A Parcel in the Post

July 21, 2010 at 1:40 am (Uncategorized)

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.



  1. Pete said,

    Yay for writing the doll’s house story. And I have serious envy about that book haul. I loved the Aussie writing that Charlotte introduced me too with Brothers and Sisters and will be adding those two titles to my list right now. (I also have some books that arrived yesterday so I’ll have no shortage of reading matter in Darfur). Happy reading, writing and chocolate-eating to you, Alice! (Hope you’re adding her to your story – I love those Alice references.)

    • doctordi said,

      Well, Pete, while Alice references in writing are hardly a new thing, and certainly not a new thing for me, I won’t be consciously using her for the foreseeable future as there’s a new Darkling MS that references the Alice books, so it would be peculiar of me, I think, to draw on them at the same time. It’s tricky, especially when two writers are interested in exploring similar territory, and we are, but I’d feel compromised pursuing that line, and I expect the Darkling in question would be quite put out too, even though she obviously doesn’t – and none of us do – have exclusive claim to one of the most recognisable figures and influences in literature. Anyway, if you’re interested in short stories, Cate Kennedy’s selection Dark Roots is very good.

      • Pete said,

        Oh right of course. Well I’m just happy to see you getting writing done (and LL too, having finished her book) since my writing has completely ground to a halt. I know that I’m under quite a lot of pressure with this Darfur trip coming up soon but it’s horrible to feel that I’m in a complety creative-free zone.

      • doctordi said,

        That’s no good!! I don’t like the sound of a creative-free zone – just a nice big safe Darfur Green Zone for my friend here, thanks.

  2. Lilian Nattel said,

    A package in the mail–how wonderful! And that book sounds just perfect right now.

    • doctordi said,

      A book package, no less – there’s no better, Lilian!!! Yes, it felt like the cavalry arriving, and not a moment too soon!

  3. Litlove said,

    Writing is a hideous process. No one would do it unless they had to. I’ve just finished my book and I unconditionally loathe it. There is absolutely no harm in taking a break, devoting yourself to those lovely books and the chocolate with almonds in (oh if only my diet let me!). Breaks are very good things, I find, to make the experience just about bearable, particularly if you have something nice to do in them.

    • doctordi said,

      LL, there’s a fantastic quote Shuckin’ Charlotte had shared with me before and which I read only yesterday in Patrick White’s letters, and I’m going to go and find it for you now.

      Okay. That was weird. I opened the book up a page out from the right one. Here it is (p. 291):

      Probably every book is hell to write. (Yet I am constantly meeting ladies who say ‘how lovely it must be to write’ – as though one sat down at the escritoire after breakfast, and it poured out like a succession of bread-and-butter letters, instead of being dragged out, by tongs, a bloody mess, in the small hours.)

      He also seemed to profoundly dislike each of his books upon finishing them, so you see you are in fine company, and it must be a good sign. Besides which, YOU’VE JUST FINISHED YOUR BOOK???!!! Congratulations, darling!!

  4. Grad said,

    Woohoo!! I can’t wait for this. It will be wonderful because you will pour yourself into it. You have the crafting tools, you have the experience upon which to rely, and you have your voice. Can it be anything but splendid? I don’t think so, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

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