WestWords Living Stories Win

* GOOD NEWS KLAXON *
That’s my name down there on the bottom of the picture telling me I have won the 18+ category of WestWords Living Stories competition.
Last year I was also the winner for my local government area and backing it up with a win this year is amazing.

The next step is all the winners of each category are judged for the grand prize which will be announced in July. What is extra cool, and perhaps a little daunting, is other winners in my category are also part of the WestWords Academy I am participating in this year (all judging was blind so no one knew we were a part of the Academy or indeed if we had submitted). The chat was a flurry of messages yesterday when the announcements were made. I am hoping to meet them in real life at the book launch. I loved reading the stories in last year’s collection as there were amazing pieces written by people from all ages, and I am looking forward to reading the winners and highly commended stories and poetry this year.

I really loved what I had written, and was completely satisfied that if it didn’t place or anything, it was a piece I truly believed in and gave it everything I could. However, it did win, and it made for a lovely surprise (when you submit a piece for a competition, or any publication, you have all hope and no hope simultaneously) after what has been a brutally exhausting term at school.

The announcements were being released as I was teaching my writers’ class so I was able to share the good news with them when it happened (after I had messaged my wife and told her).

You can see all the winners’ names HERE.

Defining Progress in the Year of Relentless

My chosen word for the year was #relentless.

It was a word chosen to keep my focus on writing and submitting. On that scale, it has been successful. I have written, I have submitted, I have received rejections. I have had a story sold to appear later in the year in The School Magazine. I have been accepted to a local writers’ Academy where we meet monthly to discuss the business and practical aspects of writing. And the year is only half done.

In saying that, it has also been a year of relentlessness in other ways. The best way of describing it would be “Unexpected items in the bagging area.” It has taken its toll mentally and emotionally.

This afternoon, I took stock of where I was at with some old projects, added in potential new stories and lined them up in my notebook. I need lists; it keeps me accountable.

This is how I choose to define progress in the year of relentless: I am continuing to write and work on new projects, submitting when I can, and looking for new opportunities to get help, wisdom, knowledge and advice. If you don’t ask, you don’t receive.

I am curious to see what happens in the remainder of the year, and when I look back over 2022, what lessons will I have learned? And that is, perhaps, the more important part of this creative journey.

Word for the Year 2022

Welcome to The Drum and Page.

If my desk was named like an English pub, it would be The Drum and Page. My writing collaborator, Jodi, calls her place, The Dog And Book. Therefore I am renaming my work space like an English pub even though I live in Australia. It simply sounds better. What would your creative space be called?

I digress but this initial tangent leads me to my WORD OF THE YEAR.

Each year I choose a word to help guide and direct me. They are written on a Post It Note and stuck to the wall above my desk. Last year I had two words: “limitless” and “breakthrough.” I found success in these two words in the release of my chapbook, Mount Pleasant, in February, and winning a local writing competition about the middle of the year. I kept writing and drawing, sifting through the what was to see what would be.

This year, the word is RELENTLESS.

It will take a year to explore the nuances of this word and what it means for me. And that will be an awfully grand adventure.

It’s a word to apply to my creative life through writing and drawing, and will have application to the spiritual, emotional/mental, and physical aspects of my life. I don’t know what the final outcome will be at the end of 2022. I may have made no progress other than developing my creative practice. I may have opportunities to explore because I asked about a collaboration, or I put in an application for a writing mentorship, or I submitted work for publication and only received rejections. I don’t know. But I will be relentless in my pursuit of this creative life.

Grace and peace be upon you all from the desk of The Drum and Page.

Flash Fiction – The Tennis Court

There’s always a tennis court around the corner, the white lines faded and cracked. The net hangs in a lopsided grin as you walk past. The dog at your heels moves to your other side, putting you between it and the tennis court. You’ve never seen anyone play on it.

As you walk beyond the base line you think you hear the sound of a ball struck. You turn and there’s no one there on court. A tennis ball rolls out of the shadows and into the back corner of the court, resting against the cyclone fencing wire.

What Do You Do When You Get to the End of the Toilet Roll?

What do you do when you get to the end of the toilet roll?

A year is a toilet roll, and as this calendar year comes to an end, we tend to reflect on success, failures, the times that fell through as easy as a loose stool; the events we bit down hard on and pushed; the thoughts we had amounting to nothing more than sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

This laboured metaphor for the end of the year is fitting as this time of year is awash with Best Of lists, retrospective summaries, highlight reels and statistics. The interim period of December 1 until Christmas Eve is like looking at the roll of toilet paper on the holder and wondering how much is left and how long it will last, and if you’ll get through.

We mark our seasons and cycles in different ways. I am not one to successfully mark transitions and the ascension of seasons and new beginnings. I try to. I set out projects and works I’d like to complete but I am useless at developing plans and goals. Creating positive habits is hard.

I do know what I have, and have not, achieved this year. In the wash up of this year I can point to many reasons why I have not succeeded, some personal, some professional, some within my control and some out of my control. And all of these have had their impact in my growth as a writer and a creative.

What Am I Pleased With This Year?

These make me feel quite chuffed and are impetus for future growth next year. I have ideas, thoughts, hastily scribbled plans, fluid deadlines that need to be made fixed, unfinished projects to either abandon or complete.

And yet, there is fear.

Fear I can’t finish the projects I want to. Fear of what will happen outside of my control that can derail my progress. Fear of being average and beige and wasting my time. Fear is the largest obstacle I need to overcome.

Creativity is a discipline: spiritual, emotional, mental, physical. You train yourself like an athlete or musician to overcome fear. And when one cycle ends, you think about the incremental progress you have made, and how you have changed, developed, adapted, improved throughout the cycle.

So, what do you do when you get to the end of the toilet roll? You dispose of the waste, put a new roll on, and start anew.

What’s Cooking in the Story Kitchen?

What’s cooking in my story kitchen?

NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow, and I have never participated (reasons) but this year I am going to try something a little different.

I have plans for a new novella so I will be spending November doing *gestures vaguely* something towards this WIP.

I have organised my rough notes in a free online writing app, The Quill, so tomorrow I can have a look over it all and begin to arrange the pieces.

The biggest challenge will be reducing the broad scope of ideas into a focused concept with delineated characters and something to say.

To Make Contact With Mystery

An article I was reading (A Very Particular Risk: Aimee Bender on Jane Campion and Kazuo Ishiguro) helped me to reflect on how I create and construct my characters, and to think about what how these individuals are represented to my readers. It was a specific phrase in the article, “to make contact with mystery,” that prompted this reflection.

The world space I inhabit in my writing is the suburban, the contemporary, the plebian and mundane, and in that world space, I look for the mystery of the life of the person I am writing about.

When I am writing I want to know who they are and what formed them. I then ask how this knowledge informs the moment I am exploring in a current work in progress. It allows me to consider who they are, the language they choose to connect with other characters, what they hide or reveal. I question how the rest of their life may play out based on this knowledge, to consider for the work in progress what will change, if anything. Can they change themselves or are they destined to become part of a repeating pattern where the returns do not diminish but exponentially affect the future generations?

This is the mystery I come into contact with, and it is my hope that the reader will also come into contact with the same mystery. The unnamed characters in “Mount Pleasant” were created from that sense of mystery, to find a point of contact for the reader to identify with the character whether it was in the sense of identity found in a school uniform, or making sense of who you are as the main financial source for the family, or the ripple of domestic abuse.

A reader sent me a message to tell me of their favourite story, “Time Away,” and how it resonated with him. It was the relatability of the moment for him, seeing perhaps himself in the story. He made contact with the mystery.

Characters in stories are representations of real life. Dramatic constructions used as a puppet to examine the mysteries of life, to somehow make sense of ourselves and the world around us.

And in all of this, what dignity do I give my characters? I believe there is a dignity in their humanity, regardless of what they have done, or who they have become. We all have our pasts. As do my characters. What they were, who they were, becomes for me a question of who are they now, and what do they become?

It has given me pause to think over the current short story I am working on, and what I want my reader to take away from the story.

We read to make contact with the mystery of the lives of imaginary characters but in whom we see parts of ourselves and it helps us unlock a little more of the mystery of who we are.

Mount Pleasant – The JAR Writers Collective

Other titles from The JAR Writers Collective

Shades of Paradox

Her First Reality, Darkness

Fossil Five

Bridging the Gap

Ira Glass discusses the gap between where we are with our creativity, and where we’d like to be.

And this is where I am at.

I have a vision of the type of writer I want to be and I am trying to make it a reality.

Above my desk are a series of Post It notes, categorised under different headings. There are Post It notes for published pieces, Works in Progress, Ideas and Rough Concepts, Writing Competitions and Opportunities, and then a random miscellany of captured moments.

I am trying to bridge the gap. I am taking off Post It notes when I have abandoned a Work in Progress, trimming the hedge, so to speak, because I want to focus on the work I have at hand. I do not want to be distracted by too many ideas, or to spend time pursuing an opportunity that will not benefit me. I am being deliberately picky. I want to focus on writing well in order to bridge that gap.

It feels presumptuous, and arrogant, to say that I have a goal as a writer: I want to be on the Miles Franklin short list. The Miles Franklin award is prestigious writing award in Australia, and it is one I aspire to. Even to be on the long list would be an achievement. To win it would be the culmination of years of hard work.

I’ve set myself a bar on the other side of the creative gap. Time to get to work; to write the words that will build the bridge across that gap so I can leap over that bar.

Good News Klaxon – Westwords Writing Competition

* GOOD NEWS KLAXON *

I wrote a thing and won a thing.

Today my phone rang during one of my free periods and because the number was unknown I ignored it, assuming it to be telemarketing. A message pops up saying I have a missed call (duh) and there’s a message.

The voice message is a lovely gentleman from Westwords telling me I had won the Blacktown Local Government Area for 18+

I played the message again to make sure I had heard correctly. Then I returned the call because this couldn’t be right. Turns out it is. I am chuffed, stoked, amazed, bewildered and aghast.

Now it’s a literary fight to the death in June for the Main Round against the other winners.

It really is a weird feeling because I wrote this piece in response to the given theme/prompt, Are We Here Yet?

I wrote what I thought was a good piece that met the brief as I saw fit. I polished it to the best I could (and thanks to Jodi Cleghorn and Rus VanWestervelt for their insights and edits) and even had a colleague at work do a proofread (because she’s trained and she liked the work).

But I genuinely had no hope, and all hope, for this piece. You have no idea what others will write, or what the judges are looking for but you’re putting your trust in what you have written.

The next step is the 13 Local Government Area winners compete for the top prize. Again I have no hope and all hope. Whatever the outcome of that, I am still chuffed, not because of my success but because I wrote and submitted.

The link is here for the announcement and the list of winners: https://www.westwords.com.au/projects/living-stories-publication-prize-announcement/

I will let you know when it is available to read.

Did Your Existential Crisis Come With…?

In a lunch break between marking assessment tasks, I posted a photo I had taken in the morning (and doctored) and started with this question, “Did your existential crisis come with…?” and I intended to write a few witticisms.

It took on a life of its own.

This is how it ended up.

Did your existential crisis come with
A) free steak knives
B) a side order of chips
C) shoes that don’t give you blisters
D) extra marking of assessments
E) ill-fitting underpants
F) the playful observation of Berocca fizzing in a glass of water
G) guessing how many jellybeans are in the jar
H) exceptional Excel spreadsheet capabilities
I) looking good in glasses
J) obscure hobbies and interests
K) the satisfaction of picking your nose
L) drinking a hot beverage without it going cold
M) making the perfect fart noise with your mouth
N) not throwing up. Ever.
O) understanding the clinical benefits of ice baths but choosing not to have one
P) acne in middle age
Q) predicting the guilty person in a crime show
R) alphabetising stupid lists
S) using humour to disguise an overwhelming sense of individual doubt and fear
T) picking ripe fruit at the grocery store
U) being able to recite your favourite musical verbatim
V) never being able to find a convenient parking spot
W) reliving personal embarrassing moments in your head and providing scathing personal commentary
X) knowing faith and doubt make wonderful conversationalists
Y) wondering if you started something earlier how different might things be now
Z) being able to let it go