What is the working title of your book?
'On the Bitch'
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I needed to get back into writing, so I sent out email requests for prompts ... and very soon it became obvious the stories written from the prompts were working toward one overall story.
What genre does your book fall under?
I have no idea - it is just very me. I do funny / sad mostly. Humour? Well, probably but maybe not. Actually, it's a novella. What it isn't is horror, fantasy, sci-fi, poetry, chick lit, creative non-fiction, biography, memoir or tell-all muckraker. It's closest to literary fiction BUT my writing style is not that literary. It's more direct. And funnier.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Mostly Australian actors, of course, and one German actress. Richard Roxburgh would play the narrator Harvey. Who would play Magda? Dunno, but she would need to be German. Otto? William Zappa or Colin Friels. Valerie? Probably someone from New Zealand but with vocal coaching to get rid of those really really flat vowels. Kendalynn? Ah, she stumps me. Give me a casting book! Actually, speaking of New Zealanders, maybe Kerrie Fox with some ageing could play Kendalynn. I actually think it would make a great film and would be easily adaptable. I write in a very cinematic way.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
While spending the weekend at the beach with friends, a couple must decide if they have a future together.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
OK, these are two completely different questions here. I will be sending it to a publisher, who knows I will be sending it, once it's finished.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It's not finished yet, but it's not far off. Which then begs a question, what's a draft? And when is a draft just pissing around?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I don't read books like this. But favourite writers include Ellen Gilchrist and Augusten Burroughs, and you would note similarities. And a friend (who also writes), years ago, gave me a library copy of 'Me Talk Pretty One Day' by David Sedaris, saying, "He writes like you."
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Growing bored and frustrated editing others' stories and a need to get back to writing and claim some of the glory myself!
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It's funny and real and eye-opening and intelligent and immediate. You are there! And you'll probably want to be there and maybe even visit the beach and the town but perhaps not stay in the over-large house.
This was sent to me by Gill Hoffs. View her answers here: http://gillhoffs.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/the-next-big-thing-and-no-i-dont-mean-my-belly/
I sent it to Michael Webb, Nicola Belte, Joyce Juzwik, Richard Bon and Shane Simmons. And their answers can be found here:
Michael Webb: http://innocentsaccidentshints.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/10-questions-from-gill-hoffs.html?m=1
Joyce Juzwik: http://jfjuzwik.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/the-next-big-thing.html
Richard Bon: http://richardbon.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-next-big-thing.html
Shane Simmons: http://scribblingsimmons.wordpress.com/
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
by Matt Potter
I heard people, when I was living in Germany, swearing in English, when they would never swear auf Deutsch.
I once heard a woman when I was living in Hamburg in 2008, in her 50’s or perhaps early 60’s, say “Shit!” as she jumped on a train. Then listening to her conversation soon after, it became quite clear the few words in English she knew and used were all swear words.
Often the first words we learn in new languages are swear words. Sometimes this is amusing. Sometimes it’s not.
Swearing and cursing (are they the same?) hold different places in different languages. It is definitely worse to swear in German, or rather, in German culture, than it is in English-language cultures, in general.
Certainly it’s worse to swear in Germany than it is in Australia.
I swear quite a lot, at times, and often don’t even know I’m doing it. I would talk with Australian friends in Germany and we would be having a normal conversation, and German friends would look at us askance. The swearing peppering our conversation was just normal for us. Others thought we were angry. Or uncouth. Or maybe both.
In some languages swearing is always used when angry. In Australia, and perhaps in other English language cultures, this is not always the case. It would not be that unusual for me to say to an Australian friend – in Australia or in Germany – Can you pass me that shit, please? Which actually means, Can you pass me that thing?
Hence the askance looks.
I actually love using swear words in their proper context. Shit when you are talking about defecating; cock when you talk about penises; fuck when you talk about sex. (Half the Americans have stopped reading by now.) In these examples, you are actually using these words correctly.
(I once went on radio – admittedly community radio, a gay and lesbian cultural show – when I worked in the HIV / AIDS sector in Australia, and without even realising it, talked about fucking while on air. I used it to mean penetrative anal sex, which is the term used in the sector, in brochures, in leaflets, in campaign materials, in advertising, in fact, whenever HIV / AIDS prevention is mentioned. The presenter went white and off-air seconds later, told me I had said fucking on-air. My first thought was “And? …” … and then I realised. And then I thought, well, too fucking bad, if you want to get all prissy about it, good luck to you! No one complained about it later. And the world kept turning.)
And bilingual Germans will quickly tell you that yes, it is worse to swear in German than in English. Saying Scheißekopf is worse than saying Shithead. Formal politeness is revered in Germany. This stiffness often gets me down. It means nothing – or little – and seems to be just another shield for Germans to hide behind. It’s not really about how others regard you, but instead about not allowing them to get to know you.
What I would really love to do is to take a poll in Germany. Which is worse: Du bist eine alte Fotze? Or, Sie sind eine alte Fotze?
Du bist is the familiar form of you are.
Sie sind is the polite form of you are.
So, if you were talking to an old woman on the street you did not know, you would normally say, Sie sind.
And just so you know, eine alte Fotze means an old cunt.
So which is worse, saying You are an old cunt using the familiar ‘you’ (du) or saying You are an old cunt using the polite ‘you’ (Sie)? Discuss.
(I think you can argue either way.)
Calling someone an old cunt in Australia is offensive too – actually, you can’t say much worse – BUT the word cunt can be used in an affectionate way. “Ah, she can be a bit of a cunt, but she’s okay.” It’s like saying, “He’s an old bastard, but I love him anyway.”
Of course, the circles in which you can say this – and in which it’s taken the right way – are limited. But it is possible.
I once spent thirty minutes of an English lesson teaching the various meanings of the word ‘fuck’. I was teaching Business English to a small work group in Berlin in 2009 – actually, I loathe teaching Business English, as usually it’s just made up on the spot, and so often taught by others who have absolutely no experience in the world beyond studying and teaching – and the youngest and hippest of the group of six men said, when talking about playing hockey, “That was before I fucked up my knee.”
I said, “You used the word fucked.”
The room went silent as the six men looked at me, wondering where I was going with this.
“Fuck is a very versatile word, and we use it all the time in English, so let’s talk about how it’s used,” I said.
There may have been some blanched looks, there may have been some glottal gulps, but we talked about it anyway.
And its uses are varied and deep:
* as a verb, and especially as a phrasal verb – I am fucking, I am being fucked, Fuck me!, I’ve just been fucked, we fucked on the bed, I fucked it up, you fucked it up, I’m being fucked over, he’s fucking me over, I’m fucked off, I am so fucked up, Fuck off!
* as a noun – I need a fuck, that fuck was great, he’s a great fuck, he’s a real fucker!
* as an adjective – I’m a fucking arsehole, you’re a fucking arsehole, hand me that fucking thing, it’s a fucking nightmare, you’re a fucking mess, I don’t need that fucking shit, I’m fucked, that’s fucked, we’re all fucked, it’s just fucked, we’re all going to hell in a fucking handbasket!
‘To fuck’ auf Deutsch is ficken. And German-language online profiles will sometimes have the words Fick mich! (Fuck me!) on them, but interestingly, if the person with the profile speaks and writes English – which many, many do – they will usually use fuck and not ficken. There’s something open and gaping and sexy about the ‘u’ sound in fuck that is absent in ficken. ‘U’ sounds more like an orifice.
So, when I am swearing my head off and not even knowing I am doing so, I feel most at home in Australia. And while it is fun to shock Germans with my swearing proficiency, auf Deutsch und auf Englisch – okay, I rarely say cunt, because (1) it really is offensive and (2) I’ve never actually been there – it is nice to be not so soundly, roundly judged for the disgusting words coming out of your mouth.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
after this post was created for > Language > Place, I emailed the link ... and was advised that it didn't really fit the criteria, and would I like to write a new post. So I did - it's the post above - which is good because I also got the date of the blog release wrong!
by Matt Potter
I have just started a website. Actually it’s my second. I have three blogs too, though one is not used (I don’t know how to delete it), one is used (though not as a blog blog, but just for story challenges … like this), and the third is lost somewhere, having never really been born. (I abandoned it – not knowing how to delete it – and then set up my first website instead.)
So my past and present are littered with e-detritus. There is a purpose to all those I use, and that is, basically, promoting my own stories.
Although the most recent website, set up in early December 2010, was established to promote the works of other writers. I started it because (1) I was bored and thought it might be fun, (2) I have confidence in my own taste, and (3) I was pissed off with other fiction site editors who give no or almost no feedback when emailing you with the bad news: We can’t use your story. Or We don’t like your story. Or Your story is not for us. Or … well, you know the drill.
So I always give feedback, even about the stories I don’t like or feel are ‘not for us’. Always.
Anyway, it is much more work than I expected but the site has expanded exponentially which, if you knew me in person, you would have expected.
You can find the website by googling Pure Slush or Pure Slush fiction.
The Pure Slush tagline is flash … without the wank. If you don’t know what wank is, in this context, it means crap, or shit, or spin. I get tired of artistic, creative spin, and there does seem to be a lot of it in the flash fiction e-world. (To find out more about wank, once you have googled Pure Slush or Pure Slush fiction, scroll down from About along the top, ’til you get to Slush / Wank and click.)
There seemed to be a frisson of excitement amongst a small, small, small part of the flash fiction e-world which yes, actually was exciting, when the site went up on 6 December 2010, some of it because by stating it was anti-wank, therefore I was also declaring that some of the stuff out there is wank.
Funnily enough, saying that, in fact, is wanky (or full-of-spin) in itself. Saying Pure Slush is anti-spin, is actually a marketing (spin) tool. Which is amusing and in fact, I love multiple layers of meaning, wheels within wheels, spin on spin on spin sort of thing.
So cut to three weeks later and I decide it’s time to expand my e-empire and for Pure Slush to publish e-non-fiction too. So enter Real Time, the non-fiction offshoot. (Go to Pure Slush then click on Real Time.)
I know a lot of people all over the world now, having lived an expat life for the last three northern summers in Berlin, a city full of expats. And it’s so easy keeping in touch with them now via Facebook and emails, and given time zones, Australia is about a third of the world away from the west coast of the U.S., and a third of the world away from Europe. It works well.
So I have asked a slew of people to write non-fiction pieces for Pure Slush, and everyone has said yes so far. Who would say no, it’s so intensely flattering?! I know this when I ask people, and they probably know this too but it’s fun and it’s win – win and we all walk away (or turn our computers off) happy, egos stroked.
I have a tendency to remember people’s own stories – the quirky, the intimate, the sexy, the sad (which is flattering in itself) – so e-approaching people to write their own stories is a cert.
Here are some of the ideas I have proposed. I asked:
• a friend of Austrian-German parentage who was born in British Columbia to write about being educated in a French-language school as a child.
• a friend to write about the differing cultural experiences of having been married to an Italian woman (his ex-wife) and an American (his wife).
• another friend to write about the English books she was given as a child, while growing up in East Germany, by the American husband of a West German relative.
• and then to write about moving to Sheffield, England … and then again about observing the differing experiences of her new step-children, growing up in northern England compared to East Germany … and yet again about showing them Berlin. (Phew! She is busy!)
• an acquaintance to write about being a bilingual comic – can you tell the same joke the same way in different languages, and expect or get the same reaction?
• a writer already on the site, to write about why he left the States to live in Mexico … and what keeps him there.
• and another writer already on the site re the same, except she lives in Canada.
• an opera singer friend to write about performing in small German opera companies, and how does that compare to … well, anything.
• a translator / interpreter / sub-titler friend to write about her job, particularly when dealing with legal bureaucracies: she has a great story about Swedish campers and an African who was knifed.
• an Italian friend to write about being a renegade woman of a certain social standing living in Italy … or about the relationship she has to the US mid-West, years ago when she first went there as an exchange student, and recently, when she returned again, this time for a funeral.
I am still thinking of new non-fiction ideas, and digging friends up … so, if you are a friend of mine (or can pass for one) and have a multilingual / multicultural story to tell that is quite possibly amusing, revealing or both, email me at email@example.com … and let me know.
Friday, December 3, 2010
by Matt Potter
“NO!” LOCAL GAL TELLS STATE PLANNERS
by Sally Royalton Manning,
Swampville Sentinel Social Affairs Reporter
“We’re really against big government,” says Francine Bellweather McGrew–McGraw, sitting in her home office on leafy Elm Street, in one of Swampville’s quieter northern neighbourhoods. “So we felt kind of vindicated when we got their letter.”
Mrs McGrew–McGraw, a pretty forty-nine year old blonde who realized only last week she forgot to have children – “I looked out into the back yard and saw my biological clock rusting under the sycamore tree,” she explains – is facing a tough decision: leave the neighbourhood she and husband Bud (51) have called home for the past twenty years, or move to a strange district where the neighbours won’t share their history, may call them names, and will probably eat them.
“The government is building an east-west interstate highway right through my office here at home,” she says, sitting before a wall decorated with dozens of home creative writing certificates, and choking as she speaks.
But no amount of certificates for good grammar and grate speling can stop the wheels of progress now. A black line painted through the middle of the room marks where a gaping hole will soon appear.
“The interstate’s going to split this room in half, and they’ve given us a month to decide what we’ll do.”
Mrs McGrew–McGraw, who models airplanes in her spare time and is one of Swampville’s busiest amateur homemakers, is keen on keeping the southern half of their ranch home and selling the northern half after the enforced split.
“We were thinking of maybe selling it to a time-share resort concern, now that commuting from downtown will be cut down to thirty minutes once the interstate is built.”
But Mrs McGrew–McGraw says she and husband Bud are not certain about staying in the neighbourhood now, despite the worrying news of rising cannibal attacks against newcomers in nearby areas.
“We’d move out of Swampville, but all our friends and family are here,” she says. (Mrs McGrew–McGraw is the middle daughter of Lloyd C. Bellweather Jr., two-time Mayor of Swampville, and the late Belle “Ringading” Rambeau Bellweather, five-time homecoming queen.)
“But we also don’t like the idea of living across the highway from a string of sushi bars either,” Mrs McGrew–McGraw says, popping more popcorn into the microwave for local chipmunks. “We’re a little worried what the smell of chicken grease will do to property prices.”
But to raise awareness of their plight in the hope that others may see the warning signs earlier than she and her husband did, Mrs McGrew–McGraw, who has proudly never paid taxes except once when under the influence of an evil accountant, has announced that she and her Marketing Manager husband will hold a garage sale.
“Well, I say garage sale,” she says, sorting through boxes in readiness for the big day this Saturday, husband Bud too sick in the hospital with bronchitis, galloping pneumonia and a phlegmy tongue to help. “But Bud, poor guy, stuck on Ward C and feeling miserable with three tubes coming out of his ass, says yard sale. Though I’m organising it so it’s a garage sale, even though most of it will be in the yard.”
Mrs McGrew–McGraw promises earlybirds can pick up many bargains.
“I’m selling some great openings to stories,” says the shy activist and part-time author, who also plans to sell cookies, cupcakes and political placards to help fund their move into state politics and turn the tide on big government.
“I’ve never been that great with middles and endings, but I’m a real wiz with story openings.”
As a measure of the quality of Mrs McGrew–McGraw’s story writing talents, ten story openings are listed below. These along with other story openings, home-baked cookies, cupcakes, placards, buttons and other delights, will be available at the garage sale, which starts at 7.30am this Saturday, at 2800 Elm Street.
Francine McGrew–McGraw’s story openings.
All offers over $10.00 will be considered.
• By the time I’ve made myself an eight course Chinese banquet, I really can’t be bothered making someone else the same …
• Polyester is a great leveller …
• He was a pie-eyed albino horse with a stutter and he answered to the name ‘Future Glue’ …
• She was on the fast track to celibacy …
• I knew her face but not her hair, at least not the right way up …
• She wanted another liver reading …
• My nose was a mess of pimples and that’s not a good way to enter any country, including Liechtenstein …
• “It’s not often I’m nice,” I said. “So just accept it, you cunt.” …
The Swampville Sentinel believes this last story opening may offend some readers, so Mrs McGrew–McGraw is happy to offer it at a twenty percent discount, if you or your publisher, agent or editor don’t care for four letter words.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Dyeing for it
by Matt Potter
I do not know how many t-shirts I own, because I own so many. Some are in boxes in my mother’s garage in Adelaide, some are in boxes in a storage facility (also in Adelaide), and still others – some on high and some on low rotation – hang in a wardrobe in what is referred to as the spare room, the back room, Matt’s room and Map’s room, again in Adelaide. (My partner’s grandchildren – my step-grandchildren, two and three years old – call me Map.)
This room is in my partner’s home.
One reason I have so many t-shirts is that, having lived through seven summers in a row – southern summer, northern summer, southern, northern, southern, northern, and now southern again – I’ve had constant need of a few t-shirts.
Many of them are Bonds t-shirts, 100% cotton – Bonds is a household name in Australia – and actually made to wear as underclothes but bought by me, and some others, to be worn out, and were originally white. And all of them, the white ones, have been dyed other colours – orange, red, yellow, blue, purple, pink, green, even brown – in different shades and designs, most plain but some quite intricate.
They take the dye perfectly.
I’ve been dyeing for years. It’s a shortcut to creativity and it’s almost instant – truly, you just add water! – and on a day that’s dry and windy enough, the t-shirt is dyed, washed, and on the street in just a few hours. (Once, years ago, I almost blew up my parents’ new verandah following my dyeing muse, but that, leider, is another story.)
In Australia I favour Dylon dyes – an hour in hot, hot tap water, stirred a lot with added salt – and in Germany I favour Simplicol dyes, some of which I even ordered over the internet, auf Deutsch, which was risky. (What happens if I misunderstood the German and ordered a truckload of dye? I also first did this Deutsch internet-ordering while in Australia, so that they would arrive soon after I re-arrived in Berlin … again.)
These Simplicol dyes I’ve used in the frontloading washing machine, water as hot as possible, with lots of salt, and a bleach chaser. (The chaser is for the washing machine, not for the t-shirt or even for me.)
What I love most about these German dye-jobs is (1) there is a large range of colours to choose from, especially on the internet, and (2) I never look like anyone else in Germany when I wear them because they’re Bonds t-shirts, posted or shipped from Australia. So I can swan about Berlin feeling unique and gorgeous – few, few people in Germany wear anything more than dull, dull colours – and when back in Australia, I can swan around telling people I’m wearing t-shirts dyed using German dyes – deutsche Farben – on an Australian canvas (which is not just the t-shirt, but also me).
Some of these t-shirts are true trans-global warriors, having crossed between Australia and Germany and Australia and Germany a few times now.
I love them all, international trendsetters, beacons of colour – and I hope some style – especially on days when I, and perhaps others, need a colour boost.
I am often complimented on these t-shirts, in both countries, because some of them really are show-stoppers, blocks of rioting colour, tight and slutty.
And whichever country I’m in – Germany or Australia – they connect me to the one where I’m not.
And I love the idea that multiculturalism – or is it duoculturalism? – is alive and well and on my back.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
by Matt Potter
My eyes popped, I was so surprised at seeing him there.
“You’re in the same year at school with Jeremy, aren’t you, Braydon?” Mrs Brown said, crouched on the floor.
“Yeah,” said Braydon, broad shoulders hunched, wanting to be anywhere but inside the spare room his mother used as her Designs by Janelle workroom. He put the scissors back against their painted outline on the wall.
Kneeling while my grandmother stood on a stool, Mrs Brown continued pinning the hem, talking through a mouth full of pins. “Would you turn a little to the right please, Vi?”
Gran shuffled to the right.
“Why don’t you tag along with Braydon, Jeremy?” Mrs Brown said. “You don’t want to hang around us with our women’s talk.”
Okay, I’m not the coolest at school. I’m kind of the class queer: all my friends are girls; I like opera; I can answer all the questions about male and female ejaculation – without stammering – in sex ed. classes.
And Braydon? In boardshorts, tall and tanned and naked from the waist up, not only weren’t we in the same league, we weren’t even in the same century.
“Shame you didn’t bring your bathers, Jeremy,” Mrs Brown said. “It’s the perfect day for a swim.”
Braydon looked out the window at the back yard, like his mother had asked him to eat shit or give birth to a watermelon.
“That’s okay, Mrs Brown,” I said. “I’m alright here.”
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “Bray was just about to go for a swim. You can swim in your jocks.” She smiled through the pins. “It’ll be the most Braydon will be doing all day, seeing he’s grounded and desperate to go to Nathan’s party on the weekend.”
She grinned, piercing the hem with a final pin.
Braydon said nothing.
I looked at Braydon, wondering which – and whose – cue to follow.
He indicated the door – you coming or what?
“Go on,” Gran nodded.
So I followed him out of the room. The door clicked behind me. We walked down the cool, darkened hallway. I watched his swagger, and his triangular shape – broad shoulders, tapered waist – and how he scuffed his bare feet, summered and tough, on the wooden floor.
He opened the back door. My eyes squinted with the light. He held the door open, but not enough, so just in time it banged in my face as I stepped outside.
“Thanks,” I said.
I followed him to the pool gate and he reached over the rail to unlock it. Then he turned. His eyes were bright blue.
“You wanna beer?” he said
“Sure,” I said. I hate beer. “What kind do you have?”
He opened the gate and this time I caught it in time. He walked over to an old fridge near a shed and pulling two cans out, handed me one as I sat down on the swinging settee.
His was beer.
And mine – so icy in my hand I dropped it – was cola. Holding it between my legs, my shorts insulation, I pulled the ring pull. The can sighed, and cola slurped out as Braydon sat on the other end of the settee and the settee bounced.
I sipped the cola. And he guzzled the beer, half the can, throwing his head back, Adam’s apple ricocheting up and down with each long gulp.
He burped – for both our benefits – and said, “Are you really gay?”
I looked at my cola can. “Why do you want to know?”
Braydon stood up and burped again. Then stretching his arms and yawning, his boardshorts worked loose over his hips and the white nylon drawstring of his speedos underneath poked out, gracing the hair stretching towards his navel.
Then he sucked his stomach in. The boardshorts slipped to the ground and he stepped out of them. His speedos – pale orange and perfect against his tanned skin – were curvy and tight at the back, looser and pouchy at the front.
I grew hard against the cola can.
He walked over to the shed. “Come on.”
I followed his speedos.
“Close the door.”
I did. And tried not to look at his face or his speedos. But the speedos glowed in the dark.
He loosened the drawstring and his penis sprang out. It had a hot funky, rubbing-inside-his-speedos smell – sweaty and close. I couldn’t take my eyes off the slug growing before me. He smiled, stroking it like it was a family pet.
I stood, watching, barely breathing.
He grabbed the back of my head and forced me to my knees. Leaning forward, mouth open, I rolled my tongue around the knob, like I’d seen on internet porn. He pushed deep into my mouth.
I pulled away.
“Quick, suck it,” he said, parting my lips again, forcing my mouth open. Three long thrusts and he groaned, legs shuddering, the sparse hair on his balls tickling my chin. And my mouth filled with a taste bitter and phlegmy and warm.
I gagged, but he gripped my head until the flow stopped. I had to swallow.
Pulling out, he wiped the leftovers on my cheek.
“Nice,” he said. Or maybe he said, “Nice?”
I didn’t know what to say. It was fun – but compared to what?
“Thanks,” he said. “Almost as good as a girl.”
And you’ve had how many? I wanted to ask.
“They taught me that at church,” I said instead, wiping my mouth.
“That’s fuckin’ sick,” he said, like I thought he would.
He pushed his penis back inside his speedos. And grabbing my hair, he added, “Tell anyone about this and I’ll fuckin’ kill you.”
I looked up at him, still on my knees.
“We can do it again. Mum never comes out here.” He let out a smile. “Want another drink?”
“Okay,” I said, standing up, remembering how things always go so much better with cola.
Monday, October 25, 2010
The colour! The power! The vision!
by Matt Potter
Every Halloween they drag it out: my humble Carpathian mountain beginnings, my early years sweating on the laboratory floor in Transylvania, my emergence as a Hollywood icon in the 1930’s.
If you meet me at a party, in the fruit and vegetable section at the supermarket or on a blind date, don’t bring it up. All those horror clichés are just that: my life is a different story now.
What’s far more interesting is my fourth career in fashion. (My third was as a fixture on the washed-up memory lane dinner lecture circuit – also another story.)
Moving to Brisbane, Australia was a terrifying, risky move. But after visiting in the mid 1980’s and experiencing Brisbane’s warm, sunny climate and easy manner – a heady mix of southern California glamour and Transylvanian joie de vivre – I knew it was the place to put down permanent roots and pursue one of my two cherished dreams.
I moved into a backyard shed behind a clapboard house on Brunswick Street in inner-city New Farm, and waited for it to become fashionable around me. The shed was steel-framed, with sheet metal walls I carefully lined with a soft calico terracotta and burnt umber floral print, bought for a song at a fire sale.
Lining the shed was a bitch, fastening strips of wood to the steel frame, tacking the fabric to the wood, coating the head of each tack with coral nail varnish.
I filled the shed with secondhand office furniture, a cutting table and designing easel – all painted undercoat pink (I was an early exponent of that look) – and photos of friends from former lives: the Wolfman; Drac; the Mummy; my ungrateful Son; even my gold-digging, coat-tailer ex-wife.
And then it was finished. No air conditioning and unheated, not much bigger than a kennel and a shadow of my true dream, but it was real and it was mine and it had my undeniable stamp on it – my very first atelier.
Hanging my shingle on Brunswick Street – Frank Einsteinz von Monster, Designer a la Mode, down the driveway and turn left – was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Twenty years on and my name and image are fixtures on the Australian fashion scene. But it hasn’t always been easy. My naturally shrinking violet personality took a beating on the runways, in the boutiques, and especially in the Brisbane fashion press. Who is this man with the strange Carpathian mountain accent? journalists asked. What sort of fashion statement is khaki-coloured skin and bolts through the neck? Why does he hold all his shows in electric power stations?
Through it all I kept my head above water – easier when you are eight foot tall – quietly plugging away with two collections a year: the summer collection, shown in August, which is winter in Brisbane, and the not-so-summer collection in February, when ironically it’s hottest in Australia.
So what are my fashion influences? This amuses me as I sit at my larger-than-ever designing easel in my newest atelier on Merthyr Road, my original premises a distant charred memory (after a mysterious candlefire) just around the corner on Brunswick Street.
I have so many influences – I am constantly shocked by how many – from animals seen through the window of a local pet shop (the source of my 2005 summer collection, Living in the Lappin of Luxury), to the stock market crash of October 1997 (the source of my Naked and Homeless collection for not-so-summer 1998).
But individual designers? There is really only one.
Ah, Valentino! The colour! The power! The vision! His simple but dramatic designs outclass all rivals. His fashion empire spans continents and generations. His way with red is legendary.
So imagine my excitement when I heard a Valentino Retrospective was coming to the Queensland Art Gallery’s Gallery of Modern Art! Right here in Brisbane. And now I would be seeing his work extremely up close and exquisitely personal!
Fashion friends begged me to see the exhibition with them. “Frank, you know more about Valentino than any highly-trained gallery guide would know,” they said. “You must go with me / us / the group / the college / our entire town.”
But worshipping at the altar of Valentino was something I had to do alone.
But what to wear? Basic black has always worked well for me. I know my figure flaws – boxy shoulders, loping arms, thick neck, knock knees (which no one ever sees, but still, they haunt me) – so a simple single-breasted jacket, tailored trousers, crew neck tee and uncomplicated boots are slimmingly best.
And isn’t it better to present yourself simply, as the person you really are?
The air was moist as I drove into the city and parked beneath the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Walking to the Art Gallery, my boots echoing amongst the endless concrete of the car park with each step, there were the usual stares and parents hurriedly telling their children not to point – the perils of celebrity – and soon I was inside.
The new Gallery of Modern Art is an impressive building, glass and gleaming metal, large exhibition spaces with movable walls and a breathtaking sense of the possible. Hallowed ground, I paid the admission fee – I would have paid triple, quadruple, quintuple! – and gave my ticket to the attendant outside the exhibition entrance.
The Valentino Retrospective? How shall I describe it? It was butter and cream and caviar and designer stubble, red and pink and black and white, taffeta and chiffon and silk voile and ruffles and layering and beading. It was a vision from the visionary of visionaries, a dream to last a lifetime and a nightmare to last forever.
Oooing and ahhing, I breathed in the scent of workmanship and detail and yes, oh yes, the mighty green-eyed goddess of envy rose in my throat like bile, for how could I – or anyone – possibly compete?
I wanted to sink against a gallery wall and just gaze, for most of all, more than anything, my brain and my body and all my senses were limp, with exhaustion.
So what were the dresses like individually? Don’t ask me, see it for yourself! Or go online and buy the catalogue.
But for me, buying the catalogue could never be enough. I don’t know what possessed me – a force of nature coursing through me like lightning, a current so strong all thoughts of propriety were mercilessly quashed – but I had to have a piece of Valentino. Not had to. MUST.
I looked around the exhibition hall. I was alone amongst the mannequins. But then I saw movement against the doorway: a large, shiny black-booted bruiser security guard, crew-cutted and beamy and ruthlessly moustached, the kind of lesbian who gives both hope and despair to the perpetrators of women’s haute couture.
Was she looking my way?
I sauntered around the floor. Gusts of cool air blew through the gallery, ruffling the fabric, but the security guard – her name badge said ‘Barb’ – stood stock still, her crewcut ramrod straight. She looked at me out of the corner of her eye as I passed.
“Lovely day,” I said.
People say there’s a lot of pressure on women to look good all the time, but clearly some are resisting.
I smiled, and executing a perfect 180 degree catwalk turn, disappeared amongst the mannequins again.
Crouching behind a 1960’s mid-orange evening gown with bell sleeves and African-style detailing at the neck, I snuck a look to make sure Barb couldn’t see, then surveyed the choice before me. Which would work best with my basic black ensemble? And which would work best with the décor in my atelier? My plan was to dip the garment in wax, firstly to preserve it so it could be framed and mounted on the wall, and secondly to make it impossible for my emasculating also-ran shrewish ex-wife to steal it and wear it herself.
I saw what would work. I tiptoed – not so easy in boots – to a late 1960’s, floor-length white chiffon evening gown with huge, huge, huge black dots. Sure it was probably size 10, or 8, or something, but of all the dresses, it looked big enough. With lightning speed, I slipped it over the head of the mannequin. It ruffled so softly in my hands I had to catch it before it fell to the floor. Thank goodness it wasn’t crackly taffeta or lead-lined linen – in the chapel-like interior, any noise would have resonated against all four walls.
The chiffon fell over my flattened crown without a murmur, the folds of the bodice and skirt cascading across my shoulders and over my arms. And then panic! The cowl neckline caught on my neck bolts! My instinct was to wrench it down, but the prospect of ripping that divine fabric? Popping my head above the now-naked mannequin, I saw Barb’s broad back turned my way, and breathed out.
I struggled out of the dress. Unbuttoning my jacket as I hunkered down, I turned the chiffon arms inside the dress and then folded it in three. Placing the dress across my chest so it looked like a shirt, I smoothed it out and then buttoned my jacket over it, tucking the edges under my lapels. There was no mirror but I did my best to make it appear perfectly normal for a tall man to be wearing a bulky shirt of white chiffon with a large black spot lurching up from the crotch, under his simple black jacket.
And I walked past Barb and out through the entrance to the exhibition.
It was that easy.
Around the corner but still in the building, I gathered my thoughts, felt beads of sweat break out on my forehead, and breathed out again. And was suddenly gripped by a desperate need to urinate.
I found the toilet, rushed inside, closed the door behind me and sat down. One of my quirks is that I always sit down, no matter what I’m doing. Being so tall, my knees touched my chin.
I was reaching around for the toilet paper, white chiffon still inside my jacket pressed between my legs and chest, when a ham-fisted knock thundered on the door.
“Open up! I know you’ve got a frock in there!”
Two shiny black boots appeared under the door.
I had to think quickly. It was either her, or me and the dress.
And while some people might think it was conforming or reverting to type, please consider the circumstances.
I stood up, pulled my trousers up, tucked the dress inside my jacket, turned around, gripped the toilet bowl with my arms, and like I’d seen in the climax of my favourite Ginger Rogers’ movie Forever Female, ripped the toilet from the floor, charged out of the cubicle and with a massive groan hurled it through a window. It smashed on the ground two storeys below, a ceramic splintering heard as far as Bees Knees City Realty three blocks away on Cordelia Street.
Barb screamed and ran out of the room. She might have been a scary diesel dyke, but I had an entire history of horror at my disposal and in a pickle, I wasn’t afraid to use it. And it was amazing how freeing it felt – almost a weight off my shoulders – getting back to my roots after more than seventy years.
Miraculously I made it back to my atelier with the dress, but it’s hot, wanted in all six states, two territories and overseas as well. So I’m laying low until the Valentino Retrospective leaves town. My designing career is probably over.
But with every slammed door a new one opens. For my fifth career I’m going to become a porn star. Because inside every eight-foot man with khaki-coloured skin, a flat head and bolts through his neck, is an Inches coverboy screaming to get out.