Been working on a couple of speculative travel pieces following a lovely recent European break. I wrote one and I can’t think of any publication that would even consider picking it up, so here she is here: Monolithos.
It was a fabulous shindig: a local landscaper, nursery owner, and all-round bon vivant threw a party to celebrate his premises expanding from the heritage brick bakery into a vast white warehouse next door. So he invited a half-dozen aerosol artists over to paint the walls, popped up some scaffolding, opened the gates to a couple hundred of the neighbourhood’s finest citizens, whacked a lot of booze in ice tubs and some fume-protecting masks on the tables, and threw a bash* that lasted well past dawn. Or so I am told.
I’d remembered how, in a low demand period of my writing life, a few years ago, I’d seen a help wanted sign in this nursery. I love gardening, and the thought of getting to hang out around plants for a day or two a week tempted, despite the pay cut.
So, as I told my polite-but-probably-bored audience at the party, I wrote an email to the business owner. This bloke, incidentally, knew I was no horticulturist, and that my frontline retail experience was faded beyond recognition, and that I probably couldn’t even lift half the pots in the showroom. But Christ I loved writing that email. Necessary words and useless words about random things that may have been related to the position, or may not. Like my infatuation with Costa Georgiadis (pre-ABC, mind, when he was still on SBS and before he was media-trained to speak like every other… incorrectly punctuated… newsreader). And inheriting a rose garden, even though I’m not really that type of girl. And weeding.
Of course I didn’t follow it up, and of course he didn’t even reply. Was probably scared out of his wits. Perhaps he’d never received such a fiercely gonzo application before. But while recounting the story, I became aware that this was around the same time that I had been receiving comments on things that I was listing on Ebay in an attempt** to de-clutter. I had listed some of the op-shop treasures that were hulking in crowded corners of the house, and may have had a bit too much fun with the descriptions. I had a couple (yes, more than one) comments from people saying, “When are you going to list some more things? Your descriptions are hilarious.” And “I don’t want to buy anything but I’ve just favourited your account because I love reading your stuff.” I think I was funny, too, but I’ll never know because I didn’t keep a copy and Ebay surely doesn’t have any sentiment for old content either.
With a flash of lovely hindsight, I see now that I wasn’t doing much writing about this time. And so, I’d relished any chance to get my hands wordy, to knead sentences until my knuckles ached, and flick punctuation around for fun. Because I am a wordsmith. I may not be a particularly interesting writer, I can appreciate this sad fact, but I need to write. I realise how lucky I am that writing occupies a significant proportion of my working hours.
And it’s a trade. It’s my trade. The more I write, the less the subject even matters – it’s all about the action, the work, the process of clicking these strokes together to make some sort of sense for a reader. I love writing for clients in fields I know little about, because then I get to learn a bit about something as well. And I love creating something from nothing. Words fly together in my head when I’m in the shower. Sometimes I even write them down. As much as writing, I love the edit. I love to chop dead limbs away, or leave that little bit of purple there if it helps with tone. I actually was the little girl who said she wanted to be a writer when she grew up, and although most of my writing goes unacknowledged as “mine”, I don’t care.
By the way, I’m not sure what the point of this post was, and it contains far too many personal pronouns for my taste. Also, I’m going to stick it straight up without proofing it or giving it a tidy-up edit, because I’m anticipating delightful irony for you, dear reader, when you see a whole shipload of infelicities in a blog post about the act of writing for work.
But gosh it was fun to write.
*soiree, shindig, party… Yes, Ros would scold me for “thesaurus syndrome” here, but I do like all those festive synonyms rolling around that paragraph
If you’ve been following this blog for a few years (and hello to both of you!) you may remember I finished a novella draft over a year ago. And promptly hid the bugger in a drawer, sick of the sound of my own headspace.
Well, I just gave it another edit, and still don’t like it much. Should I chuck it? Start on something more grown-up? Or send this one out to the wolves… that is, call for some kind/unkind/constructive reader feedback?
Memoir. It really should be avoided by all but those with the most interesting, important, timely, or unique stories.
Oh well, tough. I just pulled another old writing exercise out of its box. It’s none of the above. This one’s being set free today because it’s my Superbowl story. It’s also an Ekka story. Does that send you running, screaming in the other direction?
Ros had encouraged me to play with flash pieces: it’s her fault. At least flash memoir is brief.
It will be the year of structure.
I will make time to write, corral little chunks of hours. Things will be produced*. (*I will find an alternative to the passive voice to avoid that overexposed personal pronoun.)
I have been guilty of calling myself a writer with little to back it up. Let’s be honest.
The latest edition of Island contains an essay, Public Writers, Private Lives, that resonates. Island editor, Matthew Lamb, sniffs “there are a lot of talkers out there”. Lamb will not call himself a writer until he has three books published. Good for him. Guess I am a talker. Also, a mother, event producer, communication consultant, freelancer, critic, gardener, publicist, social media gnat, school volunteer, environmental campaigner, friend, and corporate writer/editor. But writer? Underpublished, unpaid. Fraud. How dare I use this undeserved label, “writer”?
Recently, for the sake of conversational amusement over the party season, I heard myself describing my being a writer as “going through my rejection phase”. Ha ha, snort. 2013 was a year of occasional literary rejection. Good for the spirit.
Must a writer be published to a predetermined level before earning her name? For me, a writer is one who simply must write. Hell, it’s not for the dosh. (According to this report, the average income for Australian writers is $11,000.) Writing is surrendering to the compulsion to deliver these chains of words somewhere. This screen, that notebook, that toilet wall. Even if (like this blog!!!) very few people even read it. Does the audience even count?
Does the audience count? With this in mind, I release below a piece I’ve sent off as a writing sample to two of last years rejecters. Perhaps it’s rubbish. Perhaps I come across as quite a wanker. It’s part of a series of flash writing that my mentor, Ros Petelin, suggested I play around with: stuff that I use as a writing exercise.
The night they freed Nelson MandelaThe night they freed Nelson Mandela we threw a party. The strange thing about this party was that it didn’t take place at our house on Honour Avenue in Chelmer, because that was the house of impromptu parties. Living with someone in a band meant you ended up living with most of the band. Initially JC, Jacinta, and I moved into the Honour Ave house. Jamie moved in later, after a sojourn in Aspen. (He was preppy to our grunge.) Jacinta’s boyfriend Bish lived with us on weekends, when he was down from studying in Gatton. Ian may as well have lived there. Missy, too. It was awesome. Most of us decamped to my friend Mez’s place the night they freed Nelson Mandela, because her parents were away, of course. We played drinking games and danced and skinnydipped. After all, we were 19. We woke in the morning to find JC asleep in a baby’s travel cot. Can’t remember who put him in there. …want more? Here’s the full piece.
I’ve been back working with Brisbane Arcade recently, for its 90th birthday celebrations.
I love Brisbane Arcade: its bloody history, its Art Deco bone structure, and its personalities — many of whom I got to know when I was marketing manager there a decade ago. For the 90th, I’ve had the exceeding good fortune to work with the current (awesome) marketing manager and a canny publicist. The luxury of a team of three! Just like Charlie’s Angels.
As well as event production, this time around, part of my work involved researching past arcade tenants, particularly fashion tenants. And it’s been a joyful little voyage of discovery. I’ve been able to reminisce with designers including Royce Facy, a local treasure. Revisit the RAQ awards (always just a little self-conscious, those televised 80s/90s galas) and the women who would have been supermodels, had they grown up in a city with greater prospect than this “big country town”. Giggle at blowsy advertising claims in old Trove searches. Try to imagine a retail environment where a store that only sold umbrellas made perfect sense. (Or an arcade where two successful dancewear stores thrived for years, facing off at opposite ends of the balcony level…)
The process has encouraged a contemplation of the nature of history, of what gets remembered (often that which is uploaded, or oft-copied). The creating of history through the telling. Wars that are described by the victors and all that.
Has which chosen history a Wikipedia page?
I’ve met a talented man who doesn’t have a Wikipedia page (yet).
I thought I’d met, or heard about, a fair swathe of southeast Queensland’s dressmakers and designers from the second half of last century. Surrounded by talk of them since my first after-school job, selling paper patterns in the family business, I sold fabric and haberdashery to most of Brisbane’s dressmakers over a couple of decades in the rag trade. So it was near-mortifying to only be introduced to the designer Harvey Graham so recently.
Serendipitously, as we were planning the Arcade’s 90th events, a southside vintage store had taken delivery of a pristine Harvey Graham collection from a deceased estate, and Andra our publicist had made contact. These outfits were gorgeous: late 60s and early 70s, neat. Adorable.
I googled him: nothing, save an oblique nod to his awesome taste in architecture. (The Graham House in Indooroopilly, noted by Rob Riddel as one of Brisbane’s key mid-century designs, is now a vacant block for sale.)
But then I started talking to people who’d remember.
“Your grandmother loved Harvey Graham,” said my mum. “He was her favourite of the city designers.”
My dad remembered his cool car, of course, and also his consummate elegance.
Others remembered his attention to detail: Buttonholes of perfection. Belts to make you swoon. Trim detail matched only by Helena Kaye, or his arcade neighbour, Gwen Gillam: a designer who one fashionista with a longer memory whispered “wasn’t as good as Harvey, but she was louder.”
But the internet didn’t remember him, and a tip from local fashion insider Michael Marendy led me to one grainy picture of the confirmed bachelor.
Harvey Graham’s salon moved from South Brisbane to Brisbane Arcade in the 1960s, and remained there until the early 1980s.
He’s back in there right now, and there’ll be a long-overdue Harvey Graham parade next Friday.
I can’t wait. It’s nice to give back some kind of history, even if it’s just a shout into the www abyss.
You can read an article I wrote about the fashion designers of Brisbane Arcade, as part of Brisbane Arcade’s 90th , here.
Too many months have passed without self-indulgent writing, with no wordy rambling save skinny scratchings in a work-related notebook and the occasional sentence plugged into my phone’s orangey notes.
Someone has left a whole watermelon on my doorstep.
The eyes have been scratched out of a massive poster of Wil Anderson up the road. He looks more interesting, satanic.
My beloved rooster is yet to crow and give the whole game up.
Yesterday, we took the boys to Sea World. There were many tattoos. We left at closing time. The nearly empty carpark suffered random discards: bags and containers stealthed down between parked cars guiltily revealed when their cover drove off. In a straight line to our car, I passed two dirty disposable nappies. People suck.
We had stayed at Greenmount, which was a younger sample of the weekend’s generally vintage vibe. I want to save every last faded one of the southern Gold Coast beauties: the random terrazzo floors, proud little skillion roofs, all the asbestos-clad modesty.
Those beaches of the GC’s cooler lower reaches are stunning, and the high-rises grotesque alongside.
Whenever I look north across the sweeping bays towards the silhouetted geometric outline that spreads from north of Surfers Paradise to (where? Broadbeach? or would it have sprawled down to Nobby’s by now?), I can’t help imagining it a smoking ruin. The ocean, sparkling and alive, in front of apocalyptic desolation. An annihilated future.
I must go. Work demands attention, and I also must find out what sort of bird made the nest that landed on the driveway last week.
…in the spare room, covered in cockroach crap, I found a stack of old work from around the turn of the millennium.
I uploaded this one for fun (and in utter self-indulgence). I’d forgotten all about it; I’d forgotten how satisfying it was to write. And I’d forgotten exactly how much I despised Sex and the City.
So I’ve finished a draft of sorts.
The novel presently exists as novella. Possibly because I am, foremost, an editor and can’t help myself: I trim trim trim and there’s not much left.
Three options from here:
a) Leave it as a novella, and whack it through a couple more editorial passes
b) Take these bones and give them flesh, aiming for a regular kind of novel
c) Stick the bloody thing in a drawer and say “Well, that’s that. Now I can start writing a real book.”
I lean towards (c).