These Vagabond Shoes (Are Longing to Stray)

UnisphereWell, here I am in the Big Apple. New York (New Yoooork, it’s a wonderful tooooown!). The location of so many TV shows I’ve loved: Castle. Beauty and the Beast. Fame. Flight of the Conchords. Elementary.

Top Cat.

You’d think the celluloid connections would suggest plenty of things to do and see in New York, but that’s not the case. I’m not that interested in chasing down film locations for the sake of it (and in any case, many locations from NY-set shows aren’t necessarily in New York, or even real).

Ticking Off the List of Big Things is also not something I’m very keen on. Of course I took the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, though I didn’t disembark at Liberty Island. She looks grand enough from the water.

I liked the immigration museum on Ellis Island too, because the social history of New York is fascinating. Tim and I saw some great pieces at the Museum of Modern Art, and tomorrow we’re taking in an off-Broadway show – but I’m happy enough to look at the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings from across the East River or from the street below, without having to climb them.

Into the boroughs

Instead, I find great pleasure in exploring neighbourhoods. I enjoyed poking around odd little parts of London at the start of this trip, and this week I’ve had the best fun away from the crowds, noise and bustle of Manhattan’s Midtown and Downtown. Instead, I’ve seen what places like Queens, Bushwick and Flushing have to offer. As a writer, a city’s commercial heart may be interesting, but it can lack the texture of the areas where locals live, work and play.

It was in the boroughs and quieter ‘hoods of Manhattan that I noticed things like the graffiti and the way the trapdoors to basements might be left open – perhaps for the unwary to fall into. It’s there I saw kids playing, and noticed the housing that was clad in weatherboard as well as brick; where we stopped at local cafes and had brief but entertaining conversations with staff and customers.

Long Island City, Queens

IMG_8055A lot of the boroughs are kind of quirky. The Z Hotel in Long Island City, Queens, gave us a terrific view across the East River to the Manhattan skyline, while being located amidst taxicab depots and a lot of light industry.

New Yorkers would have nothing to do with the odd passive-aggressive ‘Polite Notices’ (that weren’t especially polite) that I kept seeing in London, and instead tell it like it is with signs frankly warning you not to park in private parking areas.

IMG_8028This area also had a lot of these very old fashioned fire alarm systems – any passer-by could pull the lever to alert emergency services of a fire. We weren’t convinced that they were still active, though this one seemed to be attached to the telegraph wires. Tim had to exercise superhuman control to not pull the lever just to see what would happen.

In any case, Long Island City was a nice low-key district (and it was by chance I discovered that Silvertop Studios, which makes Elementary, is housed nearby). I had a pleasant time meeting the locals when I visited the local laundromat on our first night to clean up my travel wardrobe.

Lower West Side, Manhattan

Highline 1But it’s not all sassy signage and soap bubbles. Sometimes it’s reclaimed parkland. The High Line is a former above-ground freight rail line that was abandoned and then, in recent years, reclaimed as a linear park. Threading among derelict factories, new housing complexes and rejuvenated neighbourhoods in the Lower West Side, it starts in Chelsea and ends in the Meatpacking District.

The paths are pleasant, the greenery encouraged to grow without too much manicuring. It’s a welcome respite from the madness of the rest of Manhattan. It’s full of locals as well as visitors, and the path cleaves through a building at one point where you can get food and even a really excellent espresso coffee. (That’s right – New York has discovered espresso and the Melburnian coffee-holic can survive quite handily here.)

Highline 2

Central Park, Manhattan

The High Line isn’t the only lovely green space in New York. There’s the famous Central Park, too. No sign of Vincent the cat-faced, poetry-reading, tortured-yet-cuddly hero of 1980s Beauty and the Beast, but there was a lawn. On which we stretched out for little while, loving the rich smell of grass and loam, soaking up the hot New York summer sun until I began to wonder if I could get sunburned through my jeans, and also wondering if I would be nested on by squirrels if I sat still long enough. I took a flat-on-my-belly-in-the-grass-eye-view picture to convey some of the loveliness of my Lazy New York Adventure.

Central Parkflushing statue

Flushing, Queens

Another wonderful green space is in Flushing, the home of the World Fairs of 1939 and 1964. Very little remains of the old fairs beyond the layout and a few key structures (like the Unisphere, at the top of this post) but it’s a wonderfully quiet area in the borough of Queens.

When the sirens, the crowds, the smell of the subway and the sight of steam billowing out of grates (it really does do that) has your senses demanding downtime, a train to this huge park is just the ticket.

And when you have had enough of bloody parks as well, you can find some interesting urban neighbourhoods to explore.

Bushwick, Brooklyn

Bushwick 1But wait! I think I lied about the sassy signage! Not all of it is official, and I loved this little doublet of graffiti stuck on the side of a posting box in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

I also got a little unexpected NYPD Street Theatre in Bushwick, when I popped into a post office to buy postcard stamps and two burly officers seemed to appear out of thin air to deal with a customer who was getting stroppy with the staff about some problem with a… thing.

God knows. But they dealt with it with the kind of calm sternness one associates with the gruffer kind of primary school teacher, and nobody got shot. (I suspect I watch waaaaaay too many crime shows…)

Bushwick 2Bushwick also has some fabulous street art and we came across some great examples on a street that also boasted a coffee shop with a Twin Peaks theme.

Manhattan transfer

But if you love the bustling heart of a great big city, it’s there. The New York subway is every bit as grungy, sweaty, zippy and intriguing as I’ve always thought it would be; the New York delis as thriving and fascinating as expected, and with excellent food.

New Yorkers are forthright but mostly friendly, and they never seem to mind that Sinatra’s New York, New York is an earworm that I can’t help singing as I walk along.

Apart from anything else, Midtown gifted me with this gem – a Cupcake ATM. That’s right. An ATM. THAT DISPENSES CUPCAKES!!

No matter what you want from it – TV locations, green spaces, mad bustle, cupcakes from an ATM – New York, ladies and gentleman, does not disappoint.

Thank you to the Z Hotel and NYC and Co for discounted accommodation and other assistance.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

The Lady Novelist Fangirls Out in Cardiff

fangirlWhen Tim and I were walking down to Cardiff Bay, on our way to the Doctor Who Experience, I said to him: “I’m getting my fangirl geek on for this.”

Tim laughed and laughed at that one. As if my fangirl geek wasn’t already on; wasn’t constantly on. It was a fair cop. I therefore declared that I was flicking dust from my fangirl geek cuffs, setting it hat at a raking angle and walking jauntily towards my date with Adventure! Or at least with the Doctor Who Experience!

I’ve wanted to go to the exhibition and interactive adventure ever since Tim saw it in London a while back and spoke so highly of it. Since then, it had moved to its permanent and purpose-built home in Cardiff, so of course we made time for it on our current Tour of Blighty. (We got in just in time – the Experience closes very shortly for an overhaul, and will reopen in October with a brand new Doctor and a whole new Experience!)

The exhibits are great, but it really is the interactive experience that makes this whole thing worth a visit (and the price of entry). Lighting effects, physical effects, atmospheric sets and effective soundscapes make for a fun and immersive activity – but as always with theatre (which it undoubtedly is) the key element is the participants’ own willing suspension of disbelief. As an adult it would be too easy to decide it’s all just smoke and mirrors (or lighting effects and sensaround) and not be impressed, but you won’t have any fun that way.

DWE 1Instead, I let a lifetime of being spooked by threatening creatures; feeling excited by the appearance of the TARDIS; and yearning to be a companion for just one adventure carry the moment.

I managed to in fact spook myself and duck once or twice and have a rip-roaring good time. If you missed the Matt Smith version, I’m sure the upcoming Peter Capaldi adventure will be just as good. And if you saw this version – now you have an excuse to come back!

The static exhibition will no doubt have more costumes and props to display as well.

But Cardiff has more for the fangirl and boy than the Doctor Who Experience. There’s also a semi-official memorial to a fictional character, and a castle that plays supporting roles in show.

The Ianto Jones Shrine sprang up after that character met his sad fate in the third season of Torchwood. I wasn’t a fan of the first two seasons of the show, but I thought the third was excellent SF (and it had Capaldi in it, huzzah!) but Ianto’s death was sad very effecting. It certainly seems to have made an impact on his fans, who started an impromptu shrine on the boardwalk by Cardiff Bay. It became such a big thing that the local authorities finally erected a permanent plaque about the shrine to a fictional character.

IMG_6039One theme that popped up in several of the letters and notes attached to the grating of the wall was the notion that he did not pass a ‘blip in time’. One item hung on the grate was in memory of a woman who wasn’t able to get to Cardiff in person due to ill health and passed away – her friends leaving a note to her that ‘you aren’t just a blip in time to us, either’.

I’m sure there are essays out there exploring more of why this character and his death affected so many, but I think that speech of his touched a nerve. Perhaps most of us will pass without having made any major impact on history or broader life, but perhaps we want to know that we mattered more than passingly to those we loved.

Memory does endure, though, especially if any of the exhbitions and articles about Great War I’ve been exploring are any indication. Loss leaves a hole, and though it may stop bleeding and may heal over with a scar, there will often be that mark, that absence of a person who should have been there, a hole in the fabric of broader lives… and I’m getting too philosophical maybe, after an afternoon spent at the Imperial War Museum, but anyway. A human response to the loss of a single fictional character is a sort of dress rehearsal for other losses, and none of those lost are blips. They always leave spaces in personal histories and individual hearts.

After reflecting on death and loss and people both real and invented, I spent part of the next day at Cardiff Castle. With BBC Wales based in Cardiff, it’s no wonder that the Castle is used as a location in many shows shot here – including two of my favourites, Dr Who and Sherlock.The Castle even offers a film location tour on this aspect of the site.

IMG_6319Having said that, though, I wasn’t all squeeful about spotting TV locations around the castle, because I am separately a fan of castles in their own right. Castles are neat! Castles are filled with layers of history, and layers of imagination. Castles weren’t always used for fortification, or at least not only for fortification. They have pasts full of luxury and leisure as well as warlike stances and defensive bristling.

Cardiff Castle, for example, has roots down to the Roman era; it has a Norman keep. The main living quarters are all faux-medieval having been done up in the 19th Century as Gothic Revival; and in the 20th Century it was opened to locals as a bomb shelter during WWII.

attack beaversElements of the Gothic Revival decorations entertained me the most, though. Oh, our Victorian era brethren, how you loved to make stuff up and then pass it off as tradition! You sure made a mess for the lovers of historical accuracy, but as a storyteller, I can’t help but to think you delightful for your crazy. (Speaking of which, I love the Attack Beavers depicted on the rooftop water fountain. They look like their fish are loaded and they are not afraid to use ‘em.)

Discussing this with Tim, we wondered whether that Victoria habit of making up ‘traditional’ legends and traditions was a reaction to industrialisation; and whether our modern habit of being all retro hip with 19th Century hipster beards and 1950s Betty Page hair-dos and cupcakes is a similar treasure-the-past reaction to contemporary anxiety about constant connectivity, climate change and fear of surveillance through the smart devices to which we are so addicted.

IMG_6309Or, you know, maybe we just think the hair is cool.

Finally, I leave you with a giant and rather cranky owl who squawked a lot and glared with his giant golden eyes because he wanted his dinner RIGHT NOW. He was like a giant feathered cat.

The castle falconer had a number of birds out for us to see. The white barn owl made me think of Hedwig (and that always makes me weepy) and there was a tiny wee owl called Pocket who of course made me think of the Weasley’s owl, Errol, only Pocket was more sprightly and even cuter.

So. Cardiff. A fangirl’s delight. I recommend it. 

Thank you to Visit Britain and Visit Wales for hosting us.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Writers’ Insecurity? Stake that vampire in its cold, dead heart!

No doubt the topic of writerly insecurity has been covered before. And it will be again. And we will probably all quote Neil Gaiman’s story about calling his agent to say how awful his latest book was.

But the thing is, this writerly insecurity is a persistent infection. It’s a nasty little bastard that makes life hard. So we need to innoculate ourselves frequently. It’s not a waste of time to repeat the story. It’s a damned survival skill.

I read that story of Gaiman’s years ago, and it was a kind of lifeline to me. The news that Neil Gaiman experienced the same doubts that I did was a revelation. The fact that his writerly insecurities happened so often that he talked about hating every single word as simply a regular phase of writing made me feel so much better as a writer.

I mean, if Mr-Hugo-Nebula-Carnegie Winner feels that way too, then it’s obvious that I’m not alone, and that all writers must get attacked by the same collywobbles in much the same way.

Furthermore, that means that the voice in your head telling you that what you’re doing is rubbish is not necessarily telling you the truth, and that the little bastard is certainly not your friend.

Obviously, it never hurts to assess what you’re working on, and to work on it till your fingers bleed and your eyeballs dry out from staring, to ensure you are doing the best work you know how. But if you are working like a Trojan already, then chances are that the snide little voice in your head is what one playwright called a ‘Vampire of Doubt’.

In the musical [Title of Show] there is a whole song and dance sequence about the self-doubt that creeps in. With wit and nifty harmonies, the song Die, Vampire, Die identifies that voice of doubt and disparagement that whispers in your ear to “give up, you’re no good, blah blah blah” and gives some quite good advice about it.

(Here it is – with a language warning!)

 By the way, one of my favourite bits of the lyric, which is a spoken section, is:

“Why is it that if some dude walked up to me on the subway platform and said these things, I’d think he was a mentally ill asshole, but if the vampire inside my head says it, It’s the voice of reason.”

We are always all too ready to accept our vampire of doubt as the Voice of Truth. And it’s not.

Of course, writers need to develop a rational and balanced sense of our work, to know when it’s not coming together as planned, when to do better. But we need to learn to separate the rational practice of improving as writers from the simple fear that we’re not good enough.

If you want to improve as a writer, then write more. Write differently, experiment, play around with ideas, push yourself, ask for external feedback, collaborate.

Start, continue, finish – then start again.

But don’t let the vampire of doubt make you stop.

Stake that bloodsucking bastard right in the heart and keep on writing.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Launceston, architecture and ghosts

BillTim and I have been in Launceston for a few days, guests of Launceston City Council, and have been sampling copious amounts of cider and excellent food. For science!

Well, no, probably not for science, but we’ve been dedicated, I promise you that. This evening, we went on the Launceston City Ghost Tour, guided by Bill – he of the cape and atmospheric voice.

The night was bitterly cold but Bill set a brisk pace as he walked us around the centre of Launceston, visiting wonderful old buildings, sometimes leading us into darkened cellars and ill-lit garages, and keeping up an entertaining stream of storytelling and terrible jokes.

Launceston is Australia’s third oldest city, founded in 1806. It was from here that Batman and Fawkner set off to found Melbourne and then spend the rest of their lives arguing over who did it first.

Some lovely architecture remains intact from the city’s foundation through to the late 19th century, so naturally it’s a town ripe with folklore and spooky stories.

It’s also one of those places that was lucky enough to fall into economic decline at just the right time to avoid having these wonderful buildings knocked down – so instead of hideous mid-20th century blocks of concrete and pebblestone facades, we still have elegant churches, warehouses, former grand homes and current hotels, many beautifully restored.

0108dd50b4323aa87ce2a3312201f1411d2d71fc7fFor many, seeing the city’s architecture by night will be reason enough to go on the walk, but of course, it’s a ghost tour – so while I enjoyed the visual drama, I was really there for the tales of macabre deaths and gruesome deeds.

There are plenty of  both of course, along with mysterious occurrences whose origins are unknown. But Bill grins wickedly and tells the tale anyway.

There are the traditional theatre ghosts, the star-crossed lovers, the cruel murders and the terrible accidents. There are tales of hotel and pub staff disturbed by odd noises and ghostly fingers on skin, and visions of spirits running down halls.

Perhaps it’s true that my most terrifying moment in Launceston was the landing of our Jetstar flight in strong winds that made it feel like the plane was being shaken about like a maraca – but to be fair, the ghost walk was certainly a whole lot more fun than that, too. Vastly entertaining, in fact.

And if you don’t believe in ghosts – you still have the pretty buildings to look at.

When you’re in Launceston, book your ghost tour with Bill or one of the other guides at Launceston City Ghost Tours

Disclosure: Tim and I were hosted by Launceston City Council.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Lost and Found 8: Journey

Lost and found earringEveryone thinks Journey is a bit dizzy, a bit flaky, a bit of a hippy. (Her name doesn’t really help.) They think this almost like it’s a bad thing.

People like her, it’s true – in that abstract way that most of them like summer, or a glass of water when they feel quite thirsty, or a starlit night sky, which they only look at once in a while and think it’s pretty but then go on with whatever they were doing before they looked up into the diamond-studded infinite.

People like Journey almost like it’s a habit, and one that refreshes, but doesn’t linger for long. She seems apart from them somehow. She seems like she knows something that they don’t. She acts like she has the key to uncomplicated happiness.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe the people who like her are a bit jealous. They don’t know how to let go of worry. They’re never quite content with who they are and where they are; all too busy being distracted by the concern of what now? what next?

It’s not like Journey radiates an over-the-top, sing-in-the-street, look-mum-I’m-dancing joy. She just seems content with her lot, though distracted in thoughts of, not what next, but this right here right now is kind of lovely.

Journey likes natural fabrics and fresh, organic food and jewellery of pure silver that jangles when she walks. She likes the way cats purr and the vibration travels from their tiny bodies right into her hands when she strokes them and calls them sweet little kitty. She likes how bees are fuzzy and how oranges sometimes squirt you in the eye when you bite into them and the sound of horse hooves on the tarmac of the city street and the ding of the tram bell and the squeal of kids running through the fountain in front of the casino in summer.

She likes rain on her arms and wind in her dark hair. She likes the sun on her face, and that her dark brown skin doesn’t burn.

Journey likes walking everywhere. She likes stopping to smell the flowers in a very literal sense. She’s been known to stop and smell grass.

And she likes all these things in a low-key way. She’s not all manic-pixie-dreamgirl about them, despite her name and the tinkling silver jewellery. It all simply makes her calm and mindful and content.

Here’s a secret.

It’s true. Journey does know something that other people don’t know.

She knows what comes next. Came next. Will be next.

Grammar is difficult when you are living in your own past; when you’re a grain of the future stranded back in the time Before (but you are still the Yet To Be for the environment you inhabit, for the acquaintances who like you but don’t know anything about you).

Journey knows a lot about quantum physics and the machine powered by an entire sun that sent her back to gather data. Her understanding of climate change is very good too – all the survivors, rather belatedly, have a good understanding of the stupidity humanity did to itself.

The machines in Journey’s head and skeleton interact with the ones she wears on her body to send vital data through space and also time. Earrings and bracelets of silver (and many other things) make her whole body a transmitter to her lost future as they try to work out how to save the little of the world they still have. (In the meantime, the survivors have transplanted to the moon, a staging place before they take themselves to other barren landscapes further from the sun if they can’t work out how to get the drowned Earth back.)

Six years after arriving through a tunnel of improbability and bent light, the transmitter is still transmitting.

The receiver broke, though, six months after her arrival. A man wanted to take something she wasn’t interested in giving, and he grabbed her and insisted on having what he wanted.

Journey broke his arm in three places, four of his ribs, and his neck. The parts of his body were weighed down and went into the river. Journey feels a little bad about the death, but where she comes from, he and everyone around her died hundreds of years ago, so it doesn’t bother her too much.

Journey is surrounded by ghosts, in many ways. Some of these fleshly ghosts are awful, frightening things. Some are sweet or kind or funny. None of them know their fate, but Journey does, so mostly she is willing to offer the benefit of the doubt. She’ll live and let live because they’re all dead, but they don’t know it yet.

Journey didn’t realise the receiver had been snapped from her ear in the struggle until later, and then she couldn’t find the missing piece. Perhaps she could have repaired it, but she decided not to. It was so much more peaceful not to listen to the commands, the directions, the directives. To the envy and the anger and the railing against the people who appeared all so unwittingly in her transmissions, who were partly at fault for the Death of the Earth by Flood and Fire.

Journey knows that each individual couldn’t do much to stop it, and she knows that collectively, humans are a bit thick.

She has been inhabiting her past, creeping towards a future she won’t live to see again, and she likes it here.

Journey likes that she can’t go home. She likes that she’ll never hear those strident voices through the receiver again. She likes that she still sends them data – it’s a relief that it was not the transmitter that was lost – but she loves that they cannot summon her home.

Good luck to them, if they think the data will save them somehow. She’s sad for the future, of course – for what they’ve lost and what they’ll never have, living on their island of rock, gazing down at the blue ball that used to be humanity’s home.

She used to be like them, salvaging hope from the away teams that go (went, will go) to salvage scraps from the ball of water and wasteland that once housed a trillion life forms. The fraction that remain are all caged in some way. Animals and insects in the great Moon Zoo – too many slowly dying off because the gravity and the air are all wrong. Plants in greenhouses, and no-one can predict yet which will thrive and which will fail.

Not to mention the people. In their domes and in their environment suits that don’t always work. Humanity is ingenous at survival but also, it seems, at self immolation. The individual will to live is nothing like the collective lunacy that convinces people that someone else will fix it.

But here, in the past full of ghosts, Journey already knows that no-one fixed it. She already knows the limited life that awaits the survivors.

So Journey goes through her ghost life, enjoying every simple pleasure before it’s burned or drowned, and she breathes the open air and is content to just be in the moment.

After all – what could she possible do? She’s just one woman. She can’t change the future alone, and collective humanity won’t listen to her if she tries.

Because if it were possible, surely she’d have done it.

Lost and Found is an irregular series of posts about random items I find abandoned on the streets and the stories I make of them.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

The Cannibal Writer

One writer, served in the Australian style

The Cannibal Writer

First of all, I tender my apologies for the length of time between blog posts. The last few months have been fraught not only with a lot of work, but with a lot of family drama that has swallowed up my writing energy even when I had the time.

At the risk of sounding like an appalling human being… at least all of the drama will someday be worth the pain when it gets mulched, ferments and comes back out somewhere and in some form in a story.

Because that’s part of what writers do. It’s not the only thing we do, of course. We don’t only make stories from our own experiences. Our own joy and our own pain. No. Sometimes we make stories out of the pain and joy that we observe in others too.

We sound awful, don’t we?

But part of what it is for me to be human (I can’t speak for anyone else) is making sense of my world, both observed and experienced, through my words. I tell stories to explore the universe in which I’m immersed, and this ship of flesh and bone in which I navigate that universe.

My writing is filled with the things I’ve learned, or am curious about, or am hopelessly ignorant about but hope to become less so, as I burrow into motivation, unpack detail, peer at the nuances of my own reactions and guess at the motivation and reactions of others.

I do sometimes put people directly into stories but mostly, I dismember myself and others to build characters and situations. I make a great big soup out of my life and splash select parts of it onto the page to tell stories to myself first, and later to others, about the enormous, complex beauty and terror that being human can be.

I know already of something that happened last week that will find a way into my stories.

Walking along a hospital corridor with my youngest brother as we accompanied my ill mother into an operating theatre to have her broken hip repaired, we were filled with anxiety and grief, because the surgery was risky but the only option.

But we were haunted down that corridor by the clacking of my mother’s false teeth in a plastic box, which I promised her I’d keep in my pocket so they wouldn’t get lost. It was like we were being followed by a ghost right out of a schlocky Victorian-era horror novel.

In one of the most emotionally intense moments of our lives, we kept giggling – because life is filled with tragedy but also absurdity, and often at the same time.

(Oh, and spoiler alert: My mother came through the operation and is getting stronger every day.  She also got her teeth back.)

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

The Wearable Blog: Introducing Collective Tee

nerd2One Sunday in March, I was walking through a little market in Fitzroy and saw a table full of unusual T-shirts. On the fronts were some cool designs, and on the back of each was… a blog post.

Fascinated, I spoke to stallkeeper Jason Scully, one of the creative people behind the idea of taking blogs out of the the digital space and putting them onto the backs of readers in the walking world.

Jason has kindly answered a whole bunch of questions about this fascinating concept in writing.

Tell me about Collective Tee

Collective Tee is a Melbourne based street-wear brand that is redefining the humble T-shirt.  We are a social experiment,  creating a unique garment that changes the way people connect with those around them using the ubiquitous T-shirt.  We start with a story.  An engaging story that we hope people will want to share time and time again.  We then take the story to one of our many designers. The chosen designer then interprets that story and that design becomes the front of the t-shirt.  We also print the story on the inside of the t-shirt so that there is a story literally behind every Collective Tee.

How did you get the idea for a wearable blog? Was it cumulative or did you have a big lightbulb moment?

I was walking down the street one day wearing a t-shirt with Bruce Lee on it.  I was stopped by a guy who asked, “Hey, did you know that it was Bruce Lee’s birthday yesterday?”.  All I could say in response was, “Erm – no but thanks”.  That made me wish that I knew more about the design behind my t-shirt.  I wish I knew more about who the designer was and what did the design mean.  I wish I had more to say to that random Bruce Lee fan on the street.  That was how I decided to print a T-shirt which has a story literally behind each T-shirt.   Hence Collective Tee was born.

issue-4-slide2How do you expect the T-shirts to work out in the world? Will people sit still while friends read their backs, for example?

The aim is that people will only talk about the story when other people ask about their T-shirt.  It is about starting a dialogue or conversion that will usually start with the words “Hey, Nice T-shirt”.

We like that only the person wearing the Collective Tee knows the story so that they can decide how they share the story.  They can make the story their own and inject their own personality or spin on the story.   Also, we have had some people come up to us and say that the inside looks so cool they would be happy to wear the t-shirts inside out.  I told them – go for it!!

What criteria do you have for blog topics?

Our blog posts or stories have to satisfy three simple criteria:

  1. Firstly, they have to be entertaining.  For example, the stories can be funny or thought provoking.
  2. They have to be engaging.  People must want to tell them over and over again; and
  3. Lastly, we have to be able to visualise the story as an awesome t-shirt.

This simple criteria so far has led to us producing some truly unique t-shirt designs.

Who does the art for the shirts? How did they get involved in the project?

A different designer designs each Collective Tee.  Our designers are located in all parts of the world.  Designers in the UK, Indonesia, Italy and Malaysia have designed our first few issues.  We choose the designers based on their past designs and on whether we think that the story will resonate with them.  We like that a different designer designs each issue as this gives our designs a wealth of different styles and viewpoints.  However, each Collective Tee is produced right here in Melbourne so that we can support local business.

We are always looking for new designers and are more than happy for designers to contact us.  When we have a story or blog post that is suitable for that designer we will generally contact the designer to see if they are interested.

What do you see as the ultimate goal of the project?

Here at Collective Tee head office we have noticed the growing trend for social interactions to only happen online through social media.  We want to reverse this and return social interaction to the streets, bars and bus-stops of the world.  We feel that Collective Tee is helping achieve this each time the person wearing a Collective Tee shares the story behind their Collective Tee.

We would love to have a collection of Collective Tee stories.  We would love it if everyone who has bought or received a Collective Tee as a gift would send through their own Collective Tee story. We want to hear about the people they have met and the conversations they have had because of their Collective Tee.  I would like Collective Tee to actually make a difference in the lives of the people who wear Collective Tee.

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Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

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