In March-April of this year, Busybird’s own Kev Howlett trekked up to Mount Everest Base Camp and back, taking photos for a gorgeous full-colour coffee-table book, Walk With Me, as well as an exhibition of the same name, to raise funds for CMTA Australia.
Here’s an interview with Kev, as we prepare for the launch this Saturday …
Tell us a bit about your background
I was always good at art at school and after deciding not to join the Air Force I ended up at Preston College studying Finished Art. After a year, my art teacher said I had a flair for photography and might want to think about changing courses. After a bit of back and forth I decided to swap to photography and I completed the two-year course.
I got a work experience placement at a commercial photo studio at the end of my final year and they liked me so much they offered me a job once I left school. I worked there for a few years as an assistant and when the senior photographer – my mentor – decided to leave and go freelance, he asked me to go with him. We worked together for many years until I started getting my own work and then freelancing myself.
I worked in lots of different studios photographing everything from cars, food, fashion and products through advertising agencies. I then worked for an electrical company full-time running their in-house photographic studio, which was great to grow from a primitive analogue studio using old cameras and film to a fully modern digital studio. I ended up setting up one of the first high-end digital studios in Melbourne at the time. I had Kodak and Nikon reps visiting me regularly to calibrate their new cameras and software as we were all in a development stage of the digital revolution.
Seven and a half years there I then started doing technical illustration for Ford’s Global Catalogue on the side from home after the day’s other work. Blaise and I did this together, and part-time jobs on the side; this is where Busybird grew from.
After many years of that and being so busy we couldn’t handle any more, Ford decided to give all our work to India and South America where monkeys were doing it for peanuts. So there we were with no clients and all this equipment.
Luckily, Blaise and I saw it coming for a while so we had the publishing side slowly forming and as we lost Ford we concentrated on clients who needed books made. I did it part time for a while as did Blaise, although she was working full-time at the library and doing Busybird at night.
About eighteen months ago we spotted this building for lease while out walking our dog one night and rang the real estate company to have a look inside. It was six months earlier than we had thought about moving the business out of home but we took a risk and here we are today, both employed full-time at Busybird with a busy and bright future and a publishing house. It has been a long journey but now we look back it’s kind of what we were always aiming for and where we always saw Busybird going.
And how about CMT …?
CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease) is a nerve degenerative disease that our oldest son Dylan has. We had never heard of it until Dylan was diagnosed with it so it has been a learning curve for us as to what it is and the effects it will have on him. We first noticed it when Dylan was in his early teens. He played football for a local club and up to this stage was excelling. He loved it with a passion and I think he thought it might be a career one day.
After noticing he was slowly starting to lose his impact on games, lag behind the others, and fall over a lot more than usual we got him looked at and the normal GP didn’t really have any clues as to the problem. After seeing a podiatrist he first mentioned we should get him checked for CMT so we did. It turns out he has it but as research is very limited, they are not quite sure the type he has because there are new strains being discovered all the time. All we know is that he doesn’t have the most common type, which is very quick-developing and debilitating.
The effects Dylan suffers from are his feet are curling up (hence the falling over) and he was losing sensitivity in his feet and hands. As there is no cure or treatment the only option for him was to have both feet totally reconstructed. This was all as he started his last year of high school VCE so he had to cope with a lot during that year. They operated on one foot with sixteen weeks recovery and then the second so his whole year going to school was interrupted and he was in a wheelchair or on crutches for most of it. He passed his year after missing large chunks, so a great effort on his part.
The reason for my fundraising for CMT was the fact I wanted to spread the word on this and inform others as to its existence. I have loved talking about it and watching people learn and know more about it and what Dylan has had to go through. When I contacted the CMTAA (Charcot Marie Tooth Association Australia) and said I wanted to raise some money for them I remember their humbleness and gratitude toward my offer.
I made a statement that I would love to see a cure or at least some helpful medication developed for Dylan in my lifetime, so hopefully my little trek and efforts are helping that become reality.
What made you want to climb to Mount Everest Base Camp?
I had heard about Base Camp in the past but hadn’t really looked into it much until a friend of mine approached me and said we should try it. Both of us have kept reasonably fit and thought that as we were approached the big five-oh we should do something a little adventurous. Both of us are photographers and we knew of some other photographers who had done it. We thought it would be a great place to do something hard on our bodies but also an amazing place to photograph.
After doing some research we both decided it was the adventure we were looking for so set about planning it. After meeting more and more people who had done it or knew people who had, we heard so many horror stories of attempts gone wrong and abandoned that secretly I was a little worried if I could get there. There were times on the trek I thought, What the hell are we doing? but we got there and back and lived to tell the tale.
And how did the idea for the book, Walk With Me, come about?
Well, being a photographer I always thought I should do something with my photos rather than store them on my computer and forget them. I think it was after that, that we came up with the idea that we could have a reward for pledges to help make the book a reality, and that we could use the book as a way to raise money for CMT.
The Walk With Me title came to us and felt perfect. I wanted the people who took part in my fundraiser to, in a way, come with me on the trek, walk it and feel a part of the experience.
I tried to capture the Walk With Me theme in my photos so when you look at the photos it’s like you are looking out at what I was seeing and feeling. I also thought since people with CMT like Dylan probably will never be able to try such a long and strenuous trek with their condition, I would bring it to them in the book. I love the title as it sums up so much of what the whole project was about.
What was it like taking photographs of the trek?
My photographer mate Norman – who I went with – and I agree it was not the photographic trip we had assumed it would be before we left. We thought we would have time to play, set things up and wait for conditions and light to be perfect.
Well, that wasn’t the case at all.
The trek is very demanding physically and with time so we were always on the go. The sherpas would say zoom, zoom after five-minute rests and off we went again. Nearly all the photos we got were on the move, shot as we quickly saw things, which made it a little tough. With limited camera battery charging opportunities we were always worried about draining all of our batteries and losing use of our cameras so we couldn’t even preview our photos to see if we had gotten what we wanted. We were in a sense shooting blind, just relying on our skills and knowledge to correctly expose and frame the scenes.
Most trekking days were planned to start early in the morning and get to camps early afternoon, so Norm and I thought we would then have the afternoons to go off and set up shots and capture sunsets, etc. Well, as it happens, in Nepal the mornings are crisp and clear but by 1.00 pm the clouds form over the mountains and come in to white the whole place out. So there went our plans.
Another thing I tell people is that there really wasn’t a lot to photograph. Now that may sound weird as we are walking through the Himalayas, one of the most stunning places on the planet. The reason I say this is that the place is amazing, the mountain scenes and hilltop villages were stunning but after a week of photographing them we were looking for something else, something different.
Most villages were the same and as we turned around every corner another amazing mountain scene showed itself and, like anything, you get a little blasé after a while. I wanted to photograph the local people and capture their life and culture, but again I was blocked a little. The trail we were on is quite full of tourists all year and the locals I guess are a little over having cameras pointed at them. Most times you try to photograph them they yell at you or ask for money, children would yell no at you and run away. Although I got some lovely people photos overall it was like pulling teeth and not as easy as expected.
I think I took the right camera and gear and had a good system worked out where my camera was in my hand all the time because things happened fast so you had to be ready. Walking over steep rocky ground meant most of the time you were focused on the feet of the person in front of you so you picked your walking line and didn’t slip. It was a real effort to look up, see what was around you and appreciate it. It was quite annoying to just see the backs of people in front of you all day but that is the nature of trekking. Stopping, even looking back to where you had just come from now and then, was the way to capture the scenes from different angles.
What personal and professional achievements did you get from the climb?
I am a very competitive person so the idea of failing to get to EBC was a scary thought. I had 80 people pledge money and who were riding the trek with me so to come home and say I didn’t quite get there wasn’t an option. I did lose my appetite for a week or so on the way up and I must admit I was running on empty most days. I couldn’t even get plain rice and bread down. Our main sherpa, Roy, was quite concerned with me as he saw me refuse most meals. He wondered how I was still going with the little I had eaten but I did and surprised him and myself.
On a professional level I guess I learnt I have the skills and experience in photography to handle tough conditions and time limits. We were shooting blind and quick and I was adjusting the camera manually in most cases to compensate for light and snow etc. So when I finally got to sit down and check what I had captured, I was pleasantly surprised my instincts had been correct in most cases.
Are you happy with the final product?
Yes I am. It has been a long process sorting through over 3000 photos and trimming them down to my best 300 or so. Then sorting into an order and theme. It took quite a few hours of putting all this together and I do love the photos I have used and how they are presented. I am not a very ‘look at me’ kind of guy so I must say I am a little nervous with the attention the book will get once released. I hope it lives up to and exceeds the expectations of all who are waiting for it.
Any words of wisdom for anybody else with a dream?
All I can say is that the process from dreaming of something and then doing it isn’t that far apart. It just takes a commitment and a desire to do it. I remember thinking that going to Base Camp was a tale I had heard from others, it’s an adventure others take but not someone like me.
I think back now and smile because all the hard work, sweat and pain to get there has been what the dream is all about. I remember thinking about what people had said before I left: ‘It’s not the destination, it’s the journey’.
That’s how the trek was; eleven days to get to a pile of rocks but that’s just the turnaround point – you still have half of the journey left. I think that’s like a dream. You think of something you desire and as good as it is when you finally get it, you find it’s the anticipation, planning, waiting, and excitement that is the thrill of the dream.
That’s the journey.
Walk With Me,, the book and the exhibition, launches 3.00pm, 22nd November (this Saturday!), at the Busybird Studio ~ Gallery. If you’d like to come, please RVSP us by calling or emailing, or by saying yes on our Facebook event.Read More
If you follow the AFL, even loosely, you’ll know that Joffa is a member of the Collingwood Cheer Squad, and when it looks as if Collingwood’s won the game, he’ll put on a gold jacket to celebrate the victory. During Collingwood games, cameras will often cut to Joffa for a reaction, particularly if Collingwood isn’t doing too well.
The public perception of Joffa – at least from those who don’t know him – is he’s an inarticulate, loud-mouthed bogan. Actually, Joffa suffers on two fronts: one, the personal stereotyping people impose on him simply by virtue of appearance and, two, because of the stereotyping applied to Collingwood supporters in general.
This was a matter that came up during lunch, and Kev and Blaise – the co-owners of Busybird, as well as supporters of the Hawthorn Football Club – were also curious about his public image. I’d met Joffa in 2001, and had sporadic contact with him pre-game for a couple of years, and then enough to exchange a ‘hello’ and a bit of a chat during games if I bumped into him, and I explained (to Kev and Blaise) that the Joffa who’s portrayed in the media doesn’t reconcile with the real person, and media play up the hoon angle because it makes for better copy.
Kev remarked that he’d recently read an article about Joffa, which talked about his early life where he’d been homeless, and that he now did a lot of charitable work, so it sounded like he had an interesting life. Blaise commented it was surprising nobody had done a book with him, a biography, and then suggested that was something we could maybe approach him about.
It was only a few days later that Joffa came into the studio to talk about the possibility of the book. His concerns were the ability to tell his story in a medium as big as an autobiography, admitting he could be repetitive, and that grammar and punctuation weren’t amongst his best assets, and, more importantly, that he would appear egotistical.
The nature of the book that Busybird wanted to pursue with Joffa was about more than football and the Collingwood Football Club, although obviously they would appear in it by virtue of Joffa’s association with both. But everybody has a story to tell, and Joffa’s life is about more than football, involving a number of elements (abusive upbringing, homelessness, a daughter who has epilepsy) that would appeal to any readers interested in a completely human story.
One of the agreements of the book was that 10% of proceeds would go to the Epilepsy Foundation. At Busybird, several of our books have altruistic outcomes, with a portion of proceeds being donated to various causes, so it was helpful that Joffa felt that a book about him could contribute to helping those with epilepsy (outside of the other charitable work he does himself, that is).
As an aside, we met with the Epilepsy Foundation about the book, who spoke glowingly about Joffa’s involvement with them, his capacity to engage with people, and his fundraising, working tirelessly and uncomplainingly, and often refusing reimbursement for expenses. It’s a far cry from the public image of Joffa, or from the way many would want to portray him.
In any case, a diffident Joffa left that first meeting about whether he could carry out the task. We’re not sure what happened in the ensuing days, but an excited Joffa contacted us not long afterward, eager to tackle the undertaking. Since, he’s steadily delivered chapters, ranging from being about his life to being about football. Our interns have been sorting through the material before it goes to editing, and have been moved by some of the events of Joffa’s life.
The book will be launched in May 2015, but we would like everybody to know that we have a crowd-funding campaign up at Pozible: Joffa Pozible Campaign. The work and expense that goes into a book is not something to be underestimated, and pledges come with great rewards. We also have a Joffa page up on our website now, too: Joffa Book Page.
Keep a look out for ‘Joffa’.
Postscript: You can now subscribe to the Busybird blog, which means you can have our blogs emailed directly to you. Just enter your email address in the light-blue ‘Sign up for the Busybird Blog’ subscription box in the sidebar and his Subscribe!Read More
This place has a big heart and lots of chocolate biscuits. The experience here so far has just been fantastic. I’ve been able to address a lot of my weaknesses since starting here at the beginning of August. These include improving my limited editing, proofreading and copyediting skills, under the nurturing guidance of Blaise. I’ve also been doing some really fun, hands-on duties: reading submissions for their genre fiction anthology, [untitled], reading chapters from manuscripts, meeting authors and other interns, and giving general feedback on projects.
Another area I’ve been able to explore is illustration. Kev is also Busybird’s in-house illustrator. He took me under his wing and gave me helpful advice on things like storyboarding (something I’ve been looking at in class at school), and explaining his process of turning his wonderful hand drawn sketches into vibrant, eye-catching illustrations for Busybird’s children’s books.
One of the more important things that has stuck out for me is Busybird’s community spirit in the creative industry. As well as book publishing, Busybird run open mic nights once a month, welcoming emerging and established writers, musicians, poetry enthusiasts and anyone who enjoys the pleasure of hearing spoken word. The building the business runs from has a gallery element, with exhibitions running for roughly a month at a time for different artists. Then you have your writers retreats, workshops in writing and Photoshop (to name a couple), competitions, self-publishing opportunities for authors, manuscript assessments and more! *Leans against a wall and takes a breath*
In fact, I’m learning so much here, I’m already bugging Blaise and Les – Busybird’s Publications Manager – if I can stay on a bit longer when my course is finished. Les might think that’s because of the chocolate biscuits he constantly brings in, but I honestly feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what I can learn about this industry. The biscuits don’t hurt either.
I think it might be time for another coffee and a choc-chip biscuit. I better get back to editing too, I suppose.
With writers, it seems these reasons are even readier. Talk to many writers, ask them how they’re going, and they’ll tell you why they haven’t progressed. It’s not their fault, though. Something’s come up. But they’ll get to it. When there’s time. Or at a certain date (New Year being the common starting line). Or when they’re feeling better.
Well, here are my mini-diatribes addressing ten popular excuses (in no particular order) people don’t write – because that’s what they are: excuses, not reasons.
1. Waiting for an ideal time in your life
When is this exactly? When the kids grow up, move out? When things settle down? When the planets align?
There will never be an ideal time in your life. There’ll always be something. That’s what life does to you. It throws things in your way. You can just get over one lot, when a new lot’s dropped on your head.
Instead of waiting for the ideal time in your life, learn to operate in the parameters that exist now. It may be the best you’re going to get, and even if it’s not, at least you learn to work in adversity.
2. Can’t today, I’ll start tomorrow
Tomorrow always seems ideal. Tomorrow’s fresh and new and – as of this moment – unsullied. But there are lots of clichés about tomorrow – e.g. ‘There is no tomorrow’, ‘Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today’ – and that sort of stuff.
Well, they’re right. Recognise this excuse as the ultimate procrastination. In all likelihood – unless you’re on Death Row awaiting sentencing tomorrow – you’re likely to find that tomorrow will be very much like today. Deal with it. Take your opportunity now.
3. Don’t have a sizable block of time to write in, just dribs and drabs
I am sure people exist who have virtually no time – single parents for instance. But truly examine what you do with your time through the course of the day. I knew a single mother who bemoaned her absolute vacuum of time, and yet she always somehow had time to watch The Voice, or a variety of other reality TV shows which had about as much cultural merit as odourless, noiseless flatulence.
Look at what you do through the course of a day. There will be indulgences. They might be tiny, mightn’t amount to much, but if that’s all you’ve got, then that’s what you’ve got to work with.
Otherwise, look at getting up a bit earlier each day, five days a week. Yes, it’s horrible, but if this is what you want to do, then this is what you need to do.
Ultimately, writing for fifteen minutes a day is better than no time at all, and those minutes will add up.
4. Waiting for inspiration
There’s a name for these people: pretenders.
No doubt, we all experience inspiration – an idea for a story, or for a painting, or whatever the case might be. But inspiration doesn’t do the work for you. That’s up to you. You need to sit down and then do what’s required – write that story, paint that painting, take those photographs. In short, you must realise your inspiration and interpret it onto the page.
Even if you have writer’s block, even if your brain seems bereft of anywhere to go, just sit down and FORCE yourself through the act of creating. It might be crap. You might have to toss it all. But just the act of trying might cause you to stumble upon an idea, get your creative juices flowing, and train you in the habit of trying.
5. Book’s getting/gotten boring
So many writers love writing the flashy scenes, the ones that appeal most. This is why so many writers start so many things, yet never finish them – when a story’s new, it’s exciting. But something happens. It gets boring. So they think it mustn’t be working. But wait! Here’s another new idea which is exciting, so that must be the way to go – start that instead.
The ideas that are most vivid in our mind are easiest to write, but they’re usually only a small part of a greater story. There will be seeming flat spots, though – seeming, because sometimes those flat spots provide even greater opportunities for drama or characterisation or whatever our story needs.
Work through it. If your story’s gotten tedious and you have another great idea you’d love to work on, tough. Stick with what you’re on. Finish it. Nobody’s interested in an incomplete story. Get through that tough spot. If you don’t, all you’re learning is how to give up.
6. Too tired
Oh boohoo. Really: boohoo. Unless you’re actually asleep, or in a coma, then you have the choice to write. You might think your brain’s too exhausted, that you won’t be able to be creative, but just sit down and try it. Force yourself to get words out on the page. Even if your face wants to plonk down on the keyboard, just do it.
Once your brain’s going, you’ll be amazed how little your tiredness affects you. But it won’t get going if you just surrender to the impossibility of being creative when you’re tired.
7. Not in the right headspace
Well, what exactly do we have to wait for? Nirvana? The right headspace is an illusion. The ideas are there, inside, in your head. On the surface of it, you might be preoccupied, angry, distracted, any of a number of different emotional states, but your imagination is all that matters, and that’s in there, just waiting for you to mine it.
If you have to go through anger, frustration, distraction, sadness, amour, or whatever to get to it, then so be it. Accept that. Once you do, once you compel yourself, you’ll be amazed how often you can find your way back to the right headspace.
8. No good physical space to write in
Perhaps you’d like some rustic cottage in the woods, with a typewriter by the window, a fire crackling in the fireplace, and a glass of wine. Would this be ideal?
Certainly, you might have kids running around screaming, playing, you might have noisy neighbours, you might have a noisy partner, but you have to learn to make do. One published author said she made the family understand that when her study door was closed, that was her time and she was not to be disturbed. That might not always be an option. But you may just have to accept what you have.
If that means your best place to write is with the laptop on your lap (hence its name: lap-top), on the couch with your feet up on the coffee table, so be it. That’s your physical space. You might like something more ideal, something luxurious, but until that comes along deal with what you have.
9. Too many distractions
By now, you would be able to guess that there’s not going to be any sympathy for this as an excuse. Tell people to stop bothering you. Stuff some earplugs in your ears. Pick up your laptop and go sit in the toilet, or go to the library, or save your work on a USB and book a library computer to use. There are always alternatives.
10. Low self-esteem
This is common to many creative people. Many of us think our work just isn’t good enough. It’s shit, so why bother? Let’s give up. Forget about it. Well, if that’s the attitude, why try at all? Why even nurture the aspiration?
All we can do are all the right things – get feedback, get edited, revise, revise, revise, submit. It mightn’t be good enough. But nobody was born brilliant, and even your favourite authors were edited. Put your work out there. It’s the only way to continue to improve. And if you want to write, accept you’ll be rejected, that there’ll be criticisms, that there’ll be doubts.
Your story’s not going to write itself. The story on your computer isn’t going to submit itself. A journal or publisher isn’t going to ring you and ask for your work. If you truly want to do this (writing, that is), then do it, regardless of how you feel about your work. It’s the only way to get to where you want to go.
This might seem an unsympathetic blog. It is. Life’s intolerant, and the writing life unforgiving. So many people search for a secret formula to writing, like it will unlock some wellspring and all the work will do itself, or doing the work will be so orgasmic that it won’t seem like work at all. There. The End. Perfect. Well, it doesn’t happen that way – and hasn’t happened that way for anybody. Anybody who thinks it does happen that way is an idiot.
Writing is excruciatingly hard work – to sit there, pour yourself on the page, to bare yourself to the world, to pursue the perfect word, the perfect phrase, the perfect evolution from one idea to the next, and for this wondrous jumble of words, sentences, and paragraphs to not only make sense, but to be entertaining, to be worth reading, to be airtight, so people aren’t coming along trying to knock it down, like it was a house of cards inviting one good, swift kick.
You want to write, sit down and do it. That’s it. That’s the magic formula. Any time there’s a reason to not to do it, dismiss it, or find a way to work around it, or bulldoze through it. Idealizing perfect conditions is just going to lead to procrastination. It’ll lead to you always finding an excuse as to why you can’t do it, or why you should stop.
But it always come back to doing it, and doing it daily. Writing’s a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it becomes, and the stronger it becomes the easier you’ll find it to work through tiredness, distractions, writer’s block, et al, and as you do that, you’ll find those excuses become irrelevancies in your life, and all that’s left is you and the story you want to tell.
I’ve been waiting for it.
Heck, maybe the whole universe has been waiting for it. Let’s not undersell this.
page seventeen is open for submissions as of today. As of right now.
Now, for the one heckler in the back that just yelled ‘so what?’ I’m going to take a deep breath and quickly summarise.
As of April 15, all our submission windows are open to determine the content in Issue 11:
- General submissions: short stories up to 5000 words, poems up to 100 lines and pitches for non-fiction pieces. (More info and submit here)
- Prose competitions: short stories up to 3000 words, poems up to 100 lines. (More info and submit here)
- Cover competition: photos and digital art in the running to be used as the next issue’s front cover art. (More info and submit here)
We’ll be taking all submissions from now until June 30. That’s just over ten weeks for you to submit your work and potentially be included in page seventeen’s eleventh issue. Which, incidentally, will also be released as an ebook – meaning more readers than ever will see your name in the contents.
And, it’s also my pleasure to announce the judges for this year’s competitions!
The short story judge is Emilie Collyer, two-time Scarlet Stiletto Award winner with short stories appearing in many of Melbourne’s top literary journals. (http://www.betweenthecracks.net/)
The poetry judge is Ashley Capes, long-time friend and poetry editor of P17 and prominent Victorian poet. (http://ashleycapes.com/)
The cover comp judge is Kev Howlett, resident Busybird illustrator and artist.
Now, as the trumpets die down and the cheap paper steamers stuck across the archways peel away from their masking tape, some of you might be looking for hints about what we’re after in the submissions. What content will grab our attention the most? What themes will get the most attention?
Sorry. I can’t quite make it that easy for you. Our issues aren’t themed and have tackled a wide variety of content in the past.
What I can say, is that we love new ideas and fresh voices. Challenge yourself. Take a risk or two. We’ve always encouraged emerging writers to consider submitting to page seventeen, and we have a proud tradition of being the first publication for many emerging authors and poets. We want writing that bleeds passion and enthusiasm – whether the content is happy, grim or just delightfully off-beat.
And with that, the wait is over. The production of Issue 11 has officially begun.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeenRead More