I’ve entered the final week of my second 21-day Artist Residency in Motherhood. I’ve been chugging along nicely and the page-a-day has become an effortless part of my daily routine, but I’m ready for something new. I’ve just completed an 8-week online course through Writing NSW – Advanced Memoir Writing with Patti Miller – which came my way courtesy of an Arts North West Micro Grant. I enjoyed being a student again in Patti’s course and learnt some useful things. I also met writers from across the country and heard wonderful stories. The weekly group workshopping on each participant’s writing was a fascinating process, and I’m continuing a mini-version of that process with two of the writers I met in the course. We’re going to make our way through the 20 x Workshops in Patti’s course book Writing True Stories, and share up to 2000 words each week. A new challenge ahead!

Well, I made it to the end of my 21-day Artist Residency in Motherhood – and I’ve decided to extend the residency for another 21 days. Yes! The process has been so good for me. Such a simple thing – write a page (or more) a day, mark that day on the Excel spreadsheet, and then let it all go until the next day. Three weeks ago, I had my usual rigid plan of waking up before dawn and knocking off the page first thing, but by the end I was fitting in the page whenever I could … and that was absolutely fine. The pre-dawn routine has its place, especially when deadlines or due or when I’m deeply moored in a writing project … I’ve done that a lot in my life with good results. But for now, this relaxed approach feels good for my creative soul and I’m sticking with it. 

Baby number four, Dangars Falls, 2005

Week Two of my Artist Residency in Motherhood (ARIM) is over, and it went along quite differently to the first week. The early morning routine that I enthused about in my last post was abandoned while I spent five days in the bush with my lover – staying in a mud-brick bunkhouse with no electricity or phone reception, cooking over a campfire, and marvelling at the sight of fireflies each evening. Such magical creatures! The bush camp where I stayed was in a mountainous area of wet sclerophyll forest – full of birdlife and wallabies and the occasional tick or leech. Each morning, my lover and I had breakfast down by the dam at the property, where we watched a friendly Willie Wagtail couple take turns protecting eggs in their cup-like nest on a low branch that hung over the dam. In-between parenting duties, the Willie Wagtails performed all sorts of antics and were very funny. In terms of the work/life balance, the scales definitely weighed heavier on the ‘life’ side – but I rested and relaxed and slept well and still managed to get my page done every day, usually by mid-afternoon. When my laptop ran out of battery, I wrote my page longhand. This second week of my ARIM residency has shown me that I can have a wonderfully indulgent week in the bush and still make progress on my writing. One more week to go and I’m feeling good. 

Baby number three, Brisbane, 1996

I completed the first week of my Artist Residency in Motherhood (ARIM) earlier this morning – a residency where I’m taking the pressure off my creative practice by writing just one page a day, at home. I finish the page first thing each morning (well, after I drink my coffee and write my journal). With this new ARIM routine, I’m achieving something every day, which makes me happy – and I feel like that by seven o’clock in the morning. Some days I’ve written more than one page, but most days it’s been just the one. I haven’t had time to develop the new writing yet, but I’ve got the makings of a stand-alone excerpt from my memoir, and another one on the way – which is more progress than I’ve made in months. I’ve also noticed that I’ve already morphed into a healthier work/life balance … although I have to admit, I’m looking forward to a proper sleep-in soon. Two more weeks to go!  

Baby number two, Armidale, 1993

Tomorrow I’m starting my first Artist Residency in Motherhood (ARIM) – a self-directed artist residency to empower and inspire artists who are also mothers. A few weeks ago, I heard about ARIM through Aleshia Lonsdale’s informative talk on residencies that she did for Orana Arts. If you’re a regional artist in NSW, Orana Arts is an inclusive Arts organisation that has lots of wonderful opportunities and talks for artists working in disciplines. The ARIM site has a D.I.Y planning tool to help you work out what you want to do on your residency, and writing a personal manifesto is part of the process. Here’s my manifesto: 

In common with many parents, the birth of my first child in 1990 changed many things in my life. One of these changes was that I became an artist – a writer. Although developing and maintaining a professional commitment to my creative writing career has been challenged by having four children, I’ve held fast to my writing dreams. It still seems to be a commonly held belief that being an engaged mother and a serious artist are mutually inclusive endeavours. I don’t believe or want to perpetrate this.

Lately, though, I’ve been feeling frustrated that even after 31 years of parenting, I still find it difficult to get uninterrupted time alone. My youngest child is now 17 and will finish his high school education at the end of 2022. In this last stage of active/at-home parenting, I want to change my work habits. I am currently working on two separate writing projects – a memoir and a novella. During my self-imposed 21-day artist residency, I want to write a page a day from either of these projects with ease and enjoyment. I want to take the stress/pressure out of my writing practice, but still make progress on each of the works. I also want to set up a better life/work balance. When the 21 days are over, I hope to be able to continue writing a page a day with ease and enjoyment. 

To achieve my goal, I need to change my routine. A page a day isn’t much and won’t take long. I intend to wake up between five and six in the morning and write a page first thing – so that my intention isn’t lost in the busyness of the day that follows. If I do more than one page over the day, that will be a bonus. The main thing is not to put pressure on myself and to be happy with a page a day. Many books are completed in this way. I will be accountable to myself and write a weekly blog about this process. My residency starts tomorrow – and finishes on Sunday 14 November.  

I’m excited! 

Baby number one, Darwin, 1990

I’m very pleased to be one of the presenters in the ‘By the Book’ video series, an exciting new initiative from the New England Writers’ Centre. Featuring local professional writers, illustrators, editors and publishers, each of these short videos offers tips and advice on a number of aspects relating to book creation and production. In my video, I share some advice I received many years ago from Anne Reilly, a Senior Editor at HarperCollins. Anne and I met at Varuna Writers’ House in 2011, through the HarperCollins Varuna Manuscript Development Awards. Follow this link to read ‘Go where it scares you’, my original blog post about Anne’s method for unlocking your emotional truth to make your writing stronger … and enjoy the ‘By the Book’ video series! 

I am thrilled to be one of two writers shortlisted for the 2020 Varuna/New England Writers’ Centre Fellowship for my new ‘memoir-in-progress’ – ‘One Fork, One Knife, One Life’. Now in its second year, this wonderful Fellowship opportunity exists for writers at any stage of their career, who either currently live in the New England region or who have previously lived there for at least five years. Congratulations also to my fellow shortlistee, Jax Bakewell from Scone. See more about the Fellowship on the NEWC website.

Thank you, NEWC!

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! 

This project is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW.

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!