Interning for the Salvation Army was confronting and the issues I witnessed outside my comfort zone. All I wanted for my precious leisure time was to retreat into other worlds. Worlds like Hogwarts and Runescape and wherever the hell Twilight is set.
The 11 interns had one television to share. Our internet was limited and there was no access to the online video games I was addicted to. The TV was reserved for Doctor Who, a show I was reluctant to watch. I’d walk through the hallway to my room, roll my eyes and think, “damn, that theme music is more annoying than Smallville’s.”
Instead I chose to sleep, read, or write.
Themes of loneliness, depression and alcoholism began to emerge in poor forms of poetry and fictional remakes of what I was witnessing on the streets. The anger was directed at God or through religious propaganda.
This isn’t its own chapter. I just didn’t want to tell you the first section of this content is in another blog post called Bears, Bad-Ass Juveniles and Pregnant Moons, in the first line.
I returned to university. My creative writing marks are as high as you can get. My politics marks are as poor as you can get while still passing. My journalism subjects are somewhere in the spectrum of decent and respectable.
This is where I first tap into my childhood to turn it into fiction. I write a collection of short stories about a teenager who grew up in a foster home. I submitted the 92,000 word novel into The Australian’s Vogel Literary Award.
It didn’t shortlist. The book is almost useless but sometimes writers need to get their first one out of their way before they are ready to publish.
The other books I never completed were of the fantasy genre. These were space opera, high fantasy, and teenage paranormal genres which I kept separate from my university assessments. Genre fiction was not encouraged in university courses and those who spoke of these themes in workshops were looked on in disdain by the serious writers.
I begin writing short stories in my free time that aren’t submitted as assessments and enter them in competitions.
In 2011 I discover Stephen King novels. I attempt horror in my short stories.
My first short story is published. Lonely Leather is shortlisted in a competition and is published in Wet Ink . I earn $75. The protagonist’s uncle is a rich author who commits suicide at the end.
I brag about it in my creative writing class. Being published in Wet Ink (no longer existing) is a big deal. My lecturer is impressed. Two days later I receive an invitation to join the lecturers, PhD and master students to a nearby island for a writers retreat. I will be mentored by Australian author Frank Moorhouse.
I meet author and lecturer Sally Breen. She holds a cocktail while she raves about my writing. Nobody has encouraged my writing as much as she had before while knowing what they are talking about.
She organises a select group of students to volunteer at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali. The university pays for the trip, because it’s technically part of a subject. All I have to do is write an essay of what I learned.
At the festival I hire a moped, taste frogs legs, enter the poetry slam, and have one date with an Indonesian girl.
When we fly back to Brisbane I wear a bamboo hat and golden baggy pants I bought at the Ubud markets.
I miss the last train and I’m stranded in the city alone. I go to the 24 hour Hungry Jacks and buy a juice so I can sit inside. To pass the early hours I start writing a love story to the girl I dated the one time.
It’s part poetry I suppose, but it was more a rant which includes:
I love you. I miss you. I want you. Oh, I’m full of shit. I miss you now at 10 past 2, but are your eyes a blue or brown? I want you, but what’s your name again? Yeah, I know, it’s Carley and your eyes are hazel, your hair is blonde, but a year ago your name was Tahlia. Your eyes were blue. Every time I wish you’d die, you’d come again a different form. Renewed again, you black cat-phoenix.
I submit the poem as my assignment and I get a HD – top of the class.
At some stage I resent writing. It was to be an expression of self-sabotage but somehow it became the only way I could communicate. People misunderstood my body language all my life.
I wanted to walk into a room of strangers and be their centre of attention. I didn’t want to be the life of the party. I wanted the life of the party. It was captivation I wished for. Writing gave me nothing, I felt.
Who is this Russell Brand. Hey! He’s a comedian. Why don’t you try comedy? Does Brisbane have comedy?
I took lessons and began the circuit. Some nights I’m crap and other nights I have applause. There’s a power I feel when I’m on stage and can’t do anything wrong. The laughs escalate. One poor choice of words will still increase the laughs. I am liked. Loved. I drive home most nights of the week at 1am. Adrenaline pumps. I turn the lights off and have a new idea for a joke. I write it down.
I develop insomnia. Only black and white Doctor Who can put me to sleep.
One night I attend a writer’s function with uni friends. I read one of my poems.
“I decree that I forsee that at 33 I’ll die of cancer of the pancreatic sort.”
Somehow my delivery has changed. The room laughs at what should be intense themes. Sally is disappointed at me.
I do some self-reflecting. I’m a Pizza Hut delivery driver who can’t even afford a GPS. It means I flick through my maps with a spotlight before I start driving with the pizza in the back seat. I make $2 an hour on weekends. Week nights are reserved for stand-up comedy gigs. I get three or four a week but make no money. Driving to the gigs costs the taxpayer.
I apply for reporter jobs across the country. I receive a job at a weekly paper in a coal mining town in WA. I accept the job. Goodbye comedy friends. Goodbye writers. I drive from Brisbane, to Adelaide, to Perth in six days.
In his glory days my boss used to control all the Fairfax papers in WA. Because of internal struggles and disagreements which likely involve the new policies of internet, he is demoted to control of the minor weekly papers from the small town we both live in.
There is resent. He hates the job and lives for the weekend. On his mahogany desk there is a small sign that says “born to golf. Forced to work.”
The boss hated my writing. He thought it fancy. It was long winded and had little precision. When you have found your creative writing voice it is difficult to chance style. Removing the unnecessary ‘that’ and ‘the’ and ‘really’ was a difficult concept.
I worked weekends for free to make my Mondays and Tuesdays easier. I learnt to write faster and not procrastinate as much. I toured coal mines, attended court where I watched a prosecutor yell at a defendant accused of assault, and interview the parents of a boy who died in tragic circumstances.
My creative writing slowed. My murder mystery novel was taking too long to write. My short stories including Aliens Play Aussie Rules rejected. My achievements like winning the town’s literature awards and shortlisting for the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards not seeming enough.
I quit without another job lined up. This is a big mistake in journalism. I did not care. I hated journalism. I wanted work somewhere else. I wanted to return to comedy.
I lasted eight months without needing the dole. I burned through the savings and start sharing a house with grandma. I develop a blog called Hail to the Monkey King. I apply for a spot at the WA Academy of Performing Arts. I milked my stand-up comedy experience for what it was worth. Big mistake. The teachers judging my audition disliked it. They act like a creative writing tutor learning their student wants to write about vampires.
Everything I try for doesn’t happen. I have no retail experience and there’s fewer comedy gigs I can get in Perth.
I miss Qld.
I take a job at a daily paper in North West Qld.
Each day more than 2000 people read my news articles. They recognise my name.
But the articles I write do not belong to me. They are not my stories. I write them because I am paid to do so.
On weekends my head is focused on the next scene of my fantasy novel about killer robots locking children in a booby trapped fun park.
Sure it’s genre fiction but it’s an old idea from my late teen years I’m developing. I don’t want to be a serious writer for a while. There’s enough of that during the week.