Writing on, and about, an island

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

‘How I Write…’ Guest Post by Ireland’s EM Reapy

In Career, Island Life, Tasmania, Travel, Writing on May 1, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I love reading about other writers’ daily routines and creative processes. How much wine/coffee they (need to) drink, how early they wake up, what gets them through writer’s block etc… So when I unexpectedly met emerging Irish writer, EM Reapy (Elizabeth), a couple of nights ago at a family dinner, I had no choice but to ask her to write a guest post for me on those very things. It was too good an opportunity to miss – she’s so driven and dedicated to her writing. And then there’s that intriguing ‘otherness’ that comes with all writers who live and work on an island (whether that’s Ireland or Tasmania). Look out for Elizabeth’s work; it’s good.

My Writing Process* by EM Reapy

(*Sequencing and Frequency Imperfect) 

I love the morning. The natural optimism of a new day bursting to life. I wake early and go for a walk or to the gym, if I can. If not, I get up, just have some time to ease myself into it all.  I will probably nap in the afternoon though. I wake much too early to function after lunchtime.

I make bullet points in my diary; deadlines, meetings, shenanigans.

Then I roll up the sleeves, switch on the laptop and write fiction. Short stories and screenplays. Sometimes poems come. I write new story ideas down. Sometimes I work from a title or an image. Sometimes from a prompt, a memory. A lot of the time, I have the characters to start with. And then I ‘put them up a tree/throw rocks at them/get them down.’  I figure out what kind of trees and rocks and the success of the rescue mission, the survival rate of the fateful climbers. I allow myself crappy drafts. Horrible, sloppy writing. No one’s going to see this except me. It is dire and that’s fine.

Perfection is boring.

Flaws, dilemmas, tricky situations and how they get handled make things interesting and give strength in writing; in life. Working on bettering a draft is crucial to working on that distinct ‘voice,’ you have as a writer too.

Sometimes I get real excited and finish a rough draft and then instantly go back and rework it. Hours will pass but I won’t have felt any of them. The muse brings with her a new perception of time.

I’ll work the story again. And again, and again, and so on until I get it to a decent standard. Decent, not perfect. I’ll send it on to a reader and see what they think; where strengths and weaknesses lie; what opportunities have been missed and what isn’t working at all. I’ll be open minded and receptive to their critique. I will look at all their comments and look at the piece. See what I can do. These readers are friends I’ve made through various writing projects and through the MA in Creative Writing course I completed in Queen’s University, Belfast almost three years ago. I return the favour and critique their work when they need me to.

Create networks with other writers. Support each other. There’s room for us all.

Sometimes, writing new bits, I might trail off or sputter out altogether. I file everything away, even if it’s off to some murky space at the back of an IDEAS folder that never gets opened again. I keep it anyway. Someday, I might renovate.

I rethink the old stories. The stories that I got bored of or that keep getting rejected. Or ones I wrote when I didn’t know tricks and techniques to make writing strong and clear. When I didn’t know that keeping it simple was the best thing I could do. I try and fix these pieces. If I can’t see where to fix, I take characters out and put them into new situations. I add and subtract. Chop and change and scrap and renew. If you get stuck, try it out as an exercise. Take Character A from Story 1 and Character B from Story 246 and have them sit beside each other on the Trans-Siberian, or on a sun lounger by a nudist beach or inside a Nobel physicist’s frontal lobe. Whatever. Try it out.

Try everything out.

I chip away at the ‘big’ projects too. I need to have at least two big projects to go between so that when I get bored with one, I flit back to the other. At the moment, it’s a movie script and a thematic short story collection. In the meantime, I do the other stuff and always try to keep the classic ‘work hard and be nice to people’ philosophy in what I am up to. My parents would kill me if I didn’t.

I read as much as I can. I study what I’ve read. I underline the words and phrases that struck me as unusual or brilliant or something I had never considered and then I copy them into a notebook or onto my laptop. I read a lot of short story collections and anthologies. I read scripts. I read what writers say on writing. I talk to other writers. I talk to editors and to artists and to people interested in collaborations. I listen to loads and loads of music. I watch how other creatives create. How they describe what works in their process. I am inspired. I listen to podcasts; New Yorker Fiction podcast mostly, but also How To Write type podcasts. I read How To Write type sites and books and articles. I make notes. I put their theories into my practice. I try to improve.

I am improving.

I edit an online journal that I co-founded to showcase the work of young and emerging Irish writers (www.wordlegs.com). We use social media and other creative outlets to highlight the journal. We’ve been going two years and our fanbase and submissions keep growing. We’ve done it without any funding or profit. Just a passion to make it work. Facebook: (www.facebook.com/wordlegs) or twitter (@wordlegs) We update these pages with literary news, opportunities or advice for writers. We advertise our alumni’s current projects and successes.

I talk to the other wordlegs’ team about new things we could do for our writers. I talk to other writers about new things we could do at wordlegs. This year, we collaborated with podcasts.ie, (one of my stories is here: http://www.podcasts.ie/2012/03/em-reapy/) we released an app into the android market, we launched www.wordlegs.com/30under30; a two part ebook featuring work by 30 promising young Irish writers. We’re planning workshops, readings, guest editors and a festival. More collaborating with artists and musicians. A print edition. A special edition. A translated edition. A bursary.

We brainstorm, negotiate, make stuff happen.

I submit my own work to other magazines and journals too. I make a note of any new acceptances or rejections. I also enter competitions. I read the winning works and read what the judges have said about them. I apply for creative things and have been fortunate to have received Arts Council awards in Ireland and be selected as Tyrone Guthrie’s Exchange Writer to Varuna Writers’ House in Sydney where I’ll be in July and August.

In saying all the above, I do have a life outside of writing. I exercise. I laze about. Chat to friends. Graze on their couches. Watch world cinema and trashy TV. Flirt with cute boys. Shop for bargains and vintage clothes. I do have to work steady paid jobs for a while to save up and fund my spells of writing and travelling -though I try to avoid work that will sap my creativity. I go to concerts and talks and poetry readings and launches. I go out on the town. I have the absolute craic* as much as I can. (Irish word for fun, a good time, a laugh etc.)

I will still notice what’s going on; observe my environment, what I can hear and sense, what colour the sky is, what smells are hitting me. I’ll talk about writing to anyone who’ll let me. I let people tell me their stories. ‘Here, you should write this one down,’ they say and I listen and I learn from them.

Not just from their tales but from the way they speak. The way they phrase things. The logic which organises their sentences. Their body language and mannerisms. I imagine their world and the world of everyone and anyone else as much as I can. The human race is infinitely fascinating in its diversity.

I want to explore what motivates people.

For me, I’m motivated by knowing I don’t want to go through life being someone who talks about doing things. I’ll do them and talk about them after. It’s back to an awareness of my flaws but at the same time an awareness of how I can improve. If I fail, I fail. Big deal. Next time I might succeed. Next time I might do it completely different. Next time I might just leave it to the experts. At least I’ll know a bit more about it and about myself from trying.

And in the morning, I will look forward to it all again.

EM Reapy, 27, is an Irish writer travelling Australia. She received an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. Her work has been published in Irish, British and American publications. She was shortlisted for 2009’s Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award. She co-founded and edits wordlegs.com (www.wordlegs.com/30under30), has been selected for masterclasses, performances  and awards; including Tyrone Guthrie’s 2012 Exchange Writer to Varuna Writers’ House Sydney and an Irish Arts Council Travel and Training Award to complete this. Her short film ‘Lunching’ is being produced by Barley Films. She will be featured at the prestigious Dromineer Literary Festival in October 2012. At present, she is redrafting a screenplay and working towards a collection of short stories. (Email: editor@wordlegs.com; tweet: @emreapy)

NOTE: I hope to do a follow-up with Elizabeth after her stint at Varuna Writers’ House, so sign up to receive updates!

Advertisements

Going Offline to Get the Book Done…

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Island Life, Tasmania, Travel, Writing on April 25, 2012 at 5:00 pm

I’ve been a little quiet on the blogging front as I’m getting my book, Undercurrent, ready for publication next month.

I’ve had a great response from my Carmen Cromer author site (Cromer means ‘lake of crows’. Creepy…), and on the Undercurrent prologue I uploaded (in part to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, as a conspiracy theory surrounding it is a major plotline in my crime novel).

Now, I’m off tomorrow morning – on my own – to my family’s 1950s surf shack on the East Coast of Tasmania, for a full five days. Enforced solitude. No internet. No phone calls. No-one to hear me scream if…

The location of the shack, on the edge of the cliff above the beach, is perfect, secluded; you can hear the waves at night…

… and it’s going to scare the s**t out of me to be there on my own.

I’m totally afraid of the dark. I’m one of these people who (at 35 years old) still checks under beds, sleeps with a knife under my pillow and has to close all the cupboards. I’m very suggestible. Perhaps that’s what’s makes me an effective crime writer?

Anyway, I wil be channelling my pure terror into getting Undercurrent polished for publication.

Wish me well (and at least one decent night’s sleep).

Cliffs. Coast. Cloudy Bay

In Island Life, Tasmania, Travel on February 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I am perhaps very un-Tasmanian in the fact I don’t like the bush. Actually, it terrifies me – in a 1967-bushfire/Blair Witch kind of way. The bush makes me claustrophobic; there is nothing relaxing about that closeness of tall, dark trees. And I grew up in the bush – which, to many, is the idyllic childhood.

No, my Tasmanian island ideal involves great stretches of coastline. Ocean. High cliffs. Seagrasses… Which is why I love Cloudy Bay, on the Southern-most tip of Bruny Island.

This Cloudy Bay beauty is currently for sale, for $1.5 million.

Cloudy Bay is spartan, windswept, and wide. I stood on the sands of it only a few weeks ago, in a storm, and it was everything that is best about Tasmania – the mist was swirling over Cape Bruny, the rain was pelting my face and the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean was almost indistinguishable from the big sky.

(This view is what someone inside that glass house would see.)

As I stood there, a lone 4WD exited the gravel road, onto the beach. I watched it drive to the far, far end of the beach, where it turned off, up to a half-hidden shack – one of only a handful of buildings on this lonely beach.

I think Richard Flanagan lives somewhere around Cloudy Bay. His shack is where my favourite author, Ian McEwan, finished off one of his books. If you’re a writer, Cloudy Bay is certainly one of the moodiest, most-inspiring places you could ever work from.

Dream Jobs vs Reality Jobs

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Freelance, Travel, Writing on February 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Dream Jobs* (in no particular order)

  • Tintin (aka international photojournalist and detective)
  • Novelist
  • Small museum manager
  • Environmental/urban planner
  • Criminologist
  • Judge
  • Dancer
  • Anthropologist
  • Archaeologist
  • Landscape architect
  • Art and literary critic
  • Curator
  • Private investigator
  • Spy
  • Artist
  • Criminal mastermind
  • Fat controller

*I must make the note that I am blessed to have a career – as a writer – that has allowed me, at one time or another, to dip into many of the above careers (plus many more). I can think of only one other career path that allows you to do that: acting.

Reality Jobs (in order)

  • Receptionist (for my Mum in school holidays)
  • Body Shop Christmas-present wrapper
  • Barista
  • Server (and secret eater) of ice-cream at Haagen Dazs – opposite Windsor Castle
  • Artist’s model
  • Dancer
  • Arts events and book publicist
  • Journalist: production manager/sub-editor
  • Journalist: features writer (CLEO)
  • Freelance: writer, editor, project manager, stylist
  • Repeat the previous two for a couple for years
  • Newspaper columnist (Sydney Morning Herald)
  • Travel and food writer (Gourmet Traveller)
  • Freelance again (I think!)
  • Book editor (Random House)
  • Lifestyle Director (OK! Magazine)
  • Communications and Media Manager
  • Full-time ad agency copywriter, a la Mad Men… and freelance consultant and entrepreneur (MADE Tasmania)


Agatha Christie’s Tasmania

In Crime & Mystery Writer, Island Life, Tasmania, Travel, Writing on January 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Agatha Christie came this close to being a Tasmanian… Sigh. I was born the year Agatha Christie died: 1976. I’ve also got the same initials as Agatha… I’m not superstitious, but I do admit to being inspired by this. To me – as a crime writer and reader – the great AC is hard to top. I have a bookcase devoted to her books. All of them.

I love how her books are the perfect example of what I admire most in writing – my ‘mantra’, I guess:

“Stylistically simple; intellectually interesting.”

Agatha didn’t aspire to any pretensions. And she’s sold over a billion books.

Agatha wanted to move to Tasmania…

Yes, AC travelled to Tasmania, as part of her grand world tour in 1922. She was entranced by the colours and stories of this island; she even checked out some skulls and skeletons.

There’s a great map of her 1922 travels at the official Agatha Christie site. However, when I originally looked at it, it didn’t include Tasmania. So, I contacted Chorion to pass on this info I’d found on Agatha’s time in Tasmania.

 

(The above taken from Nicholas Shakespeare’s book, In Tasmania.)

 

 

(Taken from Janet Morgan’s Agatha Christie: A biography.)

 

More will no doubt be revealed this year, when HarperCollins publishes Agatha’s diaries and letters from her travels in The Grand Tour – compiled and edited by her grandson, Mathew Prichard.

“Leaving behind her two-year-old daughter, Christie began her adventure at the end of January as part of a trade mission ahead of the British Empire Expedition in 1924. Travelling to Hawaii, Canada, America, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, the young author – who had already published two novels – described her adventures in weekly letters to her mother, also taking photos on her portable camera of the places she visited.”

Can’t wait to read it. And see what it says about Agatha’s Tasmania…

If There’s One Place You Must Travel to in 2012…

In Island Life, Tasmania, Travel on January 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm

… it’s the Huon Valley. A bunch of influential global travel experts – Mr & Mrs Smith, for example – have named Tasmania’s Huon Valley as one of the top-10 places to check out this year. This in partly due to the Valley’s growing and well-deserved reputation for artisan and organic produce, but the vistas are also stunning, and the locals are keeping alive traditional processes (spinning and wooden-boat-building, anyone?) that would otherwise disappear.

The Huon is also where Matt Evans’ Gourmet Farmer is set, it’s where Tetsuya built and launched his boat from, it’s where you can check out the up-coming Taste of the Huon, it’s where Tassie’s Apple Isle moniker was born… and it is easily one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen.

I’ve been compiling an arts and heritage strategy for the region, and have had to spend a lot of time in the Huon’s five main townships of Dover, Geeveston, Huonville, Cygnet and Franklin. Each has a distinct flavour, and travelling the full ‘circle’ from Hobart and back is a memorable journey. I remember childhood trips to the Huon with my English-born grandparents (who loved to go to there to experience a little bit of the ‘home country’), and the winding country roads lined with autumn’s vibrant trees and Cape Cod-style cottages. But I hadn’t been back in decades, and I now see I’ve been missing out. Little has changed the Valley’s gentle, peaceful ambience over the years, and it’s the first place I send visiting friends when they arrive in the state.

So, when you’re in the Huon, you must get your art on at the Church Studio, you must anchor in Charlotte Cove (and dream about buying property there), you must buy a Summer Kitchen pie (go the Hunza or the Humity), you must stand on the enigmatic shores of Dover, you must listen to a gig at Red Velvet Lounge, you must stay in the teepees at Huon Bush Retreats, and you must buy some wares from Steenholdt’s Organics – which my mates at Island Menu have often been inspired by.

 

NOTE: Take the long way back to Hobart from Cygnet (not the short-cut), and you’ll be rewarded with breath-taking views along the coast – and the chance to pretend you’re time-trialling (just don’t tell the authorities I said that).

PS: I know I said I was Not Using Images, but thought a little context would help in a travel post.

Sailing…

In Island Life, Tasmania, Travel on January 4, 2012 at 1:32 am

I am no good at living in the moment. No good at mindfulness. I am a master multi-tasker, have made a career out of it, and every day is a series of insignificant tasks sticky-taped together.

However, I have come to realise that this is not something to be proud of. I react to outside demands, rather than consider what matters to me. Days are filled with busy-ness and to-do lists that fool me into thinking I’ve achieved something. Countless days that have left me exhausted and unsatisfied… and rudderless. The end result being that my life controls me – not the other way around.

Perhaps sailing will change that.

I sailed when I was younger (my father helped found the Wooden Boat Centre, and our boat, Lady Franklin, was the first to come out of the School’s shed on the Franklin waterfront. Tetsuya’s boat recently launched from there, also.)

Then I moved to Sydney – one of the world’s most beautiful sailing playgrounds – and despite living opposite the Cruising Yacht Club (home to the Sydney to Hobart), I skipped the boat part and instead made full use of the beer part.

Now: back in Tasmania. Tasmania has the highest amount of boats, per capita. As an island, sailing is inseparable from our history and our identity. I am now the proud owner of a beautiful 100-year-old, 35-foot Huon Pine yacht. Royal blue hull, white sails, oiled decks – the full cliché…

This Christmas holidays just past was spent sailing around Bruny Island on that boat – with a five-year-old (mine) and a husband (also mine).

The romanticism of sailing was given a beating by a 100-year storm, endless games of Snap and a port-a-loo that turns your poo blue (nice view from the seat, however).

It was a real test for me. Not the lack of creature comforts, although that was bloody hard. The test came in the lack of space and distractions. The fact that every simple dry-land task was made long and thoughtful at sea. Making coffee, for instance. You had to concentrate on making coffee. Not 12 things at once.

Somewhere between day three and four, between rain-damp sleeping bags and bottles of Gordon’s Gin*, it occurred to me that there was a lesson in my discomfort. Being forced to focus on the basics of daily living gave me space – not physical space, but the mental space to listen to my mind. Something I very rarely do.

(When I first had a baby and was going mad with the insignificance of each day, a wise woman said to me that it was the ultimate ‘Zen’ lesson. To learn to live in the moment. To realise that the past and the future don’t exist. To stop trying to ignore/escape stillness and stop trying to crowd out the chatter in your brain with ‘doing’. With a new baby there’s not a lot you can do on a grand scale – you have to embrace the small things, each moment. And the sooner your realise this, the better)

Perhaps sailing will strengthen my mindfulness muscle. Perhaps Tasmania will teach me mindfulness. The frustration I’ve felt since moving here – with how slowly things happen, how apathetic people seem in contrast to what I’m used to – is perhaps less an indication of something broken in Tasmania, and more an indication of something I need to address within myself.

Perhaps slow Tasmania has it right, and I have it wrong.

Here’s to more sailing.

*Gin and boats just go together. Gin is best kept in a dive bag, slung over the side of the boat. Tassie’s cool oceans make the perfect bar fridge.

Tasmania

In Tasmania, Travel, Writing on November 29, 2011 at 2:06 am

It’s three years to the day since I moved back to Tasmania – the island where I was born, and the place where I grew up… until I moved to Sydney at 21 to be a writer.

Those three years ago – on 29 November 2008 – I sat with my husband-to-be (on our third date), at a Crowded House concert. I got upset when they played “Better Be Home Soon”… Not so much because I was so moved to be back in Tasmania, but because I was already mourning my good friends, rewarding career, and my entire twenties – all of which I’d left back in Sydney.

Tasmania and I have a love-hate relationship. I left it for good reason, and I certainly wasn’t the only one. However, I’ve also obviously returned for good reason – as have many others.

I’ve had many different jobs over the past 15 years. I currently work in one that asks me to write, solve problems and have ideas every day – sometimes every hour. It’s called advertising. While I’m grateful for finding something creative in Tasmania, I miss my eclectic career in Sydney – so I continue to document and curate the Tasmanian information that comes my way.

As I’m a writer, it was inevitable that I’d be drawn to writing about Tasmania and my battles with this bloody state – which is why you and I are here now.

My travels around Tasmania are quite revealing. If you, too, live here – or are hoping to live here – you may be interested in the local culture I write about, the experiences I edit, and how I (usually) overcome the tyranny of distance as a writer!

%d bloggers like this: