Category Archives: Radio

Writing for Small Spaces (ABC Open Blog)

Writing for small spaces

I knew my writing was good when my friend told me he read it in the toilet.

This post is by guest blogger Mary-Lou Stephens.  Moo (as she’s affectionately known around the studios) is a radio broadcaster with ABC Sunshine Coast.  Her memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation was released this month. 

I didn’t mean to become a writer.

Not of books anyway.

I always dreamed of becoming a famous songwriter. I played in bands, put out CDs and did the endless gigs that being an independent musician requires.

It was a fun journey but eventually led nowhere. The doors remained closed.

Writing prose came later and quite by accident. I returned home from a trip overseas with only twelve photos taken on a disposable camera.

A friend pointed out that photography was clearly not my thing and suggested I write about my trip instead.

I did, imaginatively calling it “My Holiday”. My friend enjoyed it so much he kept it in the toilet and read it on his regular visits there.

He told me this was high praise indeed. Higher praise came when he recommended my work to a journalist who was looking for a new columnist for the local paper.

A door began to open. But first there was an ordeal of fire. The journalist asked me for some sample columns.

“Don’t be surprised if I tell you can’t write,” he growled. “Most people can’t.”

I sent him three sample columns and waited nervously.

He rang back that very afternoon. “You can actually write,” he said. The surprise in his voice was obvious.

I wrote a column every week for four and a half years.

Much encouraged and with a lot of words under my belt, I moved on to short stories, a novel and a memoir.

For years now I’ve been writing never knowing if anyone, besides my writing group, would ever read the result.

A publishing deal is the prize is it not?

 Maybe, maybe not.

My memoir has just been published and I am grateful, thrilled that the reviews have been favourable and amazed that people I’ve never met are reading it.

But caught up in the heady spin of publicity I find myself growing anxious.

Am I enough?

Am I doing enough?

There is so much involved with getting a book out into the world, what else can I do to make it happen? A publishing deal is not a full stop, it is an ongoing commitment to do my best for those who have invested in my words.

It is not until I pause, find the space to clear away the clutter of my endless To Do list, and immerse myself in the writing that I find peace and a true excitement. It is a joy that comes from my soul.

This is where the doors swing wide open and angels sing.

I am connected at last, not lost but found, in the words and in the journey.

This is a gift, the true prize. Writing in itself is enough.

And if the toilet is the only place it’s read, that’s enough too.

Mary-Lou Stephens’ memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation was released this month through Pan Macmillan.

IMAGE CREDITS: Author: ABC Open Sunshine Coast

Living the Dream

If one more person said to me “When one door closes another one opens,” I was going to throttle them. But you know what? They were right. For years I’d been playing in bands, touring and releasing CDs. I’d had a great time but I was getting nowhere. When my last speedo dress Aug '95band broke up I knew I couldn’t do it any more. I was heartbroken and exhausted and had no idea what to do next. My only tertiary qualification was a diploma in performing arts and, at the age of thirty-five with no skills other than acting and performing, a series of dead-end jobs was all I could envisage.

Weeks after the band’s last performance, I woke to the seven am news on my clock radio. Half asleep, I heard the Queen sending her condolences to the people of Tasmania. That’s how I found out about the Port Arthur massacre. In shock and grief I went home to Tasmania for the memorial service. There, quite coincidently, I met up with an acquaintance who was broadcasting the service for the ABC. He took me to lunch later that week. I told him about the band breaking up and, even though it seemed trivial in the context of the horror at Port Arthur, how lost I was.

He paused, looked at me and uttered one life-changing sentence. ‘Mary-Lou, you want to be in radio.’

I knew he was right. It was a pure light bulb moment. ‘I do,’ I said.‘But I didn’t realise that until right now. How did you know?’

‘Because I know radio and I know you,’ he said. ‘It’s a perfect match.’

It was true. I came alive when I was being interviewed in a radio studio. I loved the sense of performance. I’d performed all my life in one form or another. Radio condensed performance down to one person, one microphone, one listener. A pure connection.

Days later, through another friend, I found out about The Australian Film Television and Radio School and on my return to Sydney I was asked to present a program for a public radio station. Within a week of discovering my true vocation I was being offered a gig on air. The doors continued to fly open. With help and support, and after three rounds of auditions, I was accepted into AFTRS and less than a year later I landed my first professional job in radio.2TM 2

I had always thought I’d be a famous singer/songwriter, and who knows, I may still be yet, but when I let go of that dream and dared to dream another, I discovered a whole new life of adventure, creativity and fulfillment.

My latest adventure is that of an author. My meditation memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation is published this month by Pan Macmillan. 

Mary-Lou meditates her way to calm

Mary-Lou meditates her way to calm

by Rebecca A Rose for the ABC.

When Mary-Louise Stephens embarked on her first 10 day meditation retreat, colleagues were taking bets about how long she would last.

Now that she has just completed her 7th – and published a book on how it has changed her life – they are not so quick to scoff.

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Above: Mary-Lou at an OB with Annette Hughes

The ABC Coast Presenter is a renowned chatterbox and not even she can believe how much she enjoys staying quiet for so long.

“To be silent – it was a relief!” she laughed.

“When I was forced to be silent I realised how worried I am of the impression I am making, by what I say, by my level of knowledge and interest and humour – how much I want to impress people and want them to like me.

“A lot of (what we) talk is about that.”

Her life has changed so much that she decided to write a book about the experience in the vein of ‘if I can do it, anyone can!’ Her memoir will be launched at Ariel Books in Paddington tomorrow night.

Sex, Drugs and Meditation is the story of how Mary-Lou went from heroin addict with a string of failed relationships behind her to happily married and serene, at one with her troubled past and optimistic about the future.

Meditating in silence for 11 hours a day over ten days, Mary-Lou had some amazing revelations about herself.

b&w performance 1 1995 Above: Mary-Lou in her band.

Practitioners of mindful meditation focus on being present in the moment – by concentrating on their breathing they hone in on their emotions.

“The difficulty is breaking down the walls between the conscious and subconscious.

“When you get into that state, all of the stuff that really drives you – not the stuff you think drives you, but the internal stuff – comes to the surface.”

The theory that we are the creators of our own misery rang true.

“What I was doing before this was to blame everyone else for my misery. I was blaming my boss, management, old boyfriends. If I had nothing to be miserable about I would make stuff up.”

It is not just the silence, but the physical constraints of trying to stay still and the emotional turmoil of turning the spotlight on yourself so intensely that make meditation retreats such a hardcore experience.

But that doesn’t mean that every thought is on a higher plane.

“Sometimes I let my mind have a holiday and do what it wants to do – I had bought a lotto ticket and was thinking about how I would spend the money,” she said.

“Or I would worry about the house burning down because i had left the iron on!

Mary-Lou’s book covers some hair-raising days from her youth, including an unhappy childhood and drug addiction. It has taken her many years to write as she struggled to be as honest as she had to about how far she has come.

“It is hard because people are going to know all these things about me. Yes, I used to take heroin and I used to steal. I am concerned in some ways – what will people here think of me?”

In the end, her transformation is the story and according to Mary-Lou that was the reason it had to be told.

She has taken ten weeks off to promote the book as well as write the follow up, which will explain the nitty gritty behind the ‘happily ever after’ ending of Sex, Drugs and Meditation.

Success with Each Step

I used to have a very fixed opinion about success. I knew what it looked like, how it would arrive and, once I obtained it, I knew my life would be perfect. My plan was to become famous. I studied acting and performed on stage and screen. Unfortunately I wasn’t particularly good at it and I didn’t like hanging out with other actors. They were all completely self-absorbed. So instead I decided I would become a famous singer/songwriter. I played in bands, I toured, I wrote songs, I recorded. I was even offered a recording contract. But bands break up and recording contracts disappear. When all was done and dusted I didn’t have the energy or desire to keep going.

Then along came radio. It was the perfect combination of acting and music. After years of banging my head against closed doors, all the doors swung open. It was a miracle. It was meant to be. I landed my dream job. Success at last. And here’s the thing about having a fixed opinion of success; the goal posts shift, life is fluid, everything changes. In other words my dream job turned out to have warts. I did discover, after much resistance and then acceptance, that I could still love it, warts and all, but it no longer fulfilled my definition of success.

Perhaps a successful relationship would do the trick. I achieved the required standard by getting married. But, you guessed it, I found out there is no such thing as the promised happy-ever- after. My job might have had warts but my marriage had bunions. However once again, after much resistance and then acceptance, I learned to love it, bunions and all.

Years ago I started writing. A quiet pursuit, never in the spotlight, unlike my other attempts at fame. Most people wouldn’t think I was a success because I wasn’t published. But my definition of success had changed by the time I took up the pen. Finishing eight drafts of my novel and finally completing my meditation memoir after six years, these were successes to me. I sent them out into the world and they returned with kind suggestions and notes about revisions, most of which I took on board. Each small compliment was another success. I did the work and sent my manuscripts out again. A process of growth and refinement.

And now, success. My meditation memoir will be published by Pan Macmillan next year. A cause for celebration. But I know this is not the end. This is just another step on the journey. A journey where every step, no matter how many warts or bunions, is a cause for celebration, is a success.

***You can also find this post in the latest edition of Holisitic Bliss 

 

 

So you want to be a Radio Star

I was in a radio studio where nothing worked. There were no CDs, no tapes, not even any records. The computer had crashed. Everything I touched fell to pieces. I was on air trying to pretend that everything was ok. I tried to talk but the terror in my throat clenched my vocal chords shut. The station would be off air if I didn’t do something, didn’t say something. I felt as though I was in an aeroplane and the engines had failed. I was going down in a screaming heap except I couldn’t scream.

It was the same or similar nightmare every night. I needed to sleep but I dreaded it. Falling asleep meant plunging into that deep crevasse where terror rushed to meet me. I could feel the adrenalin grabbing at my stomach as soon as I started to doze off. There was no respite. I’d made a horrible mistake and had to live with the consequences.

When I finally got out of bed and crawled off to work I wanted to drive straight past the station and go somewhere else. Anywhere else. I couldn’t bear it.

One day the manager burst into the studio while I was on air and with a look of disgust mimed shooting me in the head. Without a word he turned on his heel and slammed the door behind him. I was left alone, shaking and almost in tears, wondering what dreadful thing I’d done to deserve such treatment. Of course it had to be my fault. I had to continue with my shift. I pretended to be happy and in control when all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and cry.

Each day was worse than the one before. Listeners rang up and abused me. I didn’t read the weather properly. I mispronounced local place names. One woman swore at me and threatened me because her boyfriend listened to me.

I worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week because I was so slow at everything and terrified of doing it all wrong. I forgot to press record on an important interview and had to do it all again with an understandably grumpy interviewee. Everyday was a battle and I was exhausted.

I rang up the Head of Radio at the Australian Film Television and Radio School where I’d studied. I’d been so happy there. I’d felt so safe, so secure. It was nothing like the real world of radio where every day was torture. I told her that I’d made a dreadful mistake. I couldn’t do it. I was hopeless. I had no business being in the radio business. She just laughed and told me to get over it and get on with the job.

So that’s what I did. Within days the nightmares disappeared. Within weeks I was feeling confident and relaxed. Within months the head hunters started calling. Within a couple of years I landed my dream job.

I turned to our new announcer and said, “So I hope that helps you feel better.” It was her first shift on air. She’d been a little nervous and I was trying to cheer her up. From the look on her face I don’t think I should become a motivational speaker. I wouldn’t be the only one suffering from nightmares.