Friday, 24 July 2015

Words Out: Paddy O'Reilly at The Moat

I met Paddy O'Reilly on the day her new short story collection, 'Peripheral Vision', was released. I was surprised that she'd suggested we could meet for a coffee that day, thinking she'd be busy walking bookshops checking that it was on the shelves and celebrating with champers and good friends. But that's probably a reflection of me and what I would have been doing. As it turns out she hadn't realised that it was Publication Day, so I got to introduce myself with good news and (I hoped) some indication that I do have a finger on Melbourne's short story pulse.
Just on the shelves

If you're interested in talking about or listening to others talk about Books, Writing and Ideas, then you've no doubt been under 176 Little Lonsdale Street to The Moat. It's lamp-lit and cove-like, an escape from winter chills and 40 degree north winds. The bluestone walls, bookshelves and striped wallpaper have hosted night readings and breakfast clubs, writing groups, Christmases in July (that was me with some old work colleagues and a slow-roasted, aged lamb shoulder) and of course happy hours leading in to late night drinking sessions.

At lunchtime, when I met Paddy, it was full and we may have been surrounded by people connected with the State Library of Victoria, The Wheeler Centre and its resident organisations, writers and readers and publishers and tourists on the Melbourne literary trail (or completely unaware of the significance of the venue).

Paddy was already settled at a window table and when I joined her we quickly found synergies - our love of short stories, laughing, big cities, Melbourne's coffee snobbery and valuing time spent with people who love talking about books, reading and sentences as much as we each do. Most of her work happens at home, "in the dark" - she has tried writing in cafes, walking down the street and on trams but works better when no-one is looking and she can go out in her garden to think in the company of her free-range urban chickens, Toni and Guy (named after their plumage).

I like her sense of humour in person as much as on the page.

Writing under two names, Paddy O'Reilly and P A O'Reilly, gives her scope to experiment and have fun with her writing. Creating Norm and Loretta - a character who first appeared in a short story but wouldn't leave her author alone - for 'The Fine Colour of Rust' was entertaining and I can imagine a great relief compared to some of her other stories. Too often humour can be dismissed in 'literary' publishing, and I loved hearing Cate Kennedy and Michael Cathcart, in a Radio National interview with Paddy, talk about how much their partners and families laughed through Loretta's Gunapan dramas, and surely that makes it a valuable addition to books that expand readerships.

It's fitting that we met in The Moat where above us Kate Larsen is doing an amazing job at extending Writers Victoria's program, events and opportunities, and beside us Lisa Dempster is curating more and more diverse events for Melbourne Writers Festival. There's so much work going on to broaden the demographic of writers and readers and I think Paddy's writing range plays an important part in this.

Her novels and short stories happen in rural cities, urban density and, in 'The Wonders', an "accelerated world of human artifice". I love her descriptions and details and that she's equally compelling writing from the male and female perspective, in first and third, past and present tenses.
"The woman was wearing a large, floppy hat of aqua terry towelling that completely covered her hair and partly obscured her face. Her upper torso was quite slim and she swivelled like an office chair on her heavy hips…" (from Deja Vu)
As an exercise for myself I've written down all of the opening paragraphs and endings in the stories in 'Peripheral Vision', and done the same with my own works in progress. It's a categorical demonstration of Paddy's skill setting up a story - sometimes with an opener that drops you smack in a setting, sometimes feeling like humour or far lighter than how the story then progresses - telling and finishing the story in a way that achieves the writing tip I have as my screensaver: "Wherever possible try to tell the entire story of the novel in the opening line" (John Irving).
"I live in a suburb where no politician lives and therefore the trams run infrequently, often late and without proper brakes." (from 'The City Circle') 
"Two days after the windows imploded, the first cracks appeared in the walls. We had taped up the glassless windows with gaffer and cardboard and at night the wind moaned as it nudged the torn edges of cardboard, trying to get in." (from 'Breaking Up") 
When she's not writing, Paddy enjoys giving technical support to her writer friends. If she hadn't been a writer she may well have been a coder - as she tells me it too is all about creativity and attention to detail I think that, like short stories, it might be another art that is under appreciated. You might find her hammering things together, assembling Ikea furniture or running workshops where she loves watching enthusiasm build in a room and seeing how much can happen in just four hours. Whatever she's doing there's an underlying dedication to celebrating stories.

Paddy won't talk about what she's working on now - she attributes being terribly superstitious to her Irish lineage - but on this day of publication she feels extremely privileged to have a second collection of short stories published. I'm also grateful to UQP for publishing 'Peripheral Vision'. I hope that the sentiment 'not enough people love short stories' is really 'not enough people know they love short stories' as that's something we can overcome.

Thanks so much for your time, Paddy. You made me laugh and were happy to talk on tangents - like how unfair it seems that your name doesn't automatically entitle you to an Irish passport when I have one; and who are all these young people (the youff) who seem to be able to spend hours in cafes on weekdays; and why is it that people think it's okay to interrogate writers about how much of their writing is based on their own experiences, when it's released as fiction, because how can a writer's personal experiences be more important to talk about than the work itself? - while you tried to enjoy some lunch in between appointments. Talking with Paddy felt like being with "my people" - proud love for the short story form, Melbourne and most of all for celebrating writing. Oh, and I owe you a coffee.




Words Out: plotting Melbourne's future literary map

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Words Out: some same same, but different

I started Words Out: plotting Melbourne's future literary map, as a place to celebrate two of my passions - Melbourne and stories.

So far it's taken me to cafes, a convent and a whisky bar. Sounds about right for Melbourne writers. Each time I've come away from a conversation feeling inspired, grateful and excited about the opportunity to promote writers whose work that I believe deserves to leave a legacy in Australian literature.

From the five conversations that I've had there are some interesting similarities, and contrasts, and I've acquired such an interesting and diverse reading list that I wanted to share it.

Else Fitzgerald and Mark Brandi are inner-urban residents who both grew up in rural Victorian towns, and while they write fiction the places and people from their background have a strong influence on their work. Of course when I shared the details of the Olga Masters short story award with them, a competition for stories about Australian rural life, Mark told me that his current short work is set in Collingwood!

Mark and Angela Meyer both exercise regularly and believe that keeping fit is a really important part of their writing routine. Lee Kofman confessed that she has a love-hate with her gym, and at times with writing, but she genuinely loves her work as a mentor and tutor for other writers. Nicole Hayes also juggles writing with teaching, editing (and barracking for Hawthorn), so her dedicated writing time at the cafe 'Santucci's' is precious. She goes there laden with her laptop, hardcopy editing work and "just-in-case" files, and doesn't mind where she sits or how busy it is because it's her time to focus on her work.

Both Nicole and Lee took me to the cafe they enjoy using as an opportunity to escape from domestic or family commitments. Else, as well as being part of the 'Carolina' family, will often be joined there by her mum (who plays a key role in her editing), and Mark, who goes to the Abbotsford Convent to escape from his writing study, often takes his parents there for lunch.

While the places these Melbourne writers have taken me to and the 'writing reasons' that they go there varies, there's one universal thing that these conversations always include: celebrating other writers and their work. Here's their list of recommendations, re-reads and influences for you to enjoy:

goawayimreading.tumblr.com
Else Fitzgerald: Sonya Hartnett and Margo Lanagan have been big influences, she loves Annie Dillard and 'The Poisonwood Bible' by Barbara Kingsolver is one of her all-time favourites.

Nicole Hayes: 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy made such an impression on her that she briefly stopped writing after she finished it. "I'd just read the perfect book. Why even bother when I knew I couldn't write anything as powerful."

Lee Kofman: 'The Master and Margarita' by Mikhail Bulgakov is her favourite book and she's read it many many times. It influenced her as a writer to "trust her readers' intelligence and believe they'd appreciate literary originality".

Angela Meyer: was reading 'Black Rock White City' by A. S. Patric when we met and was bursting with praise for it. Otherwise she's well known for her Kafka (and Bowie, and movies) love.

Mark Brandi: Fascinated by writers who are humanists, exploring life's philosophical questions, 'The Stranger' by Albert Camus is a book that he re-reads, and his "gift" to me, the story that he insisted I must read, is 'Bullet In The Brain' by Tobias Wolff. He was right, and you should read it too.

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Words Out: plotting Melbourne's future literary map