Sam van Zweden



admiration/inspiration thursdays

Admiration/Inspiration Thursday with Steph Bowe

If you haven’t heard this name by now you must be hiding under a rock. Also, if this is your first introduction to Steph Bowe you’ll now become accutely aware of just how EVERYWHERE she is at the moment.

Steph Bowe is a sixteen year-old Melbourne novelist. Her first novel, Girl Saves Boy has just been published through Text. It was greatly anticipated, and has been met with huge amounts of enthusiasm. I was one of them – I was anticipating. I am enthusiastic.

Girl Saves Boy is a sophisticated novel about two teenagers both struggling with some huge issues. I admire Steph not only for achieving so much at such a young age, but also for being such a brave writer. She tackles big issues which many YA novels would be too superficial to touch. She even uses unusual character names, and you really need to have great characters to convincingly fill the shoes of people with names “Big Al”, “True” and “Jewel”. Steph pulls it off.

I also saw Steph speak at a panel this year at the Emerging Writers Festival, and she’s incredibly switched on. I get a lot out of reading her blog, Hey! Teenager of the year, where Steph posts a whole range of things from reviews and interviews, which she executes very well, through to inspiration posts (which is where the original idea for this one came from, so thanks Steph!) and posts reflecting on her position in the writing world. I think these posts are the ones I appreciate the most – Steph talks about how publication isn’t an end-point, and she doesn’t get too swept up in the fanfare – she’s certainly never become arrogant because of her success. Her reflective posts are something we can all think about, no matter where you are in your writing career.

I managed to have an incredibly brief chat with Steph (a number of things conspire against me at the moment, but that’s another post):

You’re a sixteen year-old novelist. Quite a celebrated one, at that – how does all that fit in with your regular life?
I do school by correspondence, which means I’ve got a whole lot more time than someone going to school for  seven hours every weekday, and I’m also pretty disciplined and self-motivated. My life now is the same as it was a year ago, except I just have more pressures and responsibilities. I perpetually feel like I’m behind the eight ball, and it’s difficult to stay on top of my various commitments – when you’ve got lots of schoolwork and writing and appearances and family stuff going on, it’s very difficult to find time to go out and relax or just do nothing – but my life is obviously still very normal (with the exception of the fact that I don’t go to school), and I’d say other teenagers feel similarly overwhelmed. Life is very busy!
How do you feel about the fact that there’s been so much attention to your age? Do you feel that, as a teen novelist, you’ve got a better feel for what readers your own age are looking for in a book? I certainly noticed that your book doesn’t dumb down or get superficial, like you have confidence in your readers.
I think as long as a writer likes and has respect for their audience, they’re capable of writing books for them. If you dislike teenagers, irrespective of your age, you’ll probably talk down to them in your writing. But you can be eighteen or eighty, and if you respect teenagers, you can write for them. The teenage experience hasn’t changed a whole lot over time – it’s about big emotions and feeling things for the first time and figuring out who you are. I just tried to write the sort of book me or someone like me would enjoy. I think the attention to my age can be annoying (people saying ‘oh, it’s a good book FOR A TEENAGER!’ drives me insane – you either like or dislike a book, the author or their age shouldn’t come into the equation), but I think it’s been helpful in that people, especially young people, have become interested in my age because of it.
Congratulations, by the way, on writing such a wonderful book! I just finished reading it, and I was really impressed by what you’ve done. You tackle some really heavy stuff in the book – mortality and guilt, blame, teenage sexuality and adolescent confusion. You’ve certainly taken on some things that are much bigger than what other YA novels seem to tackle – was this important to you?
I think that all teenagers are confronted with and think about these kinds of issues, and I think reading books are a really good way to explore experiences you might never have. And so for me, writing this was sort of 1) telling this story I had stuck in my head that wouldn’t leave me alone, and 2) really thinking about these issues and figuring out stuff for myself. I think there are quite a lot of YA books that tackle big issues, and others have lighter content, but they all express something worthwhile and can be enjoyable and/or thought-provoking for those reading them, whether they’re teens or adults.
And what kind of process did you go through to write this book – you’ve got some stunning detail in there that would have required a pretty intimate knowledge of issues, so did you spend some really hardcore time researching?
I’m actually not a particularly big fan of research, so I didn’t do a lot – I had to have a basic knowledge of what I was writing about so that I’d be confident having that detail, but at the same time the book is a lot more about the characters and emotional content than cancer or anorexia – I didn’t want it to be an issues book, but there are issues in it. The process started with months of the ideas growing into my head, and then once I knew what I wanted to write about, I researched a bit. And from there I wrote it, researching a bit more when I was trying to relate to the characters experiences and make them as believable as possible.

Thanks to Steph Bowe for answering my questions, go read her blog and buy her book. They’re both pretty awesome.

Admiration/Inspiration Thursday with Clara Emily McKay

It’s funny how people in your life come back. You meet someone, then they pop up later, more awesome and more brilliant than before. You’re glad you met.

This is how I feel about one Clara Emily McKay. We met when we were about 13, shoved together in what was lovingly dubbed “the smart-ass class” by the rest of the school. Between 13 and 18 we got to know each other, then there was a few years’ hiatus between school and The Real World. And now Clara Emily McKay is back in my life – more awesome and more brilliant than ever.

Clara is an artist – she makes sculptures, takes photos, creates the most amazing wearable art I’ve ever seen. I admire Clara because she has such an unstoppable impulse to create, and because the things she makes often prompt me to work. They move me.

Her blog is constantly updated, and she always has insightful and thought-provoking things to say.

She was kind enough to have a chat with me:

Q. Most accurate word to describe yourself
      At the moment, exhausted!

Q. Most accurate word to describe what you do
Intimate-craft (I cheated)

Q. You make a lot of found art – what do found objects give to your work that other things can’t?
Found objects impart their own layering upon and affect the existing concepts or readings of my work, then further serve to colour all subsequent ideas related to the specific piece, those being both metaphorical and aesthetic.
These connotations may be obvious or very personal and introspective, I think personal is much more successful because it’s as if a peripheral part of the practitioner has been sacrificed for the piece and I believe that viewers associate with that and then mentally examine even if momentarily, an analogous part of themselves.

Q. What about other found art forms? Found poems made from track lists, shopping lists, etc. Are they valid, or just hacks?
This is a difficult question, there is a lot of trash art as I like to refer to it as, unfortunately there’s some of it in my class! Yet, in saying that, I’m a strong supporter of found art, when it’s done well. The magic associated with the nature of using found objects – in art or literary form – is in the mystification of the object, the aesthetic and conceptual askew-ing that is conceived and implemented by the maker is what heightens these pieces to ‘art object’.
That layering could be something as strenuous as completely manipulating the object aesthetically in order to remove it entirely from its usual visual confines or could be something as simple as giving it a title.

Q. What does your creative process involve? Is there a ritual or typical way it happens, or is it spontaneous?
My creative process varies, sometimes an object finds me and I need to interpret it, or sometimes I hoard things for years waiting for the appropriate time to deploy them. This can also be said for my photography – it is for the most part spontaneous.
In regards to my embroidered works, actually deciding on patterns, colour and arrangements can take months, especially in regards to fonts.
Whilst in regards to the prose employed within the latter (and other objects) it is most often scribbled down in those moments between putting down my book and turning out the light in bed.

Q. You’ve taken a while to find your artistic voice (is that what it’s called for visual artists? A “voice”?) – and have done a lot of different stuff along the way. What has this journey involved for you?
I’m yet to find my artistic voice, to be honest my work is still quite unavoidably introverted despite how inclusive I intend for it be although, I think that I’ve definitely come into possession of my aesthetic.
My journey would be one that’s included a brief foray into Silversmithing, a much longer foray in Law and a heck of a lot of hospitality work! But I haven’t ended up too far from more original intentions, despite getting here via an extended route, I most certainly have regrets but I’ve definitely broadened by knowledge and experience, not to mention my Hecs debt.

Q. You blog about your artworks, as well as critiquing exhibitions you go to and showcasing work by other artists. What kind of role does your blog play in your artistic life?
First and foremost, my blogs offers an avenue of escapism, although it’s admittedly currently being just slightly ignored, I find sitting down to write a post relaxing and rewarding. My blog “voice” is very different to the convoluted and well-researched one that I adopt in my studies so it’s essentially a breath of fresh air!
I also use my blog as a digital visual diary – it doesn’t convey half as much as my real journals do but it feels overwhelmingly melancholic to refrain from sharing these findings and lock them away between the covers of my journals only to ever be glanced at by a lecturer for one millionth of a second.

Q. What are you trying to do with your art? Is it about getting something out, or making a statement, or just making aesthetically pleasing things?
At this stage my practice has convened upon intending to solely influence the viewer to remember – to remind them of any seemingly insignificant moments – and submerge them within the mood that was imbued by that specific occurrence, however fragmentary.
Whilst my works may have an element of abstracted self-portraiture, my tenebrous images and awry, very personal prose are employed as vehicles intended to remind them of their own memories.

Q. You and I grew up together in a smallish community. Apart from the fact that I was there, do you think this has influenced your work?
It most definitely has affected my work, not only did we grow up in a smallish community but we were both put in that very odd accelerated learning program which I believe assisted in making, at least myself, very introverted.
Specifically to my current practice, living in a regional town put physical barriers between myself and experiencing a lot of current art in real life. Therefore, a lot of my work is influenced by what was around me, most obviously my mother’s crafts and continuous needlework. But also, the relationships that I came into contact with and was a part of – the latter being highly influential in relation to one 2010 piece entitled Disintergration & Disintergration II – which examines the possibilities, impossibilities and nuances associated with the struggle for autonomy within intimacy.

Credit for this photo Katelyn Rew Photography

 Q. Much of your work has an organic feel – things reminiscent of skin, natural growths, alive things that have a life of their own. Tell us a bit about that.
My work is slowly moving away from this aesthetic at the moment, although I think the correlations between and linkings of each work within my practice will always be very obviously organic.
I do find dried flowers, especially roses mesmerizing, not only their multiple connotations, and some of those being rather clichéd, but also their tactile quality coupled with their fragility is something that I will persuade me to continue examining them.

 Q. What’s next? Where can we see your work?
Next?! Once I graduate this year, I’ll be focussing on my photography, needlework and writing outside of scholarly confines or judgements, which will be absolutely divine, but I’ll also hopefully, be undertaking a diploma of education in 2011.
I’m currently organizing the graduate exhibition for my class at the University of Ballarat, I’ve named it, edited and compiled the catalogue and I’ll be opening the exhibition so as long as it doesn’t melt down into a ‘Clara’ show I’d highly recommend that everyone should check it out – or even if it does!

These are the current details, although they are subject to change –

4 Alfred Place
South Melbourne (just off of Clarendon Street)
The opening night is 23rd September commencing at 6:30pm and the show runs until the 5th October.

Thanks so much to Clara for this interview. Check out her blog, and head down to her exhibition next month.

Admiration/Inspiration Thursday

Today I feel like I could do just about anything. I haven’t slept through a whole night in a very long time, but the last two nights I have. I thought you should all know – today I feel really good. 

Inspiration in the last week has been much and varied: 

Nanofiction based in an alley


I found my missing copy of Monica Wood’s “The Pocket Muse”. Haven’t heard of it before? Get it. Trust me. It makes it easier to get the cogs moving on those days when it just doesn’t want to happen. I actually just found it on Google Books, but I do so love my hard copy. Hand-bag sized, loving little volume of word-making things! 

I’ve been messing around with micropoetry and nanofiction submissions this week for the Melbourne Writer’s Festival’s “Poetry 4 U” event. I took some inspiration for this from a woman I used to live with. She makes such wonderful stories, her actual personality is so much better than anything I could make up. I love to write about her. 

School has provided inspiration – actually setting me tasks I’m interested in doing (oh, bless you, RMIT!). I wrote a few scenes from my family history and was surprised by how fun it was. I imagined my grandparents’ terror at the prospect of going to Bonegilla (what a happy experience this website makes it seem!).  

I’m going to write a column today about reading on public transport and the joys and problems of that. Inspired by a friend unashamedly telling me that he covers embarrassing book covers with brown paper so he won’t be judged. 

Feeling good is a good place to write, so often it comes from that other place. 

So right now, I’m inspired by this mysterious glow that comes from being well-rested. I’m off to write!

Admiration/Inspiration Thursdays with Mercedes M Yardley

This week, Mercedes M Yardley is our very welcome guest.

Mercedes is from Vegas, and she juggles two kids, a husband and a writing career. A writing career which is shooting pretty rapidly upwards at the moment, too. She writes pretty much everything – fiction, non-fiction, short-stories, a novel. Her blog, “A Broken Laptop” is updated regularly with updates about her writing practice and her thoughts on the world.

I came across Mercedes when I first joined WordPress, and have been reading ever since. I’ve even taken up some of her methods for working. My favourite? Her commitment to always have a certain amount of pieces out with publishers. I now have a running note in my journal: “Pieces out: X. Goal: Y.” It keeps me honest. And it’s paid off for Mercedes: her name has appeared in a huge number of publications, she’s won a bunch of competitions, and has just been picked up by an agent.

I admire Mercedes for her absolute commitment to making her writing work, despite all the crap life throws at her. Between caring for one child with Williams Syndrome and another who suffers from seizures, and being a good wife (she bakes!), Mercedes makes time in her day not only for writing, but for joy. Hats off to that!

She also takes FANTASTIC bio shots – check it out! :

How long have you been writing? 
I’ve been writing forever, but I’ve only been submitting to markets for about three years.  I’m still bright and shiny and new.

Your fictional work is about horror – what attracts you to the genre?
I like the darkness.  I think a little bit of fear is sexy.  That said, I tend to write “whimsical horror” instead of straight-up horror.  I don’t enjoy gore and I don’t enjoy scenes where the characters are being abused for the sake of abusing them.  I like my darkness to be twisty and fun.  Think Tim Burton.  Think Neil Gaiman.  That’s what I get a rush out of.  So my character stabs a boy in the heart with a sharp stick.  She did it out of love.  She did it to save him.  There’s always a lightness even in my darkest dark.  That is very much by choice.

What does a typical day in the life of Mercedes M Yardley look like?
My typical day is full of glamour and butterfly wings.  I wish! I’m a stay-at-home mom with two small kids.  My days are spent rushing about madly.  I try to keep up with my reading (Shock Totem slush, books for review, stories to critique for others, and, oh yes, fun) and fit exercising and writing into every day.  It’s a struggle sometimes.  But I try to keep the whimsy with me.  Every day I try to do something creative.  Writing, certainly, or I sit down at the piano and play.  The kids and I dance a lot.  I’ll jump on the trampoline and swing on the swings pretty much every day.  I’ll bake.  If I don’t keep things interesting, I get bored and become An Adult.  And we all know that Adults never have any fun.

Describe your writing process.
I’m very free-spirited when it comes to writing.  I don’t plan things out; I just type as fast as I can and see what happens.  I think that one of my strengths is that I’m hungry.  I get an idea and I want to see it, I want to know how it turns out, I want to fall in love with the villain (I love villains) and I want this to happen as quickly as possible. I’ll think about my characters and their traits, but I don’t really plot in my head or have an outline.  It’s like a lovely rollercoaster ride.  It’s thrilling.

You have an incredibly busy life, what tricks do you use to make the time and keep yourself writing?
I never sleep.  That’s pretty much true.  It’s always been this way.

I have also learned to budget my time and make sacrifices.  It’s impossible to write when both kids are home, so I know that I can only write when my son is at school or when they’re both in bed.  When that time comes, I’m not dawdling.  I’m writing RIGHT THEN because it’s the only time that I have. It is very precious.  I have to sacrifice some of the other things that I’d rather be doing in order to write.  I have to look at the long term.  In another ten years, will I be pleased that I spent an hour tonight looking at, or will I be pleased that I wrote that new scene for my book?  It’s horribly pragmatic, but it helps keep my priorities in order.  (Maybe just ten minutes of HappyChair.)  😉

Here’s another trick: Twitter.  I get on there, stomp around, make writing friends who support and encourage me, and then I challenge them to some sort of a contest.  A “I can write more than you!” or “I can publish a star story first!” or “Whoever makes it into this anthology wins” contest.  With consequences.  It’s a lot of fun, it’s extremely motivating, and it’s an excuse to play with friends and call it “working”.

And last but certainly not least, I have The Best. Writing Group. In The World.  I am not kidding you.  We read, we write, we nearly come to blows over our critiques, we hang out together and we have fun.  That’s dedication.  We have these amazing meetings every Tuesday night, and if you don’t have a piece to present, you can’t come.  That rule alone forces me to churn out something every week.  My Interdimensional Wombats are gold, I tell you. 

What kind of a role does your blogging play in your writing?
A blog is extremely valuable to me because I’ve met a lot of people that way.  Twitter is fun for conversation but blogs are better for content. My favourite bloggy thing right now is a series that I’m doing called “Be Mysterious: Writers in Masks” where authors send in a picture of themselves with their faces obscured in some way, and a blurb.  I dig it.  I love seeing these fabulous people portraying themselves in a mysterious light.  I look forward to every piece that comes in.

And right now my friend and fellow author Simon C. Larter and I are doing a kind of noir-ish serial blog project.  We each write a section a week and post it to our respective blogs.  Sometimes I forget how much fun writing is, but this project has reminded me. It’s wickedly delicious.

One of your latest projects is “Shock Totem”, a journal with the subtitle “Curious Tales of the Macabre & Twisted”, which I have to say is a pretty gripping title! Tell us a little about that, and how it’s all going.
It’s going quite well!  My piece “Murder for Beginners” appeared in the first issue, and about six months later they asked me to join as staff.  It’s a great experience for me.  I get to hang out with very cool people who care a lot about literature.  It takes an insane amount of time to choose stories and cover art and that sort of thing.  I never realized how much time, so my respect for magazines has skyrocketed.  I also write nonfiction for them, and it’s cool to write about real life horror.  We just released Issue #2, and I have a very personal, very soul-baring piece in there.  I’m a bit terrified to have it out there, quite honestly, but you never grow if you don’t do scary things.  In fact, my New Year’s resolution for the past few years has been “Do Things That Scare Me”. 

Congratulations are in order, Mercedes – a piece of yours has just been accepted for “Werewolves and Shape Shifters: Encounters With the Beasts Within”. Your work appears alongside names like Chuck Palahniuk, H.P Lovecraft, Charlaine Harris and Neil Gaiman – you must be absolutely stoked! What’s that been like?
Oh my goodness, it’s been a dream!  I feel very honoured.  I also feel deliciously devious, like, “Yes, I crept into this anthology and it’s too late to kick me out!  Bwa ha ha!”  Working with John Skipp has been a pleasure.  He’s a delightful man, very encouraging and friendly.  He makes me feel like it’s perfectly natural to be included with such high profile authors. He acts like it isn’t strange, no, it isn’t strange at all.

You work on a really wide variety of writing – poetry, short stories, non-fiction, novels. Do you choose to work this way because you’re unable to pin yourself to any one genre, or is it more that you’ve just seen opportunities arise and made your writing fit those opportunities?
I like variety.  I like to see what I can do, and I like to stretch my wings.  I’ve always written stories and I’ve always written essays.  I’ve never seen them as mutually exclusive.  I enjoy it all, and the versatility is nice.  I see no reason to confine myself to one genre. Why do that when there are so many different things to explore?

What’s on the cards next for you, what can we look forward to?
Well, Werewolves and Shape Shifters: Encounters with the Beast Within comes out in October.  I’m in the Hint Fiction anthology with some other astounding authors (Joyce Carol Oates, Ha Jin, and F. Paul Wilson, for example. I die!) and that comes out in November.  I’m delighted to announce that I’m now represented by the very cool Jason Yarn at Paradigm (Yay! Yay, hooray!)  so perhaps we’ll hear something on the novel front.  Right now I’m working on a memoir about my son’s rare genetic syndrome and also a book of short stories.  So I’m busy, and maybe these pieces will see the light of day.  Who knows?  Life is such a gamble.

Thank you so much for having me, Sam! It’s been fun.

Thanks to Mercedes for joining us today for A/I Thursday – check out her blog and keep an eye open for this woman, she’s on the way UP!

Admiration/Inspiration Thursday with Sage Francis

I was introduced to Sage Francis’ music about four years ago. I didn’t listen to a lot of hip hop then, but I loved poetry and my boyfriend knew that. As soon as I heard his music, it was the start of something that felt really special. You know that feeling when you find an artist who just captures it all perfectly? That was Sage Francis for me then, and still is now. His finger is spot on the pulse.

I admire his work because it breaks from the norm – at least, the norm as I know it in Australia. Sage Francis is not only a white guy producing really good hip hop, but he’s putting poetry to music. And that poetry shines, it really does. His subject matter oscillates between confessional and social commentary.

It’s easy for confessional work to become self-indulgent… Sage’s doesn’t. It speaks to the darker side of me. His comments on society aren’t just a rant – they’re intellectual, they’re insightful observations of where we’re at. They’re important and accessible.

Sage Francis – he’s smart, and not sorry about it. He’s honest. He’s funny (my favourite line: “if you ain’t dead, you ain’t a suicide girl!”). Lyrics aside – it’s plain good music.

He was kind enough to answer some questions for LGWABP.

Sage Francis

Q: -Your beard’s a bit epic. Tells us about that.
A: My beard grows wildly. I must be part viking. I would braid my beard if it didn’t hurt so much.

Q: -Come to think of it, B. Dolan’s beard’s a bit epic too. Is it some crazy Rhode Island thing?
A: We have different breeds of beard. His grows sideways while mine grows downward. We’re both part Irish so maybe the beard gene stems from Ireland but probably not. Because they are different species of beard.

Q: -Before hip hop you were a slam poet – what you do now is a beautiful mashing-together of the two. How did this happen?
A: Common misperception. I was not a slam poet before hiphop. I found out about spoken word poetry (which then introduced me to slam) many years after I had already been rapping. Since I was already writing by the time I stumbled into performance poetry I figured it was a good medium to present my material to an audience. I was right. What I’m most thankful for, in regard to my involvement with the spoken word scene, is that it opened me up to different subject matter which then was infused into my rap songs. The slam thing was inspirational in the beginning but it quickly wore thin and uninteresting to me. Much like the battle scene in hiphop. Competitive based art, when graded and judged by people you are performing in front of, almost always results in bad art. Those are not creative scenes, nor are they supportive scenes. At first they are, but they quickly fall to the way side once people figure out the “tricks.”

Q: -Your latest album ‘Li(f)e’ is very diverse sounding – it’s much less beats-based and uses a lot of really different instrumentation, and you’ve worked with a lot of great musicians on this one. Each song certainly has its own distinct feel. Tell us about that.
A: You said all that I think needs to be said about that. I mean, those are the basics right there. I deviated from a beat-based soundscape and delivered my raps on top of live instrumentation. This has annoyed some of the more hard-lined hiphop fans and opened up some of the non-hiphop fans. I wanted to create an album with a whole new sound and doggone it…we did. I believe that rap is much more flexible than people give it credit for, and I always have these impulses to explore the territories that other rappers or musicians are hesitant to go. As long as my ideas and words have room to breathe I am happy.

Q: -When listening to your music, I often discover a new line after I’ve heard the song fifty times. Do you intentionally make your lyrics that way, or do you just have so much to say that you try to fit it all in?
A: That’s what makes writing so fun. Setting up the traps, pitfalls, escape routes and alternate meanings. The power of poetry, as far as I’m concerned, is being able to stuff as much meaning into as few words as possible. That’s the fun part of what I do.

Q: -For “Little Houdini”, the first track off your latest album, the inspiration came from a news article you found. Do you do this a lot? And where else does your inspiration come from?
A: I don’t often derive my subject matter from news stories. In fact, Little Houdini is the only time I did that. It was a story I found so inspirational that I held onto it for a few years and then decided I wanted to tell the story. The only other song that followed a similar pattern is Makeshift Patriot, but in that instance it was the events that occured after 9/11 that inspired the song. Although my lyrics consisted of actual phrases from news reports, it really wasn’t the same kind of thing. My inspiration for songs usually just comes from whatever subject matter is plaguing my mind. That typically comes from personal experience or information that I come across in one way or another through regular day-to-day stuff.

Q: -Your lyrics often hold a mirror up to society – do you see social commentary as a big part of hip hop’s role?
A: Well…yeah. It used to be like that anyway. That’s a big part of what drew me into hiphop in the first place.

Q: -Your songs seem to be equal parts confessional and social commentary. Is that intentional?
A: Sometimes you have to turn the mirror on yourself. I don’t really like looking at myself in the mirror anymore, but I need to be fair.

Q: -The slam scene in America is quite different to what it is here in Australia – over there you can pack out stadiums with poetry… Here we hold tournaments in warehouses and pubs, but it’s a push to pack it out. It’s a small but very enthusiastic scene. Do you have any advice for those of us trying to get this thing to take off?
A: It belongs in pubs. Not stadiums. Let the small pack of people stay enthusiastic and creative. Don’t bastardize the shit like we tend to do with everything in the states.

Q: -A lot of what you tackle with your work is really heavy, but there’s also this video floating around on Youtube, of you battling the Strange Famous Records intern in your parking lot. Care to comment?
A: Well…that battle took place in the Epitaph parking lot. It was totally random and off-the-cuff. While I was in Los Angeles I dropped by their office to have some face time with the Epitaph folks. While I was making my rounds I came across this intern who would dance on command. He was told to dance for me…and he did. The office burst into laughter and I got mad. I was like, “That ain’t shit. It’s time to battle.” And the whole office was like, “Ooooooohhhh.” So they immediately set up an event to take place in their parking lot so the intern and I could do a dance off. The rest is history.

Q: -Tell us a bit about how you create.
A: When all goes well I fall into a trance-like state and let my mind run wild. That’s just when I’m feeling metaphysical though. It takes a fair amount of peyote to get me there. A lot of the time I just imagine something that I want to bring to fruition…and that’s that. Nothing too complicated there. Once I put my pen to the page I do my best to avoid typicality. A lot of ideas are bad ideas so it’s important to be a good editor. Editing can turn shit into gold if you know what you’re doing. And vice verse if you don’t know what you’re doing. I probably do both.

Q: -You’ve recently announced that you won’t be touring anymore, and you’re taking an
indefinite break – what bought this on?
A: I’ve found this to be very difficult to explain to people which I didn’t expect but I understand why there may be confusion. I’ve been a road dog for over 10 years now. I’ve traveled this world many times over. I’ve seen many clubs. I’ve had the same small talk conversation with thousands of people. I’ve wrecked my throat and body, risked life and limb, ruined my relationships with people back home and have a career to show for it. Yay. It worked. I don’t want to do it anymore. I’m a pseudo-recluse. I can function while in the company of others but it’s not comfortable at all. That’s not me. I don’t know what I’m going to do, or if things will change for me, but for right now I have to be fair and honest with myself as well as with my fans. I won’t be able to do long strings of shows anymore. It’s doing some serious damage to my life. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it.

Q: -And what will you be doing instead?
A: I’ll try to live a life of stability and creativity. If that doesn’t work then I’ll be back on the road telling myself “It’s the journey, not the destination.” Repeatedly. Over and over. Oh, journey…you fuckfaced mistress…gimme a death kiss already.

Thanks to Sage Francis for supporting a blog like mine, and answering my questions. He will be in Melbourne on the 15th of October for the Melbourne International Arts Festival – you can buy tickets here. Check out the rest of MIAF’s program too, there’s some exciting stuff on.

Passive/Aggressive Cheek and A/I Excitement!

This is a messy post – I’m just putting that out there now, so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. Mess. Which proceeds thus…

I’m back at uni. We started back on Monday, and it’s been really good…Until today. I have a terrible tutor for a course that has the potential to be fantastic, and this upsets me. In an earlier draft of this post, I ranted about what was flawed about this tutor’s teaching style, but I re-thought that, as it probably has no place here. I’ll simply carry on with my passive/aggressive cheek toward said tutor for the remainder of the semester… Good luck to her.

I was going to post another “Comment July Challenge” post today, with highlights from the last week. But having done a lot of thinking in the last few days, I’ve realised I’m over-committed and things are suffering for it. So in an effort to de-frag my life, I’m culling those commitments which I don’t absolutely need. Unfortunately, the Comment July Challenge is one of them – I’ll still be commenting on as many blogs as is possible, contributing to discussions where I can, but without the pressure to do five per day. It’s an admirable project, and I wish Megan and the others involved the absolute best with it.

And now for the “A/I Excitement!” part of my title – tomorrow I’ll be posting the interview I was referring to the other day. The admirably haired and wonderfully talented Sage Francis (yes, that Sage Francis!) was kind enough to answer some of my questions, so that will be up tomorrow – get excited with me!

Admiration/Inspiration Thursday: A Week of Inspiration

This week, I’ll be sharing with you some of the inspiration for my writing this week. Via the wonderful Steph Bowe I discovered “We Heart It“, and have been sourcing a lot of inspiration from there.
So here’s kind of an inspiration journal for the last week:

I’ve also taken inspiration from an old chair I used to own. It was big and red, and I bought it with one of my best friends for $25 – he bought the matching one. He still has his, but mine broke. I have a lot of memories that go with that chair, and they’ve been inspiring me.

I’m reading Jane Austen (still) and her language has been creeping into mine. It’s frustrating to know I absorb things like that, I’m so unsure of my own voice. It becomes really obvious when Jane Austen shows up in my work, I wonder how much more subtle stuff gets past me. I don’t know if it’s inspiration so much as influence here…

I’ve been playing with my hair all week. I got it cut last week and I’ve been trying to make it work for me. Not there yet, but the attention to myself for however long it takes each morning leaves me feeling a little better about myself. Self-confidence inspires me.

Admiration/Inspiration Thursday with Megan Burke

It’s that time of the week again! The one where I tell you about someone/-thing that I think is great.

This week, it’s Miss Megan Burke of Literary Life.

Megan is something of a Superwoman, juggling a bunch of jobs, attending literary events, and blogging daily. She has a very strong readership, even though she’s only been blogging for about a year.

Her posts are insightful, witty, and always engaging. She often has something new to say about a much-reviewed novel, or something from her personal life thrown in there, which gives her blog something a bit different from straightforward book review sites. Megan also does author interviews, which are always thorough and entertaining. Thoroughly entertaining!

And throughout all this running around and fitting about sixty times more than I do into the day, Megan always (always) smiles.

Here’s our interview.

Describe yourself in five words.
Crazy. Talkative. Enthusiastic. Excitable. Book-lover.

Tell us a little about your blog, and what you do there.
I review books, interview authors/journalists/agents, go to literary events (like book launches, lit festivals etc) take photos and then write about them, hold competitions, talk about the publishing world and my own life (I volunteer at a lot of lit organisations) and work, and, above all else, ramble!

 Your blog has a pretty strong readership – how long has this taken to build up, and what kind of work and investment has that required from your end? Has the way you blog changed?
Lit Life has been around for just over a year. The key to a successful blog are regular, content-rich posts. Now, I can’t say that all my posts are worthy (however I’d like to think some are!), but I do post regularly. I guess I’ve built up my readership by a number of avenues. Doing different things and contacting different people help – for example, if you interview/review an author, author puts link on their site, author’s fans read it, and some might stick around. Also if you go to a variety of events or post on a variety of relevant topics people searching for sites with those key words will come up.

I am certainly not the most successful blogger around (I still cry a little each time another blog gets 100 comments within ten minutes of posting and I struggle with ten!) but I am proud of Lit Life. It’s a labour of love – I spend way too much time on it each week! I plan blog posts everywhere, scribbling ideas down on scraps of paper and in my mobile. I think my approach to my blog has stayed the same, but as my readership and profile go up I’ve definitely become more cautious of what I write and what I say – you never know who is reading! However, Lit Life’s core principles are still there – just a crazy book nerd rambling about books.

Your blog, Literary Life, is incredibly busy – you generally post most days of the week. How do you manage this? Where does all the content come from?
Gosh, I ask myself this every day! Usually I post in the dead of night, or at the crack of dawn. Or between classes. Or before work. Actually, I blog all over the place! I don’t know how I manage this to be honest. I take snippets of time and use them well. The content comes from everywhere – lit events/festivals, interviews, reviews, my life, other bloggers/authors/journalists – everything. I like to think that I post on a wide variety of publishing/writing things/issues, but it is skewed more towards my likes and what I do (ie what book launches I go to).

I also understand you’re quite a busy lady – you juggle a bunch of jobs, and blogging, and literary events – how do you find the time?
I don’t sleep. You get used to it. Ha-ha. No really, I am a good time juggler. So good, in fact, that I wrote a post on how I manage everything. You can read it here. The bottom line is I don’t waste any time. A break from work? Read a book to review. A train ride to class? Work on that novel. Don’t take time for granted. It gets away from you so fast.

You’ve done something quite brave recently on your blog, and issued a challenge to the blogosphere – the Comment July Challenge, which has got a pretty positive response so far. What’s the challenge all about, and were you confident that it would take off when you put it out there?
I was not confident at all that is was going to take off! As I write this, I have ten people pledge to comment with me and I am ecstatic about that! I thought it was going to be one of those silly things that I do and eventually it dries up because no-one reads it and/or cares about it. I was so excited when people started to sign up.
Basically, I know that I lurk on blogs and don’t comment on them. This bothers me, but obviously not enough to change – until now! I also like getting comments on my blog, and thought while I was in bed late one night of a sort of pay-it-forward system – people pledge to comment on at least five blogs per day every day of July. I really hope it works – everyone likes getting comments!

 In the course of your blogging you’ve interviewed a huge amount of people – what’s been your favourite interview so far, and why?
This is a hard one! The one I was most excited to get back in my inbox – as in the one I was screaming about – is Liane Moriarty. She wrote one of my favourite books – Three Wishes – and after not having a web presence for years she finally made a website and a blog. I was so excited! The interview is long and asks a lot of nit-picky questions about the novel and her life, and I like it because I like her!
I’m also proud of Tasma Walton – it took me over six months of chasing to finally get her to reply so it was well worth the wait! I also love Kathryn Lomer, simply because her novel, What Now, Tilda B?, was amazing.
It’s hard to name favourites, though (yes I know I just did!) because they’re all special to me in their own way. Which sounds incredibly lame I know, but I love the personal connection you make with the interviewee for that moment in time when you interview them. I love the back and forth emails, the interaction. I love exploring different sides to the author and the novels.
Saying that, I do worry that people don’t read the interviews. Looking at my interview list, it’s all very ‘me’. Majority of the interviewees are personal favourites and/or friends, and while I am interested in them, I’m not sure other people are. So it’s hard in that sense.

So you’ve met some great authors, you’ve also had a bunch of blog-related perks; invites to special events and the like. What’s been the best part of the whole blogging experience for you so far? What’s been the best blog-related perk?
The best blog-related perk? There have been so many! Ha-ha. No, I don’t blog for the perks (although they are awesome) I blog because I love books, and I have a lot of opinions on books. Probably the best perk so far is the Charlie Higson event at Penguin Offices in Melbourne – it was so special to be invited to the offices! It was such an amazing experience.
The best part of the blogging experience for me is the community. Hands down. From it, I’ve met so many fantastic people and made some lovely friends. Just the overall sense of community is just so lovely and over-whelming. I love it. It makes everything worth it.

What’s next on the cards for Lit Life and Megan Burke’s life? What can we look forward to?
We can look forward to a month of passing on the comment love!
I have a bunch of lit events coming up, which will be blogged about. So hopefully people find that interesting! I get a lot of good feedback from my posts from events and my Melbourne Writers Festival Live Feeds – they made people feel as if they were there too, which is fantastic and I’m so glad I’ve been able to do that for people.

Do you have any advice for people like yourself? And who, indeed, are these people “like yourself”?
People like myself? Crazy book nerd people who can’t shut up about books?
Are there people like myself around? I’d like to think I’m pretty unique but maybe I’m not!
Yeah sure – maybe stop talking about books for one second because I’m pretty sure that your friends and family don’t care anymore!
Seriously, I don’t know if I’m the best person to give advice, but hey. I’ll try!
To writers: keep writing.
To readers: keep reading.
To bloggers: I love you all!
(Lame yes, but hey. I never claimed to be some great advice-giver!)

Thanks so much to Megan for agreeing to be interviewed for Admiration/Inspiration Thursday!

Admiration/Inspiration Thursday with Benjamin Solah

It’s here! The new meme is here!

Admiration/Inspiration Thursday will appear on LGWABP once a week, featuring an interview with someone I admire for some reason, or a collection of things that are inspiring my writing that week.

This week’s guest for A/I Thursday is Benjamin Solah, Marxist Horror blogger. I’ve been reading Ben’s blog for a few months now, and had the good fortune of meeting him in the flesh during the EWF this year at multiple events.

Ben’s been chosen for A/I Thursday because of his sheer awesomeness and drive. He balances writing, blogging, and an incredibly active political involvement. His blog is a mashing-together of all these things – when I first saw this I squirmed a bit, but after reading it for a while I’ve realised that this entirely eclectic mixture really works. I’m not disinterested in politics, but it’s certainly not something I’m passionate about – I truly admire Benjamin’s investment in it, and how passionate he is. Just check out that picture below – you can see it!

Benjamin makes politics accessible for cretins like myself, and keeps a good levels of personal involvement in what he blogs about, so that it takes on an extra level of interest.

I admire him. He inspires me. I caught up with Benjamin for a chat.

Five words to tell us who you are.
Geeky Marxist Horror Writer/Blogger

You have quite an interesting blog – you combine your passion for politics with your love of writing, along with some tidbits from your personal life. It’s a pretty eclectic mix, but somehow you pull it off. Tell us a bit about how you make it work.
If it indeed it does work, and sometimes I doubt it does, I think it comes to the fact that I started the blog for myself more than for other people. I was naïve and had no idea about niches and audience and I think that could’ve been disorienting in this case.
I just write what I feel like. Some days some politicians pisses me off and I want to rant about it, other days there’s some debate about publishing I want to engage with.
If I felt like I had to manage a delicate balance between content, or write about one thing, it would be obvious to those that are reading. Sometimes the news is boring and there’s nothing political to write about. Other times, I’m not writing and too engrossed in a particular issue. I think that ability to sometimes switch off from one section helps too.

Your blog is starting to be recognized in the writing community as an emerging force-to-be-reckoned-with, how have you responded to that?
Wow, that’s quite a statement. I think I might quote that somewhere 😉 Despite what I said before, there is still very much something extroverted about blogging and so I enjoy getting a lot of attention around particular things I’ve written and the discussion it can prompt.
I’d like to say that I’ve just gone on and done what I’ve always done but I have to admit sometimes feeling the desire to tap into this audience and writing to cater to this writing community.

You update your blog quite frequently; how do you keep finding material?
There seems to be always a million things and questions running through my head so it’s usually not a matter of looking for material but working out which ones to go with. I read news and blogs quite frequently so often political issues and debates appear that prompt me to respond which is a large part of political blogging as well as more nuanced debates within the socialist movement that appear now and again such as anti-consumerist politics.
With writing, there’s a variety of blogs and events to bounce off. Whether I’ve been to a launch, there’s some debate about publishing or I’ve come into a problem during my own process of writing such as with editing or through feedback.
Then there are things like #Friday Flash which give me regular slots to fill.

You’re a very busy man – you work, you write, you go to loads of events, you read a heap, you can be found at most leftist rallies in Melbourne – how the hell do you manage to fit it all in?!
The key for me had been that I don’t do all that much work. Let’s hope my boss isn’t reading this but I have a bit of freedom in my job that I can fit writing, blogging and most things I need a computer for between the hours of 9 to 5 which is handy because with being a socialist, some weeks I have no time outside of work hours to write.
Protests and political meetings tend to come first on my list of priorities and it’s about saying this is a ‘must go to’ thing more so than I’d say about my job. It takes a while for the people around you to understand but eventually they caught on. I’m working on making people understand this about my writing.
And I wished, with all of this, that I had more time to read more!

You describe your writing as “Marxist Horror”, and are currently working on a collection of such stories… Describe to us what that is, and tell us a bit about your current project.
Marxist horror is a genre I kind of loosely defined myself that basically entails dark, usually violent, horror stories about the capitalist world we live in from a Marxist perspective. Sometimes you could even take stories out of the news and it would fit like stories of war, oppression and exploitation. But I think the genre is about amplifying the horrors, blowing them up and making them confronting and in your face so people see what’s really wrong with society.
The collection, Capital Comes Dripping, began as way to focus myself on a variety of smaller pieces as one whole collection including a novella about zombie fascists. It’s a wide variety of pieces now including a lot more poetry than I first envisioned and they deal with different issues and problems with capitalism, whether it is the exploitation of workers, homophobia, sexism, war, racism.
I think it’s an easier way for a reader to get a broad and whole idea of what I’m on about as opposed to a novel. A novel might focus on one issue, or try to look them in a broad sense, or moult of few issues together but a collection can focus on a lot of things and hopefully they tie together in a sense and draw out the connections between a lot of the world’s problems.

Are there any writers you would say have influenced you in your writing?
The closest writer to me would probably be China Miéville, who’s a Speculative Fiction writer from Britain that’s quite dark in a lot of his work whilst also subscribing to my particular Marxist school of thought, Trotskyism though his writing tends to be less political explicit than my stuff.
But before politics, I was just influenced by mostly horror. I was obsessed with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps as a kid and later the goriest horror movies you could find. I love Stephen King, read a lot of it and think his work has a lot more depth than people care to admit.
And then you look at the political fiction, Steinbeck, Orwell, Fight Club and kind of it kind of merges together unconsciously. I don’t think the two are as far apart as they might seem. The Grapes of Wrath is amazing. It illustrates something more horrible (The Great Depression with food being left to rot whilst people starve) than anything King could come up with.
And finally, if you look at the way the early Marxist writers polemicise against capitalism, the imagery and language they use is so dark and horror-like – from Karl Marx, “Capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt,” to Engels describing the conditions of industrialisation in Britain to Rose Luxemburg:
“Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law – but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form.”

And how did you come up with such a genre? Did you find yourself accidentally sliding your politics into stories, or do you do it more consciously as a political statement?
The politics kind of naturally slid into my writing. It wasn’t dogmatic or forced as some people might imagination like agit-prop literature. It would’ve been more forced if I tried to keep my writing and political ideas separate which is what I tried to do for a time.
If you’re writing any fiction but with me, horror, you write about the things that scare you. It just so happens that as a Marxist and someone that hates capitalism the things that scare me are the political; the vilification of Muslims to violent ends, bombs raining down on Afghanistan, being chained to work for the wealth of someone else and spending the majority of your waking hours working, refugees being locked behind razor wire and people feeling so insecure about their sexuality that it drives them to suicide.
It’s natural that these things are what I write about because it’s what I think about all the time.
I tend to try and avoid seeing writing as a political statement even though it can be because I don’t want people to see me writing as the main game in changing the world. I don’t think writing can substitute for actually getting off your arse and doing something, getting out on the streets, convincing others. For me, mass action is the real political statement, but that said, I hope my writing can inspire people to get involved in that, that perhaps they already sense there’s something wrong with the world but just maybe I describe it in a particular way or connect with them on a personal level that is pushes them to get out there and do that, to get involved.

Do you have any advice for people like yourself? And who, indeed, are these “people like yourself”?
I’m not sure there are people quite like myself. I’m sure there are some people that are pretty close and in that case, they ought to get in contact with me.
But for emerging, perhaps politically engaged writers, you just need to write and get out there and see the world. If you want to write political fiction, it’s probably best you don’t lock yourself away because you need to see what’s wrong or right about the world for yourself in order to write about it.
And submit, and go to events and blog and leave comments on people’s blogs (like mine) and have conversations.

And what’s next on the cards for Benjamin Solah?
Aside from working on various projects, I’m doing a bit of performance poetry. I’m trying to get out to some different open mic nights to read a small selection of poems I have. I’m finding it quite new and exciting, getting to get angry in the microphone and add that extra bite to my writing.
I’m also working on a zine called The Red Pen where I’ve gotten together a bunch of socialists and gotten them to send me anything with the idea that they’ll send me something not necessarily obviously political but you can see what really makes them tick in the subtext. The first issue is coming along nicely and will be out, launched in Melbourne and Sydney, in the next couple of months. Keep an eye on for updates.
And I’m in the middle of a really exciting and promising project, Chinese Whisperings, which is an anthology project of interconnected short stories in multiple books. I’ve recently finished my first draft of my story which is the 10th one in The Yang Book and getting a lot out of the process especially with editor Jodi Cleghorn. This is definitely something to watch and I’m really excited to tell the story I’ve got for it as it’s a character that’s been swirling around my head for a while.

Thanks heaps to Benjamin Solah for providing the fantastic angry picture of himself and the awesome interview, helping me launch this new meme! Check out his blog, you won’t regret it.

Also, feel free to provide me with some feedback on this new meme, and if you have any suggestions for how I might improve it. Much appreciated!

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