Tuesday, 19 May 2020

On a 4am Wednesday in May

It's 4am. A Wednesday in May. I'm at the bottom of the garden. My Little One is in my arms. Indi-Girl, our stumpy-tailed cattle dog, is roaming around, her blue-grey fur rendering her invisible in the dark.

I've been awake since 2am, when Little One woke up in a tempest. Normally, the wake-up routine has two options: soothe and re-settle, and soothe, wake up for a couple of hours, then re-settle. The tempestuous wake-up, where no-one can even touch LO, is a new thing. There are squalls, fury, distress, frustration all wrapped up in the disorientating wake-up of night. The tempests haven't happened too often and I hope they stay that way.

Our attempted re-settle at 4am is interrupted by Indi-Girl suddenly coming to sit at the child-proof gate and speaking to us in anxious grumbles. I sigh and mutter and grumble about the timing - two hours after wake-up is the ideal time to re-settle LO. But there you have it. C'est la vie, and all that. The universe either has a different plan in mind, and/or a sneaky snarky sense of humour. Outside we all go.

It's cold. It's not cold-climes-cold, but by sub-tropical autumn standards, it's definitely cool. Indi-Girl races ahead to do her urgent call of nature and then moves around the garden with purpose. She sniffs the earth under the Poinciana tree and periodically nibbles at the dirt beneath - something she's started doing in the past two weeks - then she scrambles over some disused garden beds to eat some grass. Her tummy is clearly unhappy. If Indi is unwell, after what happened with her brother, my Beau-Bodie-Boy, I get anxious.

I suppose I could let Indi-Girl just be out here to do what she needs to do. But she's an excellent guard dog, who will bark remorselessly and furiously at anything that moves, including lizards, possums and any other night creatures. And god help the neighbourhood if anyone should be walking by the front gate - she will bark the sky down. Long story short, she needs supervising. Or, should that be, I feel the need to be there to watch over her and prevent any wuffaballoos before they happen.

Which means LO has to be there too. LO, wrapped in her cream blanket with the grey elephant in one corner, is very happy and curious for an adventure into the night-world. There are sweeping patches of clouds above, and not enough sky peeping in-between for us to see any stars. We stand under the Poinciana tree. It's a lovely, magic, matriarch of a tree, with wide outstretched arms in a gesture that is both welcoming like a hug and wholeheartedly offering to share her shelter. It has tiny little yellowing leaves which rain down in the breeze - not autumnal, just following their natural cycle. They are no bigger than a grain of cooked rice. Even at night, the tree feels welcoming, safe. 

The safe feeling is important, because there are spectres in my mind in the dark. Human boogie monsters hover at the edges. Not based in my reality, but accumulated horror films and news reports run like an unwelcome news ticker somewhere in the darkness, somewhere in my consciousness. I try and ignore them. I'm mere metres from the back door. And we have Indi-Girl. I hold LO very close. 

There is a possum which lives between our roof, the garage roof and the neighbours' yards. Australian possums are big-eyed, noctural creatures. They look timid, but can barrel across roofs like belligerent drunks, knocking over everything in their path. Tonight, the resident possum kicks at a neighbour's flowerpot and then skirts the garden perimetre and growls at us. Indi-Girl would normally bark, but doesn't partly because she's preoccupied and partly I'm there. I'd never heard a possum growl before we moved up to sub-tropical north. It sounds like it's trying to kick-start a possum-sized motorbike. This makes it fun to anthropomorphise and we have running jokes about possums wearing bandanas, muscle tees, jeans and leather jackets. If you've never heard the noise before and didn't know what it was, then it's a very strange and creepy sound.

LO reacts to the possum's growls by pointing towards the darkness where the sound is coming from. I explain it's a possum and LO gives a loud baby grunty-growl - a standard noise reserved for animals - which drifts into the night. The possum then unexpectedly receives a waves of kisses blown by LO and reacts by revving its motorbike again. LO puts a finger to lips and says "shhhhhhhhh." I giggle and do a cheek-to-cheek hug and am rewarded with a return hug, followed by a resting of a suddenly-tired toddler head on my shoulder. It's time to go back in.

Indi-Girl grooves a bit more - either because she needs it or on principle - and then agrees she's ready to return inside after a big drink of water. I lock the back door with a relief I don't always acknowledge. In the kitchen, something nudges the underneath of my flip-flop. I lift it up to find a discarded bit of rusting barb-wire. It's from a bit of garden that everyone - including LO and Indi-Girl - has walked in many times before. I drop it in the bin.

There's a return to the squalls before LO finally returns to sleep at 5am. I should sleep too. I should, I should, I should. But the night has started to breathe grey now. The butcher bird is awake and trilling its wonderful complex song, and then the lorikeets arrive, and really, I'm just making excuses. I'm just awake. Tired, but my mind is running now. 

Time for another tea. Thinking time. While the world under my roof sleeps.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

In the Armchair - An Interview on Nillu Nasser's Blog

The lovely Nillu Nasser invited me onto her blog for a cuppa and a chat. Thanks again, Nillu, for this wonderful opportunity to catch up!

The original interview is here on Nillu's blog. Have a visit and check out her books and some of her other inspiring writings while you're there.

In the Armchair: Reena Dobson

I have someone special to introduce to you for today’s instalment of In the Armchair. Reena and I have been online friends for a few years. I came to know her mostly through the brilliant short fiction she shares on Twitter. She’s one of those people whose timeline is filled with honesty and beauty. 
Twitter can be a mysterious land. It’s a treat to have Reena in the armchair here on the blog, so we can get to know her better. She’s here to talk about her anthology Falling into the Five Senses, co-authored with Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke and Roger Jackson, who are all part of Twitter’s microfiction community. It’s a fantastic writing team. 
Over to Reena…
Falling into the Five Senses
Authors: Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke, Reena Dobson, Roger Jackson
Genre: Magical realism
Editorial team: Reena Dobson & Maria Carvalho
Book Cover Design: Reena Dobson

Stars moving out of their constellations, a chef with a tasty secret, a man who can foretell a person’s death by their scent, and a mysterious island lost at the end of the known world…
These are just some of the stories in this collection of imaginative tales about the five senses. Stretching across genres ranging from sci-fi to horror, lyrical to steampunk, this anthology will leave you with a taste for more.
Featuring the writing talents of Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke, Reena Dobson and Roger Jackson, Falling into the Five Senses is a collection of five stories each, by four authors, from three continents, with two editors, which all adds up to one thrilling reading experience.

‘Mr Glass had foolishly underestimated the reactions of jaded, polite society towards a man who can apparently taste diamonds. Facts, rumours and outright fictions followed him like the magnificent tails of sparks and lights attached to the giant clockwork peacocks in Hyde Park—bright, fast and ever-changing.’ ~ The Diamond Taster by Reena Dobson

Reena, what do you write and why?
My favourite writing (and playing) place is what they call fabulism, a form of magical realism. I enjoy expanding the world around me with questions like ‘what if a tree’s dearest wish was to hold an umbrella for a day?’ or ‘would we want to have snippets of our truest thoughts appear on our palms like a random shifting scroll?’ It lets me live in my everyday, but to also play with the edges, and to hopefully not take life for granted.
What sparks your urge to write and what do you find most challenging about being a writer?
I’m inspired by a good idea that I can’t bear to let go of, even though I have no idea of where to take it. A stray thought that captures an essence. A particular scene which strikes me in some way. The vibe in a place. And most recently, a song which I’ve listened to for many years, which has suddenly sparked a volcano of ideas. 
And the challenging bit? I build up everything in my head—the story, characters, arcs, climaxes, denouements, even the closing sentences. But then, the words coming out through my fingertips don’t match the beautiful, completed scene in my head. It makes writing painful. Much more painful than it has to be. Why? Then I keep wanting to go back, dither, polish, rewrite, repeat, stall. I’m not a get-the-words-down-quick-and-messy type, and I don’t think I would want to be that. But I think a little more insouciance would make the process more… joyous. Like it could be.

‘The cold water eats you, takes you into its depths, holds you down, hugs you, suffocates you with as much love as you’ve shown your wife. You breathe in the river, and even in your wrecked state, you thrash about, fighting for a life you wanted to throw away.’ ~ Chill of the Water Below by Cedrix E. Clarke

How did the Falling into the Five Senses anthology collaboration come about and what did you learn in the process?
The idea came about thanks to one of the early editions of the Friday Phrases Twitter microfiction community. I was regularly in awe of how Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke, and Roger Jackson played with the optional prompt, how they built entire worlds in 140 characters, and how they did it week in, week out. 
I approached them as people whose writing I admire tremendously. It turns out this was a good approach, because they are all incredibly lovely and generous people, who patiently and kindly expanded their writing, gave extra time for beta-reading, and then opened up more and more reserves of patience as the project expanded, shifted and then took an enforced rest as real life (and a baby, work and a move interstate) all spun me off-track for a while. 
What I learned is that no matter how well you plan projects, things often won’t go plan. Keep broad timeframes for different sections of the project, and add more detail to those sections when you reach them. At the beginning, it’s very easy—too easy!—to overestimate how quickly something can happen. Then life gets in the way, and where you were at the beginning won’t necessarily be where you are at the end. I’m glad and grateful that my fellow authors hung in there, because I’m so very proud of the final anthology. I think it’s a beautiful book, full of inspiring words, scenes and stories. 
I want to give a special shout-out to Maria Carvalho, as one of the most generous and detail-oriented editors I have ever met, who gave so much extra time to the anthology over and over. She picked up every little thing—the missing prepositions and typos that our reading brains can often auto-correct and skip over, consistency of grammar, lack of clarity in descriptions—Maria zeroed in unerringly on them all. No matter how good a writer you are, you need editorial eyes of Maria’s calibre. If you have the wisdom to bring Maria on board as part of the project ahead of time, you can’t fail.

‘As I survey the surrounding area to check whether there are any more mysterious lights, my gaze comes to rest on the Big Dipper. I stare at it, confused—something about it doesn’t seem quite right. I can make out the familiar shape, but it looks strange. And then I realize why: two of its stars are missing.’ ~ The Breakup by Maria Carvalho

Which authors have influenced how you write?
Neil Gaiman is the main person who leaps to mind. His writing is generous and seemingly effortless, to the point that even his non-fiction writings have inspired fiction writing. I wrote a long post here about how his collection of non-fiction writings was the catalyst for my anthology’s story on taste. 
Two of my stories in the Five Senses anthology, ‘The Diamond Taster’ and ‘A Touch of Heart’, were inspired after reading Gaiman’s View from the Cheap Seats. I think it’s that he makes me realise afresh that the magic of fiction is that you can write in any direction about anything. And suddenly I was releasing limitations on the senses that I hadn’t even realised I’d put there. What if diamonds could talk and someone could understand what they said? What if you were on a peninsula that floated away to become an island – and what on earth does that have to do with a sense of touch? Gaiman’s writing inspires these freeing realisations.

‘A young girl walked by, an invisible essence of embers swirling in her wake, as if she’d emerged from the hellish mouth of a crematorium. Her hair was as black as smoke and smelled like it too. One corner of a battered paperback peeked out from her jacket pocket. I’d already read the novel years ago and I had a sudden urge to tell her the ending, knowing that she’d never have time to finish it.’ ~ Phantosmia by Roger Jackson

(Click here for a writing game collaboration Nillu did with Roger a few years ago!)

Are you working on a new manuscript?
Always! At the moment, I’m focused on a collection of my short stories—microfiction, short shorts and longer shorts. I’m still feeling my way towards immersing myself in a full-length story. I’m working my way up from microfiction tweets to short stories and will eventually get to the full novel—with probably a novella or two in-between! For now, I want to make a home for my shorter pieces.
About Reena Dobson
Reena Dobson began pursuing her creative writing with a vengeance when she realised the world was never going to stop and give her time to write. She now writes at the edges, in sunshine and under cover of darkness.
She’s had a short story published in issue 21 of Siren’s Call eZine. Falling into the Five Senses is her first big creative writing project. The Five Senses anthology was born in the land of blue mountains, cold and kangaroos and was completed in the land of frangipanis, poincianas and koalas—where she now lives with her family.
Buy Link

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

The World at Dawn

I woke up at 4.43am. It's getting to be a regular pattern these days, with Little One and all. I could go back to sleep, and sometimes I do. And other times, I check the time on my phone - and a torrent of world stuff rushes in, too seething, jumbled and anxiety-inducing to ignore. On those days, sleep slips out of reach. It washes away in the flood of stuff, or just retreats into the night. "Sommeil casse" as they say in Mauritius. "My sleep broke". It sounds more lyrical in Kreol/French. Like tiny pieces of sleep crumbling and breaking away until you reach a state of wakefulness. 

I head towards the kitchen. A lizard laughs, languid. Indi-Girl stirs and gives me the once-over, and goes back to sleep. I like to think she's checking to make sure I'm ok. She could just as easily be checking to see why I'm disturbing her sleep. But I'll take my interpretation with a single-shoulder shrug and a smile. 

I make a cup of tea, Through the kitchen windows, the world lightens from night to grey. The sky is overcast this morning, just as it was yesterday. It could be symbolic of the current state of the world, but I push my thoughts in a different direction. The air is lush with birdsong symphony. So many different songs. The more I focus my ears on listening, the more there is to hear. It's quite amazing. Awe-inspiring. I'm grateful that, even though we're in suburbia - you could even call it inner city suburbia - there is birdlife and nature around us. 

I curl on the couch. Sip at my tea. A snippet of time to let my thoughts wander. 

I draw a love heart on my bit of social media sand. I imagine the sun shining on it in the early morning light. And then I stand back and watch as waves run up to wash it away.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Reflections on Home

Over on Twitter, I'm playing along to a daily March indie-writer celebration, called #MarchOfTheWriters, initiated by the very awesome JD Estrada.

The Day 7 prompt was #HomeIs

So. I'm a migrant. I'm a member of a diaspora (probably more than one). If anyone asks, I claim a formal hyphenated identity that includes three places and two hyphens. Roots and routes have been a feature of my life journey, and of the stories I tell about myself. All these things have been part of the reason I wrote a doctoral thesis over an excrutiatingly long period of time (and the doctorate is also the reason I've developed an overly complicated relationship to writing, but that's another post for another time). In short, I've thought about the idea of 'Home' a lot.

I was born in Country A. I left there as a toddler and haven't been back, though I still claim citizenship there. It's not home, but it's my father's home, and my parents' stories come together there, and also, it's my birthright (birth-write?).

I grew up as a child in Country B - the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, my mother's home. It's had a profound influence on me, even though I've not lived there for 3-and-a-bit decades. I still speak the local informal language (increasingly rustily, the further away I get from my childhood) and my current accent is still inflected with the occasional bit of inadvertent French pronunciation born of that Mauritius childhood. I still love the foods and I have a living network of relatives and friends who make my connections loving and real and alive and current. I've been back there for enough short visits to know that I'm a stranger there, that it's not really home, and to not pretend my memories and experiences of long-ago Mauritius somehow have any relevance in today's Mauritius. And yet, my connection to Mauritius has been such an important part of me, that when I was first setting up a Twitter account and was thinking through different name options, one of the ones I thought about was "Ex Tropical Island Girl".

And now, I life in Country C - Australia. My current home. I've lived in three different cities in three different states, on three quite distinct parts of the map. There's the part of Oz where I went to high school and uni. There's the Blue Mountains in Sydney, where I lived and worked until quite recently - and where, when I absently visualise where the shops are, or the places I could go, or what the drive to the airport would look like, my mind still leaps straight to the Blue Mountains and Sydney-based version of those things. Still. Even after more than a year of not living there. And yet, I also know that autumn will be folding its way onto the Blue Mountains by now, in early March. The deciduous trees will be full of leaves starting to change colour. The cold will be creeping in for its six-month visit. Autumn is beautiful and romantic, but I don't like the cold. I put it down to being a child of the tropics. But I knew the region and I knew the place and I put down roots and routes there and buried my puppy-boy, Bodie, along with a bit of my heart there. It was, for the longest time, home.

And now, I live much, much further north of the Blue Mountains, in the sub-tropics. Where summer days and nights are hot and humid. And it's already March and I'm still getting around in short-sleeved tops, and where falling rain doesn't require me to drag on a thick, fur-lined raincoat. Instead, there are Poinciana trees and flowers. There are frangipani flowers which perfume the air. My body knows this tropical climate - of humidity and warm rain. It's so bewilderingly familiar to an Ex Tropical Island Girl. And yet, the city I now live is not familiar. I can't yet visualise wide stretches of travel from one side to another. It's not home yet.

And yet, my family is here. And it is home. Free-floating and built on all the heart-connections.

I wrote an academic paper once about my idea of home; it was for a presentation. I entitled it "Half-and-half-and-half" - to conceptualise my experience of home as something that was mathematically impossible. That it wasn't neat, or easy to quantify, or a neat whole - and that the lived reality of home is many things, many places, many overlaps, many gaps, many connections, many distances, many complexities and contradictions - all at the same time.

Home is where I've put down roots and routes, where I draw bits of my identity, where I leave bits of my heart, the places I've made memories, and my family.

I know my story isn't unique, in the sense that many people have their own similar tales of roots and routes. But this one is mine, and it's my story and I'm proud to keep on writing it.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

The Little Things You Forget

Once upon a time - summer or winter, late lazy sunlight or freezing darkness - this was what used to greet me when I got home from work.

I've forgotten that this used to be a daily thing.

Score one hundred for those daily blogs or tweets or drawing pad or diary entries which itemise all the little things that would otherwise be lost forever. Because, one day and sooner than you might think, they become precious memories.

To my Bodie-Boy, running joyful and free in his blue nebula, and to my Indi-Girl, who would follow me (almost) anywhere, I love you.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

I Have Another Blog + A Re-Post About A Story I wrote

Belated Announcement: I have another blog!

Well, it's a bit more than another blog. It's another blog on an actual, proper, website that I created. It's called reeimaginedworlds.com and it's my official publishing site for my Falling into the Five Senses Anthology.

I'm slowly blogging on there, as well as here (trying to keep that New Year Resolution thing about blogging more regularly). The reeimaginedworlds.com blog is - obviously - for antho and any other book/project news. Dodo Au Go-Go is still my blog-about-anything-I-want space.

I wrote a piece recently for reeimaginedworlds.com, but thought it applied quite nicely here too. So, I'm doubling up! (I won't do this too often - promise!) It's a reflection on my writing process for one of my fave stories in the anthology.

Happy reading! :-)


It's subjective, I know. But my most favourite of all my five stories in the Falling into the Five Senses anthology is 'The Diamond Taster'.

It is, obviously, my story about taste, or rather, the sense of taste. Originally, I was stumbling my way something very different. A much more orthodox story that I can't even really remember any more. I know it was going to feature my favourite spice cardamom in some way - and I know this because I couldn't find my jar of cardamom and had to buy another one.

In the end, the new jar of cardamom wasn't needed for my 'taste' story. Because I picked my copy of Neil Gaiman's View from the Cheap Seats. It is a collection of his non-fiction writings - his introductions, prefaces, reflections, papers presented, thank you speeches and anecdotes - about other authors, about comic books, interviews, writing and other things. I dip into this book frequently. Pick it up, pick up a random page and read. It will always be interesting.

For my 'taste' story, it also proved to be inspiring. Again, I can't remember exactly what I read in View from the Cheap Seats. I honestly don't think it was anything in particular. I think I was just inspired by the vibe - by how effortlessly and magically Gaiman seems to wield words. I was inspired to turn my back on a plodding idea and to find something magical, bold, different.

I started with the words which are still near the start The Diamond Taster.

Facts, rumours and outright fictions followed Mr Glass like the magnificent tails of sparks and lights attached to the giant clockwork peacocks in Hyde Park – bright, fast and ever-changing.

It was said that he travelled to London on the airship, Regine Roua, (first-class, of course) from Prague (via Berlin and Paris); that he travelled light, with only one carpet bag with a design of tessellated geometric flowers in black and white; that he spoke the languages of the countries he was in; that he carried a cane which held a compass; and that he wore a traveller’s cape the colour of dried blood. These can be accepted as essentially factual statements.

There were other, more colourful reports about his immediate actions upon arrival. He traversed London via an unauthorised single-person gyro-copter. He dined on bowlfuls of eels and artichokes and drank only Astigone’s Absinthe Elixirs. He booked out the entire top floor of Abbess Ermentrude’s Turquoise Salon for days at a time. He garrotted numerous (the number kept increasing) nameless persons in back alleys. These reports remained unconfirmed.

I had no idea what the story was going to be about, or where the story would go. Even my style is different - flippant. It had to be flippant in tone otherwise it would slide into earnestness and that would kill any progress right there.

I don't know why, but I started slipping in hints of steampunk. A little sliver of magic glowed beneath my fingertips. Grab the magic (but do it flippantly). Did I know much about anything steampunky? Nope. But it felt right. Keep going. I gave Mr Glass, Diamond Taster, hints of a most wonderful back story, that I want to come back to and explore more one day.

I built a moment in time in a story, in a flippant-unlike-me style I loved. Now I just needed to turn it into a story.

I struggled.

I couldn't just describe the scenes in the moment in the story. I needed something like a climax. Or an ending. I re-wrote the beginning. Several times. I chucked it aside. This was a fun side-writing inspiration-diven thing, and I really liked it, but it wasn't a story. I re-dipped into View from the Cheap Seats. Again, whatever piece I landed on convinced me to keep going. Magic. Find magic. Make Magic. It wasn't going anywhere on the screen. I started scribbling on paper. Did I need to include a snippet of his childhood? Ye-es. Did I want to? Ye-es. Was it necessary to building a full story. I don't know. Did it go at the beginning? I. Don't. Know. Did it need someone else? Ye-es. Where and when should they come into the story? Dunno. Ooh, I liked this new character. Keep it, but where? And how? Did I need to start with their backstory? OMG, I DON'T KNOW I DON'T KNOW I DON'T KNOW.

I persevered.

I remember when I hit the thing that made the story become a story with an ending. I was in the kitchen perched on the edge of a chair, scribbling on a hard copy on my knees. (No sitting formally at the screen. That would kill the flippancy). I remember how I punched the air with a delighted grin.

I had my ending. I could now re-work the beginning and slip in the bits and moments to get my ending just right. I knew which backstory bits to keep and which ones couldn't stay. I slipped into attempts at pretty descriptions of the backdrop.

In many ways, the story is the start of a story. But I love that about it too.

It is the one story I will unashamedly say I'm very proud of (modesty be damned!). It started and stayed so far away from my usual way of writing that it could so easily have been left to wither far from home. Instead, I found magic in it!

If you want to read it - and all the other awesome stories in the anthology - you can grab it here.

Friday, 31 January 2020

The Swamp of Lost Words

It's amazing how difficult I find some days to tweet something. Or even anything.

It used to be easy to bash out something and send it flying into the tweetosphere. Try and say something witty or pithy (or try to not pith people off) and have an interesting convo or two. But now... now, I find myself staring at my feed, wondering what on earth to say that might be of interest to anyone.

Sure, I could plug my antho. But people get annoyed (me included) if all you have to say for yourself is "buy-my-book-buy-my-book".

These days, I keep checking my timeline with trepidation, worried that I'm just retweeting stuff rather than saying stuff. Yes, I'm retweeting stuff that's of interest to me, but they're still just retweets, rather than my own words. A timeline filled with retweets is something else that annoys me. I've previously snarkily moaned that people should use their own words on their timelines! And yet, what do I do when my own words seem to be asphyxiating in the ether?

Even my favourite twitter stand-by - the hashtag-inspired microfiction writing games (especially my super-fave, FridayPhrases) - isn't inspiring me at the moment. I'm not sure why.

I guess I'll keep plodding through the Swamp of Lost Words in the hopes of stumbling my way back into an inspiring light or two of words.

And it doesn't matter whether the lights are ghosts, will-o'-the-wisps, faeries or fireflies of words, they're all lights and they all inspire and they're all out there somewhere.

I'll keep looking.