I am a Camera is my longest-running zine series. I made the first issue in 1999, and here all the way 17 years later is issue 18. Like most I am a Cameras it is a collection of stories from my life, in which I drive, walk, swim and catch buses through the weird, weird world.
I’ll be debuting this zine at the Other Worlds zine fair in Marrickville Town Hall on Saturday 21st May – also Simon and I have contributed a comic about Elizabethan swindlers to the Other Worlds poster zine, a tabloid newspaper of posters by zinemakers and artists affiliated with Other Worlds. You can buy these at the fair, or through the Other Worlds Pozible.
I look forward to seeing some of you at Other Worlds!
Twenty years ago I sat down at my desk and started to make a zine. I’d been reading zines for years – music zines like Lemon, personal zines like Ms.45, the big American zines like Thrift Score and Murder Can Be Fun – but hadn’t up to this point felt brave enough to make one of my own. What would I write about? I was a teenager in the Sydney suburbs, with no particular claim to the underground world I so wished to be a part of beyond being an obsessive music fan. My whole life up to this point had been characterised by shyness and feeling as if I was on one side of a fence and the world and everyone and everywhere else was on the other.
Why did I make a zine in February 1996? I don’t remember what particularly inspired me to do it, so perhaps it was a spur of the moment decision. Maybe I realised that channelling my errant thoughts into a vessel would be a way of tethering me to the here-and-now, a place I had a fairly absent relationship with as a teenager. So I sat at my desk, a cumbersome flatpack contraption from Freedom Furniture, and wrote about some of these things:
To find the zine now I drag out the heavy suitcase that has all of my old zine master copies in it and dig right to the bottom of it, though years of the zines that were to follow, I am a Camera, Laughter and the Sound of Teacups. The 1996 version of me would be surprised that I was still making zines 20 years later, and no doubt similarly surprised that her spur of the moment decision to write a zine would be one of the most defining decisions of her life, leading to a life of writing and making. Psychobabble #1 is of course acutely embarrassing for me to read, as anything you do as a teenager becomes soon afterwards. With so many years of distance it rather seems like it was written by someone else, though I suppose the me that had a fascination for religious pamphlets, B-grade movies and wondered if tearing sticky tape with your teeth ruins them is still in there somewhere.
Over the last 20 years I’ve lost count of the zines I’ve made (150 maybe?) and all the people I’ve written to and become friends with through making zines, but it has all been a great joy. Thank you for following me some or all of the way, dear readers.
I recently gave a lecture to writing students at the University of Sydney for a subject called “Writers at Work”, and one of the students asked me what my “rules” for writing were, based on the Guardian’s Ten Rules for Writing Fiction, a compilation of writers’ personal tips . I love reading these kinds of lists, and find them eminently useful for thinking about my own writing. Here are my rules, to compare and contrast, to take on or not, and to consider.
1. Write often, every day if you can, or at least every other day, even if it is only for ten minutes. In this time, put all else aside.
2. Spend time doing nothing else but thinking.
3. Write things that no one will ever read, as here you will find the freedom to discover what you really want to say.
4. Be curious – the essential quality for a writer above all others.
5. Make a habit of noticing and remembering the details of everything around you. This ensures you will never be bored but also trains you into the heightened awareness you will need.
6. Learn the names of birds, trees and fabrics.
7. Make lists of ideas for stories – I have some ideas I’ve been carrying around for years and I know some I never will write, although I can’t know that for sure. These ideas are like the furniture in a familiar room.
8. It’s okay to write badly as bad writing can always be transformed, although the transforming part is something that can take considerable time and effort.
9. Write letters. Not only is it magic to receive letters, it is an important craft for writers. Letters are all voice, that elusive quality that it can be so hard to develop.
10. (After Walter Benjamin – whose Writers Technique in Thirteen Theses is my favourite ever list of rules for writers) Have in plentiful supply of the pens, notebooks and teacups you will need, and choose the ones of these that give you the most pleasure. I like a vintage exercise book and a black biro. With these as my companions, I am never lost.
On November 19th I’ll be at the NSW Writers Centre talking about one of my favourite topics – Weird Sydney – with some of my favourite writers: Peter Doyle, Chris Mikul, and Michael Wayne. It’s the final event in the “Talking Writing” series for 2015 and is from 6:30-8pm at Garry Owen House, Callan Park, Rozelle. Details and bookings through the NSW Writers Centre.
A few weeks later I will be appearing at the Wollongong Writers Festival on the panel Creative Dialogues: From Blogs to Geo-Politics: the non-fiction of place, talking about some of my psychogeographic experiments on my blog Mirror Sydney.
I have an artwork in Groundwork, an exhibition and series of public programs organised by the New Landscapes Institute. The exhibition brings together the forgotten and unknown history of the city with new experimental art and architecture: my work in the exhibition is a map of Sydney Mystery Structures.
The opening is on Thursday October 1st, 6-8pm at Gaffa Gallery. I’m also leading a couple of tours: there are still a few tickets available for a walk alongside the Annandale Aqueducts on October 11th.
I’m a restrained op shopper compared to the Vanessa Berry of the past. To ensure I am able to move around my home and don’t get trapped under piles of teatowels, vintage ceramics, crockery and weird books I have strict rules for op shop viewing and purchasing. Rather than completely deprive myself of my most favourite hobby (leading to dangerous binges) however, I make a once-weekly op shop stop on the way to work.
Recently, on one of these stops, I found the world’s ugliest teapot.
I spend my days advising students to be careful when making bold, general claims. However I believe this teapot is in fact the world’s ugliest, with its perplexing aesthetic combination of onions and haemorrhoids. Upon Googling “world’s ugliest teapot” a number of other candidates arose, but while the toilet teapot, the Adolf Hitler teapot and the obese rhinocerous teapot are all hideous, I believe there is something in the form of this teapot that works subconsciously upon the human mind to produce revulsion.
I bought the teapot, but not straight away. First I was so horrified I left it on the shelf. I then spent all morning thinking about it. What was wrong with me: I’d left the world’s ugliest teapot on the shelf! I consulted with Simon, who assured me it would be a “conversation piece”, and then skulked out at lunchtime, returned to the shop, and bought it.
“Isn’t this cute?” the woman at the counter said.
“I don’t know – is it?” I asked, bemused, as I handed over my $8.
As an interesting co-discovery I now have a new travel goal, to visit the Meitan Tea Museum in China which is housed in the world’s largest teapot, 73.8 metres tall and with a capacity of 28,360.23 cubic metres. We can only be thankful it is of a conventional shape and not modelled on my newest op shop acquisition.