wild colonial girl

A freelancer moves to Castlemaine

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Word miner: Adam Ford

Poet and novelist, Adam Ford

Poet and novelist, Adam Ford

As the trees start to shed in Earlwood, we are counting the days until we head to Castlemaine on 12 June. The dogs have gone ahead to Melbourne. The boxes are gradually starting to rise to the ceiling, threatening to kill the baby GG as she teeters on tiptoes swinging around them. Like the inner west of Sydney, negotiating childcare in Castlemaine has been a delicate balancing act, but McCool has two days at the community child care centre, which looks great, and even has vegetarian food at lunchtime. Seeing as his vegies are limited to potato stix, and mushrooms on Lebanese pizza, this should be a challenge. Look I’ve tried and tried and tried. But they say that if kids see other kids enjoying food, they just tuck in.

I always like going to new places. I like the space in the mind as new worlds are conjured up. It’s a gut feeling but I think the place will be good for us. We’ve been harried trying to do creative things while paying the rent in Sydney (that we have never really been able to afford). We’ve found a place to rent. It has four bedrooms (three for us + an office to share between me and WCM — that’s Wild Colonial Man). It has a backyard as big as a cricket pitch with established trees (we can just take the dogs for a walk in the yard), a verandah and a modern kitchen and bathroom. There’s a local farmers’ market that we can head down to each weekend.

Apart from a town for foodies, Castlemaine also has a vibrant arts and writing scene. Castlemaine Word Mine is an organisation supporting local writers in the region, and holds regular poetry nights and workshops. I spoke to poet Adam Ford (coordinator) about writing and local culture.

You grew up in Ballarat? Why did you decide to return to the region to live?

Castlemaine isn’t actually in the Ballarat area. This is an important point for me, because I don’t think that I could return to live in an area in which I grew up. It just feels regressive somehow.

No, Castlemaine is in the BENDIGO region. Bendigo shares an enduring Springfield/Shelbyville relationship with Ballarat due to both their similarities and differences (and we won’t go into who is Shelbyville in this scenario), so in some ways I’ve crossed the floor.

My wife and I moved to the area because of the appeal of Castlemaine as a town to live in: it had a significant artistic life, there was some good food to be had and the landscape was beautiful. Plus houses were really cheap. I grew up outside Melbourne and my wife grew up in far-eastern Melbourne, which honestly speaking was more bush than Ballarat, so both of us were familiar with what the lifestyle would involve. Plus we were thinking to start a family and the appeal of non-metro child rearing was strong. Our move was made easier by having some friends who’d made the same move in the years previous, so they could introduce us to people and show us around as we became acclimatised.

How does the area inspire your own writing?

In the most literal sense, I’ve written a poem about a particular geological curiosity that’s signposted on the main street of Castlemaine. It’s called the Anticlinal Fold — also known as a saddle reef. It’s a geological indicator of the presence of gold, apparently. I was just fascinated by the desire to direct people to something like that: “Post office this way, art gallery that way, anticlinal fold that way.” The poem’s not finished, but I have hopes it will be soon.

In a more oblique way, now that I live in Castlemaine I spend more time travelling (I work in Melbourne three days a week): cycling, walking and catching trains, which does give me more contemplative time to either write or read or edit things in my head.

Are there any books set in the area?

Fiction? Not that I know of, which is unforgiveable of me. There probably are — I’ll have to look into that. I have read a few local histories, and know of some others that are about. I have also read and heard a number of poems about the area, but nothing specifically set up as “poems about Castlemaine”.

What’s Castlemaine Word Mine? Why was it set up?

I came along post-establishment, but the brief version is that it’s a group of writers who’ve set up a non-profit organisation to promote writing and reading in the area. We run a monthly reading series and are starting to offer a few writing workshops as well. We have worked and are developing plans to work more in partnership with other writing and reading organisations in the area, like the local library, local art festivals, local independent journalism websites and the like. We were set up around mid-2011, so it’s early days for us yet. Interested folk can check us out here.

What are some events coming up for local writers?

There’s the monthly CWM readings, on the last Wednesday of every month — check our blog for details. There’s also another regular reading series on Sunday afternoons that’s been running a long time, featuring both local writers and visiting writers. It’s been at a few different venues over the years — currently it’s based at The Comma, in Castlemaine. We have a gig guide on our blog that lists events in the area, including Bendigo-based events, so if people need to know what’s on that’s where they should go.

Is there a writers’ festival in the region?

There are a number of festivals in the area, which feature varying levels of literary events. There’s the Children’s Literature Festival, which is aimed at children and families, and is really excellent. There’s also the Castlemaine State Festival and the accompanying Fringe Festival: both are on every two years and often feature literary events. So yeah, there’s a bit about.

Adam Ford's novel, Man Bites DogYou work in a number of genres. What do you enjoy writing most?

Fantastic writing probably comes to me the easiest — I write about superheroes and robots a lot, and I have a deep from-childhood love of the inherent spectacle and ridiculousness of superhero and B-movie tropes. I like writing realism too, but I think the most fun I have is when I try to combine fantasy and realism. It’s not a novel approach — many have done it before me — but I like exploring the tension between the two.

How do you go about writing a Twitter novel?

140 characters at a time. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) Seriously, though, I just kind of barrel through it. I had a rough idea what it’d be about when I started, but the deal was that I wasn’t supposed to overthink it too much, just keep writing regularly and maintain a steady pace. It hasn’t quite worked out that way — I have sometimes gone months without posting anything — but it’s still ticking along and I’m still happy with it. Interested folk can check it out.

How does a freelance writer survive in Castlemaine?

Well, you can freelance from anywhere, but I think you probably have to catch the train down to Melbourne a little bit for meetings and networking and such. This isn’t really a question for me, though — I have a full-time job as a web editor, so my days of freelancing are kind of behind me. My wife works freelance as a reviewer and arts journalist, and based on my own past freelance experience it doesn’t seem like being in Castlemaine is any obstacle to freelance writing.

HAVE YOU COME ACROSS ANY FICTION, POETRY OR MEMOIR THAT FEATURES CASTLEMAINE? OR ARE YOU A WRITER LIVING IN THE REGION? Please leave a comment. Would love to hear from you…

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Of poor but honest parents…

Theatre Royal, Castlemaine

Castlemaine's Theatre Royal is the oldest continually operating theatre on the Australian mainland.

Jack Doolan may have been born in Castlemaine, but we’re moving there. After years struggling to keep up with Sydney — too fast, too fast — we have finally made the decision. It’s a tree-change for us.

I’m a freelance writer and editor so I can take my job with me. My husband runs his own film production company so it’s harder for him. But one of the reasons we have chosen Castlemaine, after much agonising over other towns in the area (Daylesford, Bendigo, Woodford), is that it’s on a train line. We’re only an hour and a half from Melbourne, for the occasional commute.

But that’s not the intention. We’d like to stick around town. Most artists dream of a space, ‘a room of one’s own’ as Virginia Woolf so tenderly puts it, where they have a chance to create. Castlemaine offers this opportunity. The more experience I get with writing, the more I want to be immersed in it. I’m trying to get my first novel published. I have ideas sprouting out of my head for the second one. It’s a time thing (and a financial one).

I’m looking forward to a town full of wide streets and large blocks. A farmers’ market stocked with local produce. A centre with the oldest longest-running cinema on the mainland, the Theatre Royal, and great cafes. I’ve heard rumours that musicians, writers, artists, are flocking to the region in droves. There’s a great looking writers’ group, Castlemaine Word Mine, that meets every month. There’s an arts festival every two years, and a celebration of second hand books in nearby Clunes.

It’s time to start packing those boxes. We’ll be there in June.

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