Sideshow as an audiobook

If you’d like to hear my voice for six hours then listen to my audiobook. You’ll laugh out loud at least once.










Wheelers: Book-

The Tyrone Guthrie Residency

Late last year I travelled to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre located at Annaghmakerrig, a place in Ireland that is hard to spell but easier to pronounce, which is a residential workplace for artists to find peace and quiet to concentrate on their work with the stimulation of living alongside artists from other disciplines.

Tyrone Guthrie’s former house accommodates 10 artists and a further five artists stay in the self-catering farmyard cottages out the back. Providing excellent resources is what the Tyrone Guthrie Centre does very well. There are nine studios for visual artists, a music room, a print room and a dance studio. Artists stay anywhere from six weeks to one week, shorter residencies being used mostly by the Irish artists to get specific aspects of their practice realized, while the international artists stay for longer, partly to have enough time to get over the jetlag before beginning work.

So overwhelmed with the great opportunity I had been offered and also the incredible distance I had come (Australia is really very far away from the rest of the world) I spent the time initially being ineffectual and unable to find the breadboard.

Everyone told me to relax in pretty accents and I took their advice and let myself sleep in gratuitously and write badly for a while. I went on walks. I tried to circumnavigate the lake but some cows made me nervous and I walked back the way I had come. I checked to see if the lake was still there on a daily basis and marvelled at the changing canvas that is Annaghmekerrig. I hung around the dining room after dinner and drank heavy Australian wine and listened to poets and painters and playwrights. This approach worked because by the third week the architecture was in place and the story was writing itself. I lived like a wastrel and stayed up late and slept in late and wrote in the afternoon and in the early hours of the morning.

At 7 o’clock everyone staying at the house meets for dinner. The artists staying in the cottages come to dinner once a week. Dinner is a punctuation point after long and distracted workdays. I was usually at the house after dinner because making contact with international artists in the fields of painting, printmaking, music composition, playwriting, poetry and other novelists was a great way to end the day. And some days I could really do with the company. The visual artists tended to go to bed early and rise early, bang out a quick warm up sketch and get to work, stopping for lunch at the traditional time. The writers tended to go to bed late and turn up to lunch and call it breakfast. The composers were somewhere in between. Names were hard to keep track of and mishearing was rife. Maybe it was my accent but one guy thought my name was Collette. In four weeks, the turnover was brisk, stimulating, but fast. Fortunately people left notes on the fridge with contact details so at least you could be sure of the correct pronunciation of their name after they had gone.

My back seized up in the last week even though the bed was perhaps the most comfortable mattress I have ever encountered. I dreamt a lot when I was at Annaghmekerrig, nightmares even. I was told that everyone sleeps badly while staying at the great house. I think it’s something about the intensity of the immersion you have in your new work with the time and space you are afforded. Or else the place is haunted.

I never did work out how to light my fire. The Irish all seem to have magic fire making abilities. I’m sure I saw an Irishwoman light a fire with a single match. Another just seemed to wave her hands and the fire was ablaze. Apparently they call all do this because, “it’s such a comfort to have a fire,” and I agree but in Australia we spend all our time putting them out. In the end I had to use a blow heater.

During this residency I began my next book, Songs from the Singing Ship. As other writers have noted, you set a goal to achieve. My aim was to write 30, 000 words but I came back with 14, 000 words, but I did establish the bones of the thing as well. This seems to be the rule of thumb for residencies, you’ll achieve half of what you thought you would achieve. I strongly identified with Lucy Nelson’s experience of the same thing when she went to Sri Lanka; you get half as much done as you thought you would.

This residency was perfectly timed and the ideal place to begin a complicated new book. This is a great residency to begin projects. The key is the opportunity you have to immerse yourself in your new world. The distractions are few and the aspect gorgeous. There is enough social contact without it becoming overwhelming and staying in the cottage was perfect for my particular creative process. If I’d stayed at the house I would have just lurked around the kitchen and put on weight looking for the distraction of the next meal and a conversation. In the cottage I could keep reasonably disciplined and control my diet somewhat although I still came back to the southern hemisphere a touch heavier, actually, much heavier.

I got some great advice about websites, agents, various approaches to writing, promotion and the scene in Ireland and England. I made some great contacts for the future and some real connections with other writers and artists and their work.

I want to encourage fellow writers to look into this residency. In my opinion this residency is best for beginning new works or editing late drafts. This was a most creative and useful time. I was able to let go of the old book and properly embrace the new one. Ireland is a gorgeous place, and it was amazing to connect with other writers working in a great literary tradition.

The website is here:

Nicole Smith is the author of Sideshow, which won the 2014 Viva La Novella Prize and is published by Xoum Publishing. Sideshow is currently longlisted for the Dobbie Award.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

Excerpt from Sideshow

Belo Horizonte    


It’s a gorgeous day to touch the sky.

The gig is in an enormous field where they fly kites across the road from the lucky people’s houses. You can tell they are the lucky people because of the broken glass lining the edge of their fences.

In Brazil we put the contents of a small flower shop in our wigs so we can toss pretty relics for grandmothers to turn over in their hands after we have gone.

The show is muscular and it’s a sensual crowd and we speak to a thousand strangers with our bodies. Our imprint is left, written on the wind.

When we descend, they are upon us. It is as if we can heal the sick. The little boys crowd around us especially close. One boy is learning English. He can say, ‘My name is…’ He places a hand on his chest and says, ‘My name is Sabastiao Fernando.’ I write lots of love to Sabastiao Fernando and he introduces each kid holding out a scrap of paper in an unwashed hand. Sabastiao Fernando points to a tall boy in short shorts.

‘My name is Miguel Campos Santos.’ I draw a picture for Miguel Campos Santos. Sabastiao Fernando points to another little fellow.

‘My name is Jose Eduardo Taveres Melo Silva.’

I get Sabastiao to spell out his name. Jose has no paper so I use his arm. The letters appearing along his delicate limb transfixes Jose Eduardo Taveres Melo Silva. I draw a love heart to dot the i. The kids walk back with us to the dressing room. Men pat us on the back and women say, ‘Obrigada, muito obrigada.’  We pause the procession to pose for pictures with pretty families who put their arms around us. And everyone’s looking at me. Everyone loves me. This piece of me, this projection of me, this smallest part of me projected like a shadow puppet on the back wall of people’s souls. This drug, this addiction, this distraction from my stillborn life, this is what I do. The kites dance in the empyrean and I can smell popcorn.

I don’t want to take the costume off. I want to be a deity forever. I want to bask in the love of a thousand faces. I spin around like a small girl. My skirt spirals in the vortex. Beloved. I catch myself in the mirror and suddenly I’m Miss Havisham in a long velour dress and a fright wig. I see the old lady in the maiden’s dress caught in a single moment, calcifying in the best of times until it becomes the worst of times meanwhile missing all of the other times; the unsurprising of times, the fair-to-middling of times, and the times when nothing much seems to be happening at all. Everything you love discards you in the end. Even gorgeous days slip away through the horizon. All I can be sure of is that I am running out of time.

I take off the wig and I’m just left a woman with flat hair and a smudged face.

strange fruit galway

Just down from Crom Castle

I did the traditional things one does while at Annaghmekerrig. I shopped in Cootehill, drank at the room they call a bar in Newbliss three times (the best time was when the room was full and we had our drinks in his kitchen) and went over the border and saw Mrs Johnson at Crom Castle where had my tea leaves read. She said everything was going to be fine.


I never did work out how to light my fire. The Irish all seem to have magic fire making abilities. I’m sure I saw an Irishwoman light a fire with a single match. Another just seemed to wave her hands and the fire was ablaze. Apparently they call all do this because, “it’s such a comfort to have a fire,” and I agree but in Australia we spend all our time putting them out. It was sad but in the end I had to use a blow heater.

Sideshow reviewed

on November 2, 2014
A beautifully written, hilarious and heartwarming odyssey, this book follows the adventures of an aerial artist and her ‘family’ of reprobate colleagues as they traverse the world, flying not always with the greatest of ease. Smith’s writing is succinct, but nevertheless suffused with lush imagery and description that nails it all perfectly on the head. Her lost girl is a naive cynic, trying to find herself, but finding herself diverted by the dramas created by the circus of dysfunctional friends (and possible enemies) she travels with. I turned every page with a sense of delicious anticipation, and turned the last page wanting this book to go on for so much longer. I can’t wait for what comes next from this unique, new literary voice.
Sideshow, Nicole Smith

Seizure by Xoum Publishing, June 2014


Sideshow cover

‘The music begins. We climb. The wind picks up a little. The lights snap on. The audience looks up. … Six figures are caught in the glare.’ Take your seat, sit back and enjoy the show. From Rio to Oostend to Amsterdam and beyond, a troupe of acrobats travel the world, performing miracles in the air, enthralling audiences. In between gigs, they drink, play and taunt each other. They get bored. They get up to no good. Then they jump on a plane to do it all again somewhere else. Sideshow is an hilarious and rollicking take on the thrill and drudgery of a life on the road and on what it takes to perform day after day after day…

‘That’s the problem with live performance. You have to be great over and over again. It’s a bit like life.’

‘Wonderfully entertaining, with the funniest cultural observations and fastest page-turning,’ (Mark Macleod)

‘How I loved to read a novel that’s just kicking its legs in the air out of the sheer pleasure of being! A joyous adventure in travel and performance and character’ (Peter Bishop).

REFERENCE Seizure store also, Nicky reading from Sideshow




Varuna Book Profile: Sideshow

Following the announcement of our Viva La Novella 2 Shortlist, we thought you might want to know a little bit more about these emerging talents.

First up, meet Nicole Smith.

What do you do in your day job/life?

Live a life of quiet desperation.

What’s the earliest thing you remember writing?

I was first published when I was 12 years old in the Courier Mail for a science fiction short story called Just Another Day In Space. Since then I have realised that there are no days in space.

When do you like to write?

I like to write late at night into the early hours of the morning but never in the afternoon. Something about the angle of the sun at 3 o’clock turns me into an existentialist.

If you could brunch with anyone, who would it be?

Douglas Adams, Jonathan Swift and TS Eliot.  If the guests had to be alive, then Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Jennifer Saunders (and Joanna Lumley).

Most important thing the Internet has taught you:

That most people lead lives of quiet desperation.

A quotation you have used more than once:

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Henry David Thoreau

What’s next?

Later this year I’m off to a residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland for a month to write the next story.

Seizure Author Profile

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