a dog, a jacket and a fine memory

Yesterday I took Rosie for a walk, Rosie being the dog we’re fostering for a dog rescue organisation until someone adopts her – and if anyone has a farm or acres of land and/or wants a working dog, she is a 9 month old 18 kilogram dynamo of energy who needs more space than is available in hipster Brunswick. Rosie is super friendly and super cute [and super chewing, biting, digging etc].
Australian cattle dog/Staffordshire cross. The body of a blue heeler and the heart of a staffie.
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So, yesterday was cool and wet [again] and I dragged out my red waterproof jacket and had a rush of recollection. It is almost exactly one year since I did the Coast to Coast walk across England, starting at the Irish Sea, into the Lakes District, through the Yorkshire Dales and Yorkshire Moors until reaching the North Sea; 310 kilometres in 13 days. A lovely walk with a lovely group of people, through sun and fog, grass and bog. And, you see, I had not worn my red jacket until today and the memories and emotions flooded in. It was a brilliant experience.
This year I have only one six day walk in October [Kangaroo Island], next year hopefully will be the hike down Italy from Saint Bernard Pass to Rome.
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In the words of the inimitable Leonard Cohen – ‘If I’ve got to remember, that’s a fine memory’, inspired by my old red jacket which has covered thousands of kilometres with me.
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Isn’t is strange and wonderful how life throws up these connections and loops as long as we are open to them?
Oh and the gorgeous Rosie is lying at my feet as I write, more memories of the dogs who came before her. Shep, Beau, Bruce, Max and Geoff and not forgetting the lovely Matilda, going strong in Sweden.
Soon it will be time for another walk; I do 5 kilometres per day, but it is not enough for a working dog….

when love dies

When love dies, where does it go?

Is it the dust on the book we never finished reading?

Is it the star dust, the black matter which is invisible and may be no more than a brilliant possibility, yet moves and binds us all, from atoms to galaxies?

Is it the layer of fat enclosing our hearts and arteries, congealing and hardening a little more each time?

Or does it simply disappear, unremarked and unremarkable?

A figure half-glimpsed or imagined across the street, umbrella-shadowed, hurrying elsewhere?

A shard of memory at two in the morning.

Literary speed dating: part two

I did my pitch to the three publishers I wanted and all three asked me to submit my first three chapters and were most encouraging re my ‘Loving and Dying on the Camino’. It is one more small step towards fulfilling my dream. Sure, it is a long journey from ‘we’d like to see a sample’ to ‘let’s do a contract’, but at least they did not politely tell me to go away, which is what happened to one of my acquaintances who was also pitching.
Of course, I looked at my three chapters later afterwards and decided they were embarrassing rubbish and needed total revision – this was predictable – took a deep breath and submitted them. Now, silence for x weeks or months and maybe one day one will ask for the entire manuscript….or not. In the meantime I keep revising and writing and hoping…
It was my first literary speed dating experience and thank you Australian Society of Authors! Sixty hopefuls lining up to do our bit, not nearly as stressful as I expected and all rather a blur.

Literary speed dating

No, this does not refer to speed dating literary women, though I have done that in the past with modest success. It refers to speed dating literary agents and publishers; that is, being given three minutes maximum [in reality 30-60 seconds] to interest/intrigue/tantalise a potential publisher or agent to the extent that one of them will ask to see the first chapters of my manuscript. This is my improbable dream for the speed dating day in two weeks time.
So I have put aside my 5th draft to concentrate on writing the perfect pitch of 1 minute, the perfect synopsis of 300 words and the toughest of all ‘tell me what your novel is about in one sentence’. Karma perhaps for all the PhD students I forced to describe their potential thesis in one sentence – two, if I was feeling generous. It is difficult to reduce the hard work and great ideas and brilliant writing to a sentence and I’ve just spent two hours in my favourite local café trying to articulate the core of my manuscript – the beating heart – in one sentence.
Next I’m focusing on the so-called ‘elevator pitch’. Why would any publisher be interested in my manuscript rather than the x thousand others which will cross their desk? An excellent question.
The good news is that I’m enjoying the torture!
Thanks you Australian Authors Association and Writers Victoria for this opportunity in a couple of weeks.
Okay, back to work….
man reading

One year ago today since I walked the Camino

Today it is one year, give or take a day, since I walked the Pamplona – Leon Section and completed my 1530 kilometre amble from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago. Approximately 400 kilometres in 15 days. This year I have no long walks scheduled, hopefully next year is the Via Francigena. In 2016 maybe the 88 Temples in Japan.
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The low light of last year’s Camino section undoubtedly was suffering a ‘march fracture’ in my right foot, fracturing 2 metatarsal bones only 150 kilometres after Pamplona. A lovely sunny day, pleasant country side and kapow. With no warning, my right foot suddenly felt like I was dragging a lead weight on it while at the same time going numb. Took my boot off that night and I had a swollen bruise from the ankle to the toes. Nothing to be done except to push on with no idea what I’d done, finally having it diagnosed in London 7 weeks later. Such is life. All is fine now apart from scar tissue pressing on nerves meaning that my toes feel tingly or numb most days: very much a first world problem, right?
Another disappointment though not actually a low light, was walking the Meseta. My reading had led me to imagine a wild high plateau of solitude and starkness, in other words, precisely what I love. Um, no. It was civilised – crops, irrigation canals, flowers, little birds singing – nothing like what I expected and so soft and colourful compared with the country Australia of my childhood.
Highlights?
Waling through the wind farms high on the hills after Pamplona, the air reverberating and humming like a giant pulsing heart so that my body sang for hours afterwards.
Staying with a family in Mansilla de las Mulas in a lovely little house and eating dinner with them in the courtyard at night, waking in the morning to storks preening and grooming in the church tower outside my window.
Meeting and walking with strangers who became friends for a while.
Celebrating my birthday in the tiny village of El Burgo Ranero, drinking in the bar and writing while the old men played cards with much shouting and laughing until their women came and swept them away home. The daughter of the family discovering it was my birthday and making a ‘special’ vegetarian meal for me.
Lots of other stuff.
Oh, and I remember having a snack near a creek, actually more of a swamp, and a family of rats coming out of the reeds to watch, eager for scraps, nervous of coming close, much twitching of whiskers and squeaking. Yes, I left crumbs for them as a fitting symbol of the Camino.
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Next year I plan to be back on the pilgrimage trails, this year I shall miss it.

Remember what we promised not to tell mummy?

Are you ready for another tram story?
Mid-afternoon, I’m heading home on the tram and a woman of hmm, maybe 45, sits opposite me with a girl whom I guess is five. After idly kicking me a few times [the girl not the woman] and after taking off her enormous Frozen backpack and hitting the guy next to me in the face, the girl settles and the woman apologises. The guy next to me flees to another seat.
The girl stares and I stare back. She [the girl, not the woman] pokes out her tongue, I wiggle my ears and raise one eyebrow. I win.
Silence for a time and then the woman says to the girl.
‘Remember what we talked about?
Umm.
‘We talked about it before, remember?’
umm.
‘We promised not to tell mummy.’
Now I’m getting interested.
Little girl continues to look blank.
‘We promised not to tell mummy. Remember? We agreed not to tell mummy.’
‘Yes’ says the little girl, though it is clear she has no idea of what’s going on.’
‘Remember what we promised not to tell mummy.’
Girl ignores woman.
The woman sighs and gives up and looks out the tram window. A few stops later they get off.
My imagination is running hot.
What must mummy not know? What is the big secret? What is the relationship between the woman and the girl? Eccentric aunt? Mummy’s girl friend? A friend giving mummy a break?
What have they done that mummy must not know?
Did ‘auntie’ get drunk during their girls day out in the city and lose the little girl? Fallen asleep? Robbed a bank? Spent the day at the casino? Fed her sugary treats despite this being forbidden?
Okay, okay, the explanation doubtless is more mundane. ‘We agreed not to tell mummy about her surprise birthday present’ or ‘we agreed not to tell her that you wet your pants [the girl, not the woman] or chucked a tantie or’…
Whatever, interesting character observation and a fun way to spend 20 minutes grinding along Lygon Street.
What do you think was too secret to tell mummy?

Talking to strangers

strangers on a train
I love trams and trains, not so keen on buses and I’m an avid people watcher, especially these days with passengers’ social media habits. Who hasn’t enjoyed listening to someone’s mobile phone conversation delivered at the top of their voice, detailing how they have just been dumped by/dumped some %^$&hole who ^&(*&^% them? Or how they fucked over their boss? Classic. Or enjoyed seeing some jerk walk into a closed door or miss their stop because they were too busy checking the stalk book status of some person they met somewhere sometime and about whom they don’t give a rat’s clacker, but – MUST CHECK NOW.

Given where I live, hearing such a variety of languages, on occasion even another language which I know enough to understand. And simply the general weirdness of social interactions in a culture where private and public boundaries have dissolved and people interact and speak as though in their living rooms or bed rooms and not in a public space surrounded by strangers. Mind you, most are too immersed in their own social media bubble to notice whereas, being a relic from an earlier age, I do notice as I read my book (or pretend to) and daydream and look.
And sometimes check my phone, I confess it. MUST BE CONNECTED.

But I digress. How do I attract them, the strangers who are happy to share their intimacies with me? Okay, I am not sitting in a private bubble of music and/or text and I am genuinely interested in people’s stories [writers are ruthless collectors, aren’t we?]. Also if I see someone ‘weird’ ambling along, I do not automatically lower my eyes; only if they look weird and dangerous. Maybe they can see my own secrets etched in the lines of my face?
Sometimes I leave the tram or train and reflect. Yes, I reflect how lucky I am to have survived what life has thrown at me, but more than that.
Like a few months ago, last tram home from Saint Kilda, the tram of the drunks and the loners and a few couples absorbed in each other. A clearly mentally distressed and aggressive guy sat across from me and a space cleared around him in an instant. He barked and yelled and glared at me and I looked and said nothing and as he staggered off, he looked me in the eyes and said with utmost clarity ‘You’re cool, man.’
Did he see? Could he tell? I have seen much worse.

And I become the receiver of stories of exes (none of them any good, surprise, surprise), drugs, mental illness, crap relationships, how they’re ‘doing much better now’ or rants about *#^+$# politicians. The last is fair enough: political discourse in Oz is the pits. I will not listen to racist or sexist rants or political rants. All else, let it rip! They come to me like seagulls to a chip – how grateful are the other passengers as they see the weirdos’ radar lock onto me as soon as they step aboard and shuffle their way towards me.

What brought on my musing today? Coming home on my Brunswick tram a couple, both heavily tattooed, she anorexic skinny and twitchy, he all muscle shirt and bravado, told me (she articulately, he with grunted agreements) how God had saved them from drugs and prison and how he/she could save me too (good luck with that, mate) and how the guy hoped one day to get access again to his son. She told how she was learning to cook and how she was getting him to ‘stop eating shit’. It was fascinating to see how the skinny woman was the dominant personality and muscles followed along. Sad stories. All true? Maybe. It is their version of reality and for now it serves them well.

How many of our own stories are true? Don’t we all continually re-invent our past? Don’t you? Talking to strangers, safe in the knowledge we will never see them again?

How do you react to strangers on a train? Avoid them? Or listen and reflect? What stories have you heard and what stories have you told them?

I’m glad they chose me and I’m glad I listened.
trams

Walking the Via Francigena

The decision is made. My next long walk will be the Via Francigena, the old pilgrimage route, from the Great Saint Bernard Pass to Rome. Some 940 kilometres, I plan a leisurely timetable of 6 weeks, allowing days to detour and wander on the way, commencing in June 2016 once the pass is open for walking and aiming to arrive in Rome late July.
Commencing here –
saint bernand pass
and finishing here –
rome
I have walked from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago along the Via Podiensis and the Camino Frances, 1500 kilometres or so depending what book or map you believe and this one will be quite different in character and terrain.
This gives me 14 months to have my novel-in-progress published, in the process of being published, self-published into probable oblivion or consigned to the rubbish bin.
Step one: start learning Italian.
Step two: start pondering ideas for a novel set on the Via Francigena. Maybe a series of linked short stories?
Step three: stay open to this changing. The 88 Temples pilgrimage in Japan is tempting… or a stroll in the Cotswolds or the new walk along the Turkish coast or ….
Again, there is no religious element involved. It is the joy of wandering and writing and of meeting people and experiencing places the old-fashioned way; by foot.

No, I do not want to be your ‘friend’

Last week you sent me a ‘friend’ request on Facebook. Seriously? After five years?
We were lovers in your little apartment, sex and alcohol our rocket fuel. Perhaps we were in love a little for a time and then we weren’t and I flew home.
You sent me a ‘fuck you’ email six months later saying you were married; was that number 3 or 4? I forget.
I did not answer, there was nothing to say.
I moved on, as they say.
Now you want to ‘friend’ me? We were never ‘friends’; I loved you, not sure I ever liked you.
Click ‘decline’.

Love and death on the Camino: is there ever a single truth?

chemin de saint jacques july 2013 070
This is embarrassing, right? I have not posted on my novel-in-progress since late October [I forced myself to check the date].
Do any of you remember what was happening to our lovers? Well, in case you do not, they are in south western France and Tom suspects that Anika is murdering pilgrims on the Camino and is torn between his love for her and trying to solve the mystery of the killings.
What to do?
Trust her?
Confront her?
Keep quiet and pursue the truth on the Camino?
Is there ever a single truth?
Tom has been attacked and may be in danger; should he give up and slip quietly away?
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So, what have I been doing in the last x months? Apart from living life and earning a few dollars consulting?
November was NaNoWriMo 50,00 words in a month and I have revised my effort down to a 25,000 word novella which I intend to submit to a competition in May. I have experimented with 6 and 100 word flash fiction, partly as a bit of fun and partly as practice in writing intense moments of prose with no verbiage, explanation, backgrounding etc.
Is this a list of excuses for inactivity on my Camino novel? Fortunately not.
Most days I have been writing the 4th draft of ‘Love and Death on the Camino’ and have revised to that point of the story where Tom is forced to face the very real possibility that his lover is a serial killer. Yes, we are back to where we left off.
So, watch this space!
Oh, am I happy with my revision? Hmm. the plotting is tighter and the characters more rounded and sympathetic [says me]. It will need at least one more total rewrite after this and I shall be ready to send it out maybe by the end of 2015.
So, once upon a time two people crazed by grief fell in love ….what could possibly go wrong?
Le Puy to Espalion May 2013 036