Royal Academy of Art: Australia Exhibition

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Exhibition: ‘Edward Burtynsky: Australian Minescapes’ at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney

The following pieces were inspired by several painting in the exhibition. When I looked more closely I realised that they belonged together:

When we got there it wasn’t what either of us expected. Not that we’d talked about it, you understand. We stood, hands resting on the bonnet of the car, the sun a hammer blow barely warded by sun-hats and shades.

‘So,’ I said.

‘Yeah,’ she said.

The so-called cottage looked more like a shack, corrugated tin roof sloping to a squint over windows blinded by mud and dust. I turned on one heel, hoping we’d pulled up outside an out-building by mistake: scattered gaunt trees in various russet shades stood watch, a few scratty bushes hunched in untidy gangs, and in the distance I caught the lumpy shimmer of the outcrop that marked the quarry.

Nope, this had to be it.

‘Might as well take a look?’

She shrugged but followed, one hand waving a zigzag defence against the insect whine, her shoulders tight, lips pressed together. I had to shove my weight against the door, but I got us inside. Stepping into shade, an instant of relief before years of accumulated heat snatched our breath, dust-dry air coating throats, making it hard to swallow.

‘Shit,’ said together, in the same I-don’t-believe-it tone.

The edges of the room were crammed with guessed at boxy furniture crouched beneath yellowing sheets, improbable stick-like appendages tenting at odd angles. The dust-smoothed concrete floor held a history of delicate movement. At the centre, warmed by an invading shaft of sunlight, curled the largest snake that I had ever seen. Its flat wedge of a head turned to stare, tongue tasting the air.

The distant sound of hammer striking stone echoes around the quarry walls, repeating until the original sound is lost with its copies. A shout, indignation tapered by distance, is muffled by the scrape of booted feet: my feet, impatient to be away, while hand and eye continue to work, capturing detail, blurring lines. Is that thunder? Rocks tumble and slide, promising death to those who labour beneath the overhang. I snatch a breath, mouth stretched to cry a warning. The screech of a hawk on the hunt fills the air; trimming feathers to an arrowhead it dives.

This is the place to walk: where shadow encompasses the meadow and the only sounds are the buzz of insects and the inconstant digestion of sheep. Walk slowly, experience the brush of wide skirts against brittle stems, the soft scrunch of leaves underfoot. And there, on the edge of hearing, the cry of a hawk. The wildness, the raw edge of it, wakes a longing for vistas beyond the farmstead.

A door slams in the distance, a familiar voice shouts. It’s time for chores and supper, and perhaps, a story under the stars.

Pushing through the meadow and back up into the farmyard, moving from sound to sound, encased in noise. An unexpected silence points out the clamour. Sigh—one less burden to carry. One more step and the cacophony that is life snatches us back.

We shared a glance. It was all we needed. A shaky step back, then another, pursued by a rattled warning. Diamond patterns picked out by fingers of sunlight, flexing, arching, making new patterns in the dust.

No, this is definitely not the place.

Climbing back into the car, arms and legs sticking to sweaty leather, doors and windows sealed against the reality of this place, waiting for the aircon to kick in. Our retreat marked by dust trails of our own. Curling fingers of hot air, spun out by hard acceleration, grab at the bumper.

Writing in the Hayward Gallery

I spent a fun and creative writing afternoon writing in the Hayward Gallery. The writing was guided by exercises provided by Shaun Levin, and inspired by the works of Dayanita Singh and Ana Mendita.

Dayanita Singh: Go Away Closer

Danyanita Singh is an artist and book-maker who works with photography. Photography is just a language: in her work images become texts.

Twilight shifts the world through shades of blue; haphazard lego-brick shapes with snaking pipes and orange maws fill the frame. Each light is a focus for conversation, for contact, as fingers and thumbs dance over glowing screens. Faces bend close; eyes narrow and then widen with delight; lips press together before stretching into a smile. Fingers flick, stroke and scroll. A sudden laugh, head thrown back, a momentary disconnect. The world rushes in: rumpled sheets and the smell of sweat and sex, the bite of hard chairs on the backs of legs, the familiar ache in hunched shoulders. And just for an instant, a glimpse of jumbled rooftops through the window, stretching to the shadow of hills and an empty sky.

Ana Mendita: Traces

During her brief career Ana Mendieta generated an inventive visual language. Using her own body, together with materials such as blood, fire, earth and water, she created visceral performances, which she captured on film.

Traitors’ Rock: a place for the clan to gather to witness the cleansing fire. A place for Marti and me to sneak back to at night, or in the drab grey of dawn, to sift through the charred debris, hoping for coins or trinkets that survived the flames. Sometimes we got lucky; mostly all we got were black-streaked knees and dirty fingernails.

That never stopped us; there was something compulsive about the place. It shouted secrets.

Marti cried sometimes, rubbing tears and snot across her face when I dragged her close to the Rock. I would have to shake her, and hiss that if she didn’t shut up the spirits of the stone would snatched her into the dark. And then I’d give her a piece of jerky to chew while she searched the outer rim of the burn. I had to remind her to give thanks when her grubbing fingers turned up a shiny, as she called it. Facing the Rock, we would touch soot-stained fingers to our foreheads and trace the sacred symbol, silently mouthing the words that bound us to this place.

Stillborn, I watch you. Hollowed out; smiling on the outside. Feel my skin. Don’t I feel solid? You smile and turn away, leave me rough and grieving: a scorched outline. Trace me—smooth fingers along rough surfaces, unwelcome bumps and lumps, caught on the cusp of becoming. No, don’t turn away. I exist only in your gaze. I stand in a frozen attitude of attention. Perceive me; consider me. Give me legs to stretch and walk away… from you.

Tree of lifeIf I stand here long enough, maybe you will see me. Or maybe you won’t. I hold my breath, torn between the two possibilities; not knowing, now, which one I want to come true. Don’t be stupid, I tell myself. Isn’t this why you have come? To be seen, noticed. To move in the same space, breathe the same air, taste life in the same way as you.

I hear the steady hum of voices, breaking into a staccato of shouts and laughter as you draw near. I take a breath, ready to step out, to enter your world. But limbs refuse to move, muscles lock in place. I’m a statue, slicked and pasted and moulded into the background. You saunter past. The moment is lost. Again.

World Fantasy Con 2013

The Hilton Metropole, Brighton. October 31st to November 3rd 2013.

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This was my first World Convention, and by golly was it crammed with great, the good and the very, very interesting! In fact, there was so much going on that I’ve decided to split my posts between what were, for me at least, the key areas.

Let’s start with: Author Readings

There were over 75 separate author readings scheduled over the four-day programme; with such a packed programme of panels and interviews, I had to agonise between competing interests to get the most out of each day. Author readings are my favourite part of a convention. I love listening to authors reading their own work, especially when it’s new and the writer is genuinely interested in the questions and ideas of their listeners.

Joe Abercrombie, fun and entertaining as always, read from his upcoming YA novel. Yes, YA, now that’s a surprise! His foray into the young adult market will hopefully garner new readers into the fold, and yet still appeal to his solid adult readership. The piece had that same gritty, in-the-face quality that makes Abercrombie’s writing so compelling. When asked if he’d really toned his writing down for younger readers, he replied: well, there are a lot less ‘fucks’. The book, which will be out next year, is the first in a trilogy.

James Barclay read a piece that in his own words was a ‘very, very early draft’ of a new book due out in 2015. The premise was new and interesting, featuring the uneasy relationship between Drakes (a dragon-like life-form developed from alien DNA) and their pilots/riders. As always the depiction of battle, in this case an aerial one between rival ‘drakes’, was well paced, keeping us all on the edge of our seats. James was keen to elicit the opinions of the group, and talk about the background and ideas that inspired this latest book. I can’t wait to see this book in print.

I was very excited to attend my first ever reading by Peter F. Hamilton. He gave us all a real treat—starting with a new Paula Mayo piece (one of my favourite characters!), followed up by a sample from his new children’s book Queen of Dreams. This book includes his daughter, Sophie, as sky dancer princess (not a faery, he said, as that would make him a faery king). Hamilton finished the reading with another cracking story, which was cut short as time was called by one of the ever vigilant ‘red coats’. With just two pages to go, he offered to finish reading the story outside the Reading room. Most of us gathered happily around a table to listen to the concluding section—it was well worth it!

Apart from scheduling-in my favourites, I attended a few readings from authors that were new to me. One such, Lawrence C. Connolly, was of the old-world storyteller mould. He told three stories, from memory, in a vivid and captivating manner. An enjoyable and unforgettable experience. At the end he posed a number of riddles to the audience, and gave away copies of his books to the first to shout out the right answer (I wasn’t quick enough (sigh)). Lawrence C. Connolly is one to follow, and I will be hunting down his collection of short stories, This Way to Egress, as soon as I’ve finished this post.

My Milford Writing Group Adventure

The Milford Writing Group is comprised of published authors of speculative fiction (includes Science Fiction, Fantasy, and all their sub-genres). The authors gather once a year, usually in September, to workshop ideas and discuss work in progress. This year I was eligible to attend (you need at least one professional sale), I booked my place in March and spent the next few months looking forward to the experience. I was not disappointed.

Over a week since I got back and I still feel crammed with ideas for my novel. I’ve made a start, of course I have, but what I really need is time to focus and work.

The Adventure

ImageThe venue: Trigonos, sited amongst the impressive beauty of Snowdonia, is perfect for a bunch of writers to work both creatively and critically, while offering outlets for those with an inclination to walk, jog, climb and generally explore.

The writers: fifteen in total, including three newbies (of which I was one)—a diverse group of friendly and talented people whose professional approach to writing was matched by their sense of fun.

The process: in a day liberally spiced with excellent meals, and breaks for home made biscuits and cake, there was space for several hours of writing (or catching up with critiques) in the morning, followed by a focussed critiquing workshop in the afternoon.

But what was it like, I hear you cry, to be part of such an adventure?

A little scary at first, but exciting too. And, oh my god, bloody hard work.

After a convivial breakfast, I spent the mornings working on a new chapter for my book, inspired by the general buzz of creativity about the place, and only occasionally distracted by the chickens foraging in the meadow just beyond my window. I didn’t always make it to the 11am drinks and biscuits gathering; it’s hard to stop when you’re caught in the flow. The more energetic amongst us went for walks around the lake, or runs to/from the desolation of ‘Mordor’. The truly adventurous scrambled their way up mountainous trails in both rain and shine.

The afternoon workshops were both challenging and incredibly useful. The critiques offered were professional, honest, no-punches-pulled assessments that also offered support and, quite often, generated ideas on how to solve problems or take stories forwards. I must admit that after working through five or six stories with the group, I escaped back to my room for a much needed nap before dinner!

Evenings were spent in the Library with a comforting log fire, drinks and, of course, chocolate. A satisfying end to the day in the company of other writers: lively conversation, laughter, games, and for some the fine art of knitting and crocheting. I was introduced to the game of Bananagram, a great twist on traditional Scrabble, which I look forward to teaching to my (grown up) children.

After five days of solid work (Sunday to Thursday) we were all ready for the Friday outing. Gwydir Castle—one of the most haunted homes in the country—offered sculpted gardens, wonderful trees (huge cedars planted in 1625) and rather haughty peacocks. The house itself was full of original artefacts and an ancient presence that will find its way into my writing, one way or another.

It was hard to say goodbye on Saturday morning, both to the place and to everyone in the group. But on the other hand, I was so full of ideas that I couldn’t wait to get back home and start work on the rewrite of my opening chapters.

I’ve already booked my place for next year, and can’t wait for Milford 2014!

Details for Milford 2014 can be found here.

I like distractions…

There comes a time when I just can’t look at it any more–and by ‘it’ I mean my dissertation. So, I took a break and wrote a fun (but interesting!) article for Astronaut.com. I found my self decidedly cheered up by their return email and the posting of ‘On The Coat-Tails of Science Fiction’ to their site that very morning.

The Coat-Tails of Science Fiction

Refreshed and reaffirmed… I guess  it’s time to get back to IT.

R’Ha

Susan May Oke:

Worth Watching!

Originally posted on FILM ANTHROPOLOGY:

shortscifiytKaleb Lechowski, is the creator of a short film called R’Ha.  The short film is featured on Kaleb’s Vimeo Channel and since then a lot seems to be happening with Kaleb and a possible feature length version of the film.

Star Wars Producer Rick McCallum, the former head of Lucasfilm, will be jumping on board as Producer.

More info is available at the following websites:

http://www.facebook.com/rha.movie

Tumblr:  kaleblechowski.tumblr.com

Hartmut Zeller – Sound
hartmutzeller.de

Dave Masterson – Voice acting
imdb.com/name/nm2717717/

Scott Glassgold / IAM Entertainment – Representation
scottglassgold@iamsports-ent.com

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/57148705″>R´ha [short movie]</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user15732347″>Kaleb Lechowski</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

 

Direct Link URL: http://vimeo.com/57148705

-E

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Writing Workshops and Getting Published

Around this time last year I participated in a series of workshops that explored ways of engaging with the city of London via writing. Entitled ‘Write Around Town’ and facilitated by writer Shaun Levin, each workshop took place in a different venue. I found myself writing in galleries and museums, department stores and cafes. All fun, and more importantly, great prompts for creativity.

As a primarily science fiction writer, I surprised myself by writing a couple of pieces of fairly decent ‘general’ fiction. The work generated during the adventure of ‘writing around town’ has now appeared in an anthology, published by Tree House Press and edited by Shaun Levin. The anthology is entitled ‘Writers in the Crowd’ and can be found both on Amazon, and more pertinently on the Tree House Press website.

My story: Junction 13: There and Back Again is, believe it or not, about driving on the M25. Sounds dry, huh? Well, to my surprise the piece really took hold of me; it wasn’t exactly a pleasure to write, but the damned thing wouldn’t let me go until I’d finished it.

Fortunately for me, I am within spitting distance of completing my MA in Creative Writing. This means that I am at liberty to sign up for the next ‘Write Around Town’ course, which starts in October this year. I’m looking forward to meeting new people, and writing for fun in interesting places. And you never know, some of the work may well appear in print.