Yep, I’m a writer

For the longest time I felt like writer was a title I had to earn by writing a book…something worthy, something BIG. I’ve been writing for more than ten years, mostly articles and short pieces, but I would describe what I do as a verb (“I write”) rather than as a noun (“I’m a writer”). But now there’s really no getting around the fact that yep, that’s what I am – I’m a writer.

The thing about writing is that you often invest a lot of time into work that doesn’t end up anywhere. I can’t tell you how many documents I have that no one else will ever read – and thank God for that, given how embarrassingly bad a lot of my writing is. Lately, however, a lot of my writing projects have been properly realised and I’m going through one of the most productively creative times of my life.

In an earlier post I mentioned that my radio play was being performed. As part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, Hearing Voices performed on the evening of Saturday 29 September and on the afternoon of Sunday 30 September. The performances were at the Sidetrack Theatre, the original home of multicultural theatre in Sydney. I recently found a podcast of me being interviewed by Chris Gudu on Radio Skid Row about Hearing Voices – I did the interview a few weeks before to talk about the project and help promote it.

Valerie Berry as part of Hearing Voices (Photo by Studio Minoan)
Valerie Berry as part of Hearing Voices (Photo by Studio Minoan)

Sitting in the audience, I was blown away by the whole production – the actors, the sound design, the direction…it was all beautifully and professionally executed. The scripts – the ones that we had been working on for months – came to life in a way I simply didn’t expect. I don’t think mine was the strongest play by a long shot, whereas some of the others were excellent – but mine was set in India so it was quite an atmospheric piece thanks to sound designer Miguel Valenzuela. The wonderful cast of my play – The Lonely Planet Guide to New Delhi – included Jay Laga’aia, Valerie Berry, Jada Alberts and Sopa Enari. There are a number of things I’d like to do differently next time I write a radio play, but overall I felt so liberated by the process of developing something and handing it over to someone else to work on – in this case, director Don Mamouney. All in all, not a bad result for a first stab at writing a play. Watch this space for details of the podcasted plays when they are put up online.

The day before the first radio play performance, I was actually up in Newcastle for work. I was attending the National Young Writers’ Festival (NYWF) because of some projects I’m involved with. I had a great time hanging out in nice cafes, watching interesting sessions, catching up with people and making new contacts. When I was younger I never got around to going to NYWF but I went up last year to check it out for the first time, thinking that I would try and be involved. And that’s exactly what happened. I developed a small augmented reality project called Secret Newcastle (reviewed here), got a friend the chance to contribute a small segment to the In the Dark listening event, and chaired a session on the future of e-books that was really interesting. Turns out, I’m not a bad chair. I should put my hand up more often in future to do that sort of thing.

Stories Then and Now
Stories Then and Now

The weekend after Newcastle and Hearing Voices, it was my turn to get up and perform for Stories Now and Then. When I was on holidays in Vietnam back in June, I saw a tweet from a friend about a storytelling workshop hosted by Performance 4a. I figured it would be a good experience for me to develop my storytelling skills…little did I know that the workshop was actually about finding a group of storytellers for a theatre performance. Since July I’ve spent a lot of time writing and refining a script and memorising two stories about Vietnam and Australia (one about my father’s life and one about my first trip back to the homeland). The most rewarding aspect of this project has been speaking to my father and learning more about his story, and also finding amazing old photos of my family. Six of us did a draft performance for the Chinese Heritage Association of Australia – more than 60 people were in attendance – and it was very well-received. I was nervous but didn’t do too badly. I’ll write more about this next year when we’ll be putting on a few shows in different venues. Treading boards! Under lights!

In recent months I’ve also gotten a few pieces of writing published too. Firstly in an anthology being printed at the moment – Trunk Books Volume Two: Blood – which raised more than $11,000 through a crowdfunding campaign. I met the editors of the book earlier this year and we had a great chat over coffee – I suggested they run a crowdfunding campaign to get the book going and they said they were already onto it. Great minds etc. Another short piece I wrote called ‘A traditional offer‘ was published on Peril, a website about Asian-Australian arts and culture. Their current edition is ‘spirit worlds’, which immediately conjured up my father’s annual offer to the spirits. In addition, I have an upcoming blog post on Peril about why I’m not changing my last name when I marry because of Vietnamese tradition, and it’s an idea that’s been kcicking around in my head since attending a wedding at the start of September.

The last week was actually quite stressful, writing-wise, because I decided to submit a personal essay which then needed to be extensively revised in order to meet the deadline to be published in Kill Your Darlings in January (YAY). They editors took so much care with my piece and I had a lot of rewriting – it’s been an entirely humbling experience. I have so much to work on my with my writing, and am thrilled at getting an essay published in a literary magazine that I’m a big fan of and enjoy reading every quarter.

I may have mentioned that I’ve been going to a novel writing class all year since February – my course in Paris inspired me to have a go at fiction and not just write creative nonfiction – and as part of that course we’re producing an anthology that will be printed and perfect-bound, and available as an e-book. So that was another big deadline I had to meet last weekend and I got into a real tizz about it. But it’s fine now, and now I can be excited. I can’t wait till we have our launch party for the book, Dandelions and Helicopters, a fitting end to a demanding year-long course. My piece is a 3000 word extract from my novel, and actually, I’m pretty happy with it.

I haven’t even mentioned my radio documentary (which is currently intimidating the hell out of me and needs to be finished end of month),  the wonderful monthly storytelling slam I’ve been helping to organise called Now Hear This, our recent long weekend to Adelaide, starting Spanish classes – which is enormous fun – and our upcoming month-long trip to North America. And there’s my full-time job which I’m enjoying at the moment. There are even more unbelievable developments that I’m not mentioning here, including some game-changing and life-altering stuff. I’ll come back to all that in the next post because this is turning into the neverending story.

Remind me to think back to this creative and productive period the next time I complain about my life. And how important it is for me to keep working on my writing and not to lose faith.

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