Term two writing courses

Term two is approaching fast (where did term one go?). If you are interested in one of my writing courses, be quick — there are only a few places left.

Monday afternoon — Writers Workshop at Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre (one or two places available)

Tuesday morning — Fiction Writing at Span Community House (booked out)

Wednesday morning — Thornbury Writers Group at Span Community House (a few places available)

Wednesday night — Creative Writing at Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre (one or two places available)

At night the headlights of the trucks out on the highway cast moving shadows on the wall

One of my favourite musicians, Melbourne Blues legend Chris Wilson, has lost his battle with cancer.

A handful of my memories of Chris:

‘Live at the Continental’ was one of the albums that changed my life — played to me for the first time in a grungy share house in Fitzroy by the man would become my partner, the father of my children.

We saw Chris perform at Apollo Bay Music Festival the night before rushing to hospital for the emergency caesarean birth of our first baby.

‘Spiderman’ was the soundtrack to my long lonely days at home caring for a sick, premature baby.

Some of the best afternoons/evenings of music I can recall were Fridays at Yah Yah’s in Smith Street Fitzroy, when Chris had a residency there. I remember the night he announced to the audience the upcoming publication of my first novel!

I think I kind of, maybe, stole a little bit of a line from ‘Money Go Round’ for my second novel — about the streets looking silver, but it was just the rain.

Thank you, Chris Wilson, for the music.

Yah Yah’s 2015

*The post title is a line from ‘Wolves’ by Chris Wilson

Ep: 97 Tania Chandler – Please Don’t Leave Me Here

The Book Podcast

Is Brigitte a loving wife and mother, or a cold-blooded killer?

Nobody knows why she was in the east of the city so early on the morning she was left for dead by a hit-and-run driver.  It was the Friday before Christmas 1994 – the same day police discovered the body of a man beaten to death in her apartment.

Fourteen years later, Brigitte is married to the detective who investigated the murder, which she claims to have lost her memory of in the car accident.  They have young twins, and seem to be a happy family.  Until the reopening of the cold case.

Please Don’t Leave Me Here is about loss, love, and lies.  It is about pain, fear and memory and above all it is about letting go.

Read more about Tania here

Six word synopsis:  Murder, memory loss, truth or lies

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Last Christmas

A short tale for the Grinches and Scrooges out there

‘How many kids you got, love?’ says the man in the multi-level car park. He’s wearing a knock-off Nirvana t-shirt — you’ve seen them for five dollars in Big W.
          ‘Three.’ You open the boot of the Tarago.
          ‘Same here. Good car?’
          ‘Yes. I’ve had two of them.’ Second-hand, of course. You drove the first one until it rattled so much your insides were milkshake. ‘The universal joint goes on them eventually, but no other problems.’
          ‘Been looking at the Taragos for a while now,’ he says. ‘What do you do for a living?’
          ‘I’m a writer, but here I am to sell make-up, because there’s no money in writing.’
          And everything and everybody is fucked, especially all the fucking fuckers who wouldn’t give you a fucking arts grant so you could just finish writing your book instead of doing meaningless fucking jobs.
          ‘No money in anything these days, love,’ says Nirvana man, whose teen spirit dried up at least twenty years ago. ‘Have a good one anyway.’
          You hoist out the massive, soul-black suitcase full of products and the canvas bag holding the demonstrating table, and wheel and lug them towards the shopping centre entrance. You take photos on your phone of landmarks along the way — breadcrumbs to help you find your way back. Think of this as preparation for hell: 35 degrees outside and at least a hundred more trapped in here, charcoal grey, the smell of exhaust fumes. Sweat trickles down inside your polyester uniform. Car tyres squeal and horns beep — crazed Christmas shoppers competing for parking spaces, desperate to max out their credit cards on shit nobody needs.
          You have to weave and negotiate a speed hump because a car, adorned with reindeer antlers and red nose, is poking out too far. If the CCTV camera wasn’t watching you’d rip those stupid, fucking decorations off and stomp on them. They anger you inexplicably, almost as much as the stick-figure-family bumper stickers — Dad barbequing, Mum shopping, the kids skiing and playing tennis and violin. They live in nice stick-figure houses with air-conditioning, FoxTel and Thermomixes. Houses that don’t have leaking pipes, holes in the floor and rats living inside the walls. Santa will be bringing iPhones, PlayStations and Nike shoes for Christmas. Stick-figure Mum is not a writer.
          Walking in a winter wonderland ... The anaemic lighting inside would be enough to trigger a panic attack if you hadn’t taken your meds. It has all the ambience of, well, a suburban shopping-centre food court. People are eating fried dim sims at 10a.m.
          The pharmacy looms on the far side of the food court. Your back hurts. Keep going. Don’t fuck up. You promised you’d be good this time. That you wouldn’t quit after three days (like the last job), or antagonise the customers, or argue with the manager. Things are tougher now. But simpler — finish the manuscript, or make the mortgage payments. So turn that frown upside down!

Joy to the world …
          ‘You got lash primer?’ asks the young mother with spider-leg eyelashes.
          ‘I hope not. It sounds painful.’
          ‘It prepares your lashes for mascara.’
          ‘No, but I can give you a one-minute make-over.’
          ‘Haven’t got time.’
          ‘It’ll only take a minute.’
          ‘Where’s the kids’ lipsticks?’
          ‘Lipstick for children?’ An annoying blip-blip sound emanates from her pram. You peek at the little cherub inside playing a game on an iPhone. With her other hand she shovels, from a large tub, into her chubby face what appears to be a melting, rainbow-coloured ice-cream-and-lolly concoction.
          ‘Cheyenne loves the Tutti Frutties,’ says the mother.
          ‘Mmm, yummy.’

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas …
          The old woman with the pixie haircut teeters at the line where the faux-timber floor meets the shiny white tiles.
          ‘Free colour matching today.’ You flourish your make-up palette at her.
          ‘I’m scared,’ she says, ‘of slipping over when I come to get my prescriptions filled. I bought extra-grippy shoes especially for here.’ Still, she remains rooted to the spot, staring at the treacherous surface.
          You put down the palette, offer your arm and guide her to the prescriptions counter. She tells you how she and her husband used to go dancing at the Flinders Street station ballroom. He was a good dancer, her Eddie. And handsome too. A bit like Jimmy Dean back in the day. Cheeky devil always said her eyes sparkled so much they put the stars to shame. She can’t remember what happened to her blue dress with the beading on the bodice.

Silent night …
          ‘Have you tried our number one best-selling foundation?’ You smile at the middle-aged woman with grey regrowth and crumpled shirt. She returns a cold, empty gaze; you sigh inwardly — you’re not going to make your target today. ‘Let me give you a quick make-over.’ Bigger smile.
          She surrenders and you apply the stuff to one side of her face with the fabulous blending brush. ‘Wow! Your skin looks amazing.’ You hold up a mirror to show her. She doesn’t look amazed. ‘Now I’ll do the other side for you. Can’t have you going out half-done, can we?’
          She closes her eyes and her shoulders relax. You stop yakking about the features and benefits of the mineral and botanical ingredients, and she tells you it feels nice. Her son is in critical care at the hospital. She hasn’t slept for a long time. The hint of a smile tugs at the sad corners of her mouth as you sweep bronzing powder across her cheeks. She can’t remember the last time she did anything for herself. She thanks you, and asks if you’ll be here next week. She buys the make-up.

And so this is Christmas …
          On the way out, you smile and nod at the soda-machine demonstrator struggling with a trolley full of equipment and his own oddly shaped bag on wheels. ‘Have a good Christmas, love,’ he says.
          ‘You too.’
          Your suitcase feels a little lighter as you lift it back into the car.

Writers workshop

There are a couple of places available in my ESTABLISHED WRITERS WORKSHOP at Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre.

Explore creative writing through practice and discussion.

Suitable for writers confident in their genre but open to development. Your fiction or non-fiction welcome for discussion/feedback. Articles on writing skills, examples from some of the best poets and writers as well as writing prompts provided.

Times: Mondays 1.30pm – 3.30pm
Tutor: Tania Chandler

Further details: www.cnlc.org.au

Writing retreat

Because I am tortured by the compulsion to not only write stories, but also document every little thing I see and do, here is a blog post about my recent writing retreat experience (condensed version!).

So, I’m off now to my writing retreat (read: isolated cabin out in the bush with no wi-fi or washing machine, but affordable). I’m going to work on my manuscript that terrifies me. Don’t worry, I’ll be OK …



I picture part of my novel set in a place where I lived in my youth. I should have realised that coming back here — where I haven’t been for years, except for funerals — would be confronting. A strange, hopeful yet empty feeling gripped me as I drove the flat, dusty roads. Like returning ‘home’, but knowing that no family or friends are waiting anymore. Every road, every turn, holds a memory: there’s the parking bay where we had to stop when my daughter was little and she got car sick; there’s the spot where I blew up my Camira because I didn’t put water in the radiator; that’s the turn-off to the house where we used to live …

Enough nostalgia! Crying to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Castle on the Hill’ is ridiculous!

Writing retreat not so hellish after all.

Through the window of my little cottage:
Treated-wood porch — boards of clay-yellow and dust-grey. The screws in pairs look like eyes, the scratches below them like mouths. A fly is dying, kicking, spinning, spinning. A green-and-brown ceramic duck leans over the edge of the porch, into the dry air as if it were water. Above, from the awning, a gum leaf twists, dangling from a thread of spider’s web.
Long shadows are becoming one, covering the earth. Light filters through trees; breeze ruffles leaves gently. The landscape is almost colourless — Tom Roberts faded greens and yellows. Clumps of dry grass grow out of clay. Cracks in the earth. A stony, bitumen driveway leads to the road. The fences are in need of repair. The white letterbox leans sideways towards the give-way sign. Trucks gear down and rumble past on the main road. Sunlight glints off chrome.

Across the road, the cow-milking shed is more rust than tin. The tank behind the shed resembles a space-ship or a giant silver breast with a nipple on top. Cattle graze in the long grass of the paddock. They look like brown rocks in a sea of wheat-coloured foam.

The light takes on a golden hue. The distant sky is white. At the horizon, dark trees stand still, cow-coloured, tinged with blue.

Birds call.

Hints of pink. The cows are coming home. Headlights are flicking on. A kookaburra laughs.
The solar lights rimming the porch of my little cottage are lighting up. The trees are dark silhouettes against the sky. The clock on the wall ticks. Trucks zoom along the main road, lit up like Christmas trees — white, orange and red.

I am sharing my writing retreat with mice. In the dead of the night, in a cabin out in the bush, it’s hard to tell the difference between the sound of mice and that guy from Wolf Creek.

Luckily I bought some cheery reading for when I can’t sleep.

5–6 Get up (no alarm set)
9 Walk around property ½ hour
9.30 Breakfast
10–2 Write
2 Lunch
2.30–5.30 Write
5.30 Walk around property ½ hour
6 Wine and music time
? Write
? Dinner
? Write
10–11 Bed, reading

Wine and potato chips for dinner?
Why not?
No shower since Monday morning?
Oh well, maybe tomoz.

Cottage, olive groves, weird wool-less sheep

Mice were quieter last night, but I woke with a sore, throbbing right arm and pins and needles in my hand.

Me: I can’t feel my fingers!
Brain: I’m not surprised — after sitting and writing for so long at a very un-ergonomic table and chair. You need to adjust your posture, take regular breaks and do some stretches.
Me: I think it’s a stroke!
Brain: Can you poke out your tongue straight? Somebody told me that’s how to tell if it’s a stroke.
Me: [Rushing to bathroom, poking out tongue in mirror] Heart attack?
Brain: It’s not a heart attack.
Me: Some other illness …
Brain: Stop being silly.
Me: I think I can drive to the town, make it to a doctor in time.
Brain: No. We’re not leaving until we have a first draft.
Me: Maybe just to a chemist. Get some aspirin to thin the blood. And some bandages, just in case.
Brain: Sit down and get back to work.
Me: I can’t. I can’t breathe.
Brain: Breathe. If you’re good, we might go for a drive to the river later.
Me: You mean leave the cabin? [deep breathing into hands]

One of the weird wool-less ewes had a lamb this morning.

It wasn’t mice, but flies that kept me away last night. I’m not one to take fly-spray lightly, but the buzzing bastards annoyed me so much that I got up and sprayed them. And then stressed about the dangers of inhaling the chemicals from the spray in the air.

Hand is better, but now shoulders are aching and throat is sore (what could they be symptoms of?).

Through the window of my little cottage:
The warm night has melted into a cooler morning. The light, of indistinguishable colour — white / blue / grey — brushes over the darkness. The gum trees are silhouettes. A rooster crows. Birds chirp, warble and twitter. The constant traffic hum from the main road becomes heavier.

Oh, wow, look! A rubbish truck! It’s emptying the bin on the roadside. So interesting.

Time to leave the cabin for a bit?

I am leaving the cabin today. Didn’t yesterday. But, yes, today I am leaving the cabin! Going for a drive to the river. Although I’m worried that I won’t be able to find my way back here (maybe take my laptop with me, just in case).

Leaving cabin.

Here I go …

(Later) Left the cabin. Tried to find my childhood home, but couldn’t. Found the river.

The river
Dead leaves, dry grass and strips of bark crackle-crunch under foot. At the edge of the embankment, willows hang next to dying gum trees, half-uprooted, leaning, reaching towards the brown water. An almost vertical drop of pale-yellow clay leads the way down to the river. It meanders around slimy rocks, and fallen trees, bark-shed, grey, their snarly roots exposed. Blue sky and woolly grey clouds shimmer on the surface. Birds call, insects flitter and the breeze annoys the long wheat-coloured grass. It feels like somebody is watching. Just the trees — watching and whispering to each other. I don’t like it down here.

It wasn’t mice or flies or dead hands or trees that kept me awake last night. It was a prick of a mosquito — buzz, buzz, buzz in my ear all night long.

I hear it’s raining in Melbourne. Don’t think it ever rains here. Looks like another warm one today.

Spoke too soon — it’s raining here now. The drought has broken; the dust is being stirred up anyway.

Ten minutes later … Rain’s stopped now. Back to work.

Later (night, dark) … OMFG — a storm. A big storm! Lightning, thunder, wind, rain. I’m in a Stephen King novel. Help! Mummy!!!

Despite mice, flies, hypochondria, mosquitos and wild storms, I finished my first draft.

My little cottage in the wilderness was the perfect place to work on this stage of my novel. I think Sidney (my protagonist) would be pleased with how I have used the surroundings to build her world.

Time to go back to the real world now. It might take me a while to adjust, having not spoken to anybody, aside from my sheep friends, in six days.