Category Archives: The Writer’s Life

WestWords Living Stories Things Unsaid – WINNER

Last Monday 18 July, WestWords held the launch for Living Stories Things Unsaid, and announced the major prize winners.

I was able to attend, and came away as the grand prize winner for the 18+ category for my story, We Three Kings.

Westwords have released a FREE digital copy of the book containing all the winners and highly commended pieces from the thirteen Local Government Areas with the judges’ comments.

The link to read my story, and all the other stories and poems, is here: Living Stories Things Unsaid.

I am looking forward to reading all the entries, especially the younger writers who I hope will continue their pursuit of the craft because it will be awesome to see their writing journey into the future.

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.

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.

Mount Pleasant – A Track By Track Breakdown

Here is a track-by-track breakdown of the songs on the record, what inspired the band and how I used those ideas to create the narrative of each song for the book.

Listen to the album here: MOUNT PLEASANT

Prologue

I wrote the Prologue as a way of establishing the setting and motifs of the collection, that of deceit, deception and false facades. The setting of Western Sydney was inspired by the origins of the band, and it is the city I live in.

The Prologue is a fictional retelling of the changing of the name of the suburb where three of the band members grew up. There is no music for this piece of flash fiction but it explains the origins of the album’s title and frames the inspiration of each track, and allowed me to explore a set of stories based in Western Sydney in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The title of the album comes from the name of the suburb where three of the band members grew up. As a name it no longer exists. The local council wiped its name to clear itself of the violence and dangerous youths inhabiting the space. Nothing changed except the name.

Track 1 Holding Pattern

This was the first song released off the album and the first story I wrote. The title of the song is an in-joke as a close friend of the band claimed they were being kept in a ‘holding pattern’ due to the band’s lack of decision making. The band describe the song as being a bit all over the place but feeling right.

It was released with the cover art of the album which gave me the idea of a young girl living in an apartment complex, running up and down the stairs as a means of having some form of control in her life. She meets a recently arrived young boy and the story explores the holding pattern each of them lived in based on their suburb and how it affects their lives.

The song is angular and emphatic in the opening before a pause, a held breath leading to a crushing crescendo, and I wanted the narrative to have that same sense of movement. To have the reader imagine what it means to run, to be held within social strictures, and to be left behind.

Track 2 – Potemkin

The song title refers to the Potemkin village. The myth of the term comes from stories of a fake portable village built solely to impress Empress Catherine II by her former lover Grigory Potemkin, during her journey to Crimea in 1787.

I translated the original setting of Crimean Russia to that of a high school student, the pauper queen as she is named in the story, attending a performance of King Lear and explores the artifice of theatre as a metaphor of the schoolgirl’s existence. This existence extends to where she lives and how it defines her life and the life of her younger brother.

For the ending of this story I channelled John Hughes and The Breakfast Club for a monologue that would look great as a short film or a slam poem.

Track 3 – Pendock and Progress

This is my favourite song on the album. It is fast, frenetic, chaotic and triumphant, yet has pauses for breath. And I love the sound of the snare drum; it’s a perfect sonic fit in the track. It is the names of the streets where the band grew up.

It was the second song released and the second story I wrote. Pendock Close became a cul-de-sac, a dead-end street the protagonist rides his second-hand bike around. The cul-de-sac stands as a metaphor for the facades of society we inhabit, those we are forced to live and yet have no understanding there is something other what you consider normal.

Track 4 – Meet Me In The Meadow

This is a softer sounding song, and the narrative follows the burgeoning relationship a girl has with her crush, and the metamorphosis of adolescent sexuality. It is almost romantic in its feel, and the band used a quote from the Wes Anderson film, “Moonlight Sunrise” as the title.

In reading a synopsis of the film, the romantic element stood out. Not wanting to frame a narrative with a Wes Anderson style I diverted it to examine how boys and girls engage with the facades of masculinity and femininity; how they are both forced into frameworks that are detrimental to their developing sense of emotional, sexual and mental identity.

There are echoes and facets of these facades found in other stories in this collection, notably “Potemkin,” “Time Away” and “Gueules Cassees.” We need to interrogate who we are and understand how we have been deceived into accepting less than what we are worth.

Track 5 – Shambles

This story has a lightness in the music and in the content in comparison to the other stories. It is more comic in its approach than the other stories but still reflects the divide we encounter between what we think we are and what we really are. It is tongue in cheek in places, and it was definitely fun to write, and is reflected in the bouncy joyfulness of the music.

The protagonist is in his last year of high school and his academic life is a bit of a shambles. He’s a Western suburbs philosopher who likes grunge, works in a fish’n’chip shop and says there are two types of people in every situation. It even had my editor, Jodi, using “There are two types of people…” in her vernacular after editing this story.

I don’t think we use the word “shambles” enough. Time to bring it back.

Track 6 – Time Away

The band describe the song as an attempt of taking “time away” from all of the pitfalls of life but the escape is never found. Therefore my vision for this story was the father of a family who get to go on a holiday to the Gold Coast only to come home and find out he has been retrenched.

When Jodi sent back her initial edits, the email began with an expletive enhanced exclamation. I know if I get that then the story is working. Ben Hobson, who provided the quote on the cover, also connected with this story. I believe it is the heart of the collection.

The opening of this song has two parts. The first sounds like a demo track, setting up the motif of the track. The second part of the opening is a favourite section of mine as it has the drum track muted, all the top end rolled off so there is no sibilance in the hi hats, and it feels like a heartbeat, which was channelled into the father in the story. When the track kicks in proper, the bass drum is a thumping vibrancy underpinning the remainder of the track. There are so many layers to this track in its construction as it builds and builds in the midsection of the track before pulling back, and it is in this section, the return to the muted drums, that the father in the story wrestles with himeself.

It is perhaps one of the “softest” stories to read but the resonance is unsettling. Stories of masculinity and what that means, are in the forefront of our minds, and how that affects us, our children and families, and the wider community. From that central story, which as Track 6 is like the halfway point, every other story resonates from that point and reflects the broader perspectives and perceptions. One action can have far-reaching consequences.

Track 7 – Summer Sun

This story references the horrendous summer bushfires of 2001/2002 in Sydney where the paradoxical beauty of the world is slowly being destroyed. Our understanding of the macro comes into focus when we see the lives of individuals in the micro.

Bushfires are a constant threat in Australia and in 2019-2020, from September to almost March, significant parts of the country were on fire. This year we have had significant rainfall and lower temperatures.

We will within this dichotomy, between risk and reward, and the story focuses on a young man who observes the destruction of the bushfire even as his own body undergoes chemotherapy treatment.

Track 8 – Well, Go Well

This song serves as an interlude before “Gueules Cassees” and the band was influenced by Boards of Canada in the composition of this track.

I used it as a platform to lead in the final track, and once I knew what the focus was for “Gueules Cassees” I focused on developing a masculine voice for this interlude. A Twitter thread gave this piece its impetus where the user asked people to respond with apologies used by men in situations of domestic violence, sexual assault or manipulative behaviour in relationships. This narrative is a compilation of various apologies which frames the final track on the album.

The opening of the narrative begins, “APOLOGISE LIKE A MAN.” and uses various iterations of this sentence with different punctuation and capitalisation. It is also the final line. I was interested in how punctuation and capitalisation affected the reading experience and the intended meaning.

Track 9 – Gueules Cassees

The band describes this as the most brutal track to close on. “Gueules Cassees” is a French term meaning ‘broken faces’ and refers to ex-servicemen of World War 1 who returned home with disfigured faces due to the war. A Google search will provide you with some horrifying images of the reality of war, and the people who tried to assist them in their return to society where physical disfigurement lead to social ostracism, loss of status, breakdown of relationships or being turned away from jobs.

I needed to find a parallel of broken faces and in choosing the issue of domestic violence, I wanted to engage with the issue and the hiddenness of its impact on women. I was hesitant to write this, wanting to be authentic and truthful without getting it wrong, so I sought the opinion of other readers. Three women volunteered to read for me, to ensure I had the veracity of the story correct. Unfortunately, it rang true for those early readers, and they also offered new insights to develop the narrative further. I hope I have done this narrative justice.

It is a brutal concept, reflected in the music and the language. Seeing this song played live at the end of 2020 was remarkable as I had had the story drafted, and the intensity of the track was palapble to me.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for listening.

The Fallow Season

The Fallow Season

Due to the nature of my job as a high school English teacher there are certain times of the year when the time to create is very limited.

This is one of those times.

July to September is very busy, and time to focus on large projects or develop new ideas is very limited. Therefore I call this my fallow season.

I leave projects and ideas on hold, waiting for the next break to pick them up again. I can do little things like drawing but writing projects wait.

It is frustrating for a number of reasons. If I have built momentum on a project I have to let it slow down. If I want to spend time developing a new project it can only be done in small parcels of time if I have the mental strength to do so. It is frustrating because I am not where I want to be as a writer. There are other factors in the background that also hinder progress, and each time I think I have found a new pattern or way of creating, the parameters shift and I have to restart.

So this is me, waiting out the season but watching over the fields.

The Cartographer’s Journal

Hello there,

It has been a little while since I’ve dropped in here to announce anything but in the background things have been happening.

During June I was participating in the #JARWriteathon where I set out to write a zine combining vignettes and poetry with continuous line drawing.

It is now finished and very soon it will be available for sale.

Here is the blurb:

The Cartographer’s Journal is the fragmented exploration of a man’s life following the death of his grandfather and is the catalyst for examining his life and the moments he remembers. He plots his experiences as way points and erects milestones to understand how memory, distorted and fragmented as it is, constructs an identity although it is not fixed until secured in retrospect.

These random moments of memory are catalogued in our heads, a sequence of unconnected and disconnected events that serve as marker points of who we are. To explore the past is to chart the periphery of maturation as “Here Be Dragons.”

We make our way forward in life by walking backwards.

You can see a preview HERE.

The Correlation Between Writing and Single Line Drawing

The Correlation Between Writing and Single Line Drawing

A single line drawn; a continuous, unbroken line.

The pen invents the existence of the image from the blank space of the page, drawing the white into the pen to reveal the darkness of the solar system beneath. Conversely, the tabula rasa of sight is given vision through the pen, leaking the blackness of the imagination onto the page.

The line takes shape: straight paradoxes, curved obstructions, angular indices, folded waves, circular epiphanies. The brevity of a single line suggests, coaxes, entices or has the complexity of a woven tapestry to illuminate, postulate, seduce.

As it is with words.

Single words.

Verb. Noun. Adjective. Preposition.

When connected together they expand, like the line, to form phrases and clauses. When arranged in single horizontal lines as sentences they give direction and purpose to the shape of the narrative.

Sentences with the lines of tailored couture bestow a resplendence of awareness.

Sentences with the sparseness of underpants and socks bestow a nakedness of understanding.

What are words but a single continuous line.