Monthly Archives: February 2014

we write the words and the words write us

As a virgin blogger and a virgin reader of blogs, I have been struck by the number of bloggers who state explicitly that blogging/writing/sharing has been a way of helping them get through difficult phases of their life and/or working through difficult personal issues; often these difficulties and issues are ongoing. There is a long history of writing as catharsis and my comment is pure cliché territory [nothing to see here, move along please]. Who doesn’t have an unpublished autobiographical novel lying in a drawer [or in drop box these days], some of us even have a pile of short stories of similar ilk. What has inspired me to comment today is how others’ experience of blogging may be linked to a comment made by an assessor on my novel-in-progress, referring to my main female character. I had written her as a strong, independent and badly damaged person seeking redemption; the assessor saw her as a manipulative, self-centred, needy and generally unlikeable person. Not at all what I intended! Close re-reading confirms that the assessor is correct. So, what is happening here? How do our characters ‘take over’ during the writing process? What is happening consciously and unconsciously? What cathartic processes were taking place without my knowing?
Of course all this may be the product of my poor writing, though the assessment of the manuscript overall was very positive.

walking and plotting

On Sunday I did my first ‘long’ walk after my foot operation last October, some 32 km, and spent the time wrestling with the plot structure of my novel-in progress set on the Camino. After two weeks of scene shuffling, including deleting scenes which I liked but which I had to concede added nothing to the novel [‘kill your darlings’ as they term it] and adding a few new scenes, maybe, just maybe I have settled on a structure which works. Now back to another day of drafting and re-drafting in which, one hopes, the exhilaration of writing eventually outweighs the agony.

Grandfather’s desk

An older woman is sitting in an old armchair alone and remembering her life, especially the secret drawer in her grandfather’s desk. her voice is reflective of a life of feeling that there was always something just out of her reach, like the secret drawer itself.

The piece was originally performed as a monologue in local theatre.

Grandfather’s desk, dark wood glistening. Pen scratching, paper rustling on a desk in a room forbidden to enter; shallow breathing at the closed door, alert to slip away. Creaking chair, click of a turning key, a sigh behind the door, always closed.

Not always.

One day open enough for little hands, little face to make a space, a crack to gaze at lamp glow -such green!-curtains dark shadows, books looming above, cigar smoke catching my throat.

Tiptoeing away.

Coming back. Small heart beating down the passageway, easing the door, creeping over carpet one foot carefully placed in front of the other. Touching wood, paper, pens, ink bottle, hardly daring to breathe, curtains trembling behind me. Whispers.

Tingling, shivering, running away.

Drawn back that summer day, flies buzzing, dying at the window. Opening drawers trance-like, fingers hesitating, stopping, one drawer different, not exactly flush, not perfect in that perfect desk. Fingers softly press a wooden panel to show a tiny key in a tiny lock in a tiny secret drawer. Breathing harsher, heart pounding, too scared to open the drawer, to be found.

Running away.

Piano music in the drawing room, chair hard and square against my legs, fire crackling and popping, embers into ash, children dozing from heavy Sunday lunch. Slipping away, quiet down the passageway, remembering. Grandfather’s study abandoned now, desk gathering dust, motes in shadowed light. Books hazy in autumn’s fade, cigar smoke a faint memory. Warm wood, cool metal keys, lamplight splashing emerald bright on my rings; fingers bigger, stronger on the tiny key in the tiny drawer. Leather chair creaking, fingers heavy on the key. Car horn sudden, loud. Children’s voices calling, steps running, quickly the key, hands shaking, sweating, fumbling almost open the drawer and a glimpse of – what? Reaching. Steps, voices closer, sweep shut the tiny drawer. Must see, but not now.

Not now.

Winter light washing through me, bone chill damp in the house. Walking stick echoes on the tiled floors, dust and damp strong in my throat. Mildew walls, study door open, curtains limply falling, books cracked and musty. Alone. No music, no voices, no hurrying steps. A smell of silence. Crooked hands tracing dust, rotting papers, small spider watching on the lamp, broken now. Stiff, clumsy fingers on the key, turn the tiny rusty key, open the tiny secret drawer.



Always empty?

Writing the Camino

The last two years I have walked from Leon to Santiago and from Le Puy en Velay to Pamplona, sections of the Camino, Compostella, Chemin de Saint Jacques, whichever name you prefer, keeping a daily journal and then turning the observations into a story. This is the spine of my current novel in progress to which I have referred in previous posts. It is a story of love and death, of mysteries and secrets, set on the Camino in contemporary times. Why the Camino? Not for religious reasons, ‘spiritual’ would be a better term, but because it is a path for people undertaking arduous physical journeys and seeking something [an epiphany?] beyond ourselves. A meaning, a purpose, an explanation or simply a clearer understanding of ourselves and of what is important for us. A metaphor for life’s journey I guess. What a perfect setting, on a path 1000 years old where every stone and step holds a story and where millions of pilgrims have trod before you. Did I have an epiphany? Yes, two in fact: understanding that my children and my grandchildren are the most important things in my life [okay, I ‘knew’ this already, now I ‘live’ it] and seeing that I had to clear the rest of my life to make space for writing fiction.

Much encouraged

I took my first baby step last Friday with a tiny blog about my writing aspirations and lo, only a few hours later, I received the report on my novel manuscript which I had sent to Writers Victoria for a professional assessment by an independent author/editor. The assessment is very positive and encouraging and so I begin the task of pondering and revising with a light heart. Yes, this sounds all very conceited I know and there is a long way to go, I know; for now I will accept the pat on the back.

Interestingly, I could respond to most of the report with a ‘yes, I felt that but did not know how to improve and now I do’ or ‘okay, I thought it was not working in that scene and you agree and suggest a nice alternative’ or ‘hmm, I wondered re the sequencing there and so do you’. There was one major surprise, which I shall return to here when I have worked it through.