Bring Him Home

Do you remember the first time you heard a song? The song that each and every time afterwards…

The question…and my answer…

That night I had the TV all to myself. The children were asleep. She was asleep. I wasn’t going to disturb her that night. Just dust out on the couch till morning. I channel surfed until I stopped the remote in mid-note…

Les Miserables : The Dream Cast in Concert was my solace for the night. The best of the best singing their way through perhaps the most touching musical ever.

Except…I only knew of it. I had never heard Les Miserables in full.

Which makes me probably a pretentious Philistine. 

And it was nice, and enjoyable and took my mind off my worries.

Until I heard Bring Him Home.  Even the first words are confronting. To anyone who believes and has been let down in the faith. To anyone who cannot believe. 

As the song melted its way through me, I realised who it was for.  Six weeks beforehand I’d heard the news that a former workmate had died quite tragically. It had happened while I was interstate. It was too late for me to pay my respects to him.

That song went straight through me. I cried for my friend that night.
Everytime I hear that song, I remember him and weep a little less.

Candy Royalle

I saw Candy Royalle perform four times. The first was at the Friend in Hand in Glebe where she was co hosting an open mic night. She performed this amazing poem that together pinned me to the wall with its passion and left me short of breath with longing.

Then I saw her at WestWords and she performed a signature poem about how the coloured people would triumph through love and diversity. I laughed my head off even it would happen there and then. She talked about sometimes life gets in the way when one can’t write (but didn’t mention her illness).

I saw her again at Kings Cross and then at the Sydney Writers’ Festival (I got the second last ticket for that one). Both times I was the only white guy in the audience but felt like all the poems (hers and the others) had been written just for me.

She answered my unspoken questions: what is a poet really ? Why be a poet? Why write the words? Every poet should aspire to do what she does! And yes she did and yes I know and yes I am. 

See Julia Baird’s tribute…she expresses it better than me…

Unspoken Listening

I’m safe now I’ve become her listening.

Secure now for how can she find my flaw?

I fold myself, hide and nod for more.

I witness her wisdom travelling.

Although I’m not entirely listening,

I nod, say yes, ask again, make the wrong guess,

Despite all her words nevertheless.

I see her past knots unravelling. 

I see now: I’m under observation,

It isn’t watchfulness nor surveillance,

She listens to me in her conversation!

And I thought her guesses coincidence!

I thought my silence ensured my safety! 

Her listening divined the unknown me!

On His Poetry

I still don’t know how the poet began. I do know I loved songs as a child. I still can remember the church hymns from even before I went to school. I can remember nursery rhymes. I can remember even the pop music (Van Morrison’s The Way Young Lovers Do!). But when it comes to poetry, I draw a complete blank.

Nope, not even primary school. Nor even much of high school. It happened by complete coincidence. I was leafing through an English resource book, stories, comprehension exercises, etc, and two poems.

The first was “Sea Fever” by John Masefield. I can still recall most of it now. I loved the rhythm and vision of it.  But it didn’t intrigue as much as the second poem. That has all the blame. John Milton’s “On His Blindness.

I read it. I was moved and so perplexed. I harassed my mother to explain it to me. And the last line knocked me flying. As poetry does. So few words, So much said. So much left unsaid.

I tried rolling my own for a while after that. What i wrote was quite wordy and unschooled I suppose. But when I re-read them recently, I was astounded.  For the same person then, was the same person now who wrote them! Yet in between then and now was a very long furlough. Tinged by a mysterious frustration that wasn’t entirely satisfied when I wrote (non-fiction). True it was satisfied by short stories and still is. But there were other notes calling me.

Until I started Julia Casterton’s Writing Poetry . Yes it has helped my other writing (i hope). But for me, I’m exploring poetry for the first time, in its various forms, structures and guises.

Yes my muse has waited patiently for my return. “They also serve who only stand and wait. ”




Write, Rewrite, Then Don’t Rewind : Writing Out Loud #4

I paid my money didn’t I? I should be able to take my choice then?  No, not when NYC Midnight have their flash fiction competition.

One thousand carefully chosen words,  a genre, a scene and an object chosen at random. Forty Eight hours to write it.

And on Saturday 15th July, the email arrived. Genre: Ghost Story, Scene: A Basement, Object: A Tattoo Machine.

I had to find out what a tattoo machine is, didn’t I?  That was the easy part.  A quick Google search and I found one.

I even listened to recordings of tattoo machines. Which reminded me of the dentist’s drill. That at least ended up in the story. But after listening to that, there was no way I was going to be inked in the name of research.

But me? A ghost story? My first reaction was:  I haven’t written any. I was wrong. I’ve written two. One fact. One fiction.  Still I researched my genre. And read some ghost stories, some great, some indifferent. And brought to mind my secret love of Edgar Allan Poe.

But a basement. I really don’t know what to do in a basement…Self doubt occurred early. But I persisted…

I scrabbled and scrambled for thoughts. Then came the flood of nefarious ghost-like events. I wrote them out. Then…

I revised what I had written. And threw it all away. Somewhere, somebody is looking at my lost notes and saying, “I wouldn’t write that either.”

Then the premise arrived. The idea was a ghost requesting permission…But I won’t add to that otherwise it would spoil the story.

And I wrote it. And I was pleased with it. But there was a problem…

The rewriting. The last time I wrote a short story (The Great Blow), I went on a re-writing frenzy. Eight or nine rewrites until I could take it no more.

This story (called Ghost Tattoo) was rewritten about four or five times.  I only realised it when I posted it on the competition forum. Some of the feedback was similar. And when I read the story, I realised they were right. A few more rewrites…Still when I receive the judge’s feedback, I will rewrite it. And post it. And learn my lesson. Otherwise I will have to take the test again!





Duel 2 : Me versus Truck

I was in trouble.
For up ahead, out of the twilight, two traffic lights had turned green.
The first light,  two cars ahead of me, meant that pair of cars moved forward.
The second light, perhaps one hundred metres away meant that these two cars, mine and however many behind me could cross the bridge.
Single lane only as it was under repair.
Until I heard a fog-horn. Next I saw two bright lights switch on. Beside the second traffic light.
A semi-trailer.
Which began to cross the one-lane bridge.  Against the lights.
I was tired. I had worked back. I had taken the long route home. I had forgotten that the narrow bridge at Maclean, north of Jimboomba in South-East Queensland was being extended.
With a single solitary lane now the exclusive territory of an oncoming truck.
The two cars were quick. They pulled off to the verge on the side.
The cars behind me banked up and stopped.
I was the only occupant of the single lane exiting the bridge.
The truck sped up. I had perhaps fifteen seconds left.
I couldn’t go forward. It was me versus truck.
I couldn’t hide on the side, the two cars had left no room.
I couldn’t reverse, the cars behind me were too close.
I was the only space left. I had maybe ten seconds until the truck either went around me or through me.
And he wasn’t slowing down.  He was speeding up.
I thought of the movie Duel where the hero abandons the car…except Dennis Weaver didn’t have a full heavy LPG tank in the trunk.
I had one choice. There was a risk. There was still time. I took it.
I clunked the Holden HQ’s gear into reverse. Flattened the accelerator. I still remember the whine of the engine.
I kept looking forward for the truck. And backward along the road.
I was reversing the car around the queue. On the truck’s side of the road.
Which is where I was now anyway. But not far behind me, the road widened into three lanes, one for the traffic, one for the truck and hopefully one for me. I had stopped counting down the seconds.
I can remember thinking, I don’t know why at the time, the word “Angels!”
But by then the truck had roared past me. I had found a space.
That bought me an extra fifteen minutes for I was now at queue’s end.
I wasn’t bothered. I sang out of relief. I rather enjoyed it.
Post Script : I wrote about the incident in a letter to the editor to two of the local newspapers. Both published me. I also always took the other way home.

Why I Write:Writing Out Loud #3

If money is the measure of success, as a short story writer and poet, I have little chance.

So why do I turn up? Why do I fill notebooks with words? Then copy and rewrite it in Evernote. And then again into Scrivener?

I now know I’m borrowing a talent as it were, but that doesn’t explain my motivation to write. Especially when the story or poem is demanding to be written.

Why do I do this?

Much like a poet who expresses those thoughts best unsaid, the author, Natasha Lester answered for me in her blog Success as a Writer: What Does it Mean? Understanding.

And she speaks for me. I was joyfully surprised by the feedback I received for the Great Blow. I wrote a poem called The Unravelled Heart , then attended a meetup. Two people had read it and they understood.

But the first time I really found out why I write occurred when I wrote a story called Medicine Woman.  A few days after publishing it, I received an email containing the French phrase, “On Ne Peut Sauver Celle Qui Ne Veut L’etre.” My school French could not suffice and I googled the phrase and also checked with my French teacher friend.

The phrase meant, “One cannot help those who cannot help (themselves).” Which is what the story really was about. Which is why I really wrote it.

Which is why i write.


I am Andrew and I am an OverResearcher : Writing Out Loud #2

Messy Desk

Messy Desk

You over-research too much,” she said to me.

I looked up from my desk, covered in academic papers. Then down at the floor, strewn with textbooks, references and more academic papers.

Do I? I suppose I do.” My wife shook her head at me.

My name is Andrew and I am an over researcher.

My affliction isn’t confined to my studies, now discontinued, it overflows into the workplace and most recently into my writing. I’m insatiably curious. My excuse, as was said to me is “But I want to know everything.”

What I don’t do is approach a topic seeking facts to satisfy a decided point of view. I can’t actually. I do have a question that needs answering. But I don’t know all the answers, even when I’m finished.

Which means the strangest things happen to me when I take this journey.

As happened when I entered the NYC Midnight Short Story competition. I was one of 3000 writers who compete in three rounds. Each writer is placed in a heat, allocated a  word limit, a period, a topic, a genre and a character. The first round required a 2500 word story in a week, then 2000 words in 3 days, then 1500 words in 24 hours. The winner was Sarah Martin’s The Undertaker. It is a gorgeous and touching story.

My first round genre was historical fiction, my character a Train Conductor and my topic was a Bushfire. I was daunted. I have never written historical fiction before. What I do know as described by Natasha Lester, author of A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, was that it required immense and accurate research.

Not really knowing where to start, I choose an Australian angle. Surely, in a vast country, often riven with bushfires, spanned by an extensive rail network, surely there would be such a story. Surely the 1977 Blue Mountains bushfires would have such an incident. I found much about how bushfires are fought, how the technology has changed and how the railways do deal with bushfires. Surely not.

My searches kept turned up another disaster, the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894. I ignored that. I didn’t want to write about that. Meanwhile the days dripped away. But I found nothing that could start a story. My over research was now becoming an over reach.

With only a few days left, I surrendered. And found my story. In fact, two stories. One was the well-known one of  the Canadian engineer James Root and how he led a rescue train to safety. The conductor, I felt, only had a peripheral involvement. The second story is more obscure involving a rescue under the supervision of a train conductor named Powers.

Finally! I had found what I was looking for. But I had not yet completed my journey.

Then I became immersed in this story. The newspaper reports, several books and a chronicle written afterwards detailed an apocalyptic horror. The fire, or rather fires, were too extensive and fast to fight or flee. There are stories of impossible survival, people sheltering in ponds, creeks and cellars and pure tragedy where people standing side by side survived or died. Clearly, there are many, many stories that can be told of this event.

Mine went like this.

Hinckley in Minnesota was a logging town and the junction of  two railways. After two months of drought, September 1, 1894, was a hot and oppressive day. While fires were common due to thoughtless forestry practices,  a temperature inversion (cold air above hot air), resulted in two major fires becoming a firestorm. Ultimately, the town itself and a large area burnt until the fire stopped.

James Root’s train was approaching the town and had to turn back, picking up survivors until they reversed to safety. Unfortunately, not everyone survived. Powers, however, was the conductor of a train that was trapped in Hinckley when the fire struck. They couldn’t leave. Their route out was blocked by a recently arrived goods train. A decision was made to join the two trains together and flee the town. As they began, buildings and house started exploding around them. They waited, then took as many people as they could. They then backed the train at speed through the fire. They picked up survivors as they ultimately crossed a burning trestle bridge to safety.

That was my story. I detested it.  I had written a third-person newspaper report summary. This happened, then that happened, Powers did this, his crew did that and they made it to safety. Yes it was a story. But all the while another story was unfolding itself to me. I just was refusing to listen to it. The deadline drew nearer. I started to despair. It looked like the story would not be submitted.

I thought about my dilemma. I then looked for what surprised me. It was the incredibly strong religious beliefs of both the immigrants (mainly Scandinavian) and the first settlers. The Native Americans’ stories sadly weren’t chronicled in much detail. In recounting the disaster, every person described it in apocalyptic terms using Nordic or Christian metaphors. So often people described the fire as appearing from nowhere rather than approaching from any distance. My over-research was about to become useful.

For it was then that the story revealed itself to me. Through Power’s eyes, this would be the end of the world exactly as described from the pulpit and the Bible. And worse, he had delayed the departure of the train to gather more stragglers. And his point of decision was at the burning trestle bridge.  And it only had immediacy if I wrote it in first person.

Fifty minutes later it was written.

The story didn’t go beyond the first round. However, the judges’ feedback was deeply appreciated. And I had learnt immensely.

Here is the Great Blow.

My name is Andrew and I am an over-researcher. I’m also a curious and reflective one.