Tag Archives: virtual coffee

Coffee with a Leprechaun.

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Hi all,

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.

 

 

 

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Wandering off piste but I’ve still got time for coffee or schnapps or both!

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PaulienPiazzaNovonaRomaPauleins workPauleins work2
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Hi all
I’m wandering off piste so to speak because Paulien isn’t a writer – she’s a very talented illustrator (among other things). You may recall in June Perkins’ interview I introduced you to some of Paulien’s work. She is illustrating one of June’s books – the black and white illustration above. Paulien and June are dear friends and I first met Paulien at a Book Creators Circle meeting (www.bookcreatorscircle.com.au), where she talked about her work. We were very fortunate to meet her as she lives in the Netherlands and was on holiday in Cairns at the time.

Paulien was very keen to join me in a virtual coffee interview so here we are.

She had this to say, “I like my coffee black, hot and sweet, espresso or long black, never with milk!”

I’m sure she’ll have it with Schnapps though. It’s been stinking hot in Europe so I scoured the internet to discover the best place to ski and we’re actually in Queenstown, New Zealand – where else? Paulien can cool down. I’m not anticipating a great deal of skiing will occur as it’s very hard to talk, drink coffee, schnapps and hold onto those pole things. Then there’s the business of staying upright on skis and wearing all those clothes.

Sooooo to cut a long story short we are pretending to ski and have found our way into a wonderful little coffee shop to do the après ski thing and I am very confident about my ability to see it through. Paulien nods her approval – she can’t speak at the moment because the schnapps has gone up her nose and her eyes are watering.

Paulien eventually signals her ability to speak and I ask about her latest project.

“I am working on a very ad hoc basis, since Multiple Sclerosis sometimes gets in the way of my daily routine. I had been working in advertising since the early 1990’s – which was little young me in a macho world of mad men with an overdose of testosterone, inferiority complexes muddled into superiority complexes. It was then and there that I vowed I would never let myself be pushed into being scared of anyone and anything. Never! But the MS made that impossible, too many deadlines and too much stress, so I am on a disability pension now.”

We’ve moved onto the coffee and apple strudel now Paulien continues.

“I was having MS relapses four or five times a year, with periods of being into hospital. This was wreaking havoc on my body. So it was considered best that I stop working. Maybe it was good for the old body, but not so for the mind. I was getting bored silly, doing nothing, sitting around…”

Paulien hasn’t let the problems of managing chronic disease like Multiple Sclerosis get in the way she just looked at how should could make her life different, less stressful and still be productive, creative and feel good about herself.

“It was then I decided I would go to the art shop, buy myself some paints, brushes and really nice paper.” She smiles and says, “Never be cheap on your materials! I started with watercolour, which was a great choice. I think I have grown rather well into it, and will be a learning experience for a lifetime. Watercolour will always surprise the artist, which is one of the attractions of the medium. I don’t have the patience to do oils but I’d love to be the next Van Gogh.”

 Paulien’s face lights up as she smiles.

“I can forget about the world when I do watercolours. Time flies and for me, it’s true ‘Zen Meditation’ – I can get lost for hours or days even. I also like to sketch. I am so fortunate that I can draw what I see; perspective and dimensions came naturally to me, without being educated. Art school of course did the polishing of the raw edges, but I think I am blessed to have such a talent. But watercolour and all the mystifying qualities are mesmerizing and I keep coming back to them.”

 The coffee schnapps and apple strudel all went down so easily we decide to move onto round two. This après ski stuff is much more fun than skiing! Paulien is one feisty woman. I ask her about recent successes.

“Ever since I was declared ‘disabled’ – I still hate the word – I have been trying to find things to keep me busy. However I was thankful to meet people who were disgusted with the easy manner in which society deals with those of us who are who are ‘blemished’ in some way. The upshot of one meeting was to be invited to illustrate a book for publication. I ended up making the whole thing, page layout and all, and it was my personal victory that it worked well. Years of experience as a graphic designer in the advertising world made me an expert in the work and it was a very nice book that came out at the end.”

Check out the illustrations and book ‘Tien’ on Paulien’s website www.colourproof.nl

 We’re both very relaxed now.

“So, now that I was being more confident I started doing the odd design jobs for friends and various people who cared for me, to do their design work. It was totally enjoyable, and every one knew my situation, and understood that I might need a little extra time because I wasn’t always up to working when my energy levels dropped or when I had to go to hospital. I don’t ignore the fact that I have MS, but I tend not to let it rule my daily life, I like to do whatever I still am capable of and make the very most of it … after all, life is worth living, and quite nice most of the time! Celebrate every day like it could be your last and it will never make for regrets…”

You’ll have realised by now Paulien does not let her illness get in the way of her plans and ambitions. She goes on to tell me of a wonderful serendipity.

“In 2011 I bumped into an old friend who had moved abroad to get into business with a marketing tycoon. She came back to the Netherlands, very successful but cheated out of the business scheme and had to start all over again. I told her she could make use of my design skills when needed; I’d be helping her to get back to her feet in the marketing business. It was the best thing – we turned out to be a golden duo! And together we have been making some really successful communication and design plans. We have some plans for the future, but we need to wait for the economy to make a kick start in Europe!”

Watch this space!

“Of course I had been doing some illustrating work with my college childhood friend June, from the time I had been living in Australia, which was lovely – it was such a nice constant in my life.”

 I ask Paulien about her best moments as an artist?

“I think I have had many great moments in my life as a designer/illustrator/artist… There have been many highlights, but I cannot really pick one. In the Netherlands there is no such thing as an award culture; actually, it is rather frowned upon. It seems like the Dutch think it is not wise to say that you might be better than someone else.  Which I think is sad, because having been part of the Australian culture for a while I think it fine to have people excel in things and praise them for it.”

I’ll digress for a moment. A point to ponder. Why would anyone want to ski when you can sit in a cosy cafe with an inspirational woman like Paulien, drinking coffee and schnapps, and eating apple strudel ’til it comes out of your ears!  Just a thought.

“By the way,” sighs Paulien, “I miss Australia to bits, but I am also a very European girl, and the simple fact that I know I can get into my car and be in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, by nightfall is just so very appealing… all the culture and history around me is so very stimulating! I have become a strange mixture of Australia and Europe and really miss one or the other when I am visiting any place, either in Europe or Australia … I am both and yet I am neither.”

Now for the biggy – what have been your worst moments?

“I don’t think I have had so many worst moments as an artist/illustrator. I always find things to do, I am such a creative soul, and unfortunately my days are often too short to do all the things I want to do in them.”

I think that is something we all feel.

“I had to give up clay modelling and sculpting because that is physically too hard but I can still draw and paint and even make some jewellery if I feel the urge. Once I thought my worst moment was when I was declared disabled, and I couldn’t work any more, but then I discovered a whole new world out there and I have been starting some fantastic projects, with June Perkins, and Matilda Elliott, Eleanor Bennet and Wendy MacKenzie and Dianne Baines through Book Creators Circle. I am proud of some book covers – Ever Essence from David Hollands Curran, and Temptress reclined at rest for Letizia De Rosa and the newest: Pursuit, by Jim Murdoch.”

“I probably don’t need to ask but why do you do what you do?”

“I need to create; it is in my blood…. I feel the urge to do so, even if there is no one to make it for; I make it because it is in my head and needs to come out, it can be triggered by a word or a smell or something I see around me in town, or in my house, or on the TV. It has to come out, it has to grow, it has to be born. I often ‘make’, create something in my head, and then it sits there until I find the time to come out. It feels like some kind of pressure that builds up and might explode, and I carry a notebook to make notes and sketches as to release the pressure. I need to create to be…. to breathe, to feel alive.”

Not so different from a writer – it’s simply the urge to get something down on paper. The first step in turning an idea into a piece of artwork whether it’s a book, a painting, a sculpture, a film – the process is the same.

Paulien has some final details she wishes to share.

“Here’s my website and some other online destinations which might interest you.”

 Website www.colourproof.nl

Pursuit: https://www.createspace.com/4129884?ref=1147694&utm_id=6026

Ever essence: http://everessenceworld.com/

 And, if you contact me on Facebook, there are some albums I can share: ‘practicing’, ‘thoughts on ms’ (illustrations), and ‘illustrations 2009’ (exhibit of photo collages).

 Maybe you’d like to take your magic carpet to the city of Groningen; here’s the wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groningen

Scotch on the rocks – no sorry make mine coffee on the rock!

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Hi all,

Surprise, surprise! I managed to find the time to do another quick trip. When I asked Ann Harth if she’d like to join my Virtual Coffee interview group she said she’d like to go back to The Rocks in Sydney – she’d recently enjoyed a relaxing holiday there and was keen to recapture the holiday vibe. I’ll honour her request for Anzac biscuits but I’m taking her to one of those places on the planet where the hugeness and grandeur simply takes your breath away.

It’s approaching sunset and we’ve set up our picnic. I decided to utilise the magic carpet again. It was so much fun pulling up at Ann’s front door, collecting her then whizzing off to the Red Centre. Yes – we’ve parked the carpet about one kilometre west of Uluru – close enough to feel the majesty of this marvellous rock yet far enough away to appreciate the effect of the sunset. The sun will set behind us.

In my picnic basket I have a flask of coffee, home made Anzac biscuits, milk and sugar along with other delectable naughties; goats cheese, smoked salmon, crusty bread, butter, olives … you get the picture I’m sure.

We’ve probably just got time to get through the interview before the sun sets. Then it will go very quiet here for a few moments as we’re rendered speechless by the spectacle of the rock changing hues in the fading light.

Ann’s comfortable now and I ask her what she’s currently working on. “I have a few things going at the moment. The freelance writing, editing and teaching that pays the bills is always in the picture but I am also working on my first adult novel. It follows my career with some consistency as I tended to write picture books when my kids were tiny and then targeted their ages with my writing as they grew. My youngest just left home for uni this week so it’s time for an adult novel. This one is the story of a woman who believes she has lost everything. The book takes her on a journey of self-discovery in which she finds untapped sources of courage, strength and independence. Then it’ll be back to kids, I think. I’m also working on a couple of assessments for children’s books and writing a few for the education market.”

I’d say busy but focussed.

Ann is very happy to tell me about her most recent success, “My most recent success was the release of my middle grade novel, The Art of Magic. This one was inspired by a trip to Hobart and didn’t take long to write. However it took years to edit. It won a couple of awards as a manuscript and although it wasn’t picked up by a publisher at that point, the feedback I received from the editors was invaluable and, I believe, contributed to its acceptance by a US publisher in the middle of last year.” Ann agrees with me that perseverance pays. Editing can be laborious but saying goodbye to some of your favourite paragraphs can transform the manuscript. Sometimes it’s hard to let go but editors see things in a piece of writing we just don’t see ourselves. 

Excuse me while I pour more coffee – the temperature is dropping. Ann says her best moments as a writer haven’t come from acceptances or publication – which is the usual response to this question. I ask her to explain. “My best moments usually come when I first get an idea. I can feel my heart start pumping and I cannot rest until I’ve written down the idea and scribbled the basics of an outline down. This is an immediate thrill, but if I go back to this idea in a few days and it still makes my heart race, I know I’m onto something.”

In contrast Ann says her worst moments are the rejections, she laughs, “My skin did thicken and become calloused after a while. I think the most difficult rejections come when I am completely confident in my work. I am humming when I drop my manuscript into the box and wait for that phone call, completely content to wait for the celebratory glass of champagne until I receive proof that I am brilliant.  When I receive the letter that says thanks but no thanks, the confidence quivers and deflates. Interestingly though, one acceptance can get you through a dozen rejections.”

Ann is very succinct in her advice to aspiring writers, “Read, write and rest.” I ask her to expand. “Read in the genre that interests you but also in others. Read with the eyes of a writer. Try to see what works and what doesn’t and apply these observations to your own work. Write daily whether you are inspired or not. If you sit down to write and nothing comes, free write. If it comes into your mind, get it down on paper. No one ever has to see this but it’s amazing how it greases the wheels and gets you rolling. Once you’ve finished a piece and it’s the best it can be, walk away. Let it rest for as long as possible. When you read it again, you will see it with a more objective eye and find changes and tweaks that will polish that piece until it shines.”

Sound advice.

We have to pause now the sky is purpling above Uluru – the first stars appear. We sit gobsmacked as this magnificent rock transforms, becoming more red by the second. We turn to watch the sunset. I know I said I’d go quiet at this point but I must describe this sunset. The orange glow on the horizon brushes the edges of the darkening grey clouds to a deep coral pink. Oh my! – time for that Scotch on the rocks and yes I’ve brought ice.

Ann says she’s glad I ignored her request to go back to Sydney, and her response to my question, “Why do you write?” is simple. “I have no choice.”

I’ve had a fabulous time tonight – I hope you’ve enjoyed the interview and if you would like to know more about Ann check out her website at http://www.annharth.com