Broken pieces

This is my view. I’m inside listening to the fire crackle, to the heater fan rising and falling, to the tap on various keyboards of fellow writers. I’m editing, or to be honest I’m staring out the window. 

I’m in the umpteenth draft of my young adult manuscript and I’ve made a change (a biggish one) and it feels like I broke it. 

This is a good and a bad thing. I needed to do that I could mend it, but the process of mending it is tough and mind bending. 

At the moment it feels like my story is something like this wind chime in the picture. One stray piece stuck in a bush on the other side to the body of the chime. It’s a pivotal piece and needs some careful wrangling to get it back in the right place. 
Sigh. More staring. More thinking. More wrangling. 

Carving space to think, write 


I’m packing for four days in Sydney. It’s a holiday with an old mate, and a moment to research a new story as well as time to edit and write. I’m getting better at this. That is, taking time for what I need. 

Two years ago I had only been away from my family for a total of three weekends. In the last two years I have been away for five writers retreats. I now toss my bag together the night before and walk out the door. 

These times away are becoming an important part of my practice. It’s time I can dedicate my mind to thinking story and character and allow ideas to grow. Not only does it make me a better writer, but it also makes me a better mum and wife. I come home refreshed (and tired). I come home ready to spend time with them. 

As I pack I’m tempted to throw every book I might want, but I now know that I don’t need to. I’m taking what is relevant right now. I have a notebook to scribble in when we are out and about, Watkin Tench’s book 1788, Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and my current read The Forrests by Emily Perkins. Probably before morning I’ll through another book in. 

Sometimes taking less is more. More space to think. I’m planning to stand where Anne, my First Fleet convict ancestor stood and imagine what was going through her mind as she gripped her swelling belly, father long gone already. As she stared at the strange wilderness surrounding her, trapping her. As she stared at the light glinting off the harbour water that would one day swallow her. I hope to feel her in some tiny space there and let her whisper to me. 

Shaping the Fractured Self

I have been fairly silent here for a little while as my migraines spiraled out of control with a long six month period of daily (nightly) migraines that robbed me of sleep (and sanity). Fortunately for me, a change of neurologist who made some subtle changes to my preventative treatment and some more drastic changes to my rescue treatment, my brain has now calmed down to a much more manageable level.

This Thursday, along with some other writers, I will be reading at the DAX Centre for the launch of Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain. I am chuffed to have three poems and an essay included alongside some wonderful writers*.

My poems and essay in the book speak about my experience of over thirty years as a chronic migraine sufferer, but I am pretty sure anyone who has suffered from any long-term and chronic (and often invisible) pain will relate.

All of the writers have captured their experience of chronic illness and pain in their poetry. It is a great read. I’d love to see you at the launch and you can either grab at copy at the launch, or via the UWA Publishing website.

A massive thank you to Heather Taylor Johnson who came up with the concept, found us all, found a publisher and pulled it together.

*The other writers in the anthology are: Andy Jackson, Anne Carson, Beth Spencer, David Brooks, Fiona Wright, Gareth Roi Jones, Grant Cochrane, Gretta Jade Mitchell, Ian C. Smith, Ian Gibbins, India Poulton, Jessica Cohen, Kevin Gillam, Kristen Lang, Leah Kaminsky, Margaret Owen Ruckert, Peter Boyle, Quinn Eades, Rachael Guy, Rachael Mead, Rachel Robertson, Rob Walker, Sid Larwill, Sophie Finlay, Steve Evans, Stuart Barnes, Susan Hawthorne and Heather Taylor Johnson –also the editor of the anthology

On small wins and finding energy

…and self-doubt, ploughing on and remembering what I do.

You know the scenario. Life gets busy, real busy. You open your computer only to realise that there are over 300 unread emails, bills to pay, workshops to prepare for, short stories to edit, manuscripts to work on, manuscripts to edit. So you shut it. Then you worry that maybe you are not a writer after all, which stops you from opening the computer other than to deal with the basic administration for the family.

This year, on top of normal life, I have been juggling daily migraines and care of a child who has spent more time this year in hospital than out. It is easy for this to take away from my writing, and the writing I have done has been intermittent and angry. I am fortunate to have an excellent cheer squad who buoy me on and remind me that I am a writer.

Today I opened my computer and waded through the admin in the hope to find the headspace to write. While I was doing this, a new email arrived announcing the book launch of Shaping the Fractured Self: poetry of chronic illness and pain. It is brilliant to see the cover of the book that I have some poetry in. I am humbled to have an essay and my poems sitting alongside some of Australia’s finest poets.

The book launch is on 11 May, 6-8pm at The DAX Centre in Parkville, VIC and I would be stoked to see you there!

Of course not all great art has its genesis in pain, and not all pain – not even a fraction – leads to the partial consolations of art. But if lancing an abscess is the surest way to healing, can poetry offer that same cleansing of emotional wounds?

Shaping the Fractured Self showcases twenty-eight of Australia’s finest poets who happen to live with chronic illness and pain. The autobiographical short essays, in conjunction with the three poems from each of the poets, capture the body in trauma in its many and varied moods. Because those who live with chronic illness and pain experience shifts in their relationship to it on a yearly, monthly or daily basis, so do the words they use to describe it.

Shaping the Fractured Self gives voice to sufferers, carers, medical practitioners and researchers, building understanding in a community of caring.

Shaping the Fractured Self is available for preorder from UWA Publishing

Letting the dust settle

This morning I woke after a drug induced sleep. Everything ached and my body screamed at me to go back to bed. I dressed, in my gym gear, ate my breakfast and drank my coffee. The chaos of the morning flew out the door one by one, and each with a different approach (slamming door while yelling out ‘Love ya, Mum’, slinking out silently, a kiss then a slammed wire door, and a hug and kiss). I sat at the table for longer than normal, coaxing my body to move, to do what it didn’t want to do. Finally, I tugged on my socks and runners and went to the gym. I always think on these tough days that all I have to do is get there. Once I’m there, I can always stop and go home. Most days I make it all the way through my program. Today I got as far as the last ten minute cycle at which point a sharp pain struck through my ear and temple and I had to stop.

This is all a part of living with chronic migraines. For the last four or so months (I’ve stopped counting), I have been in a constant state of migraine. Sometimes they are not as bad as others, but pain has been a constant companion. Today is my write-from-home day, the day I should be rejoicing and revelling in my fictional world, but instead I feel like I’m pushing crap up hill as I fight my way through the fog and discomfort. The good news is that I am attacking these chronic migraines in a number of ways as I can’t go on like this (anyone who has lived with chronic pain will attest to the depression that comes with it).

A part of me that feels guilty for not having rocked up to my blog since before Christmas and written, but in reality, with home life being rough for me, getting from one end of the day to another has been a win.

Something I’m always reminded of when things are extraordinarily tough, is paring it back to remember what I need to do (self-care) to survive this. Two of these things are to read, and to write. Writing on a daily basis helps me breathe and enables me to understand what is going on, and reading allows me to escape. My daily journal is a must, as is my Gratitude Jar (I stole the idea from Anita Heiss).

In good news for my fiction writing, I finished another draft of my young adult manuscript in late December and put it out to my readers. It was such an anxious time waiting to hear back from them, but so lovely to get such positive feedback when I did. I have now made edits on the feedback and am resting it again while I get going on the sequel. I love this stage of first draft. It’s fresh and raw. Anything can, and does, happen. Characters come alive and surprise, and extraordinary things jump onto the page.

I’ve also started facilitating a writers group at a municipal library. It was delightful to meet  a group of eager writers all at different stages of writing, and all with different writing goals. It also reminds me about how far I have come in the last four years with my own writing.

Something I’m really looking forward to is seeing some of my poetry in forthcoming Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain, (UWA Publishing) early this year.

Since the start of the year I have read some great books, and have many more waiting for me to read. Some standouts so far are: Georgia Blain’s Between a Wolf and a Dog, Melissa Ashley’s The Birdman’s Wife, and John Ironmonger’s Not Forgetting The Whale. One of my reading promises is that I read widely, out of my genre and books by Australian women writers. One of these was Love Elimination by Sarah Gates, which was a fun romance story based on the many dating reality shows on at the moment. I’m currently reading Stan Grant’s Talking Country, which is blowing me away.

There is so much to read this year with, again, a number of friends having books published. Some debut books to look out for are Wimmera by Mark Brandi, And Then There Was Light by Emily Brewin, and Death by Dim Sim by Sarah Vincent. Then there is always the massive pile of books beside my bed that threaten to smother me.

an apple a day

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eyes wide shut / ears plugged in
white cords a-hanging / to life support
no one misses out / we’re all in this together

an apple a day / one for the teacher
an apple a day / one for the doctor
an apple a day / one for mama and dada
an apple a day / one for the kid

eyes wide shut / ears plugged in
white cords a-hanging / to life support
no one misses out / we’re all in this together

white cords a-hanging / hearin’ but not listening
straining to see / those tiny screens
bleary-eyed people / messaging absent friends
with selfies and besties / on spacebook and ‘stagram

eyes wide shut / ears plugged in
white cords a-hanging / to life support
no one misses out / we’re all in this together

shoes, food and banalities / of life passing by
real time friends left waiting  / conversation dries up
dries up with clicketty-clack / waiting for post and send
it’s easier to chat online  / than wait for your turn in real time

eyes wide shut / ears plugged in
white cords a-hanging / to life support
no one misses out / we’re all in this together

phones are a-shrieking / singing and beeping
teens are lying and lounging / texting and murmuring
in parallel play / and plugged to their life support
an apple a day / is here to stay

eyes wide shut / ears plugged in
white cords a-hanging / to life support
no one has missed out / we’re all in this together

On the Binns

This short story of mine recently won second prize in the 2016 Reconciliation Writing Competition judged by Jane Harrison, indigenous Australian playwright and novelist, and run by the Port Phillip Citizens for Reconciliation. It appears in their publication Building Bridges. The story comes from a moment on the Binns Track in the Northern Territory during our 9 month trip around Australia that my family and I did in 2010. Enjoy.

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Me, Aunty Jacko and my second prize for ‘On the Binns’

On the Binns by Meg Dunley

We haven’t seen a soul for days. On these roads, it’s rare to pass another car, and even more rare to see someone walking around. It’s over thirty degrees out there and the sun is bearing down on the earth highlighting the redness of the soil, the blue sky and the grey green trees. The road is soft, dusty. Behind us we leave a cloud of red that lingers in the air longer than the sound of our car and trailer rumbling along. As we turn one of the many curves through the central Australian desert we see him. He’s standing by the side of the road, the way someone stands waiting for a bus. But here there’s no bus-stop and it could be days between cars driving through. Matt pulls up next to him and I wind down the window. He wanders over. Continue reading