How Do You Do What You Do And Can You Teach Me To Do It Too?

“I don’t think anybody can teach anybody anything. I think that you learn it, but the young writer that is as I say demon-driven and wants to learn and has got to write, he don’t know why, he will learn from almost any source that he finds. He will learn from older people who are not writers, he will learn from writers, but he learns it — you can’t teach it.” – William Faulkner william-faulkner2

I recently received correspondence from a reader who desperately wants to be published and asked me how to make that happen.  He asked many technical questions.  Questions about process, inspiration, approach to writing time, what courses he should do, how to get the right contacts, should he get an agent, and how he should present himself.   He actually sounded more clued up about this writing thing than I am.  No surprise there – everyone’s more clued up about this writing thing than I am.  I started writing the appropriate, anticipated response – the sort of response I’d expected as a young writer obsessed with publication, and the sort of response I have written before.  And I felt like a fraud.  So I replied:

“Once upon a time I was an unpublished author with my very first publishing contract in front of me.  I remember the moment clearly.  I’d been pulled off a slush pile.  I was sitting at my kitchen table. It had one of those glass tops you can never polish fingerprints off of completely.  I was watching my knee bounce up and down beneath it. I remember thinking: This is it.  I’ve done it.  I’m here.

I had a few doubts but I’d pushed them aside.  It’s so difficult to get published, after all.  There had been a few phone calls back and forth.  The publisher was concerned I didn’t sound appealing enough.  They put a better spin on it than that, but that was the gist.  (Found out later they were pushing for Arts Council funding to fly this thing).  They pushed me for stories about my life, anecdotal evidence that I was more interesting/deserving than I actually am.  Have you done any writing courses? – No.  Do you have a degree? ­– Dropped out.  Do you volunteer at festivals? – What? Like, Mardi Gras?.  Have you applied for/been awarded any grants? – Dated one once.  There was increasing disappointment in my lack of a traditional artistic background.  I felt as if I was supposed to be a struggling post-graduate who goes to open mike poetry nights, has several cutting edge short stories published in reputable literary journals that no one reads and volunteers at orphanages reading picture books and slopping gruel.  My confidence was being subtly undermined by the not so subtle message that I was lacking as a product.  I was the date who would not be introduced to mates because no one wanted to be seen with me in public.

With my pen still hovering over the unsigned contract I received another call.  An editing call.  It was simple enough.  You can’t use the word ‘pubes’ on the first page of a YA novel.  I immediately began thinking about alternatives because they know, right? They’re going to publish me so I need to do what they say.   Pubic hair? – Too clinical.  Snatch thatch? – Character is male.  Short and curlies? Too old fashioned.  Bollock bush?  Good grief, Di!

To cut a very long story short (try to avoid such obvious clichés in your own writing) I never signed that contract and everyone said I was crazy.  They said I should do anything I was told to do in order to get a publishing deal.  But somewhere deep inside me I truly and completely believed in my pubes.

Two years later that very same manuscript was pulled off the slush pile by another publisher.  That manuscript became Creepy & Maud (Fremantle Press, 2012).  And as you know, there are pubes all over the place.

My only advice to you is don’t trim your pubes.  Don’t write with the reader in mind, don’t write with the publisher in mind, don’t hobble yourself by thinking about your product before you fall in love with your story.  Don’t write from a position of seeking reward.  Write because it is the reward.  My process, my technique, my contacts, my inspiration will not help you.  I believe in your process, your technique, your contacts and your inspiration.  I recently wrote a dialogue based on something I overheard behind me in a supermarket.  Those people are my contacts.

This is probably not the response you expected to receive. But there is no difference between you and me.  We are writers.  So write.  Write, read, listen and write.  One day someone is going to contact you and ask you the same questions you asked of me.  Be honest and kind, and tell them you can’t really teach them anything.  You can just thank you them for reading you and celebrate them for every word they write in the future.”

You don’t need to do what anybody says.


“Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when if feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” – Stephen Kingstephen-king_0

Hmmm, Baby, That’s Not Sexual…

“Hmm, that’s not sexual harassment, baby. When I decide to get sexual, trust me, you’ll know it.”
Author: Lora Leigh

I don’t like to queue.  Even on a good day I’ll drive right past the servo with the cheap fuel and the line of cars to the horizon and go back the following day when it’s 10 cents more expensive and the forecourt is clear.  It’s not that I’m particularly impatient.  I just don’t like being that close to people.  I had to stop at my servo today for fags.  The queue at the checkout snaked into an aisle because it was cheap fuel day.  Then someone stood behind me.  I felt them before I saw them because they were too bloody close to me.  I shuffled forward, he shuffled forwardiStock-image-for-Art-Breakfast-flyer.  I couldn’t keep shuffling forward without pressing myself into the back of the lass in front of me and whilst in that stationary, sweat coming out of my ears, panic rising position, I found myself in a frotting situation.  I could tell he had performed this manoeuvre before as it was accompanied by a leaning toward me to the right and down in order to pick something from the shelf parallel to me.  Could it have been an accident on his part? Is he carrying a brief case? That’s the first thing I thought.  We do, you know.  Even when suffering the most acute discomfort/fear, women will question their own perception before protecting themselves.

In a micro-second I was taken back to the time a man masturbated in a bus shelter we were sharing and then thanked me for being such a pretty picture; the time a guy grabbed my breast at a party and I went along with it, de-escalated it, because everyone else thought it was funny; the time my husband pushed me down a flight of stairs and then took me to hospital with a suspected broken knee and a story already in place; the time a work colleague grabbed my head and kissed me hard without my consent and I let it go because no one else in the office took it seriously and he apologised afterwards.

In a micro-second I was taken back to the training that informs me to always question myself before questioning anyone else.  Don’t raise your voice.  Don’t make a scene.  Be nice always.  Defer to authority.  Don’t over-react.  Don’t wear so much make-up.  Don’t wear short dresses.  Boys will be boys.  Don’t be bossy.  If you don’t have anything nice to say…don’t say anything at all.

And…don’t trust yourself.

Now, let me be clear.  No one actually said ‘Don’t trust yourself’ to me.  But those words are the subtext every time a girl is told that she must adjust her appearance, attitude, opinions or life style in order to be acceptable, safe and attractive.  It is the thing parents of girls never realise they are doing.  Desperate to protect them they begin to view them at a very early age in the same way they know the world will view them.  And rather than teach them to be fully realised, compassionate, powerful individuals who won’t stand for any shit they naturally, and understandably, teach them to shut the fuck up and not draw attention to themselves.  Oh, yes people, I have compassion for the parents too.

And the boys? Well, boys are taught not to take any shit and for fucks sake: ‘Don’t Be A Girl About It!’

It was only this year that a 4 year old girl in the US, hit so hard by a boy in her class she required stitches, was told by the attending (male) nurse: “He probably likes you.”

So back to my queue.  Could it have been an accident? Is he carrying a brief case? I brought the heel of my shoe down hard on his instep.   I was doing it blind so it wasn’t graceful and my foot slipped to his toes, so I repositioned and came down hard on his toes again.   And do you know what I thought? – I’m going to be arrested for assault on this poor man who is just waiting in line.

What did happen? – He quietly called me a cunt and took several steps backward.  He didn’t draw attention to himself.  He acquiesced to authority.  He didn’t make a scene.   He wasn’t bossy.  And in that moment…he didn’t trust himself.

I still don’t like to queue.


“I’ll Take A Bag Of Mixed Lollies, An Anti-Psychotic, And A Shot Of Vodka…”

“Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.”   – Ayn Rand

Pain.  When we’re small our mothers slap our hand away from a stove top so we don’t burn, hold our hand when we’re going down the stairs so we don’t fall, tell us to squeeze our eyes shut while shampooing our hair so we don’t get soap in our eyes.  So from a very young age we are programmed to believe pain not only hurts, but is bad and must be avoided at all costs.

I’ve been wondering about the affect of this training?  When we are in pain we now not only have the pain but feel culpable for allowing ourselves to be in a situation capable of creating it.  I shouldn’t have been near the fire; I should have been holding someone’s hand; I should never have opened my eyee25626b72f688051a50164a0dd6d10d2s.  But I’m here to ask – what the hell is so wrong with being in pain?

Pain, as we all know, is the body’s mechanism of warning the brain of a credible threat.  This hurts – move now! And because buried beneath our higher-functioning, reasonable cortex is that primeval instinctual base that saved our ancestors from falling asleep on cave fires, our bodies can barely tell the difference these days between a broken heart and a broken leg.  Same pain function, same functional warning.

We live at a time when it’s just not okay to have anything wrong with you.  We seem to have whittled down the definition of “normal” to a goddamn toothpick.  They give out anti-depressants these days to “treat” menstruation, HRT to “treat” menopause, Rogaine to “treat” baldness, Viagra to treat willy-nillys, psychotherapy to “treat” sadness.  We’re even told we have to “Soldier On” if we’ve got a cold!  I’m not allowed to have a miserable cold?  No.  Soldier the fuck on.  (I know you all have that jingle as an ear worm now and I don’t care – why should I suffer alone).

When Rhett Butler challenges Scarlett on the existence of a hell, she assures him she knows there’s a hell because she was “raised on it”.  That’s powerful stuff right there.  It doesn’t matter whether hell has a postcode or not – it simply exists for anyone raised on it.  Much like the teachings we absorb about pain, it becomes more than the abstract possibility of paper-cuts and bruised hearts, and more of a real physical place that we wall up each time and promise ourselves never to return to.  Our bodies have no false-alarm system.  Even though you’re not going to die from emotional pain, our body behaves as if the threat were as credible as a knife wound.  You can’t fight pain and I suspect all the new-agey do-gooders telling me it’s a learning experience are just smart marketers profiting off of the fact that as a race we’ll do anything to avoid pain in the first place.

Emily Dickinson wrote: “After great pain, a formal feeling comes.  The Nerves sit ceremonious, like tombs”.  So is that the pay-off? That tomb/womb like peace that inhabits nerves exhausted raw? The necessary emptiness that is just a part of the body’s other remarkable management strategy – a type of anesthesia? ECT never cured anyone of anything – it just induces a post-seizure calm.  Band-aid anyone?

If happiness is the proof of moral integrity and loyalty to the achievement of goals we may all be screwed.  Watching the ship sail away…there it goes…going…going…

High time someone ‘fessed up and said it’s okay to take a pill, take a drink, and get on with it.

Bloody Ayn Rand…


Goodnight, Mama

‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  I am not afraid but the sensation is like being afraid.  The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.  I keep swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed.  There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.  I find it hard to take in what anyone says.  Or perhaps hard to want to take it in.

It is so uninteresting.  Yet I want the others to be about me.  I dread the moments when the house is empty.’

-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

She hated cut flowers.  She’d send them to other people to let them know she was thinking of them.  But it seemed to irritate her when people sent them to her.  A single stem, one perfect curvature of orchid, she could tolerate that.  But she was quite hard on an ostentatious armful of cut flowers.  I don’t think she could see the kind intention behind anything beautiful that would soon be dead.  Why don’t people just leave them in the garden, she once said.

Wandering about her house late at night while she slept, always on high alert, listening for anything unusual, feeling like a naughty child because she wouldn’t like me wandering around her house at night.  She’d think I was up to something.    Eyes burning from lack of sleep, rocking myself the way she once did, second guessing every decision made and unmade and made again.  Now still, vacillating between the yeas and the nays even though she’s dead and it won’t make a lick of difference.  Except it does.  Would she want that? Would she prefer this? Seeing that stutter in a sister’s eye and withering with the pain of believing you are not only ticking off the dead but irritating the living.

Folding up her clothes knowing she wouldn’t like the way I was folding this blouse and it shouldn’t be folded anyway, it should be on a hanger with soft arms that won’t ruin the fabric.  Only it doesn’t matter anymore.  But she’s like a hangover I can’t shake – “No, Di-dee, let me do that.” – and my fingers become brisker and all-business until I’m shoving stuff into plastic garbage bags and criticizing my sister for doing the same.  Dad tells me he’s leaving her books for the nursing home library, and he’s so fragile he’s almost translucent.  ‘We have to flick through them,’ someone says.  ‘She used to slip important photos inside her books.’  And I don’t stay for that in case there aren’t any of me.

I take her hairbrush and her glass nail file, which are still powdery with her, and brush my hair until my scalp hurts. I understand why people cut.  At the moment she stopped feeling anything I started feeling everything.  The air is a different colour, and those kind condolences seem to be coming from a long way away.  I respond the way I have been taught how, to comfort those kind voices.  I’ve always had good manners.

‘She’ll always be with you.’  ‘She’s in a better place.’  ‘You’ll see her again.’  I know it’s not true.  Mama knew it wasn’t true.  She’s gone.  She has ceased to exist.  I’m careful not to disillusion the god-botherers though.  No need to upset anyone.  I’ve always had good manners.

It’s a kind of madness, you know.  I have gone a little bit mad.  This isn’t grief – it’s a bomb-hole, a yawning pit girdled by jagged edges and you climb and climb and all the climbing in the world will do nothing but fill your mouth with dirt.  There’s nothing for it.  And I am completely alone.  We all are.

If Colleen Had A Dick…

 “At least a third of a woman’s life is marked with aging; about a third of her body is made of fat. Both symbols are being transformed into operable conditions so that women will only feel healthy if they are two thirds of the women they could be. How can an “ideal” be about women if it is defined by how much of a female sexual characteristic does not show on her body, and how much of a female life does not show on her face?”  – Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth


1422596159009Colleen McCullough was this week honoured with an obituary in The Australian which opened with the following:

‘Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was nevertheless a woman of wit and warmth.  In one interview she said: ‘I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men’

This is the translation for anyone not yet up to speed:

‘Although she was fat and ugly she still managed to have some smarts and charm.  And overall she’s okay ‘cause men still wanted to fuck her.’

I’m not naive.  I know that the way a woman looks, matters.  It is what it is.  It shouldn’t matter, but it does.  We know this because even our representatives of the “ideal” in this culture have the shit photo-shopped out of them.  Women, and men, are prescribed a female beauty standard that is cruel, unachievable, and extraordinarily limiting.

So we start there.  From infancy.  Women being told they are fundamentally flawed in order to sustain the cosmetic/beauty industry and men being told a woman’s worth is dependent upon her striving for the cruelly unachievable, in order to be attractive to the very men who use the unachievable ideal to criticize real women.  This becomes even more diabolical as women and men age.  Women are cautioned about aging as if it were a disease, an illness which can and should be treated.  A woman with a soft belly and stretch marks, ample bottom, and boobs like pendulums, is thought to have “let herself go”. ‘Exactly where have I let myself go to?’ I always want to ask.   Seems like my body is going places without me.  And as my body goes it seems I have to get louder.

Men, on the other hand, have no such sanction.  They can become fat.  They can wrinkle and go grey and be bald and be impotent and people will still listen to what they have to say.  The world has created forgiving and respectful euphemisms for fat, old, impotent men.  They are well-built, dignified, regal, and have EDD.  EDD, for fuck’s sake.  And this pomposity is completely accepted.

I think Colleen McCullough was beautiful, and her beauty was the least of her triumphs.  But that’s because I listened to what she had to say.   And the tragedy is, if she had a dick, The Australian would have celebrated her beauty as much as I do.

Bullying and Self Esteem

“People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.”

― Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing


So people who love themselves don’t hurt others?  I’m calling bullshit on this one.     8wAE51

It’s a good lie, perpetrated for decades on end by the psychoanalytical elite and spawned during the salad-acid days of the self-esteem movement and post-modernist mummy blaming.  If this person had only been raised to believe they were special.  If only they had a sense of their own self-worth.  If only they loved themselves. If they had been breast fed longer, not been breast fed so long, had been held more, had been cosseted less, if they had only been permitted to express themselves, if they had just been told to shut the fuck up occasionally…some parents are so thumb-screwed by PC fascism that they are actually afraid of their own children.  Loathe to do something that will impact on their child’s self-esteem, many choose to simply do nothing at all.

I’ve never believed that bullies have low self esteem.  They seem to me to have an excess of self-esteem.  The willy-nilly over-application of child-praise seems to create a disturbing sense of entitlement in them while simultaneously draining out any vestiges of empathy.  Our child-worshipping culture is like a catheter – indulgent self-satisfaction in, narcissism and conceit out.  Self-confidence, self-regard, self-approval – self, self, self – the roots of self-esteem and bullying are almost indistinguishable.

I know I may be out here on my own again, but I think that sometimes it’s okay to tell little Johnny he’s just being a right little shit.  Sometimes it’s ok to bypass the hours of analysis and counsel, the behavior plan, the positive reinforcement and every other accoutrement in the psychologist’s arsenal, lobbed into the void in an effort to discover and placate the origins of little Johnny’s anger.  Has anyone just considered telling him that it is a requirement that he stop tormenting his peers?  God forbid we just throw some good old fashioned discipline at little Johnny – the latest American psychoanalytical studies are touting that asking a child to take sole responsibility for the pain they cause others is retaliating against the bully with bullying.

Here’s the rub: they who bully with impunity as children, bully with impunity as adults.  And then they raise more little bullies.  More of us should be standing in the face of this and saying “No”.  Quietly, firmly, unflinchingly – No.  And teaching our children to do the same.  This in no way implies a deficit of compassion, but it does require a lack of fear in all of us.  Sometimes it’s okay to tell little Johnny he’s just being a right little shit.