Here are the latest ‘demo’ recordings from my songwriting collaboration with composer Chris Purcell – shared with the New England community and farther afield as part of an Arts Project called ‘Stories in Song’, generously funded by Arts North West and Regional Arts NSW. Since receiving the funding from Regional Arts NSW in July – which enabled Chris and me to pay guest vocalists from Armidale, Uralla, and Bellingen – we’ve recorded songs with local Armidale musicians Camille Dunsford and Greg Windred, and with Georgie Chorley, a Jazz Vocalist from Bellingen, and mezzo-soprano Ruth Strutt (formerly from Uralla) who has been working as a Principal Artist with Opera Australia. I really love hearing other people’s renditions of these songs, and Chris and I are both keen to continue working with guest vocalists as we record the remaining 20 songs from our collection. Stay tuned …
I’ve been living in paradise for the past week and a half at Gunyah – an Artist-in-Residence program at North Arm Cove, near Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest on the mid-north coast of NSW. Such evocative place names. I know very little of this area, but I’ve loved every moment of being here with my fellow artist-in-residence, Isabelle Devos. From Isabelle, I’ve learned about the wonders of Luci Lights (especially the candle lantern), zero-alcohol wine (sounds boring but it’s a good option at times), ‘Neatloaf’ (vegetarian meatloaf), fried bananas with melted chocolate sauce (so good!) and the AeroPress Go Coffee Maker. Thanks Isabelle!
My Gunyah routine has consisted of a morning coffee on the window seat overlooking the ever-changing waters of North Arm Cove, then a long walk past a variety of interesting letterboxes and house styles, meeting local residents and dogs, and then home – yes, it feels like home – to work on ‘One Fork, One Knife, One Life’ – a new memoir project that reflects on the background and experiences of my parents, who came to Australia from the Netherlands in 1959. With the help of a 2019/20 Create NSW Small Project Grant (a wonderful validation of this new step forward) and the nurturing creative environment of Gunyah, I’ve now completed the first big baggy draft of ‘One Fork, One Knife, One Life’. The draft is currently an unwieldly ‘prose blob’ that needs wrangling into shape and whittling down, but it exists and I’m feeling excited about beginning work on the next stage. To help with the task ahead, I’ve been dipping into some of my favourite memoirs – Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick – and other books on writing memoir and creative nonfiction such as Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington and The Situation and the Story, also by Vivian Gornick.
I’ve particularly enjoyed the jetty at Gunyah, where I’ve tuned in to the tides, listened to the water gently lap against the shoreline, and occasionally spotted dolphins. Thank you, Gunyah – and thanks also to Create NSW – for bringing me to this stage. Applications for 2021 Gunyah Residencies are now open until 30 November and Create NSW Small Project Grants are open until the end of June 2021 (or until the money runs out). Go for it!
Here are the latest ‘demo’ recordings from my songwriting collaboration with composer Chris Purcell – shared with the New England community (and further afield) as part of an Arts North West Micro Grant project. Chris and I wrote ‘A Lullaby of Love’ in 2015. It was one of the first songs we wrote together and is part of ‘Lullaby & Lament’, a song cycle that traces the journey from cradle-to-grave. We wrote ‘Wanderlost’ in early 2019 and the song is part of a collection called ‘Tattoo Songs’. Finally, we wrote ‘Come Lie With Me’ late last year, and it’s still one of our favourites.
Along with the recording – and yes, we are still besotted with the TASCAM DP-30SD – Chris and I have been busy recruiting experienced vocalists and musicians from Armidale, Uralla and Bellingen to help us record more of the songs. Along with the Micro Grant funding support from Arts North West, we’ve recently been awarded a $3000 RAF Relief grant from Regional Arts NSW to pay the vocalists and musicians involved in the recording of our songs. Thank you, Regional Arts NSW!
Okay, here we go – Chris Purcell and I have recorded, mixed and mastered our first song on the Tascam DP-03SD and we’re feeling mighty happy with ourselves. The song is called ‘The Time of the Horses’ – and this first horse out of the gate just happens to be our most recently written song. Generally, how it works with us is that I write the lyrics and Chris sets them to music. The lyrics are always first, and then the music. Even though Chris and I have written songs on our own, we both really enjoy the collaborative nature of our musical partnership. We’re keen to work with other songwriters and recording artists from the New England area and further afield, and we’ll soon begin inviting guest vocalists and musicians into song-room central. I’m feeling excited that we can finally record our eclectic collection of songs, which fall into genres of country, folk, pop and jazz. Owning a machine like the Tascam DP-03SD is very empowering. Thanks again Arts North West – and thanks to Jennifer Greaney for being such a wonderful support for this Arts North West Micro Grant project!
A few weeks ago, I successfully applied for an Arts North West Micro Grant for $600. I’ve used this money to buy a portable recording unit so that Chris Purcell – my musical collaborator – and I can make some quality digital ‘demo’ recordings at home to share with our local community and further afield. Over the last five years, Chris and I have written 27 songs together, and we’re keen to launch these songs into the world. At the moment, neither of us have the resources to record a professional CD, so the Tascam DP-03SD is the next best thing. The unit arrived a week ago, and Chris and I have met three times already in ‘song-room central’ at Chris’ house. It’s been very exciting to experiment with different ways of recording voice and guitar to achieve the best results. A huge learning process for me, but thankfully Chris has some experience with sound engineering. In the company of our adoring fans – Chris’s dogs Ruby and McGregor – we’ve recorded two songs, and mixed and mastered one song. Chris has also bought an Epiphone steel string acoustic guitar from Black Dot Music in Armidale to use as our primary recording guitar. It’s all going extremely well, and we’re hoping to complete and post our first song next week. Thank you, Arts North West, for this wonderful opportunity!
The Backtrack Boys documentary has been officially released and is screening in cinemas and other venues across Australia. It’s wonderful to see this inspirational film affecting people’s hearts and minds – Russell Crowe sent out an endorsement through Twitter, and the film won best documentary award at the Byron Bay Film Festival (as well as a string of Audience Favourite Awards at other film festivals). Well done to all the BackTrack boys, to Bernie Shakeshaft and to his fabulous team at BackTrack Youth Works, and to filmmaker Catherine Scott who brought this story together.
From 2007 to 2014, I was a volunteer youth worker/researcher at BackTrack, and I wrote about my experiences in a memoir called Wild Boys: A Parent’s Story of Tough Love (UQP, 2015). For the inside story on how Bernie Shakeshaft and his team of helpers transformed a fledgling grass-roots youth welding initiative into a hugely successful youth work organisation, Wild Boys is the perfect ‘companion book’ for the Backtrack Boys documentary. Bernie’s innovative youth work practices were in place right from the start, and they can be easily replicated to help other young people across Australia to reconnect with their communities.
Over the last two months, the current group of boys in the BackTrack school program have been helping me out with various garden jobs. I’ve really enjoyed re-connecting with the BackTrack boys in this way – they’ve carted compost and mulch, cut down trees, stacked wood, and are building me compost bins and a new clothesline. Along with their teacher, they work bloody hard … and the world feels like a better place when they’re here.
The BackTrack boys rock!
It’s my last day in the Clarke Cabin at the Katharine Susannah Prichard (KSP) Writers’ Centre in Perth. It’s been a varied couple of weeks for me – brights and darks – but that’s life. Someone dear to me had advanced cancer, and I felt very far away from my family at times. But yesterday, I discovered the guest books that are kept in the Aldridge Cabin. I wish I’d read though these on the first day of my stay — so many inspirational writers, so much practical advice on where to walk, where to eat, and where to go when you need to get away.
Like other writers have mentioned, it seems to take a few days to settle in. After years of living in regional NSW for years, I’m not used to the sounds of the city. But after a few days, the noise from the planes and the traffic didn’t seem to bother me as much. Instead, the birdcalls in the garden and the buzz of the bees outside my cabin seemed to intensify. I loved living amongst the garden at KSP. On sunny days, I took a blanket outside and lay under the trees, reading Tracy Farr’s novel The Lives and Loves of Lena Gaunt – marvelling at the fact that I was lying outside on a blanket, reading. Such a simple joy.
Over the last two weeks, I made good progress on a new memoir project, and I feel very fortunate to have been at KSP with Cath Drake (all the way from London!) and Jen Mapleson (all the way from Roleystone 30 minutes away!). We had some fun times – sharing meals in the kitchen, laughing about the cats, visiting cafes in Mundaring and Darlington Road, and talking about writing. One afternoon, we had a very special time ‘clearing the energy’ up at the house where Katharine and her husband Hugo Throssell once lived. I’ll always remember that afternoon – the smell of sage, rosemary and gum leaves, the bouquets of wildflowers, and the honesty of our intentions.
Another highlight was an impromptu tour with garden volunteer extraordinaire Fern Pendragon – where I heard the story of how Katharine and Hugo created the clay path which Fern is painstakingly restoring. I also enjoyed seeing the inside of Katharine’s studio, and was impressed by the writers I met in the Thursday Night Writers’ Group and the Nonfiction Writers’ Group who meet at KSP.
Other delights? Cath’s ‘Sundowner’ poetry reading was enlightening, the brownies at Café Mojo in Mundaring were superb, the natural beauty of John Forrest National Park was majestical, the railway tunnel was a spooky thrill, and the dinner at the Principal Bar & Restaurant in Midland with my fellow writers and Mardi May was delicious.
To quote Leonard Cohen: ‘I came so far for beauty’ … and although it was far to come for a two-week Fellowship, I’m glad I experienced the beauty of KSP. I often thought of Katharine while I was in the kitchen up at the house, or when I wandered down the path to my studio – of her living here for fifty years, of the tragedies she experienced, and of her creating the foundation of this writerly haven in Greenmount.
What a woman. What a gift.
Thanks to all the dedicated staff, volunteers and writers who make the KSP experience possible!
The Backtrack Boys is a new documentary about Bernie Shakeshaft and the crew from BackTrack Youth Works. Following on from the early days of BackTrack which I wrote about in Wild Boys, the film features the stories of three boys – Rusty, Zach and Alfie – and shows the life changing transformation they undergo through their involvement with BackTrack and dogs and all that happens at the shed. At the film’s premier at the Sydney Film Festival five days ago, The Backtrack Boys received a well-deserved standing ovation.
Congratulations to filmmaker Catherine Scott and to all the crew at BackTrack!
This workshop in Tamworth tomorrow is going to be fun, and we’re going to cover some important lessons I’ve learned over the last few years … there could still be a few places left, so come on down to the Tamworth Town Library at 11!
A month ago, my dear friend Edwina Shaw and I hosted our second ‘Relax & Write’ yoga and writing retreat for women at Evans Head, on the north coast of NSW. We decided to extend the program over three nights rather than two, which made the weekend more relaxed for everyone – especially as we had people travelling from Sydney to attend. Once again the retreat proved a fabulous success. More than half the women who came along last time returned, and it was lovely to reconnect with them and also good to see how their writing and confidence had improved over the past six months. Both the old timers and the new recruits settled in well to the rhythm of each day with yoga and writing workshops interspersed with plenty of time for leisurely breakfasts and lunches, chats, long walks and swims at the beach, or just hanging out on the cabin verandah.
When I think back on the weekend, I realise that relaxing and writing – and being nurtured through yoga, healthy food, friendship, laughter and picnics – is important for a whole host of different reasons. What do I remember? Champagne and candles, the sound of pens scratching across paper, the old-fashioned pleasure of listening to favourite stories, poems and songs at the open mic night, the deliciousness of Edwina’s roasted walnuts with ice cream and cheesecake, morning light shining through stained glass windows in the yoga studio, the stories behind our collages, the glorious temperature of the ocean, and women reading out extraordinary stories they’d written in the writing workshops – stories I’d wished I’d written myself.
When I told them so, the women kept saying, ‘But I’m not really a writer.’
Actually, you are.
The next ‘Relax & Write’ retreat is scheduled for the weekend of 31st August to 3rd September 2018, and Edwina and I are already planning new workshops and exotic dessert combinations. Full details on the retreat will be available soon, but if you’re interested in coming along, please send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For reviews and photos of past retreats, check out the ‘Relax & Write’ website:
Hope to see you in spring with the other mermaids and scribes at Evans Head!