the emerging artist has a home

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I am thrilled to share with you that my short story “The Emerging Artist” has just been published in international online literary journal Queen Mob’s Teahouse!

I’m so excited that this quirky little story has finally found a home. If you like strange, satirical fiction with its tongue firmly in its cheek, then I think you might enjoy it.

You can read it here!

Writing this story was an interesting experience. As I explained in my cover letter to the journal, the idea first came to me after attending an in-conversation event with the artist Marina Abramovic at London’s Festival Hall a couple of years ago. I had just read Heather Rose’s novel The Museum of Modern Love so was desperate to go along!

But as interesting as Abramovic herself was to listen to, I found myself really frustrated with the audience. The second part of the evening was a Q&A and unlike an event I attended last year with Liz Gilbert where you had to email any questions for the Q&A session ahead of time (which I think worked much better, and not just because they picked mine! If you’re a newsletter subscriber you already know that story), this really wasn’t that interesting at all - there was a long queue at each microphone to ask questions which were all “this is more of a comment than a question” which frankly just makes you grumpy, doesn’t it? You didn’t come to hear these people witter on!

Anyway. At one point, after about six very long-winded questions about nothing in particular, a young woman got to the microphone who introduced herself as “an emerging artist” and proceeded to give a monologue about herself to Marina Abramovic, oblivious to the fact that a few audience members had audibly groaned at her introduction (the British tend to be very reserved and polite people - but this was just after the Brexit vote in 2016 and brazen public rudeness had started to become a thing. It’s got worse since). But she was so earnest, this emerging artist. She seemed completely unfazed by the fact that no one was that interested in what she had to say, but she was trying to seize her moment anyway. It was, in an odd way, inspiring.

I understand “emerging artist” is an accepted term in the art world. In fact, “emerging writer” is becoming more common too. But what does it mean exactly? And what are the connotations of being considered “emerging”? Is it a bit like the caterpillar waiting to be come a butterfly? When have you “emerged”? Who gets to decide? There are no Emerging Bankers, or Emerging Journalists, or Emerging Doctors. They just reach a point in their qualifications and experience where they have the right to call themselves that. Is it the same for artists? I’m not sure.

I’m also fascinated - and equally irritated - by what feels like a proliferation of pretension in that world. These days pretty much everything can be labelled as ‘art’. We have devices on us constantly that can be used to create images, audio and video. And, in theory, we can all reach an audience. But I think these things have meant we’ve lost a bit of reverence for art.

But, as David Walsh (he of MONA fame) has pointed out (and which I experienced for myself on my last visit to the gallery a few months ago), lack of reverence for art is also a response to it. And it is not an invalid one.

So, with all this swirling around in my head, a few days after the Festival Hall event, I wrote the first draft of what became The Emerging Artist.

And then I drafted, and re-drafted, and re-drafted. And then drafted some more. And around the time I began the story, my lovely friend Lisa and I began meeting up after work to workshop our various projects - she with her amazing epic play in progress, me with my short stories and various attempts at a novel. Our meetings usually ended up being at Padella Pasta in London Bridge, because one cannot write well if one has not dined well. So I was extremely fortunate that I had a kind and willing audience for the earliest incarnation of the story and her feedback was so very helpful. It’s by far a better story for her input!

But one never knows how one’s work is going to be received. This story was rejected by several other journals and I got very disheartened. While I wondered whether to keep my faith in the Emerging Artist and keep sending her out, I listened to an excellent interview with writer Kristen Roupenian, who wrote the short story “Cat Person” which went viral - she shared that that story was rejected several times before it was published. In fact, Kristen found rejection was the standard response to her work!

I had been submitting stories for five or six years and gotten, like, tiny little acceptances here and there….and Cat Person, like all my other stories, had gone out to several different magazines and been rejected by them, which is par for the course … but it was still sitting at The New Yorker at that point, and I just assumed they had forgotten to send me my rejection letter! … but I think by that point I had come to understand the failure that is built into the process. It doesn’t matter how good a story is or isn’t, it’s still not going to be the right story for 99% of people. So you just have to do whatever you can to give yourself the stamina to keep rolling the dice … keep going until it doesn’t feel like failure any more [but] it feels like the process.

So this gave me fresh courage to keep going. And I’m so glad I did! Thank you Kristen.

And thank you Queen Mob’s! What an honour to be published in a journal dedicated to “writing, art, criticism—weird, serious, gorgeous, cross genre, spell conjuring, rant inducing work.” To know they thought my story was even one of those things, that thrills me down to my toes. I will have a soft spot for this journal in my heart forever.

one hundred years wasn't enough

My grandmother Daphne as a baby, with her mother Pansy (her real name was Emily but everyone called her Pansy). Taken in London, November 1919.

My grandmother Daphne as a baby, with her mother Pansy (her real name was Emily but everyone called her Pansy). Taken in London, November 1919.

the light, the season, 

is fading. 

what will be left by winter?

what will be left by tomorrow?

will our family be one person down,

without the one whose heart started

before the guns of the Great War

fell silent,

whose breath spanned two centuries,

whose soul knew many homes.

I wrote the lines above as the sun set last Monday night after hearing the news earlier that day that my beloved grandmother, who I spent three hours laughing and doing crosswords with only a few weeks ago, had had a small stroke and was fading.

I went to say goodbye to her last Wednesday. And on Saturday evening, a week out from her 100th birthday, she passed away. We had been anticipating her 100th as a family with great joy - we even had a letter from the Queen, all ready to go. So it hasn’t been the week we thought it would be, though it has still been a celebration of a long and fruitful life.

But it is also, to use a well-worn phrase, the end of an era.

We were so lucky to have her for so long. But that doesn’t make losing her any easier. She is irreplaceable. It feels strange to now be living in a world without her when, until a week ago, she had always been here.

How lucky I was to have her as a grandmother, and what a shining example she was of how to live well and authentically. I adored her sharp wit, her endless fascinating stories, her cooking, her affinity with plants, her love of nature. She taught me to cook, to sew and to play cards. She indulged every one of my silly childish whims but she always treated me like a grown up. She encouraged my love of writing and storytelling. When my book came out, she was in the front row at the launch and she read the whole thing, with a magnifying glass.

I will always cherish the memories of her indefatigable spirit, her sense of fun, her generosity, her quiet conviction, her pragmatism, and her fierce independence. Sometimes, when I was growing up, I felt so different from the rest of my family, convinced on some occasions I had been swapped with another baby at the hospital. But then I would think about Ma and her mother, and the kinds of women they were and realise ‘ah, that’s where I get that from’. I am proud to think that both their spirits live on in me, somehow.

Without her influence, I know I would have been a very, very different person. I am so grateful.

All of the above I told her while I sat with her quietly last Wednesday, holding her hand and stroking her hair. But I wish I had told her these things more often while I still had the privilege of being in her company.

So let this be a timely reminder for you, dear reader. Tell your loved ones you love them. They really won’t be here forever. Even though, in Ma’s case, it felt like she would be! I’m so glad Tom and I moved back to Australia when we did and that I got to spend lots of time with her these past few months. Those memories are now very precious indeed.

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Happy 100th birthday Ma. As far as I’m concerned, you made it.

I will love you always.

***

Daphne Lucie Elizabeth Moore
11 May 1919 - 4 May 2019

moroccan chickpea and lentil soup

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This soup was a great favourite of mine in my Weight Watchers days - I made it again recently and to my delight, it is still excellent. And perfect for those nights where the air is freezing, you can smell chimney smoke and rotting leaves, and hear next-door’s dogs howling at the moon.


Moroccan Chickpea and Lentil Soup

2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons turmeric
4 teaspoons Masterfoods Moroccan Seasoning (or a spicier Moroccan souk seasoning, my favourite is this one from Gerwurzhaus)
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 cups red lentils, rinsed
2 x 420g cans chickpeas, drained
2 large or 3 medium carrots, diced
1 large or 2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 large red capsicum, chopped
1 sweet potato (or large white potato), chopped
1 medium zucchini, chopped
Vegetable stock (or water), to cover
Fresh coriander to serve, if desired

Coat a stockpot with cooking spray. Saute onion, garlic and ginger until soft. Add a bit of stock if it starts to stick.

Add carrots, capsicum, sweet potato and zucchini (a note on the vegetables: this combination is not set in stone. It works brilliantly with any vegetables so use up whatever you’ve got). Mix well, then add the red lentils and chickpeas. Add the spices. Stir well to coat everything evenly.

Cook for about a minute, until everything is fragrant and combined thoroughly. Add enough stock to cover. Stir well. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Come back to check on the soup every 15 minutes or so. Lentils will absorb the liquid as they cook, so you may need to add more stock or water during the cooking time, depending how thick you want the soup.

After 30 minutes, check the lentils to see if they are tender. If they are, the soup is ready. If not, cook for a further 10 minutes before checking again.

A note on the spices: some Moroccan seasonings can be quite mild so taste the soup as you go and add more if you want. I prefer a kick!

Either serve the soup as it is, or puree roughly with a hand-held blender to break up the bigger chunks of carrot and capsicum.

Serve immediately, or freeze in containers. Makes enough for 8 serves.

This is one of the most comforting things in the world to eat when it’s cold outside.

instagram vs reality

A page from my journal.

A page from my journal.

I like to give off the impression that I’m pretty together. That I’ve got my shit worked out or at least I have enough self-awareness to know what I need to work on. That I behave consciously. That I know what makes me happy and what doesn’t, and do my best to have as much as possible of the former in my life and the bare-arsed minimum of the latter.

And yet. And yet. I still care way too much about what things look like rather than what they feel like. I still care way too much about what people think. I still feel the sting of rejection and being misunderstood to my marrow. I still try far too hard to control other people’s impressions and experience of me. Ever since I arrived home, so many Phils have been competing to take the steering wheel off the only one I trust with this vehicle - wise, street-smart, calm Phil. All these other Phils I thought were satisfied now, their insecurities and baggage dealt with long ago. But no. No.

These past couple of years, my ego has been dying a slow, painful death. As it has lay dying, it has tried to show me, over and over again, that some (well, maybe around 90 per cent) of the things that I think matter really, really don’t. And that attempting to be part of the in crowd is a complete and utter waste of my time because I don’t belong there and I never have.

This afternoon, case in point. I had just made myself a mug of chai. I was still wearing my rather cool Kemi Telford skirt and cosy Witchery sweater from this morning’s client meeting. I thought I’d take a break from my work and enjoy a cup of tea. But then I thought “you’ve got such a nice outfit on, and this is such a pretty mug, and the light is nice, why don’t you take one of those ‘hands round the mug from above’ shots for Instagram?”

As I manipulated myself into place, I swear I could laughter from somewhere.

I read somewhere that the way all the influencers take these shots is by holding the phone in their mouths.

So there I was, outside, freezing, barefoot, with a blistering hot mug in my hands (turns out the handle is there for a reason!) and a phone in my mouth.

I could barely hold the mug, and I ended up with some kind of sore on my mouth, trying to keep the phone steady so I wouldn’t drop it and have it shatter on the concrete. The only photos I succeeded in taking were of inside my own mouth.

The phrase WTF? seemed designed for that very moment.

But all of a sudden, I saw myself.

And all I knew was I didn’t want to be this person.

And now, writing this, I feel released from something.

Every time I get drawn back into that world, of followers and likes and making everything look like a magazine and having an editorial calendar for your own bloody life, I will remember this moment.

There is so much I want to do with my life and none of it, none, involves burning my hands and hurting my mouth for a picture that won’t even legally belong to me any more once I upload it to that devilish platform.

But I also know I can’t be the only person out there who, on a day when they’re feeling a bit left out or vulnerable, sees everyone else’s shiny grids and perfectly-taken photos and feels a bit wistful….and then really, really lonely, like the uncool kid at school (which I was, so it’s a familiar feeling to me) looking at a world which, for some reason, you just aren’t part of. And every time you try to be a part of it, you end up falling flat on your face.

If you feel like that too, hi! I see you. Isn’t it hard pretending not to care when actually, deep down, you do care, even if it’s just a little bit? Isn’t it hard feeling the pull to fit in, because it’s so damn seductive?

But as Brene Brown has said, fitting in is not the same as belonging.

And I don’t want to fit in. Not really.

I try my best to be a bright, shiny, only-showing-my-good-side to the world woman, but actually….I’m pretty messy. Inside and out. My hair never behaves. My nails always break. My lipstick always ends up on my teeth. Whenever I wear white, I spill something on it. Every. Damn. Time. First world problems keep me awake at night. Some days I feel like everything is coming together and feel aligned with my purpose and calling, and other days I feel like I’ve accidentally burned all the bridges I’m trying to build.

I think being back home has reminded me of the pain of all those dark, lost years of my early adulthood, where I pretended that everything was fine and I had it all together but nothing could have been further from the truth. And sometimes I fall back into that trap. It’s hard to be real and honest and vulnerable when you’ve been hurt, both online and off. It’s hard to be yourself around people who don’t always appreciate or acknowledge how much you’ve changed, and therefore don’t always respond in the way you need or hope. But that’s another part of this revelation - I can only be me. I can only control my own actions. I can only be true to myself. I can be brave and put myself out there and know that I don’t need other people to behave or react in a certain way for me to feel safe or understood or seen or whatever. It’s hard, but it’s so freeing. The armour of perfection is too heavy.

So, no more phones in the mouth. It’s not for me. Only one-handed mug shots on my Instagram feed from now on. If at all. No more filters. Imperfection all the way. I’m going to do my best not to be afraid to show it.

PS: It took me sleeping on it to get the courage to hit publish on this post - but if life has taught me one lesson repeatedly, it’s the posts I’m most afraid to hit publish on that are probably the ones that need to be released. So here you are. Thank you for reading and listening to me :)

super moist apple cake

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There is nothing like the smell of a cake baking in the oven to make you feel cosy, snug and homely. Over Easter I had some apples from my aunt’s tree to use up and this recipe made great use of them. I am not a fan of cake recipes that are too complicated or require too many bowls - one-bowl cake recipes are definitely more my thing. I get a bit grumpy having to mix dry and wet ingredients separately, and I very rarely make anything that requires you to separate and whisk egg yolks and whites separately either. Gah! Too much work. Just give me cake.

Hope you enjoy this one!

Super moist apple cake

Based on this recipe

150g butter, melted
420g stewed apple
1/2 cup brown sugar (or a different kind of sugar or sweetener, depending on your tastes/preferences)
2 eggs
2 cups self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom or nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 160 C (fan-forced). Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.

Nice and easy - place all ingredients in a bowl and mix together until combined and no lumps of flour or brown sugar remain, taking care not to over-mix. Place in the oven for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the tin before slicing and serving. It keeps well and can also be frozen in individual slices.

I like to serve it with a dollop of Greek yoghurt and, if they’re in season, slices of fresh fig.