This is a belated post about a community-inclusive Sunday afternoon concert that Chris Purcell and I held at Kez Watson’s studio/concert space in Armidale on 9 July 2023. The concert featured the involvement of the Firebirds Community Choir (directed by Chris for the past 20 years) and the choir performed five songs in the opening set. After a short break, Chris and I began our ‘Stories in Song’ performance, where we shared the stories behind our songwriting process for a selection of our collaborative songs. We performed six of the songs in the second set, and three guest vocalists performed Pastor & Purcell songs of their choice as well. Kez Watson, who owns the studio space, played her beautiful mandolin on one of the songs. In the time preceding the concert, Chris wrote arrangements to include the choir in two of our songs – with verses for soloists in each of the songs – and the choir joined us back on stage to perform those.

Chris and I really enjoyed sharing our songs and our songwriting process in an intimate acoustic concert space. I was really pleased that seven people – which included choir and non-choir members – volunteered to perform solo in front of an audience, three of them choosing to perform a whole song on their own. That’s a huge step forward for these singers and one they’re now keen to do again. Since the concert, the choir have performed at the Black Gully Music Festival in Armidale. Chris has also just received Arts North West funding to compose further work for the choir.

Many thanks to Orana Arts who provided funding for this project through a Country Arts Support Program (CASP) Grant.  

Well, I’ve come to the end of another period of Create NSW Small Project Grant funding, and it’s been a hugely productive time. Over the past 12 months, I’ve made significant progress on ‘One Fork, One Knife, One Life’ – a work of creative nonfiction (definitely not a ‘small’ project!) that explores my Dutch mother’s wartime and immigration experiences and our mother/daughter relationship. Back in April 2021, I was one of five regional NSW writers invited to take part in Orana Arts’ inaugural inScribe Program – a six-month online mentoring program with lead writer and mentor, Roanna Gonsalves, to develop a short piece on the theme of ‘Centres and Peripheries’ (forthcoming ‘bespoke’ publication in March 2022). This program also included a residency at The CORRIDOR Project in Cowra. I learned so much from Roanna and my peers through this generous program; after the program finished, the inScribe writers decided to continue to meet for a weekly online writing group – and we’re planning to meet in the real world for a second residency at The CORRIDOR Project in Cowra later this year. Because I enjoyed Roanna’s writing workshops so much – and missed them when they were over – I enrolled in an 8-week online Advanced Memoir Writing Masterclass with Patti Miller (through Writing NSW), and then formed a weekly online feedback group with two of the writers that I connected with from the course. Such a gift! Towards the end of the year, I completed a 6-week ‘Artist Residency in Motherhood’ – where I committed to the challenge of writing (at least) one page a day, and to stay calm and creative amidst the daily disruptions and busyness that are still part of my life as a mother, even though my four children are nearly all grown up. Finally, way back in 2020, I was awarded a New England Writers’ Centre/Varuna Fellowship and also a BREW Residency (Bush Retreats for Eco-Writers’) – both residencies were cancelled various times due to Covid lockdowns but are now scheduled for May and July this year. I’m also booked in for a Gunyah Residency in August, so 2022 is looking like my year of residencies. Right now, I feel like I’m on fire as a writer … thanks to Create NSW for helping make that happen! 

My Artist Residency in Motherhood is done. Six weeks – or 42 days – of writing one page a day, of staying calm and creative amidst the daily disruptions and busyness that are still part of my life as a mother, even though my four children are nearly all grown up. Over the last six weeks, I’ve written my pages at home and while staying at remote bush properties. I didn’t develop any sort of stable work routine, but I’ve ticked off each day with a real sense of achievement. This residency has helped me remember that I’m a writer, and no one can take that away from me, even if all I do is write one page a day. 

Burleigh Head National Park, QLD, 1996

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!