Ghastly weather here, which is perfect for the day I have planned. I must say, I’ve been getting a nice little routine going with Patrick White’s letters the past few mornings: I get up with Llew at about 7 am, make my breakfast and a cup of tea, bring both back to bed, and sit propped up reading for two hours, at which point it’s 9 am and my own workaday must begin. And on the agenda for today is the doll’s house short story that Grad and Pete encouraged me to try writing. I started it not long after that post, but it’s been slow going. To be honest, I think I am still feeling pretty raw about the Penguin/Varuna shortlist disappointment, and it is causing me to feel really very jaundiced about everything I’m working on.
I still haven’t looked at the manuscript since, the prospect continues to be damaging to my spirit, but I have redrafted another short story, and am close to having a first draft of this little doll’s house number. Perhaps having it come together so slowly will be improving to the result; my writing tends to arrive in such an uncouth blurting rush that it sometimes feels as though it’s not words I’m dealing in at all, but a mass of dirty unkempt orphans screaming about the place – especially given my spectacular inability to find them any sort of home. I wonder if this geriatric speed shall produce something any more genteel… I suppose we shall soon see.
My run of superior mail drops continues this week with a book parcel arriving from Shuckin’ Charlotte, who has so kindly passed on extra copies she’s received of titles she already owns. She’s very good to me, you know – far too good, in fact, given she does so much for me when I am not in a position to do a single thing for her – and she’s certainly done me another great favour here with a very timely inclusion, Making Stories: How Ten Australian Novels Were Written, edited by Sue Woolfe and Kate Grenville (my other loot is The World Beneath – the first novel by one of our best-known short story writers, Cate Kennedy, whose short story workshop I am attending at the NSW Writers’ Centre next month, having committed quite some time ago now – and Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor, who recently wrote an intriguing piece about her writing life for the Varuna Alumni News. Plus – as if that’s not enough – a block of dark Lindt chocolate and almonds, with instructions scrawled across the top that I am to eat the lot myself, which makes me feel a little like you-know-who, and if you don’t know who, think Mad Hatter). From the back-cover blurb of Making Stories comes the promise of some dearly needed reassurance:
Anyone learning to write will be encouraged by Making Stories – it shows that even our greatest novelists come to their books by a long and uncertain process. Making Stories shows ten acclaimed Australian authors at work, painstakingly constructing their books from rough notes, dimly-glimpsed ideas, and trial and error… All faced problems and doubts, and solved them in sometimes startling ways.
On a rational level, I know I am far from alone in finding this entire process bewildering, deflating, and even in some sense actually physically, mentally and emotionally debilitating – it can be crushing, and it hurts – but it is genuinely soothing, like cold cream on a bad burn, to know that even the greats have struggled in kind. Beyond doling out the requisite dose of encouragement, I really think this text is going to prove hugely instructive, and already I can see that it’s a writing aid to return to again and again. Indeed, Charlotte tells me her own habit is thus. Perhaps after I finish the doll’s house draft I shall begin studying how others make their stories before even contemplating a return to my own.
A shout out now to dear Charlotte, which she won’t get, but it’s the spirit of the thing that counts so it hardly matters: today she’s off on a writing retreat to finish taming her own new book; I’m sure she’ll have it lassoed and obedient in no time, but I (and I’m sure all of you) wish her a wonderfully easy ride coaxing it through the final gate.
For now, the rain continues its heaving downward passage, and all is quiet. I don’t know a better circumstance in which to write.