Friday, August 29, 2014

Winning a prize. A speech.

Ok so tonight I won the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Award. Very crazy. So happy. I was going to read this speech but I didn't. It is here instead. I said most of the bits anyway.

This is the first award I have ever won for my writing. It is such a surprise. Such a wonderful surprise.
I was raised by my maternal grandmother. When my grandmother died earlier this year it changed me. I was in the middle of writing a novel and suddenly I couldn’t write fiction anymore. I couldn’t write anything except poetry.  I had never written poetry before, and now, suddenly I was writing it obsessively. I was waking up in the middle of the night with words in my head. I slept fitfully. I wrote like I was possessed. I was writing poetry about my grandmother. I was trying to make sense of my grief and poetry seemed the only language available to me. 
There is an episode of Rake where a women suddenly starts speaking Indonesian. She can no longer speak English. It is a strange and surreal part of that story, but I thought of it often as I continued to write poem after poem.  When I was done I had something on paper, but I had no idea if it was any good. The only way to find out was to read more poetry.
I discovered Ann Carson, Miroslav Holub and Sharon olds. I re-read old favourites, Elliot Weinberger, Michael Ondaatje and Simon Armitage. I began to feel more comfortable about my own strange place in all of this. 
My friends Katherine Lyall Watson, Ellen Van Neerven, Asley Hay, Kris Olsson and Michelle Dicinoski and my wonderful boy Anthony Mullins encouraged me to finish what I was working on and to enter what I had into the Thomas Shapcott award.  I was away in Tasmania in an isolated shack writing and Anthony printed it all out for me and carried it down to Tasmania in his luggage so I could enter it. I would like to thank these people for making me do this. I would also like to thank the Judges of the award, the Qld Poetry Festival supported by Arts Qld, and UQP. This is a crazy new journey I am on but it really has opened up a new world for me to explore.

I am only just beginning my journey in this new language but I love what I am discovering on the way. I would also like to thank the poets of Brisbane for always supporting me and accepting me. I have a lot to learn and you are the most fun teachers. Poets are always the most outrageous people to be with at any festival and it is really great to join your crazy crew.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Poetry revisited

What is poetry?

I was just asked what my favourite poems were and it was not quite as easy as I suspected.

My answer:
1: All of The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson,
2: Lacandons by Eliot Weinberger
3: You're Beautiful by Simon Armitage
4: All of Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds read very fast
5: Daddy by Sylvia Plath (old favourite of mine)

But I wanted to include a short essay that feels like a poem but is not divided into lines as a poem would be. I wanted to include other Weinberger essays, similarly rhythmic and amazing but looking like prose.

What is a prose poem?
What are the rules?

I have so much to learn.

Where do I go to find this out?

On Writing too Quickly

I write quickly. I put all my available time into the work. I work with a breathlessness that makes the work flow more easily. I race into a project and cling to it until it is done.

One of the reasons for my speed is because I am afraid I will forget. My memory causes me terrible anxiety. I forget people. I forget conversations. I forget I have written something. Sometimes I come across an errant file on my computer and it is as if a stranger has written it. I have no memory of that particular short story. I don't remember putting those words down in the file. Maybe this is a story sent to me by someone else? Only I recognise a turn of phrase. It has my accent. Therefore it must be mine.

It is worse with a novel. A novel has so many disparate parts. By the end of a book I have no idea where I started. I will have forgotten almost everything about it.

And don't get me started on having to answer questions for an interview. Really? Did I write that? Of course I must have because the journalist has done her research even if I have forgotten what I actually wrote.

Sometimes I wonder if I have an actual medical condition. My memory is so bad that I will bet to the last scene in a movie and suddenly find it almost familiar. Yes, we have seen that before, my husband will say, don't you remember?

I don't remember.

So I hop on a book like a runaway horse and cling on till the ride is over. This is how I have always worked.

The problem now is that I am frightened the books will grow stale before they emerge into the world. I do understand why my publisher will only consider a book by me every two years. We don't want to wear readers out. If a short time has elapsed they may not be ready to read another book by me, particularly when each book seems to be so different from the last. Maybe readers don't want to be confused by my tendency to leap across genres with each new offering.

But in my panic to finish a book before it shakes me off I tend to do a draft in a matter of months. A second draft in half a year. Subsequent redrafts can be fast and furious. Sometimes I have two books written simultaneously done in under a year. This is what happened with Steeplechase and Triptych. Steeplechase was a longer, more fraught process. Between the beginning of the first draft and the final redraft I had interspersed my writing with two other books, A YA book that has never seen the light of day, and Triptych which ended up being published two years before Steeplechase came out.

I am working on two books at the moment. Holding Hands is still giving me grief. It is not yet done. I have a second draft and it is 8 months since I started. In that time I wrote a book of poetry, Eating My Grandmother, and two drafts of a horror novel called Half Light. I have been racing to get a perfect draft of Half Light completed but I realise that my next book, Holly's Incredible Adventures in the Sex Machine, will not be published till February next year, 2015. After this there will be a two year gap as there always has been. Half Light probably won't be out in the world till 2017. Then, of course I will have to wait till 2019 to put out Holding Hands.

I have three other ideas on the boil at the moment. I have Crawl Space - a surrealist novella, tapping at the back of my head, and then I have the sequel to Holly's Adventures mapped out in my brain.  I am also making notes for a book on writing sex and and a sexual adventure with other writers. Given the pace of the publications, Crawl Space will be out in 2021 and Holly's sequel in 2023. Who knows when the two sex projects will find their way into the world. In 2023 I will be 55 years old.  I don't know how many books I can fit in before I die but I know I can write way more than will be published at this rate.

Is it any wonder I write fast? How can I contain all those characters and all those plots unless I tackle them at a run?

I do know this is a good problem to have. Better too many ideas than no ideas at all, but perhaps one day it will dry up. One day I might sit down at the page and realise I am done.  Until that day I must continue to write in a fury. I must race myself. I am a ticking clock. I will die. There will be an end.