Tag Archives: music

Freedom. Or Perks?

It’s the time of year when we reflect on the past and look forward to the future. I’ve spent part of the past week at the Woodford Folk Festival and, unlike a lot of other festival-goers, for me it’s been a sobering experience.

Often we don’t notice the changes that occur in our everyday lives. The days slip by, the years flow on and we ease gracefully into other states of being. Well, that’s how I perceive it happening for other people. For myself any change is usually accompanied by much clashing and gnashing.

The first Woodford Festival I went to was a tribal experience. I drove up from Sydney with five others in a Kingswood called Gretel. We set up camp in amongst other people’s tent ropes and tarpaulins. I wandered wide-eyed and sleepless for the entire six days. I went to every jam session and danced all night in the Chai Tent. I joined the choir and made lanterns. I entered The Great Band Competition and circled every act in the program. I immersed myself in the Woodford experience and when it was time to resurface I couldn’t even remember my pin number.

My second Woodford Festival was spent as a performer. I played the Big Top and slept in the Performers’ Camp. I hung out in the Green Room and played in a few jams. I wore one of those coveted “access all areas” wristbands and got to watch packed out shows from the space beside the stage.

The next time I went as a radio announcer. It rained the entire time but I didn’t care. I was like a pig in the proverbial and there was plenty of that.  I interviewed as many performers as I could and when they played for me a crowd would gather. It was live radio at its best.

Since then I’ve produced and presented many national broadcasts from Woodford for the ABC. And when I became a published author I spent a couple of Woodfords on stage as a speaker. Every year I’ve had special privileges because of my position as a broadcaster, a performer and an author including parking spots, all-access wristbands, free tickets and speedy entry.

This year all that changed. It was the first year since that first tribal trip to Woodford that I’ve paid for a ticket. No access all areas, no special treatment.  At first I felt free; I had no responsibilities, no burden of care, nobody expected anything of me. I had no deadlines and no particular place to be. For the first time in almost twenty years I could experience the Woodford Folk Festival on my own terms. But when The Hubby and I had to park in the day parking area and catch the shuttle bus along with all the other punters, the reality sunk in and I didn’t like it. The truth is I enjoy being special. I love having perks and privileges. I scowled like a cranky toddler.

‘Don’t they realise who I am?’ I huffed.

‘Don’t you mean, who you were?’ The Hubby replied.

And it’s true. I love the freedom of retirement. Every day I’m grateful that I get to choose what I do, or don’t do. And after a lifetime in the public eye in one form or another, I adore the invisibility of anonymity. But freedom comes at a price. And for me that included the cost of a ticket and experiencing the festival as a mere member of the public.

So would I change anything about that experience? Would I shackle myself back to the burdens and responsibilities of a working life for the sake of a free ticket and more convenient parking?

I have had the experience of attending the Woodford Folk Festival in many different guises, and those roles of musician, broadcaster and speaker have suited me at the time. But times change and we change with them or we are doomed to a life of resentment and regret. Freedom is more important to me now than recognition, prestige and the perks of a media pass (even though, yes, sometimes I miss those perks).

So here’s to looking forward, to a life of freedom and choices based on that freedom. And if I get a bit huffy from time to time because I used to be someone, I hope I remember that I much prefer the someone that I am now.

Happy 2017.

Burning Up

Black Saturday Fires, Victoria 2009. Photo: Jake Valance.

Summer on the Sunshine Coast. It’s hot, it’s windy and the first serious fire of the season saw flames leaping over three stories high through bushland in Mountain Creek. 

All of us who’ve been close to fire never forget it. I remember the heat and darkness of the bushfires that burnt Tasmania to the ground when I was a young child. A huge red sun low in the sky made our home feel like an alien planet. Our house was the last safe refuge at the bottom of Mt. Nelson. The lounge room was full of kids. Their dads were in the smoke battling to save each others’ homes armed with nothing more than wet gunny sacks and garden hoses. The women gathered in our kitchen talking in hushed and worried voices, not knowing whether they’d have a husband or a home to go to that night.

During the 1994 bush fires that circled Sydney, the band I played in was booked to perform at a festival in Byron Bay. We set off up the highway not knowing whether we’d get through or not. Flames were burning along the side of the road, licking at the bitumen. We could feel the heat through the metal and glass of our hired tour van and were acutely aware that we could be trapped by fire at any moment. The highway closed just after we passed through. 

The festival went ahead, with other acts having to be flown in and much borrowing of amplifiers and equipment. It was a relief to be away from the smoke and the big red bushfire sun that cast Sydney is a strange sepia-toned glow.

The highway was open again by the time we headed back to Sydney, five musos on the road, after a successful performance at the festival. Our career was going well and the future looked good. Not for much longer.

Sometimes you can pinpoint the exact moment when you know a relationship is over. It may not end right there and then but eventually it’s the reason the whole balancing act comes tumbling down in ruins. As we drove back towards a fire-devastated Sydney our bass player flicked her cigarette butt out the window. I felt as though I’d been punched in the stomach. I turned to another member of the band just to check what I’d seen. She looked as shocked as I did. It was a single thoughtless act that highlighted a hundred other thoughtless acts. Families had lost their homes, children had lost their pets, others had lost their livelihoods and that cigarette butt, smouldering on the side of the road, could start the horror all over again.

Three months later the band had a new name and a new bass player.

If only a home or a life were that easy to replace.

Outback & Overwhelmed

my-feet-in-the-desert_2Many years ago, when I was a musician, I travelled through the world’s biggest living dot painting to the Northern Territory, a bag in one hand and my guitar in the other. 

I paid my way by singing for my supper, songs I’d written about the sea. Being a coastal girl I’d never been to a place where there were no seagulls. 

I arrived at Yulara, the tourist town that leaches dollars from the grandeur of Uluru. The rock is a magnet for cars, tour buses and four wheel drives. It was hard to find a peaceful place in the middle of the desert.

During the day I would wander away from the resort and sit on a small dune, my pale bare feet digging into the red sand.  I felt as though I was in a postcard, with the rock to my left and Kata Tjuta directly in front. I loved the Olgas, they welcomed me with embracing arms. But I found Uluru overwhelming and kept a respectful distance.

On the last day of my desert adventure, a friend took me out to the gorges. We went for a walk. A gentle gradient to the top of a cliff where a ghost gum grew. There we perched like rock wallabies, watching the light shift and change on the range. Down below, birds were coming home to their water hole.

Time slipped by unnoticed.

I gazed at the rock face, the ancient hills and cliffs, always seeing something new. Gum trees clung in seemingly impossible places. Why did they grow there? How? They had no choice, they had to stay where they sprouted and make the most of it. I felt shiftless and reckless in comparison.

We were running late when I took the wheel of Nelly, ship of the desert. She was a big boat of a Kingswood, column shift, dimmer switch on the floor near the pedals.

I sped across the plain chased by a blood red sunset; the fingers of night creeping up and the darkness scurrying behind us, descending gloom and the threat of looming cattle on the road.

The evening star guided us, first through grey/pink clouds and then through the twilight suspended dusk.

The sun disappeared with a thud and leached all the heat out of the air as it went.

I knew the next day Sydney would slap me in the face but that was many hours away.

The night was restless, windy and warm.

What makes a girl fall in love? And out?

Petersham InnWhat makes a girl fall in love? Even more interestingly, what makes her fall out of love?

It was another great night at the Petersham Inn on Parramatta Road in Sydney, thanks to the enigmatic Duncan who booked the music and was the licensee. (Duncan died last month but his legacy lives on.)  The band was firing and the buzz about them was beginning to grow.  They were a long way from the multiple ARIA Award winners they’d become but all of us in the Pismo Bar sensed we were witnessing a legend in the making.

Now, I’ve been guilty of falling for a few boys in bands myself in the past but I was nothing compared to my friend Angie. All the excitement got her hot and bothered. She’d caught the guitarist’s eye and wanted to move in for the happy ending.  Neither of them had a car so I was coerced into driving them, and his guitar, back to her place. He and I chatted about music while she hung onto his arm and gazed into his eyes.

That was how it started and that was how it was destined to remain. They didn’t have a lot in common so whenever she was going out with him she’d ask me along too. I’d act as a kind of interpreter; they could both have conversations with me but were at a loss when it came to talking to each other. The three of us spent many happy evenings at No Names in Darlinghurst eating spaghetti while I acted as their go-between.

However, there was one area of their relationship where I couldn’t help them. It’s an area that doesn’t require much talking so I assumed everything was ok. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It became clear that after the initial rush of excitement something was dreadfully amiss. My friend was not happy. She didn’t mind that he was lost for words but she found it inexcusable that he was tongue-tied.

It’s been my experience that ultimatums don’t work but try telling that to someone with a bee in their bonnet. They can’t hear you, the buzzing’s too loud.  She borrowed a friend’s apartment to ensure privacy and cooked an amazing dinner with candlelight, wine and Peggy Lee. Lord knows what they talked about over dinner but I do know what was said at the end of the evening.  He took the “or else” option and opted out of her life.

She didn’t miss him, but I did. I missed our conversations about music, guitars, books, bags and bands. Was I ever tempted to go out with him? No way. After all, this girl could never fall for a guy who didn’t….have a car.

The Sound of Music

As a child I used to sing myself to sleep. I can’t remember what I sang, I just made it up as I went along. My parents had a rule at the dinner table, “No singing” because most of us would rather sing than eat. Recorder lessons, piano lessons, I even made my mum buy me a banjo when I was 11, which I must confess I never learnt to play. The church choir, school choirs, and gathering around the piano for a good old sing along. The love of music is one of the greatest gifts we can instil in kids as they’re growing up, there’s something about it that opens the heart and sparks the imagination.

Mary-Lou Stephens 1984
Me, being a rock star in 1984.

It’s no wonder my mother was horrified when, at 18, I returned home after a year living in Kings Cross wearing black vinyl pants and having found a new vocation, playing bass guitar. I’d seen the Stranglers play live and had an epiphany. The volume from the PA was so loud it pushed my clothes against my skin and rumbled through my chest. In the mix was the most glorious sound, low and powerful, melodic and mysterious. I yelled into someone’s ear, “What is that?” When I heard the answer I knew what I wanted to do.

My mum wasn’t concerned about the whole post-punk, new wave ethos, she wasn’t even worried about me not settling down and getting a proper job, what really frightened her was that I’d lose one of my most precious possessions, my hearing. And she was right. The first band I played in nearly deafened me.

I don’t know who invented the belief that louder is better, it was probably the same guitar player who decided that faster is better and diddly-diddylied us all into an ear-numbing stupor.  I do know that the lead guitarist in my first band was already deaf and wanted to take the rest of us down with him. Back then you knew you’d had a good night out when your ears were still ringing the next day. But what happens when your ears don’t stop ringing?

My mum was a lot happier when some years later I had another epiphany. I discovered Patsy Cline. Out went the black vinyl pants and scowling attitude, in came skirts and a Dolly Parton love of children and small animals. I got an acoustic guitar and a band that even my mother could come and listen to without sticking toilet paper in her ears, except perhaps when I’d yodel!

Do The Mashed Potato

dee-dee-sharp-mashed-potato-time-columbia-2My friend Fiona was a career woman. Like a lot of my friends at the time she had a great job, plenty of money, all the perks she could possibly demand… and a part-time man.  There was an era of my life when the latest accessory for the woman who had everything was the no-commitment relationship.  Fiona called one such relationship  “Three Days”. Once a month he’d fly up from Sydney and they’d do the long weekend thing, an arrangement she was perfectly content with.  Many of my female friends longed for the perfect relationship – not true love, commitment and roses, but a man who’d leave them alone to get on with their busy lives and only be around when it was convenient.

Fiona asked me around for dinner one night, at that stage she was going out with a sailor, a Rear Admiral no less, whose home port was San Francisco. How marvellous we all thought, she has a boyfriend she only sees every 6 months, very clever.  She asked me what I’d like to eat; Thai, African, perhaps Japanese.  She was a rather put out by my reply. At the time I was working on average 14 hours a day (a relationship with a hermit living in a cave in Estonia would have been too much for me) and I wanted bangers and mash for dinner. I think the trend for good old-fashioned home cooking, like mashed potatoes, was spawned by exhausted careerists who needed to feel looked after, just for a while, before chaining themselves to the corporate juggernaut once more.

Fiona did her best with what should have been a simple task; boil potatoes until they’re falling apart, drain, add milk, lashings of butter, salt to taste, and then go to it with the potato masher. Worked for my mum every time. Unfortunately a glossy coffee table book detailing these instructions hadn’t been released and Fiona was way out of her depth.  What should have been the pinnacle of comfort food arrived on our plates as grey, lumpy soup.

Fast food, disposable music and no-commitment relationships left me feeling empty and homesick. But I didn’t have time to dwell, there was too much work to do. I was dishing out instant gratification on commercial radio, highly researched and tightly formatted for maximum monetary gain. My head was full of call-out figures, familiarity scores and burn factors, that was what music had become to me.  Slow cooked food, slow music that cooks and a slowly cooking relationship were way too inconvenient. But the day after that dinner I found time to buy a potato masher.

These days my life is a lot slower and I love it. Everything has changed. Who would have thought that the career-frazzled woman I used to be would become a happily married writer? Not me. Now I have time to think and cook  and write a book that’s coming along way too slowly. And that’s okay. Other things have changed too. The Hubby and I no longer eat mashed potatoes but have discovered the delights of mashed cauliflower and it’s just as delicious and comforting. Fast food no longer enters the building and I’m feeling well and truly committed after 12 years of marriage. But one thing hasn’t changed. I still have that potato masher.

The Song That Broke The Band

There are some songs that stay with you, not just for the week that they might be on high rotation on the radio, but for a lifetime. Songs are highly emotive creatures. They plug into us for all kinds of reasons.

I was very young when I first heard this song and yet it’s stayed with me through the years.

I was reminded of the song and of the writer, Greg Quill, when I read this article about a new tribute album recorded in his honour – Some Lonesome Picker.

If you know Gypsy Queen you’ll know why it’s such a special song. If not this quote from the article might help.

Gypsy Queen is a song of the road no less than the poem Walt Whitman wrote a century earlier. It was a song about going on an adventure where your horizons would be expanded, and you’d live a larger life because of it.

But for me it has extraordinary significance. Why? This is the song that caused the demise of my band.

If you’ve read Sex, Drugs & Meditation you’ll know how devastated I was when my band broke up. The story behind the story is that we’d been playing together for years, touring and releasing CDs but we’d never really cut through. I had the idea of recording a cover version of this song, it was perfect for us with our line up and stunning harmonies. We’d never released a song written by anyone else – all originals up until that point – but I thought this song was worth it. It was such a brilliant idea that one member of the band quit. Why? Because she knew it would work, that we’d get airplay with it and therefore success and she didn’t want us to succeed. She wanted out. She wanted to pursue a solo career. And thus our band became an ex-band.

Ironically a few years later Adam Harvey recorded a cover version of this song and had a hit with it but by that time I was well ensconced in the world of radio and being a music director I got to decide what got played on radio and what didn’t.

When it comes down to it I’m grateful. If the band hadn’t broken up I never would have got into radio, I might never have started writing books instead of songs and I definitely wouldn’t have the superannuation that enabled me to retire early and have the freedom I now have – to write more books and to pick up my guitar whenever I feel like it.

And all these years later, I still love this song.

“I’m singing for the dark and lonely highway, I’m singing for the rivers and the trees, I’m singing for the country roads and byways, And I wonder as I go, Is there anyone I know, Who’ll sing for me.”

The Six Peas of Me

Thank you to Nene Davies for inviting me to her Six Peas blog. I love the concept – six questions all starting with P which she tailors to her guest. My six P’s are Performing, Presenting, Passion, Personal, Publishing, and Plans. I thought they were Perfect 🙂
If you read to the end you’ll get a sneak peek at what I’m up to now.

Performing

Can you tell us a little about your time in the music industry and how you turned the disappointment of that ending into a highly successful career in radio?

As soon as I finished school I left my home town and headed to the big smoke, Sydney. I lived in Kings Cross and hung out with drug dealers, punks and low-lifes. The music scene there was thriving and edgy and I became fascinated by it. A gig by The Stranglers at the State Theatre (before it was renovated) changed my life. As soon as I heard that bass sound I knew what I wanted to be – a bass player.

After someone I knew was murdered over a drug deal, I left Sydney and went back home to Hobart. I bought my first bass guitar, had a few lessons and dived into the world of playing in bands. At my first gig I stuffed up every single song but they didn’t kick me out and eventually I became quite a good player, in a naive kind of way. I also started writing songs.

A few years later I moved to Melbourne to study acting at the Victorian College of the Arts, but much preferred playing in the bands I was in while I was there. Then I moved back to Hobart for a bit of acting and playing in more bands, and then to Sydney where I stayed for many years.

in-sydney-my-songwriting-really-blossomed

In Sydney my songwriting really blossomed. I formed a couple of bands based around those songs and we toured and recorded CDs. The last band I was in I loved with all my heart and soul. All my time, energy and money went into that band. (If you think writing doesn’t pay, you should try making music!) When the band broke up I was devastated, the lying on the floor in the foetal position sobbing kind of devastated.

I had no idea what to do next. The only qualification I had was in acting and the only jobs I’d ever worked in were of the dead-end variety. There I was, a thirty-something woman, exhausted, broke as well as broken-hearted, and with no prospects. It wasn’t pretty. That’s when radio rode in on a white horse and saved the day.

I had lunch with a radio presenter who’d interviewed me many times and even used one of my songs as the theme song for his show. When he asked me what I was going to do now my band had broken up I told him I had no idea. He said to me ‘You want to be in radio.’

The effect was electrifying. I literally felt as though a lightbulb had just been switched on. ‘That’s so true,’ I said. ‘But I didn’t know it until this instant. How did you know?’

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

From that moment on every door on my path to being a radio presenter swung open. It was uncanny. I studied at AFTRS, got my first job in commercial radio in Tamworth then moved to Townsville and then landed my dream job with the ABC on the Sunshine Coast. And yes, radio was the perfect fit. All my years performing on stage as a musician and an actor and my knowledge of music fed straight into my work as a presenter and Music Director. There’s a lot more to this story and you can read all the details in my memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation.

Sexdrugsmeditation-pile 2

Presenting

Having worked in commercial radio and for many years as a presenter with ABC Sunshine Coast, what made you decide to write a book?

Unlike most writers I never dreamt of being a writer when I was younger. I wanted to be a rock star, or at least a famous singer/songwriter. I went on a music lover’s tour of the USA many years ago and came back with 12 very fuzzy photos to show for my travels. A colleague at the ABC said, ‘Clearly photography’s not your thing, why don’t you write about it instead.’

So I did. He liked it and recommended my writing to a friend of his who worked at the local paper. As a result I wrote a weekly column for over four years. It was the perfect apprenticeship.

That led to writing short stories, going to writing workshops and eventually starting the book that would become Sex, Drugs and MeditationI decided to write the book because I’ve always loved the case studies in self help books. In fact I would hardly ever read the theory in those books, or do the exercises, but I would always read the case studies because they were such great stories. After I realised that my life read like a case study I wondered if other people might like to read my story. Like a lot of wanna be writers I was good at starting projects but not as good at finishing them. So I saved up my money and self-funded six months leave without pay to see if I could finish a book. The answer was yes. Even better, I discovered that I loved the process so much that I wanted to keep writing. I’ve completed four books now, two memoirs and two novels, and I’ve started writing the fifth.

Passion

I know that you’ve now left the world of presenting to write fiction about playing in bands. Full circle! What would you say is your creative passion? Music, writing…or both? 

It’s writing, hands down, no doubt about it. I feel blessed in that I loved being a musician and all that entailed and then I moved into radio which I loved even more, and it paid better! And now I’ve moved onto something else again that I love better than either of those. (Acting was in there somewhere as well but to tell you the truth I was never in love with acting.) So I’ve been able to give my full attention and passion to three things in my life that have been fulfilling and exciting. And the best thing of all is that they all feed into what I’m doing now and not only in the stories I’m telling. Writing is more than sitting at a computer for hours on end, it includes speaking in front of people, doing author talks, writers’ panels, interviews and publicity. All my time as a performer of one kind or another makes that part of the job second nature to me.

And there’s a bonus. I didn’t do this intentionally to start with but now it’s a signature of my work. Every book I write has a song or two in it that I’ve written. So when I do events I often whip out my guitar and play a song.

Personal

What is your number one tip for authors wanting to write a memoir? 

Get honest. It’s terrifying but it’s vital. I had some interest early on for Sex, Drugs and Meditation but the interest went cold when I sent them everything I’d written at the time. I was told that the book had promise but I had to get really honest and stop avoiding the truth. The idea of doing that scared me so much I ran away and wrote a novel instead. (I regard that novel as my practice book. I learnt a lot by writing it.) Years later I found my courage and wrote the book that needed to be written. The result was a publishing deal.

get-honest-its-terrifying-but-its-vital-2

Publishing

How did you go about publishing your books?

I submitted Sex, Drugs and Meditation through the open submission process most Australian publishing houses have these days. Pan Macmillan picked up the manuscript and, to my enormous gratitude and terror, published it. Sex, Drugs and Meditation is the true story of how I changed my life, saved my job and found myself a husband. The sequel, How To Stay Married, is the truth behind the happy ever after. Pan Macmillan liked How To Stay Married and were keen to publish but, and here’s the truth about publishing, it didn’t get through sales and marketing. It doesn’t matter if a publisher likes your book, if the sales team says no then that’s the end of it. Because I had a completed manuscript I decided to publish it anyway. I jumped into the world of self publishing and released the book on the date of my tenth wedding anniversary.

My latest novel is under consideration by a major publisher. However even if they green light it I’m only expecting an ebook deal. With all the changes in publishing (and more to come if the changes to PIR go ahead) the majors are playing it safe these days. Often they’ll offer ebook only deals. If the book sells well in that format then they may offer a print deal.

Plans

What’s next?

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been many things in my life including a musician, a songwriter, an actor, a radio presenter and an author. All of these come together in my latest passion, writing fiction about women who rock.

Here’s a brief glimpse of the first one, Rock Candy:

Georgia Hill’s star has crashed. Her band has broken up, her best friend has betrayed her and worst of all, at the age of 28, she’s living back home with her parents. When her song Sweetie is used in an advertising campaign against her will it gives her some much-needed cash…but robs her of any remaining credibility. Unable to return to the world she loves, Georgia travels to The Park, a mysterious community in Scotland where Jax, a rock star she admires, is in hiding. 

Rock Candy is the first in the Rock Chick series. Novels planned so far include:

Rock Slide. Suzie Smith is a major star but she wants out. Her plan to leave it all behind unravels in ways she could never imagine.

Rock Salt. Three sisters, one stellar career and the man who brings it all crashing down.

Rock Fall. On the eve of her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the skeletons come tumbling out of Lena Stanley’s capacious closet.

Rock Hard. The all girl rock band Bitumen have fought hard to be taken seriously and become successful. What will they have to sacrifice to reach their ultimate goal?

I’ve started writing Rock Slide and once again it’s a wonderful process. I love writing fiction and imbuing it with the knowledge of the life I used to live. Not that I’ve ever been a rock star but sometimes, when I was on stage with a guitar in my hands, I could almost believe that I was.

I’m excited about these books and also have plans to record the songs that are included in them.

I would love for people to keep in touch either through my Facebook page, my website, or by joining my email list.

Rock on!

Writing Process? What Writing Process?

I’ve been amazed by the generosity of other writers during this journey to becoming a published author. At every stage there has been a helping hand, an understanding voice and a lift, or in some cases a shove, to the next level. And after publication there has been the same generosity of spirit; other writers willing to spruik my book, to sing its praises and to let the world know. Thank you

Why am I amazed? When I was a musician I helped other songwriters and musos. We were a family. In my life in radio I’ve given advice when asked to those who wanted to work in this form of media. I’m always happy to give what I have in the way of knowledge, connections and practical experience.

Sexdrugsmeditation-pile 2I’ve been a member of a writing group for years and the support of those women has been immeasurable. But when I stepped into the world of publishing I was in unknown territory. That’s why the generosity has amazed me. I’m an old hand at being a singer/songwriter and experienced in the realm of radio but I felt newborn and vulnerable in the world of publishing.

That’s why I’m delighted to take part in this writer’s blog chain. Passing on this generosity of spirit and highlighting other authors in a world that needs to know about great writing.

SusannahI have been tagged by the wonderful and effusive Susanna Freymark whose debut novel Losing February has been described with the same adjective as my memoir. “Brave.” We met at the yearly soiree that our agent throws in Sydney. I was new and shy. Susanna was a beacon of joy and laughter. I was drawn like the proverbial moth. Since then I’ve interviewed her for the ABC and shared a couple of panels with her at The Byron Bay Writers Festival. She continues to be a joy. Susanna is in the process of editing her second novel and you can read about her ongoing writing adventure here.

And now to the questions I must answer about my writing.

So . . .  what am I working on now?

I’m not. There, that was a surprise wasn’t it. I refuse to work. I’m in a mind to relax. To read. To reinvigorate. My memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation was released last April. My next manuscript is with my publisher after getting the thumbs up from my agent. Right now I’m tired. I need to rest. I’m inspired by the contemporary composer Arvo Pärt and his holy minimalism. Arvo spends time in reflection and meditation to gain inspiration for his next composition. I’m not comparing myself to his beatific brilliance but I resonate with his need to retreat, to be still, to be, before moving on to the next project. This year for me is a year of slow transformation. I know what my next project is and I have a notebook of scribbled lines and ideas which I add to on an ad hoc basis but to tell you the truth I’ve never written anything like this before. My publisher has expressed interest in what really is little more than a title at this stage. I will write it but it needs to evolve. I need to evolve to meet it. For the first time I’m not in a hurry. I’m not anxious. It will come. I will be ready. In some ways I’m already there. (You’ll have an “aha moment” when the title is revealed.)

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

My work is inspired, like Arvo Pärt’s, by meditation. My first memoir is about how meditation saved my job, changed my life and helped me find a husband. It might sound a bit woo-woo but it’s real and it’s funny and it’s “brave.” My second memoir is about the truth of the happy ending. Meditation helped me survive some of the toughest years of my life – the early years of my marriage. We’re still married and our marriage gets stronger all the time. This second book is about relationships. Big stuff, sometimes heavy stuff, but also funny stuff  and very, very, “brave” stuff.

I’ve also written a novel that my agent tells me doesn’t work but I haven’t given up on it. It too was inspired by meditation. The story and the protagonist came to me at one of the silent ten-day meditation retreats I insist on doing. Meditation is a creative process. You can’t stop your mind that’s for sure. But when you slow it down some very interesting things pop up.

Why do I write about what I do?

When I used to read self-help books I would skip over the theory and never do the exercises at the end of each chapter. Instead I would head straight to the case studies. These are the stories of transformation that we all love so much; the Hero’s Journey, the overcoming of obstacles, the realisations that lead to change. When it became apparent that my life had changed through meditation I thought perhaps someone might like to read my story. Turns out they would.

I also love fiction because I get to play. I get to make stuff up. I have plans for a lot more fiction after the next book and more resting. Watch this space.

How does my writing process work?

I have no idea. Honestly. It’s always different. It always changes. I’m not methodical. I’m not a plotter. There are times when I write every night after work and every weekend. I’ve gone years without holidays because every scrap of leave has been spent writing or going on those silent ten-day meditation retreats. I saved up my money and took six months leave without pay, worked with a manuscript assessor and a mentor – all for a novel that doesn’t work, allegedly. But boy, oh boy, did I learn a lot about writing. The one constant has been meditation. Meditation breaks down the barrier between the conscious and the subconscious. It gets to the juice, the real driving force. We think our minds are in charge. They’re not. Meditation allows us to access the real deal, the source of all the action, love, fear and truth. As I mentioned at the moment I’m having a rest from writing. Vital for rejuvenation. Some say you must write every day. I say not so. Forget the musts. Find out what works for you. Everyday is creative whether you write or not. I’d rather have some time to stretch and rest and play and then return to writing with love than to feel duty bound to chain myself to a desk everyday. Besides I have a very exacting day job. Sometimes I need some space.

Now it’s my turn to spread the love by introducing you to two writers.

walter masonWalter Mason writes a whole different kind of travel book. Spiritual, humorous, honest and intriguing. If you haven’t yet read Destination Saigon or Destination Cambodia you will fall in love with him too when you do. Walter is tireless in his promotion of other writers. He is an inspiration. I’ve interviewed him for my program on the ABC, I’ve written a blog for his Universal Heart Book Club and he’s featured my book in his own blog. He is a generous and loving soul. Irresistible. Follow his adventures here and check out The Universal Heart Book Club as well.

blue mileKim Swivel writes as Kim Kelly and her latest novel The Blue Mile will be released in May. She tells a great story and weaves so much history into her novels that I find them fascinating. I’ve learnt things about Australia that I never knew and I’ve learnt them the best way – by being entertained. It’s a great mix. I’ve also interviewed her and found her delightful, humble and quietly determined. You can find out more about Kim here.

Check out their blogs for more about them and their writing process. Read their books and keep reading. It’s fun, inspiring and sometimes even life changing.

 

How I Learnt to Swim in the Mainstream

Main Stream

How can we swim in the mainstream and still frolic in the areas that we love, those deep and mysterious rock pools where the mainstream doesn’t flow? By playing the game. Why not? It’s just a game after all. The beauty of the mainstream is that everyone knows the rules. The trick is to colour between the lines while using your own palette.

When my book was picked up by a mainstream publisher they wanted to change the title. Sex, Drugs and Meditation was too confrontational. Sex was okay. Drugs was not. They came up with a pleasant, inoffensive title and a pretty pastel cover. Trouble was neither the cover or the name was indicative of the truth inside. Fortunately, with a little persuasion, they agreed do go back to the drawing board. Literally. A new designer was commissioned. Her work was bold and edgy. I loved her cover concepts with a passion. But what would my publisher think?

I’ve always been on the edge creatively. I played in indie bands, wrote alt-country songs, before the phrase alt-country was even invented, and went to the alternative acting school, the one which fostered independent self-created work instead of slim blonde movie star smiles.

Money was not my goal nor was it the result. I learnt to live on very little. It was a great space in which to live and play but when my last band broke up I knew it was time to move on. When working in radio became an option I grabbed it with both hands, even though it meant diving into the mainstream. Commercial radio. Not my first choice but I worked hard, learnt a lot and eventually moved on to where I’d always wanted to be. The ABC. By then I had the skills that commercial radio demands and that the ABC wants. Now I get to swim in some interesting places indeed. For example in my series Modalities I explore the many ways of healing the body and soul that are available and interview the practitioners who facilitate them. Fascinating.

Writing books grew from writing columns for a newspaper. A weekly discipline that I loved. Although it was mainstream media I was given the freedom to be creative. Years of writing and rewriting have finally seen my book on the shelves. Despite diving into some very deep and mysterious waters the mainstream world has embraced it. You might see my meditation memoir in your local bookstore with my original title and a fabulous cover. How did that happen? Why did the publisher change their mind? The clever designer managed to swim in the mainstream but still remain edgy. A perfect balance. The best of both worlds. She played the game and we all won.