It’s been rather a long time between posts, but the taxes and other horrible “stuff of life” things are behind me. This will be my last Virtual Coffee interview because I’m moving on to Virtual Business lunches. Not all writers write within the creative realm – in Cairns alone there are many writers who utilise the written word in graphic design, web content, promotional leaflets, etc. Heck putting together a restaurant menu requires well chosen words to tempt the palate. So, in thinking of making the transition from Coffee to Lunch I had to put my grey matter to work. Which local wordsmith would help me make the move?
I’m delighted to bring to you my Virtual Coffee interview with Cairns’ own leprechaun – Denise Carter. I know leprechauns are typically naughty little men who run around Ireland causing havoc, but Denise Carter is Irish and has been known to cause havoc! So I use a little artistic licence?
Doesn’t she look gorgeous in this photograph?
In keeping with the theme of this blog I asked Denise to meet me at the bottom of the rainbow. The invite stated – Next time you see a rainbow in Freshwater Valley make your way out. So, the opportunity presented and we found ourselves standing beside a pot of gold, I brought take-away coffees with the lids firmly fixed because rainbow rides can be very bumpy.
We dug a well in the centre of the gold coins – big enough for two bodies; climbed in, shouted the magic word (only Denise and I knew that), and set off. We rose slowly above the cane fields, getting a little damp from the soft rain but the view was stunning. I had to make sure I didn’t run out of rainbow before the end of the interview.
I asked Denise what she’s working on.
“Currently, with my journalism hat on, I’m working on stories for Hit (our entertainment section) and the arts pages, and for Cairns Eye magazine. My most recent work is on Tim Ellis, an artist who worked in the film industry in the UK for twenty years, before hightailing it to far north Queensland to Port Douglas. In the past year he has turned his passion to painting and has his first exhibition at Cairns Regional Gallery which opens on 14th September 2013. I’m also writing a feature on ex-Cairns fashion student Mia Zielinski, who works cross media, using film and theatre as a platform for her fashion designs. It’s great working on stories on the arts end of the spectrum as I get to meet such interesting and inspirational people all the time.”
“I am happily procrastinating writing two book manuscripts; one, a YA novel about a contemporary Nancy Drew – type investigating a murder and the second one is about a girl, who waits, a lot.”
I laughed because Denise has such a delightful way of delivering her “funnies”. She continued without pausing for breath.
“I am also procrastinating my second semester of English honours at James Cook University – I have deferred the semester – but I am researching for my thesis, which basically means I’m just reading about writing, because it’s going to be something about reading and how it leads to writing, or authors and how they write about other authors – I think I am driving my supervisor to drink – and I might join him.”
I then asked Denise what recent successes she had enjoyed.
She smiles that enigmatic smile and went on to say,
“A couple of years ago I was nominated as a finalist for the Romance Writer’s media award for a feature I wrote on romance author Barbara Hannay. It was a big surprise and a thrill to get the nomination. I didn’t win but had such a fun night in Melbourne at the awards with the romance writers, who really are such nice people. It was also great to be there at Helene Young’s table when she took out the Ruby Award along with Barbara Hannay. Then…” Denise pauses to gather her thoughts on yet more successes.
“In 2010 I was a finalist in the Queensland Media awards for my very cheerful feature on global climate change called, Mankind’s Last Chance. It was a very important feature to me because I felt very passionate about the issue, and had the chance to interview scientists from all over the world, and learn the truth – which wasn’t very pleasant, and yes, a tad inconvenient. But the Tableland will do well, so we can always climb a mountain.”
Denise went on to describe her best moments as a writer.
“I’ve had great moments as a writer if you count everything as being a writer from songwriting to journalism and beyond. ” (Which I do). “When I was eighteen, I came third in a national songwriting competition in Ireland, which was a great thrill; mixing with the people I knew only from the radio and TV and being named as a composer. Not bad.” She squirms a little as she recalls a memory from school. “In school, it was a bit embarrassing to have a teacher read out my composition in class but I do remember writing it and how it had actually scared me while I was writing, so it kind of stuck in my head. It stuck in other people’s heads too because a fellow student used the essay in her leaving exam.” Well they do say it’s the highest form of flattery!
“It was great writing my first theatre reviews for a magazine in Dublin, and even more wonderful when I was finally paid, and attended opening nights of the best shows in town and mix – or at least watch, the famous. It’s always great when you finish any article and you know it’s finished because there’s not a word you want to change and there’s a certain satisfaction in that. Of course, if you read it the next day, you will want to change it but thankfully it’s gone to print and it’s too late.” Denise laughs, “You have to learn to let your babies go.”
By this time we were high in the sky almost at the top of the rainbow – looking out towards the Coral Sea and Green Island on the horizon. The rain slowed but thankfully hung around long enough to prevent a rough landing. Denise had even more best moments to tell me about.
“It was great to find my first job in journalism, and to spend ages on my first news story and then to see it in print. My flatmate at the time had it framed – I think I since used the frame for something more worthwhile; a photo of my mam and dad.”
We move onto worst moments. Denise’s cheerful demeanour is not dented too much – she takes it in her stride.
“The worst moments as a journalist come when the person you are writing about doesn’t like how they have been portrayed. It certainly doesn’t happen often from the arts and feature writing perspective as much as it would happen in news, but it still happens. When it does it’s pretty deflating because you really are trying to be honest and give the best representation possible. Naturally, you’re not trying to hurt someone’s feelings. Mostly it happens because the person has told you things they didn’t mean to but only realise it when they see it in print, and then they can take their frustrations on you. I think sometimes people forget you’re a journalist and they’re being interviewed. Then, sometimes, even though it’s no fault of the journalist an error can creep in through a mismatched headline or during the subbing process, but you can’t take it too much to heart or be too vain about it.” She shrugs her shoulders and says, “You have to swallow your pride and get on with the job.”
Having had such an interesting writing career I wondered what advice Denise would give to an aspiring writer.
“A writer is something you are already, rather than something you do for a living. I was always a writer in the sense that even when I was very young, I kept a journal. On holidays when my friends were reading books I would go and buy a note book so I could write. It has always been an essential part of me. Over time, I have written poems, songs, essays, reviews, news, features, a column, a blog, academic essays and now a thesis (hopefully) and maybe one day I will finish a book manuscript. Writing is a continual learning process, and it can be very fulfilling. I guess the advice there is to take heed of old adages like keep a journal and one day the journal may keep you.
Writing for work and to a deadline can take the fun out of the creative process but you learn to live with deadlines and it makes your writing better, faster and less self conscious. It can even, weirdly, help with creativity. My features editor told me my best features have been written in two hours bashed up against a deadline.”
Maybe the take-away from that is set deadlines for yourself – even if no one else is setting them for you. It brings some discipline.
After finding ourselves somewhere over the rainbow – on the descent, Denise says,
“The flip-side is if you work at writing, the last thing you want to do is to write for fun. It helps me if I change the way I write – from a computer at work to a notepad and pen at night. Writing is personal as much as public, so you choose what you want it to be and to what degree. There are some things I would never give up to the public eye as they are too personal. And nobody can actually stop you writing.”
Finally as the rainbow faded from the sky, Denise told me why she writes.
“I write for a newspaper, so it’s my job, and it’s a privilege because sometimes it doesn’t feel like real work at all. Other times it most certainly does and is very tiring. But it’s better by a long chalk than any other work I’ve done. When I was a PA and bored most of the time, I wrote to amuse myself, little poems here and there, and for self-expression. It comes naturally and it also helps to get all of the madness out of my head. So, I guess I write for all of these reasons; for work, therapy, pleasure, and to try and put my world into some kind of context.”
The rainbow disappeared and so did the gold – I watched one of Cairns’ most delightful and engaging personalities disappear down the road and felt very privileged to have spent time with Denise Carter.