Story City

I’ve just wrapped up my recent project, working as a writer for Story City– an interactive choose-your-own adventure story app.

Story City was started by the wonderful Emily Craven as a way of celebrating the cities we live and play in through digital locative storytelling. The stories you’ll find on the app are like old school Give Yourself Goosebumps/Choose Your Own Adventure branching narratives. However, instead of simply flipping to a numbered page to make your next move, you physically walk to various locations in metropolitan and suburban areas of Brisbane to unlock the next scene. We incorporated artworks, architecture, landmarks and landscapes into our stories to create an immersive and reader-driven story experience.

I chose to set my story, ‘The Curse of the Bramble Spirit’, in my home suburb of Sandgate. As Sandgate is a coastal suburb with a lot of rich history and heritage architecture, it felt only natural for me to write a ghost story, focusing on a mysterious ghost ship sailing around Bramble Bay.

This project was a huge challenge, but so rewarding. One of my writing weaknesses has always been structuring and planning, but you simply can’t write a branching narrative without a lot of forethought. So I learnt the value in sketching and re-sketching dozens of story maps. The other great thing about working on Story City was collaborating with other creatives. As well as two fellow writers, I also got to work with local artist Clare Neal and musician/sound designer Schae to make these stories multi-sensory.

If you’re looking for something fun to do, or a way to see Brisbane and its suburbs through different eyes, download the Story City app and start adventuring! All the stories are family-friendly, but they’re definitely not just for kids. And if you make it to Sandgate and catch sight of the Bramble Spirit, let me know how your journey goes!

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(Art by Clare Neal)

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Finding stories in Portugal & the Netherlands

I just came back from two short but full weeks exploring Porto + Lisbon in Portugal, and Amsterdam + surrounds in the Netherlands.

While I was away, I became a little obsessed with writing TripAdvisor reviews, only because I’d found them so helpful when I’d been scouting hotels/restaurants/medieval churches etc. to visit, and I wanted to give back to the community. When you sign up as a TripAdvisor reviewer, you’re meant to pick your ‘Travel Style’ from a list of badges such as ‘Nightlife Seeker’, ‘History Buff’, ‘Foodie’, ‘Eco-tourist’, and so on and so forth. I struggled with this, because I’m kind of just a person who wanted to see beautiful and strange sights and learn some interesting things about the world and its inhabitants. I didn’t have a specialty.

But if I had to pick a specialty, I’d say that I did gravitate towards places that had some kind of literary significance – notable bookstores, spaces writers & artists frequented, attractions that celebrated story or literary culture in some way. Here’s a quick collection of those places, their history and my experiences.

1. Guerra Junqueiro House Museum – Porto, Portugal

This lesser-known attraction is the 18th-century home of a famous Portuguese poet, preserved and turned into a museum that boasts an intimate and impressive collection of Portuguese silverware, ceramics, jewellery, furniture and religious artwork. While the collection isn’t ‘literary’ as such, it seems in line with the poet’s vision of preserving and promoting art and cultural artefacts. You can read Junqueiro’s poem The Digger in English here. The melancholy nature of it seems common in Portuguese art.

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(Casa Junqueiro exterior)

2. Livraria Lello Bookstore – Porto, Portugal

Livraria Lello is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal, and one of the most beautiful in the world, according to sources such as the Guardian, Lonely Planet, myself and now you, once you look up all the photographs. The rich wood, pressed copper and stained glass decor is so gorgeous, you almost forget to stop and look at the books. Luckily there’s a cute little cafe on the top floor where you can sit and have a coffee and admire it all.

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(Staircase inside Livraria Lello)

3. The Majestic Cafe – Porto, Portugal

This historic cafe, with its stunning art nouveau decor, has been frequented by significant Portuguese politicians, artists, writers, academics, and other important public figures since its opening in 1921. (Including, apparently, everyone’s favourite J.K. Rowling when she lived in Porto in the 1990s and was penning a little story about a wizard.) We had some fantastic cheeses and glasses of port here. It was quite busy and cramped inside, so I’d say it’s a better place for artistic conversation than artistic meditation these days.

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(The Majestic Cafe exterior)

4. Livraria Bertrand – Lisbon, Portugal

This is meant to be the oldest bookstore in the world, founded in 1732. It was destroyed in 1755 by the earthquake that annihilated basically everything in Lisbon (seriously, look it up), but was rebuilt shortly after. The bookstore’s stock and interior now resemble the clean and bright shelves of chain bookstores such as Waterstones or old Borders (R.I.P), but the decor and furnishings hint at its longstanding history. (I picked up a copy of Pessoa’s selected poetry here, as it seemed necessary I check out Portugal’s most celebrated poet when in his home city of Lisbon).

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(Livraria Bertrand on Rua Garrett)

5. Lisboa Story Centre – Lisbon, Portugal

This one doesn’t necessarily have literary history attached to it, so much as it’s an example of history presented in a literary way. The Libsoa (the local way of spelling Lisbon) Story Centre is an interactive museum where you’re given an audio guide that leads you through colourful and entertaining exhibits that present Lisbon’s impressive history in chronological order, beginning with the Phoenicians. It’s like walking through a pop-up history book, with a notable segment being ‘the earthquake room’, where you hear and see the story of the 1755 earthquake played out.

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(Exhibit at the Lisboa Story Centre)

6. The Anne Frank House – Amsterdam, Netherlands

This is, of course, a must-see for any visitor to Amsterdam, literary significance aside. But as a young writer, I was struck by the experience of walking through the house where Anne and her family had lived in secrecy for all those years, and seeing the physical journals in their glass cases at the end of the tour. Everyone finds a different way to connect to Anne’s story, but for me, it’s a testament to the power of the written word, and the importance of preserving human experiences.

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(Anne Frankhuis from across the canal)

7. Efteling – Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands

This is a theme park a little outside of Amsterdam that celebrates all things fantasy, fairy tale and folklore. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to stepping into a different world. The attention to detail in this wonderland is astounding–every inch of it is a work of art. Park highlights include the Droomvlucht – a suspended carriage ride through multiple fantasy settings, and Raveleijn – a live stunt show featuring trained ravens, swordfights, and real horses on fire. The dragon rollercoaster is also a must-do, because it’s a dragon rollercoaster.

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(Entrance to the Droomvlucht ‘Dream Flight’ ride at Efteling)

8. The Bench – Amsterdam, Netherlands

I’ll end on a contemporary one. Fans of John Green’s young-adult novel The Fault in Our Stars will know that a part of the book/movie is set in Amsterdam, and you can visit the very bench one of the story’s most heartbreaking scenes takes place on. I found it. I sat on it. I felt sad.

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(Hazel and Gus’s bench by the Leidsegracht canal)

I saw other amazing things too, like the still-sturdy walls of Sao Jorge Castle, the dim halls of multiple port cellars, vibrant Porto from the dizzying heights of a cable car, the gorgeous floral universe that is Keukenhopf Gardens, and Sunflowers by Van Gogh IRL. Even the non-literary places were rich in story and personal experiences. I’m glad to have seen it all, and to have brought little pieces of multiple worlds back in my suitcase.

The Krampus Collection

Thanks so much to everyone who sent through submissions for my ‘Krampus Crackers’ project with Tiny Owl Workshop. I loved reading the varied and fantastic stories Krampus inspired. It was hard to choose the final twelve, but I’m pleased to announce that the following stories will be appearing in Christmas crackers around Brisbane this December:

Christmas Cake – Amanda Niehaus
Mum, I’m In Love With Krampus – Andrei Seleznev
The Story-Stealer – CC Macdonald
The Horns of Christmas – Omar Sakr
Krampus Meets the Original Slashie – Glen Donaldson
The Gift – Ira McGuire
Give a Shit This Christmas – Ryan Sim
How to Survive a Family Christmas with the Norse Gods – Robert G. Cook
Kramme Pass – Stuart Dunstan
The Christmas Wish – Mish Gittens
Reindeer in Admin Roles – Harlan Ambrose
Horns – Nicola Nixon

I endeavoured to get back to everyone who submitted, as I did really appreciate the response. So even if you didn’t make the list, check your inbox for some feedback!

Now the editing begins. Stay tuned for where and how you can read these darkly festive pieces.

Krampus Crackers

The Christmas project I’m curating and editing for Brisbane indie publisher Tiny Owl Workshop has launched!

We’re looking for Christmas-themed flash fiction inspired by the Krampus myth. Twelve stories, accompanied by six illustrations by artists including Terry Whidborne and Simon Cottee, will be made into sets of ‘Krampus Crackers’, to be distributed in various hot locations around Brisbane this Christmas.

Check out the full submission guidelines here. 

Tiny Owl is constantly coming up with new and creative ways to publish great fiction, and I’m so excited to be involved with this project. Looking forward to seeing what you talented little elves send through.

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Check Out

Things I’ve been up to:

  • Writing a four-part serial story for Steez magazine. Steez is a US-based snow, skate & culture quarterly, and they’re basically too cool for me. But they’re featuring my story ‘Rocky’–about a stolen parrot–over the next four fantastic issues. Check out Part I in Issue 31 here.
  • Reading at June’s ‘Whispers’ literary salon run by the Queensland Writers Centre. If you’ve never been to a Whispers event, GOOOOO. Such a great opportunity to meet and hear from local established and emerging writers. Our theme for June was ‘The Best Thing’ and I read a story about a guy who can talk to birds, which is now seeking a good home. (Side note: all my stories lately are about birds, help).
  • Cooking up an exciting Christmas project with Tiny Owl Workshop. Will be posting more about it in July when submissions open, so keep an eye out. And for God’s sake, become a Tiny Owl Workshop fan if you aren’t already–they’re taking indie publishing to the NEXT LEVEL. They were the masterminds behind the recent napkin stories collections and the Pillow Fight project I was lucky enough to be a part of last year.
  • Trying very very hard to seriously plan a trip with the Book Bus. I won’t even try to explain why this is so important to me. Just check it out for yourself (hint: animals and cool kids).
  • Feeling very glad I didn’t let not loving ‘The Luminaries’ (winner of the 2013 Man Booker prize) deter me from Eleanor Catton altogether. I went out and bought her first novel ‘The Rehearsal’ and wow, that girl can write. Please check it out also.
  • Reading subs for Aurealis magazine. If you’re a fan of quality fantasy, horror & sci-fi, check that out too.

Got enough cool lit stuff to check out now? Tired of me saying ‘check it out?’ Good. I’ll check out.

Love Kahli xo

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SPUN.

If you live in Brisbane and you like stories, you need to know about Yarn.

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NO SILLY, not that kind of yarn. Cats love this Yarn better, seriously. I’m talking about Yarn: stories spun in Brisbane, the bi-monthly storytelling event series held in bars and cafes around our beautiful city. Inspired by the New York-based The Moth series, Yarn features six tellers who get up and tell a true story, live and without notes, to a captive and normally really attractive audience.

This month, I was lucky enough to be one of those six tellers and I enjoyed the whole experience so much I just knew I had to blog about it. This month’s theme was Gods and Monsters and I told a little tale about gargoyles and a man I once met who liked to talk to them. Also featured on the night were stories about evil teachers, monsters who look like gods, gods who look like monsters, rats & emo babes, a cute bat (I think all bats are cute), biblical rains, oh and Hungarian Elvis. The whole thing reminded me that good stories aren’t always make-believe and written on paper, and that there are a lot of people out there who will max out the State Library cafe to hear ordinary people…well, spin a yarn, I guess.

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Look, there I am, Yarnin’ it up. The whole ‘talking in public’ thing was also a little bit nerve-wracking, as 612 ABC Radio Brisbane host Steve Austin decided to highlight when he interviewed Yarn co-producer Ryan Sim, Yarn teller Harlan Ambrose and myself, on the morning of the event. He was totally trying to psych us out–you can have a listen to the segment here.

If you want to stay up to date with Yarn, please follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

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Dogs also love Yarn. WHO DOESN’T LOVE YARN??

Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize Shortlist

Another bit of cool news–my manuscript for young adults, The Button Makers, has been shortlisted for the Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize 2013.

This is something I’ve been working on since 2009, so if you’ve talked to me about writing in any capacity over the last four years, you’ve probably heard me mutter a little about it. It’s the only manuscript I’ve ever completed and that initially scared me–what was I meant to do with this thing I had now made? I had an obligation to somehow send it stumbling off into the world, right?

Awesome competitions like the Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize give people like me an answer to that daunting question. They give young writers a chance and, if we happen to make it this far, that lovely feeling of validation that people who know what they’re talking about have read your work and liked it. The prize itself, of course, is even more awesome–a potential worldwide publishing contract and full editorial support from the Hot Key team.

Regardless of who takes out the prize, I’m super grateful for the opportunity. It feels like every week I’m discovering new platforms giving emerging writers a shot, and that makes me really excited for the future of publishing.

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Cheeeeeeeers, xo