Last year I said goodbye to Jym, because he kept trying to kill me.
Jym wasn’t a vicious ex or an abusive family member. ‘Jym’ was the name of my first car.
I’d gotten Jym from my older sister Jane, who had received the car from someone else. As you might expect of a third-hand car, Jym had a few problems. I didn’t care about the fading, dusty blue paint job, the scuffs on the bonnet, or the loud ticking sound the indicator made, like a bomb about to explode. Some cars give a self-assured, patient wink when you flick the indicator on. Not Jym. Jym would blink frantically, as though screaming as he approached a corner: ‘LEFT! GET OUT OF MY WAY – I’M GOING LEFT!’.
Anyway, none of those things mattered terribly to me. I didn’t even care much about the fact that sometimes Jym broke down. I learnt that most strangers are willing to lend a hand, or a phone, if you’re stranded. And, on the plus side, I learnt how to use jumper leads.
What bothered me was the busted sound-system.
I sing all the time. That’s what my family does, and I never realised it was unusual until a few years ago. I thought most people used music to make sense of their lives, and listed off ‘Top 5’ songs for every occasion like the guys in High Fidelity. Turns out that’s not true.
While driving I’d sing by myself sometimes, although it’s hard to head-bang when you haven’t got drums, bass or guitars to get your groove on to. But I knew it wasn’t Jym’s fault that he’d been a little damaged before me. And I was grateful to have Jym around because – when his battery didn’t die – he kept me mobile.
Then the incidents started.
I was driving a friend home once – with the windows down since it was a scorcher, and Jym’s air con was tired and had decided that warm air was better than hot, and easier to produce than cold. The smell of burning rubber hit me, and Jym shuddered and jerked.
Something was very wrong. Jym bounced like one of those kids’ rides in shopping centres, shrieking at me to stop. I pulled over, to find that one of the front tyres had eroded. In its place hung a mess of black, rounded strips: a half-chewed, burned-to-charcoal donut. If I’d kept driving, what was left would have shredded and we would’ve crashed.
I bought a new tyre and had it fitted, but that was just the beginning. Once, I was driving towards a set of traffic lights when the amber turned to red. I tried to slow; nothing happened.
The car in front of me pulled to a smart halt.
I stepped on the brakes, fear rising in my chest. No result.
Swerving into the next lane, I missed the car in front and ran the red. There was a loud beep – obviously someone thought I was being a hooligan – but I didn’t know what to do or how to stop. I didn’t even know where I was driving anymore; I’d just left familiar roads behind.
Thank goodness the stretch before me was empty. I steered to keep Jym on the road, remembering vividly that scene from Superman where one of the lesser villains yells at Lex Luthor for cutting her car brakes. She had climbed into the car ready to pretend she needed a superhero’s help, but Lex had wanted her panic to be real. He was willing to put her in danger to reach his enemy.
I didn’t want to live in a movie, and I was pretty sure Superman wouldn’t swoop out of the sky to save me if I came upon traffic.
Jym lost speed as the road climbed a hill and I tried to keep calm. Soon I could pull over and let him glide to a complete stop. Then I’d work out where I was, and phone for help.
But when we reached the top of the hill, I saw the road continue down, down, down. I stomped on the brakes; my foot hit the floor but it made no difference.
Should’ve yanked the hand-brake, but I didn’t. Jym tumbled down the slope, picking up speed again, and I saw a series of hills ahead, like a grassy river, rising and falling, cut through the middle with a strip of black.
Following a rollercoaster of accelerating and slowing, I eventually steered onto the side of a lonely street and came to a stop. Miraculously, I didn’t hit anyone or anything.
Mum and Dad helped me get Jym checked out. I bought new brake pads, but in the wake of this experience I regarded Jym with suspicion.
And I was right to, because the brakes gave out, again.
I remembered the days when Jym’s battery went flat. Although being stuck in a carpark wasn’t the best, I’d learnt that a car that won’t start is a problem, but a car that won’t stop…
I needed to move on. I’d tried to make things work with Jym; I’d tried to fix him, but I needed a clean break. So I started looking around. Made a few enquiries.
‘I think I know what to look for now,’ I told Mum.
‘Great, honey. It’s all a learning curve.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I want a radio!’
Oh yes. Brakes.
There were a few obstacles to buying a new car. Apart from music and brakes, I wanted something small, cheap to run, and, ridiculous as this might sound, I wanted a car with personality. So many cars are boring. White is too commonplace. Black is too sophisticated, and I don’t do sophisticated. Silver tries too hard to look sleek. I actually went to check out a silver car. Sat in the driver’s seat and tried to imagine that this was my car. I felt like I’d instantly aged a decade and had acquired an office job I hated. That car might have appeared ‘professional’, but it felt like no fun at all.
Jym was fun. Before he’d betrayed me, he’d had personality. Actually, even after he’d betrayed me, he had personality.
Letting go of Jym felt like saying goodbye to a particular time of my life. I had a lot of memories tied up in that car: driving in a Padmé costume, with Jane riding shotgun on our way to the Star Wars premiere; going to uni sport club practices; travelling to Brissy to see my little sister Alice.
So keep me, Jym said. Keep driving me, but, just so you know, “You say stop, and I say go, go, go…”.
Remember what I said about my family and music? Well, we really must be an obsessed bunch, because my car quoted The Beatles at me.
I told Jym he had a death-wish and he sang, Beep, beep, beep, beep, yeah!, which I believe is from Drive My Car. I told Jym to quit making the lyrics to some of my favourite songs creepy, and then cut the conversation off.
In a few short weeks, I found a new second-hand car. One that was well-maintained, shiny, and pretty damn safe. I gave Jym back to Jane, and warned her not to drive him.
‘You could maybe get some money for the parts.’
‘I might get him fixed.’
‘Good luck,’ I said. ‘That car’s cursed.’
My new car’s name is Rei. She’s smooth without being self-involved. Pale blue. She’d like to have a sunnier disposition but, you know what they say, you can’t have everything.
She has a working sound-system, which means that I can sing and dance while driving. The real challenge is to work your upper body while car-dancing, because it’s hard (not impossible, but hard) to do leg moves.
Rei also has an air-con that pumps out cold air on request, a quiet set of flashing indicator lights, and very good brakes. In the six months I’ve owned her, she’s never broken down. We’ve visited old and new places, and she hasn’t tried to kill me.
The beginning of a new year always prompts me to think about what I want to accomplish. I usually realise that I lost my list of resolutions from the previous year, or achieved a couple of my goals but forgot about the rest.
Yesterday I caught up with one of my friends, and we talked about writing an ULTIMATE LIST OF (IM)POSSIBLE DREAMS. One that includes goals not just for this year, but for your whole life. Too often we tell ourselves that the things we want the most are out of reach. I’m asking you to let yourself think of everything you truly want, and then write it all down.
Yes, I realise that completing a draft of this list may take a while. That’s okay.
But only include goals you really want to accomplish. Not the things someone else has told you you should want. Or the things that you want right in this second (‘To eat a dozen doughnuts!’) – that you probably won’t want in the next minute. Don’t write down passing whims; write down recurring dreams you can’t shake even when you’ve been told to, and record the little things that are big to you. Use the ULTIMATE LIST OF (IM)POSSIBLE DREAMS to savour moments, celebrate victories, and remember what you’re chasing.
I’m not saying that we should all expect to become movie-stars or billionaires, or even that a lot of people would want to. I just think it’s good to be honest with yourself about what you want. That way, you can prioritise and try to make some of those hazy fictions you’ve imagined for yourself into realities.
Here are a few examples of goals on my list:
Learn how to cook vegetarian lasagne.
See a whale.
See Uluru in person.
Create a secret passageway in my home.
Play the role of Mercutio in a stage production.
I’ve already done the first two (years ago), but they’re on the list because they were life goals that mattered to me. I still cook lasagne, and now I should add something to the list like ‘Learn how to make cannelloni by myself!’, because that would also give me a sense of satisfaction. (Okay, I like Italian food.)
I’ve seen Beluga and Humpback whales, and I love them. Whales are magnificent. They fill me with awe. If you haven’t seen one yet, please consider adding it to your list.
As for the others… Well, I’ve wanted to see Uluru for a jolly long time, and it’s really up to me to save some money and make it happen. I don’t want to climb Uluru – I know it’s sacred to the Aborigines – I just want to see it. Stand in front of the great beating heart of Australia. Breathe in desert air and red rock. Look up at the endless summer sky out in the middle of my country.
Now, this is my list – not yours. It would be easy to shoot down the things on my list. ‘You can see sky anywhere; look out the window!’. That’s what I can imagine some people saying. When I went to London with my sister, our mutual friend expressed a lack of interest in the London Eye and told us drolly that it was ‘just a big Ferris wheel’. This comment amused me, but I also felt compelled to point out that the fete-style attraction held a certain appeal for a lot of other people, if not for him.
But back to the piece of my list: who doesn’t want a secret passageway? I mean, come on. Come on. I could feel like one of The Three Investigators! I could host Murder Mystery nights!
It would be amazing.
Oh, and as for Mercutio? Well, this is one dream that I accept may not become a reality. I do understand that Mercutio is traditionally played by a man. But I think casting a woman would be an interesting reinterpretation, especially considering the theory some hold about Mercutio’s sexuality. If the director decides that Mercutio is secretly in love with Romeo, then how might that part be explored by a woman? And what kind of sharp contrasts could be drawn between Romeo’s best friend and Juliet, if Mercutio was female?
Anyway, I’m going to include aspirations like ‘Play the part of Mercutio’, even if the chance of it coming to pass seems downright ridiculous or at least improbable. After all, this is my ULTIMATE LIST OF (IM)POSSIBLE DREAMS – and I want the freedom to think big.
I don’t expect everything I want to happen and I know that plenty of goals are, at least in part, dependent on other people. But I will work for the things that matter most to me and try to put myself in a position to get what I want… and I’ll remind myself to enjoy the journey. Because spending time with family and friends and doing things like making lasagne and daydreaming all counts.
So, if you want, make your own ULTIMATE LIST OF (IM)POSSIBLE DREAMS. If you tell anyone about it, try to say the whole title in caps – the way I’ve typed it. 😛 Doing so will remind you that whatever made the list is capital-letter important to you. (And talking at capital-letter volume has the added bonus of baffling or annoying whoever you’re talking to!) 😉
Oh, and one more thing. I’ve always wanted to write stories and get them published. So, knowing that later this year I will have a book in bookshops makes my heart swell.
My narrative, The Whirlpool, has been accepted for publication by Wombat Books. Working with Rochelle Manners and Emily Lighezzolo has been a pleasure, and I love the book’s beautiful illustrations by Helene Magisson. My story has become a tangible thing. I’ll let you know when it’s available.
Most dreams aren’t impossible. If you reach, sometimes dreams come true.
With the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, I’d like to take a moment to talk about magic. And I’d like to tell you that magic is real.
You see, as a child, I was a great believer. The sight of mushrooms and clover-patches made me glow inside. I saw fairies in our backyard (I admit now they may have been dragonflies, but at the time I was convinced). I paid special attention to antique wardrobes and mirrors – hoping a Talking Beast or one of Shirley Barber’s unicorns would burst through the other side. I saw the seas and sky as portals to other worlds. When I was five, I’d spin below the mango tree at my primary school, watching clouds swell and blossom, and think of its branches touching the sky and extending into other realms. If I went to the beach, I imagined that the sunlight glimmering on the water was a sort of secret code, sent from one magical race above water to those below it. I was fully aware that I couldn’t build a time machine – the only materials at my disposal were sticks, leaves, gluggy glue, and glitter – but I still wanted to try.
I always knew that I was reading fiction. That didn’t matter to me – what mattered was that it could all be true. I could be like Lucy Pevensie or Harry Potter because if I was to cross paths with an umbrella-carrying faun, or encounter a house-elf, I’d respond with more joy than surprise. I loved the idea that magic could be lurking around the corner: a marvellous hidden world (or several) co-existing with our own. But, sadly, it seemed that this world was to remain hidden. My life was never interrupted by a wizard who ushered me out of my messy bedroom (it’s basically the same as a hobbit-hole, right?) to send me on an adventure. I was never conscripted to work with the LEP (Lower Elements Police), mesmerised by good ol’ Holly Short, or mind-wiped by a conceited centaur (but if I was I wouldn’t know it, would I?). And my letter from Hogwarts must have gotten lost in the mail.
So, for kids like me who grew up under the shining influence of magic, you can imagine how soul-crushing reality turned out to be. Something terribly sad happened to me and all of the believers like me: we grew up. We grew up and were slapped by life’s blandness or bleakness… and sometimes its tragedy. It became apparent that good does not always prevail. Help does not always arrive just when it’s needed the most. And that spark of idealistic determination that defines the fantasy hero is hard to hold onto. Part of growing up is losing your innocence. It’s easy to feel disillusioned when faced with uncertainty, betrayal, corruption, heartache… and other issues, like the loss of a loved one, human and animal exploitation, poverty, and climate change. It can be easy to think, ‘This world is pretty screwy. Where’d all the magic go?’. Or, to echo C3PO’s sentiment: ‘We’re doomed.’ Or, to quote Private Hudson from Aliens, ‘We’re all gonna die! Game over, man! Game over!’.
But, when you think about it, any compelling magical world is far from problem-free. Heroes are heroes in any realm because they emulate positive qualities like kindness, bravery and selflessness – qualities that we might recognise in the people around us. This is reassuring. And while magic may not be experienced as a tangible thing, it is real nonetheless. As the fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book, The Little Prince, says, ‘What is essential is invisible to the eye’. Magic moments might very well be intangible or invisible, because some of the most real things that you’ll ever experience will happen inside your head. Your thoughts change how you perceive yourself and interact with the world. And unless you experience insights about life, pain, and love next to someone who’s become adept at knowing you – and has learnt to read your soul in your expressions and mannerisms – these moments may go unseen, unnoted. That doesn’t make them less real. (And, don’t get me wrong, some of these moments might happen because of the person who’s beside you.)
Magic exists because we recognise it in the inexplicably beautiful, or we create it. As a child, I allowed a sense of wonder to uplift me – and that was magical. If I stop and think about it, I still chase that sense of wonder. (I sent myself on an adventure to London; I hang out with hard-core, sword-wielding nerds; I am mesmerised by the sky’s colours, and I choose not to forget my mistakes. Because, let’s face it, that whole mind-wiping thing resulted in some serious personality-regression for Artemis.)
Magic simmers in the little moments. In listening to a spine-shivering song, or reading a line in a book that makes you ache. Magic is in laughter. In gliding over ice, running until your breath is raw in your throat, eating pie, or taking in a staggeringly beautiful view. Magic is meeting another person’s eyes and realising that you can hear their unspoken thoughts. Magic is in sharing ideas, emotions, time. So, I’m going to give you the same advice I’m giving myself: search for magic in the everyday. Naivety and idealism are not synonyms. You don’t need to hide from issues in order to seek out the good. Be idealistic. See magic around you, and make magic. It’s there if you look for it. Trust me.
I think songs are kind of like flash fiction: they capture and suspend a moment, story or emotion in a few minutes. Music helps with my writing sometimes because it can be a little like playing dress-ups: slipping into another person’s thoughts, or trying on different perspectives.
While I’m on a music-is-might kick, I want to discuss ‘Push’ by Matchbox Twenty. Those guys did a hell of a job because that song makes me ache for the fictional victim and aggressor. Vulnerable, angsty lyrics coupled with a raw sound. ‘I’m a little bit rusty…’ Well, that’s genius.
I don’t think ‘Push’ is suggesting that anger is the answer to any problems. Far from it. But it helps the willing listener understand the mindset of someone who has felt pushed around by life and wants to push back. If anything, to me this song suggests that we should be careful not to punish the people in our lives for personal baggage.
The great thing about a song is that it’s open to interpretation. If you don’t want to reconcile ‘Push’ with abuse, it can mean something else to you. Who hasn’t wondered whether or not they measure up to their own standards, or someone else’s? Who hasn’t felt doubt or insecurity, or like they’d like to shine despite their damage?
I could probably keep ranting and analyse this four-minute song for an hour, but I don’t want to take you (or your attention) for granted. 😉 So right, yes, back to my main point: songs can really help provide inspiration for writing stories because they can help you get in a particular mood for a given scene, or assist in developing characters. I like to listen to music while I think about a story, but rarely play it while I’m actually writing, because then I get distracted. I don’t want to have someone else’s lyrics in mind when I’m trying to listen to my characters. I know other people work differently, but I just thought I’d share what works for me. Please feel free to comment about your favourite song, what it means to you, or how you use music for your writing!
Some writing aches with beauty and makes you feel like another person has distilled a truth of the universe that part of you had always known, but never fully articulated.
Some writing causes you to reflect and discover new aspects of yourself: the true soul of your soul.
Stories may awaken a sense of nostalgia in you, and leave you to ponder life and all of its impossible possibilities. Things that were once options but no longer are. Some writing reads like a half-sketched map of adventures not taken. Characters may live out a thousand versions of your life, had you chosen differently, or motivate you to reconsider your choices now.
Stories can be empowering, awe-inspiring, life-changing. I truly believe that.
And some writing is ugly. Some is supposed to be. Because writing reflects the human experience, and humans inevitably experience pain, misery and suffering. (This blog is not supposed to be a major downer, by the way, I’m just getting real here.) The other stuff is real, too. Absolutely. Love, joy, kindness and hope exist. Love is what makes living worthwhile. There are glorious moments where you realise that another person in this vast and too small universe understands the same thing you do; where kindness prevails, and magic shines in the everyday. We can’t lose sight of all the good, but failing to represent the grime of life in narrative form would be a mistake.
Which brings me back to writing ugly. I once told a writer friend that his story was too eloquent. ‘What’s wrong with it?’ he asked. I told him that he’d used a beautiful style for a moment that wasn’t beautiful. And there is a place for prose like Henry James’, but I thought this particular scene deserved raw emotion. My advice was to stop trying as hard and let the action play out. If a scene is brutal, then make me feel whiplashed. Use the language your story demands. Use words like ‘crush’, ‘ooze’, ‘smash’ and ‘grit’. Experiment with choppy sentences, blunt sounds. Subtlety can be wonderful, but certain situations call for a sledgehammering. So, bash me over the head with words. Try not to get caught up in the kind of writing that will make you feel consumed by a fatalistic view of the world, but give me something authentic. Characters are allowed to panic, to get scared or angry, and emotionally and physically beaten up. All of that’s okay, but it is nice to watch them fight, and will them to succeed, and to cheer when they do.
So, if you wanna give it a go, write ugly. It’ll make the light in your stories shine brighter.
I’ve been asked to provide a recent photo to be published alongside a short story I’ve got coming out soon.
Unfortunately, in the only half-decent photos of me from the last six months, I am dressed up like an Ewok (complete with a spear), wearing a backwards cap or loud pop culture shirt, cuddling my ex-boyfriend (when he wasn’t my ex), or going as Pikachu to my sister’s birthday party.
Apparently, “professional” is not my look.
So, what to do? I’ve attempted the selfie. I manage to squint a lot when I smile. In fact, my eyes are mostly closed even when I know exactly when the photo is going to be taken.
I could ask someone else to take a few pics of me, but I get kind of self-conscious about the whole thing and my smile rarely looks genuine when it’s not. So I could just run with the Ewok shot. I mean, those fuzzy little guys did help overthrow the Empire. That has to win some respect, right?
But it seems to me that photos of authors are usually distinguished black-and-white shots of women sipping wine with one hand curled around a book, or men gazing pensively into the distance. Sometimes writers are captured sitting at their desks, perched over a typewriter, adjusting their spectacles, or patting a cat. Their expressions vary from intense concentration to dream-like trances. Rarely do you see an author beaming, or in costume.
Maybe I could start a trend. Pretty soon every author photo pinned next to work online, or printed on the dust cover of a book, will resemble a Supanova happy-snap. It’ll be a great way to learn about your favourite writers’ interests.
…I may have attached the wrong image to the email I just sent. Instead of the Ewok photo, I must have clicked on the one next to it: me as a Hogwarts’ student.
I’ve been waiting for a few months for my flash fiction (The Amber Light) to come out in the 2016 Winter/Spring issue of The Zodiac Review. Well, I’m pleased to tell you that my wait is over. If you’re interested, I can give you the green light to read my story at www.thezodiacreview.com/#!current-issue/nxo1t, or go to my ‘Links’ page.
The Amber Light is an introspective narrative about the challenges of renegotiating relationships. The amber lamplight represents the narrator’s hesitation about how to respond when his best friend declares she is in love with him, as amber traffic lights are associated with waiting. The Amber Light is a slice-of-life story that explores the narrator’s fears about damaging a friendship, and captures the moment where the nature of the unnamed characters’ relationship is considered and, ultimately, changed.
A short story I wrote in early 2015 has just been published online, in issue 8 of Number Eleven magazine. Number Eleven is an Irish literary magazine that publishes work from international authors, and I’m excited about my story finding a home in its digital pages.
My story is called The Dance and is a dialogue between two teenagers who are trying to decide whether they can sustain a romance after sharing a long friendship. I enjoyed writing Jamie, because she wouldn’t shut up and kept shooting off quips in a rapid-fire. Cole was an interesting character for me to engage with too, because he is so conflicted.
The lighthearted style of the story masks the characters’ deeper emotions, and the tension ebbs and builds as the conversation rallies back and forth between Jamie and Cole, as they argue about whether to break up. If you’d like to give it a read, head to http://numberelevenmagazine.com/the-dance/. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!