Soundtracks

Do you ever step out your front door and a soundtrack begins playing in your head, as though you’re in a film? I do it all the time. It happens sometimes when I slam the car door shut, the music starts, something’s beginning. Often I am actually hearing music through my earphones. I see a lot of my life as a film, like I’m an outside observer. It’s full of cliches; both my life perceived this way and the actual act of doing this. But whatever. Before I did that unit on scriptwriting I thought I’d be really good at it, but it was such a disaster. It was part of my Grad Dip in writing. I had this teacher whose experience seemed to revolve around having written Neighbours episodes and she was one of those people that I just clashed with. Not in an angry way, we just didn’t really get each other. I felt like everyone else in the course was cruising along and writing up all these great ideas and mine was just poo, awful story about nothing written like a kid, terrible. It was such a rude shock, that scriptwriting could be a total disaster. But that’s actually what writing was for me for a long time, a total disaster. I always had talent, and I’m good with languages and spelling and grammar, but I’ve always been very immature, a late developer.

Anyway, I digress. I actually wanted to write about the future, or the next steps. I am about to complete this MA and I really don’t know where it’s going to lead. Potentially nowhere, which is a bit freaky really. I think the reason that’s possible is because I’ve never done study with a view to getting work. I was explaining this to a Walmart lady the other day, when she badgered me about applying for a credit card and I explained that I’m not eligible for a credit card because not only am I not a permanent resident of Canada, I also don’t have an income. She asked what I was studying and I explained and she asked where that leads career-wise. When I told her I wasn’t sure and that I’d never done any of my study with a view to getting a job, she was shocked. It was like it had never occurred to her that people did this. When she realised it was about happiness, she calmed down a bit and seemed to understand where I was coming from. But when I walked away, I realised I truly didn’t know what the hell was going to come of this degree, and that was because it was never what I really wanted to do. And what I really wanted to do, writing, was not what I got into. Because I haven’t shown myself to be good enough at it to warrant doing an MA. Italian, yes, I’m good at it, and this degree has been incredibly enjoyable and rewarding from a personal perspective, but I don’t want to do further study in Italian. I never wanted to do any study in Italian! Gosh that’s a hard thing to admit openly. But it’s true.

Regrets are a waste of time and I refuse to entertain them for even a moment. All I can do is look to the future, to where I want to be, and work towards that. It’s not Italian, and it’s not writing. I’d like to continue my editorial career in a freelance capacity, which will take discipline, and I think my study this past year has helped with building that. So that’s something. But as for my long term career, I’m not sure. Will it be teaching? I’m told I am good at that. I did a presentation a few weeks ago on King Lear and my fellow students all commented on the way I read the Shakespeare, how I engaged my audience. And I really enjoyed it. But teaching, that means I’m more like my mum than I’d like. That freaks me out. And teaching requires energy, giving of oneself. I don’t know if I have what it takes.

For now, I have less than a month left of classes before I finish this MA. So I’ll keep walking to my soundtrack, writing my snippets of stories, my to-do lists, my goals. One thing is certain: I will write a book one day soon.

There are no mistakes, only necessary lessons

Years ago, during my early 20s public service phase, I worked as a deputy editor of a crappy government magazine. My editor moved on and I applied for the role but didn’t get it. Instead, a total freakazoid douche was employed, I think because he was friends with my big boss.
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I say freakazoid douche but I should qualify that. He was camp as a row of tents and very high maintenance. He would freak out about things but pretend he was all cool and authoritarian on the outside. He pretended to be nice but came across as quite fake and very insecure. In hindsight, I kind of feel sorry for him. One thing he was good at though, he knew his grammar, punctuation and proper English. He had a really good eye for detail and was as pedantic as they come. Which, as an editor, can be a really good quality.

I hated working with him, I really did. Yes, I was a bit pissed off about being knocked back for the role myself but in my heart of hearts I knew I really didn’t have the experience or discipline to succeed as editor at that point. I would have screwed up and been out of my depth. So I made a conscious effort to treat him with courtesy and respect but it wasn’t long before I really loathed having to work with him.

And of course he fairly quickly showed himself to be unworthy of the role too. He couldn’t communicate without pissing someone off as his manner was so abrupt and quite bitchy and huffy. He’d get offended at everything and look down his nose at everyone yet it was just due to insecurity on his part. It was the worst kind of inferiority complex. Eventually he was moved on. I can’t quite recall how it all came about but I think he may have made his excuses. It’s really hard to fire someone in the public service, so that didn’t happen, but I think he was a contractor and his contract wasn’t renewed.

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Borrowed from http://cdn.ilovetypography.com

Anyway, just reading a post on one of the editorial Facebook pages I follow reminded me of him. It was about em dashes and en dashes. I knew about these and had an idea of how to use them prior to meeting this guy, but it was he who told me their names and demonstrated their usage. It’s stuck with me ever since and I’m very grateful for this knowledge. So despite not enjoying working with this insecure and incompetent drama queen who was actually a good editor as well, I wouldn’t change that experience for anything. I adore the em dash too!

This whole thing got me thinking, and it’s very relevant in the context of our upcoming journey to Canada, that there really are no mistakes, just lessons that need to be learned through experience. So it may seem daunting now, but this adventure is going to teach us some important lessons. There may be hardship and it may feel like too big a mountain to climb (or that we’re climbing the wrong mountain!) but I know that these lessons can only be learnt via this experience. Bring it on, I say.

Some writing

I never publish my writing, even on this blog. It’s mainly because I don’t have enough of it that I consider worthy of even being read by another human, let alone being published anywhere. I’m all talk when it comes to writing. Yes, it’s true, I never get a chance to sit and write, but by the same token, I would do it if it were really important. I haven’t got the self-discipline and I can’t focus for long enough. 

As part of some planning for my MA application (yeah, I’m finally doing it, if I can work out how, after ten years out of university), I stumbled across some bits and pieces I’d strung together when preparing an application for a Masters program about seven years ago. I never actually ended up applying, although I had everything pretty much ready. I had planned to study in the UK when I went over all those years ago but for some reason, I can’t think why now, possibly the financial implications, I never ended up applying

But anyway, I came across this piece which, although it is far from polished, and in fact somewhat incoherent really, I thought I’d post here. I quite like it, as the beginning bare bones of something.  It has no title, just a series of subtitles for each little section.

 

WEDDING

Boxing Day in 1924 was a cold but bright day.  Rosa, frail and thin, wore a large heavy wool coat and some second-hand men’s sheepskin gloves.  Lottie looked the picture of spring, shining cheeks, a freshness and openness about her.  Joe wasn’t cold, he was tough.  And he didn’t care much for fashion or looks, he just got on with things.  Thomas remained smart and stiff with carefully parted hair, and perfectly groomed moustache and a three-piece suit with his watch chain draping appropriately across the front pocket.

Lottie glanced over at her counterpart, the other mother-in-law, sitting alongside her husband.  Hands folded in the lap and a hardened look on her pale face, you could see she wasn’t well.  She looked about ten years older than she was.  As the cameraman adjusted his lens, ducking under his black cloth to check the focus, Lottie wondered about Rosa, and whether she had ever wanted anything more than marriage at 16 and 12 children.  There was no real expression on Rosa’s face; you would never know, thought Lottie, that she is the mother of the bride, who sat fidgeting alongside her new husband, glowing with early pregnancy in her usual state of nervous excitement.  Perhaps once you’ve been to ten of your children’s weddings you just don’t think it’s special any more.  The fashion was certainly well and truly still Victorian, and shabby even at that.  Lottie’s hair was a bohemian experiment, piled tight and curly up on top of her head and fenced in with a bright silk scarf.  Rosa had worn the same hat twenty years earlier for her eldest daughter’s wedding, a large-brimmed affair with a dull ribbon squeezing the protruding cap.

“Right-oh everyone, hold still…” announced the cameraman as he ducked under his cloth for the final time.  Lottie could hear Uncle Jim cracking a joke in the row behind her and she reached her hand up to quiet him, but couldn’t help laughing.  Snap went the shutter and that was it.  Joe had smiled at the joke too as he sat next to his wife, enjoying the moment, amused by the amount of effort people went to for something as trivial as a photograph.  The moment was captured perfectly, Lottie and Joe smiling away as they always did, and Rosa and Thomas, stern and stiff.  Two such diverse families one could never meet.

 

OPPOSITES ATTRACT

Gladys had spied him walking home from work and had gotten all worked up and flustered, as usual.  His shyness was attractive to her in a mysterious and intriguing way.  He was used to silly girls mooning over him, and thought nothing of this one; but she was persistent, and that’s what made the difference.  She worked herself up into a frenzy. The more he withdrew and went about his usual routine, the more she became adamant that he was the one.  She liked the chase.  It wasn’t that he didn’t like girls.  He just wasn’t interested in the game of flirtation; in fact he didn’t play games at all.  He found her attractive too, in a sort of ditsy, helpless way.  She wasn’t unintelligent, but she was so highly strung that the slightest thing would cause hysteria.  Perhaps it was because she was the youngest girl in her family, much younger than the other two girls, and spoilt rotten.  She wasn’t close to her mother; it was her father who doted on her and encouraged her little princess routine.

He puffed on his pipe like a man twice his age and considered things. She was the antithesis of his own mother, who was easy-going and level-headed. She’d probably find this small, hysterical girl endearing, at least until she became annoying. When he was near this jumpy rabbit, he felt a pull as he’d never felt. He’d never been compelled to pursue anyone, but this girl, her chasing and flirting was becoming infectious.

 

MEETING

Lottie stood at the shop window watching the reflection of the pipe smoke curling inside an invisible tunnel up into the air.  Somehow, without the smoke deviating from its perfectly vertical course, snippets of the sweet, comforting smell drifted across to her, and she felt warmer with each breath.

“I’d love to smell it again,” said Joe, sucking in the air through his mouth with a practised rhythm.  It was enough to bring her out of her trance and she straightened her posture and peered with purpose into the shop window momentarily.

“Is this your shop, Sir?” she asked, turning towards him as he leaned against the door frame.

“That it is, Miss,” he replied.

“I wonder if you might consider selling some of my garments?” she asked, lifting the cloth that covered a large wicker basket she held.  He moved only his eyes in the direction of the basket for a few moments then chewed the stem of his pipe.  “On commission, of course,” she added hurriedly.  He slowly breathed out a soft cloud of smoke.

“I mean no disrespec’, Miss, but ‘ow can I be certain ye’re of good repute?” he asked.

“Well, I… I must say, Sir, I am quite offended by that.  I know not whether you and your shop are of good repute yet I am willing to sell my items here, at least on a trial basis.”  She tried to stare him down, even though he wasn’t looking at her.  Joe peered into the bowl of his pipe, then tapped it sharply against the wall to free the last few ashes.  He turned and held out a hand for the basket.

“Come inside, Miss, an’ I’ll see what ye’ve got.”  She hesitated, but let him take the basket so knew she had to follow him in.

The shop itself was most interesting; it didn’t fit into any particular category—iron mongers, haberdashers, tailors—there was such variety of goods filling the shelves which reached to the high ceilings.  Lottie couldn’t help staring in amazement before she noticed him watching her with amusement and collected herself, replacing her look of amazement with a look that said she’d seen it all before.

“Is this your own work, Miss?” asked Joe, running a finger over a finely embroidered red rose, intricate green leaves curling around it in a myriad of Celtic style patterns.

“Of course,” she replied haughtily.  Joe smiled at her, noticing for the first time that her own clothes were adorned with the same style of embroidery, tiny coloured flowers on the dark background of her bodice.

“Your work is very fine,” he nodded. She relaxed a little, having been ready to gather it quickly into the basket and march out of the shop, secretly terrified.  “I’ll sell it, at an agreed price, with commission.”  Lottie breathed an audible sigh of relief and was about to speak when…

“On one condition.”

She immediately became suspicious again.

“Is the commission not a condition already?” she asked, grasping the embroidered nightdress, ready to leave.  He noticed how tense she was.

“Yes, ye’re right, that it is.”  He pulled a shirt from the basket and held the colour close to his eye, lifting his glasses to see it clearly in detail.  “I’ll give ye thruppence for each o’ the men’s shirts and a shilling for each ladies nightdress.”  It was more than she’d expected, and she wondered what his game was.  But the money was all important, so she nodded in agreement.

“I’ll warrant there’ll be a demand for your garments, but we’ll wait to see what happens.  Come back in a week,” he said bluntly, gathering the pile of clothes out of the basket and dumping them on the counter behind him.  There was something about him, she thought, that told her he was honest.  Perhaps the pipe smoking.  Her father would puff on his by the fire of an evening and announce to no one in particular, ‘ye can alweez trest a man wi’ a paipe’.

So with that she left the shop, sneaking another quick glance at its crowded walls, full of everything from tea sets to nails.

 

HAPPINESS

Uncle Buddy was the first person in the street to own a camera.  The camera itself had been around for years, but only professional photographers, of which there were not many down the East End in the 1930s, owned them.  There hadn’t been many celebrations or real knees-ups for some time, since the beginning of the war when Arthur was sent off.  Lottie had never been the same, but had helped so many, which in some way helped her own grief.  Life moved fast, and Lottie made it so. As long as things were humming along, as long as she just got on with things, there would be no time to mull over losses, which really was a waste of time and made one old beyond her years, said Lottie, when questioned as to her busy life.  It was worth it, for her, as she brought solace to so many grieving mothers; most of them felt their sadness wane, knowing what Lottie herself had gone through.

The trouble was, the camera didn’t accommodate speed.  It didn’t accommodate any movement.  In order to be captured on camera, one had to remain absolutely still for at least a minute, depending on the light of the day.  So all of Uncle Buddy’s earliest pictures were of buildings or graves, which were guaranteed to remain steadfast and one could really focus, get the timing right, the shadows black and the light white.  A grave was the closest thing to a person that Buddy could photograph.  He could have asked a stranger, paid some quiet child to sit still for him, but he felt as if the subject should be still by its very nature.  Posing, trying to remain still and frozen for the photograph was so unnatural and, to Buddy, went against the very reason for the existence of the medium.  Painting was a medium with which one could capture movement, and moving objects and depict them in any way needed.  It was artistic license, making it up according to a fantasy.  A photograph was real and should never be used for trickery.

The tragedy of war, the removal of life, the future of an entire family, had caused Uncle Buddy to develop a fixed way of thinking about photographs.  And it took the birth of Lottie’s first grandchild, only son of her only son, to bring her back to life.  She remembered dancing, singing, the many celebrations she had been a part of since her marriage until 1917.  Celebrations became a part of daily life—in fact not celebrating became a novelty, and Joe secretly relished those days off, where he could smoke his pipe in peace and quiet and think of nothing.

Uncle Buddy got a new camera.  For him, it was a whole new medium.  It replaced his painting almost entirely.  It captured life, movement.

“Awright, you lot… ‘Eck, pop in there on that side… wear your ‘at, can’t ‘ave a picture without the ‘at… put that baby down for a moment, will you Glad?  No, Ron, thas it, pop yer ‘ead in, thas right…”  Joe bared his missing teeth as he laughed along with Ron, the next door neighbour, and Mrs Axley from across the road, who was laughing so hysterically by this point that she held a hand to her mouth and tears brimmed in her eyes.  Gladys finally relaxed, her thick glasses giving her something convenient to hide behind, as she smiled at her husband, laughing heartily, a rare thing for him.  Uncle Buddy chose the moment and the flash bulb smashed, the moment captured.  Lottie was in the corner.  Whether she laughed, we’ll never know. That corner of the photograph was torn off by mistake.

The fear and necessity of specialisation

I’ve always been an all-rounder. Generally pretty good at everything. In fact, fairly early on in my life it became apparent that if something warranted a bit of effort, application or concentration from me, I wouldn’t bother. It wasn’t often that things fell into that category during primary school, but as I progressed through high school and on to university and then into the workforce, I came to a frightening conclusion: it’s not good enough to be okay at everything, even if you’re clever and capable enough to be okay at things without any effort. I discovered I had a distinct problem with self-motivation, drive, ambition, and ultimately in my 20s this lead to something akin to depression. I was terrified to discover that I wasn’t passionate about anything! Not really. Because being passionate meant really immersing myself in something. It meant choosing and being disciplined enough to stick to something. And risking failure.

Now at 35 years old I am experiencing some pretty harsh realities and finding it harder and harder not to specialise. As this very insightful article I just stumbled upon explains, if you don’t specialise you become unemployable. I would go further to say that if you don’t delve into your passions, you are living small. I’m not going to be so arrogant as to assume that everyone knows what he or she is passionate about, or that everyone has the means to explore passions to the greatest extent. But I think that most excuses for not really grasping your passion fully are cop outs; it might frustrate some, but the old cliché is true: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

This question of will comes up for me now. As I mentioned earlier, I was shocked to realise I wasn’t really passionate about anything, or at least passionate enough to really get up close and personal with any one topic. In the past, I’ve put this down to being ‘pretty good at everything’. But what I realised recently is that I’m not good at everything, I’m good at what I’m interested in. It seems pretty simple, but the moment I realised that, I also realised I was pretty arrogant to dismiss specialisation in any given field purely because I was just so fantastic at everything. That was the ultimate cop-out.

I’ve talked for years about doing my Masters. In fact I realised recently that it’s been ten years since I last studied! What?! That not only makes me feel old, it makes me feel like I’ve slacked off. So what has held me back? I could say that I was just having too much fun, doing too many other things, that it wasn’t really that important. But that’s not true. What’s held me back is the awareness that I’d finally have to specialise. That’s scary, as the article I linked above so eloquently explains. It’s scary because it means having faith in yourself, in all the sweeping statements you’ve made in the past about ‘being good’ at things. It’s also scary because it can feel like a limitation, like you are having to relinquish some pretty interesting ideas in order to make space for the big idea, the big passion, the speciality.

Anyway, I am finally looking into really doing my Masters, but doing it in a way that doesn’t allow me to slack off, cop-out, give up, make excuses or fail. And let’s face it, my chances of failing are pretty slim, given I never studied throughout my undergraduate degree and it never occurred to me I could fail until my very last semester at uni when I discovered friends had to take a unit again due to having failed the first time. I actually did come close to failing once or twice. I remember the struggle I had studying history in first year uni (Culture and Society in Britain and France 1750-1850 – I was 18 and had never really even heard of the Industrial Revolution and my knowledge of the French Revolution revolved around vague notions of people getting their heads cut off a lot). It was a year-long unit, which made it extra painful as I had no option but to see it through right to the end of the year. I had no study skills whatsoever, couldn’t absorb the texts as I didn’t understand any of the context, and there were all these crazy philosophy dudes in my tute group sitting round and pontificating about things I couldn’t comprehend. All I knew is, I didn’t get it, and I hated it. My tutor was a really lovely English woman who could see exactly what I was going through and kindly gave me a pass mark (52, I think it was) at the end of the year, probably because I managed to read most of Voltaire’s Candide and write a vaguely coherent, grammatically correct essay about it. But did I feel ashamed or upset that I’d let myself down by getting such a low mark?  Oh no, I just decided that the kind of history they were teaching at uni was garbage and not worth learning about. Yes, I was arrogant. I put my nose in the air and enrolled in linguistics where I proceeded to write entire essays the night before they were due with absolutely no referencing or citation, claiming I’d just come up with the ideas myself and that was enough of a reference. Hmm. I must have been a bugger to teach!

The one last thing to say about this latest educational venture is about the way I’m going to tackle it. It’s a bit of a secret at the moment so I won’t go into details until it’s clearly set in stone, but suffice it to say, I’m excited. It’s going to be an adventure, especially as my family – Mr C, the Dude and the little girl joining us sometime towards the end of August – will be along for the ride, directly affected by everything I do. Specialisation, here I come!

Remember when you were young…

This must be the longest break from blogging I’ve had in years. I’ve been thinking about it the whole time, wishing I could just take that hour or so out and write, but it hasn’t happened. I have good reason for slacking off: we’ve renovated the whole house, painted every room bar one, most of the outside, replaced almost all the floor coverings, every door except one, and all the light fittings. I guess it probably doesn’t sound like a lot. We haven’t gutted the kitchen or anything, although we did replace the bathroom sink and both toilet cisterns. It hasn’t been a complete renovation but it surely has been a huge undertaking and the results are pretty good.  I’ll post some photos at some point.

Anyway, aside from that, which happened in the space of less than six weeks with a week in Thailand in the middle (we had it booked, we had to go!), I’ve also been working full time which has been a massive challenge. The work was relatively challenging although nothing  I couldn’t handle. It was dealing with the internal politics that took its toll. It’s the public service, typical really, but it’s been a while since I’ve worked full time and I’d forgotten just how carefully one has to play the game.

Part of a letter written in 1918 to my great great great grandmother. She seems to have been very kind to a woman whose son was killed during the war. Her own son was too. Nothing to do with this blog post, only that it captures a moment in time...
Part of a letter written in 1918 to my great great great grandmother. She seems to have been very kind to a woman whose son was killed during the war. Her own son was too. Nothing to do with this blog post, only that it captures a moment in time…

So it’s been full on, and I haven’t had a moment to even plan a blog post, let alone write one. I’ve had so many ideas jump into my head but I’ve been too busy to jot them down or draft something short to remind myself, so they’ve gone. I’d really wanted to do NaNoWriMo this year and try and beat my previous pathetic word counts or, shock horror, actually win, but no chance, just too much to do. The good news is that the renovation is done and the house is now on the market. I’ve also finished my contract at work, so in between job hunting and preparing the house for viewings, I’ve now got a bit of time to play with.

I got to thinking this week about the twists and turns life presents us with. Ever since I met Mr Chewbacca, my life has felt a little bit out of control. Not unmanageable or difficult, just a little bit beyond my grasp; kind of like chasing a horse but still holding its bridle. Life becomes complicated by relationships. But life would be nothing without them. The Dude has complicated my life immensely but I wouldn’t swap him for anything.

It’s bizarre to think about the hugely diverse situations I’ve ended up in so far in life. Once when I was 11 I stood around the back of my old primary school dressed as an Arthurian musician and kissed a boy.

When I was 18 I was fiddling with the car radio while driving after having had my license for only three months and didn’t give way at an intersection. The woman I collided with shouted at me and I cried in shock. My best friend’s mum happened to be there at that moment and took me to her place, which I was on my way to. My mum couldn’t afford to fix her 1979 Renault station wagon and we drove it around for months with the entire front panel dented in so far you could see the suspension.

When I was 21 I met a boy and had what can only be described as a religious experience, ending up randomly at his house somehow and not leaving until the early hours of the morning when I crept out past the open door of his parents’ bedroom as they slept. That relationship lasted six years.

When I was 28 I travelled through the Scottish highlands and was invited by an old man to become a weaver on the Isle of Harris. I reluctantly refused.

When I was 29 I met my mirror image, my soulmate, but I didn’t know it, and life has been surprise ever since.

When I was 32 I lay in a pool in the living room of a Vaucluse mansion and gave birth to a baby.

When I was 35 I tried to write and it just didn’t come out the way I wanted.

I am reading the autobiography of the father of an old friend at the moment. It’s not a masterpiece, just a detailed and interesting account of a varied life, a legacy of sorts, and it is quite inspiring. I find myself becoming so envious of other people’s ambition and drive to achieve. I wish I had that. It’s there but I can’t channel it outside of myself. I have my book idea, the main one, sitting right at the front of my mind, desperate to be written, and I know it is good, but it just won’t come out. Or perhaps I’m not making time for it. Yet again, my resolutions for 2014 will involve writing discipline. This time, I must succeed, as I feel I’m running out of time to write this book…

The writing of a book: part 2

I don’t think there was a time in my life when I didn’t want to write a book. I vaguely remember learning to write, although it feels like I’ve always known letters and words. I remember learning to form the letters, but at some level I’ve always recognised meaning in letters and words. It’s the most innate way of communicating for me, which sounds totally bizarre, but it’s true; speaking is fun and often fluid but doesn’t feel as natural as writing for me.

I’ve had ‘the idea’ running around in my head for about five years now. It has morphed a bit, but it’s been there waiting to be written. There are some other ideas that have been hanging around for longer than this one, but I know this is ‘the one’ for the moment. I’ve known for a while.

Recently, after getting a copy of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent to review, I was reading up on Hannah and her journey to becoming a published author (and apparently securing a kick arse publishing deal!). I found a fantastic piece on the Kill Your Darlings literary journal where she talks in detail about the process, from the time she first stumbled upon the idea for the book ten years ago on an exchange program in Iceland, to the days she spent holed up in her writing room despairing at ever getting this thing done. She seems to have read the same ‘How to write a book in 30 days’ series from the Guardian that I’d been poring over for a while. Oh how inspiring to read this honest account of writing a first novel! She is clearly a very talented writer and has been working on her craft for a number of years, given the book is part of her PhD in creative writing. Her promise to herself to write 1000 words every day really struck me; while I can’t realistically do the same, I can get pretty close to it. After all, most blog posts I write (this isn’t one of them, by the way) just flood out and suddenly I look down to the discover I’ve written 800 words without even blinking. I’m not saying they’re ‘good’ words, but it proves I can churn the writing out when I knuckle down, which is essentially the way one writes a book.

So I began. I plotted a bit of an outline, although I’m not referring to this at all. It became a way of organising my thoughts, or sort of releasing some of the rubbish that was clogging up my head. And then I began writing. I did my best not to second guess myself or edit along the way and I tried not to think about how awful the writing was in some parts. As I progressed beyond a measly 2,000 words, I started to feel disillusioned. The writing was getting worse! I couldn’t even continue much beyond that, so I left it for a day. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. The only reason I didn’t give up on the spot is that I have been here before; I know my inner critic very well, and I know she likes to find ways to stop me. My high school English teacher, Mr P, used to say it was good practice to get up earlier than you normally would and write while you’re half asleep; the inner critic isn’t a morning person. Of course, I never managed this as I’m definitely not a morning person, and now I have become one through becoming a mum, I never get a chance to get up early enough to beat my son to it and have any time alone to write.

As it was whirling around in my head depressing me, I mentioned to Mr Chewbacca what had happened to my writing. We’d spent a few minutes in a coffee shop the week before having a thoroughly enjoyable and motivating conversation about my future book and how I might structure it, and although he’s not a writer, he is highly intelligent and very good at ideas and concepts. He also gives excellent feedback. This time, when I complained about stalling so early on, he hardly said anything. Just by talking about it, I realised that I needed to keep going. I realised that all the crappy writing needed to come out before I could get to the good stuff. It had to come out sometime, why not now? It’s seriously so awful. But in amongst it, there is some lovely stuff.

So I’m going to have faith that the crap will eventually be cleared out and it will make way for some goodness. I’m going to keep writing. My goal is an arbitrary 100,000 words, although I suspect, like Hannah Kent, I might just stop one day and realise that the book is finished.

I’ll be writing many more parts to this ongoing saga until the book is actually finished. Given I’m only on about 3,000 words now and most of it is utter garbage, there will be a few more posts yet…

Truth is the cornerstone of good writing

Reading an article from an Allen & Unwin newsletter I subscribe to, I came upon the title of this blog post. It struck me as particularly relevant to my writing. I struggle with the truth. Not necessarily with telling it, that’s easy; but telling it to someone, anyone, who reads my writing, that’s difficult. Actually, I’ll rephrase that: it’s frightening to think that my truth may not be that of others.

When I was in year 11, age 16 or 17, I started an English class with a new teacher. Let’s call him Mr P, for the sake of anonymity. This guy was awesome. He was the first teacher that gave me hope that my writing may be worth something, that I actually could write, that it was interesting and worth reading. It’s the most depressing thing in the world to be compelled to write but to think your writing is no good! I don’t know why, but I remember writing a short piece, I can’t even call it a story, about my grandparents and their ‘nicotine-stained hallway’. That phrase sticks out to me, as it was one that Mr P highlighted saying he thought it really worked to paint a vivid picture. To me, it was just fact: my grandparents were chain smokers their whole lives, and not only were their walls stained dirty yellow with the smoke of their constantly-fuming cigarettes, all the spines of their books, photo albums, and even pictures hanging on the wall were discoloured. I was just writing what I knew; and it was perfect.

I didn’t show that piece of writing to my grandparents. In fact, I don’t think I showed it to anyone. How would they feel about my description? And that was only the tip of the iceberg. I began to write about the time we went to the leagues club and my dad and granddad let my grandmother have too much to drink and she couldn’t stand up properly and had to be bundled into the car as she sang some old Beatles song. I was furious with her. I can’t remember what I said exactly, something about her being a disgrace (I must have been about 14 at the time) and I can remember her sitting in the back seat next to me giggling and slurring, “oh, am I drunk?”  That seems something of an amusing anecdote to an outsider, but to anyone in the family, it is fairly confronting because we know that she was an alcoholic. I probably shouldn’t even be admitting that on this blog, but oh well, she’s been dead over ten years now and I don’t have a lot to do with the members of that side of my family who’d be offended, so what the hell, right? Sorry to anyone reading this that is offended; but you know it’s the truth. And you know what an extraordinary woman she was, regardless of her emotional problems. So it’s not worth getting upset about.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to get at here is, when is truth okay? When is it okay to strip back the layers for the sake of expression? Is it okay to be raw when it’s cathartic? And where should one draw the line when it comes to revealing others’ painful truths? For me, admitting to my grandmother’s illness is something of a release. I feel as if I’m doing good by being honest; because she found that hard, and that’s understandable, she was ashamed. There’s something about writing about this sort of ‘real’ stuff that infuses the writing with more power. It becomes interesting somehow. Mr P noticed that, and it was he who first explained it to me. I was kind of annoyed when he first told me to write about what I know because prior to that I’d always written fantasy type stuff and that was the antithesis of what I knew. I was like, hang on, how can just writing stuff you know be the answer to writing well? How can it be that easy? I had been told by a previous English teacher that my writing was cliched and I took offence to that. But it was true. Good writing is characterised by its meaningfulness to the writer.

Recently, someone close to me read a post on this blog. She knew it existed but I’d never actually sent her a link. I was proud of the post I’d written, having had some lovely feedback from friends, and I thought she might enjoy it or at least give me some feedback in the same vein. Instead, the opposite happened. She mentioned it had some factual inaccuracies firstly, and secondly she thought I was leaving myself exposed. Apparently ‘people’ are always out to get you, and they use any means by which to bring you down. So you shouldn’t reveal too much of your ‘real’ self publicly. I felt deflated and sad. Once I’d moved past these feelings, I realised I simply didn’t agree. And that was okay.

I read a lot of amazing blogs. Soulemama, Edenland, RRSAHM, Wanderlust, Flux Capacitor, Stand and Deliver, The Girl Who, The Byron Life, The Bloggess and a wonderful one of a woman I know that I just discovered yesterday – Kirrilee Heartman. This is just a small list – there are more that I read and enjoy. And you know what they all have in common? They are about the truth! A truth. My dad never agreed with me when I used to argue that everyone has their own truth, that there aren’t many things that are equally true for all; he thought I was fence-sitting I guess. But I still believe this, and I think that’s why blogs and life writing are eternally fascinating. People are interesting. And fiction is fabulous, but someone telling the truth (even if it is ‘their’ truth, and a total lie for others) is the most inspiring thing in the world for me. Keeping it real, that’s where it’s at. So even if I piss a few people off unintentionally and what I say isn’t true for everyone, I’m going to keep on telling it like it is, right here to begin with.