I have someone special to introduce to you for today’s instalment of In the Armchair. Reena and I have been online friends for a few years. I came to know her mostly through the brilliant short fiction she shares on Twitter. She’s one of those people whose timeline is filled with honesty and beauty.
Twitter can be a mysterious land. It’s a treat to have Reena in the armchair here on the blog, so we can get to know her better. She’s here to talk about her anthology Falling into the Five Senses, co-authored with Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke and Roger Jackson, who are all part of Twitter’s microfiction community. It’s a fantastic writing team.
Over to Reena…
Falling into the Five Senses
Genre: Magical realism
Editorial team: Reena Dobson & Maria Carvalho
Book Cover Design: Reena Dobson
Stars moving out of their constellations, a chef with a tasty secret, a man who can foretell a person’s death by their scent, and a mysterious island lost at the end of the known world…
These are just some of the stories in this collection of imaginative tales about the five senses. Stretching across genres ranging from sci-fi to horror, lyrical to steampunk, this anthology will leave you with a taste for more.
Featuring the writing talents of Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke, Reena Dobson and Roger Jackson, Falling into the Five Senses is a collection of five stories each, by four authors, from three continents, with two editors, which all adds up to one thrilling reading experience.
‘Mr Glass had foolishly underestimated the reactions of jaded, polite society towards a man who can apparently taste diamonds. Facts, rumours and outright fictions followed him like the magnificent tails of sparks and lights attached to the giant clockwork peacocks in Hyde Park—bright, fast and ever-changing.’ ~ The Diamond Taster by Reena Dobson
Reena, what do you write and why?
My favourite writing (and playing) place is what they call fabulism, a form of magical realism. I enjoy expanding the world around me with questions like ‘what if a tree’s dearest wish was to hold an umbrella for a day?’ or ‘would we want to have snippets of our truest thoughts appear on our palms like a random shifting scroll?’ It lets me live in my everyday, but to also play with the edges, and to hopefully not take life for granted.
What sparks your urge to write and what do you find most challenging about being a writer?
I’m inspired by a good idea that I can’t bear to let go of, even though I have no idea of where to take it. A stray thought that captures an essence. A particular scene which strikes me in some way. The vibe in a place. And most recently, a song which I’ve listened to for many years, which has suddenly sparked a volcano of ideas.
And the challenging bit? I build up everything in my head—the story, characters, arcs, climaxes, denouements, even the closing sentences. But then, the words coming out through my fingertips don’t match the beautiful, completed scene in my head. It makes writing painful. Much more painful than it has to be. Why? Then I keep wanting to go back, dither, polish, rewrite, repeat, stall. I’m not a get-the-words-down-quick-and-messy type, and I don’t think I would want to be that. But I think a little more insouciance would make the process more… joyous. Like it could be.
‘The cold water eats you, takes you into its depths, holds you down, hugs you, suffocates you with as much love as you’ve shown your wife. You breathe in the river, and even in your wrecked state, you thrash about, fighting for a life you wanted to throw away.’ ~ Chill of the Water Below by Cedrix E. Clarke
How did the Falling into the Five Senses anthology collaboration come about and what did you learn in the process?
The idea came about thanks to one of the early editions of the Friday Phrases Twitter microfiction community. I was regularly in awe of how Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke, and Roger Jackson played with the optional prompt, how they built entire worlds in 140 characters, and did in week in, week out.
I approached people whose writing I admire tremendously. It turns out this was a good approach, because they are all incredibly lovely and generous people, who patiently and kindly expanded their writing, gave extra time for beta-reading, and then opened up more and more reserves of patience as the project expanded, shifted and then took an enforced rest as real life (and a baby, work and a move interstate) all spun me off-track for a while.
What I learned is that no matter how well you plan projects, things often won’t go plan. Keep broad timeframes for different sections of the project, and add more detail to those sections when you reach them. At the beginning, it’s very easy—too easy!—to overestimate how quickly something can happen. Then life gets in the way, and where you were at the beginning won’t necessarily be where you are at the end. I’m glad and grateful that my fellow authors hung in there, because I’m so very proud of the final anthology. I think it’s a beautiful book, full of inspiring words, scenes and stories.
I want to give a special shout-out to Maria Carvalho, as one of the most generous and detail-oriented editors I have ever met, who gave so much extra time to the anthology over and over. She picked up every little thing—the missing prepositions and typos that our reading brains can often auto-correct and skip over, consistency of grammar, lack of clarity in descriptions—Maria zeroed in unerringly on them all. No matter how good a writer you are, you need editorial eyes of Maria’s calibre. If you had the wisdom to bring Maria on board as part of the project ahead of time, you can’t fail.
‘As I survey the surrounding area to check whether there are any more mysterious lights, my gaze comes to rest on the Big Dipper. I stare at it, confused—something about it doesn’t seem quite right. I can make out the familiar shape, but it looks strange. And then I realize why: two of its stars are missing.’ ~ The Breakup by Maria Carvalho
Which authors have influenced how you write?
Neil Gaiman is the main person who leaps to mind. His writing is generous and seemingly effortless, to the point that even his non-fiction writings have inspired fiction writing. I wrote a long post here about how his collection of non-fiction writings was the catalyst for my anthology’s story on taste.
Two of my stories in the Five Senses anthology, ‘The Diamond Taster’ and ‘A Touch of Heart’, were inspired after reading Gaiman’s View from the Cheap Seats. I think it’s that he makes me realise afresh that the magic of fiction is that you can write in any direction about anything. And suddenly I was releasing limitations on the senses that I hadn’t even realised I’d put there. What if diamonds could talk and someone could understand what they said? What if you were on a peninsula that floated away to become an island – and what on earth does that have to do with a sense of touch? Gaiman’s writing inspires these freeing realisations.
‘A young girl walked by, an invisible essence of embers swirling in her wake, as if she’d emerged from the hellish mouth of a crematorium. Her hair was as black as smoke and smelled like it too. One corner of a battered paperback peeked out from her jacket pocket. I’d already read the novel years ago and I had a sudden urge to tell her the ending, knowing that she’d never have time to finish it.’ ~ Phantosmia by Roger Jackson
(Click here for a writing game collaboration Nillu did with Roger a few years ago!)
Are you working on a new manuscript?
Always! At the moment, I’m focused on a collection of my short stories—microfiction, short shorts and longer shorts. I’m still feeling my way towards immersing myself in a full-length story. I’m working my way up from microfiction tweets to short stories and will eventually get to the full novel—with probably a novella or two in-between! For now, I want to make a home for my shorter pieces.
Reena Dobson began pursuing her creative writing with a vengeance when she realised the world was never going to stop and give her time to write. She now writes at the edges, in sunshine and under cover of darkness.
She’s had a short story published in issue 21 of Siren’s Call eZine. Falling into the Five Senses is her first big creative writing project. The Five Senses anthology was born in the land of blue mountains, cold and kangaroos and was completed in the land of frangipanis, poincianas and koalas—where she now lives with her family.