On the importance of reaching out

One of the key elements I’ve sought to explore with ‘One‘ is loneliness, and the impacts that being isolated can have on a person.

This is an important discussion to have, an element that’s often overlooked, so I wanted to just put a few notes down on why it’s so important – and what we can do to help.

When my mother was in her teens, her mother – my grandmother – remarried. My Grandma’s new husband was an abusive drunk, an alcoholic who regularly subjected her to anger and violence.

It’s something that’s always jarred in my mind – how, and why, would anyone do this? Why would my Grandma let this man in? I’ve asked my Mum about it and she’s always said the same thing – ‘loneliness is all it’s cracked up to be’.

As noted, the impacts of loneliness are often under-rated in considering negative societal influences. Sure, these days we have the internet, we have dating apps – we have more means than ever before to connect. But talking to someone online isn’t the same as in real life – and the awkwardness and self-consciousness that can come with it. If anything, such elements could be exacerbated by our reliance on online media, which could have wider ranging long-term impacts.

Every day in Australia, eight people take their own lives, the result of more than 65,000 suicide attempts each year. Of course, there are many complexities, many factors involved, not every case can be attributed to loneliness. But many do come down to simply having no one, nowhere else to turn. According to research, feeling a lack of connection to others is one of the three biggest risk factors involved in suicidal thoughts. In addition, recent studies have shown that loneliness can be a bigger risk factor than obesity, in terms of health impacts.

It’s difficult to imagine for most of us, it’s hard to think of there being absolutely no hope, no one else there – that non-existence could seem like a more acceptable outcome. It’s painful, it’s sad. But this is the reality, and these situations are happening, all too often.

But what can you do? As noted, there are obviously a lot of complications, each situation is weighted with complexities that are almost impossible to understand. But you can reach out.

You can ask.

That guy you went to school with who you’ve been meaning to get in touch with again. That girl you used to hang out with, but have since gone your separate ways. Not all of these people will be in danger, but some might, and your effort to re-connect and say hi could be a big step, a big help in reminding them that someone, somewhere, cares.

You can’t take it all on yourself – there are psychological complications that may be beyond your influence. But getting in touch is easy, easier than ever in our always connected age.

And that simple gesture just might be key in providing help.

If you know anyone who you think may be at risk, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to the website for resources and info.

Interpretation and Ownership

One of the most intimidating prospects about publishing your work is that once it’s out there, it’s out there, and readers will interpret your words in varying ways – sometimes not in the way you might have intended. Ideally, that doesn’t happen – the surrounding context should provide enough guidance and meaning in a story sense. But beyond the story alone, people will look deeper into your words and meanings, and make assessments of both you and your intentions.

In many ways, this is the point of writing – you’re trying to get people thinking, to see things from another perspective, so you want your readers to look deeper into the underlying logic. When people understand what you were communicating, that’s the ultimate for a writer, but when they misinterpret your meaning, or specific segments, it can be tough to deal with.

I had this with my first novel – of all the sections that got brought up, this one seemed to come up most often.

In a chapter where a group of young people are at a party, one young girl, Aleesa, speaks to the main character:

Aleesa smiles.  ‘Who’s your pick tonight?’ she says, turns to face the girls dancing on the carpet.

                ‘You’re looking pretty good,’ I tell her. She shifts her eyes slowly back to me, the straw from her drink gently held between her teeth. She holds her glass up to my face.

                ‘You gonna’ drug me?’

                ‘I don’t do that.’

‘Ha. Bullshit. All you guys do it.’

‘So why are you here then? Aren’t you worried?’

‘I can take care of myself.’

A young guy joins the dancers, rubbing his hands across the clothes of the girls. Aleesa catches my eyes watching them.

‘Some girls don’t really care,’ she says, and walks off into the crowd, looking back over her shoulder.

This, in some reviews or comments, was interpreted as the character implying that some young girls simply don’t care about the prospect of being drugged and raped. Which, in literal translation, I can see – that is what Aleesa says – but the point of this scene was more to show that Aleesa was strong, that she wasn’t scared of them. At this point in the story, the group is gaining confidence, they feel like they’re dominant, that they run things. In this context, the line was more about Aleesa taking the power from them, saying that people know what they do, but that doesn’t scare anyone. The implied ‘liking’ of it was more the gossip aspect, as opposed to being targeted.

But I understand why this was misinterpreted, and why it stood out as such – but even so, it can be difficult to read such interpretations and not comment back to clarify. But you can’t.

A very high profile author once told me that you can never, ever, respond to criticisms or reviews. It’s tempting, obviously, but no good can come of it. And he’s right – though there is some argument that a level of controversy could, maybe, help in a promotional sense (maybe, if you were high profile enough, responding to a critique could help you get more coverage, similar to how some celebrities hit back via tweet every now and then) – it’s very risky, and you’ll most likely just come out looking worse.

But really, the work needs to stand on its own. Once you’ve published it, released it – once it’s out there, it’s its own thing, and open to criticism on its own merits. Your ownership of it decreases somewhat – if the work can’t stand on its own, then you haven’t done your job, and no amount of supplemental information will cater for that.

So while you might be misinterpreted, you have to accept that, and learn to give your work its own life. The story is what it is, it’s its own thing. You have to let it be.

The key is that you have to be happy with what you’ve created. If you’ve done all you can, you can’t think of any other improvements and you’re satisfied that the final result best captures your vision for the work, then that’s it. Sure, there might be things you want to do better next time around, but that’s always going to be the case. Nothing is ever perfect.

It’s the push to do better next time that’s exciting, and ideally drives us towards creating better and better work.

Interview on ABC Radio’ ‘Nightlife’

one cover2

I recently spoke to Sarah Macdonald on ABC Radio’s ‘Nightlife’ program in Australia to discuss my new novel ‘One’, my writing career, my approach to writing (why I write)  and various other things.

If you’re interested, you can check out the interview here (from the 1:00:26 mark):

 

 

New interview

abc canberra

I got a chance to speak to Adam Shirley on ABC Canberra this morning about my new novel ‘One” and the inspirations and motivations behind it.

If you’re interested, you can listen to the interview here (at the 1:06:10 mark of the playback).

 

 

Moments

“Then the children went to bed, or at least went upstairs, and the men joined the women for a cigarette on the porch, absently picking ticks engorged like grapes off the sleeping dogs. And when the men kissed the women good night, and their weekend whiskers scratched the women’s cheeks, the women did not think shave, they thought stay.”

Weekend – by Amy Hempel

Under the Skin by Jonathan Glazer

mud

 

Mud by Jeff Nicholls

“All the men like my uncle who had the boats stood around the edges of the barge away from the big green tarps, away from their boats they could not look at, and as far away from each other as they could without falling over into the boiling water. They stood watching for faces of boiled-over people to come up to just below surface like they sometimes did, like they just wanted to sneak a peak before slipping back under.”

On the Rope by Mark Richard

Requiem for a Dream by Darren Aronofsky

“Trousers rolled to the knee but still they got wet. They tied the rope to a cleat at the rear of the boat and rowed back across the lake, jerking the stump slowly behind them. By then it was already evening. Just the slow periodic rack and shuffle of the oarlocks. The lake dark glass and windowlights coming on along the shore. A radio somewhere. Neither of them had spoken a word. This was the perfect day of childhood. This is the day to shape the days upon.”

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

underneath the roses

Underneath the Roses by Gregory Crewdson

Happy Go Lucky by Mike Leigh

Release

one shop

Today is the culmination of an eleven-year journey in writing my second novel ‘One’. It’s been a massive challenge – as all major writing projects are – but this one has also made me question myself, my ability, and my capacity to reach the levels to which I aspire.

I’ve had to question not only how I write, but why; not only my physical process, but my mental one as well. And most importantly, I’ve had to establish what it is I’m trying to achieve with my writing.

I feel like I’ve moved closer to all these things – whether you can ever meet, or exceed such, is probably an unanswerable question. But I’m very happy with the result, and I hope it connects with readers.

I’m so happy to be finally sharing ‘One’ with a wider audience, and happy to be contributing to the greater literary landscape once again. And I do feel that ‘One’ does that, it contributes something different, something to consider, to entertain as well as provide a point of contemplation and perspective.

Thanks to everyone who’s supported me along the way – and if I can ever answer any questions, drop me an e-mail (details on the ‘About’ page).

You can find more details about ‘One’, including ordering info, here, or check out your local bookstore (in Australia and New Zealand)

[musical interlude]

albums4

I’ve heard and read a lot of different theories about the relationship between writing and music. Some people say they write better when listening to specific songs or styles, while others (myself included) need general silence to concentrate on the job at hand, and build the scene in their head.

But even then, there are various ways that music informs my writing, and there are specific albums and tracks that have helped spark my imagination.

Of course, it’s not just the music itself in such cases, it’s often the situation you were in when you found it, where you were in life, in your creative process, etc. For me, there are some albums that always awaken a level of recognition, which trigger something in my mind, and can often help kick-start my imagination.

Here are four albums which do that for me – you’ll no doubt have your own list of inspirations, but if you’re looking for a new source, these may be worth a listen.

  1. “Mezzanine” by Massive Attack

Okay, so most of my picks are going to be a little older because – well, I’m old. “Mezzanine” was released in 1998, and it’s the perfect mix of musical creativity and mood-setting pieces, which, for me, is a great combination. I wouldn’t say Mezzanine has inspired so much of my writing directly, but it helps open up my mind by showcasing what can be done with subtle shifts and changes, and what art – even in a more popular form like music – can be. For me, Mezzanine reminds me that you can do different things, you can adapt different styles and you can make them your own, and that attention to detail is the difference between ‘good’ and ‘great’.

  1. “OK Computer” by Radiohead

I imagine almost every late-nineties teen would have some recollection of “OK Computer”, the genius of the album simply can’t be overlooked. And while it’s not for everyone, much like Mezzanine, OK Computer showcases the depths of creativity within an established art form, looking at pop music from an entirely different angle. I think what really inspires me the most about both albums is that they’re so different, that a group of creative people have got together and just let themselves go, thrown everything out there and moulded it into something amazing. It’s the fine-tuning, the editing, the refinements that make OK Computer so special – which, in a writing sense, comes back to editing, and polishing your experimentation to capture the mood of your work.

  1. “Untrue” by Burial

And speaking of mood, nothing sets the scene better than Burial’s ‘Untrue’. Burial – a one-man band from the UK (in fact, all of these picks are from the UK – wonder what that says about me?) – records his tracks in the dead of night, and he has an uncanny knack for capturing the feel of those moments when the rest of the world is asleep. Again, this is not a direct influence on my writing, I don’t think, but it’s another album that opens my creative thinking and leaves me pondering the stories I want to tell.

  1. “A Grand Don’t Come for Free” by The Streets

And then there’s The Streets. Mike Skinner, who is himself, ‘The Streets’ came to prominence with his first album ‘Original Pirate Material’, but it was his second, ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ which both made, and in many ways, destroyed him. A Grand Don’t Come for Free is a concept album – it tells the story, track-by-track, of Skinner’s developing relationship, eventual end, and hints at what’s to come next. The great thing about this album is that it showcases just how powerful and resonant a simple story can be. Skinner’s tale is entirely relatable, it’s run of the mill stuff that almost everyone has experienced. The album shows that you don’t need an elaborate plotline or a complex idea for it to be powerful.

As noted, everyone will have their own musical touchpoints, but these ones speak to me, and always help me get my mind moving if I need.

Review – ‘Annihilation’ by Alex Garland

annihilationI’ve been looking forward to Alex Garland’s ‘Annihilation’ for some time, and the film does not disappoint – though I can see how its broader commercial could be a concern.

I’ve personally been a fan of Garland’s work for some time – his novel ‘The Coma’ is one of my favourites, though it’s far less well-known than his breakthrough hit, ‘The Beach’. Since moving on from novels, and into screenwriting, Garland has penned the films ‘28 Days Later’, the under-rated sci-fi epic ‘Sunshine’ and the most recent movie adaptation of ‘Judge Dredd’.

But it was his last film, ‘Ex Machina’ which truly elevated Garland in the wider public consciousness. Garland also directed the AI-themed story, which is an impactful, slow burn of a film, and a resonant and disturbing experience.

That then leads to Annihilation. For this film, Garland was given final cut, based on the faith studio execs had in him follow Ex Machina. That, as it turns out, lead to some complications with the film’s release, as producers reportedly voiced concerns, and asked for changes to the cerebral plot after initial test screenings. Garland refused, which then lead to Annihilation being released via Netflix, as opposed to in cinemas, in most countries.

I, for one, can say I’m glad Garland stuck with his initial vision.

Annihilation is a challenging film, for sure, but all great creative works should be. Sure, there’s a place for quick-hitting comedies and fast-paced action movies, but great cinema, as with any art, raises questions and forces you to consider them in a wider context than what you’re seeing on screen. Annihilation achieves this, but it does so in a complex manner which may alienate some viewers. But if you’re willing to absorb those questions, and ponder the various elements at play, you’ll find a hugely rewarding, haunting work, full of great performances and amazing scenes.

Great science fiction doesn’t use its setting as the key story element, it uses the form to tell a human story. Consider, in this respect, ‘Arrival’, which uses the backdrop of an alien invasion to examine human nature and the essence of why we do what we do. Or consider something like ‘Under the Skin’ as another modern example, which also raises moral questions through a foreign observer. Annihilation is in the same vein as these films, drawing viewers into a compelling story, that’ll not only leave with something to think about, but will also likely teach you something you didn’t know, further sparking your response.

In some ways, it’s sad that we (in Australia) won’t get to see it on the big screen, as a lot of effort has clearly gone into the amazing set design and effects. Garland has noted that, while he’s fine with Netflix distribution, he likely would have made different choices if the focus had been on smaller screens. But regardless, the film looks amazing, and as noted, definitely raises deep, intelligent questions – and will haunt you, not only for the disconcerting roar of the creatures contained within ‘The Shimmer’, but also as you ponder its meaning in your own thought process.