Happy New Year!!! I reckon 2018 is going to be a good one. I recently heard that I’ve been awarded a 2018 KSP Fellowship — which means I get to spend two weeks in a wooden cabin set in the garden of Katharine Susannah Prichard’s former home at Greenmount in Western Australia. At ‘Katharine’s Place’, I’ll be able to immerse myself in a new writing project about my family history and Amsterdam in World War Two, meet other Fellows and Writers-in-Residence, and be involved with the local community who come along to a range of writing groups at the centre. A huge THANK YOU to the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre for offering me this wonderful opportunity!

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Congratulations to all 2018 Fellows and Writers-in-Residence — and special congratulations go to my friend Edwina Shaw who was awarded one of the Emerging Writers-in-Residence positions!

 

Last weekend, I attended the inaugural Artstate Conference in Lismore. Artstate is a new four-year project by Regional Arts NSW that shines a light on excellence in regional arts practice and explores exciting possibilities for arts and cultural development across the state. Artstate Lismore 2017 was an exciting two-day program of speakers who explored themes of creative practice and creative partnerships. Running alongside the speakers’ program was a multi-genre arts program featuring the rich creative talents of artists from the north coast of NSW. Most of the conference was held around City Hall, and on the grass outside the building, local artist Digby Moran had created a beautiful sand installation about his intimate connection to Bundjalung Country.

Digby Moran Sand Installation

I loved it all – the people, the art, the music and theatre performances, the fabulous morning teas and lunches – but I especially loved the strong focus on Aboriginal arts and arts leaders. Thank you to all those who organised Artstate Lismore! I came away with new friends and new knowledge that will help me advance my creative practice and improve my performance as a regional artist. I also met an old friend at the conference – the amazingly creative Mandy Peters, who is now the Décor Manager of dressing rooms for artists at the Mullum Music Festival and Byron Bay Bluesfest. Mandy and I used to share a house in Annandale in the late 1980s and it was fun to catch up again after so many years.

Mandy and me

As one of the other conference delegates said – ‘Artstate lit the fire in my belly’ – and I feel the same way. Many thanks to Regional Arts NSW who provided me with generous funding to go to this life changing event.  My attendance at Artstate Lismore 2017 was made possible through a Quick Response Grant provided by Regional Arts NSW through the Regional Arts Fund, an Australian Government initiative supporting the arts in regional, remote and very remote Australia.

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On the 4th November, composer Chris Purcell and I will be presenting a songwriting workshop at the Wicklow Hotel in Armidale. This workshop has been organised through my association with the New England Writers’ Centre, and NEWC have done a fabulous job with the poster. Chris and I recently finished our first collaboration together, a song cycle called ‘Lullaby & Lament’ – where I wrote the lyrics and Chris set them to music. Rather than following the traditional path of song cycles about myths, classical tragedies and unrequited love, the songs from ‘Lullaby & Lament’ cover topics such as grief, loneliness, divorce, estrangement and death, as well as love and happiness – universal themes written in words and music that go straight to the heart. Chris and I both write songs on our own as well, but we enjoy collaborating and are currently working on our second project. We’re really looking forward to sharing our songwriting skills with the people who come along. See you there!

Songwriting_Workshop

Relax & Write 2017

Last weekend, Edwina Shaw and I hosted the inaugural ‘Relax & Write’ yoga and writing retreat for women at Camp Koinonia in Evans Head. The retreat was a huge success – we had ten wonderful participants, all at different stages of their yoga and writing practice, but none of that seemed to matter. Edwina began each day with an early morning yoga session, and then we had workshops in memoir and fiction writing, editing and other matters related to submitting work. Between workshops, there was time to write or sleep or go to the beach or have a massage, and then we gathered again in the evenings for drinks and a candle-lit meal in the chapel. Just before everyone went home, we had a collage-making session that provided us all with insights that we weren’t expecting, and made me realise once again that collage is a very powerful medium.

Morning yoga

 

Edwina and I both agreed that we achieved what we set out to do – to create a nurturing environment where a group of women could relax and write and get to know each other and create ongoing friendships. We now have a ‘Relax & Write’ facebook group – a place to share writing opportunities, and support and celebrate each other’s literary efforts. Edwina and I are already planning our next ‘Relax & Write’ retreat for early March 2018, where we’ll offer a new range of workshops in Writing in Scenes, Creating Realistic Dialogue, Songwriting, and Screenwriting.

Three cheers for our first ‘Relax & Write’ retreat … thanks to Marie and Craig for making Camp Koinonia so special, thanks to Johnny West for his fabulous dinners, and thanks to Becky Holland for documenting the weekend with her beautiful photos!

Outdoor writing class

Writing with friends

 

Candlelit dinner

Beach path

Sunrise at the beach

 

logo relax and write

Whether you’re a writer in need of relaxation and a good stretch, or a yoga practitioner yearning to write, this is the retreat for you.

Edwina Shaw and I have been holding our own private writing retreats at Evans Head since 2005 to relax and write and share our stories. This year we’re opening up our retreat to other women who’d like to do the same.

Relax, write and enjoy yourself in a beautiful coastal setting with experienced workshop facilitators and published authors.

Unwind with yoga and free your creative voice with lots of fun writing activities and workshops. All only a minutes’ walk from a glorious beach surrounded by national park where you can swim, walk, laze in the sun or meditate to your heart’s content.

Cost:

$400 for twin share with ensuite or $350 twin share with communal facilities

EARLY BIRD $380 / $330 if booked and deposit of $150 received before 31st July 2017

This includes:

  • all yoga and writing workshops
  • 2 nights twin share ensuite accommodation / or twin share with communal facilities
  • healthy home-cooked meals on Friday and Saturday nights

Optional extras:

  • Massage with Shannon Radke
  • Personalised Editorial Feedback with Edwina or Helena (10 Pages in 20 Minutes).

Program:

FRIDAY

Arrival from 2 p.m.

5:30 p.m.        Welcome nibbles and drinks, introductions

6-7 p.m.          Introductory deep relaxation and writing exercise

7 p.m.              Dinner

SATURDAY

7 – 8:15 a.m.   Gentle morning yoga with Edwina

9:30 – 12:30   Memoir workshop with Helena

12:30 – 3 p.m. Lunch and free time to enjoy the beach (or have a nap!)

3 – 5:30 p.m.   Writing the Body with Edwina.

7 p.m.              Dinner

SUNDAY

7 – 8:15 a.m. Yoga with Edwina

9:30 – 12:30   Writing fiction using yoga techniques

12:30 – 2:30   Lunch and free time

2:30 – 4:30     Self editing with Helena

4:30 p.m.        Feedback and farewells

 

To book or find out more information, please contact me at:

helenapastor2@gmail.com or call 0447 334 665.

We’d love to have you join us … remember, all roads lead to Evans Head!

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Long time, no blog post. I’ve been too busy writing songs, playing guitar, editing a manuscript, dreaming up wild and wonderful projects and chopping wood. Yes, winter has hit Armidale in a big way – frosty mornings, wood heaters, boots and coats. But all of that is about to change. This weekend I’m heading off to the Whitsunday Writers Festival (WWF) at Airlie Beach, where I’ll give a talk about Wild Boys and also present a two-hour workshop on memoir writing. From the looks of the program, Gloria Burley and the WWF team have put together a lovely intimate festival with guests including Sallyanne Atkinson, Mo Khadra, Craig Cormick, Linda Frylink Anderson and Pagan Malcolm. I think it’s going to be a fun weekend – I’ll be staying in a fancy beach resort at the Abell Point Marina and luxuriating in the tropical warmth. I’m really looking forward to this gig!

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Also, I recently met up with my dear friend Edwina Shaw for our 12th writers’ retreat at Evans Head. As always, we had a fabulous time (the photo below is evidence!). Along with our usual reading of each other’s work, Edwina and I started planning an Evans Head ‘Relax and Write Retreat for Women’. This weekend retreat, which will be held in early September, will include fiction, memoir and editing workshops, individualised editorial feedback, as well as yoga classes. More information and the booking form coming soon!

Helena and Edwina Evans Head 2017

 

fourw-twenty-sevenMy copy of FourW twenty-seven arrived the other day, and I was really pleased to see ‘A daughter’s dream’ – one of the songs from Lullaby & Lament: A Song Cycle – published inside its pages. FourW is an annual anthology of poetry and prose produced by Booranga Writers’ Centre in Wagga Wagga. David Gilbey and the rest of the Booranga team have done a fabulous job with this year’s edition, and I particularly love the cover.

‘A daughter’s dream’ is one of my favourite songs from the cycle, and the lyrics are about my father’s death. He died alone, in a hospital room on the Gold Coast, while I was in Armidale. I was planning to visit him the next day, and if things had turned out differently, I would have done all the things I dreamed about in this song:

 

A man, he is dying

in a room all alone

his body decaying

his thoughts not his own.

 

His daughter is dreaming

in a town far away

of the things she will do

of the things she will say.

 

She will tackle her fear

she will look death in the face

she will sing to her father

she will do it with grace.

 

She will wipe down his body

she will kiss his soft cheek

she will place his hands gently

on his chest, as in sleep.

 

She will do all of this

and then she will weep.

 

Two weeks ago, I moved into ‘Writing HQ’ – a 100-year-old house in central Armidale – where I am in walking distance to most things I need, and where I have a backyard that goes on forever. This is the view from my back door, and one day that red-roofed shed will be my writing studio:

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I can’t stop looking at this magnificent garden, which goes on for much longer than the photo shows. Most days I feel like I’m staying at a retreat somewhere, like Varuna or Bundanon, but then I remember that this is actually where I live. I feel very fortunate. When the previous owners renovated the house 18 years ago, they were wise enough to design things in such a way that the garden can be viewed while cooking, washing the dishes, sitting at the dining table, having a shower or even brushing your teeth. I love it!

The garden is full of birds and birdsong. Next door, an elderly Russian birdwoman coos and calls to the birds each morning before she feeds them apples and oranges, placed carefully on sticks near her feet. Sometimes, if the birds are lucky, they get cashews. When I hear her cooing outside, I always think of the song ‘Feed the Birds’ from Mary Poppins.

I have landed in a good place – a haven from the outside world – and I think I’ll stay here for a long time. I’ve been reading about Sunday Reed’s garden at Heide, and also enjoying the poems of Rumi and David Whyte. A print-maker friend from Uralla recently gave me a blossom print for my new house which includes these words by Rumi:

Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you.

Rumi’s words couldn’t be more fitting for the situation I now find myself in. But amidst the house hunting, buying and moving, and the unsettled months I had in Uralla, my creative pursuits have been sidelined. It’s time to steer the ship back in the right direction. I’m hoping to find a publisher for my second memoir, ‘Yahtzee and the Art of Happiness’, so I’m going through the manuscript one more time before I send it away – heeding the lessons I’ve learnt from working with editors such as Judith Lukin-Amundsen, Anne Reilly, Jo Jarrah and Kristy Bushnell. ‘Yahtzee’ is a good, strong memoir about pregnancy and birth choices – written before Wild Boys – and I’m proud of it.

Also, the instrumentation for the song cycle I’ve been working on with Christopher Purcell is nearly complete, and I’m really looking forward to hearing how those songs have developed. In the meantime, I’m going to continue writing my own songs and I remain inspired by the late Leonard Cohen. Halleluja.

 

booranga

… I had to spend my first day as writer-in-residence wandering around downtown Wagga waiting for the exhaust specialist to replace the front and rear muffler on my car.

… I walked around the Charles Sturt University campus and was attacked by noisy miners on several frightening occasions.

… a rabbit-shaped rock outside the verandah fooled me every morning.

… I went downtown and had a haircut which caused me to avoid all mirrors for several days (it’s not such a bad thing to avoid mirrors – at my son’s school, instead of a mirror above the hand basin they have a sign which reads: You are beautiful).

… I had to give a reading at the Historic Council Chambers straight after my haircut, but the audience were so appreciative that I almost forgot how bad my hair looked.

… I caught up with Joan Cahill who I once met at Varuna – I bought her newly published collection of poems and was surprised (and pleased) to see my name in a poem titled ‘Hubris Halved’.

… I felt alone and lonely and happy to be alone – and recognition of these feelings came upon me at various times throughout each day.

… I bought a $3 saucepan at a second-hand shop in Wagga, and later realised it was from Baccarat’s stainless steel range and worth $150 new (this discovery helped me feel a little better about my haircut).

… I went to the Write Around the Murray festival in Albury where I gave a memoir workshop, spoke on a panel discussion and met some wonderful writers – like Sue Gillett, Benjamin Law, and Biff Ward.

write-around-the-murray

… I followed some tracks that ran along the steep hill behind the cottage and came across the largest kangaroos I’ve ever seen.

… I joined David Gilbey’s book group one evening and drank wine and ate delicious cheese and heard many interesting things about The Turn of the Shrew by Henry James.

… I read through a memoir manuscript that I wrote years ago and realised how very hard that time of my life was.

… I treasured the moments the sun shone on the verandah.

… the contracts were finalised on a wonderful old house I’ve just bought in Armidale.

… I heard some sad news about a friend’s daughter which put all my problems into perspective.

… I read through past copies of fourW and loved many of the contributions – especially the work of Alison Eastley.

… on my last day, I gave a memoir workshop and was astounded by the wealth of talent in the room.

… I remembered – once again – that I am a writer.

Thank you Booranga!

 

For the next two weeks, I’m a writer-in-residence at Booranga Writers’ Centre in Wagga Wagga. The drive from Uralla was very long. I mostly followed a flat straight ribbon of a road that ran past glowing fields of canola crops which gave the landscape a strange, surreal Wizard of Oz look. Many creeks and rivers were overflowing from the recent rains and parts of the road were covered with water as well. David Gilbey, president of Wagga Wagga Writers Writers, welcomed me on arrival and I am now comfortably settled in the writer’s flat. Tomorrow, I’m heading off to the ‘Write Around the Murray’ festival in Albury, where I’m giving a memoir writing workshop and appearing on a panel discussion – ‘Mother Lode’ – with Biff Ward, Benjamin Law and Sue Gillett. I’m really looking forward to both of these events and also to attending a host of other sessions at the festival.

The writer’s flat in the old Booranga House is simple and spacious, and the acoustics in the kitchen are wonderful. The best thing, though, is the side verandah, where I enjoy the morning sun while I have a coffee. It’s a good place to stare absently at the bush and the rocks and listen to the birds. I am slowly shaking off the demands of normal life.

booranga-verandah

 

There’s a black cat – “Puss” – that lives under the verandah on my side of the house. Although Puss is a very shy cat, she has gained some notoriety over the years, and has featured in a number of poems by visiting writers. Sandra Treble and Kate Dunn, also part of the Booranga team, care for this black cat with a lot of love. Anyway, Puss reminds me of my own black cat – Sooty – who died last September. I wrote a song about Sooty’s death for Lullaby & Lament: a song cycle. Here are the lyrics:

 

A first lesson in death

Death lies on the road

in the shape of a cat,

in the glare of the headlights

life ends, just like that.

 

A boy weeps loudly

like never before,

a mother cries softly

as she opens the door.

With her parcel of grief,

her parcel of death,

her thoughts all jumbled,

she is filled with regret.

 

Yes, it was only a pet,

it was simply a cat,

but the weight in her arms

is heavier than that.

For her boy, lost in tears,

a first lesson in death.

 

She cradles the cat,

still warm in the night,

calls her boy to her side:

‘Come, say your goodbyes.’

Black Cat, how we loved you,

we teased you and hugged you,

we fed you, we raised you,

and now we farewell you.

 

Yes, it was only a pet,

it was simply a cat,

but the weight in her arms

is heavier than that.

For her boy, lost in tears,

a first lesson in death.

 

Death lies on the road

in the shape of a cat,

in the glare of the headlights

life ends, just like that.