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Ampersand

Almost two years ago, I made a bold proposal to my dear writerly friend Emilie Collyer: if we both got publishing contracts within the next year, we should get matching tattoos.

Next to the microwave in the office of the small arts organisation we both worked for, we shook hands. A pact was made.

Over the weeks that followed, we wondered aloud what kind of tattoo we might get. It should be something symbolic, we said. Something writerly.  I casually mentioned that I had always liked the ‘&’ symbol. Emilie mused how ‘&’ denoted the word ‘and’ but also had its own word (‘ampersand’). Those layers of meaning felt pretty damn writerly. We also liked how open-ended the ampersand was. It said: ‘Sure, we’ve had a book published but there’s more to come, bitches!’. It said: ‘And… and… and…’.

Of course, I should note here that, much like a bride planning a wedding before she’s even found herself a fiancé(e), we were a little ahead of ourselves. There was still the small matter of getting our manuscripts published… Pfft! Mere tish tosh! The power of ampersand compelled us! In fact, at the very moment we stood next to that microwave and shook hands, the full manuscript for my first book was with half a dozen major publishers. Surely, it was just a matter of time! I mean, ampersand!

As the weeks and months passed, however, two of those major publishers passed on my manuscript and the others eventually fell into the kind of long silence where no words are spoken but the meaning is very, very clear. My manuscript and I had entered a World of No

Meanwhile, Emilie had entered an even darker place. Only a few weeks after we made our pact, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her focus quickly shifted from her writing to her health, and her trajectory was no longer towards triumphant publication, but instead towards surgery, chemo and radiotherapy.  In the middle of her treatment, Emilie confided that she wasn’t sure she would ever return to writing. I supported her, of course, but secretly, I despaired for her and it led me to a very important realisation. All this time I had been thinking a writer who wasn’t published wasn’t really a proper writer. But the truth was that a writer who didn’t write was a person living half a life.

Thankfully, Emilie came back to writing. Slowly at first, and then with great force. She wrote an article about her cancer treatment and then started working on a novel and then a play and then another play and… and… and… Last month, I saw her wonderful play Contest at the Northcote Town Hall. She is now working towards getting a new play up next year and has an idea for another novel.

As for me, I stopped fretting about whether or not I was going to get published and finished a second manuscript and embarked on a third. I started writing short stories.

And… and… and… 

You see, the true meaning of ampersand was not about getting published. It was about making a commitment to writing, and to ourselves as writers.

With this in mind and heart, last Friday Emilie and I went together to Vic Market Tattoo in North Melbourne and let a man called Pablo indelibly mark us.

Because we are ampersand. Ampersand is us. We are writers. And we will always write.

Also, #fuckcancer.

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Your words are like a strong white light

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The Dark Side of the Loom. Photo credit: Aldo Cavini Benedetti

Sometimes, when you read something you have written, the words dance for you on the page. You are dazzled by their beauty and their music and you feel quietly pleased. You are a wordsmith!  A sculptor of sentences! A god!

And then other times, when you read those very same words, they are lifeless and tuneless. Misshapen and clumsy.  Ill-formed. You feel embarrassed by them and for yourself. You wonder why you even bothered.

But don’t worry.

Your words are like a strong white light and, every time they are read, they enter a prism and emerge as one of a million different colours — for you and for every other reader, whether a friend, an editor, a publisher or a stranger.

Your words are like a strong white light.

Remember this and keep writing.


This post is for Emilie. 

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Nanofiction: The Ark Angels

The ferret tutted as she counted the night’s takings.

“If business keeps going at this rate, Noah will have himself a bunch of hippogriffs and ophiotaurusses by the time we reach land,” she said.

“I think you mean ophiotaurii,” the flamingo yawned. “Anyway, you have to admit this place is a much better option than murder-suicide.”

She was referring to the nasty incident on Day 2 of the Flood where the female unicorn had speared her partner and then turned her horn on herself. Noah had been quick to set up ‘The Ark Angels Brothel’ after that, hoping to ease the tensions between the pairs of animals.

The ferret shrugged. “How was your shift?”

“More of the same,” the flamingo replied, shifting her weight to her other leg. “That rattlesnake was in again, moaning that his wife never listens to him. I pointed out that it’s because rattlesnakes are deaf but I don’t think he heard me.

“And then a praying mantis came in and just cried for an hour because his wife keeps seasoning his head while he’s sleeping.

“And after that, a horse came wanting to saddle and whip me… “

The flamingo’s story was interrupted by two swans tumbling through the door in a flurry of feathers and angry words.

“I thought we were supposed to mate for life!” Mr Swan was honking.

“That was before you took me on the worst cruise ever. You said there would be games! And a smorgasbord!” Mrs Swan was honking back.

“But think of the alternative! All that rain! All those rising waters!”

“We’re swans! We float!” Mrs Swan barked, before turning to the flamingo with a smile. “Oh goody. You’re still here.”

The flamingo tried not to groan. The last time Mrs Swan had come in, she’d just wanted to hiss and grunt for the whole session. It had been extremely wearing on the flamingo’s delicate vocal chords.

“We’re closed,” she said. “I’ve got fifty bucks that says you’re open,“ Mrs Swan said, lifting her wing to reveal the crisp fifty dollar note tucked underneath.

“Okay,” the flamingo sighed.

“Can I at least watch?” Mr Swan whimpered.

“No!” the flamingo and Mrs Swan snapped in unison.

As she lead Mrs Swan through to the back room, the flamingo thought of the jar full of cash she and her husband had saved for the new life ahead. And then she thought of her poor husband working a double-shift in the animal restrooms, shovelling faeces with his beak.

This could be worse, she decided. She cleared her throat, ready to start hissing and grunting. But Mrs Swan had other ideas.

“Would you mind burying your head in that bucket of sand?” she asked coyly. “I’ve always had a thing for ostriches…”

The flamingo closed her eyes as she pressed her head into the cold sand.

Yes, this could be worse, she thought again. But it could also be a whole lot better.

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The 2017 List of Unlisted Writers

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Somewhat surprisingly, I did not make this list of Task Things in 2017 (written by my youngest child).

When I wrote my last post, I honestly thought my list would have end up having just one name on it and one name alone: my own.

But then the list started to grow. Some people put their own names forward. Other people put forward the names of deserving friends.

Without further ado, here is a list of writers who were unlisted in 2017 but who continued to find joy in the act of writing and do it anyway:

Karletta Abianac
Jacie Anderson
Lou Bromley
Deborah Crabtree
Elizabeth Jane Corbett
Tracey Gregory
Troy Hunter
Karen McKnight
Karen Lee
Marissa Margaret
Caitlin McGrath
Francesca Meehan
Imbi Neeme
Sarah O’Bern
Amra Pajalic
Rachel Sanderson

Clive Wansbrough
Claire Weigall

Even if this is the only list I make in 2018, I’ll be glad. This list is good company.

If you or anyone you know deserves to be on this list, please let me know before December 31st 2017 via email imbi.neeme@gmail.com or in the comments below. 

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A List Of My Own

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This unfinished blanket was also not listed in 2017.

It’s that time of year when people like to make lists. Lists of things to do, things to buy and things make. Lists of best books, movies and albums. Lists of must-see TV and must-have gadgets and must-avoid foods. Lists of lists.

Throughout the year, there have been other kinds of lists. Lists for unpublished manuscripts and emerging writers. Longlists and shortlists, commended lists and winners lists. I tried to get on some of those lists, maybe six or seven of them, but didn’t make a single one. I know, from previous experience, that being on a list feels really, really good. Unless it’s a hit list, of course. That probably feels rubbish.

But listen: I feel incredibly proud of the writing I’ve done in 2017. In between the cracks of my busy life, I’ve managed to revise one manuscript from second draft to fifth draft, as well as write a first draft of a whole other novel. I’ve continued to back my own writing by submitting it for awards and prizes and sending it to publishers. And even while I was weathering the not-very-highs and really-quite-lows of being an unpublished novelist, I managed to still feel joy every time I sat down to write.

And that, I believe, is truly list-worthy.

This year, on Friday 22 December, I am going to announce my own list. It will be a list of writers who didn’t get listed in 2017 but who kept writing anyway. My name will be on it. If you want your name – or someone else’s name – to be on it, too, please email me – imbi.neeme@gmail.com 

 

 

 

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The secret blanket

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I’ve been secretly working on a blanket for my daughter since March. When I say ‘secretly’, I’ve actually been working on it right next to her on the couch each evening but because I’m her mother, she hasn’t shown any interest whatsoever in what I’m doing.

Having dedicated three-quarters of my life to the creation (and ongoing maintenance) of the queen-sized Forever Blanket, I thought a single blanket would be easy-peasy, something I could knock together in a couple of afternoons.

I thought wrong.

After five months, I’m only halfway through the blanket with seven weeks remaining until my daughter’s thirteenth birthday.  I’ve decided that only possible way to finish it in time is by giving up work and sleep. Also showering, as it’s surprisingly difficult to crochet whilst under running water.

But listen, the looming deadline is not the biggest problem here. The biggest problem is that the girl I started making the blanket for last March, the girl I chose the colours and pattern for, is now a different girl altogether. Now, she’s a girl with a boyfriend and an attitude, a girl who would rather write in her journal in her room than sit next to me on the couch. A girl who is becoming a woman. This new girl is more likely to cloak herself in mystery and clothing from Dangerfield than a blue and yellow afghan flower blanket made by her mother.

Of course, I love this new girl. I love her sass and her strength and her fierce independence. I even love her Instagram stories, even though I can’t pretend I understand them.

But seriously, could she stop growing up until I’ve finished this goddam blanket?

 

 

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My manuscript is a little boat

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My manuscript is a little boat.

I built it myself by hand, using all my skills and some stuff I looked up on the internet.

My manuscript is a little boat.

I keep gently pushing it out to sea but it keeps coming back to me.

Sometimes, it’s because I need to fix things on it. The sail is torn, the rudder isn’t ruddering, or the crew’s names are all too similar and nobody can tell them apart.

Sometimes, it just comes back to me because it wasn’t heading in the right direction or I didn’t push it hard enough.

Sometimes, I’m annoyed to see it return.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. You! Again!”

Sometimes, I’m sad to see it and I crawl up inside its little cabin and have a really good cry.

Sometimes, I’m philosophical.
“Oh well. I guess that sea was choppier than it looked, eh?”

And sometimes I’m quite happy to see it.
“Oh! I remember you! ” I say,  and then I take some time to admire the bits of it that I built well, ignoring the shoddy bits that I fudged and the crew with the indistinguishable names.

My manuscript is a little boat that I’ll keep pushing back out to sea until one day, its sails will catch the right wind to take it where it needs to go.

Either that, or I’ll just accept that I need to scrap the whole thing and repurpose the good bits for another little boat I’m building.

After all, I’m a builder of little boats and not a sailor.