Signs

I just saw these complementary signs at a train station. It seems very pointed that they choose to both label the toilet as a men’s toilet AND specify that no women should enter. Is there a particular problem with women using men’s toilets in this area, I wonder? And was the second sign put up as a matter of course, or was there some sort of community discussion about it? I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall of that council meeting…

Paradise Updated: a literary event

Hurrah! A literary event in Sydney! Elena from With Extra Pulp let me know about this one last night, so I went along and got to meet her as well. We talked about writing, drinking wine and getting distracted by graphic novels. Lovely!

Mic Looby (who I know better from his Big Issue column) was talking about his book, Paradise Updated, with Ben Groundwater. We were treated to a reading from the book, describing one of the older, jaded travel writers; and the conversation largely focussed on what a terrible job being a travel writer really is. I’ve been as guilty as anyone, assuming that travel writing would be a great, glamorous job. When it’s explained more fully (think covering an entire country on a two month deadline) it doesn’t sound quite so fun.

Elena, having read the book (and reviewed it, in fact), has a slightly more informed and amusing review of the night up here. Hopefully there’ll be some more events like this one for us to go to soon!

Going off on a bit of a tangent for a moment, the venue where last night’s event was held also happens to house my preferred cafe to write in, so I was there this afternoon making notes and scrawling down outlines. I have high hopes for this place: a jazz quintet set up and played a set or two while I was there, and the beginnings of some kind of art exhibition became apparent as I left and tables full of wine bottles were set up. I’ll have to keep a close eye on this place.

I recorded a small snippet of what I heard at Da Caff (as I’m now calling it) to share here. Unfortunately I’ve got no idea how to convert it to the kind of file I can actually upload… so for now it’s sitting on my desktop. Any help in that regard would be greatly appreciated!

Reading inspiration

This last weekend I’ve been in Canberra for my brother’s 21st (it was a dress-up party; I may put up some pictures when I get them from Mum — I did my usual trick of forgetting to take any). To get to Canberra from Sydney, there’s a three and a half hour bus trip each way, which I often look forward to. I love staring out the window, musing over things in my life, making plans or just playing make-believe. I also often use the time to catch up on my podcast listening.

I subscribe to a few, but hardly ever listen to them. I’ve probably got about fifty episodes of the Book Show left to listen to, for example.

So on the trip back yesterday I got through a couple of them. In one episode Ramona Koval was talking to Sarah Waters, who is known for her novels set in the Victorian era, usually with some kind of lesbian storyline. They were speaking about her then-new (the episode was six months old) book, The Little Stranger. I’ve not read the book, but its gothic nature appealed to me and I suddenly remembered the books I devoured as a teenager: Frankenstein, The Turn of the Screw, Northanger Abbey, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

I loved gothic literature. As Waters mentioned in the interview, the supernatural is a wonderful space to explore anxieties and uncertainties, dysfunction and, possibly, mental illness. Of course, these are things I am obsessed with in my own fiction, albeit in a more realist way.

But as a teen I wrote creepy little gothic stories, which were probably really very bad. Unexpectedly empty houses with all the lights on, stormy nights, taps turning on by themselves, steep hills to walk up in the dark, footsteps coming from nowhere. All these things appeared in my stories. And they were fun!

I feel a return to the gothic coming on, at least in my reading. Now if I could just find my copy of The Woman in White

Eavesdropping

This afternoon I wandered up to my favourite writing cafe and sat myself down at their long wooden table with my notebook. I was fairly happily scribbling when a bunch of people sat down next to me (the table runs almost the full length of the cafe, so it’s a shared space). At first I was vaguely irritated, fearing distraction and interruption. But I needn’t have spent the energy being annoyed, because the group was some kind of creative writing course group, meeting up to talk and write.

So of course I eavesdropped. The teacher asked them to write a description of a character falling through the air without making reference to what they were falling from or where they were falling to. Five minutes, she gave them. Not pausing in my own writing I drew a line underneath my last sentence and wrote this:

FALLING THROUGH THE AIR: EAVESDROPPING ON A WRITING GROUP

The air is strangely like water: thick, moving around her body fluidly, letting her past. It is cold, the air, like the creek she swam in as a child, and she feels the pimples appear on her skin, running down her arms and legs as if spreading out from her navel. Her hair is all around her, her scalp has never been more alive. The rushing air cools it, the hair itself pulls at its roots, warming little pin pricks all over. She can feel the air under her fingernails and thinks, if she makes it out of this alive, she should cut them, they are too long.

Strangely she feels no fear, even though her heart pumps so hard she thinks it might break inside her body. Her limbs tremble with its beat and adrenaline turns her lips a bright, bright red.

The rushing air finds its way into her clothes, pushing them around and up behind her.

Funny how a chance encounter will get your pen moving. I wonder if they’ll be there tomorrow…