Today’s Dreamer is a writer who stumbled into my life when he entered a piece into the audio journal I was working on at uni (which is now my baby through my internship!) and someone who I wasn’t actually very close to until we started the back and forth commentary on our blogs! Amazing how things work out sometimes. He’s a really great guy and finally getting to introduce him to you all here!
Tell us a little about yourself and what you write.
I’m Tom O’Connell, a writer, editor and tea aficionado based in Melbourne, Australia. I once defined myself as a literary short fiction writer, but my tastes have broadened. Lately I’ve been experimenting with genre stuff and embarking upon (then swiftly abandoning) longer projects.
What is your burning writing desire about?
Good question! This isn’t something I’ve given much thought. I write about whatever’s interesting me at the time, though I suppose identity and relationships (not necessarily the romantic variety) are recurring themes. (Gee, that sounds vague and pretentious!) I like my writing to have verisimilitude, and am particularly interested in the human condition. Plot has always been a secondary concern.
Are you working on anything right now? Can you give us a little bit of a sneak peak?
Not with any real conviction. Full-time study and domesticity consume me. (One of the great paradoxes about studying creative writing is that you hardly do any!) I have a few projects on the back burner. They’re all pretty exciting to me, and I’ll probably pull one out after finishing my assessments, or during the winter break. I hate dividing my attention between several projects. I have singular focus, and would rather commit wholeheartedly to one project at a time.
I’m waffling. Here’s an excerpt from a work in progress: a short story parodying The Bachelor.
Elizabeth exited the plane, stepping face-first into a wall of humidity. One hand gripped the handrail; the other held the sunshine at bay. The wind was strong on the tarmac. Her mess of greying hair flailed about. Though mild by locals’ standards, the weather was a huge contrast to the dreary Melbourne she’d left behind. Flushed, she edged down the mobile staircase.
The trio on the tarmac – two men and a young woman – spotted her and straightened up.
The young woman put her whole body into it a two-armed wave. ‘Mrs Virden!’ she shouted.
Elizabeth meekly returned the wave. The greeting struck her as inauspicious; no one could miss three garishly dressed TV execs standing at the foot of a stairway. She reached the base of the stairs and the three flooded her with welcoming gestures. She pulled away, having received a collective six kisses.
‘So glad you could make it,’ said a stout man with cocoa skin. He brushed invisible lint from a crisp salmon shirt and introduced himself as Devon, the producer. ‘This is my assistant, Cynthia. And over there, of course, is Mike Straus, host of The Perfect Man.’
Mike flashed his signature grin. ‘Hey, how’s it goin’? Been watching at home?’
Elizabeth blushed. ‘Actually, I’ve never seen your program. It’s not really my thing.’
Devon smiled, placing a hand on her shoulder and directing her towards the terminal. ‘I admire your honesty.’
Cynthia’s voice tinkled. ‘You must be, like, so proud of your daughter, though.’
Elizabeth sighed. ‘Actually, I had no idea Ashley was on it until last week.’
‘Unreal!’ said Cynthia, not noticing this was an obvious point of contention. ‘But, like, can you believe she’s made it all the way to the final?’
‘Oh, yes.’ Elizabeth forced a laugh. ‘Certainly wouldn’t be here in a foreign country if I didn’t.’
Devon and Cynthia laughed self-consciously. Mike had all but checked out, and was busy trying to dislodge a piece of apple that was stuck between his teeth.
Elizabeth fanned herself with the base of her sweatshirt.
Cynthia bounced as she walked, though her large artificial breasts remained fixed in position. She looked down, noticing Elizabeth’s attire for the first time. ‘Cute sweater …’
Devon conveyed his verdict by scrunching his face. ‘Ugh! Tiger-print? Honey, get that thing off!’
‘Why?’ Elizabeth feigned hurt.
Devon back-pedalled. ‘Well, because … the humidity! There’s no need for sweaters here.’
Elizabeth smiled. Devon, squirming, was trying to turn this into an issue of practicality.
‘I had to wear it. There was no room left in my carry-on. Perhaps if I’d been given checked luggage …’
Devon stopped in his tracks. Everyone followed his lead. With dramatic flourish, his hands found his hips and he spun on his heels. ‘Cynthia, you denied this poor woman checked luggage? She’s the mother of one of our stars!’
Cynthia frowned. ‘The budget wouldn’t allow for it.’
‘Nuh-uh!’ said Devon, raising his palm. Elizabeth noted his wildly fluctuating cadence. ‘Unacceptable. You should’ve found a way.’
Cynthia lowered her voice. ‘I came to you about this, remember? You weren’t willing to give up the masseuse … Or the penthouse …’
‘Enough excuses, Cynthia! I hate when people can’t admit they’ve screwed up!’
Cynthia smiled through gnashed teeth. The walk resumed.
‘So, what’s on the itinerary?’ Elizabeth asked.
‘Right!’ said Devon, the fire returning in his eyes. ‘As you know – or, evidently, as you don’t know – Perfect Man Baxter will make his final decision tomorrow. It’ll be marvellous, darling. We’ve the most romantic spot picked out: atop a Balinese cliff. It’s helicopter-only, so only rich white folk are allowed.’ He laughed, held up his hand and flicked his wrist, like a cat pawing. ‘There’s gonna be laughter, a live band, sweeping ocean views …’
‘I’m getting tingles,’ said Mike.
Cynthia bounced back. ‘Me too!’
‘But,’ continued Devon, ‘the most exciting part is that, this year, The Perfect Man’s entire finale will air live, coast-to-coast!’
Cynthia balled her fists and stomped the ground. ‘The competition will be blown away!’
Mike raised a fist. ‘We’ll make history!’
There was a moment of silence. Elizabeth worried they were expecting her to fill it, so she raised a fist and gave a tepid ‘Yeah!’
What nourishes your dreams besides writing?
Music, I guess.
What inspires you?
You probably want a ‘proper’ answer, but everything inspires me! The world at large, people I know, stuff that happens to me, music, art, other writers, video games, nature, television, movies, the news. I’m a big filthy sponge.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from writing?
I’m not sure I can quantify what writing’s taught me. Perseverance, maybe. Humility (rejections sting!). Maybe discipline. A fundamental lesson is the importance of redrafting.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome when it comes to your writing?
My inner-critic. He’s a real surly old bastard. Because of him (that’s right: no accountability from me), I’m not nearly as productive as I could be. I’m a perfectionist and perfectionism is not conducive to drafting. Something doesn’t sit right inside if I know a sentence isn’t as strong as it could be. (Mandi edit here, I’ve seen this first hand, this was draft number two of these questions!)
What advice can you give to budding writers?
I find the usual hackneyed advice holds true. Read widely. Finish your shit. Get a reliable critique group. Get out once in awhile. Redraft relentlessly. Eat your veggies.
Are you dreaming fully awake and how did you get there?
Not entirely sure of the question, but I think you’re asking if I’m living the life I aspire to. If so, yes (with an asterisk!). I’ve said before in an earlier blog post that the life I have is proportionate to the effort I’ve put in. I believe that. I love living in Australia (not originally from here, you see); Melbourne, in particular, is a wonderful creative hub. I’m also thankful to have found my life’s passion. That sounds a bit wanky, but so many of my friends are floundering about in careers, degrees or situations that don’t inspire them. They’re apathetic, directionless, which is a horrible fate.
I feel (perhaps naively) that I’m beginning to make traction with writing. I’ve had a handful of modest publishing successes and, in turn, my confidence is growing. Growing up, I often felt like a waste of space (thanks, sports-obsessed high school!), so it’s validating to now have others respect and value my work.
All that said, there’s still much work to do before the fantasy is reality. That’s fine, though; I’m learning daily and having a blast. The asterisk is because I live in a (figurative) shoebox – i.e. a cramped suburban apartment bordered by loud, inconsiderate neighbours – and am typically skint. Not ideal, but I do okay (excepting the odd demoralising dinner of baked beans on toast). Wealth’s not much of a motivator for me, but destitution (or at least the privileged white person’s definition of it) is definitely not part of the dream.
About the Dreamer
Tom is currently studying Writing and Publishing at NMIT. His work has appeared in [untitled], INfusion, Vine Leaves, Inscribe and Crack the Spine. Check him out at his blog.