New Shades of Madness

September 14, 2009 at 9:19 am (Uncategorized)

It ended up being a busy, fast weekend, over way too soon. I’ve been doing loads of washing all day and just trying to get on top of correspondence and diary dates and freelance work. Last night Llew stood in our room staring down at my bag, clothes from the week away spilling out of it like entrails.

“You haven’t even unpacked yet,” he accused.

It was true. I’d been out the door Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday. Our only time alone together was Friday night and first thing Saturday morning. Obligations to others, keeping us apart. Funny how that happens sometimes. And now it’s Monday night already and Llew’s working back late and I’m wondering where the hell the weekend went.

I’m basically ‘coming down’ from the last MS draft. Does this happen to other people? I wonder, because I’ve been working so hard that now I’ve finished the latest version, I’ve crashed. I felt reasonably good about the draft for about  24 hours, and then all the nasty, debilitating fears and uncertainties crept into my mind and went beserk, rampaging through my thoughts killing every positive in sight, miniature mental Rambos spraying a never-ending supply of bullets. As I confessed to Charlotte earlier today, last night  I collapsed in a heap of maudlin self-pity. I was basically too tired to reason, and that flaw in my functioning meant rewiring information until it was all bad.

And to top it all off, I just lost the next 750 words of this post. Okay. I’m going to scream now.

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Ah, the serenity…

September 11, 2009 at 7:36 am (Uncategorized)

A vicious lack of sleep last night… and I don’t even know where to start as far as the Cottage Point leaf blower frenzy is concerned, but I am back in the comparatively blissfully quiet city, unpacking at Chez J now and very much looking forward to seeing Llewie as soon as he can flee the office. Just got a text and he’s on his way – I’ll try to post over the weekend, otherwise I’ll be aiming for coherence by Monday. By the way: I wrote my ending yesterday. That felt good.

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Learning How to Balance the See-Saw

September 10, 2009 at 1:03 am (Uncategorized)

Just when I thought the excitement was over, what with Sirius getting laid and the dog calming down and all, I came skipping out the side door after blogging yesterday and ran straight into a snake. I was barefoot and on my way down to the pool house, planning to get changed for my run. I was about to take a step down when I thought, “Oh, there’s a hose on the steps.” This all happened in a nanosecond, but my following thoughts were these: “That hose has a head. And eyes. And that’s a snake.”

Not for the first time yesterday, I really wished Jenny was here. She’d have been able to identify the snake immediately, because she’s eerily talented that way, and I wouldn’t have felt so panicked. Actually, let’s face it. I’m scared of snakes. I totally freaked. It lifted its tiny head and gazed really serenely at me, swaying in greeting, I’m sure, but because I didn’t know if it was friend or foe (this country is alive with venomous creatures, and I’m a city girl born and bred, completely out of my depth and, frankly, ignorant), I shouted, “Snake! There’s a snake!” and fled back indoors trembling. I ran down the hall to the only other person in the house, JB, and together we came up to the big windows overlooking the pool area, searching long and hard for a glimpse of our long, thin green friend. I thought of Jenny, and already felt not only foolish but also sorry. As I said to JB, I no doubt scared the poor thing half out of its mind. A shrieking woman towering over it before running away was probably much more frightening than what it presented to me, which was a narrow, curious face sliding gently up the steps.

Once I calmed down and stopped shaking, I knew enough about its appearance to know it was probably a tree snake, and therefore harmless. Jenny, if you’re reading this, I did feel like a proper dill, and I mainly wanted to see the snake again so I could wave down a little apology for being so rude. Behind me, JB looked up a few snakes on the internet, and it turns out the one we looked at first was ultimately our girl. Somewhere along the line, we decided she was female and JB named her L’Emerald. I went for my run, my heart still thumping in my chest, adrenaline still pumping. While I was gone, L’Emerald returned, this time coming past JB’s room for a bit of a look-see. That’s how we know what kind of snake she is – JB got a good look at her as they calmly regarded one another through the glass. She’s apparently gorgeous. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled since, still hoping to be able to see her properly, but so far, L’Emerald seems to have decided she’s seen enough.

The run yesterday was great, really productive. I had a breakthrough train of thought about my ending, and I came up with a way of describing to you guys what this process has been like for me. I don’t know if it will be true of future manuscripts, but certainly with this one, it’s been a bit like trying to have a go on a see-saw. When I first had my character, she plonked down one end of the see-saw and just sat there. Dum de dum. She jigged up and down a bit, but there was nothing doing. It didn’t work. She could not get up in the air. Thud. Lots of other characters strolled past the see-saw, and she could see them, and occasionally she waved them over and tried getting someone to sit on the other end, but no one wanted to stick around. Then there was this one guy who came right over and sat down on the other end of the see-saw. The first time, they just had a brief ride and off he went on his merry way. Time passed. This character eventually came back, and she was so excited to see him again and to realise that he was the missing part of the see-saw that she let him take over the whole operation, and he catapulted her right off her end. It was no longer her see-saw. Once she was thrown off, he too came crashing back to earth, and they both ended up a bit battered and bruised. She licked her wounds, and warily limped back to the see-saw.

“This is my see-saw,” she said.

He apologised.

“You didn’t seem to know it was your see-saw,” he said. “You didn’t know how to make it work. I’m sorry you got pushed off, sometimes I don’t know my own strength. I got a bit carried away.”

She shrugged.

“That’s okay,” she said. “You’re the only one who stopped to play with me. And I can’t make it work without you. But it’s got to be my see-saw. As long as we’re clear about that, I’d like it if you stayed and kept on playing with me.”

He smiled.

“I don’t mind whose see-saw it is,” he said. “I’m just happy to come along for the ride.”

And so they each slowly slid onto an end of the see-saw, and she gently pushed up, and they’ve been going up and down, up and down, up and down the past draft, and now they’re wondering if it’s possible to keep the see-saw above ground, if they just cooperate well enough, working together to achieve a brief but happy balance before night falls and someone comes along to close the park. They’re never sure when that’s going to happen, or how much time they’ve got left to try balancing the see-saw, so they keep at it, with an urgency and effort that says this is something quite apart from play.

When I got back, I scribbled some notes about my ending, went for a swim, had some lunch, and then wrote my 13th synopsis. The girls think it’s a goer.

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You Sly Old Turkey, You…

September 9, 2009 at 1:04 am (Uncategorized)

The latest news from the spring carnival is that Sirius the bush turkey – so named by Darkling Jenny – got one away. In fact, he got two. Atta boy, Sirius! Not content squiring just the one female round the garden perimeter, showing off his water views, Sirius took two. And I mean that in the biblical sense. It seems his luck changed once he took them both up a tree, clearly the bush turkey equivalent to teens parking at the lookout for prolonged heavy petting. All Sirius’s hard work and industry has paid off handsomely, the girls finally acknowledging his existence, his nest, and his virility. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving, except our tough turkey is doing all the basting himself.

So it’s all good news on that front – Jenny (who’s flying back to Victoria today, and will be very sorely missed as our retreat winds down) told JB this morning that she thinks there may already be an egg in Sirius’s nest – how cool is that? Mate, what is your secret??!! But now Sirius is a strutting stallion, we do have another small problem. There’s a very unhappy dog somewhere nearby. He’s crying. Really pitifully. I know my friends T and R experienced this when they brought their puppy Moose home, and maybe that’s all that’s happening here. A young dog who doesn’t appreciate being left home alone for the day. Except it doesn’t quite sound like a lonely puppy. The crying sounds all too adult. It sounds like it’s coming from the house next door, and it’s tempting to investigate to see if it is okay. Hard to know what to do in these circumstances, because that would be, you know, trespassing on someone’s private property, and I’m already sorry that Jenny’s not here. She’d know what to do. Or she’d make a decision about it quick smart and the rest of us could be guided by her example. As it is I feel a bit paralysed. Now the dog has gone quiet.

Listening…

There it is again.

Poor fella, I hope he’s just a bit whiney about being left by himself. I think I’ll see if he settles down, and if he doesn’t, maybe I’ll go knock on the door. I’d be very happy to take him for a run – out there in the national park, I could use the company myself.

Anyway, it’s another perfect day here, and I think that even without a canine companion, I’m going to have to brave the steep hills for another run (the first one left me sore for three days), because it’s just too gorgeous to ignore. Plus I need to clear my head. I’m writing draft #13 of my synopsis. This thing has gone through so many iterations because of my struggles hammering out a working narrative arc, so it’s going to be interesting to see how this one goes. I thought I’d rewrite my ending and then draft a new synopsis, but now I think I’m going to write the synopsis first, look at the arc, and see what it says to me about what the ending must be. I mean, I think I know what has to happen, but I am trying not to impose that while the ending is still in pieces. I’m hoping it will start reassembling itself, like toy soldiers scuttling across the playroom at night until they’re in perfect formation, standing to attention. As we all know, toys only come to life when we’re not watching too closely, and that’s exactly what I am trying to do now with the bits and pieces of my ending – keep half an eye on them, but not so they’ll notice and freeze.

I’ll let you know how that goes. I think Sirius would say to keep it simple, stupid. Works every time.

POSTSCRIPT: The doggy stopped crying. All’s well.

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Gimme a Break

September 8, 2009 at 7:24 am (Uncategorized)

As I lay in bed this morning trying to measure the size of my hangover (EXTRA LARGE), I listened to a bird whose cry sounded like it was saying, “Gimme a break, gimme a break, gimme a break.” Buddy, I thought to myself, I hear ya. Then I started wondering how the adult male bush or brush turkey was getting on. He’s been hard at it, building that nest, but I have a few doubts about the location he’s chosen. I’ve been telling him, “Handsome, hasn’t anyone ever told you it’s all about position, position, position? So why the hell are you building so close to the road and the footpath when you’ve got a whole national park to choose from?” He just flaps his yellow beard thing at me and wanders off to find some more twigs. He’s adamant that this is the place, and I guess I am starting to see why he likes it. The chicks dig it. Well, according to Jenny, and she is our resident expert on all things Mother Nature, right now he’s just hoping that the adult chicks dig it enough that one day there will be chick chicks. He’s trying to promote himself as an eligible bachelor to the female bush turkeys, get himself in the game, and it seems being able to build his own house impresses the ladies. Sort of.

Yesterday the objects of his affection paid him no mind. They had a party above my head instead. They decided to catch up on all the bush turkey hot gossip while sunning themselves on the tin roof of the pool house, which is where I’m living this week. Occasionally it sounded like they were having a heated argument. And then one dropped off the side of the roof. There was a loud commotion, and I looked up to see her falling clumsily past my window, flapping her wings to ensure a soft if slightly undignified landing. But then she was really in a huff, and she decided she wasn’t quite done talkin’ turkey, so next she worked herself up into a big wing-assisted jump, only just clearing the roof line like an overweight diamond thief fleeing the scene of a bungled heist. There was a bit of a scramble as she disappeared over the top.

Meanwhile they also had to contend with two young turks, a pair of lads out on the pull. I can’t imagine our yellow bearded friend being too happy about the competition, since he’s clearly got designs on the two girls himself. They would have had great views of his building efforts from their rooftop vantage point; maybe that’s what they were doing up there in the first place. Inspecting and heckling. Or maybe they were trying to put some distance between themselves and the overconfident young studs. A pair of kookaburras passed comment on all this from the nearest tree, dead ringers for the grouchy Muppets deriding everything from their opera box.

Never a dull moment around here.

So I woke up wondering how the hard grafter was getting on down there at the bottom of the garden, toiling away, trying so hard to get it right even in the face of much criticism, uncertainty and  competition. I realised his predicament is not so entirely unlike my own. He’s got this blind faith and instinct compelling him to keep on constructing this thing, and even though the lady birds may spurn his advances (and I may never, ever receive an advance of my own!), still he keeps on hoping and trying and building and working. I like that about the little guy.  I don’t know which bird was beseeching the world, “Gimme a break, gimme a break, gimme a break,” but I hope our yellow bearded buddy is about to be cut some slack.

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Just Shoot Me Now.

September 7, 2009 at 12:38 am (Uncategorized)

Birds, man. They’re everywhere. Not only have I just finished reading Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott’s instructive, hilarious and justifiably famous writing guide/meditation this morning (read that if you want or need to know a few home truths about this gig), having sat up late reading it last night, I got straight back into it bright and early when I was again woken by – you guessed it – the birds. Constant cacophony, that’s all I can say. It’s like there’s some territorial stoush going on… the spring finals. They seem to be fighting for treetops out there, and it’s getting ugly. And the kookaburras, well, frankly they’re like a group of wildly drunk carousers returning from a buck’s night out. They barrel in together at dawn, dishevelled, inconsiderate of the sleeping women folk, and it’s all about laughing at their own jokes and urinating off balconies. Just like home, really.

So anyway, let’s get to the firearm part of the post. I don’t know if any of you remember this, or were even kind enough to be reading my little piss-ant blog a year ago, but there was an excruciatingly painful night at Varuna when I inevitably had to read from my MS, and after finishing was greeted by dead silence. Not the dead silence I’m craving now I’m deranged with lack of sleep (I will n-e-v-e-r complain about noise at my place ever again. No, not ever. I mean, there’s a frighteningly industrious bush turkey building its nest right beside my ear hole), but the type of dead silence that has less to do with noiselessness and more to do with rotting human flesh. Specifically, mine. The mortification was just tearing strips off me as I sat dying in my chair, barbecuing them up on the spot like the kebab man had come to Katoomba. Oh, it was horrible.

And a year later, I am here to tell you that last night, the dead silence returned like Freddy Kruger’s stripey torn jumper. It tapped me on the shoulder and then slit my throat from behind. I was glad, because all I really wanted at that moment was to die. And leave some pretty fucking stubborn bloodstains on the Cottage Point couch. Oh, it was horrible.

And all I read was page one. One. Just the first page. That’s it. Admittedly this page has been hardest to write because of my problems constructing a functional narrative arc, but I had hoped, dared to dream, that the first page was getting there. In the silence, I heard the unanimous verdict that it was not.

Then I think Jenny broke the air of decay by pinpointing a specific paragraph that was problematic or at least that she found confusing. She asked me to repeat it, and so, joy of joys, I got to read it out again. Yeah, that was so fun, pretty much exactly what I want to do on my birthday. But it very quickly emerged that it was this same paragraph JB and Catherine had trouble with too. The rest wasn’t so bad. They liked the other stuff. They even liked the core idea behind the offending paragraph. They just didn’t like the paragraph itself. It was convoluted. Obfuscating. I stared at the words on the screen thinking, but I like this paragraph. Or I did until the first three people to hear it all gave it a resounding thumbs down.

“I just found it confusing,” Jenny said. “I wasn’t sure what you meant.”

Then she very sweetly started qualifying that sentiment, suggesting maybe this confusion was somehow her fault, so I said – and I know this to be true – “That’s very sweet, Jenny, thank you, but it just shouldn’t be that hard.”

And it shouldn’t. If three trusted readers (Darkling Deb had a overnight pass) all have a problem with something, chances are, there is actually a problem. I told myself, You, you are that problem. You are a fucking failure. This is never, ever going to work. This manuscript is going to be the only thing you work on for the rest of your life, and even then it’s still going to stink, and it’s never getting published, and no one will ever read it, and then you’ll die. So maybe hurry that along.

Right on cue, Llew called.

“Hey,” I told him when Catherine handed me the phone, “I just read out my new first page.”

“And how did that go?”

“Oh, like hell.”

Llew laughed. The girls started protesting. I went on some rapid-fire self-loathing jag that I can’t quite recall for you now, it’s a blur, but primarily it involved a lot of hysterical, too loud laughter. Llew hurried off the phone when I got to the bit about intending to neck a bottle of wine and then some.

I did not ultimately do that.

No, I looked at the paragraph. And I hated myself some more. And then I allowed myself to be gripped by this really awful, sick certainty that I’ve spent this entire redraft adding in loads of paragraphs just like this one. Confusing. Convoluted. Obfuscating. Ruinous. I glared at the screen and really just felt like crying. But then I thought about the conversation we’d just had.

“What is it you’re trying to say here?” one of the Darklings asked me. “Just tell us that.”

So I told them, very simply.

“Well, maybe try just saying something like that.”

So I picked apart the paragraph. Deleted this, restructured that, fucked around a bit more, thought about the core idea, changed something else, and read it out again before we went to bed. It’s better now. And they were right. It may interest you to know it is also exactly half the length of the paragraph I started with. So now I have to go back in, guns blazing, and start hunting rabbits. In my case, this means eliminating the kind of verbal vermin that – left unattended or indulged even for one single day – breeds and breeds and breeds and breeds and breeds. So. Hunting season is officially open for business.

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Damn, Nature is NOISY.

September 5, 2009 at 12:01 am (Uncategorized)

DoctorDi has hit the road… the Darklings have arrived in Cottage Point for our latest writing retreat. Most of us are bleary-eyed wrecks this morning, having spent a sleepless night getting acquainted with the local fauna. Specifically, possums sacked Troy in the night. And then an orchestra of kookaburras became Roman town criers. And an avenging army of mosquitoes flew in, tearing us limb from limb. I am exhausted, but I’ll be coming to you *live* from Cottage Point for the coming week, starting Monday. We have Catherine’s birthday celebration at Cottage Point Inn today – a bit of a splurge but not something we ever normally get to do with each other – and then I think it’s on with the business of writing these books.

It’s a beautiful day here, absolutely perfect and still now the avian anarchists have taken their musical on tour. But they’ll be back. I know it. And wasn’t Darkling Jenny outraged to find three of us standing limp and grey in the kitchen commiserating and, yes, complaining about the noise.

“I can’t believe you’re complaining about birdsong!” she squawked. Rather bird-like herself, actually.

But sleep there was not.

We did have a great night catching up on all the exciting news, specifically JB’s new representation deal – her agent saying all the sorts of things that make writers swoon. It’s all pretty amazing. Potentially phenomenal, and certainly life-changing no matter what happens next. It’s just great.

So… I must get on with the purpose of our being here, but I shall return on Monday, blogging as usual but in these very unusual, shall we say brilliantly extraordinary circumstances. The Darklings are together again.

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Getting to the point…

September 3, 2009 at 5:42 am (Uncategorized)

* I’m not sure I’ve ever written a post in point form before, but I think today’s the day.

* It’s raining for the first time in what feels like weeks. I don’t mind. I got the washing off the line in time, and now the frangipanis are getting a soak.

* I like running in the rain, even though my sunglasses fog.

* I’m still mulling over last night’s book club. It was intense, and I’ve just received an email from the hostess apologising for hurting and/or offending me. She did neither. In fact, I had a great night, but it’s true there’s awkwardness and misunderstanding around my lack of children as against every other member’s on-going experience of motherhood. These experiences are all unique, but even so I think maybe they feel they ganged up on me as The Mothers last night. I don’t feel that way myself, and I am not easily offended. I’m rather more easily hurt, but again, no bruises in sight. I think things become distilled in potentially explosive ways because of the nature of these short-burst catch-ups; in general life’s not nearly so fraught. I hope no one else is worrying about this – I was surprised the hostess felt troubled enough to send me an apology.

* I’m really much more concerned about my friend S. She’s walked into a hard time she doesn’t deserve, and I feel helpless and upset about it. She is deeply fabulous.

* I ate a box of Cheezels yesterday. And by that I mean I ate the whole box. I don’t quite know how it happened. I just kept putting Cheezel rings on all ten fingers like highly processed Crown Jewels and then chomped my way through them until the box was empty. Afterwards I felt revolting and  ill, but I had a shamefully good time sucking residual cheesy preservatives off my fingers.

* We saw an owl last night, sitting outside the hostess’s lounge room perched regally atop a towering cactus. He had whiskers, and our rushing over to the window to admire him seemed to really cramp his style. Old Man Owl ignored us. I love owls, so after yesterday’s whale, I really felt nature was putting on a bit of a show.

* I heard a great expression at book club last night. “Uni Dabbler” – one who experiments sexually during the wild years of undergraduate study. I’d never heard it before. I love it. It reminds me of “Bobby Dazzler.”

* The new Mr. Rose catalogue for spring-summer 09-10 arrived today. I am madly coveting everything. It’s all gorgeous.

* My fingers and toes are tightly crossed for my friend T. If I prayed, I’d pray now.

* Darkling JB has WON a national writing award AND been picked up by Australia’s BIGGEST literary agency and we are BURSTING with excitement and pride. Incredibly, we’re all going to be able to celebrate in person because she and Jenny fly into Sydney tomorrow and the Darkling writing retreat begins. I see several toasts in our immediate future.

* Sometimes I feel I am travelling in reverse.

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Lady Alzheimer’s is Welcomed Like a Returning Queen

September 2, 2009 at 3:52 am (Uncategorized)

This is what happens when I don’t post for two days. Things happen. I forgot to tell you earlier, sidetracked by ruminations of days long past, that Nana moved to St Andrews today (and further to our apostrophe policing of recent posts, I do know it should be St Andrew’s, but for some reason, it’s not, all their literature and signage says ‘St Andrews.’ These things are sent to try us). A place became available, and we took it. Well, Kate took it, I just agreed it was the thing to do. We never really got past our love affair with the place. Nana had the best experience there, respite was a rousing success, and, personally, I always thought it was even nicer than Crowley (which was still great). The big thing, Kate and I agreed, was the activities. Nana was always involved during that respite stay at St Andrews, always busy doing things, and it just seemed that there were many more things for her to do. We’ve both been worried by, if not quite a lack of activities at Crowley, then Nana’s apparent failure to participate in them. Kate never came across Nana in the middle of something she didn’t want to be torn away from – a regular occurrence during the six week respite at St Andrews. It was a livelier environment, and of course that told on Nana’s own liveliness.

So Kate’s had a filthy morning of it, moving Nana in record time (48 hours this time, and the reason I wasn’t here Monday was that Kate and the kids were in town, so that left, um, this morning, once they got back to Ballina). I won’t focus on the Crowley end of things, which was a bit disappointing, to tell you the truth, almost as though they decided Nana was no longer in their care so therefore, well, what’s it to them if she’s wet herself, but I will tell you about the reception Nana received upon arriving back at St Andrews. According to Kate, it was a hero’s welcome, people rushing up to fuss and coo that Nana was back and oh happy day. Kate said, “If that’s an act, it’s a bloody good one. They seemed genuinely chuffed to have her back.” Ahhhh. Good decision. Nana even recognised a couple of familiar faces – I think that’s probably because St Andrews simply left an overwhelmingly positive impression, even if she couldn’t remember actually being there. Only one thing is bothering me. I wonder what the bedspreads are like?!

POSTSCRIPT: I’ve just called St Andrews and the girls said Nana did actually remember them, which has helped her settle in really well today. They’re still sorting out her phone for her, but I asked to have a word, and when the nurse couldn’t see Nana – she said Nana had latched onto one of the other ladies, which is so cute – she checked with the other girl on duty, and guess what? Nana’s gone to activities. I’m so happy! Good job, Kate!

A little later now, and I am just back from a quick half hour run, during which I saw a whale swimming right in close to shore – a sure sign that Sam and Granddad approve of Nana’s new digs too.

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Happy Anniversary, Darklings.

September 1, 2009 at 10:55 pm (Uncategorized)

The week’s getting away from me – here it is Wednesday morning already and I am two days behind. Sorry, chaps, no excuse really, I’m afraid I just didn’t post. No more to it than that. Monday I was out of the office without my laptop (feeling thoroughly radical about it, too), and yesterday I just got buried in Spill redrafting, after which Llew arrived home very much hoping for a 1950s welcome… not that I provided one. He “forgets” his key quite a lot, which is part of this Cleaver family fantasy of his. He loves making me greet him at the door. I, on the other hand, seethe and swear and shout rude things as I stalk down the hall, until his warm sepia bubble pops and dribbles and he almost starts backing away. He wants domestic goddess; he gets fire-breathing dragon. But still he persists, still he keeps the glimmer of hope alive that one day I will answer the door with perfect hair, perfect makeup, a perfect smile, perfect nails, the perfect dress, a crisp white apron around my waist and a gleaming spatula in my hand, artfully held aloft like a culinary wand. In your dreams, buddy, in your dreams.

So what have you missed? Well, yesterday was the Darklings’ first anniversary. We are one. Yes, it was on September 1 last year that we all landed on Varuna’s doorstep for our week-long Professional Development Residency. In some ways, it’s difficult believing it was a full twelve months ago. In other ways, I can feel each and every one of the 365 days in between. I certainly can’t imagine life without the four other Darklings now, they seem to have always been there, and it’s funny thinking it’s only a year we’ve known one another. It doesn’t feel that way at all.

There’s part of me that feels a bit wistful for that week, because Varuna’s creative director was so sure about my MS, so positive it was ready, so prepared to back his opinion that he sent it to a publisher on my behalf… all things I found absolutely impossible to believe but simultaneously very badly needed to hear. I needed someone to believe in it, and he did. It made all the difference in the world, because it meant I could do the work that really did and still does need doing without the crippling doubt about whether or not anyone would ever care. He definitely did care about what I had done, and that answered something critical for me, giving me permission to continue, in a way. It ought to be enough to give oneself permission, but it’s just a tougher game than that, a much tougher game, and I for one needed some positive reinforcement from The Outside World. Fortunately for me, I got it at the crucial juncture. It allowed me to keep going, and I’m not sure I could have otherwise.

It’s a very different MS now. I wonder what he would think of it. He wanted me to pitch it as creative non-fiction, if you recall, and was adamant, absolutely adamant about it even though I pointed out it was, in fact, fiction. While I have certainly drawn on reality (interestingly, less and less with each draft; each redraft I predominantly cull things written from my own experience), there’s far, far too much in there that’s entirely fictitious for me to be able to make any sort of claim about its truth. His response was that it didn’t matter that it wasn’t my story, the point was that it sounded like it could have been someone’s. And I tried to make it fit the shape he saw. I had a terrible time after Varuna, a real identity crisis. I tried making myself believe I could turn my MS into non-fiction. If Varuna’s creative director had so strong a vision for its placement, maybe I was wrong. Maybe those undeniable elements of the real meant my made-up story wasn’t made-up at all. But it nagged. Even as I write this, a knot of anxiety is tightening in the pit of my stomach. A year on, the feelings are no less potent. I was sick with confusion.

A couple of things happened. The first was that the editor to whom, unbeknownst to me, he sent the MS, passed, saying she would want to place it in fiction, but in order for it to work as fiction it needed a narrative arc (the bane of my existence). When she told me, “I know you and P don’t really consider it fiction in the normal sense,” I had to say, um, no, I always had, it was P who believed otherwise. Awkward, having someone do something so amazing and generous for you but in terms that aren’t actually your own. Fucking awkward. Really hard to navigate. And it was why I didn’t return home from Varuna and do as he suggested, which was sending it out en masse to agents and publishers. I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. I didn’t believe the MS was ready. And, in this instance, I was right. And I am so glad I trusted my gut, because it was so incredibly hard not trusting P’s. He is a very wise, very well-read, extremely well-respected and one might almost say revered person  – who’s still not the author of my book. The identity crisis ended the moment I knew that particular person was me. Of course I knew that all along in a naive sense, but I’m sure you know what I’m saying, because in a much larger sense, it’s a critical realisation for any writer to have. That’s when I gave myself permission and stopped looking for it elsewhere; perhaps I had to earn it.

The other thing that happened was a lightbulb moment, a vivid flash, over coffee with my unofficial mentor before we knew each other at all. In that moment, something that had always been embedded in the MS abruptly rose to the surface. Suddenly I could see it, know it, and use it. It changed everything. Now I had a story, and hell no, it was not mine.

This is a very different post to the one I thought I was writing, but I can’t think of a more appropriate way to mark the Darklings’ first anniversary than that.

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