Monday, January 2, 2017

The year that was... (2016)

Reading over my end-of-year reflections, I notice a pattern. 

Change is constant. It comes ^^^ and goes ^^^ in waves ^^^  How would one cope otherwise?

In 2013, I moved to Canberra and broke up for the first time, twice. 

The following year, I travelled to New York and inched towards coming to terms with my decision to break up with a man I cared deeply for. I was happy for the time we had together yet sad I would never meet someone like him again. 2014 taught me to: Regret less. Forgive more.

2015 was a year of extreme highs and extreme lows. Boy, oh boy, did I rock the boat... perhaps a little too violently. Lauren Elkin describes in Flâneuse this desire to live on the edge: 
The students identified with Sasha's plight [in Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys], just as I once did, on the basis of their own unhappiness, native to the twenty-year-old who has not yet learned to ask for what she wants, or may hardly know it herself. Twenty-year-olds – the kind who wander the streets of Paris looking for meaning – are hungry for experience, but they haven't yet learned self-protection. They run headlong into despair, just to know how it feels, maybe to find out how strong they are.
Rather than rocking the boat in 2016, I resolved to make ripples. (less chance of drowning)

I changed jobs again, still in the public service. Voiceworks taught me to edit the work of others.

Noted came and went. I wrote a blog post here and a piece for The Writers Bloc here which went on to be selected as a Bloc highlight. Check out the Best of the Bloc 2016 here.

In May, I went to Eurovision (1 | 2) in Stockholm and travelled to Reykjavik, London and Berlin.

Winter brought with it Emerging Writers' Festival (and my debut panel!), a new home and writing. Spring, National Young Writers' Festival (1 | 2 | 3) and you guessed it, more writing.

Summer began with a dear friend's wedding xo I was shortlisted for the Anne Edgeworth Fellowship. I wasn't successful but still, an achievement and incredibly validating. Too often we gloss over 'failure' and 'rejection', both are important to growing as an artist and a person.

In short, 2016 was a busy year. But to what end... I suspect busy-ness for the sake of being busy. 

What flaw, what problem, what discontentment are you hiding?

As the year drew to its end, I wrote to a dear friend: 'I'd like a break from writing. I don't want to become a lopsided person.' Writing is part of who I am but only a part. I want to nurture old and new friendships, to read widely, to have fun, to experiment with photography, fiction and poetry.

Ah, but does the writer ever rest? I submitted my first piece for 2017 today and have another due in early February. I have a fresh set of goals in my new diary but the question, as always, is why.

Join me in finding out? xo

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

what makes a good review

I love reading a good review. By good, I mean not 'five stars' but a review that illuminates and provokes thought in its reader, by drawing upon history, other works and/or personal experience.

Felicity Plunkett shares the Seven Ingredients of a Good Review:
A good review works as a piece of writing in its own right. ... This may involve striking phrasing, a sense of a window opened to shed light into the text, voice, wit, an unexpected metaphor or an evocative sense of the impact of the work.
I wholeheartedly agree with her advice  'The best reviews host the text with style and grace, inviting their readers in.' – and recommend reading in full. Wish I chanced upon it last year. As it was, I learnt to review through practice, reading other reviews and with editorial guidance.

Speaking of reviews, my FINAL piece to be published (in The Lifted Brow, yay!) in 2016 is a review of I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This by Nadja Spiegelman.
I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This asks readers to consider whether multiple 'truths' can co-exist, not just as differences of opinion between family members, but within individuals. It examines how we twist our memories to fit the narrative of who we are, so that we may make sense of our lives and thus continue to live with ourselves.
You can read the full review here, with a dash of memoir on my relationship with my mother.

You can also find all books reviewed for The Lifted Brow in 2016 here. My favourite reviews:

So Sad Today by Melissa Broder (Scribe), reviewed by Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett (Scribe), reviewed by Veronica Sullivan

Rebellious Daughters edited by Maria Katsonis and Lee Koffman (Simon and Schuster), reviewed by Angela Serrano

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (Penguin), reviewed by Madeleine Laing

Autumn by Ali Smith (Penguin), reviewed by Alice Robinson

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A few of my favourite things... (2016)

The end of the year is like the rising tide. It creeps up, bit by bit, then devours everything. Pop.

My favourite things in previous years: 2015 | 2014 | 2013


This is the year I identified as a feminist and started thinking about race... how it intersects with my gender and how it affects the lives of other people. I still have a lot to learn but I'm less ignorant, less naïve. This is my / our reality. Songs that defined 2016 for me: 'Smile' and 'Sorry'.  

Don't tell me to smile / Don't tell me to smile / Don't tell me to smile
If you don't know me, brother
Middle fingers up / Put 'em hands high / Wave it in his face

Tell 'im boy bye / Tell 'im boy bye / Boy bye

Middle fingers up / I ain't thinking 'bout you


As always, female vocals: Synthia (The Jezabels), TKAY (Tkay Maidza), Lemonade (Beyoncé).


I shared my top five books of 2016 with Pencilled In, a new literary magazine featuring work by young Asian-Australian writers and artists and founded by my talented friend Yen-Rong Wong.
  1. Portable Curiosities – Julie Koh
  2. The Near and The Far (ed. David Carlin and Francesca Rendle-Short)
  3. The Hate Race – Maxine Beneba Clarke
  4. I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This – Nadja Spiegelman
  5. My First Lesson (ed. Alice Pung)
Click on the link here to find out why and for recommendations from Yen-Rong, Wendy Chen and Rajith Savanadasa. Submissions for Issue 1: Fear and Hope close 5 January 2017. Please also consider making a tax deductible donation to support contributors, printing and distribution.

Special mentions: Fantasian Larissa Pham and milk and honey rupi kaur

Saturday, November 26, 2016

NYWF (Sun)

This post is extremely belated. Gosh, I can't believe we're at the end of November.

Sunday 2 October

The wonderful Nina Carter and I co-host Me, Myself and I: Writing for Yourself in the park (review by the lovely Annie Waters, one of the NYWF co-directors, here).

We dash there from breakfast with the Voiceworks EdComm. I can't believe my time as editor is coming to an end. It's been such a joy and privilege to have been part of something so special.

The future is bright.

I wander to the Zine Fair and pick up a couple of presents. Bump into more friends. It is warm.

Chair my final panel Fringe Dwellers on art in a smaller city, featuring Chiara Grassia (Canberra), Jakob Boyd (Perth) and The Line (Newcastle). There are much smaller cities...

A young woman asks at the end what our advice would be to someone starting out as a writer. 

My advice: 'Don't worry about trying to please everyone because you can't. Your audience is out there and somehow, I don't know how, they will find you.' Give yourself permission to 'fail'. 

This sounds negative but is actually liberating. It has given me the courage to write what I write.
It is a universal truth that we will not inspire everyone, resonate with everyone or empower everyone. There are billions of us, and it's unrealistic to assume that our message is meant for them all.
- Nicole Gulotta -
Napped. Then readings: Women of History and Late Night Readings: Sex, Death, Money.

Wendy Chen (who I am so proud of) read one of the most moving pieces of the festival on the Brontë sisters and love that transcends death. You could have heard a pin drop in the room.

Pun of the festival: "Cod evening, I thought I'd start with a fish pun." (Freya Daly Sadgrove)

Until next year xo

NYWF festival team  YOU ARE ALL AMAZING xo

Monday, November 7, 2016

late nights (and tears)

As some of you may be aware, I was one of 26 writers selected for the ACT Writers Centre HARDCOPY manuscript development program last year. It was an incredible experience.

Unlike many of the other writers, I didn't begin HARDCOPY with a full manuscript. I didn't have a first chapter, let alone a first draft. I knew it was a coming-of-age memoir set in Canberra but not much else... who expects to work out a 'narrative arc' to their life, aged 24?!

All the same, the selection panel saw potential in my proposal and for that, I'm grateful.

I found out that I hadn't been selected for the final round (one-on-one feedback from agents and publishers) while at NYWF 2015. Sure, I was disappointed but unsurprised. Perhaps if I had worked harder, had more direction, I might have been selected... but life got in the way.

'Is the ultimate goal to write a book?' a friend asked.

While I admitted the book was a goal, the 'real' goal is to have my work read. I'd rather have my work read than a manuscript that never sees the light of day. Online articles, reviews and essays have changed my life too. Good writing is good writing; print is NOT the be all and end all.

I wasn't ready then, emotionally and skill-wise, to write the book I want to write. I was still living the memoir, after all. And so, I put the manuscript aside for a year. In the meantime, I:
As I've said before, HARDCOPY was just the beginning. Writing is anything but glamorous (dressing up for readings, yes); it is late nights (and tears) but I wouldn't have it any other way.

I'still not ready for 'the book' but I've come a long way since last year.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

NYWF (Sat)

Another thing I love about NYWF, which I only hinted at in my last post, is bumping into friends.

at events / while walking down the street / at the Zine Fair / the Ocean Baths

A four day party spilling across Newcastle.

Saturday 1 October

Saturday is my 'day off'. I'm not scheduled for any events so I start the day with #LoveOzYA on YA writing, chaired by my friend Wendy Chen. Many readers, including adults, love YA but I skipped it as a teenjumping from Enid Blyton to Jane Austenand am unlikely to return.
If I'm going to be pigeon-holed, I want to use that to drive change... Writers just want to be superheroes. 
Wai Chim (#LoveOzYA) -
I can see why YA appeals but for me, it was the classics (Little WomenAnne of Green GablesPride and PrejudicePersuasion) that spoke to me and this continued into university.

I played by the rules. The heady 'mistakes' of adolescence did not come until my early twenties.

I scribbled furiously at Gendering Loneliness... transcribed below:

Why is loneliness in men seen as strong and 'untouchable'? Why is writing about feelings considered self-absorbed? How can we re-frame the narrative outside the terminology of self-indulgence or victimhood? What if the most feminist thing to say is: 'This happened to me'?

There is no reason why emotions and feelings aren't valid or provide data of their own.

We really like to categorise the 'right way' to talk about things. When we talk about things in academic terms, it's very easy to categorise. People without firsthand experience see things in black and white.

How do we address people who don't want to listen? We need to talk about shaming.
Shame creates silence. 
Jonno Revanche (Gendering Loneliness) -
There is more awareness of depression and anxiety but still little awareness of 'scarier' mental illnesses like personality disorder, psychosis and bipolar.

Where You From? Where You Goin'? is another highlight. I do not write poetry (nor do I 'understand' it) but gosh, spoken poetry can be hypnoticvoice. cadence. rhythm. musicality.

I have no words... if you ever have the chance to see Admas Tewodros, Eiman AlUbudy, Omar Musa, Omar Sakr or Magan Magan perform poetry, please, please grab it with both hands.

Khalid Warsame was an excellent host; his excitement infectious. A short discussion of each artist's poetic practice followed. Omar Musa spoke about the influence of orators and theatre on his work and how he used poetry as an access point in his novel Here Come The Dogs

One artist said, 'Any good poetry is music, it sings.' Another followed on, 'I look for an explosion and implosion ... grenades ... I'm waiting for the pin to drop.' (Sorry my notes are incomplete!)

Mangan and Khalid touched upon the everyday poetics of Somali speech; a casual pronunciation made by an uncle (I think Khalid's) can sound as though he is making a revelation. Wow.

Finally, I had a wonderful time dancing at the Ball and chatting with Jane Howard at the bar. I meant to shower and sleep but was dragged to the Ocean Baths, where I stayed until 3, I think.

It was worth it.