Category: Diary

A surprise success

I still find it amazing that some of these poems I write, and that I rarely agonise over, take hours to compose, or even – really – take terribly seriously, nevertheless strike a chord or find favour in a publication. Of course they wouldn’t ever do that unless I took the time (and had the confidence) to submit them, and I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t feel they were perhaps worthy, given the majority are unquestioningly and unapologetically political. But even so . . .

In the case of this most recent success, I wrote the poem initially for a Greens’ Fossil Fools Trivia Night fundraiser where the theme was obviously the ongoing climate change risks associated with mining and fracking coal and gas. Two of us were invited to read poems during the evening, and I was one of them. Mine was well received on what was essentially a fun night, albeit with serious undertones, designed to poke fun at the former Coalition government’s failure to take climate change seriously – and to try to help the election of our Greens candidate in the forthcoming Legislative Council. A big ask, and we didn’t succeed this time, but if you don’t try . . .

I filed the poem away in my increasingly bulging folder and gave it little thought until I read the details of a competition and publishing opportunity offered by online media organisation Independent Australia

Despite subscribing to IA for several years it’s the first time I remember it has invited readers to submit articles, fiction or poetry for consideration for such an opportunity, and one that is running for around three months. Winners and short-listed entries are announced each month, and a selection will be published on the website. To be eligible for consideration all entries, regardless of category, have to be on a current affairs topic, be that political, social justice, environmental etc.

I remembered my Fossil Fool poem and fished it out of the folder. I read it through again. With a bit of tweaking I felt it certainly fitted the brief. So I reworked the last stanza and added another one, completed the entry criteria and sent if off, not really anticipating I’d hear anything back for a while – if ever.
So it was a genuine surprise to learn it had indeed been published, and with its own Mark David cartoon to boot!,17603

Whether ‘Fossil Fools’ will progress any further in the IA competition remains to be seen. I won’t know that until sometime in July so watch this space as they say!

Keeping up the momentum

There has, of course, been the odd wobble in the planned routine but essentially this book is now steadily moving forward. My wonderful mentor has just sent back the second lot of comments, with gratifyingly few criticisms. She did say there was only some minor editing to do but otherwise it’s looking good. Phew.

I remain focussed despite it being summer, with all that entails when there are vegies that need to be harvested and processed, and opportunities to attend various arts-related festivals which are all crammed into Tasmania’s relatively short season of more reliable weather conducive to holding outdoor events. Then, needless to say and because this is Tasmania, there is the constant and grinding need to respond to other controversial projects that will negatively impact our environment, or threaten public health, wildlife, forests, clean air and waterways, and every other natural resource deemed essential for a healthy life and wellbeing.

Now of course there’s the whole issue of climate change that’s finally hitting home. Even if still being virtually ignored or sidestepped by governments – as it was in the early stages of the pulp mill campaign when the warnings from scientists were still polite murmurings, rather than the louder and more urgent pleadings of today.

The country has experienced the full catastrophe over the past year – and I use the word ‘catastrophe’ advisedly. There have been bushfires and floods with all the destruction and devastation that has fallen on people, homes, crops, businesses, and our increasingly fragile environment, yet still too many in the political and corporate class refuse to listen.

Such is the life of an activist in the midst of such insanity.

Now it’s back to the book . . . .

Well underway – at last!

After way too many stop starts in the writing routine, this stalled project is now firmly on track and underway. I managed to divest myself of a couple of commitments recently and my brain had a gear change. It’s allowed me to be much more focussed on progressing this book.

For three days a week the phone is switched to silent, email checking is cursory, and no appointments are made, so the designated days can be dedicated to writing. Sorry friends, but please remember I’m no longer available for these days any more! That’s the theory anyway. Needless to say there has been the odd and unavoidable hiccup in my new regime, but at least some deadlines have been set as well as some short and long-term goals for 2023. The pressure is on.

My mentor and a writing friend have read the first 20+ thousand words and given feedback. That’s helped to keep me on track. Currently working on the next 20+ thousand – which is the reason this blog has been rather neglected.

Now it’s back to the book . . . .

Spark extinguished. . . . sort of

Rejection is all part of the writing game. At least it is if one is prepared to put it out into the public sphere in the hope a publisher or editor is impressed enough to print it, and ideally pay the writer for the privilege. That’s the life of a freelance journalist, jobbing writer, or just a hopeful beginner who’s plucked up sufficient nerve to test their lovingly crafted article, story or poem in the court of public opinion. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that every writer serious about their craft eventually decides to take the plunge, and send off their work in hopeful anticipation it will be read, enjoyed and accepted for publication or a competition prize.

I know I was exceptionally fortunate when I finally took this step. My very first foray into testing my writing against that of other hopeful scribblers was a competition. I didn’t win it. I wasn’t even placed, but I did receive an ‘honourable mention’. It was enough to give me the confidence to keep going. My confidence received another boost when I sent off another piece to a small press publishing opportunity, and it was accepted. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of seeing words you’ve written on the pages of a published magazine, journal, or book. It’s a thrill that doesn’t fade with time or more success. At least it hasn’t done for me.

That’s not to say I’ve not had my fair share of rejections. Like I said, they go with the territory. And despite what anyone says to the contrary, they hurt. It’s hard to get your head around the idea that the rejection isn’t of you personally. It’s just that your article, story, poem or whatever, isn’t the right fit for that particular publication, or publisher at that time. It doesn’t mean you’ve written a load of rubbish or that you’ve suddenly lost the ability to write well. I know the advice is often to rewrite the piece and whizz it off somewhere else, and it’s sensible advice but I confess to not always following it.

The background to this blog entry though is because I have just received, not a rejection as such, but confirmation my entry into the Hardie Grant Spark Prize 2022 didn’t make the shortlist. So the book I’m currently working on, and that’s already many thousands of words long, failed to stack up against those few who made it to the top of the pile. How big was the pile? Who knows. Maybe my entry missed out by a whisker, or maybe it didn’t make it past Round One. I will never know. And that’s fine because I shall just keep working on my magnum opus, and keep in my head the lovely affirmation from my friend Shirley, who encouraged me to enter the Spark Prize in the first place. When I emailed her the news she said, ‘You know you can write and this [result] doesn’t change that one iota’.

So best of luck to the chosen few, and to the eventual winner, but for me it’s onwards and upwards.

Spark of hope

Awards and grant opportunities for non-fiction writers working on book projects are nowhere near as plentiful as they are for fiction writers, so when a friend sent through the link for Hardie Grant’s Spark Prize, it took me about five minutes to decide to enter once I’d read through the guidelines.

That decision was the easy part.

After re-reading the guidelines, and the submission criteria several times, entering this award wasn’t going to be quite the piece of cake it looked like at first. After all my work was in progress, I’d written multiple bios of varying lengths by this time, and I had a previous submission for a similar award offered by the Australia Institute 18 months ago. Surely a quick re-write to bring things up-to-date would be enough.

Well, no.

Needless to say I wasn’t successful with the AI award but writing a succinct yet detailed synopsis was a valuable and worthwhile experience even so. The criteria for the narrative non-fiction Spark Prize are even more stringent with their requirement to provide a detailed chapter outline of the work-in-progress. Understandably Hardie Grant want to be sure they are investing in authors serious about their particular project, and that a significant start on it has already been made. A chapter outline, detailed or otherwise, isn’t something I’d given any thought to at all. I was just ‘getting it down’ as it had been suggested I do, not get bogged down in the finer detail of what happened when, and by whom.

So that part took longer to do than expected, and the 3000 word limit that I initially thought was rather generous, turned out to be barely enough. It also meant I had to dig around in the less-than-perfectly-organised documents and files on my computer to check on certain facts, figures and dates. It was a valuable reminder of the importance of up-to-date careful filing, dating and labelling, and necessitated a spot of much needed organising and sorting. At least now information retrieval has been made easier.

My lovely mentor Robyn has generously offered to read through my completed submission before I send it off, so now it’s a matter of awaiting her verdict and hoping she doesn’t suggest too much rewriting given the deadline is only a matter of days away, and my attention now needs to turn to ongoing work opportunities, ones for which I also get paid!

Image courtesy of Google images (unlicensed)


Serendipitous moment

Volunteering on an information stall for ABC Friends at Exeter Market yesterday proved to be a lot more beneficial than simply flying the flag for our public broadcaster, worthwhile though that also certainly proved to be.

During the course of the morning while chatting to a couple of guys about why whoever wins government in this year’s federal election should ensure restoring ABC’s funding is a priority, I had the nagging feeling I knew one of them. The question was from where? I was 90 per cent sure it was from the pulp mill campaign, but a fair amount of water has flowed under the bridge since then and we’re all several years older. Interestingly though, it turned out he was also racking his brains for exactly the same reason.

As the conversation wrapped up about the importance of the ABC’s role in ensuring we have a healthy democracy, and a public broadcaster free from political interference that’s able to hold all politicians and governments to account, I decided to ask him if he was who, by then, I was almost certain I thought he was. And indeed he was.

Needless to say once our respective identities had been confirmed reminiscences ensured the conversation continued for several more minutes, but the revelations that followed were pure gold so far as I was concerned. Everyone who chose to campaign against the mill did so for a variety of personal reasons but I’d never known what had drawn Rod into the fight. I do now though and what he told me was a shocking litany of Gunns’, and the government’s, perfidy.
It also included details that not only confirmed what I’ve literally just written about in my early and far-from-finished draft, but also included a lot more detail. And shocking, damning detail at that in respect of Gunns and the company’s appalling aerial spraying practices.

It was all eye-popping stuff, so having confirmed the email address that still lurks in my address book is current, and that Rod is happy to be quoted I shall now need to revisit and rewrite some of the passages I thought were complete. But I’ll be doing so more confidently, and in the knowledge I can tap into his own experiences of the kind of truly shocking forestry practices that were standard for Gunns during those early days of the pulp mill campaign. A time when it seemed to many that it called the government’s tune, and essentially ruled the state. These were also practices that confirmed Gunns, and some of its employees, were quite prepared to disregard both the health and safety of people, and the environment more broadly. It seemed campaigning to stop the pulp mill had inadvertently uncovered a can of very nasty worms.

Photo credit: Garry Stannus

Ideas are like rabbits

The postie delivered copies of the FAW NW anthology last week – a very well put together volume that includes seven of my poems. It actually looks like a thumping good read, and I’m not just saying that because I have work included in it. Going on the pieces I’ve already read we really do have a wealth of writerly talent in this state – and the majority of contributions are by Tasmanian writers.

The book is available online through Dymocks, Angus & Robertson, and Booktopia as well as direct from the Burnie-based editor. I understand sales are quite brisk so a second print run is looking highly likely. As is the way with so many of these writing group anthologies, the majority of which are produced on a shoestring budget, there is no payment for contributors. It seems poets are rarely remunerated for their efforts unless they’ve developed a significant following and reputation, and been fortunate enough to achieve publishing success with a mainstream publisher, so it’s kudos only in the case of this book. No wonder that hackneyed phrase about starving in garrets is applied equally to poets, as well as artists.

But publication is a validation, and this book is a nice addition to the CV. It also firms up that decision to put together my own volume of work, and have a crack at sending off some more of what I judge to be my better efforts to those small press magazines considered ‘literary’ that are among the few publishing opportunities for poetry. And the ones who pay their contributors!

And if you’re wondering about the title – it’s from a quote by John Steinbeck.

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”


A stint in the spotlight

Nobody was more surprised than me when I was asked to be the guest poet at the monthly gathering of Tas Poets Performing. I’ve never seriously considered myself a poet, and still struggle to do so despite having had several poems published over the year. So I really did think Marilyn was joking when she said would I be September’s guest poet. She wasn’t joking, and persuaded me to agree.

I’m an occasional attendee at these poetry nights, which are held in a local pub and attract an audience of anywhere between five and twenty. They’re usually a chance to catch up with fellow writers – and those I consider ‘real’ poets like my friend Marilyn – and I generally take one or two of my political poems to read in the open mic set. And they do seem to be well received, which is lovely.

But having to select poems to fill a 10 to 15 minute slot was a different matter altogether. What to choose when the bulk of them are undeniably political and often less than flattering to politicians and governments of the day. They are also of the moment; a snapshot in time. I wasn’t really aware of that aspect until I pulled out the folders and realised just how many poems I’d written over the last 15 years ago.

I’m an accidental poet. In the early days of the pulp mill campaign I was invited to join a word game by New Zealand writer, Yvonne. I didn’t know her really, but her name often cropped up as the author of a story or essay published in the same UK small press magazine I was also beginning to have some success with. After spotting an item in a writing magazine about her first novel being published, I emailed my congratulations as a fellow southern hemisphere writer who was also achieving success. To may astonishment she replied and invited me to join Word Expo, a weekly online word game that was seeking some new players.

Because it was described as a game, not a writing exercise, I decided to give it a go and for reasons that remain a mystery to me what emerges from the disparate list of words submitted by that week’s players, is often poetry. And they are usually political. During the campaign years that meant many of them were about the pulp mill.
For my guest poet gig therefore the mill was one of the three issues I focussed on. The others being refugees, and climate change. It was a fun evening and it’s crystallised a decision to put together a book of these poems that are a poetic social and political history. Although quite when I shall have time to do this is unclear!

I’ve decided it’s also time I officially ‘come out’ as a poet, and added Tas Poet Performer to my writer CV!


Tamar Valley Storyteller

I’ll admit to some trepidation and hesitation in taking up the Tamar Valley Writers’ Festival invitation to be a storyteller in its Q&A feature. It’s fantastic idea to promote the talents of so many of the writers living in the valley, but I’m not given to self-promotion – as those who know me will attest – so I felt a bit uncomfortable about outing myself, as it were.

Anyway, it’s out there now in cyberspace and Facebook land, sloshing away among all the other assorted articles, photos, comments, memes etc and will doubtless be quickly subsumed among the avalanche of links that will have already followed its publication a couple of days ago.

Hats off to the Festival though – because it’s a great idea.

Photo credit to Tim Walker. I prefer to be behind the camera rather than in front of it so not many photos of me exist. This one it has to be said, although recent, was taken for another situation entirely. I’ve just borrowed it.

Tamar Valley Storytellers: Anne Layton-Bennett


First Base . . .

. . . . At least so far as reaching the first word count target goes, and the goal I had to achieve before taking the draft to my mentor for her first proper review.

I feel fortunate in securing Robyn’s mentoring skills. As I know from others who’ve benefited from her editing criticism and advice she’ll pull no punches, but many of her writing class students over the years have gone on to find serious publishing success with their novels and memoirs. And all of them credit her mentorship in achieving that success. But for all kinds of reasons she chose to hang up her red editing pens a couple of years ago, and was therefore ambivalent about my request to consider steering me along my book-writing adventure. My initial approach was at a Schools4Climate rally we both attended. Robyn said she would think about it, but it was several months later, at a subsequent climate rally that she came across and said yes, she would do it. Phew.

It could be the subject matter that swung things in my favour – Robyn was among the thousands who campaigned against the pulp mill – but her agreement certainly galvanised me into more serious action. At that point, it has to be said, I’d not actually written a great deal but I duly took the few thousand words I had completed for her to read through. She made no comment but she still probably gave me the best advice I could have after reading them and learning how I envisaged the book developing. ‘Just get it down’ she said. ‘Don’t worry about how the stories fit together at this point, just write it down. And don’t come back to me until you have at least 15,000 words.’

Well, I’ve reached that magic number, so now it’s time to see what she thinks. By the end of next week I’ll feel either elated, enthused, and raring to write the next 20,000 words, or despondent at the thought of all the potential changes. Fingers crossed it will be the former.