Doing it the Old Way in Sydney Town

I was lucky enough to fly to Sydney for a night on Saturday, and halfway to the airport I realised I’d forgotten my laptop. Being (maybe a little) obsessed with writing my new story, the three hours (return) writing time on the plane was what I’d most been looking forward to.

So I spent $3.95 on a pen and notebook at the airport. The best thing about using a notebook is that you can write while you take-off and land, as long as you’re happy to rest your book on your lap. As a result I got more written than I would have on a computer. The downside was entering it all in when I got back. I hate that shit.

Sydney was a dream. I took no luggage, wore three jumpers and spent most of my time wondering around the Queen Victoria Building. So beautiful, decorative and old; opened in 1898. My mum always took me there to shop when I was a kid in the early (okay, late) 20th century. We used to stay in Sydney at my nan’s for about one week a year.

I also went to the Art Gallery of NSW, which is like the Tardis — much bigger on the inside than the outside, and transports one to various times and relative dimensions in mind-space.

Mum got on the phone to me, telling me to ask a curator to direct me to the painting of Cleopatra and Samson (well, that’s what I thought she said). So I asked a guy in a blue jacket and he said, ‘It’s probably the painting of the Queen of Sheba meeting Solomon,’ and I’m like … WOW! That’s so not what I asked for, but exactly what I was looking for. He told me the gallery had it commissioned, and the pattern on the frame matched the pattern in the painting, which is one of the things mum wanted tell me.

The people in blue jackets not only defend the artworks’ space and dignity, they know stuff, too.

I was thoroughly moved by Patricia Piccinini‘s The Comforter.

The people she creates are so real and emotive.

I also loved the trippy paintings that create optical illusions by artists such as Frank Stella, and that feeling Ugo Rondinone creates with his bright concentric circles, like you’re looking into another dimension.

I got to drink Martinis with my old friend, who is a fine pianist, and his man.

In other news, I got a surprise invite to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow last night at Gold Coast Arts Centre. It was funny and very rude. I’m still chuckling.

Oh, and the Jetstar chick swore at me because I was late boarding the plane. Are they allowed to do that? I figure she knew I had to keep running so I couldn’t stop and punch her.

Hel


Happy New World

Happy Start of the World, everyone!

Actually, from where I sit, the world didn’t end this evening. I trust that, if I’m to believe physicists (and I have the right end of their circular stick in my zero gravity vacuum—uh-oh, that sounds crook)… As I was saying, if I’m to believe physicists and everything that can happen does happen, then in some universes there were angels and wroth on the radar.
Good luck, those infidels. Enjoy the forty days without fundamentalists. And, God, be kind.

Now, on important things, like writing.

I’ve finally edged sideways into steampunk. I was writing a short story for the Dames and Damnation anthology, and created a city in the mountain-rimmed valley of Numinbard. It has buildings intermingled with trees, and a slope running down the valley from north to south. The Riders (Skaters?) carry bricks down from the high northern quarry. They skate down the curving paths with backpacks on their backs, which contain quarried bricks and deflated bubble-coffins. Then they hitch a ride back up through the heated water channels within the mountains, enclosed in their bubble-coffins with enough air to survive the ride. They’re so cool that they sleep through this. Then they get spat out the top in the hot spas in the high north.

I love this idea of using natural energy for motion. Heat rises, gravity…er…inspires descent. Perpetual motion has intrigued me for as long as I can remember, and this is pretty close. They are forces that can be relied upon for a fair while, anyway.

I don’t think this story will turn out to be suitable for that anthology, but that’s okay. It reminds me of a question someone asked at Gold Coast Literati. It’s one I’ve heard a few times, from new writers. It’s along the lines of, ‘What do I do if I get a new idea while I’m writing a story and I want to write that one instead?’

The answer is that you can do whatever you want, because you’re the writer. But you have to finish things, and look for markets for them, if you want to be published. I have no qualms about abandoning anything I’m writing, for a little while or forever, if it turns out I’ve done whatever I had to do with that idea. Hence, I have plenty of half written stories and synopses.

But I do get stuff finished, too. Still, I don’t see the point of forcing yourself to finish something if you’ve fallen out of love with it. If you, as the writer, do not think it is mighty fine work, it must limit the odds that anyone else will.

Good luck to everyone in the ended and continuing worlds. [Perhaps the everything-that-can-happen-does-happen doesn’t apply to things that don’t exist. Physicists, what say your theorems? Do angels, dragons, fairies, gods, exist?]

And when is the next end of the world? These days we’re all so into cycles, you know, New Year, spring, Financial Cycles and continuing Global Crises, Terrible Times ended by Royal Weddings and Murder. The whole end of the world business felt rather fun.

Happy New World : )


Gold Coast Literati

I’ve had a fantastic day hanging out at Robina library, listening to Australian authors speak on a range of topics, including dialogue, fact in fiction, and plot and story.

Authors who spoke included Nick Earls, Tony Wilson, Ilsa Evans, Pamela Rushby, Daniel Ducrou, Phil Brown and Louise Cusack.

I met Nick Earls! Yay. Was it Bachelor Kisses with the creme de menth scene that made me laugh so hard I nearly…well, you know.

It was great to meet Pamela Rushby, too, whose passion for her subject matter is inspiring. I bought her book ‘When the Hipchicks Went to War,’ having read her short story, on the same topic, in One Book Many Brisbanes.

So it was a fun day! But I’m sad that the Literary Feast was cancelled due to lack of numbers. I attended last year and it was a great event, where different authors sat and chatted with us through each course. We sincerely hope it will be on again next year.

The Splinter Group held our own Fringe Literary Feast at Taboon in Robina, and it was delicious.

And congratulations to Gary Kemble for finishing his first draft of Skin Deep.

Better catch some Zzzs.

Helen.


The Perforation

‘Dad, I’m begging you not to go.’ A tear dripped onto my school skirt.

‘Shush, Karen. Come out here.’ He’d opened the sliding door and stepped into our grassy yard, growing wild since the rain.

‘Huh?’

He crept toward the shed at the back of the yard.

‘What’s that noise?’ he asked. I heard a scratch and a yap.

‘Dad?’

He tugged the shed door open. ‘Here he comes!’ A brown puppy galloped to him and to me, then ran circles around our yard.

‘Dad! Is he for me?’

‘Happy 13th birthday, Kaz. Will you turn into a rotten brat, now?’

He ruffled my hair. I pushed his hand off and smoothed my long blonde strands. ‘Yep, just like you.’

#

I went to school and dad went to work, Proofing Lismore against the Perforation. That night he came through our squeaking screen door and plonked Indian takeaway on the table.

‘See, little princess?’ he said. ‘No hole swallowed me up.’

#

Sun blaring in the window was making my bed too hot. I sat up panting. I’d had the dream again: a hole had swallowed the town where dad was working. Roger’s black nose poked open my door and he leapt onto my blanket, claws digging into my ribs, pink tongue licking for my cheeks.

‘Roger!’ I hugged him and stroked his velvet ears, then padded out to the kitchen.

Dad was stepping through the door, draining his coffee mug.

‘You ducking out again?’ I glared at him over Roger’s head.

‘No, Kaz. Just gotta run. I’m on the make ready job for Brisbane. Tomorrow’s Proofing.’

‘Dad, please don’t go, I’ve got this feeling…’

He came back in, dirt crumbling from his boots onto the floorboards. His yellow jacket crinkled, smelling of plastic, as he hugged me.

‘I’ll be fine.’

#

That afternoon I walked out the school gates with friends, pushing my bike alongside. Boys jostled by the fence, showing off for some giggling girls. I turned toward Dina. She was checking BOM on her phone. People used to check the weather. These days, they looked to see what towns or suburbs had vanished. For months, now, nothing had disappeared. I wanted to tell Dina not to look but she was turning to me, pale, her mouth slightly open. I grabbed the phone. Half of Burleigh, gone; Parkwood, gone; the City of Brisbane — I gulped — gone.

Hands were on me, trying to hug me. I needed to get away. I straddled my bike as the girls called for teachers. A few strong pushes on the pedals took me out of their reach.

#

I wheeled my bike onto the train at Robina station. The end of the line was now Park Road station, near the old Brisbane gaol. No-one spoke on the long ride. Some sniffled. I couldn’t cry.

#

I got off the train with my bike, wove through crowds of commuters and frantic loved-ones, then rode along Woolloongabba’s backstreets toward the freeway. As I came to the overpass I saw the crater that had engulfed Brisbane’s centre. The brown river ran, unaltered. Bridges still spanned its width, but metres onto the north bank it looked like the black mouth below had bitten the bridge’s ends off. Where the city had been, the crater gaped, swirling with grey mist.

I looked over to Southbank, swarming with army, Police and council workers wearing orange vests. I searched for the yellow coats of Proofing contractors but saw none.

My dad was in that hole.

#

I made it to the river’s edge and waited for dark, then walked along the riverfront houses of Mowbray Park. Hours passed before I found a kayak that wasn’t chained up and dragged it to the water. The paddle clunked as I slid in, shivering in my wet school skirt and thin cotton shirt. Night would hide my passage upriver.

Small waves lapped the kayak as I fought the tide. Hair blew in my eyes and whipped my neck. My arms and shoulders ached as I finally rowed into the mangroves at what had been the Botanic Gardens. Dark leaves rustled against a silvering sky and beyond them was the crater’s edge. I trudged up to the rim, leaves crunching underfoot.

The crater’s continuous black wall was shiny as fresh tar, with thousands of tiny holes lining the surface, and more perforations within those. I shivered and looked away. It felt like the crater was staring at — probing — me. I squinted into the grey mist that swirled within.

‘Why did you do it?’ I yelled.

‘It’s a girl!’

The man’s shout made me jump. It came from the bridge behind me. Distant footfalls slapped against the road – soldiers running to save me.

‘I’m coming to get him,’ I said, my breath stirring the mist.

And then I dived.

#

‘Girl! Girl!’

The voices were a world away. I stood beside my dad, over a floor of strangers that slept with open eyes. The mist smelt faintly of rot and burnt rubber. Empty black holes riddled all our skins and although dad stood by me he couldn’t speak. He smiled sadly like a damaged photograph.

The soldiers called again so I rose to the crater’s edge.

‘There she is!’ They called. They saw my perforated face. ‘Oh my God!’

When they reached for me I dropped back down.

#

‘Karen! Kaz!’ Dina called.

I rose. Above the crater it was midday. I squinted, scanning the mangroves for Dina. The sun was too bright, it shone through my holes showing that I was obviously horribly empty, so I stepped toward the shade.

A fine fibre net sprung from the ground, catching me like strong spider web. Soldiers ran at me, slipped a canvas sack over my head and threw me on a cold floor. An engine revved, the truck lurched forward.

For the first time since dad’s death — or mine? — I cried.

#

A white room. The ground below my chair was dappled with bright circles, like miniature spotlights, from the lights above shining in and out my perforations. Researchers had probed me with instruments, exchanging horrified looks.

‘Turn off the lights,’ I begged. ‘Let me go back to the darkness.’

My desperation built into a moan, then a scream, shrill and continuous. It shifted from my mouth to emanate from all the black holes in my skin. Hurricanes swirled forth from them, forming one giant, dark whirlwind. The white room greyed, it shook and shattered, as the crater engulfed me.

#

Above the misted darkness a dog was barking.

I brushed my blonde hair back and glanced at dad, still smiling. I stroked his shoulder, avoiding his black holes.

I rose to the crater’s lip, searching for a trap. Leaves crunched under the mangroves, crushed by a big dog’s paws. His fur was dripping and he shook himself then pawed the ground.

‘Roger!’

I knelt. ‘Come.’

He lay down, whined, then crawled to me and licked my hand. My old mobile phone was clipped to his collar. I unhooked it and checked the messages.

Kaz, U xtended th cr8er by callng it. U cntrld th Pr48tn. U can stp it.

My head was hollow. Was that true?

Theyv fnshd Proofng frm Southprt 2 Mlbrn. They think no hls can breach t but theyr wrng. If any1 can stp it U can. Do it!’

Do it.

I scooped Roger up and faced the crater. He whined, begging me not to take him. But I needed him, his help. I jumped, his howl spiralling upward.

We plunged down into dark mist, the fall dragging my hair upwards. I crashed past my father, through the floor. The rushing air buffeted us and I squeezed Roger, tangling my fingers in his hair so tightly that he snarled.

The vacuum began to suck out my breath.

‘Perforation?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ said a hollow voice.

‘Go away,’ I begged. ‘Give my dad and the other people back.’

Infinite gaping eyes turned on me.

‘They’re lost,’ it said. ‘But this…Roger…I want it, too.’

‘Roger? No!’

The Perforation’s focus built. Wind whipped my feet out from under me and I tumbled, clutching Roger tightly. The Perforation’s hunger turned to him. I heard its desire to pierce his fur and translucent skin; to consume his organs and soul.

I screamed, shrill enough to stab my own holes through reality’s branes, and I splayed my fingertips outward, letting Roger fall away. White needles of desperate love shot from my fingertips, penetrating the black cliffs of the crater, piercing every Perforation eye across the world. I dragged them back to me, sucking the entire perforation in through my skin’s craters, with a flow of air to fuel my continuing scream.

The Perforation resisted. BANG: its hold snapped.

Then nothing but drifting silence.

#

I open my eyes. The Earth hovers over my palm. Against space my skin is reversed night sky: silver, with infinite black eyes.

Over wind-blown grass on the freeway’s verge, Roger is galloping home.

I have no home. I am the Perforation.