TONGUE | from Roomers #62

Here’s a short story from Barry that was originally published in Roomers magazine #62 earlier this year. It’s called “Tongue”.


1978, a birthday party. One of those once in a blue moon family dos where a local hall gets hired, there’s catering, a DJ. The adults end up drunk and misty. Someone overdoes it, creates a spectacle. There’s a fight. No blood’s spilled, but there’s harsh words, someone gets upset, there’s tears and the gin gets blamed. And so on. That kind of a night.

I spent most of it watching Tommy and trying to pretend otherwise. I’d always thought of me and him as the same age, nearly, but since the last time he’d become old enough to drink and smoke and that was ages away for me. He danced a lot towards the end. Swaying, tie loose, long legs. The combination was unbearable.

Then the goodbyes. My eyes stinging from the late hour and the cigarette smoke. Nancy came over for a hug. Dad’s sister, so Aunty I…

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Another spirited meeting of the Elwood Writers this week. Inevitably, domestic and world political affairs loomed over the general discussions again. It seems we’ve entered a new age of anxiety. Before our collective blood pressure soared too high, we made teas and coffees and got down to literary business.

Barry proposed sharpening up the structure of the group’s workshopping sessions. In place of an informal general discussion about a particular piece of writing we agreed to try a more targeted approach where we each have five minutes to deliver individual feedback. This new format will allow us to focus during meetings on the more salient or urgent responses to a piece of work. So that nothing is overlooked, all comments and observations will continue to be captured within the marked up documents that return to the writer of the piece under consideration.

In this week’s workshop sessions, Helen talked about a book she’s recently acquired, Contemporary Australian Poetry (Puncher & Wattmann). Her poetry library is growing. She has approached the form in a somewhat unconventional way, beginning to write it before studying it closely. But that may prove to be an advantage. Margaret shared a piece of work that was conceived during a writing workshop she attended last year. Barry shared the first 2000 words of a reworking of one of the stories from his linked collection. He’s been experimenting with blocks of second person narration in the piece, and was keen to see if this was working. Finally we were introduced to a new character from Jenny’s novel when she presented a recently developed section from the work.

We’re going to return to second person narration/point of view in a future meeting for a fuller discussion of its features and applications.

In case you missed it …

We’re thrilled to share the podcast of the special Mother’s Day edition of Cover To Cover from Vision Australia Radio. The entire program featured work from the Elwood Writers. And thanks to Tim McQueen and Vision Australia Radio, we were given the exciting opportunity to read our own work on the air.

Here’s the podcast link:

We’d love to hear what you think of the program. Let us know in the comments section below. Happy listening!

Writing Process: Barry

I visit my writing several times throughout the day. Sessions vary from five minute bursts to extended periods of a few hours. This way, I can put in a minimum of a couple of hours a day, and often more like four to five. This is a framework. I have a home workspace – a place for my computer, books and tools – but can work anywhere.

Writing isn’t just a physical process of working with words on a page. It’s the creative and percolative activity that goes on in the spaces. In other words, the work also happens while reading, daydreaming, riding the bike, poking around, or what-have-you.

I’m never without a paper notebook. I keep the old ones stored in a filing cabinet. Captured moments. Conversations, song lyrics, glances, peripheral observations. The unorthodox, discordant, and mundane. Here, an obsessive mind might be a fortunate trait.

Short fiction suits my temperament and way of working. A new story can begin from a blank page, or a paragraph or phrase within an existing piece of writing. I rarely delete. An opportunity arises, such as a competition or a callout for submissions, and I circle round until I land on a fragment of material that captures my interest, and then begin to shape it into a new piece. Experimentation is thrilling, and I love the idea of development through failure. It’s a playful process, and instinct plays a part. Sentences are the building blocks of a story, and proficiency in them gives a reader confidence that they’re in capable hands, so allowing greater experimentation within the work.

Reading aloud, and listening to playbacks, I imagine works as radio pieces. Listening enables an objective sentence by sentence edit, and a chance to gauge the texture, mood, rhythms and poetry of the prose.

Writing can help to make life navigable. Anxieties, uncertainties and ambiguities can be contained and explored on the page through the endless possibilities of fictional forms.

Barry’s Adelaide reflections

coffee-adelaideThe festival experience in Adelaide becomes richer with each visit. This year, I felt an initial restlessness during the events. I wanted to be away from the authors talking about their work, and to get in front of my own writing. To put my hands inside my manuscript and pull the guts out of it. To lay it all out, examine it closely, and put it back together again. This reaction, far from a complaint, is rather desirable. I’m travelling to Ubud next week to work on my manuscript, and I can be confident the trip will be one of industry and production.

A highlight of Writers’ Week: The Crow on Wednesday morning at the west stage. Max Porter, author of Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, converses with Jonathan Bate about the life and work of Ted Hughes. In the soothing dapples of soft early sunlight we listen, rapt, to the disembodied voice of Hughes reading his work aloud in Adelaide forty years ago. Eerie and beautiful, this presence of the poet. Afterwards, I decide that I want this to be the taste that stays with me, and so leave the garden setting for the final time this year.

A similarly affecting experience on Thursday at the Art Gallery. A series of photographic images by William Yang chronicles his friend Allan’s demise from AIDS between 1988 and 1990. Each image is accompanied by Yang’s handwritten narrative. An unexpected punch arrives with the final photograph, of Allan in 1980. His vibrant and healthful face stares out. Ten years later, he’d be dead. Grateful to be alone, I search the image for a long time, looking for some communication between it and the fate of its subject.

The poignancy of Yang’s work is sharpened by the shade of an incident a few days’ earlier in the dorm at the youth hostel. Vivid anti-gay sentiments were a valuable reminder that we can’t be complacent; that, despite whatever ultimately happens with marriage equality in Australia, fear translates into hate in some minds. The hostel interaction is, however, a timely gift, prompting me to consider my short-story collection in a stark and vigorous light. Now on to Indonesia. There’s work to do.

Winner VU Short Story Prize: Their cruel routines

Barry’s short story ‘Their cruel routines’ is the winner of the 2015 Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize. It’s published in Overland Issue 221 Summer 2015. You can also read it here: