Writing on, and about, an island

Posts Tagged ‘Tasmania’

The beauty (and beast) of an Island economy

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I love this abridged article on island economies – especially as I live in an island that is in the often-painful process of transitioning from an ‘old’ economy model, to a new one…


The ‘commercial writing vs literary writing’ conundrum

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Tasmania, Writing on March 13, 2013 at 8:28 am

I’m about to have a short crime story, “The Wifemaker”, published in Tasmania’s well-regarded Island Magazine (issue 132).


I’m surprised and pleased to have been asked to submit the story. Of course I don’t think the story is good enough, shouldn’t have been written at the last second (ahem)… and all that fragile-ego writer stuff. But more importantly, it’s got me thinking about the expectations and requirements placed on writers.

Two thought-provoking points:

  1. Am I now a literary writer (Island Magazine is considered a literary magazine; I have never considered myself a ‘literary’ writer)?
  2. Have I now published my first work of fiction (despite writing fiction for magazines, newspapers and books for about 15 years now)?

A couple of years ago, I considered applying for an Aus Council grant to complete a piece of writing. Having worked for more than a decade as an editor, writer, ghostwriter and journalist (being published consistently in my chosen genres), I thought I’d slot in somewhere between the ‘emerging’ and ‘developing’ writer categories (the final one being ‘established’). Apparently not.

The (very nice) grants advisor regrettably told me that none of what I’d done counted. I needed to have written and published serious literary fiction, essays, short stories or poems to even get within licking distance of the emerging category.

As a proudly ‘commercial writer’, it made me question all that I’d done to that point. Did all my training and talent not count?

In my mind, then and even more so now, there is no more rewarding and rigorous training for writers than having to churn out high-quality work to a tight deadline and within a rigid word count – often having to bestow bland, regurgitated material with a new hook that’ll entice readers. It’s such an incredible skill.

Ernest Hemingway was one of the pioneers of taking this commercial training, this style of writing, and applying it to ‘literature’. But the AusCo would not have granted him money to complete his first novel, as he would not have satisfied their criteria.

(And, as an aside, crime writing is a genre that’s notoriously disrespected by the establishment, despite some crime writers clearly being worthy of literary accolades and awards.)

I’ve finished my novel regardless, having always been very uncomfortable with the idea of writers getting free money to write. And I probably could apply for an AusCo grant now. But I won’t be. I don’t like the way they think – it’s predictably outdated and elitist.

There is a group of Tasmanians who are currently in the process of forming a Creative Industries Council for the state, to act as a peak body for its under-represented creatives. I hope that their framework includes space and place for the advocacy of the island’s commercial writers as real writers – those who have the potential to be, or already are, literary writers. There’s a gaping hole here, where the people who fall between being categorised as a straight journo or straight literary writer, fall. Perhaps the establishment simply doesn’t like what can’t be categorised?

So, going back to my two thought-provoking points – am I now a literary writer, who has published their first work of literary fiction? I don’t have the answer to either question.

Goodbye, Group Think. Hello, Independent Thought

In Tasmania, Writing on February 1, 2012 at 9:48 am

I am allergic to FebFast. I am also allergic to religion, unions, sunscreen and anything else that peddles mass guilt to the guilty masses… It’s also why I have an ongoing struggle with Facebook (my time on there is doomed, I think).

I have come to my own conclusions about these quasi-religious social projects… and those conclusions do not align with my belief in independence and the fundamental differences that should be respected and revered in humans.

FebFast, as a timely example, is designed for people who need validation, the pat on the back, the relief from guilt that comes with doing something – very publicly – that is popularly thought of as acceptable, expected and desirable social behaviour. I don’t think this is a very sound reason for doing something, however good.

Think I’m harsh?

Consider the fact that all those people signing up to FebFast could do the exact same thing – abstain from alcohol/donate money – on their own terms. Quietly, without requiring other people to get involved or applaud them for it. So… why don’t they?

Want to do something that’s good for yourself or the world? Then do it because and only because you thought independently about it, not because you have been sub-consciously guilted into emulating others. Want to do something that other people say is incorrect/not the done thing, despite the fact it wouldn’t hurting anyone else in the doing of it? Go ahead. It’s your life.

There is a well-known scientific experiment of mob mentality, of group-think, involving monkeys, a banana and some cold water…

To be or not be a monkey? Hmm.

Mob mentality is what I disliked most about Tasmania while growing up here. Look at our politicians, the jobs for the boys, the way we dislike anything that challenges the status quo. Tasmania is a place where independent thought is so rare, that those who have it are championed as geniuses (Richard Flanagan*, for example – certainly a great independent thinker, but not, I would argue, a genius). Tasmania’s mob mentality is what I ran away from. But, inevitably, I find it’s still here on my return. I’m not running from it this time, though.

By all means, do good things for yourself and others. But don’t do things just because everyone around you is doing them. Just because something is popular does not make it right for you. If nothing more, think a little harder when you’re tempted to be conscripted into doing something ‘good’ – into joining someone else’s cause – just because everyone else is doing it. Instead, start your own cause.

 *RF, speaking recently at a wake for respected Tasmanian arts patron Dick Bett, said: 
“For a moment it seemed as if gathered there that night was the Tasmania you dream about – brave, gifted, open, laughing, free. I don’t know if we’ll ever arrive at that Tasmania.”

4 New Years on an Island

In Career, Freelance, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on January 20, 2012 at 5:15 pm

What will island life in 2012 bring? Living in Tasmania has been, at times, very hard. It’s three years since I moved from Sydney, and this bloody island has challenged everything I thought about myself, my career, my purpose, what matters to me…

Why are islands demanding?

Why are islands so linked to artistic endeavour? Maybe it’s the isolation, maybe it’s the natural physical boundary – wrapped in a coast, an island presents the potential for complete exploration, and people always have a need to define their surroundings. It’s akin to collecting: collectors often desire things that are limited, because there’s some sort of possibility of completing that collection.

The above is a pretty accurate description of what living on an island means to me (I’m sure the Mercury won’t mind me paraphrasing myself).

Of course, I wanted Tasmania to challenge me, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t also wanted to throw in the towel.

So, prompted by the fresh western New Year (and tomorrow’s Chinese New Year), I’ve had a think about what each year in Tasmania has taught me.

For better or worse…

… 2009 was The Year of Recovery and Mistakes (and Magic)

I landed in Tasmania an exhausted, burnt-out thing. The preceding couple of years had been emotionally and financially debilitating. I was so tightly wound, I even had to learn how to sleep all over again.

As a prodigal son, I also made mistakes. I tried to transplant my Sydney way of doing things into Tasmania. My high expectations, my way of doing things very fast… not the most successful approach. There was a lot of friction. Oh, and I was fired for the very first time in my life.

Which, as it turns out, did me a favour – I launched my MADE Tasmania business not long after. I also started, and paused, my Masters (as one of the many fumbling ways to try to work out what I wanted to be doing).

The magic part of 2009 came in getting married (to someone who is the support and inspiration I didn’t even ever know I needed).

… 2010 was The Year of Consolidation and Learning

New year, new full-time advertising job.

And the clear decision to clear debts. I was on a mission. So, 2010 was a blur of full-time and freelance work… Seriously, I don’t really remember much but the fact I was working every minute. However, in hindsight, it was a year where I put down some solid foundations in the search for freedom, even if at the time I wasn’t sure what I was peddling so hard towards.

And yes, I did clear my debts. A little closer to freedom…

… 2011 was The Year of Frustration and Questioning

What. On. Earth. Am. I. Doing.

I spent the whole year asking this, in-between spinning like a mouse on a wheel. I was working hard, still managing a freelance business while working full-time. Trying to finish my novel in snatched moments. There was so much stress, and not enough time spent with my new family. The year was a whirlwind of doing – but doing for others, mind you. There was nothing I was genuinely doing for me. I said yes to a squillion projects, hoping that one of them would show me what I should be doing, yet none of them did.

I got to the end of 2011 and realised every day had been spent in a state of responsibility and commitment. No personal creativity or expression, no free weekends, no reflection, no sweet spots of getting lost in something for the simple joy of it… Everything I did, I felt obligated to do. When prompted, I couldn’t even think of one thing I loved doing just for the sake of it.

BUT it was a massive wake-up call to even realise this, to realise I was reincarnating my Sydney habits all over again, and it propelled me into having a good hard look at myself and my life.

… 2012 is shaping up to be The Year of Freedom

Ah – the Year of the Dragon (which I am; a Fire Dragon actually). My year? I’m going with that.

Only 3 weeks old, and 2012 has already brought breakthroughs of beautiful clarity. Clarity in how I want to respond to the world around me. Clarity in my purpose for being here. Just clarity for the sake of clarity…

And that is such a weight off my shoulders.

First Impressions

In Tasmania on December 12, 2011 at 3:30 am

I was at a Tasmanian shopping centre, giving styling lessons as part of a fashion promotion… One woman told me she was worried about the first impression she makes. She thought her personality was getting lost in translation, but didn’t know how to dress her shopfront, so to speak. She wanted me to say: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” But I don’t – because it’s not true.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

That woman got me thinking about Tasmanian businesses, and why they need a lesson on first impressions.

When I got my first journo job, working on one of Australia’s most influential lifestyle magazines, I silently pledged – Girl Guide-like – to be the champion for getting Tassie back into the pages. Nothing had peed me off more than my home being left of the map.

Fast-forward 12 years and, after battling to get this State seen, I can tell you exactly how Tasmania appears to people who don’t live there.

It doesn’t.

Because Tasmania ignores the internet.

I gave it my best shot. I researched everything. But apart from the usual suspects, Tasmanian businesses barely registered when I Googled.

Yes, there are some good Tasmanian sites. The rest are embarrassingly mediocre. Last time I looked, a certain official Tasmanian tourism media site (which shall remain nameless – but should know better) couldn’t even get renowned local painter Geoff Dyer’s name correct…

Many businesses don’t even bother. And when you’re pressed for time, you need info – fast. If it can’t be found, it goes in the too-hard basket.

Then, when I decided to move back to Tasmania, I did what everyone I know does: I looked online for my new doctor, childcare centre, hairdresser – fruitlessly, because none of those services had thought it important to invest in a website. Yet you want me to trust your business? Please believe me: your first impression is everything. And you have none.

When I did move here, I asked locals why Tasmania was 10 years behind the world. Those locals replied: “We all know each other, so why would we need a website?” Well, that’s lovely that you all know each other. But what about the rest of us? If you want to register with the rest of the computer literate world, then a website isn’t just desirable. It’s a virtual reality. (Mr Roy Morgan backs me up: 2010 figures shows our love for doing business on the web has skyrocketed. Whether this is good or bad for society is not my point; I’m simply stating a fact.)

My suggestion. Government should offer local SMEs a grant to build a good website. It’s obvious most people aren’t doing it for themselves.

The alternative?

The sound of one hand tapping delete.


In Tasmania on December 12, 2011 at 3:27 am

Tasmania is the new Twin Peaks.

For those who’ve had the pleasure, this needs no explanation. For everyone else: Twin Peaks was an immensely successful TV series by acclaimed US director David Lynch. It was a long and winding journey into a cast of weird and wonderful characters with every social quirk possible, shot through with undercurrents of creepy strangeness and set against a backdrop of outrageous natural beauty.

As I said: Tasmania.

Twin Peaks has celebrated 20 years since the first episode aired. Imagine if, rather than thinking Bear Grylls or Oprah, we courted the cast of this show to film a one-off (this has just happened elsewhere). A one-off campaign aimed at the Gen X and Ys of this world, who don’t want to condescended to with prescriptive travel campaigns.

All this talk of staying ‘on-brand’ can remove what’s most important to many people who may be thinking of travelling – or moving – to Tasmania: the mystery and the magic. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good brand. But Tasmania seriously needs to get its sexy back. New Zealand is sexy; the New Zealand brand is sexy.

We should be celebrating not just what’s overt about Tasmania – but what’s lurking beneath the surface.

Bring back the magic and mystery.


In Tasmania on December 12, 2011 at 3:14 am

I don’t do mediocre. Or conventional.

And the reason I left Tasmania when I was 21 was because I had recognised from a very young age that mediocrity and conventional was celebrated here. It was expected. Anyone not striving for those things was singled out, laughed at… there were pockets of the opposite, but it was hard to find.

Of course, the striving for the lowest common denominator is to be found in plenty of places. What matters, though, is the tipping point. Take somewhere like Sydney – I’m sure there’s mediocrity and convention all over the show there. But there’s also a HUGE amount of exactly the opposite – so the tipping point into mediocrity never really seems to happen.

Tasmania, however… What is it about this place?

The small population, the relative dispersal of people, the convict heritage, the physical divide from the ‘mainland’, the lack of fresh ideas flowing in, the droves of young people leaving each year… All these things could be contributing to tipping the general consensus over into mediocre.

And the really sad thing is, nothing seems to have changed much since I left Tasmania in 1997. I come back here 12 years later, and in all the important spheres of society, the mediocre is triumphed. I’m talking about politics, art, the environment, education, transparency of information et al… It is one part truly horrifying, one part frankly bemusing.

And it’s why I stay.

I believe that if there are enough people sticking it out here, making an effort to rail against mediocrity and the conventional – however small that effort – and making that effort known, then something’s got to change eventually.

I believe in this.


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!

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