Memory Makes Us

Fuelled by Memories


Yesterday, I had the extraordinary privilege of helping to deliver Memory Makes Us, an experimental live writing event at Wordstorm festival in Darwin, the regional capital of Australia’s remote Top End. Three authors wrote live to the web, fuelled by contributions from the public submitted via typewriter or post-it note at Wordstorm, or via Twitter or the website

It’s a project conceived for if:book Australia by literary technologist extraordinaire, Simon Groth, in collaboration with the brilliant literary and digital author, Kate Pullinger. As CEO of QWC, I support and manage if:book, an R&D digital publishing unit founded by the visionary Kate Eltham. Yeah, I freaking love my day job.

But I’m also a writer, and I was deeply impressed by the courage and agility of the three authors writing and publishing live to the web, crafting narrative from crowdsourced memories, serene and focused in the sweltering humidity of Darwin. Marie Munkaro, Levin Diatschenko, and Kamarra Bell-Wykes were champions, and the original works they produced are each unique and powerful. Read them here.

Contemporary evolution of the read/write relationship from symbiosis to synthesis both anchors and heightens narrative interest. Contributing my own memories to the project added a striking layer of frisson.

I had skin in the game.

Tiles in the Mosaic
Family Tree
Levin created a sophisticated, magical realist, episodic narrative – a cosy, feisty conversation the likes of which you could envision in the back room of a pub in LOTR. Levin used contributions to inspire his characters.

See Levin discuss the project here

My contributed memory to Levin’s theme of Family Tree:

Dad’s moustache: A toothbrush moustache that started out glossy black, fading over the decades to silver, with ochre hints of tobacco.

This memory fuelled the final line in Levin’s piece:

With that, he shuffled out of the bar and slammed the door behind him. I do not know if his mustache went grey.

Recurring Dreams
Marie wove a delicate, deep poem around her theme of Recurring Dreams. Ranging from crowdsourced experiences of both joy and nightmare, to resonances of a psyche formed in Australia’s Stolen Generation, Marie approached her piece with the optimism, grace, and intellect she brings to all her work.

See Marie discuss the project here

My contributions to Marie’s theme both appear, seamless and intact, in her piece:

A speed boat passes me by
I am on an island
with only crabs and thirst for company
the speed boat passes by again
My parents wave
but they do not stop

A labrador pup
malnourished and swimming upstream
Is it me?

The Power of Smell
Kamarra’s experience as a playwright are evident in the striking call-and-response structure of her piece. Riffing off contributed memories and entwining her own, Kamarra’s clear authorial voice creates a compelling throughline across a kaleidoscope of scenes and characters.

See Kamarra discuss the project here

My submitted memory to Kamarra’s theme of Smell:

Rotten mangoes fallen on my running path
makes me think of zombies and hospitals.

Kamarra fed this post-it note glimpse of memory into the wild machine of her imagination to create a detailed and touching scene between a boy, his brother and their mother.

The rights and licensing of work for Memory Makes Us were complex to get right, but are simple in effect. The authors and contributors own their work outright and are free to publish and remix it as they wish. If:book Australia has a non-exclusive licence to publish and remix it, too.

Last night I realised, along with the flush of pride and the thrill of narrative interest, that the inclusion of my memories in these authors’ beautiful works may make it tricky should I ever wish to re-use my own words – it may look like plagiarism. So it is both as an act of honour to these authors’ incredible creativity, and by way of documenting the provenance of my own contributions, that I reproduce them here.

Come Play with Us
It’s my belief that authors have always been fuelled by the contributions of those around us. Web-enabled writing allows us to capture and investigate this creative process in ways that have great potential for audience development for literary works.

Memory Makes Us will appear in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth later this year. I warmly invite you to participate in this experiment, readers and writers both. Keep an eye on the website or the twitter hashtag #memorymakesus for more info.

[this post composed and submitted by app – please excuse any format scrambles]

Top Five for Crime

The lovely Liss at Northern Rivers Writers Centre did a quick interview with me for the August edition of their Northerly Magazine. Here’s a snippet, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on adding to the list.

Oh, but first, a little taste of paradise…

picture of Byron Bay Writers Festival 2012
Byron Bay Writers Festival 2012

What are your top 5 tips for Crime writers?

1. Read widely and think deeply to understand the different sub-genres within crime and thriller literature.

2. Know where your story meets or subverts reader expectations.

3. Practice writing in short, medium, and long form.

4. Connect with crime and thriller communities, like Sisters in Crime, and with writing centres like NRWC.

5. Put your work out to carefully selected critiquing buddies and beta readers to develop confidence and strengthen your writing.

Why Eva Cox rocks

I scored a ticket to TedxBrisbane this year. Have you been to a TED? It’s a full-day event shaped to bring you in touch with social, cultural and technical innovators around the world – and especially in your own home town. Tickets are free, and won by a seemingly magical application-slash-lottery system. All meals are included – even good quality coffee.

The TEDx experience is immersive. You turn up at 8:30am to be ushered through a brilliant and precise schedule featuring 15 speakers. All speakers follow the same format, parading the diversity of ideas without any frills to dress them up. Then, sometime after the evening mixer, you staggerfloat away into the night, exhausted, drifting in a sparkling kaleidoscopic vision of humanity. Excuse the poetry; there’s just no plain way to express it.

Every part of this TEDx event was designed around principles of connection and hope, built on a strong foundation of social entrepreneurship (where resourcing initiative takes the place of charity). I met some fascinating attendees in the giant marquee on the GOMA lawn that beautiful Brissy Saturday. And the speakers were an eclectic and exciting mix. The emotional and intellectual standouts for me were:

  • Edward Harran blew my mind with his prescient insights into the K/no(w)mad generations.
  • Andrew Bartlett broke the standard format by choosing to spend his 18 TEDminutes in a heartrending and enlightening discussion with invited guest, Mr Hassan, an Afghan refugee.
  • A bible bashing eco-feminist who shall remain nameless pissed me off mightily with her patronising prostheltysing infommercial, which managed to strike a perfect balance between both ego- and guilt-tripping. (I felt bad having such a negative reaction to one of the few women on the program, but there you go.)
  • Jeff Waldman brought joy to my heart with his swing project – he hangs swings around the world, made from rope and wood or whatever he can find. Swings bring joy, Jeff says, and nobody is above a push.
But the best, the very best and mightiest of all was Eva Cox. Yes, folks, I was actually in the same room as Australia’s preeminent social change activist and feminist political visionary! Well, actually, I was in a room with her giant Skyped face on a screen. (Cheers, airline, for grounding my shero out-of-town on the big day).
eva cox
Eva Cox, rockin' her trademark turtleneck

Eva spoke elegantly and simply about what could be summed up as Stuff That Matters Most. Her take home message was “We need to start paying for what we care about, instead of caring about what we pay for”. As they put it in this terrific article over at JosephMark: how to prioritise social good rather than economic growth.

It was not only the content of Eva’s speech that made it special. There was also this one moment… One of those moments when time hung still, everyone in the room suspended in a shared epiphany.

Eva, at 73, was clearly new to the whole Skyptacular microphone/headset thang, so she was gesticulating and bumping the mic a fair bit, as newbs do. She was talking about Stuff That Matters Most in a disarmingly me-to-you way; no preaching, no talking down to us. Her face was projected onto a screen the size of a public pool. We sat in a banked auditorium that practically tipped each one of us into her digital lap. It was intimate somehow; despite the pixellations and delays, her address felt direct and oddly disintermediated.

She’d been talking for maybe 5 minutes, and was starting to warm up, to really relax and get comfortable. Eva alternated between looking straight at the camera – straight at us – with occasional downward glances, or sometimes raising her gaze thoughtfully to the ceiling. She followed the ‘no notes’ TED rule, speaking off-the-cuff, from her heart and mind and guts and dare I say it, balls.

Then Eva Cox said this: “People are much more difficult to look after than money, so why do we pay people who look after money so much more than we pay people who look after people?”

And for some reason, that struck a chord with us. A chord you could actually hear; one that began in the front row and rippled up the tiered seating like a Flamenco guitar riff. 500 of us in the main venue, plus 100s of TEDx folks in the adjoining auditoriums, all clapping and murmuring our approval.

Eva kept talking, eyes lowered, the Skype connection buffering her awareness of our response.

And our response kept growing, refusing to fade away as applause usually does. It grew into that wild, footstomping kind of applause, like an audience demanding an encore at the end of a stadium gig. Our murmurs turned to full-throated cheers, spiked with wolf whistles and ululations. Many of us found ourselves lifted to our feet in a standing ovation.

Then Eva Cox looked up.

She looked into her computer screen at home and saw us: auditoriums full of folks she didn’t know, thousands of miles away, all moved beyond measure at her stunningly simple observations about such complex and difficult issues. Borne of her truths, the sentient connection between us all was palpable, and Eva sensed it, and it stopped her in her tracks. She paused, looked surprised, looked away, looked back at us. Cleared her throat. Smiled a shy smile, fumbled for the thread of her thoughts, looked down again, still smiling to herself. Then she shot us a glance, clear-eyed and determined, and quickly picked up where she left off, carrying on with her amazing TEDx presentation.

That day, I saw Eva Cox take on a new and tricky situation, fly by the seat of her pants, speak her regular startling truths, and stay open to the fact that one person in one moment can harness the energy required for significant social  change. She is a living legend and a force to be reckoned with, yet I have seen Eva Cox blush.

And that’s why Eva Cox rocks.

Byron Bay, here I come!

I am heading down to Byron Bay to chair the Nuts and Bolts Workshop tomorrow, Thursday 4 August.  A full day event,  I’ll be working with amazing people such as Lis Bastian from Varuna House, Stephanie Smith from HarperVoyager, Simon Groth from if:book Australia, and wonderful authors Kim Falconer and Fiona McIntosh. They’ll be dishing the inside story on writing and publishing. Can’t wait!byron bay writers festival logoInterested in coming along? Tickets available here. It’s going to be awwwwwesome!

Poison and justice …

poison doughnut

I’ll blog about this fabulous Criminal Brief overview of self-publishing over at Speakeasy, but it is so useful I want to share it here as well – for two reasons.

In itself, it is a sage warning about the pitfalls of vanity publishing for writers (‘Neither authors nor readers are well-served by self-published fiction’), while outlining the usefulness of self-publishing for certain projects. 

But also, the site is one for crime buffs to watch, being A Mystery Short Story Web Log Project. Super cool!


Fictional or in real life, Melbourne’s upcoming Crime and Justice Festival has it covered. I am crying into my beautiful Pulp Fiction Press edition of Cocaine Blues that I won’t make it to hear Kerry Greenwood. If someone in the blogosphere is going, can you please tweet the highlights? Let me know so I can follow you!


Cake Week at the poison doughnut!  I want cake week at QWC!


Writer Mama

I’m reading Writer Mama, and it’s changing the way I view my life.

Freelance writer Christina Katz delivers nearly 300 pocket-sized pages of wisdom that will help any writer, not just the mamas among us. Most writers can benefit from advice about how to work from home, be your own boss, build on your strengths, and follow your interests. I read Katz’s Get Known before the Book Deal as research for an article I wrote for WQ, and read in conjunction, Katz’s two books have inspired me to create a framework to organise my writing activites. I devote time to research, generating ideas, networking, and creating opportunities, as well as the actual writing.


In between all this writerly biz and mama stuff, I’ve read a few gems lately. The Writing Class, by the wonderfully named Jincy Willett, lived up to its reviews. As a long-term inmate of the crime genre, I especially enjoyed the way it spoofed the nuts’n’bolts of the craft, like the Centre Pompidou above, showing its pipes.

Now Larson‘s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is waiting patiently on my bedside table, waiting for me to finished some other required reading for work. Anyone who’s read it, please give me the jist, the flavour, the je nais se qua of it all (no spoilers please).

Next week sees the release of the Byron Bay Writers Festival program – check out the Sunday sessions for a surprise late entrant!