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What’s Feeding Your Senses? Penny Gibson

Published 14th May, 2016 in Writing

Penny Gibson, whose story flight will be published in the upcoming Margaret River Press anthology Shibboleth and other stories, is a brave, insightful writer. Her stories sing, and ache and transform the reader, and today she takes us around her sensory world…

First of all I should say that what feeds my senses and sustains my spirit most, is the natural world. So much so that when I moved to Sherbrooke in the Dandenong Ranges, I bought a writing room surrounded by a house. From the writing room I look out at a canopy of green – mountain ash, beech, a california redwood – where kookaburras, magpies, rosellas and currawongs busy themselves all day. Most days I walk in the forest and it never fails to both soothe and recharge my dreaming mind.

What I’m Reading

I’ve just finished Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time, about the Russian composer Shostakovich and the compromises he made in order to survive under Stalin and Kruschev. It is told from Shostakovich’s point of view in close third person so that we feel we really know him, his terror of interrogation, his anguish at his betrayals, his small acts of faithlessness, in a way that we can understand and empathise with.  A remarkable book.

Beside my bed is Grief is the thing with Feathers by Max Porter, a beautiful poetic allegory of grief and the way it turns your world inside out. I come back to it again and again.

I always have a couple of books of short stories on the go ( at least!) At the moment I’m reading Tenth of December by George Saunders and Dark lies the Island by Irish writer Kevin Barry. Both writers are masters of language, surprise, and third options. And Francine Prose’s Reading like a Writer is always nearby.

What I’m listening to

Classical Music. ABC Classic FM or 3MBS for daily sustenance, and something more meaty for when I need inspiration and a release from the ‘busy’ mind. At the moment I’m working my way through Beethoven’s String Quartets. It’s amazing how such music can take you straight to the ‘zone’. Its effects aren’t always immediately apparent but I feel that my unconscious mind is somehow responding to it.

What I’m watching

People. In cafes, waiting rooms, trains. Not just for gestures, but also for the immense range of facial features, expressions, body shape etc. Sounds obvious I know, but I am training myself to be more observant. I think it’s becoming an obsession

I mostly watch rubbish TV – crappy detective stories – and the occasional serious program on Catalyst or Insight. I’m not a big movie goer and tend to forget movies quite quickly.

I do find though that art galleries are immensely inpsiring – I wrote almost the complete first draft of Flight on the way back from Hobart, where I’d been to MONA the previous day. I’m fortunate to have two very good galleries nearby and I visit them whenever I can. Like music, art that doesn’t depend on words slips past my alert brain and lodges somewhere more important.

Penny Gibson writes short fiction and poetry. Her early work  appeared in LinQ, Quadrant, and Right Now. In 2011 and 2013 she took part in a writing project led by Rebecca Lister for the Jesuits’ Support after Suicide support group, which was pivotal in helping her find words again. The project produced two volumes, Nothing Prepared me for this and Thank you for Listening and included her story ‘Memorial’, and several poems. She was extremely fortunate to have been mentored by Cate Kennedy for part of this project.


Subsequent publications include stories in The Big Issue Fiction edition 2014, The SALA short story anthology 2015 and the [Margaret River anthology] 2016. Her poem ‘Grant’s Picnic Ground Sherbrooke’ will be published in the anthology Poetry and Place later this month.  Her short story ‘The Church of Lost Objects’ was Highlt commended in the Southern Cross Literary Competition 2015.

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