Thursday 8 February 2024

Our last post—on this site

We set up this blog-cum-website more than 15 years ago. Since then technology has changed—as have media and arts environments. Although we’ve decided to stop posting on this site, it will remain available as an archive of 7-ON’s many and varied activities from the early days of the group until the end of 2023.

This blog may be no more, but 7-ON is still very much alive and kicking. And we may at some point get a shiny new 7-ON website. 

Until we do, here’s how to contact individual members of 7-ON:

Donna Abela

Vanessa Bates 

Hilary Bell  

Noëlle Janaczewska 

Verity Laughton

Ned Manning 

Catherine Zimdahl

Saturday 12 August 2023

What we did the first 6 months of 2023

My time has gone on such wild imaginings in this past half year. 

I’ve written the first draft of a large scale, large cast work for Kambala. It’s very visual, cinematic even, and will have a strong sonic component.  It’s been fascinating researching and writing this work. The first draft, though, only just scraped the surface of the world of the play, its characters and communities. 

But I had the pleasure of having the students at the Kambala read through the work. It doesn’t matter how experienced a writer you are it can be both terrifying and thrilling hearing that raw first draft. Thankfully the students dove into this strange vision and afterwards gave astute feedback and hummed with excitement. One of the students turned to me and said “It’s so cool. It’s just so cool”.  High praise indeed! However, there’s a long way to go. I’m searching my constellation of characters for the balance of humour, loss, politics, and wonder. There’s quite another half a play to write with much to be solved. As all writers know some answers defy logic and just feel right. And this of course would be utterly appropriate for my play The Halo Effect.

As usual I’ve been doing a new art series—The Electrical Drawings. It is about the electricity that drives our minds and bodies and the emergence of A.I. I started writing a poem on these themes, but I only got halfway through. I suspect A.I. is going to have to finish the poem! I had the drawings up at Articulate Gallery Art Garage sale. It was good to get a chance to see them together. Here’s a sample

I have been continuing to shepherd along a few different projects, and it’s been good fun working on such a variety of things with such lovely folks.

Alphabetical Sydney: All Aboard!, my musical with composer Greta Gertler Gold, returned to the stage after opening last year at Riverside. It had a short run in Chatswood and has a longer one at the Sydney Opera House in September. Although it’s done and dusted as far as writing’s concerned, there are always tweaks, the need for which become clear with the benefit of multiple performances, not to mention seasons.

Greta and I have been hard at work on our musical adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock. In April I joined she and our director Jo Bonney in New York City for a development, and in July with support from the Hayes Theatre, we did a week’s workshop, ending in an industry showing. We’ll do another of these in NYC in November for producers and investors.

I was in London in June for a two-week workshop of another musical, with the working title The Pavarotti Project. Thrilling to be in the room with 19 extraordinary singer/dancer/actors singing Jacob Collier’s intricate harmonies under Michael Gracey and Simon Gleeson’s direction.

I am currently in rehearsals for Summer of Harold, a trio of playlets at Ensemble Theatre. The company generously provided two script development workshops earlier in the year, a huge boon, meaning the script is truly rehearsal ready. Frankie Savige directs Berynn Schwerdt and Hannah Waterman.

In June I taught a weekend course for Writing NSW, which is always so pleasurable, and with my partner-in-picture-books Antonia Pesenti was a guest at the Scone Literary Festival, where with local schoolkids we created the future bestseller, Alphabetical Scone.

I’ve had my head down the first six months of 2023 with two projects. I finished—well, as much as any script is finished—my new performance essay-cum-monologue, The Past is a Wild Party. It had its first public outing at the end of March when I presented it at the University of Queensland’s temporary drama studio. Three months later, it was one of five finalists for the 2023 Australian Theatre Festival NYC New Play Award. 

My previous performance essay-cum-monologue, The End of Winter (Siren Theatre Company with Critical Stages) completed the first leg of its 2023 regional tour. The second leg begins mid-August. The End of Winter was shortlisted for the 2023 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards (Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting). 

The second project is Culinary Inauthentic and it’s a work for the page. I’m looking to bring a more genre-bending approach to writing about food, culture, and culinary history. I’ve long been interested in matters culinary and I have a food blog. Eat The Table. Check it out. 

Working on Culinary Inauthentic I’ve been listening to Vivaldi’s bassoon concertos. While Vivaldi is not on my list of favourite composers – I’ve been Four Seasoned to death in cafés, malls, and other public spaces—'the backbeat of the bourgeois bustle’ as one music critic puts it – the 39 concertos he wrote for the bassoon are full of spare, surprising moments. I’ve also been listening to Sofia Gubaidulina‘s Concerto for bassoon and low strings and thinking about the persistence and prevalence of Russian elements and threads in my writing. 

I think many are feeling as if we are riding a rollercoaster as we advance towards the predicted convulsions of the Anthopocene. Me, too. It’s hard to focus on things like writing when robber barons stalk the earth and in so many places it feels like Orcs Ascendant. Still. We are here now, as the saying goes, so this has been my year so far.

I’ve been coming and going a bit from drafts of my adaptation of Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words. We had a workshop in at the STCSA in late July to test what I thought was the final draft. Nope. You finish scripts when you finish them, that is to say I sent the rehearsal draft to my creative peers on the gig, Jess Arthur (director) and Ruth Little (dramaturg) from Aix-en-Provence two weeks ago as I looked wearily out at the summer sunshine from my flu-ridden bed. 

We start rehearsals on 21  August, and will open in Adelaide on 27 September, before transferring to Sydney in October where we’ll open on the 28 October and play through to early December. I’m so looking forward to the process. 

Next cab off the ranks is a South Australian Film Corporation-funded development of a film, Flatlands, on which I’m working with director Matthew Thorne. In smaller notes, this year I’ve published a review of Kath Kenny’s terrific book, Staging a Revolution: When Betty Rocked the Pram in the Australasian Drama Studies Journal; a poem of mine, Home, won the Silver Tree Poetry Prize; and my YA Fantasy novel, Una and the Many Worlds of Dream was shortlisted for the Text YA Unpublished Manuscript Prize.

Life in the Arts is full of surprises, much like life itself. 

I have been on the “book trail” talking to anyone and everyone about Painting the Light. I’ve talked to five people and a dog (mine) at the Yass Bookstore. I’ve talked to thirty plus at the Cowra RSL. I’ve been to the Cairns and Bowral Writers’ Festivals and am off to Mudgee, near Rylstone where we had a farm when I was a kid. Writers’ festivals are a great opportunity to sell books (yes, it’s that crass) and to talk to people. Except at Cairns where they forgot to get in any books and my talk was well received but no bananas when it came to sales. At Bowral I not only sold a few Painting the Lights but also, to my surprise, some Playground Dutys. Who knows what Mudgee will hold, except for some very good wine?

In the Book World (I’m a pro now!) it’s crucial to work out who your market is. When I wrote Painting the Light it never occurred to me that I would be the bookseller, book promoter, book deliverer and general dog’s body. It suits me, specially the last one. My market research (incredibly detailed and thorough) has resulted in me identifying people with rich lived experience as my “market”. They are people whose parents or grandparents had similar experiences to my protagonists. Last Friday I did a talk for u3a (University of the Third Age) at Leichhardt Library. Instead of just talking about myself (soooo tempting) and the process of writing Painting the Light, I have fashioned my talks to encourage my audience to re-discover their own creative skills. To write stories, poems, songs. To paint or potter. To share their wealth of life experience in any form they choose.

I begin these talks by asking: “What was your favourite subject at school? What was your favourite arts subject?” I am now consciously seeking out u3a groups to talk to. 

I did an ASA Online Chat (is that what they’re called?) the other day. It was focussed on indie and self-publishing and how to get your book out there. Social Media is great for this type of thing except that the vast majority of my potential readership have never heard of Insta and many don’t do Facebook or the on the nose Twittersphere. That, then is the challenge, how to reach these people? The other (vaguely) interesting thing about all this is that I now find myself encouraging people at either end of the age spectrum to pursue the arts as a means of self expression. After a lifetime (50 years this year since I first walked into a classroom) of teaching young people, I am now using the skills I’ve accrued to do the same with their elders. 

At the same time, I am directing a production of my play Alice Dreaming with a bunch of Year 8’s and 9’s. 

Monday 7 August 2023

Storytellers 2023

Donna and Noëlle both have readings as part of KXT’s 2023 Storytellers Festival, curated by Joanna Erskine in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre. The festival runs for a week from Monday 14 to Sunday 20 August at KXT Theatre, corner of 181 Broadway & Mountain Street, Ultimo.

Donna’s play, Prevail, has its reading on Monday 14 August at 7:30 pm. Directed by Jane Schneider and performed by Susie Lindeman, Prevail is a deeply moving story about how a mother's love heals the soul of her dead son who was abused by a paedophile priest.

Noëlle’s play, The Devil Girls From Planet M, is a serious comedy about close encounters of an unexpected kind and making sense of your world when you feel like an alien. The reading is directed by Kate Gaul and is on Sunday 20 August at 5:00 pm.

For more info about the festival, and to book tickets, click HERE.

Sunday 12 March 2023


To mark International Women's Day 2023, 7ON donated a handsome stack of our plays and anthologies to the Women's Library at Newtown. A simple initiative to get plays by women onto more bookshelves turned into a Drama Party complete with readings, cake and conversation. Thank you to Margot Oliver and the Library team for hosting a warm and welcoming event, and for enthusiastically intending to use our books to kickstart the Library's collection of Australian plays. 

Saturday 4 February 2023

The last half of 2022—what we did

Edinburgh, November 2022

A quiet second half of 2022, but we have plans afoot for a new project. Stay tuned.

Well, I worked away, as one does. The 2023 production of my adaptation of Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words was finally announced by both the State Theatre Company of South Australia at The Playhouse and the Sydney Theatre Company at the Drama Theatre at Sydney Opera House. It’s being staged from September 2023 (SA) to October/November 2023 (STC) and will be directed by Jessica Arthur. 
I’ve published several poems over the last six months. Six O’Clock, taken from the 7-ON playwrights’ project Long Shadows, was commended in the Thunderbolt Crime Writing (Poetry) Prize. In Which Miranda Returns to Her Island, taken from a suite of poems loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest was a finalist in the Neo-Perennial Press’s Heroine’s Festival and will be published in their anthology (out soon!); Hello and Farewell was published in the autumn edition of signalhouse edition 19; and Kangaroo Island 1819 was published in The Griffith Review #76.
That doesn’t look like much for six months’ hard yakka, does it? Welcome to the writing life. As I said, I worked away. I have three other projects on the boil but can’t talk about them yet!
Much of the past 6 months was taken up with travelling. I counted up 13 different beds I’ve slept in since July!
I started with a visit to the US, the work part of the trip being with composer Greta Gertler Gold (and dramaturg Christie Evangelisto) on Picnic at Hanging Rock, which we’re adapting as a musical. We are thrilled to have attached US/Australian director Jo Bonney to the project.
On return to Sydney I dove into Marrickville Mermaid, a song cycle I’m writing with composer Luke Styles, presented as part of the Inner West’s EDGE Festival at the Annette Kellerman Pool. The team included director Sarah Carradine, producer Jane McDermott, accordionist Luke Sweeting, performer Christa Hughes, lights by Ian Reed, all held together by stage manager Ruth Horsfall. Two weeks later I went to the UK to do further work on it as part of the UK/Australia Season. Luke and I presented it at the Stapleford Granary Arts Centre with singer Jessica Walker and pianist Joe Atkins.
Home again, I have been writing at the State Library of NSW as a Visiting Scholar. I divided my time between working on a first draft of Picnic, a new play for the Ensemble called Summer of Harold, and rehearsing at the Ensemble for A Christmas Carol, which was directed by Damien Ryan and music by Phillip Johnston, with an all-star cast of legends.
In November, illustrator Antonia Pesenti and I welcomed into the world the special 10th anniversary edition of our picture book Alphabetical Sydney, and December started with a week’s writing retreat in Katoomba, thanks to the generosity of WestWords—the last bed of the year.
Painting the Light continues to take me on all sorts of adventures. I have been travelling to country towns giving talks and chatting to people. Being a country boy, I love getting out to the bush (I think the modern term is ‘regions’). I have been to Dubbo, Coonabarabran (my birthplace), Gunnedah (where I was first sent as a teacher in 1973—that’s right 50 years ago), Orange, Yass, and Canberra (it is the ‘bush capital’).
Most of my audiences have been women and men over 50. I have discovered that the book is resonating strongly with a lot of this age group as it reminds them of their parents’ (or grandparents’) experiences. A lot of men have told me that their fathers never spoke of the war and were closed off. Women have recounted stories of their mothers who, like Nell in Painting the Light, were married to men they hardly knew, found themselves pregnant before they knew it and became virtual single mothers to one or more children. Then they had to deal with men who hardly spoke and almost never showed any emotion, except anger.
While this has been fascinating, what I have discovered on these road trips is that there are hundreds of older Australians out there who have stories to tell and poems to write. In Gunnedah, a woman mused that she loved writing poetry when she was younger. This admission came after I had talked about why I wrote my book. She seemed surprised when I suggested she should return to writing poetry. ’I just might,’ she said.
So, my talks have taken on another dimension. One part talking about my book. The other talking about their books, the books they have wondered about writing. Or poems. Or songs. One of my themes has been that everyone who creates art has the right to call themselves an artist. They don’t have to be famous or even any good. Create art and you’re an artist.
The other extremely liberating aspect to all this is the emergence of independent publishers, like mine, and the possibility of self-publishing. We playwrights need someone to do our plays. Writers can publish as they desire. One such case was in Yass where I was on a panel with four women writers. One had written an extremely personal autobiography. She had ten copies published and that was it. She only wanted a small number of people to read it. Of course, trying to compete with the big publishers is impossible. I have discovered that the book industry is more competitive than the NRL. I have found a few bookshops in Sydney and Melbourne who are incredibly supportive of local authors, like me. But, at the end of the day, it is a business. Just look at the promotion of Prince Harry’s Spare.
Gaining visibility (or even a review) is the big challenge. Social Media is good but only goes as far as your contacts. If you’re a celeb with thousands of followers, it might make a big difference. If you’re like me, you have to be wary of driving the few friends you have mad with posts about your book. You pray that they might post reviews or recommendations, but you can only ask so much. Fortunately, I love a challenge.
Towards the end of last year, I went to Kellyville to see a production of my play Alice Dreaming. A cast of 80! It was amazing. They were all having so much fun. Nothing could have given me more pleasure than to see 80 young people bringing Alice to life. Concurrent with this was seeing Sport for Jove run some workshops on Shakespeare that involved Year 8 students at the school I teach at. The workshop culminated in Shakespeare in 10 minutes. Each group doing a potted version with music, contemporary language, lots of ‘fight! fight! fight!’ The sheer joy on the faces of those kids made me think: Why don’t I do Alice with them? To cut a long story short, I am.

It will be Alice's fortieth production and I’m very excited about directing it with a large cast in the school hall. Should be so much fun.
Last six months has been a tad hazy for me. A sort of steamy fog. Part Covid, part menopause, part MS, part general depression and probably part human aging, I suspect. Not great, no. But fingers crossed, I’m moving through all that.
My play The One was on at Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre mid-22 and how wonderful it was to see it fly. I loved everything about this (except when I caught Covid towards the end of rehearsal and had to watch from home on zoom—that sucked). Being postponed and moved around turned out to be a good thing for development, the script was able to breathe and grow. And I, the playwright, had time to consider for instance, among other collaborative influences, Nick Fry’s costumes, say, or Michael Tan’s composition. The system of creativity is thus fed by other creative systems. I was very aware of the way The One was enabled and supported by every creative artist involved. It is both humbling and joyful. It was particularly important for me because the play delved into some of my own lived experience as a young Eurasian woman. As a Filipino-Australian, this sense of having a foot in two worlds, almost a cultural confusion, a liminal identity; it’s something I am still grappling with, in both my creative writing and my research.
In 2022 my play Captain Dalisay was highly commended in the AWG Shane and Cathryn Brennan Award and so added to the prestigious Playwrights’ Pathways site, where some theatre company searching for a groovy family show about a Eurasian sister and brother (hmm sensing a pattern here) who set sail with their mysterious seafaring grandfather and a human sized tarsier (hijinks ensue) will be able to find it with ease! 
And finally, towards the end of last year I won the inaugural Stoddart Playwright Award, huzzah! for my  play Chipper, a story about grief, forgiveness, infidelity and palliative care. A comedy. (Naturally) 
In 2023, along with my writing partner Ross Mueller, we have set up Pelican Nation.  We have some funding for development of a television narrative comedy, Love Chaos Theory and we’re also beavering away on another called Troubled Youth.
Jeez, looking back at that it seems a fair bit after all. Bugger the fog, I guess it’s full steam ahead.

That last six months of 2022 were a mix of prose, performance, travel and culinary research. 

My essay Still Life With Cheese was published in HEAT (Series 3, Number 5). In our digital world there’s something quite special about seeing your words in real-life ink on real-life paper. But you can also read the piece online  at Giramondo (HEAT) or here on Lit Hub.

More culinary themes with my Visiting Research Fellowship at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Research at the National Library of Scotland and the ANL in Canberra. And attending the 17th Australian and New Zealand Herb Conference in Melbourne.
I continued working on my new performance essay cum monologue. Did some research for it at the British Library and elsewhere. And, as often happens with me, during my days of archival truffling at the library I discovered materials—and an idea—for a new work …
Travelling internationally again was exhilarating. I hadn’t been in London for about three-and-a-half years. Lovely to catch up with friends IRL and interesting to note how much and how little had changed since my last visit.  
Bit of an aside—or maybe not?—this question caught my attention: Since when did we begin to think we were all storytellers? From the beginning of time, or the 1980s? That took me to Literary Activism ‘dedicated to ways of thinking about literature and the arts that are different from both the market and academia’ and its recent ‘Against Storytelling’ symposium and some deliciously provocative and dangerous thinking.


Recently I have been researching theories of dreams and I am sad to say some of these ideas are so without wonder and magic they have the distinct taint of Silicon Valley. There’s one particular hypothesis that got my goat—'dreams are simply “noise” as the events of the day are filed away and old memories are jettisoned.’ Sure, it could be absolutely correct but just please don’t call my mythic wonderland little more than the sound of a leaf blower on a Sunday morning.

Of course, why should there be only one theory catchall? There could well be many answers to why we dream. But I just love, like most people, the sensation of a very significant dream. Those dreams, of such intensity, they stay all of our lives in the liminal space of sleep and wakefulness calling when they need to be heard.

I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams as recently I was a visiting artist with Theatre Kantanka on the experiment Dream Shutter

Dream Shutter began at the height of the Covid pandemic a cadre of artists (Carlos Gomes, Katia Molino, Nitin Vengurlekar, Samuel James, My Le Thi, Nick Wishart, Yong Zhi) came together to reflect upon on our dreams. We kept dream diaries consisting of writing, drawing and image-making. Our aim was to grasp the quicksilver elusiveness of our dreams to gather insight into our penumbral realms. As we immersed ourselves into the imagery and symbols of each personal dream this collaborative act begged the question—are these manifestations still dreams or have they become something else?

For me it was a captivating collaboration as we gave our dreams and ideas to each other and to watch this work build without simply being the writer/architect with the locked in floor plan. I called the process the Dream Machine as Carlos and the actors, sound and image creators dived in. They delved into unnerving, hilarious, visually astonishing worlds and it made me think what a world we live in with this shadow life within all of us? I do hope Dream Shutter gets another iteration. It deserves it.

Finally, I’m very busy with two other projects. One a play commission which of course I can’t talk about. I also have a children’s book I’ve picked up again after a long time. This all means I haven’t had time to work on my art projects but I do seem to be able to grab a photographic moment or two of where I am when in the midst of writing…


Sunday 2 October 2022

Golden Joinery - Donna's essay for the Sydney Review of Books

It's no secret that I am a big fan of the creative courage and confidence I witness across Western Sydney, and my latest collaboration with Western Sydney University only further excites me about the calibre of critical thinking, and the quality of engagement with diverse people and perspectives. Last month, I was pleased to contribute to a series of essays and an online panel called Writing Gender # 2 which explored how writing plays a significant role in making visible acts of cultural, physical and gendered violence against women and trans and gender diverse people. My essay titled Golden Joinery is available to read in the Sydney Review of Books

Friday 29 July 2022

What we did the first six months of 2022

Bit of a quiet time on the group front. We're still discussing out next joint project, what it might be and what form it might take. Meanwhile, Sharp Darts is out there in bookshops, in libraries and online. Why not buy a copy and support Australian playwriting? 

Photo by Dylan Nolte

My theatre year kicked off with a joyful little production at the Australian Design Centre, as part of Sydney Festival and co-produced with Griffin Theatre. This was Window, Cricket Bat, performed by Lucia Mastrantone and directed by Jen Rani.

Next came a musical for young audiences, Alphabetical Sydney: All Aboard!, created by myself, Antonia Pesenti and Greta Gertler Gold. Produced by Critical Stages Touring, it opened at Riverside Theatres in April. Like shows all over, it had its Covid casualties (see earlier post) but despite setbacks, the dedication of all involved meant we had a musical for the hundreds of appreciative kindy kids who arrived with lunchboxes and legionnaires’ caps. 

As I write this, Greta and I are in the studio, recording a CELEBRITY VARIETY ALBUM of the songs from the show. So far we’ve recorded Sydney legends Paul Capsis, Justine Clarke and Sheridan Harbridge, with a line-up of fabulous artistes to come.

Greta and I have also been busy with our Picnic at Hanging Rock musical. We have a couple of crackerjack songs and are charting a course for the show’s development over the coming year. 

I’ve been hard at work on the Pavarotti musical (see earlier update), writing a new draft. And I’m gearing up for The Marrickville Mermaid, a song cycle written with composer Luke Styles, which has a showing as part of the Inner West’s Edge Festival in August at—and in!—the Annette Kellerman Pool. A few days later, I head to the UK where we’ll further develop the show as part of the UK/Australia Season, at Stapleford Granary.

Looking forward to teaching a weekend course at Writing NSW, that got bumped by Covid from one date to the next over the past year. I used to teach a lot and have missed it.

I’ve been locked in a research task for much of the last six months—useless to talk about it as there’s an even money chance it will go nowhere. But fascinating! And all in my own South Australian backyard, which becomes more and more important as you age. From having rejected my own background as a younger woman I am finding I am bewitched by the landscape and stories of my home. When that landscape is as breathtaking as the South Australian regions, and the small city on its coast an idiosyncratic encapsulation of Australia’s troubled colonial history, that can be addictive. And perhaps I am looking backwards in part because trying to look forwards is so terrifying. (And because one should not write such a word without offering an antidote, can I quickly mention the work of Australian Buddhist nun, Jayasara for anyone who shares my fears).

Apart from that, I have had one workshop/reading of my adaptation of a contemporary Australian novel that is now scheduled for performance with the STCSA in the latter half of 2023. I have no doubt that the title may be the worst kept secret in Adelaide but I’m keeping mum until the company officially announces its season in September of this year. We have another three-day workshop coming up next week, about which I’m excited and nervous, as one inevitably is. 

I’ve continued to work on the poetry collection scheduled for publication in the UK at some point when all stars align. Also published a poem in the Griffith Review #76: Acts of Reckoning, which is so worth a read quite apart from my offering. 

And, together with yoga and chant teacher Sally Riddell I held a (most successful!) yoga / meditation / storytelling and writing retreat near Blinman in the mid-Flinders Ranges. We have another one planned in September. See Sally’s website for details. We are keeping numbers tight so if you’re interested sign up soon!

So I’m currently in rehearsal for my new play The One. What does this mean for a playwright? Well it’s a new play, a ‘world premiere’ as the leaflet for the play explains, and so, for starters, that means a lot of questions. 

Because of course the developments have been a 2D process, everyone bent over my script, but now actors are UP and deep in the 3D process. There is walking and running and jumping and quite a lot of dancing and a LOT of questions. And cuts. And changes. And new lines born and old lines killed off no matter how funny we found them in the development. There is a classic quote in playwriting teaching where newbie playwrights are advised to ‘kill your babies’. This seems harsh and actually reflecting upon this term I think maybe it was a line I was made to shout when I played King Herod in a Christmas play I was involved in aged about 7 (it was the times) so maybe I wouldn’t use this particular advice in any playwriting workshop I teach now.

But I would say … expect the questions, and in fact welcome the questions. Everyone involved in production brings a unique take to the process, whether via their character, the overall flow of the piece, the costuming and design, the music, the choreography (I told you about the dancing) … everyone is suddenly viewing this world through their own lens and naturally questions arise. So … yes to the paper swan napkins, no to the Air Supply reference and can the tofu be served in a bowl?

And because I live in Newcastle and the play is being produced in Sydney (the Ensemble Theatre) when I can’t be in the room, I’m on the Zoom. (You can say that to yourself like a sort of jolly rhyme). And we sort through the questions and move through the script and the wheel turns. And where the wheel ends is anyone’s guess. But this part, the question part, the 2D into 3D part, is brilliant. It’s completely dance-worthy. And as our old friend Nietzsche is meant to have said: ‘We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.’

The One by Vanessa Bates, directed by Darren Yap. Ensemble Theatre 22 July to 27 August 2022

The year began with Siren Theatre Company’s premier season of The End of Winter at the Griffin. It was a joy to be collaborating again with the Good With Maps team—director Kate Gaul, performer Jane Phegan and composer / sound designer Nate Edmundson. Despite the ever-present coronavirus we got good audiences, great responses, and our single actor did not catch Covid. 

In that classic freelancer’s feast or famine, the week after The End of Winter opened, an audio work, Mrs C Private Detective, went to air on ABC RN’s The History Listen.  

I’m continuing to explore the performance essay form—a hybrid which draws not only on the essay and the monologue, but also on field reports, memoir, spoken word, cultural criticism, reportage and the tradition of the illustrated lecture. Poetic at heart, performative in nature, often funny, often personal, they combine big picture thinking with the immediacy and intimacy of the theatrical monologue. I have a new one in development, The Past is a Wild Party, and in May I made a research trip to the National Library in Canberra to do some research for it. 

What else? Went to Melbourne to take part in an ARC-funded research initiative; went to Adelaide to celebrate my partner’s mother’s ninetieth birthday; read a lot of late Victorian poetry by (queer) female writers; listened to Laura Nyro and Patti LaBelle; continued struggling with ancient Greek. And rejoiced in May when we had a change of government and Scotty from Marketing was finally booted out. Yay! 

The first Act of Painting the Light’s life was the writing. It was variously intimidating, challenging and confronting. There were times when I asked myself: “Can I do this?” I’d never asked that question about anything else I’ve ever written. Maybe I should have. The thing is, I didn’t allow the question to hover. I dismissed it and got on with it.

It turned out to be the best writing experience of my life. I loved writing Painting the Light. I never had to force myself to sit down and write it. It was truly a labour of love. I love the characters and the way they took on a life of their own. There were “scenes” (I’m a playwright, I can’t help it … ) that would take off in directions I had never imagined. I knew the basic plot, spent years working it out, but I was constantly surprised by things that just seemed to pop onto the page by themselves. All I was doing was the typing. 

Act 2 has been quite another matter. Getting the book out there is also intimidating, challenging and confronting. It also requires enormous patience and persistence. I won’t pretend that I love every minute of it. In the world of books, I’m a nobody. My publisher (Broadcast Books) is a small, indie outfit. They have been incredibly supportive. But, I have discovered just what a competitive world this is. There are literally hundreds of books published in any given week. So, getting traction is very difficult. I’ve had to call on long suffering friends to ask for it in bookshops, to post reviews, to tell their friends. I’m sure some of them get heartily sick of me. But … what can a poor boy do? One thing I do know is, if I take the foot off the pedal, nothing will happen.

For a playwright, writing his first novel, it has been an incredible learning curve. If you’re lucky enough to have a play produced, you go to rehearsals and opening night. You pray you get good reviews, you enjoy the season and then it’s over. Six weeks. It may get another guernsey, it may get published, it may become a hit. But it’s all over relatively quickly. 

Put it this way. When (or if) someone buys your novel, it might sit on their bedside table for six weeks. It might get forgotten amongst the prize winners and famous authors’ releases. It might never see the light of day in many bookshops. What I’ve learnt is, you have to be relentless. You have to keep going, trying to get people to (at least) buy it. You become, in fact, your own bookseller. Some aspects of it I quite like. Taking copies out to the Booktopia Warehouse, for instance. I love that. When bookshops take it on, it’s a buzz. When they look down their noses at you, it’s a bit dispiriting. But, as I’m learning, it’s all part of the gig. It’s a long, long haul. You get the odd break, someone interviews you and there’s a spike of interest. Maybe. Maybe not. 

Fortunately, I love Painting the Light and I’ll never tire talking about it and sharing it with readers. I hope you enjoy it too.