine.  

Speaking of challenging ethnic stereotypes, I’ve finally got that T-shirt from topatoco.com. I wore it shopping yesterday, and a guy at JB HiFi came up to me while I was browsing and said, ‘Ni hao!’ To which I replied in my ocker accent, ‘Actually, the T-shirt states that Chinese is not my native language.’ He was crushed. 

A couple of hours later, I saw Simon McInerney with the same T-shirt. *SIGH* On him, it’s whimsically nonsensical. On me, it just gets misinterpreted.

*As per  Wikipedia.

When blogging stops being fun and writing starts feeling like…work?

I’m nearing my 100th post. I started this blog little over a year ago, wanting to create a space where people could find out more about me and my work. At first, the posts were microscopic—two or three sentences stating the when and where of my latest published story. But then the posts began to lengthen and diversify. There was talk of writers festivals, lit journals, other writers, and the local literary scene. The posts cropped up more frequently, and I suffered PWS (Post Withdrawal Syndrome) if I didn’t throw up at least two posts per week. People started reading my blog; people started commenting/linking, and it was all Care Bears and fluffy bunnies. 

But recently, my timetable has had a hostile takeover by Real Work and The House Move, and I’m struggling to find time to write/plan a proper post or belt out a new short story. And it’s been such a long time since I’ve written something new that I’m starting to wonder if I still ‘have it’. 

I blame work. After high school, I studied full-time pharmacy, and then moved straight into full-time work once I graduated. I don’t think I wrote a single thing during those six years. (Okay, I did bash out some YA speculative fiction novellas, but they never moved beyond the first draft.) After eight hours of mind-numbing, dealing with other people’s BS, the last thing you want to do is do more work. Because that’s what writing is: work. And yet, writers rarely ever treat it as such. When people ask about your writing, how many times do you say, ‘Oh, I write for a hobby. I do it in my spare time…’? Dogdamnit. It’s not a hobby. It’s not therapeutic. It’s not even fun (more like ‘demanding, torturous, and sleep-depriving’, like one of those contrary Toorak ladies who demand antibiotics without a prescription for their urinary tract infection). Anyway, after coming to this conclusion after a hectic day at the pharmacy, I am muchly looking forward to getting back to the regular part-time shifts, and working with comma placements, modifiers, and metaphors once more. I’d much rather do unpaid work as a writer than sell veterinarians Viagra for a princely sum thank you very much. 

The Humble Reader from EWF

In September, post-Melbourne Writers Festival 2009, I wrote a post about Writers’ Festival Withdrawal (WFW):

There’s a lot of WFW going around at the moment. The Melbourne Writers Festival is over for 2009, and everyone has been posting about their feelings of dejection (as opposed to the usual feelings of rejection), which is crazy since Overload and TINA (This Is Not Art) are coming up. (1 September 2009)

I didn’t understand why people weren’t coping. MWF  was great, but work, social engagements, and an evil real estate lady ensured that I was just a casual punter; I hadn’t experienced total festival emersion, and didn’t know any better.

TINA, however, was in another state. I was on holidays from work, friends, and family; TINA became my work, my social interactions, my drink of choice. I started getting the shakes when I landed back in Melbourne, spent a lot of time checking other writers’ Facebook profiles, but it wasn’t the same. I needed a literary Valium, so I went to the launch of EMF’s The Reader

After drinks and some amazing tempura prawns/beans/calamari and a discussion on the sexual preferences of Bret Easton Ellis, I started reading The Reader on the tram home, finishing the anthology the day after. With its mix of informative articles, artwork, themed poetry and fiction, The Reader puts me much in mind of Julian Fleetwood’s Sex Mook*, which is unsurprising since Death Mook editor Dion Kagan is captaining this EWF ship. The Reader is like a Writing Mook, elegantly bound in black and silver, exploring a diverse range of writing issues. There’s a how-to on re-writing screenwriting by John Pace, a frank article from Lisa Dempster on how much writers should get paid, while Jane Hawtin talks about turning academic writing into commercially viable publications. Scattered amongst the advice is a poem about rejection letters, reviews on writing books/software from Angela Meyer and Cameron White, and an adorable comic about making comics from Christopher Downes.

What I loved most about The Reader was its ability to play without sacrificing content, with self-help on self-promotion juxtaposed against fears of selling out. Each piece had something to offer to the emerging writer, and was written in an engaging way. Some pieces were earnest, like Stephanie Honor Convery’s Black Saturday experiences, or parodic like Clem Bastow’s ‘Free(lance)-Falling’. But what seemed ubiquitous in such a diverse range of pieces was a self-awareness, a sense of ‘not having quite made it but hopefully getting there’; The Reader’s a humble but essential guide for any emerging writer. 

 

The Reader, image courtesy of EWF.

The Reader - available for $20 from all good bookstores (image courtesy of EWF)

*I have yet to read Death Mook.

Spruiking and self-loathing in Melbourne

For the last couple of days I’ve been trying to make a recording of my story, ‘The Beast’, for Jeremy Balieus from Black Rider Press. I hate the sound of my voice. At work, I always get comments like, ‘Oh you sound dreadful. Are you sick?’ Or, ‘You should do phone sex.’ My piece is also lengthy for a spoken word reading; I can’t read the piece without stumbling over something.

On the other hand, I’ve had a win with DUSA Bookshops, convincing them to stock a whole bunch of Brows, so the citizens of Burwood, Warrnambool, and Geelong will no longer have to travel to Melbourne’s inner ‘burbs for a copy.

Speaking of Melbourne’s inner ‘burbs, the shit’s going down over the next couple of days. Geoff Lemon’s leaving us for South America, and tonight’s Wordplay will be his last one for a mesozoic era. If you haven’t been to Wordplay, it’s one of Melbourne’s best poetry, hip-hop, and spoken mic gigs. I went to Wordplay’s MWF gig and it showcased the likes of Nathan Curnow, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Chloe Jackson, and Ben Ezra. The gig lives at the Dan O’Connell Hotel, so head down there around eight for a night of poetry action.

On Friday, Laura Smith’s poetry gig is happening at Caffe Sospeso and will feature Fiona Stuart, Susan Fealy and MC Deborah Vanderwerp. I saw Laura perform a couple of weeks ago at Dreaming Highways and liked her poetry, so I’ll try to swing by on my way home from The Bedroom Philosopher.

Yep, I am going to another Bedroom Philosopher giglet. Like that Spiderbait song, Justin Heazlewood is ‘fucken awesome’. I’ve been listening to his latest album, Brown & Orange; its seventh track has lines like ‘Jesus was an intruder on Big Brother’ and ‘Church attendances doubled, then tripled. People brought in signs like John 3:16 and “Jesus is emo”…’ Heazlewood’s performing nightly for Melbourne Fringe Festival until 10 October 2009. Catch him while you can.

I’m also looking forward to Attract/Repel, which is also a part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Written and directed by Ming-Zhu Hii, Attract/Repel examines race, identity, similarity and difference. Thanks Estelle for telling me about it. 

One more plug and I swear I am done. EWF’s Reader is launching on Monday 12 October. For those of you who haven’t witnessed Dion Kagan’s spruiking, the Reader is a how-to for emerging writers (or at least that’s what I think it is):

The Reader is Steven Amsterdam on writers’ workshops, Clem Bastow on freelancing, Jen Breach on writing comics, Mel Campbell on pitching to editors, Kathy Charles on shameless self-promotion, Stephanie Convery on writing Black Saturday, Olivia Davis on fear and writing practices, Lisa Dempster on how much writers earn, Koraly Dimitriadis talks to Christos Tsiolkas, Caroline Hamilton compares writers’ festivals and music festivals, Stu Hatton on his mentorship with Dorothy Porter, Jane Hawtin discusses publishing academic research for a general audience, Andrew Hutchinson recalls the Emerging Writers’ Festival, Tiggy Johnson on parenthood and writing, Krissy Kneen on not writing about sex, Benjamin Law on failure, Angela Meyer reviews books for writers, Jennifer Mills on the politics of publishing and engaging with readers, Anthony Noack on good grammar, John Pace on re-drafting your screenplay, Ryan Paine on the role of the critic, Ben Pobjie on writing comedy, Robert Reid on the role of the contemporary playwright, Aden Rolfe on the emergentsia, Jenny Sinclair on the landscape of her book research, Chris Summers talks to Lally Katz about theatre writing, Mia Timpano on how to cultivate the ultimate author profile photo, Estelle Tang on Christopher Currie and blogging fiction, Simmone Michelle-Wells pens a letter to her younger self, Cameron White reviews alternatives to Microsoft Word. (Estelle Tang, 7 October 2009)

At sevenish, I’ll be heading down to get my copy at Bertha Brown. You go get your copy too. 

Okay, back to hating the sound of my voice.

NYWF 2009: Goodbye NC

Newcastle. Unreliable taxi services. Drunk youths. Cheap retro. Love it, hate it, can’t stand the sight of it. Home of TINA (This Is Not Art Festival) and, consequently, the National Young Writers’ Festival

Over the last four days, I’ve hugged Lawrence Leung, discovered Chris Somerville and Michaela McGuire’s work, hung out at a Lucky Seven with Angela Meyer, and learnt swing-dancing from Visible Ink’s Anthony Noack. I’ve chatted to distro owners, potential subscribers and contributors, and random punters at the zine fair, and compared Buffy notes with Thomas Benjamin Guerney. Oh yeah, and I started crying during the Artistic Resilience Intensive’s meditation exercise (which wasn’t very resilient of me). I’ve drunk, and danced, and done the meet and greet. It’s been fun, but I’m glad to be home and finally catch up on some sleep.

Thank you Amy Ingram, Daniel Evans, Sarah Howell and Ronnie Scott for a wicked festival, and thank you everyone else for being the cool cats that you are.

Until next year,

TL

NYWF 2009: Day One

Note to self: do not book flights earlier than 9am. I had to wake up at 5am yesterday; it was still dark. Somehow, I hauled my arse to Tullamarine airport in time for the flight (thank you boyfriend), and found myself on a plane full of writers who were also hating their flight schedules.

Things were on the up, however, once I reached Newcastle. Tom Cho sat next to me on the bus into town and we compared our similar/dissimilar upbringings. I discovered that his mother was racist towards her own kind and, consequently, Tom never had to go to Chinese school. Hopefully, he’ll divulge more about inward racism at today’s panel ‘You are So Lacist’.

After finding a couple of clip-on earrings at the Hunter Street Salvos and a black velvet gown for The Great Gatsby Ball, I headed down to the ‘Well It’s Technically Not About You’ panel with Caro Cooper (facilitator), Benjamin Law, Sally Breen, Krissy Kneen, and Michaela McGuire. Though the panellists had all written about ‘real people’, the diversity of the panel allowed for lengthy discussion on the subject.

Benjamin Law often depicts his family in his non-fiction. He believes that intent helps cushion the collateral in such writing; his work is a love letter to his family, and they accept it with such in mind. To avoid alienating them, he also lets them read (and criticise) his drafts. Usually, his family glosses over the big stuff, picking at only minor details.

Krissy Kneen shared a disheartening experience—Krissy had been writing about a recent crush when he became upset over the drafts she posted online at furiousvaginas. She had gained his consent, only to realise that he was not emotionally mature enough to deal with the material. Upset that he was upset, Krissy decided to replace him with a different character in her narrative.

Michaela McGuire’s Apply Within: Stories of Career Sabotage wasn’t about friends or lovers or family, but sketched people she hoped never to hear from again. During the panel, her focus was on defamation. How to write without getting sued? Insinuate, insinuate, insinuate! (And get lots of legal advice.)

Sally Breen’s memoir was about her father, and against her family’s wishes, she had depicted him with ‘warts and all’. Unlike Krissy and Benjamin, her stance was much more ruthless. Writing should push boundaries. You should fear what you write. And don’t gloss over.

The panellists also spoke about the importance of time (the distance it gives), a writer’s own imperfect (or ‘sloppy’ as per Benjamin Law) recollection, and the importance of not using names (use only first names or, even better, change the name completely). They also listd a couple of writers to read: David Sedaris, Helen Garner (The First Stone), and Colette. Overall: an awesome session.

Afterwards, I hung out with the Melbourne/Brisbane crowd (photos coming soon) and sketched nude people for the Midnight meat (no photos, sorry). With an emphasis on absence rather than presence, I found sketching more taxing than writing. Or maybe it was the lack of sleep plus dehydration/alcohol/giant copulating giraffe sculpture—

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Today’s NYWF itinery: ‘You are So Lacist’, ‘Sweet Staple High’, ‘The Burning Brow Luau’, and many more.

Support your literary journal, damnit!

[Untitled], Melbourne’s newest literary magazine, got launched today and I am currently eying off my copy of the petite first issue. Eighteen centimetres high, eleven centimetres wide, and of slim bearing, she’s a cutie. You should totally take her out on a date.

Or at least that’s what Kalinda Ashton’s touting. In her speech, Kalinda praised the quality of the stories in [Untitled] and she likened the small literary journal to a writerly stepping stone. There’s a lot of good stuff getting written but not necessarily getting published by older journals; Overland, for instance, might only publish five out of a hundred unsolicited stories. Small literary journals offer space for the rest, giving emerging writers a chance to develop their craft.  Their existence, however, does depend on subscriptions. So support your small literary journal. Splurge a little. Literary journals love guys and dolls with cash. To find out how you can purchase [Untitled], speak to Blaise at Busybird Publishing & Design.

Following Kalinda’s speech were readings from various contributors. I particularly liked Stu Hatton’s ‘hands/office’, his deadpan delivery matched the tone of his poem perfectly. Afterwards, I got to chat with some of the other contributors: Elizabeth Jane (librarian), George Ivanoff (YA novelist), Claire Varley (Melbourne Uni Arts graduate), and Sophie Moon (fellow blogger). Hopefully I’ll be seeing them around at other stuff. The Lifted Brow perchance? Who knows? 😉

Four More Sleeps

The Melbourne Writers Festival starts this Friday, and I’m getting excited. Despite having lived in Melbourne all of my life, I have never been to the Melbourne Writers Festival, which is really poor form, considering that people like Angela Meyer move to Melbourne to get closer to the literary scene. Yes, I walk around with a paper bag over my head. And no, please don’t steal my paper bag to vomit your disgust into it. 

I wanted to go last year, but had unwittingly double-booked myself. While everyone else was listening to Nam Le, I was falling off ski-lifts in New Zealand. This year, however, I have cleared August of snowboarding, errant pharmacy shifts, weddings, and engagements. Only an invasion of three-legged aliens is going to stop me from making it to MWF 2009.

Workshops are getting booked out, but I’ve managed to score a spot on Wells Tower’s Small Lever, Big Rock: Short Fiction & The Simple Machines of Emotion.

There’s also a couple of Big Ideas talks at the RMIT Capitol Theatre that look interesting: Life, the Universe, and Nothing; The Future of the Book; and Does the End Justify the Means?

At Melbourne Town Hall, on Friday 21 August, Freedom of Speech: Should There Be Limits? With Ian Buruma will debate Geert Wilders and the Danish cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Toff in the Town is hosting some fun stuff. Spoken word artists such as Alicia Sometimes, and Emilie Zoey Baker will be performing a poetic tribute to Michael Jackson’s Thriller on Thursday night. while McSweeney’s (Futuristic) Antipodean Adventure will be happening Saturday night, 29 August. 

More performances are planned for the Festival Club. Wordplay’s scheduled for Sunday 23, with Geoff Lemon, and Nathan Curnow. Angela Meyer will be also doing her thing with SPUNC on Saturday 29.

Will I make it to any of the day events? Not likely, since I have to work (writers’ festivals = $$$$$). But Tom Cho will be discussing his book in Fable, Fantasy and the New Short Story. Brain Castro will be In Conversation on Sunday 23 August. McSweeney’sIsnotmagazine, and Torpedo will be fratenising with each other in Fly Like a Butterfly on Friday 28 August, while Krissy Kneen will talk on erotic writing with Linda Jaivin, and Nikki Gemmell in Put Your Hands All Over My Body. There is too much shit happening; I can’t deal with such excess (and neither can my credit card). Oh <insert alternative to God here>!

Thuy Linh Nguyen’s Ambitious MWF Itinery:
I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours…
Friday 21 August

Saturday 22 August

Sunday 23 August

Thursday 27 August

Saturday 29 August

  • McSweeney’s (Futuristic) Antipodean Adventure @ The Toff

Sunday 30 August

The social/unsocial writer

Soph wrote an interesting comment about the social/unsocial aspects of writing on her blog, Snufft, last week:

But the more writing events I go to, and festivals I attend or volunteer for, the more the question keeps rearing its head, am I benefiting from all of this, should I just be locked away by myself tapping away happily on my keyboard?

The answer, for me, as far as I can see, is yes. Whether there are more opportunities if you know more people within the ’scene’ is irrelevant for me. Every time I attend something, I walk away feeling motivated, enlightened, fueled to write more, wanting more than anything to be just like my mentors…I think spending time with other writers is important, if for nothing other than to challenge how you feel about festival’s, and the new performance type nature, that readings seem to have taken on. (22 June 2009)

I disagree with Soph. Although writing festivals, book launches, and spoken word performances do occasionally inspire me, I usually find them distracting. Not only am I too busy socialising (not writing) due to such events, I worry over what everyone else is doing/thinking/reading; I worry that I am underperforming; I become a lemming and write my way off a cliff:

Conversely, I love writers’ group workshops. Not all feedback is constructive and not all suggestions are taken on board but I always love getting a fresh take on my work. I also learn a lot from workshopping other people’s work.

It’s not easy finding a suitable writers’ group however. I suggest shopping around until you find one that fits. The VWC has a list of writers’ groups in Victoria, and Caroline Allen’s post, ‘Advice for finding a writers’ group’, gives some useful tips on choosing the right group. If you don’t find one that you like, set up your own. I suppose this is where events, such as the  Emerging Writers’ Festival, come in handy. And now I’ve written myself into a catch-22.