Writing

Bad Tourist

I’m no travel writer, I don’t think I could ever be accused of that. I feel that most times, I would inevitably descend into melancholy about the whole affair.

Let’s back up a bit and get some context for this before I descend into the rabbit hole.

I was very lucky this year to be accepted by two writers residencies. The first was in Iceland for a month and the other will be in Wales for around two weeks, with some travel in Dublin and London thrown between and after the residencies.

It’s my last week in Iceland before the UK leg of the trip and I’m currently writing this article sitting in a cafe overlooking the very dramatic Godafoss waterfall about half an hour drive from the northern city of Akyureri.

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Godafoss in the distance. (‘Foss’ means waterfall in Icelandic)

The residency itself was an incredible learning experience, and I feel that the mental gymnastics that I experienced during the stay is worth its own post, so I’ll potentially save that for when I have a better perspective on it when I’m back in Melbourne with a flat white as company.

The idea of coming here to finish the novel was in one sense to immerse myself in the landscape of the story and allow that to make the fiction stronger. I wanted to get a sense how individuals engage with an environment like this. As such, much of the time I’ve spent away from the residency has been on long hikes, usually alone, on small dirt tracks leading off into the middle of nowhere, often not seeing another soul for hours.

In the last week, having finished the residency, I decided to take some time to travel around the island and see more of it. I imagine this drastic change, from the solo excursions to visiting the more famous landscapes that make up the must-see locations in Iceland is the reason I’m having this unfortunate reaction.

At almost all the sites I’ve visited, something has been nagging at me. Maybe it’s not the tourist with the drone, shattering the otherwise quiet beauty of a creek. Maybe it’s not the discarded plastic bag along an otherwise untouched lake shore. Or maybe it’s not the guy that is lounging at the very edge of a cliff in a Sleeping Venus pose, almost daring the waterfall to sweep him off while his companion takes his picture.

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.” – William Blake

Standing at the main platform at Godafoss or really at any of the many grandiose sights that Iceland boasts, I always felt so very small, so very powerless in comparison to the sheer power and beauty of my surroundings. Gullfoss leaving you hypnotised even as the spray soaks you. The misty shroud that blankets Gullkistan on a chilly day.  The towering tectonic plates of Thingvellir and the winding roads that curve with the land rather than carve through it. Don’t get me wrong, I feel I am very much a tourist, but I feel entirely humbled by the place.

I don’t think it’s simply the acts above that bother me, but what they might represent. Stay with me here, but I wonder if Sleeping Venus dude might be emblematic of a kind of arrogance in the face of nature, the desire to put oneself, superimposed atop it. An ugly demonstration of the perception of humanity’s mastery over nature.

Writing speculative fiction often tends to bring out dramatic statements on the state of mankind, and I generally try to reign it in, but along with our contentious reaction to climate change, I wonder if I’m that far off base. I wonder if we look at our world as more of a selfie filter than a living, breathing place that deserves our respect more than internet brownie points. Yes I realise this makes me sounds like someone who doesn’t understand the internet but surely this belligerence does not bode well?

Is this kind of arrogance new? Probably not. The history of garden design is an easy, if not simplified example, of that relationship through the years. If anything, we’re probably more aware of the problem than ever. But awareness does not necessarily mean that Instagram ‘influencers’ and loud tourists are going anywhere.

I think tourism is a great thing if it’s being used to encourage sustainability and love for our environment but I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll all be seeing more clones of Sleeping Venus dude.

That’s all for now, and I promise that in the next post I’ll ditch the melancholy and get back to the super positive vibes of the submission process.

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The Morning Bell Podcast: A Year in Review

As is my habit, I enjoy taking a step back at the end of the year and looking at things both critically and sometimes, a little indulgently. Sure it’s a pretty arbitrary milestone, the ending of a Gregorian Calendar, but it works well for a time of consideration, review and the occasional hint of nostalgia.

So why not? Let’s talk about the podcast for a little while, as it has been of some importance to my creative year.

When I first chatted to Kezia and Lucas (the founding members of the Morning Bell Magazine) about what they wanted out of the podcast, the main vibe I took from that conversation is that they wanted the podcast to be casual conversations that had the writing process at its heart. More often than not, we don’t analyse pieces of literature to any great extent or pick apart sentence structure.

The podcast, over time, became this place where anyone engaged in the writing industry can come and sit in very comfortable chairs, chat about the industry and, to an certain extent, their lives.

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I never want the podcast to be about a specific genre or topic in writing. Because I think the industry at large has plenty of that narrow focus. Both in terms of publications and the push for writers to conform to a very particular type of writing these days and to be vocal advocates for political topics the industry deems to be important. I think that it is a push that is especially strong in a city like Melbourne. Sure they can all encourage diversity in genres etc, but really those authors don’t win those awards, right?

In some small way, I want to counter that. Call it a tangent if you will, but I think that is a very important factor of why I host the podcast. I want writers of fantasy, science fiction and crime to get as fair a shot at the microphone as well as those writers of realist fiction, humour, drama, and non-fiction. And that’s just a narrow slice of the guests we’ve had on.

Another purpose for the podcast to exist is to give the audience a glimpse into the creative lives of these people. Demystifying the writing process would be a stretch, since I think there is always mystery in the creative process.

We’re here to be a resource for emerging writers and a reminder to those who have been doing it for so long that you’re not alone in a profession that may, at some times, feel quite lonely.

And you know what? I think we’ve done that.

A large part of why the podcast is a pleasant and engaging space for us is the location we have been provided – Brunswick Street Bookshop. A huge thank you to the staff who put up with us yammering in the back throughout the year.

Since we’ve started thanking people I also think a large and obvious reason why the podcast has engaged so many listeners is the guests that we’ve had on. I’d like to thank each and every one of you, for taking time out of your day to come on over to the bookshop and chat with us about what makes your creative lives tick.

And where would I be without my (mostly) loyal co-host Luke Manly? He’s asked questions I didn’t think of and fills the air when I’m desperately running to fix something in the background. It’s rare to find someone you can bounce off on air and I think he deserves a lot of credit. Thanks also to Lucas Di Quinzio for filling in when Luke was out of town or unavailable.

And thank you for listening. It seems obvious but without you, the listeners, these recordings would just be an echo chamber with no real purpose. A pleasant bubble, but a bubble nonetheless.

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I look forward to bringing you another exciting guest list next year and I hope that you share The Morning Bell Podcast with anyone that you think would enjoy it.

Thanks again and we’ll see you in 2016!

– Joel Martin