My First Published Short Story in 2000

Libby Sommer with her book The Crystal Ballroom in book store
At Harry Hartog Bookseller

I’m very happy to say that I have been publishing short stories and poems in literary journals for 21 years.

‘Around the World In Fifty Step’ was my first published story. It appeared in Overland Literary Journal Autumn, 2000. Since then, more than 40 have been published.

Have a read of this first one. Hope you enjoy it.

Around the World In Fifty Steps:

  1. Joanna lives in a Sydney suburb with her two sons. It’s 1992 and Australia is in recession.
  2. “I’m sick of licking arse in a service industry,” she says of her marketing business. “And I’m fed up with financial insecurity, the feast or famine of too many projects or not enough and chasing new business and getting clients to pay their bills.”
  3. “I’m thinking of renting the house out and travelling,” she tells her grown up sons after reading “The Pitter Patter of Thirty-Year-Old Feet” in the Sydney Morning Herald.
  4. “You’re ready to leave home are you mum?” said one son.
  5. “Why don’t you just go on a long holiday instead,” said the other.
  6. “I want a new beginning, a change of career, a new home, a community of people, an intimate relationship with a significant other, that sort of thing.”
  7. “You could always get yourself a dog,” suggests a friend.
  8. Her son moves out when she puts his rent up.
  9. “Are you going to wait till he buys a new house for cash before you ask for a decent rent?” her mother had said.
  10. “I’ve decided to go and live with Dad for a change,” says the other son.
  11. “I’ll be away for six to twelve months,” Joanna says as she throws her client files on the rubbish tip.
  12. She spends the spring in Italy. The summer in England, Scotland and Ireland. The autumn walking the gorge country of the Ardeche in France.
  13. In the winter she rents a studio apartment in Villefranche on the French Riviera. The studio belongs to a friend of a friend so she’s able to get it at a good price. She works as a casual deck hand on one of the luxury cruisers in dry dock for maintenance. “The first thing I want you to do,” says her boss when she arrives at work on the first day, “is blitz the tender.” After a backbreaking morning of hard physical work cleaning the small run-about she goes to lunch. She orders a salad nicoise and a coffee and realises her lunch will cost her a morning’s pay.
  14. A young and handsome French man who lives in Paris but comes to Villefranche to visit his grandmother most weekends, pursues her. Joanna comes to realise that French men love and cherish women as much as they appreciate good food.
  15. She shops at the markets, paints and reads and falls in love with the light and the colours of the south of France.
  16. “I’m able to live contentedly alone without a regular job, without a car, without speaking the language,” she writes to her friends back home.
  17. In the summer she moves on again before the tourist masses arrive and the rent goes up.
  18. She gives away to her new friends in Villefranche all the things that won’t now fit in her backpack but keeps her paint brushes and pallet knife.
  19. On the Greek island of Skyros she joins a group of landscape artists led by a famous English painter.
  20. “My purpose in leading this group is to help everyone find their own unique style,” says the woman.
  21. Joanna spends the autumn in London meeting with other artists from the island and the woman becomes her mentor and they meet for a cup of tea every week and talk about the isolation of being an artist as well as many other things.
  22. “It’s important to stop and regenerate before the creative battery runs flat,” she says.
  23. Joanna paints every day and goes out with an English man named Clive.
  24. “Your painting is vivid and alive,” says the famous English artist. “I’ll write you a letter of introduction to my contacts in Australia when you’re ready to exhibit this collection.”
  25. Clive has a strong face with chiselled square cheekbones. Dark brown eyes and dark hair that falls in a square fringe on his forehead. His fingers are long and sensitive for playing the piano.
  26. “What are you doing there?” her mother asks on the phone from across the ocean.
  27. “I’m painting,” says Joanna.
  28.  “But what are you doing?”
  29.   “My mother is like a poisonous gas that can cross from one side of the world to the other,” Joanna says.
  30. Joanna dreams about her sons every night and Clive tells her she cries in her sleep.
  31. She yearns for the bright Australian light and for the sound of the ocean.
  32. She returns to Australia for her eldest son’s wedding.
  33. In Sydney, Joanna supplements her income from the house rental by getting a job as a casual for a clothing company. She unpacks boxes and steampresses the garments. Her back, neck and shoulders ache and she suspects she’s getting RSI from the steampresser.
  34. Clive rings to say he’s coming to visit her.
  35. In preparation for his arrival she moves all her furniture out of storage and rents a small place near the beach hoping that he’ll love it in Australia and decide to stay.
  36. Two weeks before his arrival Clive rings to say he’s not coming and Joanna finds out through a friend that he’s met someone else and is moving in with her.
  37. She tears up his photos and throws his Christmas present at the wall.
  38. Joanna stops painting.
  39. She reflects on the past and all that she’s lost.
  40. I thought when love for you died, I should die. It’s dead. Alone, most strangely, I live on. Rupert Brooke.
  41. Joanna stays in bed most days but still feels so tired that she can only remain vertical for four hours in any twenty-four hour period.
  42. The phone stops ringing.
  43. She rehearses her own death by going to the edge of the cliff.
  44. From the edge she sketches the waves breaking on rocks, the lone seagull on the shore at the water’s edge.
  45. At home she fills in the drawing, blending black charcoal and white pastel reminding herself the darkest hour is before the dawn.
  46. And, after winter spring always comes.
  47. Joanna sells the house where she lived with her children and spends half the money on a home unit overlooking the ocean and the rest of the money on Australian shares.
  48. Her new home faces the east and she can smell the salt from the ocean.
  49. “It takes twenty years to be a successful artist,” echoes in her mind.
  50. On a new canvas she drags the colours of the sunrise across the blank white space.

Copyright © 2000 Libby Sommer

Prose Poem: The Cellist

Have a read of my prose poem, ‘The Cellist’ first published in Quadrant September 2020.

Hope you enjoy it.

The Cellist‘:

I was grudgingly ancient. Not older, wiser and ancient. But easily recognisable as ancient. Skin was the culprit – the human body’s largest organ. I had his mobile number and he had mine, the cellist from the seniors’ dating site. I examined its configuration. Was there a pattern I needed to decode? I hated initiating, but he needed reassurance. It might take him forever to ring. Composing a text, my palms sweated. My heart thumped. Was he okay with texting? I hated my impatience. I hated my unexpected fragility. I sent the text. Yesterday’s meet-up was fun. I’d like to go for a ride on your motorbike sometime, although the helmet will squash my hair.

Then I worried I’d gone too far. My legs wrapped around him on a bike? I sounded like a whore. A desperado. A woman too long without a man. His reply was immediate. Had he been holding the phone in his hand? We can start with a short ride around the block. I’ve got a large helmet. Everyone gets hat hair.

I don’t want you to go on his motorbike, my daughter warned. I’ll go for a ride on his bike, my granddaughter offered. What sort of boat’s he got? A tinnie or a sail boat? asked my grandson. I googled: ‘what to expect when riding pillion’. Hang on. Brace for braking and acceleration by holding on to the rider’s waist. Bikes must lean to corner. Relax. Tyres provide plenty of grip.

We had dinner, exchanged silly jokes, leaned towards each other, went back to my place – and had incredible sex. The sensitivity of a stringed instrumentalist was really something else. If I knew how, I would have burst into song.

Copyright 2020 Libby Sommer

A box of books has arrived

Big news! My new book, LOST IN COPPER PARK has just been released by independent award-winning Ginninderra Press. Just in time for Christmas. Huge thank you to my wonderful publisher Stephen Matthews. The book is available direct from www.ginninderrapress.com.au or print and ebook editions from Amazon, Book Depository and other online booksellers, $27.50 or ask your bookstore to order it in ISBN 978 1 76109 042 4.

Cover image by Russian contemporary artist, Zoya Kriminskaya.

Bring on the celebrations.

World Maternal Mental Health Day

Renoir painting of mother on cane chair outside breastfeeding child
Pierre Auguste Renoir

Wednesday, 6 May 2020 is World Maternal Mental Health Day: raising awareness of maternal mental health issues so that more women will get treatment and fewer will suffer.

I responded to a call out for submissions of stories, essays and poems that address perinatal depression and anxiety.

I’m delighted to tell you that my short story ‘The New Baby’, first published in Quadrant magazine, has been selected for inclusion in this anthology.

The planned release date for the anthology is May this year, to coincide with World Maternal Mental Health Day.

What a privilege to be part of this important collection of 25 stories, poems and essays that will also be featured as part of PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Awareness) week in November.

Every November PANDA Week provides an opportunity to increase understanding in the community about an illness that is more common and more serious than many people realise.

Another submission success

hands typing on typewriter

I am very happy to say my new prose poem ‘Someone I Don’t Know Sideswiped My Car’ has been accepted for publication by literary magazine Quadrant. A huge boost to my confidence as a writer. Fear of the blank page and running out of ideas never leaves me. Am very grateful that I am still producing and publishing new work.

So what is prose poetry?

Wikipedia offers this definition of prose poetry: “Prose poetry is poetry written in prose instead of using verse but preserving poetic qualities such as heightened imagery and emotional effects.”

‘A prose poem falls somewhere in the gray area between a story and a poem. Prose poetry also tends to be very, very short, often (but not always) less than one page. Prose poetry blends the styles of poetry and narrative prose.’ – Writer’s Relief

I love creating stories in this very very short form.

Prose Poem Successes

pen writing notes studying

Exciting news.

My prose poem THE CELLIST has been accepted for publication in Quadrant magazine.

And another prose poem THE LADDER AND ITS DANGERS was recently longlisted for the 2019 joanne burns Microlit Award. It will be available for inclusion in a range of multi-platform activities organised by Spineless Wonders including #storybombingNWF20, podcasts, live performance and the Microflix Awards.

I love the short short form:  prose poems, microlit, flash fiction. I’m putting together a new collection of my published short form stories and prose poems. The working title is SMALL FICTIONS. What do you think?

Prolific widely-published flash fiction writer Meg Pokrass says on Facebook that:

‘The more I become involved in the editorial side of the microfiction form, the more it becomes mysterious to me. The more it seems like some kind of freaky magic. After reading thousands of stories for Best Microfiction, all I can say is that there is no formula. The other thing I can say is that we must use who we are when we write. Trying to perfect a “style” is useless. Making something that feels like you, something only you can possibly see that way, works wonders. The secret seems to be in revealing who you are through the life of a character or two, which somehow mysteriously makes us see something unusual about the world itself. Finding your own expression of something we all have felt before, in some sly and startling way that hooks us.’ – Meg Pokrass

Great advice. Agree?

 

 

 

 

‘Mountain Secrets’ launch

Libby Sommer reading her poem at podium watched by publisher Stephen Matthews
‘Mountains are constant but continually changing. Captive to the seasons, they reveal many faces: in winter shrouded in snow and mist, yet so visibly majestic in the summer months that they appear to touch the sky. Lost in clouds at times, so discernible at others. Places of solitude yet at the mercy of mountaineers who swarm them. Both revered and feared; mystical and earthy; elusive but tangible. Does the mystery of mountains lie in the many paradoxes that surround them? Join more than 150 poets from across Australia in a tantalising exploration of mountains around the world, real and imagined, literal and figurative.’ – Joan Fenney
That’s me reading my prose poem AMBER PUPPY at the Blackheath Heritage Centre for launch last Saturday of the anthology MOUNTAIN SECRETS (Ginninderra Press) edited by Joan Fenney. Publisher Stephen Matthews looks on.
In the Introduction to MOUNTAIN SECRETS Joan Fenney writes:
‘Mountains symbolise many aspects – overcoming obstacles, spiritual elevation, constancy, isolation and challenges. They inspire adventurers to scale their heights, and writers, lyricist, artists and photographers to portray them with words and images.’
A big thank you to Ginninderra Press for inviting all of us GP poets to bring our creativity to this anthology, exploring themes of love, loss, hurt, courage, awe, reverence and solitude. Such an honour to be included.
Mountain Secrets book cover

A cheque in the mail lifts the spirits of poor struggling writer.

Blue Quadrant magazine with Poetry, Libby Sommer on the cover

There’s my name on the cover of September Quadrant. First time I’ve made it to the cover under Poetry. This month it’s a prose poem titled AMBER PUPPY. I share the honour with poets Jamie Grant, Isi Unikowski, Francine Rochford, James Ackburst, Tim Train, Ugo Rotellini and Andrew Lansdown.

white envelope beside blue Quadrant September 2019 magazine cover

And there’s the white envelope containing my cheque. Halleluja!

So what is a prose poem?

Dictionary:  a piece of imaginative poetic writing in prose.

Poetry Foundation:  A prose composition that, while not broken into verse lines, demonstrates other traits such as symbols, metaphors, and other figures of speech common to poetry …

WikipediaProse poetry is poetry written in prose form instead of verse form, while preserving poetic qualities such as heightened imagery, parataxis, and emotional effects.

Academy of American Poets:  Though the name of the form may appear to be a contradiction, the prose poem essentially appears as prose, but reads like poetry. In the first issue of The Prose Poem: An International Journal, editor Peter Johnson explained, “Just as black humor straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels.”  While it lacks the line breaks associated with poetry, the prose poem maintains a poetic quality, often utilizing techniques common to poetry, such as fragmentation, compression, repetition, and rhyme. The prose poem can range in length from a few lines to several pages long, and it may explore a limitless array of styles and subjects.

I love writing prose poems. They are definitely my preferred writing form just now.

Have a read of AMBER PUPPY. Quadrant magazine is available in newsagents, some book stores, online and in libraries.

Quadrant magazine cover September 2019