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06 min 
Interviews & Issue Five

Interview with Anna Forsyth by Senaj Alijevski

It was a pleasure for our journals to get an opportunity to Interview Anne Forsyth. She’s a writer who is based in Newcastle and manages ‘Girls on key’. Girls on Key hosts events in Melbourne, Newcastle and Sydney. The events started as music in 2014 and changed to poetry in 2015. They feature female and non-binary poets and raise funds for different charities such as Writing through fences who work with asylum seeker and refugee writers.

Reading the ‘Girls on Key’ website I got the impression that you are passionate about women’s issues. Is that right?

I am a feminist, so amplifying women’s voices is something that I am passionate about, as they are often trivialised, marginalised and not taken seriously in our patriarchal society. It’s not exclusively a women’s issue. It’s about equality in general, which is why I continue to provide spaces for poets that are intersectional and inclusive of trans women and non-binary poets.

What inspired you to create ‘Girls on Key’? The focus is on placing an importance on women’s stories. Is this the main focus of the organisation?

I founded Girls on Key in 2014 to create the type of gigs for my female musician friends that I couldn’t find elsewhere. It is not a group or a club, but an open night in three different cities (currently), where people can come and hear stories and poetry from women. Feminism to me has always been about whose stories are being told and whose stories are being perpetuated and the voices that are being heard. So Girls on Key poetry readings provide a great space for that to happen. I try to create an atmosphere of safety, with a collegial atmosphere where women feel comfortable sharing their own stories, whatever they may be.

  1. Poetry is a difficult style of writing, what tips would you give to someone who isn’t confident in their work?

I don’t think poetry is more difficult than any other art form. It can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. There is definitely a craft with a beautiful history and there are so many in-roads that offer their own unique ways to create under the banner of poetry. For example, if you are performer, you can focus on the stage craft of slam. There are visual styles, such as concrete poetry and traditional forms for those who like to geek out. Confidence as a poet comes from finding your own place within that world and not letting others define the type of work that you want to create. It’s about challenging yourself to learn your art form and to grow and put in the effort to see what you envision come to life. There are lots of mentors around and many online resources if you want to up-skill yourself in one aspect of the poetry craft. The key is finding the resources that work for your own artistic vision, especially if you are starting out. It is better to throw the rule book out in the beginning and to test your own creative boundaries than to have someone else tell you how you should be writing. It is art after all. I would recommend starting with the topics and issues that make your heart sing and writing in response to those, then worrying about the honing and polishing later. Some people are not comfortable reading in public, but that’s not essential. You can find an audience online and through print and it is not necessary to be confident on a stage.

Are there any other writers/poets you admire and influenced your writing style?

I am definitely very influenced by New Zealand poets, as that’s where my whakapapa is (genealogy) is. I had my beginnings there, as a person and as a poet. I have a couple of mentors who I meet with when I’m there, such as Riemke Ensing, Genevieve Mclean, Janet Charman and Vivienne Plumb. They have all influenced me in different ways. Vivienne’s work in particular has influenced me as she also works between fiction, poetry and script writing. One of my key interests is in the praxis and intersections between these forms.

Are there any other artistic talents you have that make your style of writing more authentic?

I’m often told that my work is lyrical and so I think having a background in music definitely influences the way I write, as much as I try to escape it. Authenticity to me is about calling a spade a spade. I don’t always do that of course, I skirt around things and obscure their origins within my work at times, for fear of scrutiny. I don’t think that’s an uncommon practice. As I’ve grown older, I’ve naturally become more fearless in owning my identity as a bisexual, white woman from New Zealand who has a strong Christian faith. So I’m starting to touch on some of these themes more, as a way to really tell my own story my own way. I think that’s the key.

Do you plan to write other poems or novels that support the theme of women’s issues?

The short answer is no. I write from what sparks my interest. I don’t write about women’s issues at all. Only from the vantage of being a woman and that being all I’ve known. The focus of my work at the moment is on the intersections of the mundane and the divine in everyday experiences. I’ve been working on a project for quite some time that includes monologues of people who have experienced miracles. The project sparked the title of my next poetry collection, Beatific Toast.

Perhaps poetry is an overlooked style of writing why would you consider it as important? Does it help to improve our writing skills?

I’m probably biased, because I’m a poet, but I consider poetry to be a vital vehicle for the transmission of culture and shaping and framing our existence as humans. It is the soul of society really. It really can reconceptualise issues within society and it also uses emotions quite often as a gateway to create change on an individual and collective level. So it is deeply important; as is all art making. In answer to your second question, any type of sustained writing practice will lead to improvement if it is undertaken with a view to learning and allowing yourself to take constructive criticism. Yes, of course finding that perfect image, employing poetic devices and using constraints, these are all great skills for any writer’s toolkit, regardless of genre.

What was your favourite poem you have performed for an audience?

I wrote a piece called ‘The I’m So Sick of Jack Kerouac Blues’, which I love performing because I get to sing parts of it as well. It’s definitely my most performative and stage-oriented piece. The other piece is also part-sung and it’s called the Conductor. It’s a poem about grief and always receives a great response from the audience. I studied stage one conducting and its about the idea of channelling grief through music. Grief can often make a person feel out of control, so I like the idea of mindfulness and the way water and music flow through you.

Is Melbourne a good place to inspire poets to keep writing?

I’m based in Newcastle. When I was in Melbourne I found it to be an extremely collegial place for writers of all types. It is not just a City of Literature in name only, but has a very supportive community of writers. Organisations such as Melbourne Spoken Word have played a large part in creating a culture where anyone can have a go. There is not the same snobbery around being a writer that you get in some cities. It’s a very diverse and inclusive community with lots of great grassroots initiatives. I’ve never lived in a city with such a thriving poetry community. It really is a great place for it.

My book A Tender Moment Between Strangers is available from our Girls on Key bookshop, along with some other poetry books by great female poets:

https://www.girlsonkey.com/online-store

 

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07 min 
Interviews & Issue Five

Author interview with Isobelle Carmody.

By Skye Jenner.

I first read one of Isobelle Carmody’s books when I was ten-years-old – actually, it was one of the first books that my Mum decided to lend me – Billy Thunder and the Night Gate. Ever since then, I have absolutely loved every story of hers that I have managed to get my hot little hands on. Which was why it was such an enjoyable pleasure to spend forty minutes in a skype interview with her. Not only finding out about what makes her writing so relatable to such a mass audience, but also the ways in which Australia’s refugee conditions are completely abysmal and the ways in which we can all step up in one way or another to fight for what’s right.

Isobelle wasn’t necessarily ‘inspired’ to become a writer, rather it was something that she just did as a young child to try and make sense of the world. At the age of fourteen, when Carmody began to write the first story in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, she was faced with a lot of confusion. Her dad had been killed in a car accident, and the drunk driver who had caused the accident just walked away. The process of writing somehow helped to “make it clear” in a way that nothing else was able to do so. She never expected to get published, or find a way to make a living out of her words. Rather, the creation of Isobelle’s worlds has come purely from finding a way to understand the world around her and process her own thoughts and emotions.

Isobelle primarily writes for a young adult audience because she loves the courage and “mad ignorance” which it lends to her characters. These thoughts and characters don’t occur “off the top of [her] head, but off the top of [her] fingers”. Being a writer for Isobelle is a completely natural and subconscious process which lends itself to an “alchemy of understanding”. From this, Carmody enjoys the conversations that begin between her words and the greater world – the different ways in which people are able to absorb and make sense of her own words, and sometimes how the readers can use these to understand their reality. I know that as a child, reading about a Misfit helped me to embrace my own misfit status.

Although nothing particularly inspired Isobelle to become a writer, it just is what she is, the act of publication and editing has been something of a different journey. According to Isobelle, writing is about what you have to say and make sense of your own reality. But editing and publishing is all about marketing. A good editor will judge you on how well you write, whereas a good publisher is good at marketing the work to a large audience. Both of which are important when you wish to make a career out of being a writer.

When Isobelle was fourteen, she was a Misfit, but she didn’t quite understand why. After all, she liked herself, but she couldn’t understand why other people didn’t. As is often the case, this misfit status led to her being severely bullied, which then led her to question why, continuously. Hence Elspeth was born (the main character in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, if you haven’t yet read this, I suggest that you do so… it’s amazing). Elspeth too likes who and what she is, has an inner strength and wears her heart on her sleeve. Much like Isobelle. She never wanted friends unless they could accept her for herself, which never seemed to be the case for teenage Carmody. And so the rest of the Misfits were born – people who were able to form accepting friendships, something that did eventually happen for Isobelle too.

Elspeth encaptured Isobelle’s “wish to be special and have a purpose”. Something that I’m sure we have all wished for at one point. The fact that everyone has felt a little lost and like a bit of a misfit at some point in their lives wasn’t something that Isobelle purposely tapped into. Neither is the constant message of strength and bravery throughout her pieces. It is something that she wrote “without realizing”. The idea that a strong sense of self and integrity can lend itself to a strong character wasn’t something that Isobelle had consciously considered, but it is certainly a recurrent theme throughout her works.

One of the things that struck out at me most in Isobelle’s response to this question was the idea of the characterization difference between genders. She is currently working on a character who is a young male. Carmody’s editors even requested that he be changed to a female. But she can’t. Because in Isobelle’s writing and creation, she can make boys somewhat softer. All of her female characters are insulated and withdrawn with an amazing internal strength. Something that is supported by their withdrawal from others and the world. Contrastingly, she is able to make her young male character less armoured – he is able to be more of the world than the women, something that certainly reminds me of the differences in the ways I conduct myself to my male companions….

As a child, Isobelle didn’t have much access to the outside world. There were no newspapers or magazines in the house, and her mother rarely went out. Actually, the only thing that Carmody really had to read were encyclopedias – and the only thing interesting enough to read were myths and legends. Something which she believed were true until she was a little older. Her only personal experiences that worked their way into her writing were internal, not external.

When Isobelle was about fourteen, she had to do a project on the Manhattan Project, something that changed her views on the world forever. Actually, if you have read her Obernewtyn Chronicles, you can see the heavy influence of this and her confusion throughout the entire series. It was actually something that personally taught me a lot about the risks and horrors that science and politics can cause, particularly the impacts of nuclear warfare. The idea of a scientific responsibility and conscience resonated throughout Isobelle’s sudden awakening to her own morality.

For those people who haven’t followed Isobelle on Facebook (I strongly suggest you do), it is obvious, from this early awakening, she has become very involved in and aware of the rights of others. This began because when Isobelle finally got Facebook she was shown some videos of the Bile Bears. Eventually, she couldn’t stand by and let this continue, so she began to get involved in their rights and animal activism. This has slowly snowballed and now you can see her standing with her sign across the world, raising awareness about our refugees and the plight of our fellow humans.

Isobelle’s number one piece of advice to people who want to become more involved in others’ rights is to “take one step”. If you have never done anything at all, sign a petition or write a letter. If you do this regularly, take it another step, organize something, hold up a sign. Start a movement. Just take your involvement one step further. That’s all that it takes and it is how it started for Isobelle. She started fundraising, and started by making small movements, and this slowly snowballed until she was recently threatened with arrest because she was holding her sign.

No matter how scary taking a step up might be, you can do it. When Isobelle returned to the place where she was threatened with arrest, she was shaking with fear. Although this fear didn’t quite go away, she was able to face up to it and feel stronger afterwards. Many people asked her questions and wanted to help her in some way and in doing so, she was able to not only stand up for herself, but also those without a voice. If you want to make your own sign and hold it up, tag Isobelle on social media – she wants to start a global movement, and has already started doing so, so let’s keep it rolling.

“If you can write stories, you should.” Isobelle’s number one piece of advice is to write the way you want and what you want. Don’t think about publishing or marketing until you have written what you want. Otherwise, you get a little too caught up in selling the manuscripts, not actually creating what you enjoy. Don’t think about the genre, the audience or where you will be able to sell your work. Concentrate on the writing.

Although Isobelle’s biggest piece of advice is making sure that you just write, she had another piece of really interesting advice that I had never thought of. She suggested that you try and get short stories published. It is much easier to get a short story published in a collection than a novel, especially in today’s climate. Once you have a few short stories published, you might be able to get noticed and get your name out there.

And Isobelle’s last piece of advice to aspiring writers – READ! If you don’t read much, you probably won’t write much. The two aspects feed on one another and are equally as important.

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29 sec 
Interviews & Issue Four

Interview with Tricia Dearborn

Tricia Dearborn was interviewed by Oscar O-Neill-Pugh

What are you currently reading?

I have a passion for chemistry – my first degree was a double major in chemistry and biochemistry – and my next poetry collection, Autobiochemistry, takes its title from a poem sequence that’s largely autobiographical, but seen through the lens of the chemical elements. I discovered recently that Theodore Gray, who wrote The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe, has written two more books, and am now reading Molecules: The Elements and the Architecture of Everything.

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Interviews & Issue Two

Interview with Eloise Faichney

By Tina Tsironis

Eloise Faichney is an emerging writer from Melbourne, Australia. Co-Senior Editor of literary journals Other Terrain and Backstory, her work has been published in Bukker Tilibul, Stormcloud Poets Anthology and Smut Zine.

She recently returned from Yale University in New Haven, where she attended the Yale Writer’s Conference. She sat down with Tina Tsironis to discuss her eye-opening, at times shattering, experience.

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