I Met My Favourite Band Killing Heidi – and it was Glorious

WARNING: Unabashed fanboying ahead.

It’s an old maxim delivered to the young and starry-eyed with regularity: never meet your heroes.

The implication is, of course, that the idols you cherish for their sporting prowess, acting talent or musical genius may not necessarily be the nicest people. In fact, they could be rampant arseholes. The Internet is replete with stories of fans who’ve met with their heroes only to have their perceptions shattered with cold indifference or blatant rudeness; or, on the other hand, fans who get starstruck and embarrass themselves.

I am so glad I never listened to this old axiom, because I met my heroes a couple of weeks ago, and it was one of the best moments of my life.

These particular heroes of mine aren’t my literary idols, by the way. They are an Aussie alternative rock band – my favourite band – and they are called Killing Heidi.

I should probably back up.

I grew up in a country town and as a kid I felt quite isolated and alone. I don’t mean geographically isolated – although my hometown Geraldton is four hundred k’s from the state capital, and close to nothing else except the Indian Ocean. I don’t mean literally alone, either, because I grew up in a family of eight and with truckloads of Italian cousins, so people weren’t exactly hard to come by.

No, I grew up feeling isolated and alone in the sense that I had a creative, artistic, sensitive, ponderous, powerful element to my personality, and I didn’t know what it was or what to do with it or where it belonged. I knew I wanted to become a writer from this young age, but I had no concept of how to get there: from country boy to published writer seemed an impossible step. From where I started, actually crafting a career as a fair dinkum author seemed about as likely as making it as a rockstar.

Enter Killing Heidi.

This angsty teenage rock band from country Victoria formed the soundtrack to my teenage years. I can’t remember the first time I heard their debut hit Weir (1999) – a massive teen anthem – but I can recall the first time I heard their number 1 track Mascara. It was early in the year 2000 – February or March – and I was eleven years old. We were in Perth to pick my sister up from the airport, and while we waited around the hotel room in Belmont, this super cool music video was on TV with this awesome, melodic song thumping over the top, all giant riffs and bouncy synths.

I was entranced. Mascara became my favourite song. It was all about being different, not conforming, being yourself … self-empowerment and individuality. I identified. Even though I didn’t have the words for it at that age, I knew I was a bit of a weirdo. It was nice to know someone on the radio knew what that was like. There was a wordless understanding.

I had an obsession for a few months – I did a school project on Killing Heidi and their first album, despite not yet owning it. Then my twelfth birthday came around, and my brother gave me a CD for my present.

“It’s that song from that band you like,” he grunted.

I opened it with excitement, to find an unfamiliar CD single. It was Beauty Queen by Perth rock band Lash. Ohh, I thought, my heart plummetting. Lash. Mascara. I can see how my brother got confused. I was crushed, but just said thanks and went on with playing Pokemon: Yellow. (Incidentally, Lash totally wailed.)

I guess, being that age, I moved on to the next obsession, never got Reflector, and trundled along for a few years – until I hit a snag.

I was about sixteen when I got mired in a massive pit of depression. I knew what normal awkward teenagehood felt like, and this shit was worse. Impenetrable black. I eventually didn’t want to be on this planet anymore.

Around that time, Killing Heidi released their self-titled third album (2004). Recalling how much I’d loved their music as a younger kid, I begged for their new album for Christmas, and got it (the right CD this time). That album introduced me, properly, to the world of rock music. Moreover, the lyrics spoke of pain, anger, hurt, reflection, fear, freedom and self-determination … and it struck a chord.

I quickly got myself copies of Reflector and Present, their second album, and Killing Heidi became my favourite band. The music and lyrics on their three albums got me through the worst and darkest years of my life, and have stayed with me ever since – inspiring me, pumping me up, spurring me on.

In 2006, the band broke up, and though I caught them live a few times over the years (2006, as an acoustic duo, and 2009, as The Verses), I was hanging out to see the real-deal plugged-in Killing Heidi I grew up with.

Seeing the band at the Astor Theatre in Perth on June 2nd as part of their national reunion tour was a total trip. I went along with my partner and one of my best mates. Neither of them had seen me quite so hyperactive before: I felt transported back to my youth, so excited for the meet-and-greet session before the show.

About thirty or forty fans lined up for the meet and greet. The first pair went through the rippling black curtain to meet the band. I figured it would be like when you meet actors at Supanova or ComicCon: you say g’day, maybe a couple of sentences, they take your photo and whisk you away.

This wasn’t like that.

The first pair were with the band for a good five minutes. So were the second pair.

“This band are so nice,” the security guard told us as we waited to go in next. “You work with a lot of different bands over the years, but these guys are nice to everyone – the crew, all the staff, the fans – everyone.”

He wasn’t wrong. The members of Killing Heidi were the nicest people I’ve ever met at a meet and greet – and I’ve been to quite a few. I met Perth-born drummer Adam Pedretti, guitarist Jesse Hooper, and his sister, lead singer Ella Hooper. We chatted. We hugged. We got to talk about the band, their music, how much it meant to me growing up. I suggested they release a Greatest Hits already (which they totally should). We talked some more, about their other projects. We got a few photos. They signed my copy of Reflector. It was ace.

I left the room on a cloud.

Then we saw the band live, and they were everything I’d hoped for. This was a full electric show, and Killing Heidi rocked out hard, and I was front row. Reflector songs got heavy play – unexpectedly, even deep cuts like Real People and Astral Boy which I was so glad to hear live – and Ella nailed all the notes. They also played all the singles from the other two albums, and even a Verses song and an Ella Hooper solo number (Monkey Mind, which was rockier and incredible live).

But for me, the most poignant moment was when they played their 1996 song, Kettle.

Ella and Jesse Hooper were 13 and 16 respectively when their first song Kettle won radio station Triple J’s Unearthed competition in 1996. They were an acoustic duo from Violet Town in Victoria – a place much smaller than Geraldton, if not quite as remote. A few years later, their debut album Reflector (2000) became a massive sensation across Australia. Reflector became the fastest-selling album in Australian history, going four times platinum, and making them massive rock stars.

Their success story is so well-known, and their triumph over the pop charts seemed so instantaneous, that it never seemed like there had been any hard yards for the band in reaching their zenith.

But that night at the Astor gig, Ella reflected on their humble beginnings. How they were two no-name teenagers from a little country town with a single song. How Ella thought it was big-headed of her brother Jesse to submit the song to Triple J, because how would they ever make it, really?

“I don’t wanna get all ‘footprints in the sand’ on you guys,” Ella told the crowd at the Astor. “But if you have a big dream, go for it. You might just make it.”

I’m paraphrasing, because I was transfixed at that moment and forget her exact words, which were probably more poetic. But her words felt, to me, like motivation. And confluence.

If two ambitious kids from Violet Town can make in the end (through all the twists and bends …), maybe I can, too.

I am so glad I met my heroes, because they gave me the same joy and strength in real life that their music and lyrics have given me for years. And the inspiration to keep going.

I’m going to make it.

Holden

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Guys! I’ve been profiled on The Dreamers Blog! :O

Hey guys,

It’s such an awesome feeling being profiled for someone else’s website – especially when the questions are all about having big dreams and what it takes to follow them.

Today, writer and blogger Douglas Geller has profiled me for his Dreamers Blog. He interviews people from a range of disciplines – writers, artists, MMA fighters, you name it – and asks them how they keep their dream alive and stay motivated.

In our chat, I talk about how my parents compared me to a robot from an 80s sci-fi movie (really), why I want to live life like an early 90s Jewel, and I make a dubious Bed, Bath and Beyond analogy about my writing.

Check out the full profile here, and don’t forget to give Doug’s pages a like!

Cheers,

Holden

 

What I Learned From Failing NaNoWriMo

So, I failed.

In November 2016, I set myself the challenge of writing 50,000 words of a novel in one month – thirty friggin days! – as part of National Novel Writing Month, or as it is better known, NaNoWriMo.dane swan fail - Copy (2)

Three times before, I’ve hulk-smashed this challenge like no-one’s business.

In 2009 and 2011, I belted out the final book of a fanfiction series I’d been writing since I was a teenager. It was a huge sense of achievement to complete something I first set my mind to at the age of 13. That work was never designed to go further; it just tied the bow on that green-stemmed part of my journey as a writer. In those NaNoWriMos, I even posted on Facebook saying the 50K limit was “too easy”. (2016 me wants to strangle 2011 me. YOU KNOW NOTHING, JON SNOW!)

In 2014, I tackled the first draft of my first real proper grown-up honest-to-God NOVEL. Again, I hit 50K. And I spent the following December and January clattering on the keyboard like a possessed monkey until I completed that first draft.

NaNoWriMo has given me some of the most exhilarating, rewarding, exhausting days of my life thus far. My past attempts were characterised by pulling all-nighters as I fuelled myself with bucketloads of black coffee (usually instant … love me some bitter, cheap-arse Nescafe …) punctuated by (far too) frequent smoke breaks. Sheer determination to not be a failure of a writer – which is all I felt I was at that point – drove me to keep putting words on the page until I met that goal.

But my attempt at NaNoWriMo this year ended in failure. My word count maxed out at 18,126 words. I didn’t even make it halfway there. Jon Bon Jovi is gonna be pissed.

I could list reasons as to why this happened, but for someone who hates to fail at anything, any reason will sound like an excuse. And I don’t like excuses.

The truth of the matter is this: it hurts. It hurts to fail.

Of course, the sharp sear of failure isn’t a new feeling. I wasn’t born yesterday and I haven’t had a privileged or sheltered or easy life. Like my fellow meta-humans – er, humans – I fail all the time, but I usually fail at other stuff. And those day-to-day fuck ups bother me less because they aren’t linked to the glowing talisman that buoys me through my quotidian routines – which is writing.

And failing at a writing challenge feels like I’m failing at the thing I was born to do.

(Incidentally, I’ve used the word failure a lot in this post, but I can’t think of a decent synonym for this context other than échec, which is French and won’t make any sense, and fuck-up, which isn’t quite right. Microsoft Word is suggesting I use catastrophe, fiasco or miscarriage, which seems pretty savage for a piece of software. Shut up, Word. Maybe I need to invent a politically correct neologism for failure to bubble-wrap my feelings. I’m success-challenged. No, better yet, success-diverse.)

It’s been nearly two weeks since NaNoWriMo ended, and I’ve been thinking about what I can take away from my 2016 misfire (there we go). The sting of defeat is only useful if you learn from it, after all.

So, what have I learned? Four things:

1) I need to make more time. My mantra for the past couple of years has been: “You don’t find time to write a novel. You make time.” I firmly believe this, and I’ve made time over the last two years to work on my writing. But I didn’t make time this November. On the contrary, I filled it up with work and other stuff – and I won’t make excuses (insert teeth grinding sound) but some of it wasn’t avoidable. I didn’t make enough time, so I didn’t write enough.

2) I need to fuel up. My hectic month didn’t lend itself to input, and output-only mode is not sustainable for a writer. As little time as I had to write, I had even less – none – to top up my tank. Good writing is fuelled by two things: life experience and imagination, which is spurred on by vicarious experience – reading books. I didn’t make time to live or to read. These things are vital to producing work as a writer.

3) I need to acknowledge the successes as well as the failures. Ultimately, writing 18,126 words in a busy month is better than writing zero words because I foresaw a hectic time and didn’t give it a bash at all. And writing at the rate I did, I would finish the first draft of this second novel in five or six months, which is actually not bad at all. I need to stop self-flagellating over my perceived disappointments and realise just how much I’ve achieved.

4) I need to go easy on myself because life can be a bastard. Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. And sometimes it likes to throw a dozen at you, all at the same time, just to fuck up your sense of balance. And it usually does this just around the time when you look around all wide-eyed and go, “Hey, things aren’t going too badly right now.” BAM. Life enters. And that means plans don’t always work out. I just have to adapt and adjust and keep moving towards the real goal – which was never to finish my second novel in a month, really. It was to finish my second novel. As long as I keep doing that, I’m on track.

I’m ultimately proud of my failure this month. Not because it’s fun (yay! I suck!) but because it has galvanised my resolve, made me more determined than ever, and made me keen not to repeat the same mistakes next year – which means I will be making changes in my approach come January.

2017 is going to be an epic year in a lot of ways. I can’t wait to get started.

Holden

“So, what’s the go with your book?”

Being decently vocal about working on a novel (okay, really vocal), I’ve been fielding this question for some time. It comes in various forms. “So, what’s the go with your book?” “Are you published yet?” “Will you sign a copy for me?” “Do I get a copy for Christmas?” and the perennial favourite, “Fuck’s sake, are you still not done?”frodo 2

Given it’s been two years since I began writing my work-in-progress (and just over a year since I last posted anything concrete about it), I thought it was time for an actual update. In October 2015 I posted a ludicrously inaccurate meme of Frodo Baggins against the backdrop of the flames of Mount Doom. “It’s done!” poor exhausted Frodo – and poor exhausted me – declared.

I’d finished the second draft of my first novel. A day or two later I printed the manuscript and made some reference to it being corporeal. Well, it was corporeal alright, but it was still a hot mess, and at 140,000 words it was a gigantic slab of text no publisher would look at from a first-time novelist.

I won’t belittle the sense of achievement that second draft offered me. In keeping with the Middle Earth references, the first draft was both exciting and daunting, but it was like The Fellowship of the Ring, where the landscape is still fresh and green and everyone’s swanning around that elf palace and nobody’s really died yet.

Conversely, the second draft was like taking my hairy bare feet on a months-long trek over the savage hot stones of Mordor while a murderous Gollum taunted me. It hurt. I fell down. I failed. I gave up half way through and had to put it aside for a few months. My brain told me I sucked. I frequently believed it. Then I got up and kept writing while I gnashed my teeth.

So finishing that second draft felt like I’d reached the summit at long last. But in the coming weeks and months, I realised it was more like one of those adventure movies where the heroes crest a sand dune in the desert and see a thousand more dunes ahead, each as dry and desperate as the last.

I had to keep working. After giving myself a couple of months to be a human being again, I began a third draft in early 2016. That one was bloody hard work. I erased some characters from existence. I deleted entire plotlines. For the first time, the manuscript seemed to be taking proper shape.

Then came the real learning curve. I applied for a mentorship with the Australian Society of Authors, and was successfully paired up with an experienced editor. Actually, that undersells her: my mentor was an absolute gun editor – a former commissioning editor at one of Australia’s major publishing houses and a legend of the Australian publishing landscape. She was also the editor of one of my favourite novels of all time, which may have resulted in some incidental fanboying on my part.

And she liked my manuscript. She really liked it.

But that pleased and stung me in equal measure. Like wasn’t good enough. I needed this manuscript to be great, not just good.

So I worked with my mentor for the better part of five months. There were emails and phone calls and Skype calls. Microsoft Word track changes became my bread and butter. I worked during the day then came home and smashed away on the laptop like a monkey at a typewriter. It was gruelling work. I was constantly overtired and irritable, and I’d quit smoking, so I was occasionally ready to kill.

During 2016, my mentor guided me through my fourth, fifth and sixth drafts. At a glacial pace, my manuscript got better and better. I feel like I grew up during the mentorship. Despite having a couple of short stories published and an Honours degree in writing behind me, this was the first real developmental edit I’d had to help me become a novelist. And it was one of the most worthwhile things I’d ever done.

To supplement the mentorship, I also spent the remainder of my ArtStart grant money on a whole series of PD sessions: mostly webinars, some pre-recorded, some live. I heard directly from published authors, agents, editors and publishers. I immersed myself in blogs, website subscriptions, magazines and mailing lists. I learned about the Australian publishing landscape. I learned about the American market. I learned where my manuscript would fit among it all.

In early October, I finally had a polished and completed sixth draft. My final Skype call with my mentor told me everything I needed to know: she loved it now. And I loved it, too. The novel was in great shape. It was lean and mean at 112,000 words, and we were both proud of it. The action was high octane, thrilling, explosive. The characters were well-drawn, realistic, and worked well together. The plot made sense. The voice was unforgettable. The narrative was finally singing like I wanted it to.

My final step was to seek a copy edit from a reputable editing service over east. This was to tidy things up: fix typos and grammar and syntax, flag continuity problems, and so on. It was due back in early November, but I received the edited manuscript three weeks early, with a note from the editor: she’d loved it so much she’d taken her laptop to bed to keep reading it, hence the rapid turnaround.

And so, exactly two years since I began this novel, I find myself in the final throes of editing my seventh draft. Namely, this is going through and reviewing all the track changes the copy editor made. I have one scene to edit significantly; most of the rest is grammatical and stylistic. Apparently I have beaten the comma to within an inch of its life (kind of the way J.K. Rowling used/abused the semi-colon, but less elegantly). I need to do some hardcore comma purging.

What’s next? Well, once that’s done, that Frodo Baggins meme will actually be applicable. I will be done. My manuscript will be as finished as I can make it. And it will be time to seek publication for my debut novel.

But a novelist doesn’t make a career from one book (well, except for Harper Lee). There’s no rest planned. I’m about to start work on my second novel. I’m trying my hand at a thriller. Further up and further in.

So that’s the go with my book. And while there won’t be copies flung around as povo Christmas presents this year, I can say this with confidence: Yep, once it’s released, I will totally sign a copy for you.

Holden