If you haven’t already – go and have a look at the overall info for Novel November, my FAQ blog and the original announcement about my Fellowship. I’m going to assume anyone reading these blogs has read all of that already so that I don’t have to keep repeating background details.
You can also see the world details starting to develop here and all of the writing I’ve done so far here, with other updates on my FB & Insta.
I spent the weekend out at Pichi Richi Park (between Port Augusta and Quorn) attending an artist retreat organised by Country Arts SA and Performing Lines as part of the recently announced Local Giants initiative. Twelve artists, including me, spent 2.5 days with three mentors and staff from both Country Arts SA and Performing Lines exploring and unpacking individual project ideas each artist pitched in their application. I pitched Novel November and the longer-term 2040 ambition I have from this residency.
It was so, so lovely to spend this time immersed with other regional artists sharing hopes, doubts, ideas and questions. It was also probably the first time I’ve really talked about my big ambitions for this project directly and openly with people outside of my direct community (other than the mentor chats through my Fellowship activity) so felt like a bit of a litmus test for “does this idea actually make sense and have potential?”
Readers, I think it does.
My challenge now, especially as I come to the end of this residency period supported by my Fellowship, is to make decisions about next steps to grow momentum and continue building the overall vision in a way that has integrity and a structure that can sustain me and others stepping in and out around other commitments. No small task but I am excited by what we might build and develop over the next few years. My brain right now is very much thinking about initial resources to support that, including meaningful local partnerships. More to come.
This week I’m back to writing each day at Part of Things with an open invitation for people to join me in person or online. You don’t have to be working on ideas/stories set in the lands of the river, you’re welcome to just hang out and work on unrelated projects. You can also still follow along everything I’m writing in the g-doc.
I haven’t created as much space as I wanted to for the deeper reflection on practice during my Fellowship so far. I’m okay with this overall, as the mentor chats have been really rich and opportunities like the Pichi Richi artist retreat have functioned in this way too, but I do still want to carve out a little more time over this coming week for that space to reflect, dream and learn. I will report back next Wednesday with how I go.
This weekend I’m also going to work on a small grant to support Sam and I to work together in Jan/Feb on developing up the bones of an idea for a graphic novel out of the lands of the river so far. It’s always a challenge to be in the middle of the creative side of the work and having to think about the next steps from a forward planning perspective, but it’s just the reality of this kind of work. Funding cycles are long (planning six to twelve months in advance minimum) and it also takes time to build other kinds of stakeholder and collaborator relationships, so I’m always balancing both in my head as I go. The here and now, and the where to next. Some people hate these two sides but I actually enjoy both. I enjoy strategic planning and grant writing and documenting as well as being in the room writing, dreaming, creating and collaborating. I’m probably very lucky to find pleasure in both.
Novel November Progress
Across the last few weeks I’ve attempted to explore at least one character on all of the five primary worlds of the lands of the river (which we still need to name overall?) and in doing so, continue to develop the wider world logic and other ideas as I go. This week I focused on characters on Uttie and Lican specifically, partly because Sam has done such beautiful illustrations of Tael and Vespur over the past weeks and I wanted to explore the places that had received a little less love.
I shared the Tael illustration in last week’s blog, but here is Sam’s vision of Vespur:
You can see dotted around the market a number of flower-fairies based on mice:
Though I also love these variations on flower-fairies too:
Sam did these imaginings of flower-fairies before I suggested the version based on mice and I love both for different reasons. I think I am starting to lean towards Sam’s original concepts (directly above) over the mice-fairy concept just because it enables more exploration for anyone who wants to create things in this world. Perhaps we might turn the mice-fairies into another project entirely, who knows?
People have asked “what happens if people write stories or create ideas that don’t match?” and honestly I think that’s fine. We’ve created some core things as a foundation but if people want to take those concepts and develop it in ways that are inconsistent that’s okay from my point of view. I’m working to be consistent within whatever I directly write and create myself, but it doesn’t bother me if we end up with a multiverse approach of things that don’t quite align or contradict each other. The real world is messy too and versions of the truth tell very different stories. I’m more interested in the process of people creating and building things with shared connection than I am in a super rigid world/structure that is internally consistent. Those of us who decide to continue collaborating and building bigger outcomes from this starting place will of course have to make decisions about what we do or don’t include, but that would be true anyway because any process of adapting between forms requires that (books to films for example). It might be naive of me, but I think the canon of this world will work itself out over time as we explore, iterate, test, share, develop. Either way, I’m interested in the process and in making space for people to believe in, and explore, their own ideas and instincts.
If you haven’t already – go and have a look at the overall info for Novel November, my FAQ blog and the original announcement about my Fellowship. I’m going to assume anyone reading these blogs has read all of that already so that I don’t have to keep repeating background details.
You can also see the world details starting to develop here and all of the writing I’ve done so far here, with other updates on my FB & Insta.
As mentioned in last week’s blog I spent Thurs & Fri in Adelaide attending Reset, with two fabulous emerging artists, Kirste Jade and Jess Weidenhofer, who have both been part of Novel November (and have worked with me on other projects in the past). Lots and lots of food for thought and you can scroll through and have a look at my reflections during the two days over on my Twitter account, and see a wider cross-section of insight via #ResetArts.
Attending conferences and gatherings like this has always been an important part of my practice/creative career for a bunch of reasons, most of which I’m terrible at articulating but if you’re twisting my arm to pull out some key reasons:
I’m really aware of my lack of formal training and the professional development and informal learning from these kinds of gatherings is really valuable to me.
the general opportunity to be exposed to new ideas, new professional crushes, new networks and new projects. I always go away with a handful of people/projects/organisations that I want to find out more about.
I feel a sense of responsibility to be an active participant and contributor to the sector/industry/community, and that means showing up, listening, reflecting and adjusting what/how I’m doing things where relevant. For example there were some really thoughtful and direct calls to action at Reset about divesting from mining companies (ie. don’t take money from resource corporations because it’s implicit support and “artwashing” the damage these corporations are doing to our communities and planet). I’ve always had mixed feelings on this because all of the money we accept is “dirty” and has strings attached, but the conversations at Reset have asked me to revisit the absolutionism in some of my earlier mixed feelings. Context does matter and there is nuance and I don’t want my work to directly or indirectly contribute to the success of companies and individuals who put profit over community. I’m always learning. Always.
as I’ve moved further into my career and developed professional networks and friendships, gatherings like Reset have also become mini reunions, which links back to the first dot point, but also has a value in itself. Relationships matter and the relationships I have sustain me and inspire me. All of my work starts with and is founded on relationships (*side note, if you haven’t already read it, please go and read Jade Lillie’s The Relationship is the Project. A fab book that resonates with so much of my perspectives.)
Attending Reset was good timing for Novel November, because as mentioned elsewhere, this residency project is a starting place to explore and start building the foundations for a much bigger long-term project, so thinking about sustainability, about workplace practices, about collaboration and advocacy and community building is very much on my mind. It was valuable to have some outside provocation to keep stirring and stretching my own thinking. It was also personally meaningful to me to have Kirste and Jess there with me. Both acknowledged that some of the content was difficult for them to connect to and understand and I remember that the first conferences I went to often felt like gibberish, but I know how each opportunity kept opening up new learning and new opportunities for me and I hope it will be the same for them. I’m still unpacking all of the conversations and ideas presented at Reset – I’m a slow thinker – but you can find out more about it here.
If you’ve been following along in the g-doc, you’ll know I haven’t popped in any new writing since last week’s blog, which is why I’ve named this week’s blog: what does work look like?
I hear a lot of writers berating themselves for low word-counts and not producing enough content. I don’t do this (though I used to!) because I know that I produce a lot of work in lots of different ways across the many threads of my practice/work life anyway, but also because I know that “work” and “writing” doesn’t always look like sitting at a computer typing words into a document. Sometimes writing looks like taking a walk to process ideas and wrestle with a plot point, sometimes writing looks like planning out a practical schedule to give you more writing time and breathing space, sometimes writing looks like professional development and networking, sometimes writing looks like day-dreaming, sometimes writing looks like scrawling scraps of ideas onto serviettes while out to lunch with friends, sometimes writing looks like admin and the business side of making it all work, sometimes writing looks like research, sometimes writing looks like being out in the world and living your life, sometimes writing looks like rest.
This past week has included all of those things and more.
This coming weekend there are no community workshops because I’m lucky enough to be heading to Pichi Richi very early tomorrow morning to be part of an Artist Retreat with Country Arts SA and Performing Lines until Sunday afternoon. I’ll be working on my bigger picture ideas for Novel November during this retreat and connecting with other wonderful South Australian regional artists.
Next week I’ll be back to writing in the g-doc each day before wrapping up the Novel November residency with a little sharing celebration on Sunday 28th November.
Novel November Progress
Content note: grief, death, death of a young person, suicide.
As I mentioned in last week’s blog, a young person I know died recently and that informed some of my writing in the world of Novel November last week. Sam responded with this illustration to some of that writing:
Sam has also created this beautiful rendering of Tael and folk headed to the library:
Sam’s illustrations are beautiful and I’m going to share more of them on Insta & FB across next week so stay tuned for that and my next update on Wednesday 24th Nov.
If you haven’t already – go and have a look at the overall info for Novel November, my FAQ blog and the original announcement about my Fellowship. I’m going to assume anyone reading these blogs has read all of that already so that I don’t have to keep repeating background details and boring the life out of you.
You can also see the world details starting to develop here and all of the writing I’ve done so far here, with other updates on my FB & Insta.
Surprising no-one (including me) I’ve contributed more time to the Fellowship and Novel November over the first week than I intended to. This is because some things just took me longer, I’ve added some extra things in and because I’m enjoying it! Having said that, I am still doing some work for both Writers SA and headspace Berri, and an independent projection outcome due this month so I do need to pace myself. The Fellowship is my primary focus, but it’s not my only commitment. Rest and downtime are important parts of doing good work too.
This week I’m only writing Mon, Tues and today and then heading to a conference in Adelaide Thurs/Fri. Sat & Sun are Novel November community workshop days with a poetry focus on Saturday and a scriptwriting focus on Sunday. Over the weekend just gone we had a short story focus on Saturday and on Sunday looked at graphic storytelling (comics/graphic novels/narrative zines) and branching narratives (twine games, choose your own adventure stories). There were seven participants on Saturday, including me, and four on Sunday.
Reflecting on the workshops:
Saturday I think I tried to make the short story workshop too general and didn’t bring enough of Novel November and the ongoing work of the project into the workshop. This is because I was trying to make the workshop content relevant to a broad range of ages and for people who wanted to apply it to their own outside projects. My intentions were good, but ultimately these workshops *are* for and part of Novel November so I think it’s important that the examples, exercises and content draws from and builds on wherever Novel November is up to. I’m still really happy with how the workshop went and the many conversations it started.
I also wrote this silly but fun little drabble during the workshop:
No-one ever thinks sheep are dangerous, making them perfect for smuggling. Which is how I found myself tied to the belly of a sheep in the middle of a cycle-night, ready to board the living-ship Fugenavis. Jared was ahead on another and I knew he’d be freaking out, but I just had to hope and pray he wouldn’t scream. We were boarded onto Fugenavis without any trouble but I’d lost all feeling in my legs by then. Unfortunately we hadn’t thought through how we’d get loose. Which is how I ended up a ghost on Fugenavis. Sheep are dangerous things.
Drabbles are a short story format where the story has to be exactly 100 words.
I tried to take this reflection into Sunday’s workshop with examples and exercises that directly related to Novel November content. The examples were good but my energy was not. I was exhausted and flaky and really struggling to bring the energy and care needed to facilitate the workshop (to my own standards). My mind kept wandering and I tried to fit waaaaay too much into the one day, meaning that we kept rushing over things to get to the next thing I’d planned. The best outcomes of Sunday’s workshop weren’t in the content, but were in the conversations between, when we spoke about other interests and projects people were working on. By about 2pm I’d just fizzled out completely and we collectively decided to abandon the rest of the workshop content I’d planned and just write together. Even that wasn’t working for me so I used the time for some planning for this week instead.
That’s not to say the workshop was a complete waste. I showed everyone the basics of writing a logline and we had a go with a little collectively made up story about a character on Uttie who has to deal with a setimret infestation.
We also talked through the basics of what a pitch packet for a graphic novel contains and looked at a whole bunch of interactive narrative examples together, including these:
My point being: things don’t always go to plan and sometimes we’re just not in the right head space for a particular activity, but we can still find value in the connections and the sharing of small breadcrumbs to help people find their way.
This is for anyone who would like to write their own stories, poems, songs, scripts and ideas set in the lands of the river in between. I’m still adding materials, and some of the materials will be edited/change as we continue making discoveries but this is the starting place I’ve been writing from/in so far.
Each Monday during Novel November I am sending illustrator Sam Wannan a package of written material developed through the residency so far. Sam is then responding with illustrations to whatever grabs him within that material (and reading along in the live g-doc). Last week Sam sent through a whole bunch of concepts for many of the peoples we imagined during the world-building weekend and this absolutely glorious illustration of the ship Fugenavis:
This interpretation of Fugenavis was inspired by this little piece of writing I did on the very first writing day (Monday 1st November 2021):
A ship called Love
Coats flapping in a breeze that has no wind,
magic river running to a trickle, and questions.
Questions seep into the rock –
They gather the misfits, the pirates and the pretty
and the curious, voiceless dreams
that sit crouched between their knees.
They build a ship, the first in this world.
Large, unwieldy and ugly,
she waddles and wails amongst the stars.
They call her “love” but her name is Fugenavis.
The ship that became a world.
The ship that became a home.
The ship that became a legend.
The ship that saved them all.
I have loved seeing Sam’s illustrations coming into my emails and really glad we were able to find the resources to make this happen. The illustrations feel like a lovely little gift to me, which helps with motivation and connection to the worlds/project, and they’re also something visual that I can share with everyone else on social media to help communicate more about the project as it unfolds. Honestly, I just want to win the lotto so I can pay Sam forever to illustrate everything I write!
If you’ve dropped in or been regularly following my writing progress in the g-doc, you’ll have noticed that I am hopping around a lot in all the ways: characters, location, form, genre. This is deliberate and something I will keep doing right across November. The purpose of this residency isn’t to have fully resolved material, it’s to end the month with 2-3 stories & ideas that can be further developed and built on in 2022. So I’m deliberately iterating and exploring and beginning from different places and in different ways. If there are characters or stories or ideas currently in the doc that you feel more invested in though, please let me know! Knowing that will help me determine which stories I should develop further or return to during November.
Content note for this final section: grief, death, death of a young person, suicide
If you follow me on social media or you read Monday’s Novel November writing in the g-doc, you’ll know that a young person I worked with when I lived in Adelaide died over the weekend. The death of anyone you know is always devastating, and the death of a young person especially so. I’ve felt so, so sad this week since finding out. I thought about taking a writing break from the residency on Monday and just giving myself some space this week but instead I found myself in the g-doc anyway, writing from that place and those feelings of grief and loss and hurt and worry for those left behind. The writing I did, the stories and the characters and the circumstances, was all completely fictional and grounded in the context of the lands of the river in between but it reminded me of why I love fantasy (and science fiction) as genres.
I spent so much of my own adolescence escaping into fantasy novels, and fantasy is still my preferred genre as an adult, though I read more widely across genres now. The thing about fantasy, or at least the fantasy I love, is that fantasy might happen on imaginary worlds with imaginary creatures and heightened action, but the stories, always, are ultimately about what it means to be human. What it means to struggle and question. What it means to love and to lose. What it means to grieve and betray and be betrayed. What it means to belong and to not belong. What it means to forgive and accept and make space. What it means to heal and to hope. What it means to hurt in every fibre of your skin. What it means to journey through all the unknowns of what makes a life. What it means to hold on and what it means to let go.
I love fantasy because it allows us a little space (through the fantastical settings and creatures) to really look and see. See who we are, see who we have been and see who we could choose to be.
I want Novel November to be something fun and enriching and welcoming for me and my community, but that doesn’t mean it’s fluff or without substance. The stories we tell in this world are about exploring the Riverland. Who we are, who we have been and who we might become. Those stories are fictional and metaphorical and subtle, but they are there if you look.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you attended the World Building weekend for Novel November or you are otherwise interested in what I’m doing as part of my National Regional Arts Fellowship. Across November and into December and January, I’ll be doing a series of blog posts about the project and my Fellowship and my process within both. This is the first blog. This blog series is a way for me to invite you behind the scenes of what I do and how I do it. You are welcome to ask questions using the comment section and I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments or future blogs in the series.
If you haven’t already – go and have a look at the overall info for Novel November, my FAQ blog and the original announcement about my Fellowship. I’m going to assume anyone reading these blogs has read all of that already so that I don’t have to keep repeating background details and boring the life out of you!
So….let’s talk about where things are up to and where they’re heading and some of what I’m currently thinking about and working on.
Novel November is a month-long residency project and the vehicle for my Fellowship, so there is kind of two things happening alongside each other – one is my development through the fellowship and one is the progress of Novel November as a project/outcome. Novel November itself, is also only the first stage of a longer term project and outcome/s.
My proposed fellowship activity will enable me to spend four weeks working full-time on my practice through a meaningful, tailored and self-directed collaboration with members of my community, including targeted mentor support. The activity will be a blend of solo time learning, writing, ideating, exploring, reflecting and documenting, alongside targeted mentor check-ins, and weekends spent working with community to co-create responses to an imagined speculative fiction world inspired by the Riverland.
Each week I will be actively iterating creative responses to this learning and to my weekends engaging with community members. The entire residency will be a repeated process of learn, dream, respond creatively, share, reflect, repeat.
I will be bringing together the many threads of my creative practice – writing (especially my interest in speculative fiction as a vehicle for community connection and resilience), socially/community engaged collaboration, reflection, performance making, producing and community organising and blue sky dreaming – to explore, experiment and test my own ideas and the next forms I want my practice and projects to take. Over the past decade, my creative practice has continually taken a back seat to projects and jobs that could generate a sustainable income, and this means my independent creative projects have almost always been rushed and forced to fit into the gaps between other things, this fellowship support would enable me to spend a dedicated chunk of time immersed in a single project and deeply interrogating my own practice and the next steps I want to take. This is particularly timely as a 2021 activity, as I have been actively working this year to reduce my paid “dayjob” work to three days a week to focus on independent creative projects across 2021, 2022 and beyond. This fellowship activity would provide me with the right stepping stone at the right time on this journey.
Documenting and sharing my fellowship experience will be embedded into the residency process, and I anticipate that I would spent at least 3-5 hours per week across the month on this element alone. This will be part of my reflection process to deepen my own learning, but I am also committed to turning my own learning into useful resources for others so I will be actively documenting the processes I undertake and making them available on my blog. This will include personal reflection notes, excerpts of writing and other creative material produced at various stages of development, photos and links to materials I am reading/reflecting on.
So Novel November is a project and an outcome itself, but it is also a vehicle for my own ongoing learning and development as a creative practitioner. Every project I do (independent or otherwise) is always both for me, especially as someone who hasn’t (yet) completed any tertiary education in the arts. I also want to acknowledge up front that my “dayjob” is also in the arts and I currently work 0.6 FTE (3 days per week) for Writers SA as Statewide Regional Manager and Riverland Coordinator. I wasn’t working for Writers SA when I applied for the Fellowship but after I started working there and was awarded the Fellowship, I had a conversation with my manager (Writers SA Director Jessica Alice) to talk through how I would manage my commitment to Writers SA and to the Fellowship. Through this negotiation Writers SA is supporting me to work on the Fellowship 0.4 (two days per week), as an investment in me as a regional writer and also because Novel November itself is directly serving the vision/mission of my work at Writers SA. I am so grateful for this support of my independent work and this flexibility from Writers SA. This means I can still be fully immersed in the Fellowship process without feeling like I’m letting Writers SA down, and also means that I’ve been able to add to the resources pool (ie. money) available to support my Fellowship activities.
Process wise so far, I’ve been very much in “doing” mode – we spent the weekend world building (which I’ll talk about below) and I spent a few hours Monday and yesterday just writing and thinking. Today has mostly been a bit of an admin day, though I’m hoping to tackle some writing before bed too. Tomorrow I’m planning to do some writing, and spend some time reading, reflecting, and planning for this coming weekend. Friday I have my first scheduled mentor check-in.
The mentor check-ins are 1-2 hour Zoom chats with a range of people. I reached out via email to a wide mix of practitioners from theatre, film, literature, games, community art, nerd communities, activists and many other circles to enrich my thinking and exploring. I want to talk with artists, producers, curators, ideas people, marketing folk and people outside of the arts. Some of the people I contacted I already know a little bit and others I know of but haven’t had any direct contact with. Some of the people I reached out to didn’t respond, which I completely expected – especially the “cold” emails to people I’ve never met – but most did and all in the affirmative, which is really lovely. In case you’re wondering this is the guts of what I sent people (with some additional notes at the beginning depending on if I knew the person and/or how I knew of their work):
I’ve been awarded a Regional Arts Australia Fellowship this year to tackle the first exploration of a project I’ve been dreaming about for a while. Thanks to the Fellowship, I’ll be spending every day in November exploring the idea of creating a new fantasy world inspired by my home here in the Riverland and how this fantasy world can be a container/foundation for a range of creative outcomes over the coming years. My Fellowship format is facilitating weekend workshops with my community and then writing/planning/ideating/creating independently each weekday. Some background and an overview of the schedule for November here (including a link to FAQ): https://partofthings.org/portfolio/novel-november-2021/And a bit of background on me/my work here if needed: https://alyshaherrmann.com/
Why am I emailing you? Within that month-long process of dreaming, ideating, writing, reflecting, exploring, I budgeted some time for me to access mentors as catalysts/ to bounce ideas with other brains etc and I would love to have 1-2 hours of your time in this capacity somewhere in November. I can be uber flexible about when as I know you’re a very busy person! I am deliberately reaching out to a wide mix of practitioners from theatre, film, literature, games, community art, nerd communities, activists and many other circles to enrich my thinking and exploring. I want to talk with artists, producers, curators, ideas people, marketing folk and people outside of the arts.
What would this include/what do I want from you?1-2 hours of your time to chat with me over Zoom (1 or 2 sessions). I’ve budgeted $110 an hour for these chats. There is nothing to prepare and nothing to follow up afterwards, just being present for a conversation with me and wherever that conversation goes. During these chats I am hoping to:
– hear a little more about your career pathway and background and how you’ve developed big ideas and backed yourself when doubts creep in.
– chat through where the ideas for Novel November are sitting at that moment in time as a way for me to think through challenges/direction/ideas with different mentor brains.
– perhaps go away with 1-2 movies/books/theatre shows/games etc that you can recommend as further professional development aligned with my interests.
– if appropriate introducing me to other relevant networks of yours.
Eight incredible people agreed to have one of these chats with me, including people I honestly expected wouldn’t bother replying. A ninth person also rang me the day after I emailed them to yarn on the phone for over an hour about what I was doing, and how their work might be able to help. This person asked not to be named and not to be paid for their time but I still want to acknowledge that investment and input here by mentioning it.
For me the key reasoning behind these mentor chats and budgeting for them with my Fellowshop resources is because being a regional creative means I don’t have access to casually meeting people in foyers and workshops to have those more natural conversations (and I’m also an introvert who finds those environments a barrier anyway!), so in some ways I’m just really setting up a bunch of conversations to meet people and say hello and hear a little about different creative pathways/industries from different perspectives to inform my thinking and keep opening up my networks.
People sometimes talk about opportunities in the arts as “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and in many ways that’s true. I think perhaps less so because of nepotism (which is often the implication) and more because of access and information. When we have relationships with people (working or otherwise), those relationships are a source of information and access – come to this thing with me/ hey did you hear about / I saw this opportunity that would be great for you/ etc, etc. When we live and work in spaces with lots of other artists or creative infrastructure (things like galleries, theatres, regular events etc) we have lots of opportunity to naturally build those relationships and that’s why opportunities tend to flow a little more easily to city-based artists, they are more likely to know about the opportunities and have access to people to help understand and unlock those opportunities. I know it doesn’t always feel that way to city-based artists who feel on the outer and outside of the cliques, but that proximity alone still does make a difference (in my experience of living in Adelaide for four years, compared to the rest of my life/career in the regions). Even just being able to regularly access a gallery or see professional shows at a theatre makes a difference to people’s practice: it energises thinking, introduces new concepts and artists to follow, it inspires. Those are some of the barriers and gaps we face as regional artists.
There is no professional gallery in my community and no professional theatre-makers who regularly create and present work here. We get a circuit of touring theatre work and commercial shows that parachute in, and a community workshop or two built in (with some occasional deeper engagement) and I’m really grateful for these shows. I love sitting in the audience of my local theatre to see them and saying hello to teachers, friends etc in the foyer beforehand. But it’s not the same as the organic and regular community of practice that I had access to when I lived in Adelaide (and people complain about Adelaide not having enough!). There are many creative people in my regional community but we do not have the buildings and gathering places and hubs and programs and active foyers and connection points and investment to provoke, share and inspire. It’s hard to find each other and even harder to find the ways we can collaborate and learn from each other. And harder still to find those people who are further into their careers as mentors, guides and door-openers. Most of them leave or were never here to begin with.
I love my community fiercely, but that doesn’t change that I also often feel isolated and lonely here as a creative.
So that’s why my Fellowship includes and invests in an opportunity for me to say hello to interesting people who I admire and want to know more about through the mentor chats.
It’s also why Novel November is a project with and for and in my community – I want the work I do to be a shared place for others who feel the way I do. The people who feel a little lonely and a little weird and a little lost and a little frustrated but know in their heart that the regions are where they want to make and create and strive and live and dream and be.
I want my work to be place for us to find each other, and to scheme and dream and create together.
Sorry, that was all a bit rambly and longer than I meant it to be, but I did say this was about my behind the scenes thinking, so there you go!
Novel November Progress
Over the weekend of 30th & 31st October 2021, eight Riverland folk (including my 7yo daughter and me) + one Adelaide visitor spent 12 hours creating the bare bones of the world, including some world logic, some humanoid species, some creatures and some random characters. That process of world-building will be ongoing across the month and we’ve really only skimmed the surface but I absolutely ADORED it. It was SO fun to spend the weekend coming up with wild and wonderful ideas together and talking about the Riverland and what it is to us.
The world ingredients we ended on really do have something from everyone who attended the weekend, which is probably my favourite part about it.
The two days started with an Acknowledgment of Country and then moved into some relationship building through an introduction circle and completing these little personal “character sheets” (I put everyone in pairs and asked them to draw each other’s portrait in 60seconds):
These character sheets were inspired by the tabletop role-playing games I’ve played and attendance at conferences and networking events. They were a way to get to know a little about everyone who attended the world building weekend, and gave us prompts to help start conversations across the weekend. I’ve always found small talk *really* hard so having some topics identified by other people that they love to talk about is a handy thing for me.
From introductions I then talked through the overall structure of Novel November and my longterm vision and asked everyone to complete and sign a Workshop Participation Deed. I talked through each section of the Workshop Participation Deed in detail to help everyone understand it, but also to be transparent about my expectations and the shared agreements the project is founded on. The gist is that everyone who participates in Novel November is contributing to developing this shared fantasy world and key materials that flesh out that world. That shared world material will be made available soon under a Creative Commons licence (specifically – Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)) to enable others to make and create within our shared world but to retain the potential for all of the workshop participants as shared copyright holders to potentially commercialise elements in the future. All participants, including me, also retain individual copyright to any materials they individually create during Novel November – so you can read and follow everything I write but you can’t take my stories, poems, etc and republish them anywhere without my permission. The world material on the other hand – which I am currently collating and putting into a readable format – will be made available as Creative Commons (under the specific licence mentioned above) meaning that you can adapt, remix and use that material to write and create your own things for non-commercial purposes.
Why is this important?
First and foremost because my projects are always a learning space and so it was an opportunity to teach everyone participating a bit more about copyright in general and some common licensing terms and also let them know about resources like Arts Law. The Workshop Participant Deed we are using for Novel November was purchased from Arts Law. I am not a lawyer and made it clear that my explanation of terms was not legal advice and that if anyone wanted to query anything with me, with Arts Law or with a lawyer that they should. I signed so many things early in my career that I did not understand and I know it takes lots of exposure to certain kinds of language and terms before they start to make sense. By introducing contracts and licensing agreements to others early in their creative journeys, I hope that I can help them build their literacy in this area and their confidence to ask questions in the future (where the producer/organiser may not always have their best interests in mind). Questions should always be welcome in my work.
It’s also important to me that I am protecting the current and future rights of collaborators, especially young people. I don’t want to exploit people and I want people to get value from any collaboration or exchange with me. I want to be clear about how I’ll use things, what people can expect from me and how they can dispute any use now or in the future. This protects them and me. It’s not perfect or watertight – anyone who has had to dispute a contract will know that even very extensive legal contracts can fail to protect people and be misinterpreted – but it does mean we have something written down reflecting a shared understanding of what we are doing, why and what will happen to any content we create together. Of course I hope that we’ll never need to revisit those pieces of paper because our communication and relationships will be strong and nurturing, but it means if something does go wrong we are not relying on memory and we have a paper trail to guide us.
It’s also a useful tool to talk about that bigger vision I have with collaborators and what the steps are to get there, and what that would mean for everyone who participates in Novel November. Everyone who attends workshops and co-creates the world and key materials is a joint-copyright holder with me. If we further develop that shared material into other things in the future, any benefit should flow to all of us, not just me! At the same time, we want the world we are creating to be something others can play in as well, hence our use of Creative Commons for shared world materials.
We did spend quite a bit of time talking through all of this on Saturday morning. It was probably terribly boring for the younger ones, but a couple of the older ones said to me afterwards that they really valued my explanation and commitment to transparency and so I think the time was well-spent.
After all of that we got into some of the fun stuff!
This is a very rough version of what we did, in approximate order:
sharing a Riverland story (in pairs)
post-it-note brainstorm of “Riverland things”
discussion around how/what ways the Riverland is a different place for different people (backgrounds, ages, race etc)
we had a look at a map of the Riverland
everyone (except me) completed a 10-minute observation walk in the mainstreet of Barmera, and then shared things they noticed with the wider group
we played “object story” with a piece of fabric
we then took the concept of object story and applied it to all the Riverland material we’d discussed and documented to populate a wall of post-it-notes of ridiculous ideas and imagined things (example – people noticed roses during their walk in the main-street and this became post-it-notes about rose fairies and flower magic)
we started a questions and names wall
we discussed using the Riverland as a provocation/inspiration/place to bounce off as opposed to rewriting/overwriting the Riverland and why this distinction is important (I will talk about this in next week’s blog)
we talked about some common fantasy tropes and ways we might subvert them
we talked about some of the themes, ideas and issues that matter to us (for example in my work I want to include a wide variety of queer characters, characters from diverse races/backgrounds and physical appearances)
we started discussing some big world ideas from everything brainstormed so far, from this common ideas emerged around exploring/representing sustainability and the idea of literal living worlds on the backs of giant creatures.
we had some overnight downtime to rest and reflect (rest is resistance, rest is always part fo good process and practice)
we gathered again and went around the circle sharing reflections on the day before and any ideas/connections we’d made overnight
we revisited our ridiculous ideas wall and grouped like ideas with like on a new wall
the world/s started to take some shape and link together some of the foundation work from day one
we spent some time ideating specific features of our world and talking through logic gaps and questions
I put up this set of post-it-notes and asked everyone to self-identify an area they would like to delve into individually or in small groups:
everyone went away and worked on their chosen areas individually
we came back and shared our work and discussed contradictions, questions and ways to adapt conflicting ideas
we started to refine and document the world/s using post-it-notes on a blank wall and seeing what was important enough to keep and what still needed to be developed
we each had some time to ideate and contribute a character that we were happy to have belong to the shared world materials and be used by others
we gathered to reflect on the process overall and where to next
we closed the circle and the world building weekend by each sharing one word that described how we were feeling. Words shared included: empowered, inspired, “ooooft”, thoughtful and others I can’t remember (I should have written them all down at the time because now I’ve forgotten!)
Monday morning I spent about two hours writing and then in the evening I sat down and wrote up some of the key world bits and sent them off to fantasy illustrator (and friend & collaborator) Sam Wannan who I have commissioned to respond to Novel November material with illustrations each week.
Yesterday I wrote for a couple of hours and shared a couple of social posts, including one of the illustrations Sam sent me at lunch time. Tomorrow I plan to spend some time on writing, reading, reflecting and planning for the weekend. Friday will be first mentor chat and some bigger picture planning/reflecting, with a half hour or so of writing.
This weekend will be a short story workshop and graphic narrative + branching narrative workshop. The structure of the workshop weekends for the rest of the month is a morning workshop facilitated by me focused on some skills sharing within a particular writing form, and then an afternoon of writing hangout. People can either work on their own projects in the afternoon or join me in writing within the Novel November world in that particular form. My reason for this is to enable opportunity for like-minded people to come together, invest in skills sharing/development, keep opening up the invitation to write and create in our shared fantasy world and make sure that I have some dedicated writing time focused on different forms.
I’m one of those greedy people that doesn’t want to specialise in just one writing/creative form – this is both a strength and a weakness, because the many strands of my practice inform and improve each other, but I’ll never quite achieve the kind of mastery and skill of specialising. I am 100% okay with this but it’s just something worth noting. Many people will tell you that you have to pick one thing (I’ve been told this many times) but the truth is you don’t have to. You do have to accept the trade-off and challenge of playing in many spaces though. All choices have pros and cons, but knowing ourselves and what brings us joy and challenge is the place to build from. I love writing short stories just as much as I love writing poems and just as much as I love writing plays and just as much as I love longform writing (etc).
If you want to follow along with my Novel November writing progress, a reminder that I am writing in this live google-doc so you can see every key stroke, deletion and word written as it occurs. This is because I personally love seeing process, so I feel it’s only fair that mine is open to you. We so often just see the hard-won, polished and finished versions of things and it can give us a skewed view of how much shit has to be written/created/developed/tried first! This first week I’m deliberately just writing little snapshots that keep exploring and unpacking the world a bit more. Next week will probably be more of the same, though I might start to revisit and further flesh out some ideas from this week. I expect (though could be wrong) that in weeks three and four, I will hone in on some pieces to start refining. By the end of the month I plan to have 1-2 pieces of writing that can be launching off points to further develop in 2022.
I’m hoping to have some of the world material and notes up by Sunday night for anyone who can’t attend workshops but would like to play in the world we are creating. In the meantime, here is a small detail from one of Sam’s illustrations:
You can see that our creature worlds are based on animals that live in Australia and I’ll probably talk to this in a bit more depth in a future blog, but please note that we will be deliberately stretching the features/aesthetic/logic of all the creature worlds to be more fantastical for a whole bunch of reasons but some key reasons being:
because we do not want to accidentally (or otherwise) suggest a connection to, or appropriate from, any First Nations Song Spirals (Dreaming, Tjukurpa, Creation Stories etc). That would be completely inappropriate and not at all in line with my values and the purpose/vision of this project. Of course everyone is influenced and inspired by many things, so if anyone following the project *does* notice content that has crept in without us realising and shouldn’t be there please let me know so that we can remove/adapt/address it and do our best to make sure the world we create is enriching, and not harmful, for our community. Not directly related but an important sidenote – this project is not a First Nations project and is not telling First Nations stories but I am always committed to including representation and ideas that help educate, inspire and break down negative stereotypes about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Peoples. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are less than 5% of the population in contemporary Australia. That means everyone has a role to play in ensuring more representation, however any story that deals with First Nations history, cultural knowledge or specific experiences should be led and told by First Nations people. Even the best intentioned people fuck up telling stories that don’t belong to them (true also of queer stories, disabled stories etc). My personal family history it not “fully white” (for lack of a better term) but I am white in appearance and have been raised culturally white, so it is not, and will never be, my place to tell/lead First Nations stories, irrespective of my lost/hidden ancestry.
because fantasy audiences want and expect fantastical creatures and we do want the world and stories we create to interest a broader audience than just those involved in the workshops/project/Riverland. Though we would love to weave in some nods to special Riverland things that help encourage people to take better care of our places, creatures and people.
we want to be informed and inspired and pay homage to the place we call home in the Riverland here and now, but without being constrained to what the Riverland is or isn’t. This project isn’t about rewriting the Riverland. It’s about imagining something entirely new, together.
This year I’m taking the first steps to develop my 2040 vision of a speculative fiction Riverland.
Thanks to a National Regional Arts Fellowship I will undertake a month-long self-directed writing residency this November in Barmera. Across the month I’ll be learning, writing, ideating, exploring, reflecting and documenting as I ask myself and my community: What would a version of the Riverland full of dragons and magic look like (and how can that help us better care for and build the real Riverland)?
My long-term vision is that the fantasy world version of the Riverland created through Novel November will become a framework for future stories, theatre projects, visual art exhibitions, cosplay, LARP and other things here in my community over the coming years.
The rest of this post covers some anticipated Frequently Asked Questions:
What is Speculative Fiction?
The Oxford Dictionary definition of speculative fiction is: a genre of fiction that encompasses works in which the setting is other than the real world, involving supernatural, futuristic, or other imagined elements.
It’s basically an umbrella category for a whole bunch of genres that tell stories outside of the “real world”. Speculative fiction includes:
Through Novel November, I am most interested in exploring fantasy, but there may be other elements of speculative fiction that develop.
Did you say 2040 vision? Isn’t that a long way away?
Yup. It is and a lot will change in twenty years, including me and the Riverland, and what we want and need. Everything could (and will) go in many different directions but my big ambitious 2040 vision is something like a Sleep No More crossed with Sovereign Hill crossed with Evermore Park kind of experience in the Riverland. We may get nowhere near that but I hope to have a lot of fun with my collaborators exploring a whole bunch of outcomes within our fictional magical Riverland over the next few years at least.
So what kind of outcomes are you imagining in the short-term then?
The month-long residency will determine some of what that looks like, but what I am currently imagining is that by the end of the residency in November I will have some core characters and a handful of written pieces (most likely short stories and poetry, but perhaps other bits) created by me and workshop participants. Next year I’d then like to bring 3-5 of those characters to life through some costume design workshops and take them out and about to local Riverland events, and perhaps a photography outcome from that too. I’d also like to do an exhibition at Part of Things of concept art responding to writing from Novel November 2021. I’m already in conversation with my illustrator friend Samuel Wannan about making that happen. In 2023, I’d love to aim for creating a short live performance experience set in the world and featuring one of the characters/stories. Alongside this, I want to keep working with Riverland writers to keep growing the collection of stories and bring them to life with other collaborators – I’m thinking there could be some outcomes here similar to the We Love Dragons merch collaboration. I’d love to develop a Games Jam using the settings and concept of the world we create in a year or so (check out Wretched & Alone for some idea of what a Games Jam can be) and I can see lots of other potential ways to bring our world to life with different collaborators and formats in the coming years.
Who owns the content created during Novel November?
I’ll be asking all participants in Novel November to sign a Workshop Participation Deed, which outlines expectations for any shared content developed during Novel November. Individual creators will retain copyright to individual pieces of work and we will negotiate share/licensing agreements where appropriate. We are trying to build an overall world/concept that many people can create in without fear, but it is also important that the work of individual creators is respected and cared for. My big 2040 vision does have an economic element to it as I want to build a structure that could create employment for Riverland artists, young people and other small businesses.
How do I get involved or follow what you’re doing?
If you live in the Riverland, sign up and attend any of the free workshops I’m facilitating for Novel November. Details here.
I will be posting a work-in-progress blog every Wednesday in November and live-writing throughout the month, so people from anywhere can follow along that way.
Do I need to be creative to get involved with Novel November?
Absolutely not! The workshops will all be writing focused but everyone is welcome, you can just sit in and listen. There are so many skills I don’t have to be able to bring the 2040 vision to life, so the more the merrier. Bring ideas, listen, share, connect and contribute in whatever way suits you.
Got a question I haven’t covered? Flick me an email with your question and I will add my answer to this post.
Alysha Herrmann’s Novel November Residency is supported by the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund, with additional support from Writers SA through Alysha’s role as Writers SA Riverland Coordinator.
As part of the Barmera Centenary celebrations this year (2021), I wrote a letter to a future resident of Barmera. I submitted the letter to the time capsule buried this afternoon (which was originally going to be be buried for 100 years but has now been changed to 50 years at community request) and I am publishing a copy of the letter here on my personal blog.
Image and text below.
31st March 2021
Dear future resident,
I will be long-dead by the time you read this, my children too, but perhaps grand-children or great-grandchildren of mine will be sharing this place with you. I am thinking of you today, future Barmera resident, whoever you are. Thinking of the future you will live in and the choices I am making to try and build that future for you.
I’ve been reading predictions and guesses by futurists for a project that I am currently working on and they imagine a future of sea-level rise, food scarcity, innovation and technological advancements. In worst case scenarios of sea-level rise, Barmera will one-day be swallowed by an inland sea, though that should still be a distant threat even in your future 100 years from now.
Perhaps you live in a future with such advanced prosthetic limbs that people remove healthy arms and legs to install superior ones? Body upgrades are one of the futures I’ve been reading about. It’s hard to imagine now, but perhaps it’s real in your world. Perhaps it’s made the world more equal and fair for people born with disabilities – if we can remake our bodies, surely we can remake our perspectives too? Surely in your world we can finally understand and celebrate and make space for peoples from all backgrounds and skills and personalities. Surely racism, homophobia, ableism and all the other biases we use to hurt each other can be reimagined and erased.
100 years feels like forever but I know it’s not. Your world probably does look and feel very different to mine in some ways, but there are shadows and memories your world will still carry from mine, things that perhaps will not have changed as much as I might hope. I know that. I do. But I hope all the same that you have inherited the best possible future we could give you.
Perhaps Barmera has disappeared or shrunk by the time you read this, but I hope some of the joy I’ve had here is still there for you. I hope the Bonney Theatre is still standing and that people still gather there to tell stories. The Bonney Theatre is the place I first performed to a paying audience, in a show called Random Girls with Riverland Youth Theatre and Vitalstatistix in 2005. That show, that experience, changed my life. It saved me and gave me a future I didn’t know I was allowed to want. I hope that you have the opportunity to sit quietly in the dark within its walls and be transported, changed and inspired.
I hope you can still stand on the edge of the lake and watch the sun set over the water as your chest fills with joy the way it does for me. I hope you fight for what you believe in. I hope you love fiercely and fully. I hope your future is bright and bold and possible. I hope that we didn’t let you down.
My love and I have ten minutes to find the venue and we’re lost. As we back track up Hindley street, we see a familiar face pop out of an alleyway and relief washes over me. We’ve found it. The alleyway is framed by posters for the show on either wall. I don’t know how we missed it. Others arrive at the same time we do, unexpectedly they are familiar faces that fill me with affection.
We are handed an instruction sheet to choose our nickname and log in to the show app. We make our nicknames and they wave us through. Down the alleyway and we swing left, down stairs and into a small room scattered with chairs. There is a small bar to the right and another small room with chairs. We can buy drinks at the bar and we continue to stumble into some of my favourite people as the venue fills up. We picked a good night to attend.
People gather in groups, some sitting on the scattered chairs and some standing, everyone waiting for the show to start. We pick out the actors by the small microphones taped along their jaws, they are dotted among us. The room has white sheets taped at various locations, we see the rolling projection of audience nicknames appear. We try to match nicknames with new people coming in. The projections match the app screen appearing on our phones. We’re all logged in and ready for whatever this is going to be.
Throughout the show I stand, I sit, I stand again. I eat crisps. I drink coke. I laugh. I cry. I feel the weight of sadness, of grief, of collective shame, of joy, of hope.
Technology is rough and ready, gritty with texture, projection sheets are slightly crooked, projectors are installed in milk crates. Actors look like me. Actors look nothing like me. Actors tell their own stories. Actors tell other people’s stories. Ushers are audience, are wait staff, are aware. Music is quiet, barely noticed but powerful, perfect, necessary. Audience can interact with their phones, or not. The phone app creating a tweet-stream like back channel, another way to listen, to learn, to question, to contribute.
This is the theatre I want more of. This is the theatre that I want to make more of. This is the theatre that I want to see more of. This is the theatre that I want there to be more of. Theatre that tells stories of here and now. Theatre that moves me. Theatre that reminds me. Theatre that pokes and prods. Theatre that unites and celebrates. Theatre that closes my throat with hurt. Theatre that fills my fingertips with hope. Theatre that is not perfect, does not try to be perfect. Theatre that is contextual and nuanced. Theatre that doesn’t have all the answers but has some offers. Theatre that takes me to old places in new ways or to new places in familiar ways. Theatre that does neither and both all at once.
It might not be your cup of tea, it might have a completely different effect on you. That’s okay. Not everything is for everyone.
Layers too vague/ too sunk in history stink/ too heavy with rant/ go flag wave in some other window/ we don’t want it//
Photo supplied by Ben Duggan
I’ve started and changed this response three times. Because there are many things this particular photo stirs in me.
I started thinking about the American education system, which got me thinking about the Australian education system and the many complex feelings and interactions I’m having with our system. I’m not in the right head space to share some of that, and also because of how it reflects on my son’s experience, I’m wary of both how I represent him and respect his privacy. I need to percolate more to find the right time and way to share some insights on that one.
The other big thing that sprang to mind in response to a photo of the American flag is #blacklivesmatter, which hopefully you’ve already seen and read about all over the internet. (If not, some places to start here and here and here). This is an important movement and conversation and I think the backlash against it speaks volumes.
Then I realized I was over thinking it all and trying to come up with something intelligent to add to the conversation and actually I’ve got nothing to add. Except my support that #blacklivesmatter.
So then what else could I write about for this #writeme30 post? My last few posts have all been quite personal and heavily poetic/creative writing. I wanted to step away a little this week and do some a bit more non-fiction.
So flags huh? Oh yeah flags.
Flags are a powerful symbol. We use them to show our allegiance, our pride, our sense of connection to a place and associated ideas of that place. How unfortunate that the Australian flag represents such a narrow experience of what it means to be Australian. And how unfortunate that it is most often flown by ‘everyday’ people in a show of racism dressed up as patriotism.
“In representing only Australia’s British heritage, the flag is anachronistic, and does not reflect the change to a multicultural, pluralist society. In particular, the flag makes no mention of indigenous Australians, many of whom regard the Union Jack as a symbol of colonial oppression and dispossession.”
– Source unknown
When the flag was decided on (by voting on competition entries) it was 1901. Aboriginal people still had murky voting rights and certainly considering how racist we still are – who do you think ‘decided’ on our flag and who and how it would represent us? #justsaying
Symbols can and do change over time. And so they should. Words come to mean new things. New information and sophistication in our thinking changes how we view events and ideas from the past. And so it should. So it should.
Our flag is frozen in time. It doesn’t represent who we even were then, let alone who we are now. Nor does our national anthem. So why do people want to hold on so tightly to a symbol that’s past it’s use by date? To hold onto a symbol that discounts the history and feelings of our first peoples (not to mention our new peoples)? Why does the mere suggestion of changing our flag create such anger and hostility?
And then after all of this stopping and starting and digging for something to say for this post – I realized that actually that’s all I really want to say about flags too.
“Sheldon Cooper: Why are you waving a white flag?
Amy Farrah Fowler: I’m surrendering… to fun!”
– Big Bang Theory
Ben Duggan, founder of Raising Hope and another of the YSP tribe. Bless his cotton socks. Ben is embarking on a new adventure next year with Teach For Australia. He is pretty much a rockstar in a well tailored suit. I’m a fan.
They are not something I enjoy doing and so choose to ‘find’ time for in my life.
This is my life.
Sometimes, my obsession.
And absolutely my ‘real’ job.
And it’s evolving all the time.
I’ve spent a lot of time this year trying to articulate what and why I do. Trying to pin the words to paper. Trying to find words that make sense and ring true. For me and for everyone else.
The other YSPers and I have given time at every residency trying to articulate our missions over the last 12months. The ‘why’ driving what we each do. We’ve brainstormed together and solo. We’ve written and spoken draft after draft after draft. And I’ve struggled. Really struggled to pin to paper what it is I do and why.
For anyone who lives a creative life or a life that’s ‘offbeat’ in any other way, you know why you do it and what it is. And you know how hard it is to explain to everyone else what it is and why you do it. It’s something that has no words because it needs no words for you. It just makes sense (you think). It’s what you do and who you are. So when someone asks you to put it into words, it’s pretty darn difficult.
This year I’ve played with and explored various mission and vision statement iterations, including:
I want to be the kind of person that offers something meaningful to the world. The kind of person who experiences life as frightening, confusing and painful but as deeply, deeply precious and worth my effort.
Our mission is to create systematic change in how people think about failure. For us that means making quiet trouble with everyone we meet by interrogating and responding to rage inducing situations through an artistic lens.
My personal mission is to continue striving for opportunities for myself and others to claim our sorrows as a journey to joy and to create space in our lives to sing our heartsongs with passion, hope and courage.
We empower and enable regional communities to reshape and claim personal and civic narratives using an artistic lens.
We challenge communities and individuals to reclaim failure as a crucial ingredient in resilience and joy.
Our mission is to challenge and inspire young people in regional communities to use to arts as a mechanism for social change and empowerment. As part of this mission we also support regional communities to support and foster the skills and aspirations of their young people.
My mission is to use the arts to be an agent of change – to inspire, support and provoke individuals and communities to actively shape the world around them for the better.
I bring together professional artists, doers, thinkers and change makers to work with young people as mentors and provocateurs on community arts projects to unlock their possibility.
All of these things are partly or wholly true, but still none of them quite sit right. They feel too full of jargon or they rest on old ideas about myself (and how I work) so don’t capture the space I’m really in RIGHT NOW.
“Theatre people are all very nice people […] And I wonder if that is our problem,” asked Liska. “We choose an art form where we can sit next to each other and touch each other and we’re very good people.”
“Revolutions are not often caused by polite people, or good people,” said Cooper. “Sometimes we wonder if we have to stop making art to get something done. I really like art but I have a lot of questions about what it’s good for and if it’s needed.”
Last month during Future Present, surrounded by a bunch of socially aware artists, again this idea. Why art? Is that the best use of your time, does it actually achieve your mission? Or would you be better off using your time as an activist, a social worker, a teacher, a farmer?
And going deeper throughout YSP, talking about ‘impact’ – how do you measure it? What impact does your work actually have (and is it the impact you want to have)? How can you have the greatest impact with the limited hours in your life?
I care about many things. I believe in changing the world. As more than just rhetoric. I believe I have a responsibility to leave the world better than I found it. To use whatever small skills and talents I have to help. I love teaching and advocating and activating and making and creating. I am driven to do many things. I am also a parent, a lover, a daughter, a sister, a friend. My time is limited and precious.
And so, I toss these questions around. Over and over. In my head. In my mouth. On paper. I spin myself around in circles. The questioning is hard, partly because there is no one answer. And there is no clear answer. And mostly because no one can answer for me, what it means for ME, only I can discover that.
Last night I stumbled across a free ebook titled “Making Your Life As An Artist” and though I didn’t relate to every single word, the book as a whole REALLY resonated with me.
There were moments when I read a paragraph and realised I was holding my breath, caught in these words someone else had pinned to paper and how they so neatly echo words I’ve circled around and around and come back to in my own heart.
“Just like scientists, we begin with a question, something we don’t know.
We go into our studio and research that question.
Just as in science, a negative result is as important as a positive result.
Finding that a certain drug does not cure cancer is a crucial discovery. And an artistic experiment that fails produces important information.
When you are working beyond what is known, when you are questioning assumptions that haven’t been questioned, you generate a lot of useful failure.
Failure in science and art is a sign that the process is working.
…diverse ecosystems are more resilient, more able to respond to disturbance. The same is true of culture. Diversity of thought and imagination makes us more culturally resilient, more able to thrive in times of great change.
– Andrew Simonet (Making Life As an Artist, ebook)
Many things that had me nodding along. Catching my breath. Gripping the edge of the computer. But perhaps most of all this:
Artists have a lot of effects on the world: our work impacts education, citizenship, multiculturalism, urban renewal. But those are effects of our role; they are not the role.
Our role is to ask rigorous and reckless cultural questions, do our research, and share the results. When we do our role well, all kinds of other things happen.
– Andrew Simonet (Making Life As an Artist, ebook)
And so last night I sat and I wrote exactly in the moment who I am and what I’m doing (or trying to do). The last seven or so years of thinking, dreaming and doing coalescing and coming together to pin some words to paper.
It’s not finished, because it’ll never be finished. I’m evolving and growing all the time. And that’s okay. It’s G.E. for right now.
Transparency and sharing the journey publicly (to be of benefit to others) is important to me. So, you can read the words I finally pinned to paper last night where they’ve become my new ‘about’ section here.
Let these dreamers sleep. With cracked fingernails and grime to coat their inner ear. Let these dreamers sleep and fish for hope on shores far from here.
I met Lauren a few years back when the two of us were participants in Australian Theatre for Young People’s National Studio (read about my experience of National Studio here). Lauren is a theatre maker and writer with a really wicked sense of humour. Our theme at National Studio was ‘death and dying’ and Lauren’s monologue was one of my favourites in its fun and quirky interpretation of the theme.
Lauren has provided this beautiful photo for me to respond to as part of #writeme30. Her words describing the photo, “Homeless and asleep in Tokyo. I took it on a school trip when I was seventeen and still able to be shocked by a world with concepts like homelessness”
Photo Credit: Lauren Sherrritt
The Response – Green Sleep Dreams:
These green sleepers dreams, dream their way into my bent elbows. I wait for morning. Behind windows fogged by my fingertips and fears.
The car I sleep in is blue. It is my car. My XF Ford Falcon and though I can drive it, I do not have a license. I do not know the rules about sleeping in your car. Can I get in trouble for this? I am parked only two blocks away from the house I am meant to be sleeping in. I am parked in front of a chicken shop and my hair smells like oil and burnt deep fried food. I am five months pregnant. I am 17. I am too proud to ask for help. Too proud to admit that I am not safe. Too proud to admit I don’t know what to do. Too proud. Too scared. Too small. Too silent. Too invisible. I am what I have made of myself.
I go back to that red brick house the next night. With its yard full of dry yellow grass. Its slightly leaning grey wire fence. Its dirt stained front door. Its rooms that smell like all the mistakes I’ve made. I am swallowed into its chipped paint. With my hair still smelling like oil and burnt deep fried food.
Homelessness in Australia is often misunderstood, stereotyped or invisible. Homelessness isn’t just sleeping rough on the streets, although for many that is the reality. Homelessness is characterized by a lack of access to safe, affordable and appropriate accommodation. This includes examples such as couch surfing between friends and family (not a long term solution), having somewhere long term to live that isn’t safe (ie. Domestic violence situations, room mates selling drugs etc) or living somewhere where the costs of that accommodation are more than 50% of your income.
The Chamberlain and MacKenzie 2008 Counting the Homeless Report 2006 (ABS) provides the following more detailed definitions of the various types of homeslessness:
Primary homelessness includes all people without a ‘roof over their head’. This means people who are living on the streets, sleeping in parks, squatting in derelict buildings or using cars or trains as temporary shelter.
Secondary homelessness includes people who frequently move from one type of shelter to another. This includes people living in homeless services, hostels, people staying with other households who have no home of their own and people staying in boarding houses for 12 weeks or less.
Tertiary homelessness refers to people who live in boarding houses on a medium to long term basis (more than 13 weeks), who live in accommodation that does not have ‘self-contained facilities’ for example they do not have their bathroom or kitchen and who don’t have the security provided by a lease. They are homeless because their accommodation does not have the characteristics identified in the minimum community standard for housing.
In Australia, we often think of homelessness as older men sleeping rough (these are the images we often see associated with homelessness in the media in particular), but the statistics show that in fact 42% (!!!) of people experiencing homelessness are under 24 and the gender divide (across ages) is 56% male and 44% female. It’s also worth noting that homeslessness happens in both metro and regional communities, though it can be harder to spot in regional communities where it’s easier to see a tent by the river and just think it’s a regular camper.
It’s Youth Homeslesness Matters Day in two weeks time (9th April), which is an annual National awareness day for youth homelessness in Australia. Now is the perfect time to get involved or think about hosting an event – more details about how you can support Youth Homeslessness Matters Day through advocacy, sharing or hosting an event can be found here.
Also check out One Night Stand (Melbourne) and Street Smugglers (Perth) – two awesome organisations tackling homelessness in entirely different ways, led by two awesome young men I’m lucky enough to know through the Foundation for Young Australian’s Young Social Pioneers Program.
You can also find out more information on the realities, stats and what you can do to help at Homelessness Australia.
I had two experiences of homeslessness as a teenager – the one I touched on briefly above (with my trusty XF) and the second a month or so of hopping between houses, including a week in a house with no electricity, hot water etc where the actual tenant was staying elsewhere – because they had upset their drug dealer and were afraid they would be tracked down to the house and bashed! I was 7 months pregnant by that stage.
People who know me now struggle to place me in those situations, struggle to reconcile that I am the same person. Sometimes I do too. Much of that period of my life feels like a story I’m remembering about someone else. A dream.
It’s a dream I was lucky enough to wake from before the cycle became too ingrained to release me. I’m grateful every day for that.
Not everyone is so lucky or happens to fall into the right circles at the right time, but we can all make a difference to ending homelessness in Australia by supporting the work of the organisations I’ve shared above. So please do head to the links, do some reading and remember to share Youth Homeslessness Matters Day on the 9th April.