Saturday, November 30, 2013

Adjusting to the Dark

Opening your eyes to the dark and the slight creak of the wind bowing the trees outside your widow. Something outside. A sense of it and your eyes still adjusting to the shadows.  Something moving out there. A glimpse of it. Standing and checking the window because there is a sudden chill and ice through veins. The rattle of a pane ajar. Locking it. Out. Peering into a garden of light and shadow, shuddering. Sound of it. A pattering like one leg after another. Insectile. And the skin set to caterpillar crawling. Where? In the dark? Where? Eyes adjusting and readjusting and the sound of it, a running or a footfall from a many legged thing. Outside. No. Turning. Adjusting to a greater shade of dark. An expanse of lightless floor. Empty. And the pat pat patter, closer, stealing breath. And then. Look up. Look up.

Too late. For there is the stretch and then the drop.


How can you time the fear to the rhythm of sex. Heart beating in time to your fear and lust all at once, capillaries filling with blood, the swell in your loins or the swell of blood to the chest, the shortness of breath, the breathing, breathing, trying to metre out the experience. Trying not to lose it one way or the other.

He tells me I need to time my fear to my sex. Your sex scenes are by far the longest, most physically engaging of all the scenes. The fear needs to find it's rhythm in the same way, delaying, stepping forward, overtaking the flesh.

I am back to you Bataille. Sex/death all of life in the heartbeat too loud in your skull. The end and the beginning overlapping, the craft both things at once.  So we go back to it. We time it. We find a way to lure ourselves into the trap of our own fear. We immerse ourselves. Scared. Full body scared. And then, when the time is right, we come.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Knowing it is there

So you smell it and you know it is there. Under the bed. A cliche, but really in this tiny room room there is no other place to hide.

There are two options open to you now.  Back away. Close the door. Leave the room to return - when? Each time you return now you will not know what it was or where it will be hiding next. There will be a fear of every opening drawer, curtains, sheets, dreams.

It is here now. You know because of the smell of it. That wild armpit of sweat and fight and urine, that loamy brew of mould and gut and egg. So from its smell you know it is here now and it is bad. A smell like running, fast, away, and yet you take one step closer, another.

The bedspread is cold and harsh on the fingertips, cheap fibres, a whore's curtain. And to know you will have to lift it. You will have to see.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Lying in bed. Breathing. The throb of your own heart in your temple, a chill in the air. Colder than it should be and even when you pull the blankets up to your chin there is no warmth in them. Your breathing is loud. Perhaps your sinuses are blocked. A cold coming on. You sniff. Clear, cold air, but when you breath again you are out of sync, a double breath. It is as if someone were in bed beside you. You pull the blanket back and it is cold, cold but no one there and nothing but the strange syncopation. You hold your breath, stop the sound of the air wheezing through your own lungs. Your pulse throbs and yes, there is still the intake, the exhale, breath, not yours but someone else in the room. You turn your head toward the sound. Your heartbeat is so loud it almost obliterates it but it is there. Where. You squint in the almost dark and it is then that you notice that the wall beside the bed is unquiet. A tiny movement, in, a shift and swelling out.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Things that scare you. Shadows

Once when I was younger I drank the punch that did not have alcohol in it. I was trying not to mix my drinks. I drank the fruit punch which I didn't realise had mushrooms in it. Later that night.

The shadow followed me. My shadow I thought, but then when I stopped and turned I saw it hovering on a nearby hedge. I was between my shadow and a streetlight. I did not move, but it did. It saw me watching. It darted away. My heart was beating too loudly. My skin was clammy. I was afraid and yet here was a thing that couldn't be imagined. Here was a piece of night torn free and running  through the puddles of light. Fight or flight. After a moment of hesitation I followed, running through the streets of the suburb running, just a tiny bit behind the echo of myself, running until the dark shape turned to me and melted into the first traces of morning. A moment when all the warmth is sucked out of the night by a hungry sun.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Horrors, beginning, arousal, bees

My next book looks at horror. The things that really frighten us. So here is a space to explore this for a while. Nightmares, fears, the things that truly reach down into the darkness of the soul.

Last night in a fevered wakefulness I understood that sex and fear were the same. It wasn't about them being similar. It was an understanding of how the two states were the same thing differently interpreted. I was frightened by an image that was there every time I closed my eyes and yet when I opened my eyes the same state could be interpreted as arousal. It was a simple looking and un-looking. Still unable to sleep I wrote down the image that continued to disturb me.

There is a man swaying outside her window covered in bees. His whole head is alive with them. He shivers with wings. He moves and some of them, fat, sated, fall off him and land with a soft wet sound like spilled honey on the floor. When she opens her eyes there is just the sound of the ocean and the sway of shadow as a tree is taken by a str.ay breeze. When she closes them the man is back. Even wakeful, closed eyed, he is there and so she must not close her eyes or he will climb through the half closed window and the bees will drip onto the floor inside. She lies as still as she can and listens to a thousand wings beat, light and fast as her heart.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sex Positive / Negative

I am not a good person.

There are good people in this industry. They are often talked about. She is the nicest writer in Australia. He is the loveliest writer and therefore he deserves this accolade or that. I like them too. I like the nice writers and I try to find time to have dinner with them, breakfast, hang with them at the bar. To be near them is to make myself like them in some way. If I am seen in their company I will become a nice person too.

I am not a nice person.  I am furious. I burn. I can feel my anger eating away at the lining of my stomach, it forms a hard knot in my shoulders and stops the blood flow and gives me a migraine. The anger feeds my flesh and I swell to furious proportions. This is who I am. I look at the shiny happy people and I feel tarnished.

These are the facts: I am from a poor family, from a bad school, from the kind of mad genetic pool that has a tendency to lock themselves away from the rest of the world. I am destined to return to the place I have come from and because of this I am angry.

I have just read Happy Baby by Stephen Elliott and I know that my sex bookclub will hate it.  Here we have a cause and effect. Abuse leads to a longing for self abuse. Abuse as a key to one man's need to be hit, to be told he is nothing. The strong smart women in my bookclub will say that S & M has nothing to do with abuse. Rope play and smacking are a choice, and a positive choice that is all about the line between pain and pleasure. I understand this. I can see how a person from a good home and a good school can lay out their choices and make informed decisions. I am educated. I am married to a man who has always been comfortably middle class. I am protected from my own nature. I am free to chose.

Yet on those nights when my agitation turns to self-loathing, when my natural inclination towards entropy eclipses all the things I have learned since I have been free, I wonder about my decisions, my cravings for sex which suddenly, inexplicably tip over from the pleasurable to the self-destructive. My first reaction is that of suspicion. I think badly of people. I long to lash out. I want to take that person who doesn't want me and force them to look at me naked. Want me. I want to smash their face into my flesh till they know they are mistaken. Want me. Want me. Want me now.

So I let the urge pass because I am educated. Because I know better. Because I am settled and have some of the things that a safe middle-class life can gift to a person. But I do not fit in this life, in this skin, in this class. When I run out of distractions I remember who I am. I remember where I have come from and where I will return to when I let go of my safe nice partner and am reclaimed by the wilderness of my childhood.

I remember the kind of fucking that was meant to unsettle my safe foothold on the world. I remember the drug of sex, the dangerous pit of it filled with joy and poison and harm and the extremes of pleasure. I open that snake pit and peer inside and I wonder if one day I will unbalance again and fall.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


I have just finished Tampa by Alyssa Nutting and I feel I need to weigh in on this one. Firstly this is a book that was banned by several Australian bookshops who refuse to stock or order it for customers. Okay. I have to ask why? Sure it is a book about pedophilia but it is a book that SUPPORTS the idea that pedophilia is evil and only damages people.

Despite some rather nice writing, this book paints a picture of a two dimensional monster, a sexual predator with no other aspect to her personality other than her pedophilic tendencies. We see nothing of Celeste that does not directly relate to her incessant striving to seduce teenaged boys.

Now, the really disturbing thing about Lolita is that our narrator, Humbert Humbert, is likeable. He is an intellectual giant with a great sense of humour and also a degree of self analysis. He is more than just a cartoon cutout of a serial offender.  This, more than anything, is what makes Lolita great. How can we like this man despite what he has done?

Celeste on the other hand is nothing apart from this one aspect of her life. Even her obsession with her looks and weight are solely about her obsession with teens. The teens are also cardboard cutouts. The adults are even flatter. All this would make me dismiss this book if it weren't for the saving fact that the sex scenes are arousing and therefore the reader must double think their own arousal.  This is the key to the book. Tampa is sexually explicit, pornographic, one-handed reading, and yet if you are reading it one handed, you will also need to question your own hard line (and I assume here that you have one) on pedophilia.

Nutting has done a brave thing here. Even thinking about writing about this subject is enough to get people angry. We live in a society where this one act is the final taboo that we can not even discuss without hysteria. For this reason it is certainly a subject I wish to tackle in my own writing.

I have, in fact, written my older woman/ teenaged boy novel but no one has been bold enough to publish it yet, because my characters are more complex than simple sexual monsters/ innocent victims.  My characters find more than just damage in the relationship. They find comfort and grow from the experience.  I was very tentative in writing that book and although my woman was 40, my boy was 15 and on the cusp of being legal.  It would be interesting to see a reaction to my take on the subject which, I suspect, would be more vitriolic than the reaction Nutting has gotten.

Nutting is supporting the accepted line on this issue by making her pedophile a vile, evil, character. Nothing new to see here folks. But look instead to your reaction as a reader, your arousal at the pornographic sections and your reaction to being aroused by these acts. This is the thing of interest in the book and for this reason I will recommend readers to the text.

Still, Lolita is unsurpassed. Nabokov has given us complexity while Nutting has simplified things for us. Humbert still haunts me where I have shrugged off Celeste in an evening. There is still a conversation to be had about this subject but we have only just begun to face up to that.

Monday, July 8, 2013

What women want

I am reading a book about women and sex and it is affirming. This book singles out research that supports the idea that women are voracious and omnivorous when it comes to sex. They are aroused by almost any sign of sexuality, gay, straight or bestial, they tire of a partner quickly and are ready to have sex again almost as soon as they have uncoupled from a partner.

Of course this kind of research appeals to me. Like everyone I just want scientific evidence to support the little known fact that I am not abnormal, I am just like everybody else.  Societal values, this book suggests, stop women from following their true natures. I am denying my true nature. 

Sometimes, often, when I am enveloped by sadness, I know it is because I have abandoned the fulfilment of lust for the fulfilment of love.

I send out random feelers of lust to every passing warm body, heat seeking, sniffing out the possibility of sex.  

I know I am happy, but in the same way that I acknowledge humour - 'that's funny', I say, without so much as smiling whilst those around me are laughing and clinging to their guts.

I am happy. I know I am happy but the happiness of the love I want is a taught membrane over the cavernous gulf of voracious, indiscriminate lust. I finish, uncouple, and feel that warm contentment that comes with orgasm, but it is never long before that gulf opens wide and I am peering down into my disappointment. "I am so happy." I say, but my face makes a lie of it. 

I am. I am happy. I have the best in the world, but there are always more. And this book underlines a certain longing.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Anna Goldsworthy, gender, feminism and misogyny - a personal response.

I have just finished reading Anna Goldsworthy's Quarterly Essay: Unfinished Business. It is an intelligent and exhaustive look at women, power, misogyny and feminism in today's Australia. The essay begins with Julia Gillard's now famous misogyny speech and from there it twists and turns into so many areas of female representation and female silence in today's society. One of the central questions of the essay is: will young girls and women sitting at home, watching our Prime Minister being beaten and shouted down because she is a woman - will these young girls and women want to stand up and attempt to take power for themselves one day?

It is a powerful idea and one that I am also concerned about. Our current political situation is demonstrating, live, in front of our very eyes, how women are torn down if they stick their heads up and try to have a voice.  It is brutal and horrible to watch.  In Queensland we watched the same thing happen with Anna Bligh. If I had a daughter I would be very concerned if she wanted to get into politics. This is how we treat women who speak up in our society and it isn't pretty.

Anna's essay has given me a chance to reassess my own relationship to power and finding my own female voice in a world that is more attuned to hearing male voices.

Recently at the Alice Springs Writers Festival Eye Of The Storm, I was on a panel about women, sex and power.  Anna Krien was talking about a woman being like a rabbit trapped in the glare of headlights when she is caught up in seduction by a man. She may be unsure how she feels about the seduction. She might even be a bit or a great deal resistant to it, but sometimes she feels powerless to stop it once it has begun.  I admitted that I have been in the situation where I have allowed myself to be like a rabbit in the headlights, but I have also behaved exactly like those headlights.

I have been a sexual aggressor. I have had sex with people who were perhaps a little unsure about going to bed with me. I feel like perhaps, on occasions I have overlooked the fact that I had coerced a partner into bed with me. Sure they said yes, but only after an effort at seduction.   My sexual aggressiveness is not always greeted with approval. I have always felt like I have been considered too masculine in my sexual adventures. Even talking about my sexual adventures has caused observers to occasionally suggest I am over-sharing. Here is a woman speaking out about her sexual appetite. Here is a woman who enjoys sex and who is not afraid to talk about enjoying sex. In my relationship to sex I make myself into the subject rather than the object. This is why I am occasionally criticised by men and women as being unfeminine.

I am a fat woman who enjoys my body and who speaks up about enjoying my body.  I don't look the way you would expect a sexual being to look.  I have lots of flesh, I have labia that poke out unevenly and at odd angles from an often wild patch of pubic hair. If I shave that pubic hair now and then it is not for a partner, it is to increase sensitivity around my vagina, to get more bang for my buck in bed. I am unafraid to appear naked in my own work and some people find that offensive.

Reading Goldsworthy's essay has helped me to articulate this more clearly. Her section on pornography exposes all the problems that I have with some pornography.  So often porn places the woman in a position of silence. It is not about her pleasure, it is his pleasure we have come to see. No one is interested in her orgasm. A woman is there to pleasure a man, or to pleasure another woman for the titillation of a man. For me sex is all about my own pleasure and I truly want to address this imbalance by creating good porn, pornography which places a woman as the subject and not the object, pornography that is about the mutual pleasure of people no matter what their gender. Pornography that proves that women can and do enjoy sex and that we don't have to look a particular way to do so. In fact it doesn't matter how we look, our pleasure is the most important thing.

Like Lena Dunham of Girls fame, I refuse to be polite and get back in my box (no double entendre intended).

Someone I know, a real person in my real life, once said 'I just don't know why you would want to write publicly about your sex life'. It was a criticism of my memoir Affection. Writing about my sex life was abhorrent to her because I was speaking publicly about something that she thought should remain private.  Men speak about women's sexuality publicly all the time.  They speak about my own sexuality whenever they make disparaging comments about my appearance or jokes about one of their friends having sex with me as if I were a booby prize. They laugh at the idea of having sex with me because I am fat and I am old. Every time I walk out into public on a Friday or a Saturday night I am running the gauntlet of sexual judgement. Men wave their images of young beautiful women at me like a red flag. If I then redress this and write honestly about my own sexuality there are still those who would criticise suggesting I have no write to flaunt my own body in public.

Anna Goldsworthy's essay has reinvigorated my urge to appear naked in public in my own work. I will not be spoken for. I need to speak for myself.  I need to walk around naked, like a big fat walking fuck you to those who would silence me. I also want to show young women who come after me that the haters can't tell me to shush up. I will not put my clothes back on and I don't care if I have offended their sensibilities. I refuse to be quiet like a nice girl should. I refuse to be shackled by their rules of femininity. I will not get back in my box.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Books on the shelf.

I am at the Sydney Writers Festival and it has made me think.  I know these writers now. Not all of them, but enough. Most of them I know to have a drink with. Some are people with whom I can share secrets.

When I first worked in a bookshop almost 20 years ago I used to come in every morning and touch the spines of the books I loved. Old friends. Those books made me feel at home in a new job. I had my touchstones, my beloved novels that I could pull out and hand to people and recommend. Now the experience has changed for me. I go into the bookshop and I search for the books written by the writers I know and love. I press my fingers to the spine of Ashley Hay and Kris Olsson and Favel Parrett and Chris Somerville, Anna Krien, Benjamin Law, Trent Jamieson, Anita Heiss. People who I love in the flesh. Writer friends who sustain me.

I look around the crowded cafe at SWF and there are faces that smile at me.  I know you. I am you.  We share the same performance anxiety, the same troubles on the page. The same hopes and fears.  I have come a long way since the days when books were just the words on the page, disconnected from the writers and created by someone a long way away from me.  I am here with these writers now. I am one of a wonderful motley tribe. I am truly happy to be here.

Monday, April 22, 2013


I have been quiet of late.  My book made it out into the world and the reviews have flawed me. People like this book. It is difficult to look back a few months and remember how distressed I was. I remember saying that if I was going to die any time soon I would prefer that I died before my book launch so that I wouldn't have to face any of it.

I am now glad to be alive.  Alive, and finally enjoying the process. I am enjoying the people who like the book, the positive feedback, the book tour, the events.  I am still terrified each time I have to get up on a stage but not I am proud to be there standing up for a book I am proud of.

I have started a new thing. I have space now, with the terror abated. I have made a good start and I am beginning to find joy in the writing again.  Baby steps. These small moments of pleasure for now. Who knows how I will feel tomorrow and then the next day. One sucker punch from the wrong person and I will be down again for the count.

For now, thanks to the people who prop me up and the ones who believe in me. I am up now, and tentatively walking out into a future that looks surprisingly calm and bright. Day by day. Day by dat.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Out in the world

Small thing. Unfolded. Sent out into the world.

Two years have been rough for me. Two years wondering if I will ever make something like this. Something ordinary but extraordinary. Two years of sleepless nights and worrying in the gestation.
Out in the world and people are reading it and people are liking it.

I feel myself relax.

I have kept the bad things said to me close to my heart. All these years and the good things have seemed like lies, all the positive reviews and the people who have liked my books.

Now for the first time I am listening and hearing. People like this small fragile thing. It is safe to let it go now and move on.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

87 year old sex

I want to take your 87 year old face between my hands. I want to smell your skin, look into your eyes so close that our lashes catch on each other making a sound like a dropped cinnamon stick. I want to be with you and also to be you. You have come to my rescue a dozen times. When I am unsettled your words calm me. When I am off course you open a new channel and tow me into it. We fit together like the most suited of lovers. Your dialogue fills the spaces where my conversation fails me. Your matter of fact outlines slip neatly into the  curve of my descriptions. We make good sex together. We should have met. I have met you on the page but you have never read me.

You are 87 years old.

I want to become you, slowly. I want to surpass you, isn't that what the next generation is for? I only have 44 years to improve my craft.

James Salter, wait for me.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What doesn't kill you

That old cliche. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Well I am not dead quite yet.

I may not be ready to face the work for a while, but till then I will read Ondaatje. I have taken on what you said about voice. I don't think I can change my voice. I think voice is as unique as a fingerprint and my strength has been the clarity of that print. But  I can go back to Ondaatje. This is where I began. A kindred soul. I will go back. One day, maybe I will write again. Till then, poetry.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Post from under my bed

So there will be reviews. People will read this thing.Why can't I feel just as I felt a few weeks ago when I loved this book. Why do I feel more naked now than I could ever be without clothes on. Why do I feel like I will never write something beautiful.

I take the books out of the shelf, the ones I love, other people's perfect gems. I arrange them next to my bed like something stolen and exquisite. And beside them I am nothing. Beside them my book is temporary and not made to last the distance.

He tells me my voice is 'samey'. He tells me I write too fast. All the passion that is there on the page escapes him because, I fear he is incapable of seeing passion. Still, I have no core. I am empty of heart. Inside is a hollow place that bad reviews tear through, making a noise like a little hum.

I will not read the reviews and this is why. The bad ones will beat at me like blunt instruments. The good ones I will not believe. I have nothing to hold me up through the next few months.

If you need me I'll be under the bed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Your good eye

People will say nice things about your book. Sometimes their enthusiasm may surprise you. Surely it isn't as great as their enthusiasm for it. Well, no. It isn't. You knew it was ok. Good. Not great. But ok. It was ok enough for a pubisher to take it on. Good enough for you to let go of the constant, ego-shattering re-working. Good enough for others to spend their money on it and to read it. And some people really liked it a lot, but most had reservations.  You won't hear about these reservations. It is too late. It is done. What point is there for someone to tell you that it lags a bit in the middle, or that the beginning is a bit tedious, that the characters are not fully realised. It is done. There is nothing you can do about it.

The rare friend who will be honest may shatter your composure. You were, after all receiving nothing but praise. What does that friend know? Has he ever written a book? Even if he has, was it any good? Was it perfect? No. And maybe the feedback is misguided. Only you will know, because deep down, you know this book is not perfect, not even close to it. You may be fond of it but your next book will be better, and the one after will be better still. If that tactless friend was right about the glaring holes that somehow you and your editor overlooked, then he is a very valuable friend indeed.

You, my friend, are valuable.

It is an ok book. Maybe it is a good book, but your feedback would have made it a better book. If you had given me this feedback even six months ago I could have done something wonderful with it. I have always respected you for your good eye.

I have a good eye too. I knew there was something wrong with the book despite the excitement of my early readers. I spotted the problem but I was too close to see it. I see the holes in your own work which is also good. Very good. But not great. I am your good eye and you are mine.

The book is forever. It is stuck in print, frozen in time. It will never be better, and each year I am trudging closer to my grave. You were a useful tool just out of my reach. You were my good eye, rolled away from my fingers and stuck there, staring back at me.

Next time. Please. Next time.

I will hear a lot of praise from a lot of people who read this book. Behind my back they will tell each other their reservations. Maybe some of them will also have a good eye but I don't know it because they never tell me what they see.

Next time. It isn't too late for the next book. Next time. Please. Lend me your eye in good time.