You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘artist residencies’ tag.

What can be said about endings that hasn’t been said before (and by endings I don’t mean the last sentence of a story, or the final frame of a film, or a person’s back-side, although perhaps I am, we’ll see)?  All good things must come to an end?  One door closes, while another opens?  What starts must finish?  Clichés, the lot of it, except, of course, in every cliché there’s a grain of truth, which in itself is a cliché, but let’s stop there or else we’re going to get stuck in a dreadful brain-porn cycle.

All I really want to say is that a month ago I came to the Gatekeeper’s Cottage at Cataract Gorge, Launceston, Tasmania, to write, as well as give some workshops, which I’ve enjoyed immensely, so thanks so much if you attended one of the sessions and are reading this.

And write I have, though that’s secret scribe’s business.

Now I’m done.  It’s over.

I’m not sure when I’ll come back to Tasmania – there’s one heck of a large world out there, with lots of residency programs to which I might apply.  Eek, the thought of going on another residency in the near future…well, it’s too soon to be talking about going away again to write.  That’s the future, and this post is about endings, going home, being with He Who Stayed At Home, and the Old Lady of The House, and Cat the Ripper.

To get myself and you, dear reader, on our collective way, I’ve channelled some wisdom from people who seem to know about the whole home caper, and I thought I’d share it with you – see below.

We’ll talk again when I’m snug in my own home, in my own bed, in my own study, with my own books and CDs and LPs, in my own good old flawed life.

Home is where you hang your head. Groucho Marx

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. Matsuo Basho

When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticise or attack the government of my own country.  I make up for lost time when I come home. Winston Churchill

I never worry about being driven to drink; I just worry about being driven home. W.C. Fields

Fiction was invented the day Jonas arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale. Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Home is where one starts from. T.S. Eliot

The last time I was on a residency, a year ago at Bundanon in New South Wales, I put up an A4-sized sign above my desk – BE BRAVE.  A high-end publisher had given me that advice a week before and I made sure to take it with me down to the Shoalhaven.  Whenever I struggled, I looked up, saw the sign, and then I was brave.  At least, I tried to be.  I have the same sign with me here at Cataract Gorge: it’s just there, on the wall, a metre away from where I’m writing this post (still by hand, would you believe; I’m sticking to my guns).

Bravery seems to be the theme of the week.

Most days in this place young boys or men strap themselves high up to the Gorge cliffs and abseil their lives away.  Sometimes they stop mid-fall, steady themselves, put out their arms and have a photo taken by their friends back up the cliff – should the rope break, or the equipment fail, they’d smash their bodies open on the rocks below.

Every evening, Launceston joggers – men and women – plug themselves into their i-Pods and send their bodies up one side of the Gorge and down the other, across and through and around and over the duckboards, boardwalks, catwalks, even along a suspension bridge that makes you feel drunk just by looking at it.  I scared the living crap out of one of these folk last night, when, wearing my black jeans and black hoodie and black jacket, I rounded a corner and almost ran into a guy.  He stopped, put his hand to his heart, and said, ‘Bloody hell, it’s a bit dark here, eh?’  He meant, of course, I’m sure you were about to stab me with a flick-knife, you bastard.

In summer, apparently, Lonnie boys throw themselves off the Kings Bridge (pictured above, at dawn) and dive or drop or flop or crash into the liquid, silty mud that makes for water at this the Gorge end of the river.

I think I’d rather listen to The Smiths.

As hoity and literary and – quite frankly – wanky as it may sound, I’m having a Grim As Buggery Short Fiction Festival while I’m here in Launceston.  The head-lining acts are the Grand Reapers of Grim-ness, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, and Australia’s own Nam Le (who can actually be very funny, but that’s beside the point).

In Tolstoy’s short story ‘The Raid’, his main character, a civilian who’s curious about war, says, ‘I remembered that Plato had defined bravery as the knowledge of what should and what should not be feared ‘ [and] wanted to explain my idea to the captain.  ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it seems to me that to every danger there is a choice, and the choice that springs from a sense of duty, for example, is courage, while a choice made under the influence of base feelings is cowardice.  Henceforth, the man who risks his life from vanity, curiosity or greed cannot be called brave.  Conversely, the man who avoids danger from an honest sense of responsibility to his family, or simply out of conviction, cannot be called a coward.’’

Today, am I brave or cowardly?

Would I dive off the Kings Bridge?  No.

Would I run around Cataract Gorge at night?  No, I wouldn’t.

Would I abseil down the rocks and stop to pose for a photo?  No, is the answer to that as well.

But good characters must do all these things, and more.

A Cataract Gorge postcard, 1906

Last week I came to Tasmania with only a backpack and a laptop in a travel-case and, let me be frank, a shitload of hope that I’ll write well here (and by ‘well’ I mean, as I’ve noted before, to write by hand).  While the jury’s out on the latter, the minimalist luggage situation has caused one very significant problem: no room for CDs.  In the past when I’ve gone away to write I’ve been able to go in my trusty Barina, meaning more than enough room for a swag of CDs.  But not this trip.

Of course, I have an mp3-player contraption loaded with some much-loved albums, recent gems by Four Tet, Frightened Rabbit and Volcano Choir, amongst others.  There is, however, a need to hear music through the air, music that fills more than the space between my ears.  For that purpose I made room for just one CD from the hundreds (possibly thousands – eek) I have collected over the years, so I chose very, very carefully indeed.  I chose what I know will be in the top three albums of 2010.

When I arrived at the Gorge, tired from a day of travelling (two flights, a stack of waiting and reading in between) but also excited about commencing another period of writing in an unfamiliar place, I discovered that the CD case was broken.  I feared the worst – the actual CD could be irreparably damaged.  I needed to play it to make sure it worked.  In the first hour I hunted around the cottage for a CD player, getting increasingly desperate.  Could I really be about to spend the next month – a whole month – without music in the air?

After turning the place upside down (though not really: I am at heart a gentle soul, and this cottage is 120 years old and, apparently, one of the most photographed in Tasmania, so it deserves respect) I realised that there was no magic music machine here.  Immediately, and just a little shamelessly, I emailed the Launceston City Council who manages the Cataract Gorge Artist-in-Residence Program.  No doubt sensing the distress in my words, they offered to bring around a CD player – but they couldn’t do it for a few days.  Could I cope until Thursday? they asked.  No, of course I couldn’t, but I wasn’t about to push my luck any further.  For the next 96 hours there was no sound in the cottage other than that of pen on paper, fingers on laptop keyboard, and, at the end of each day, the sweet relief of white wine being poured into a champagne glass.

Then the glorious moment arrived: two lovely representatives from the Launceston City Council came around and dropped off a brand-spanking new CD player.  ‘We were just waiting for someone to ask,’ they said generously as they lifted the handsome black beast from the box.  An hour later, after a cup of a tea and a chat (we spent most of it talking about blogging, would you believe), they left me to my own devices.  But the stereo stubbornly refused to play my CD – it claimed that there was ‘no CD’ even though I could see such a thing on the spindle.  I pressed every button I could find and swore like a rabid trooper, but still my CD couldn’t be brought to life.

Being at times the most tenacious person you’ve ever met (or not met, as the case may be), I realised that the CD player had a USB port and I had a legal download of the album on my laptop.  Hooray for technology after all!  I put the album onto a memory stick that had once been used as a marketing gimmick, put the stick into the CD player, and…the bastard thing still wouldn’t work.  It quit playing halfway through tracks, and quite steadfastly refused to broadcast whole sections of the album.  I cleared the memory stick and put the album on it a second time, but it was still no good – the same mega-frustrating problem.

In the morning I’d be travelling two and a half hours to the other end of Tasmania to spend a couple of days in Hobart.  I hatched a plan: while in the big smoke I’d buy a damn good memory stick and see if that would fix a matter that was now keeping me up at night.  After spending much of my time holed up in an 1840s whaler’s cottage (poor bloody whales) and giving a workshop on writing about place, I ducked into town to get the much-desired memory stick – despite the fact that I’m running out of money, I didn’t skimp on price – and this morning I jumped on the bus back to Launceston.  Would what I had safe and secure in my laptop bag fix this hurdle to my month-long residency?

It was an interesting bus trip to say the least.  Behind me was a man who, with earphones in his ears, insisted on laughing loudly to himself the whole time as if he was in his own private comedy show.  Even more worrying, in the seats in front of me were two heavily tattooed young men who spent the journey talking loudly and proudly about how they’d both just gotten out of jail.  One of the men ‘couldn’t read or nuffin’’.  The other man had gone to Hobart to see his ‘missus’ before she too was sent to jail, but rather than stay with her he’d spent the night on the streets; this same man wondered if his mate knew that sometimes you can shoot a wombat twelve times and it may not die.  The poor granny beside me did nothing but stare straight ahead, refusing to even blink for fear of being knifed.  I had flash-backs to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.  Needless to say I clutched onto my newly purchased memory stick very tight, as if it was made of Unobtainium.

But then, thankfully, gratefully, I arrived in Launceston and walked back up to the Gorge.  Would the Kings Bridge Gatekeeper’s Cottage be soon filled with the sounds of an album that I know will be in the top ten of the decade?

As soon as I stepped into the cottage, I downloaded the album onto the new memory stick and then plugged the stick into the stereo.  Oh dear Lord, there it was at last.  Music in the air, good music, great music.  But it’s not just any music.  What I played this morning – and am still playing this evening as I write this post – does everything I expect of great music: it is clever, it is beautiful, it is dark (to the point of grimness); it makes you want to cry one minute and then swing your hips the next, or even do a bit of air-guitar; it is new, thoughtful, sometimes funny, but above all it takes risks.

It’s a clash, a mash-up, a remix and a reimagining.

Interested in hearing This Mortal Coil versus Sigur Ros?  Philip Glass versus Elton John?  REM versus Sia?  Want a listening journey that encompasses David Lynch soundtracks, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Coldplay, Nancy Sinatra, Nina Simone, Nirvana, Bon Iver, and Harry Dean Stanton, Charles Bukowski and Bob Dylan, just to name a few artists represented in this collection?   Do you have a penchant for melancholia and the more reflective side of eletronica?  If the answer is yes to these questions, you need Introversion by Irish DJ/producer/remixer/mash-up artist Phil Retrospector.  Amazingly it isn’t available commercially, but you can listen to it here.

Can I be so bold as to say that if the Coldplay versus The Beetles versus Joe Anderson mash-up called ‘Jude Will Fix It’ doesn’t make you smile or bring you to tears, or both at the same time, then you may want to check for a pulse – and I’m not even a crazy fan of these bands individually.  So I end this tale with a declaration and a request: if a wild Tasmanian storm comes Launceston’s way (the weather reports are saying that it’s quite possible this week) and I get flushed out of my little cliff-face cottage and washed into the Tamar River and never come up for air, then please have this song playing as you file out of the crematorium.

Last week I came to Tasmania with only a backpack and a laptop in a travel-case, but now I have music in the air.

Directly behind me is a 100,000-person city. Really.

Courtesy of the Launceston City Council, the Kings Bridge Gatekeeper’s Cottage, pictured above, is my home for the next four weeks.  For those not familiar with this neck of the woods, Launceston is a small city in the northern part of Tasmania.  Between Tasmania and Antarctica is…well, nothing except a shitload of ocean.

The 120-year-old Kings Bridge Cottage is perched on the side of a 200-million-year-old dolomite cliff overlooking the South Esk River.  From where I’m sitting, if I look to the right I may as well be in wilderness because all there is to see is dark brown deep water and bush-covered valley walls (with the sound of rapids not far behind); but if I look to the left, there’s traffic scurrying across two bridges and further back the red-roof clutter of the Launceston CBD.  So this humble cottage (though it’s not really that humble: four times a day cruise boats glide up and down the river, the passengers snapping away at this architectural miracle, so I stand a distance back from the windows in case I look like a caged animal) is a gatekeeper in more ways than one.

Why I am here?  Because the good folk of the Launceston City Council have the generosity and foresight to offer their gatekeeper’s cottage to artists who not only want to progress a particular project but are also willing to engage with the local community.  Which means I have a responsibility to write and to connect.  (I have decided that while I’m here I will write everything – even blog posts – by hand, meaning handwriting.  For those who’ve had the great misfortune of experiencing my illegible scrawl, this will be quite an achievement, if I can pull it off.)

But that responsibility of writing.  It has me thinking of a quote by Ben Okri, author of The Famished Road.  ‘Writers have one great responsibility: to write beautifully, which is to say write well.  Within this responsibility is that of being truthful.  To charm, to amuse, to enchant, to take use out of ourselves, these are all part of beauty.  But there is a parallel responsibility: and that is to sing a little about the realities of the age, to leave some sort of magical record of what they saw and dreamt while they were alive (because they can’t really do it the same way when dead), and to bear witness in their unique manner to the beauties, the ordinariness, and the horrors of their times.’  (A Way of Being Free, 1997)

So here I am, in a 120-year-old gatekeeper’s cottage perched on the edge of a 200-million-year-old dolomite cliff, hoping, by heart and hand, to bear witness in my own way to the beauties, ordinariness and horrors of my time.

It sounds so bloody grand.  And hard.

Oh Christ, what have I done.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 175 other followers