During FRINGE WORLD earlier this year, we were treated to many delightful stimulants for the senses, a particularly memorable one being Ships in the Grr. Presented across two separate evenings in the cosy surrounds of SJ Finch’s yurt inside The Blue Room Theatre’s Kaos Room, writers and musicians regaled us with their stories and songs. Audience members were asked to write a letter to a stranger in the crowd, which in some cases revealed much about the person writing the letter…
Ships in the Night’s next gig boasts a stellar line-up of talented locals and will be held, for the first time, at Paper Mountain. I caught up with a couple of the performers in the lead-up to next Thursday’s event: author, editor and occasional reviewer Laurie Steed (who has been broadcast as far as BBC Radio 4 and published in Best Australian Stories, The Age, Westerly, and more) and Axel Carrington, guitarist in local outfits Rag n’ Bone & Hip Priest, crafter of lyrics and dabbler in music criticism.
Who or what would you say is your main influence in making work?
Axel: Any number and combination of the following: events in my life, events in other people’s lives, responses to other artists and works of art – I guess there is an undying need to just do something and the something is writing.
Laurie: I’ve always written to better connect with the world around me. When talking face-to-face with people, there seems to be all manner of codes and facades that govern social interaction. Sometimes these keep people at bay, and at other times, they let you in, depending on what is being discussed and why.
Writing, by contrast, seems strangely confessional, and, by its very nature, can often circumvent such facades. My hope is that in writing I can find a truth or series of truths that help better explain the nature of intimacy and interaction.
How do you approach your writing?
Laurie: That’s changed a great deal since finishing my PhD. Before then, I would write from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. These days I write when I can, as we have a young boy, Oscar, who’s now two and a half years old. Yesterday, for example, I came back from a one day writing retreat, which consisted of me writing for eight hours, sleeping for six, and then writing for another eight hours, with one hour travel on either side. It seems it’s never been harder for me to find time to write at present, or as important.
Axel: I try to vary it because I think that results in being excited about working time and time again, but one method I always return to is basically the ‘chip-away’ – have some seemingly disconnected pieces and try to squish them together, then edit then until they resemble a beautiful swan, or, an ugly swan. Having a schedule is also paramount, imo.
What themes keep coming back time and again?
Laurie: An ex-girlfriend once said that every story I write is about loss. I think they’re equally about discovery, or at least, some are. They often seem to chart the falling away of facades, and the embrace of complexity, however difficult, or uncomfortable that complexity may be. Given the very nature of families, that’s often where I start. I find a family photo and work backwards.
Axel: Identity, being a twenty-something middle class Australian, history, prejudice, racism, all that fun stuff. I guess when writing music criticism I don’t have an overarching theme except trying to evaluate the music on its own terms – basically critical hell.
Laurie, you’ve presented a bunch of writing workshops on different topics. I’m sure you’ve inspired people yourself, but what gems of advice have you been offered along the way that have inspired you?
Laurie: My old teacher ZZ Packer used to say that “if you can’t see it, smell it, touch it, hear it, and taste it then it doesn’t exist.” Another former teacher of mine, short story writer Sean Ennis, introduced me to The Third Option, a way in which to deviate from traditional story arcs while still honouring the nature of storytelling. They’re both fricking genii, I think, which would also explain the quality of their prose.
What do you get up to when you’re not writing? Do you have, dare I say it, a day job?
Axel: Dare I say it, I do! I work as a Community Support Officer assisting people with disabilities improve their quality of life by undertaking programs that they design and are beneficial one way or another. On reflection, working in this position the past two years has really influenced my work. Otherwise, I sit.
Laurie: I work as Project Manager for Margaret River Press, an independent publisher that’s housed in the recently opened Centre for Stories. When working, I read and acquire manuscripts, coordinate online activities and manage the Press website, and more recently I’ve been helping to coordinate The Australian Short Story Festival, which will take place in October 2016.
As mentioned, I also have a dear boy, Oscar. He makes my life, and sometimes gives me a headache.
Axel, you’re also a member of bands Rag n’ Bone and Hip Priest. How does your music-making process differ from your writing process?
Axel: They kinda work the same, especially because most of my written output that’s not criticism eventually becomes a Rag n’ Bone song, which is, the process of weeding out.
What can people expect to hear from you at Ships in the Night?
Laurie: I’m still working on my novel in stories, You Belong Here. A key thread of that is flawed sensitivity, and particularly the way that siblings fight to survive in a dysfunctional dynamic. That sounds heavier than it is; in reality, there’s also a lot of humour in my book. In life and in writing, I’ve often found that humour if far more effective than melodrama when it comes to cutting to the chase.
Axel: The terrified gasps of somebody ill-prepared for the task ahead of him. Also, Shit Narnia praise – sorry Hughie [Hugh Manning, Shit Narnia frontman, will also be reading at Ships in the Night #13].
Laurie, you’ve been working on your novel You Belong Here for five years now. Why do you keep working on it?
Laurie: The answer is because it’s not finished. Because, in starting a project, one makes the call to see it through.
Do you have any pet hates you can’t seem to let go of?
Axel: How difficult it is to find decent ring modulators.
Laurie: People who take the piss when parking their cars. People who stop mid walk to look into a shop, on that same spot. Cynical pop music.
Just what is there to get excited about in Perth, in your opinion?
Laurie: What isn’t there to get excited about? You Belong Here is set in Perth; a lot of time it feels as though I’m writing about a different city to the one in which I now live. Growing up, I wrote alone a lot, and often felt as though I was on a losing team. In terms of my social life, that was very much governed by how much I wanted to drink. These days, Perth feels far more cultured. Yes, it still has its rough pockets but one only needs to walk down William, or visit a street festival to see how far we’ve come as a city.
Axel: Besides the rising surge of smashed avo, Perth is a literal hot bed of creativity, of like minds exploring and sharing together – to feel like a member of this artistic community is to achieve transcendence. Also, Feral Brewery.
What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2016?
Axel: Well, Raggers have our first album at the gates, Hip Priest have exciting and stupid plans for our second and really just ‘being’ – and of course, my first (and perhaps only) reading!
Laurie: That’s a tough question. I had my ankle broken in two places late last year, so I’m looking forward to being able to use it again, after eight weeks in a moon boot. I’m looking forward to the release of the Margaret River Short Story Competition anthology Shibboleth and other stories, which I was lucky enough to edit this year, and which comes out in August. If I finish You Belong Here then I may well stage an impromptu Toto concert, just to hear them sing ‘Hold The Line’ one last time. Other than that, I’m grateful for the chance to be part of Ships in the Night, and to watch the city grow.
Ships in the Night is a quarterly gig showcasing Perth’s finest local wordsmiths, who bring their words to life on stage alongside talented musicians in a fresh, intimate context.
On Thursday 19 May, Laurie Steed and Axel Carrington will be joined by Tristan Fidler, Elizabeth Lewis, Ciocia Ola and Hugh Manning, with musical interludes by Golden String and New Nausea. Alyce Wilson will captain the ship, acting as host.