Robyn Stacey: Cloud Land and youth writing competition

Last Friday I taught short story writing to some super talented Brisbane State High School students as part of their experience at the Museum of Brisbane’s Robyn Stacey: Cloud Land exhibition.

Using the artwork to inspire us, we worked through developing the structure, characters and setting needed to write our own short stories. My favourite part of teaching writing is seeing people open up and share their creativity and to listen to the range of stories they create from the same exhibition.

room1817-sofitel_jade

Robyn Stacey: Cloud Land exhibition, Room 1817 Sofitel Jade

To me, so many of the artworks are full of displacement and yearning. They are those fragile little moments when you collect yourself before heading back out in to the world. Perfect for that moment in time (or is it moment of truth?) that short stories capture so well.

I can’t tell you what stories the students saw in the artwork because the Museum of Brisbane is also running a short story competition for 12-18 year olds based on Robyn Stacey’s artwork.

If you’re a young writer make sure you get to the museum and start writing. I’ve pitched in a few short story writing tips on the website but you need to get writing – entries close on 13 March.

Here’s what I would do before submitting:

  1. Stay true to the artwork. If there’s stimulus or a theme to a competition, then the readers (ahem…and judging panel) want to easily connect the dots between the artwork and the story.
  2. Write a full first draft before editing. It’s impossible to edit something you haven’t written yet.
  3. Ask a trusted writing buddy for feedback. Ask them what they liked and what they found odd or confusing to help you edit.
  4. Submit early. Technology can get the hiccups when a ton of writers are trying to submit their entries on the same website and at the same time. Save yourself the stress and get in earlier.

Good luck!

New stories! Halloweenies! Puppies! Exclamation marks!

The last two months have been non-stop madness. Mostly because I travelled through the UK and Europe, cramming in more countries than my sanity could handle, before returning straight to my bat cave in Brisbane to finish editing my latest YA manuscript.

And amongst the madness, I received some exciting news to share:

What’s next? Well, I’m searching through old notes and playing with ideas to start a few new stories.

In the meantime, I’m also training our new Border Collie puppy, Henry. (Because sometimes I like to cram so much in to the space of 8 weeks to see exactly where my breaking point is. I have a feeling it could be toilet training this furball.)

Henry the Border Collie

Henry the Border Collie

Looking for a free read?

You can read my children’s short story, Neptune’s Postman, from the Celapene Press website for free.

Short stories and adventure

I’ve written before about how much Roald Dahl was part of my childhood, but I think it’s only recently that I’m realising how much his work has influenced who I am now – as a person and a writer.

There was one particular (and miserable) time as a child that I had a rash that no one could really explain. It had spread everywhere from my scalp to the soles of my feet, and it made me want to tear off my skin and curl up in a ball sobbing all at the same time.

I remember being naked in front of a group of strangers (doctors, obviously) for the first time. I was about ten years old and mortified. I felt like a science experiment, especially when the verdict was not far from ‘maybe it’s an allergy to something’.

During my recovery, I was loaded up on Roald Dahl books and my love for his stories grew. The Twits and The Witches were favourites of mine, but not long after that his short stories became a sort of magic to me. Their darkness and the hint of the unsaid always drew me closer.

So recently when I was trapped on a flight home (I’m quite cagey on planes), I chose to spend most of the time listening to the Roald Dahl short story collection, Kiss, Kiss. I remembered The Landlady who had a peculiar taste for taxidermy, the vicar in Georgy Porgy who is terrified of being close to a woman, and the wife in William and Mary who seizes her chance for revenge on her controlling husband.

In part, I love Roald Dahl’s work because I’ve have always been fascinated by the truth. When is the appropriate time for it and when it’s best to lie. After all, hiding the truth leads to secrets and secrets lead people to do the most extraordinary things. So now that I’m home and editing my current favourite manuscript (all writers have favourites), I’m not really surprised that it is about secrets and lies and morality.

I’ve always been fascinated by the things that people aren’t supposed to think or do, and how it can play out. But I’m also in love with the sheer joy and mischief that Roald Dahl’s writing brought to my life. 

These thoughts were what inspired me to write a blog post about why I love writing short stories for the Queensland Writers Centre. Something I will dive back in to after this current manuscript is polished and sent on it’s way.

If you want to know all of my short story secrets, then you’re in luck! I’m teaching a Short Story Workout for 14-19 year olds for the Queensland Writers Centre on 28 July. If you’re keen to come along, make sure you book as soon as possible by heading to their website. I’d love to see you there!

Mr Guzwick’s Lolly Store

Nicky and Alex Preston were perfectly identical. They both had big, green eyes that bulged from their sockets. They both sprouted frizzy and unkempt fire engine red hair, had the same front teeth that overlapped, right across left, and a generous smattering of freckles. They also had a crisp ten dollar note to spend on their favourite treats at Mr. Guzwick’s Lolly Store.

As they stood in the store, the sickly sweet smell of sugar wafted towards them. There were towers of boxed jellybeans. Tubs of soft jellies lined the walls. The fountain spewed with milk chocolate, huge swirled lollipops dangles from every display in the hop, and a large yellow sign on the counter read, Taste test. The twins knew what taste test meant – free food.

‘Good Afternoon,’ beamed Mr. Guzwick seeing the twins, their greedy eyes still fixed on the sign. He was a frail old man and had owned the store for fifty-six years. He had exactly ten strands of hair on his head; Alex had counted them the week before.

‘Would you like to taste my new gum?’

Mr. Guzwick held out two gum squares in electric orange wrapping with ‘The Ultimate Chew’ written on them.

‘It’s extra chewy gum, guaranteed to last an hour more than usual.’ Mr. Guzwick smiled at their burning curiosity. ‘Try it.’

Both twins unwrapped the gum and chucked the small orange squares into their mouths.

The gum exploded with a sweet orange flavour as soon as it hit their tongues and they began to chew and mould the gum in their mouths. Soon after, the gum began to crackle. They opened their mouths to amplify the sound of the popping gum. The gum certainly had been the chewiest gum they had ever experienced. It had begun to swell in their mouths to the size of a large gobstopper. So that’s how it would last so long.

Nicky and Alex had been chewing for ten minutes before their mouths grew numb. Their faces pained with effort. Alex’s jaw began to click in and out of place with every chew. Nicky’s eyes began to water with the amount of pressure on her jaw. The gum squares had swollen even more to take up the whole of their mouths. They could barely shut their mouths. Their jaw muscles went on strike and their faces were red with exhaustion. That was the end of it.

Mr. Guzwick produced a small metal bucket for the twins and they let the great slimy orange globs tumble from their tongues. Nicky and Alex looked up at Mr. Guzwick from the metal bucket, eyes brimming with disappointment. He gave them a sympathetic smile. ‘Cheer up now, there’s plenty of other goodies here!’

To ease their distress, the twins bought two bags of oober goober jellies, twenty packets of sherbet, one large tin of jellybeans, six lollipops and seventeen and a half sticks of red liquorice. No gum. Nicky and Alex presented their money and peculiar toothless grins and left for home.

Mr. Guzwick retired to his backroom and shut the door. Success glistened in his eyes as he looked at the glob of Nicky and Alex’s gum. One, two, three. Three perfect, white children’s teeth jutted out from the gum.

He pulled out the three specimens with tweezers and opened a small tub of superglue. Mr. Guzwick removed the retainer of scattered false teeth from his mouth, leaving only the two front incisors intact. Using the superglue he began to fix the children’s teeth to the gaps in his retainer in accordance to size.

***

Author’s note: This was the first story I wrote for university when I was still figuring out how this story thing actually worked. In previous posts I’ve talked about my love for Roald Dahl’s work and how I borrowed his voice when I was beginning to write. Well, this is the story I was talking about and do you know what? I still have a soft spot for Mr. Guzwick.

QWC Whispers

I’ve been invited to read my short story, Bibi’s Tree, a couple of times before but I’ve never been able to make the journey. (The first time was in Greenmount, WA and the second time was in Melbourne.) So when I was asked to be part of QWC’s Whispers event I knew what story I had to read.

But it’s not the story that’s got me thinking. It’s the reading out loud part.

I’ve always thought that there was something special about a writer reading their work out loud. I love hearing words that would usually only live in one person’s imagination while they’re curled up on the couch. And I’ve enjoyed watching friends of mine read at their book launches and discovering how the story sounds in their heads.

To discover that in my own work was just as exciting.

I’ve known for a while that tapping away at a computer isn’t enough for the storyteller in me. I need to be actively sharing stories and connecting with people. As a drama student who transferred in to creative writing at uni, I guess this shouldn’t have been a surprise. Except that I had neglected that side of myself for so long – unsure how it could fit in this new writing direction – that I forgot how important it is to me.

It’s thrilling to have an audience in front of you, wanting to hear your story.  To read your own words and listen to the stillness around you. Or to glance above the pages and take in how people are reacting to your creation.

I remember reading the beginning of a manuscript in a writer’s group meet. It was a tense scene that I enjoyed writing and re-writing and as I read it out loud I felt the energy change. There were no squeals of discomfort and no one was wringing their hands together but there was a slight shift in the mood. For me, that feeling had weight. As though the world had stopped still and we were all tumbling down the rabbit hole in slow motion.

That’s why performing or reading out loud is exciting for me. That energy change is the audience saying, ‘Yep. Take me with you’. They don’t have the time to put the bookmark in and get back to it and it’s too personal for them to pretend they like it if they really don’t. (Trust me on that one.)

So as much as I love retreating in to my own imagination and writing new stories, there will always be part of me that needs to tell it to you the old-fashioned way. Face-to-face.

Launching One Book Many Brisbanes 6

Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending the launch for the One Book Many Brisbanes 6 anthology.

It was a surreal experience for many of us, milling about with the book finally in our hands and wearing name tags that declared us as ‘winning authors’. We caught up with each other for the first time since the masterclass, checking that we were all still writing and introducing family and friends as it finally dawned on us that this was our book launch.

After a welcome speech by Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, we had our fair share of mingling and photo opportunities before being ushered to the signing tables. It was great fun to have all of us sitting side-by-side at a row of tables that lined one side of the room and around the corner, passing books along like a conveyor belt until all of our signatures were on each requested copy.

I don’t think any of us had even thought about signatures until then but I guarantee, we will all have better ones next time!

The One Book Many Brisbanes competition was something that I had always wanted to enter and I’m glad that I did before it was too late. It’s disappointing to learn that the program will now be put on hold; something which I only discovered from reading the news from SMH and Brisbane Times. Many programs are being cut in Brisbane due to the cost of the flood, but our arts programs always seem to be the first to go (although, I’m sure everyone says that about what they’re most passionate about).

It’s a lesson for any writers out there who are dreaming of entering a specific competition or attending a certain event; go for it now as it may not be around later on.

For those who are keen to read the  One Book Many Brisbanes 6 edition, you can borrow the book or buy one from the Brisbane City Council libraries. Otherwise the pdf versions of all the stories are available on the council website with a great set of discussion questions for readers.

Many thanks again to the wonderful Queensland Writers Centre and Brisbane City Council for the opportunity.

Happy dance x 2

I’m being a good girl this year, so I’ve opted for celebratory dances instead of nasty, fatty (delicious) cake. Yes, I said ‘dances’ because my happy-making news comes in two parts.

1. I’ve had a short story accepted into the One Book Many Brisbanes anthology this year. Soon, I’ll be taking part in the three-day masterclass with the other winning writers and our mentors to further develop the stories before publication. It’s an amazing opportunity to meet other local writers and devote a whole weekend to working on our craft and I’m even more excited to share it with my writerly friend, Samantha Wheeler.

2. My YA manuscript, Blood Sun, has been shortlisted for a Varuna Publisher Fellowship. I’m listed under Kathleen Jayne this time due to a brief struggle with my surname that coincided with the submission deadline. Now that I’ve tried it, I’m happy to write under my usual name and make this a once-off occasion. Blood Sun has been sent to the lovely folk at UQP for the final decision which will be announced at the end of March.

It’s been a very encouraging start to 2011 and I’m hoping to keep the momentum going throughout the year. While I’m on the topic of encouraging starts, I’d like to wish everyone a happy Chinese New Year. I hope that the Year of the Metal Rabbit brings you peace and tranquility.

(image from Chinese New Year Cards blogspot)