Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Creative writing course

Yesterday I signed up for the five-week Creative Writing Stage 1 course that's offered by the Sydney Writers' Centre in Rozelle. I'll be doing the course online which will save me having to travel to classes that I can't attend anyway because I work until 7pm everyday. The course starts on 6 April and finishes around mid-May, about the time when I commence long-service leave. Creative writing is not necessarily where I see myself going as a writer but I feel I need to stimulate or crack open some vestige of objective imagination within me if I wish to write the book that I'm hoping to get started by May. The book will likely be about myself really, vignettes of a life lived that hopefully I can coalesce into some quasi-meaningful tome, beat, scene. Until then I'll put myself through the levers of a five-week course and see what kind of fictional story I can concoct by horses-for-course's end. That said, I'm looking forward to doing this course and to discover if I've got what it takes to write creative fiction!

The only course prerequisite is to have read Harper Lee's
To Kill a Mockingbird. I decided to buy the book rather than borrow it from a library (it's not held at my library! ;) as, being the dedicated Creative Writing student I aspire to be, I'll be pencilling notes and underlining ad infinitum. I bought the book from UNSW bookshop where they always give me a reasonably healthy discount on the RRP, just one of the many small perks of working in the university environment.

I chuckled to myself when I bought the book thinking back to that episode of 'Seinfeld' when George Constanza joined a book club for the sole purpose of meeting women. I mean, my motivation is purely to write, but it's George's earnestness yet lack of dedication to his reading that I remember well. I'm a good reader, but I'm not a
great reader, and I'm arguably a better writer than I am reader although that's not saying much. As I flicked through the fresh pages of To Kill a Mockingbird I was hoping very much that it would be an enthralling read as I don't wish to go through a writing course not having read the prerequisite text!! When I studied English at Uni all those years ago there were some texts I just could not get through for the life of me. Miraculously I always passed the essays and exams and often got credit-grades for them, my perception and ability to construct an argument in essays always got me through the finish line.

Since starting the blog almost a year ago (I plan to have a one-year anniversary party yes) I've accelerated my reading and now have a large backlog of books I wish to read. Aside from Harper Lee's book these include Don Walker's
Shots, Anais Nin's Henry & June, and Augusten Burroughs' Dry. I'm reading the latter's Running with Scissors now that I received for my birthday recently. It's a delightfully written story!! I feel very much for Augusten's character for in similar ways I was a much maligned and lonely boy in those early-teen years. Augusten transforms a sad and tragic reality into a delightfully warm and almost cheerily-written story, as far as I've read. The characters shine through and speak volumes, one warms to them wholly which is perhaps why the book is a best-seller, it has that spark of universal appeal. I loved the film too, particularly Annette Bening's character.

So now, I'll post this blog, lie on my bed and continue with the
Running with Scissors adventure!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

reeling in the world

Here's a quote from Survival Acres' most recent update:

"...exploitation, ownership and greed are root evils in humans that continue to plague mankind.

We’ve wrongly exalted these qualities as being the earmarks of “success”, when it is really among the worst kind of human behavior there is. We’ve created a world based upon competition instead of sharing, exploitation instead of nurturing, and false ideas of ownership and possession as means and measurements to provide meaning in life. Effectively, we are all forced to “compete” for everything, even those things that should still be free (the right to life, liberty and security, which includes food, water, shelter, clothing and housing).

We demean those that refuse these abominable lies, and exalt and praise those and even reward those who excel in it. Don’t believe it? Examine how we humans treat the “poor”, homeless, hungry, impoverished and needy. We are truly horrible when it comes to understanding what is really valuable in this world. We’ve got it all backwards. And quite frankly, most of us are simply too dumb to know it."

I recall a Michael Leunig cartoon with two frames and captions. The first frame contains a drawing of birds sitting contentedly on the branches of tree with the caption reading "Why do birds do this?" with the second frame having one bird sitting up on a tree branch staring frowningly and severley down onto a group of birds that are on the ground and looking up at this one frowning bird. There is a sign next to the bird on the tree, "Branches for Rent", with the caption reading "when they could do this?"

Living is compex and complicated with jobs and houses and living arrangements and blasted money and all it serves to do is to complicate our relationships with one another and to remove us further from our own integrity and connectedness. I wonder what pure freedom is like. One thing's for sure, we in the West are so far removed from all of that and other than total wipeout I'm not sure how we can return to that kind of free, magnificent Eden, where life is true, powerful, splendid and glorious.

But then, sometimes I enjoy it, so.....

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Don Walker's discusses his book Shots @ Gleebooks, 11 March 2009

(To be published in the Songsmith)

On Wednesday 11 March I attended a book talk at Gleebooks on Glebe Point Road in Glebe. Don Walker, former Cold Chisel keyboard player and songwriter, was interviewed by published author James Bradley on his inaugural new book, Shots. I was delighted to attend and listen to Don discuss his book and how it came to be written. Don also elucidated on his relationship with Cold Chisel and on the craft of songwriting in general. It is accepted without question that Don Walker is one of Australia’s greatest songwriters, and for me to see and hear my hero talk to James Bradley at Gleebooks that night was a marvellous and thrilling experience, doubly so for the fact that prose writing is of increasing interest to me, so much so that I plan to write a book during my time off in May - July. This talk has certainly been an inspiration as far as my propitious endeavour is concerned.

Entry to the event was $10 and complimentary beer and wine was served. Unsurprisingly of course the event was packed out.


I’m finding more and more as I travel through the years that I'm drawn to the stories individuals carry with them, particularly of those individuals I greatly admire. Don Walker's life-story, along with another local hero of mine, Steve Kilbey, is fascinating in my view. Don Walker was born in North Queensland in 1951, moved to a farm near Grafton in Northern NSW as a child, moved to nearby Armidale to study physics at the University of New England, moved to Adelaide to take up a position with the Weapons Research department in 1973 (co-forming Cold Chisel in the process), moved back to Armidale to complete his honours degree in quantum mechanics in 1974, finally moving back to Adelaide in 1975 to rejoin Cold Chisel. The rest is Australian rock’n’roll history.

Shots, according to Don, came about over time as an adjunct to the songwriting process. In recent years as Don spent many idle afternoons working on problems within songs, often two syllables, Don discovered that automating writing on blank sheets helped to loosen up his expression and concentration on his songwriting. He usually came back to the song clearer and more focused after a bout of automatic writing. Over time these sheets became the genesis of a book, Shots, written in sub-automatic style, or "shots" as they are often referred to. The book covers the story of his life from childhood all the way up to the late-80’s which is some few years after the break-up of Cold Chisel and the beginning of Don’s Catfish project. Of note, the words “Cold Chisel” are never mentioned in his book. Of this Don is quick to point out that even during the height of Chisel’s fame, the fact remains that playing live represented a small-portion of day-to-day existence. Don points out the real life is different, that the members of the band led separate lives with different social circles, that life consisted more mundane matters of finding places to live and scrounging up dole-money etc. Real-life and observations thereof, in this context, is what Shots is about.

I’ve only commenced reading the book and already I’m mesmerised by Don’s expressive vividness, his observational prowess, and the underlying passion and romance he gives to his recollections and anecdotes – just like his songs really. James Bradley was keen to point out how striking the ‘Kings Cross’ chapter was for within the context of relatively few pages, it felt like an entire book in itself. James also praised the book’s underlying musicality, lyricism, and flow.

Don answered questions from the audience in which invariably the omnipresent subject of songwriting came up. Of note one audience member asked about ‘Flame Trees’ and how that came to be written. Don replied that it was sub-autobiographical, about a first love from Grafton, and that Steve Prestwich had the melody for a long time of which Don finally added his classic lyrics at Steve’s request. Don mentioned that he usually has the lyrics first and goes into the music from there; this isn’t surprising for like Nick Cave, Don is a tremendously verbose lyricist.

The talked was topped off by a visitation to the stage by Ian Moss on acoustic guitar, accompanying Don on two haunting ballads, one of which was desolate country as only Don can do it, the second song was a ballad on a long-gone local crim. Personally my favourite music of Don’s is the very early Cold Chisel stuff such as the jazz-blues songs like ‘Rosaline’, ‘One Long Day’ & ‘Breakfast at Sweethearts’ to name a few; that, and the first Catfish album of 1988, 'Unlimited Address' that shamefully remains a relatively obscurity given that it's such an astoundingly great album.

I stood in the long line to have my book signed. Don was convivial and smiling and seemed genuinely happy to be signing his book and having a chat to everyone. I asked him about a guy called David Embury who was an old school/uni friend of Don’s and who had introduced me to Don at a Catfish gig some 15 years ago, David & I having studied at Uni together in 1994. I had a brief, enjoyable chat with Don.


I’m very impressed by Don Walker, and always have been. He’s such a cool man, dapper, sharp & eagle-eyed, intense – a real man. He’s one of my god-smacked idols actually. He’s a brilliant piano/keyboard player and an extraordinary songwriter. I’m eager to delve into his world with Shots, so far it’s a mesmerising read. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this fascinating book...and to start writing my own. ;)

I’d suggest Cold Chisel’s first album, Cold Chisel (1978), and Catfish’s Unlimited Address (1988) as being the album highlights of Don Walker’s songwriting genius. Interestingly both albums were produced by the same producer, Peter Walker, who bears no relation to Don.

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Paul Hewson shooting star

i'm in the sunshine A mate of mine produces a monthly songwriter newsletter which goes out to a hundred or so mainly Sydney-based...