The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

Still working on the draft for Float, although after a slow week of writing I’m not entirely sure where I’m up to. Also trying to get a short story done.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I picked up a game called Inside for the Playstation, based on it showing up on some lists when I went and looked for seminal computer computer games that show what’s going on in gaming today.

Inside is a remarkably simple game in terms of gameplay, but my god, the creators to manipulate mood and feed it into a fairly basic platform/puzzle game is incredible. It’s fairly low-key horror, so it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – I found myself getting squicked out by how weirdly graphic the death scenes were. If course, I also admired the fidelity of design that went into those scenes, ’cause the game is seriously beautiful, and they’d earned enough trust that I figured those scenes would pay off

What part of my project am I avoiding? 

The usual: I need to get back into a regular sleep routine, and I need to start building my writing routine up again. I’ve got some serious end-of-years blues starting up, and I’d prefer not to let the heat take away my writing practice like it usually does in summer.

Some Thoughts On Theatre, Set Design, and a Moment of Disconnection

I went to see the recent Queensland Theatre Company production of Tartuffe over the weekend, but this is not a review of that show. My review would run very simply: incredible work, great fun, go and fucking see it. Even if you have no idea what Tartuffe is and why Moliere is a big deal.

Hell, especially if you don’t know why Moliere is a big deal.

But what I’m still noodling about on a Tuesday morning, three days after I saw the show, is a very small slice of the overall show: set design.

There’s been a run of QTC shows with incredible sets in the last twelve months. The set for last year’s The Odd Couple was an incredible piece of work, creating an apartment in the middle of the stage that allows for a lot of dynamic movement. The set for Tartuffe is equally incredible work: the rooms and balconies of a double-story mansion on a rotating stage, allowing for five different places where scenes can be set. A set that was rich in details, from the knick-knacks to the art hung up on t he walls, to placing of doors that allowed for multiple paths of entry and exit onto the stage.

It was a fantastic set, bringing a sense of realism to the staging. Really nice work.

And I spent the first half of the play wishing it wasn’t there.


Back in ye olden days, when I taught a more diverse range of writing that I do now, I spent a lot of time trying to wedge the following idea into people’s heads before they sat down to write scripts: film simulates, theatre suggests. When you’re looking at the toolkit you’ve got for telling stories in either medium, they’re important things to keep in mind.

What this translates into, when not speaking in pithy sound-bites, is the realisation that each of these mediums has a different toolkit for evoking reality. Film relies heavily on visual details – when you point a camera at something, it captures everything in the frame and provides a rich spectrum of details for the viewer to read the story against. If you’ve got the time and the budget, you can physically take your camera and your crew to a real place and capture the actual details of being in that place. It’s not as good as actually being there, and of necessity it’s still a crafted experience because there is an art to film-making and constructing meaning with the visual language of cinema, but the strength of film as a medium is its ability to simulate reality as a kind of near-exact photocopy.

Theatre doesn’t have that. Theatre is a storytelling medium that grew around it’s limitations, which include the physical limitations of the stage and the fact that the audience will only see the action from a single direction on any given viewing. A film camera may pick up on incidental objects in a particular location, but nothing exists on a stage unless it’s put there – and so the history of theatre is filled with a larger world being suggested or evoked by a single well-chosen object that serves as a metaphoric stand-in.

Or, to put it another way, in order to kill someone in the end of your film production of Hamlet without breaking the audiences sense of belief, you need some realistic looking swords, fight choreography, blood packs, and some clever camera work to make it all look fluid and real. Fuck that up, and the audience will get distracted by the feeling that there is something a little fake in your simulation.

In order to kill people at the end of your stage production of Hamlet, you can use a stick and a length of red ribbon and everyone will still be on the edge of their seats.

You can evoke an awful lot with very little in the theatre. That is its strength. It can also be its weakness, because everything you put on the stage takes on more meaning. It’s a queue to the audience about what they should be expecting and what’s important in the performance.


And here is where I had problems with the set for Tartuffe – the first thing you see is this big, elaborate set mimicking a modern beach-side mansion.

The second thing you see is a bunch of well-dressed cast members drinking and dancing to techno as the stage rotates around, giving you a glimpse of the even more impressive sets on the far side of the turntable.

And then the dialog starts, and Moliere was a playwright active in the late 1600s. This particular translation of Tartuffe involves a lot of rhyming couplets full of clever wordplay, but it also keeps some of the particularly anachronistic aspects of the original. Which probably works fine, if you are familiar with

Moliere and know to expect that from the moment the curtain goes up. But if you don’t…

Well, he cognitive dissonance starts early, and stays around for a long, long time. There’s a wait while the play teaches you how to read what’s going on, instead of using the set to transition you into that a little more smoothly.

And after seeing Tartuffe on Saturday night, I spent Sunday at the powerhouse watching a cabaret production of Angela Carter’s The Lady in the House of Love, which used a single chair and an ornate wooden stage as its setting and used them to evoke rose-choked ruins, the countryside, an French army base, and a more. It worked spectacularly well, because everything on stage meant something and played to the strengths of theatre, using very little to create an awful lot.


None of this is intended as a slight against the Tartuffe production in any way – it remains a fantastic set and a fantastic production, and I’d recommend seeing it if you’re in the Brisbane area. I’m am focusing on a minor quibble that bugged me far more than the people I was there with, and I will freely admit that I am a grumpy theatre goer who objects to many, many things that are done on stage.

But I’m still mulling over this particular feeling of disconnection because its a useful reminder as a writer: prose, like theatre, is reliant on metaphor and suggestion to build its setting and contextualise the action that takes place there.

It’s particularly important for me this week, as I’m trying to evoke a much larger world in the novel that I’m writing with a couple of very small scenes. My first impulse is always going bigger, but bigger isn’t necessarily better here. In a metaphor-driven medium, evoking the right detail will mean more than evoking a dozen others that aren’t necessarily a good fit for the story you’re trying to tell.

And with that, I’m going to finish my coffee and get cracking on the novel for a bit.

So you’re the kind of vegetarian who only eats roses

leonard-cohen-selected-poemsI saw Leonard Cohen live a few years back. The concert was the same week my father had his heart attack, and I was meant to be going with my dad and my sister. Instead, my father was hospitalised and being prepared for surgery, and my sister stayed with my mum. I was encouraged to go Cohen anyway, find friends who could make use of the spare tickets.

I did. We ate Indian food. Leonard Cohen wore a suit on stage, and he performed with the kind of serenity and poise you’ve got no choice but to envy. I was not in good shape before my dad’s heart attack, and things were considerably worse after it happened.

Seeing Leonard Cohen was the only time that month it felt anything close to okay.


Now it’s been three weeks since Cohen died and I’m seated on the balcony of my parent’s apartment, listening to my dad watch the cricket inside. It’s thirty-something goddamn degrees and Brisbane is hot and sweaty and still, and there’s a magpie on the far end of the balcony warbling with very little regard for nearby humans.

I’ve been hitting Democracy on YouTube, day after day, for three weeks now. I don’t think I’m anywhere close to being done with that song yet.

I came across Cohen as a poet long before I heard his music. I found a copy of his Selected Poems in a second-hand bookstores, one of the few single author collections among a poetry section populated by old anthologies and schoolbooks. It was $10.95, hardcover, and I was doing an honours thesis in poetics. I bought the book, took it home, and disappeared inside the words.

The music came after that, but Cohen remained a poet in my head. He made more sense that way, with the poise and the suits and the gravity and the humour. He remained one of the few poets I loved at twenty whose work I still love two decades later.


I made a t-shirt using lines from Beautiful Losers. The poem, not the novel, although you can see the echoes between them if you look real closely:

So you’re the kind of vegetarian
that only eats roses
Is that what you meant
with your Beautiful Losers?

I learned that if you leave sheets of paper with those lines around the apartment, and you’re not there to provide context when your girlfriend comes home, there will be the kind of freak-out that’s indicative of how things will eventually go very, very wrong.


I’ve spent the weekend reading through a months’ worth of blog posts in my RSS feed. I am processing November backwards: Cohen dies, and then I hit the aftermath of the US elections. This results in me hitting Youtube and firing up Democracy again.

Except the version of Democracy that lives in my head isn’t the song, which makes it incredibly hard to listen to the version where it’s treated as such. The version that lives in my head strips away almost everything except the words, delivered in Cohen’s dry tones:


I have thoughts about the state of the world right now, but this is hardly news. I’ve had thoughts about the state of the world for the last twenty years, and most of them boiled down to fucking hell, people, be better than this.

When I look at the state of the world, the directions that we’re heading in, I can’t muster anything akin to Leonard Cohen’s serenity. And I sure as hell won’t look anywhere near as good in a suit.

But I come back to Cohen, again and again, as a reminder of what art can do in the right hands. It can be beautiful, and it can be cool, and it can be terrifying. It can be a weapon and it can be a tool for change and it can be the salve that makes things okay.

Do it right and it can be all of those things in the same song, or story, or poem.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

I’m starting to work through the draft of Float and weave in some of the secondary stories, adding in some new POV characters that flesh out the action and world where the main character isn’t present.

What’s inspiring me this week?

The most immediately useful thing I’ve seen this week is Ascension, an SF mini-series I found on netflix which packs of lot of story in six episodes. It’s premise starts simply enough – the life of a generation ship crew as they’re halfway through their 100 year journey to a distant star – but it adds in some twists that are pretty-well executed and the setting is very stylized. Nowhere near the level of The Expanse in terms of good SF currently on television, but it’s a well-executed show that plays its conceits well.

But the most inspiring thing I’ve seen this week was the QTC production of Moliere’s Tartuffe, which is a brilliantly funny adaptation that continues QTCs run of great sets and great blocking on their theatre productions.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

A lot of the scenes that i’m writing over the current week need to flesh out the world of the novel, but I’ve been avoiding doing a lot of worldbuilding up to this point. Trying to get comfortable with the info dump as a necessary evil, at least in the first draft of a sccene, is far harder than it should be for me.

I’ve also been meaning to write a blog post about the fact that today marks the one-year anniversary of The Sunday Circle here on the blog. I was really nervous about kicking this off, picturing a feature where I’d sit around talking to myself for weeks on end. Instead, I’ve learned a lot from everyone whose posted here about their process, problems, and inspiration – thanks to everyone for being part of it.

Thirty-Eight Days

trelloI am incredibly behind on everything. There are too man old things left undone, and too many new things that I want to get started on, so my procrastination of choice becomes tearing down old things and trying to build new things from the rubble. I’m revisiting plans, rebuilding systems. I have spent far to much time familiarising myself with Trello boards and adding projects to them, finding gaps in my planning systems.

Trello is not my preferred solution for this, but I am out of places to hang whiteboards in my apartment.

All this is trying to solve a single problem: 2017 is unknown terrain for me right now. There are too many things that I might be doing, depending on what happens in the next 30 days, and the ideal preparation for the two most likely options is very, very different. Certainty doesn’t arrive until December 23rd. It’s proving to be a very long wait.

My notebook is full of entries that start: “When you’re blogging again, you should write about…”

And my brain is full of: “you have thirty-seven and a half days left until the end of the year – what the fuck are you going to finish in all of those?”

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week? 

I’m loaded up on jobs-that-take-up-writing-time, but-aren’t-writing this week, so I’m trying to keep my goals pretty minimal: another three scenes on Float, some revision and fleshing out on the smaller scenes that have already been written that don’t feel weighty enough to keep in the book in their current form.

What’s inspiring me this week?

Zootopia. I meant to see this when it first came out, but somehow never got around to it. I regret that, a bit. I’m really interested in the way they construct their world when they’re not engaging in the obvious cartoon conceits – I think it was Kathleen who first mentioned that it was a movie where people used cell phones like we use cell phones in real life, and…dear god, I hadn’t realised what a non-essential prop movie cell phones were until now.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

I’ve not had much luck correcting the sleep patterns and getting back to a routine thus far, and I fell out of the habit of going to food courts to write while friends were visiting from Melbourne last weekend. Paying for all of that right now, but still not going back to the bits of my routine that I know, for sure, will work.