Wow, nearly a week since my last post… there’s a combination of factors responsible for that, not the least being that I hit the most monumental wall yesterday, and really could not function in front of the computer. Eventually I gave up. I think I was all tuckered out after saying goodbye to the Darklings around midday yesterday, who hit Man Town last Friday for our latest writing retreat. Given my advanced condition, I was deemed too pregnant to travel anywhere, so they all very kindly submitted to coming here instead. And not only did they drop into Man Town, they checked into the block of holiday apartments directly across the road from my place – most convenient! The only difficulty in all this is now adjusting to their departure… I was getting rather used to having everyone here!
It was quite good timing from Llew’s point of view, too, given the raft of DIY jobs requiring his immediate attention, some of which involved paint fumes I preferred to avoid. He was hard at it all weekend, and now, thanks to his dedicated exertions, I can almost see the world in which my office – soon to be Baby J’s room – might even be ready in time.
I should confess that it’s been looking pretty bloody dicey. In particular, a gigantic hole in the wall did not bode well, nor did the exposed electrical wires the crumbling wall revealed. As delightfully, uncharacteristically mellow as I have been throughout this pregnancy (it seems that recent, unwelcome return to Distempered Selfhood was just a brief relapse), the state of the place had been getting to me. The thing is, nothing can be done in there until the wall repairs are finished, so it’s been making me anxious, increasingly so, but now the end is finally in sight. By the end of this coming weekend, the repainting will be finished, and we can start looking at some sort of assemblage and arrangement of key items for Baby J’s care. You know, like somewhere to sleep. That would be a positive start – and not a moment too soon.
Anyway, as always during these Darkling retreats, it was a very productive time. I just can’t emphasise enough the collateral benefits of working when other writers are near. There’s a definite psychological advantage – knowing everyone under the same roof is busy working on their own manuscripts is profoundly motivating. You feel a responsibility to make the most of the opportunity, and also to have something to relay of your labours when everyone comes together at day’s end. I worked over there instead of remaining here for precisely this reason – I wanted to access that extra Darkling dimension – it wouldn’t have been at all as energising staying home, not even knowing they were working mere steps away. No, I had to be there to be part of it, so after swims and breakfast with Llew each morning, I went across the road for the day, and dined with the Darklings each night (when much debriefing and brainstorming was done).
And I did good work – we all did. The only problem for me is that I now have to deal with what came out of it, and that’s a much larger, much more serious problem than merely acknowledging my manuscript’s issues (these are problems I’ve identified, by the way – we didn’t actually exchange or read any work this time round). I’ll elaborate as soon as I’m able; right now I am still digesting the implications. I need to navigate a clear path through these thoughts, through this new awareness about the fault-line of my writing. I am left knowing I have to plot a course that takes me from thought to deed, but that I have to tread especially carefully now. Part of what I’ve realised is that this time, I can’t just set off blind as I’ve done in the past. I have to prepare properly: I have to pack, I have to check my provisions are appropriate to the journey, and I have to plan the precise route I’m going to follow to my destination. Otherwise I’ll perish in the attempt – or more accurately, the manuscript will – and there will be no one to blame but myself.
Oh, and that final short story competition announcement I’ve been waiting for? It’s apparently coming on December 1, more than six months after submissions closed. I’m not holding my breath. In fact, I’m releasing it in a long, rude raspberry. A recent email to entrants said shortlisted writers would be notified – all is dead silent around here – and that they received nearly one thousand entries. For an Australian short story prize, that’s an extraordinary result. A field of 1,000 hopefuls! I know, I know, it’s not about the competition, it’s only about each writer doing the best she or he can do, but WOW, all I can imagine is my own small story being trampled underfoot. Oh well – it’s good to know we’re all out there trying – there’s a lot to be said for that!
When we were doing our pre-natal classes, the midwife, Sharon, spoke about something a wee bit frightening called the Witching Hour. This is the time of day or night a baby generally tends to go pretty psycho, when nothing will work, there’s nothing to be done, and everyone just has to punch through the pain until it’s over. She said the Witching Hour often strikes around 6 pm at night, or 4 am in the morning, depending on your draw, and I have a growing sense of foreboding that I know exactly which preferred hour Baby J’s will be. You see, Baby J has taken quite a liking to going ballistic at about 3 am, sometimes a little later. This is apparently an excellent time for calisthenics class if you’re living upside down in a wildly inflated uterus. Baby J seems to like nothing more than pummelling the walls with every limb and lump at his or her disposal. You rang? What can I get you? Nothing? Right, then. I’d best get up anyway and go to the loo.
Usually I’m able to go back to sleep reasonably promptly, but not last night. Baby J was going for some kind of personal best, and once my brain joined him or her in a traitorous taunting, I was pretty well done for. And then the alarm went off: time to look lively, transcribe, write, and file by midday. A bumper morning after a literally bumpy night, so it’s with growing excitement that I contemplate an early collapse this evening.
Anyway, miracle of miracles, my local newsagency-cum-bookstore actually has a plump pile of The Best Australian Stories (and Essays, and Poems) sitting right by the shelves, box fresh and apparently still waiting for a more prominent home. I scooped the top of the tower and brought it home toot sweet, and having been snout-in for the past couple of hours, I have this to say about cracking the Australian anthology market: fuck a duck, it’s hard yakka.
Let’s consider the numbers. Cate Kennedy received hundreds of submissions. Hundreds. Just take a moment to picture all those hopefuls in your mind’s eye, perhaps standing in formation, singing on the beach like in the Qantas ad (and what would these scores of unpublished Australian fiction writers sing, I wonder…? AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell,’ perhaps?). I’m sure the thought of them all but tortured Cate as she made her selection; she intimates as much in her lovely Introduction.
But back to the number crunch.
There are 29 stories in this collection. Of these, 21 have been previously published, in collections (including Charlotte’s Brothers and Sisters, so let’s give her a bit of a wolf whistle for a spunky volume that’s still turning the other editors’ heads) and journals over the past year. A couple more previously unpublished stories have won competitions and prizes. None of this year’s 29 authors were having their fiction published for the very first time – or at least, where there were no references to prior fiction publications, there seemed to be forthcoming novels about to tumble off the press. As one would expect of a volume entitled BEST Australian Stories, not middling or early career or pretty bloody ordinary, there are some dauntingly familiar names: Robert Drewe, Paddy O’Reilly, Nam Le, Louise D’Arcy. Basically, this is a tough nut to crack.
Waiting, waiting… I’m waiting on a call from Western Australia for a freelance story I’m researching… it should have come an hour ago, but as they’re 3 hours behind in Perth, I could be here a while (raps fingers). Not to flick the gift horse’s tonsils or anything, but this is a tiny story, a mere 500 words, and it’s requiring lots more work than it’s worth. You get that, but it’s not ideal.
Three things while I’ve got the chance: award-winning short story writer, novelist and (I can attest) workshop Wonderwoman Cate Kennedy is the editor of this year’s Best Australian Stories for Black Inc. Judging from her lively conversation with Ramona Koval on yesterday’s Book Show, this collection is a doozy. Cate received hundreds of entries in the open call for submissions, more evidence (as if we needed any) that short story writing and writing in general is alive and well Down Under, something I celebrate even as it makes my own writing life a damn sight harder.
I was planning to buy a copy anyway, even before realising I know one of the featured authors, but now I’m especially looking forward to it. I did my PhD alongside Joshua Lobb, and not only is he a supremely talented little bastardo, he’s also one of life’s good guys, and I am delighted he’s cracked Cate’s final list. I can’t wait to read his story. Now a lecturer in the Faculty of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong, Joshua is an A.S. Byatt expert as well as a theatre nut. I saw his play Wilde Tales performed at the Belvoir St Theatre – a radical reimagining of Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales – and I know this story, ‘I forgot my programme so I went to get it back,’ is going to be just as funny and original and true. He’s a delightful writer and all round top human being, and I’ll report back with the verdict on his story once I get my grubby paws on a copy of the collection.
The second thing is the rumoured imminent demise of the print version of Meanjin, one of Australia’s longest running and most well-regarded literary journals. All plans remain unconfirmed, but persistent whispers suggest outgoing editor Sophie Cunningham decided not to renew her contract not only so she could focus on her own writing (Cunningham being a respected novelist in her own right), but because she wasn’t much enamoured with the idea of steering a purely digital ship. Can’t say I blame her – it’s great that so much quality writing is available online, but nothing comes close to the real thing. Online journals are brilliant for research and interest purposes, but I don’t love curling up on the couch with my computer, and I never will.
Finally, back to the Book Show, the book being read on the First Person segment at the moment is Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin, the harrowing non-fiction account of journalist Griffin’s experience during a six-week, drug-induced transformation into a black man for the purposes of researching life in the racially segregated South of 1959. It is largely horrifying – some of the white men who pick up the hitchhiking Griffin are so unspeakably ghastly that I was choking back sobs by the end of today’s reading – with only occasional glimpses of decency. It is actually impossible for me to inhabit the minds of these people who were so full of baseless hate for their fellow human being – I just can’t begin to access their ugly thinking – but it is an incredible story, absolutely unforgettable, and it should be required reading everywhere.
All week I’ve been meaning to tell you about last weekend’s Sydney Open, organised by the Historic Houses Trust, only to be distracted by bugles and bolts of blue light… but today’s the day. Sydney Open: let’s do it.
Billed as an ‘architectural adventure,’ Sydney Open is an annual event in which around 50 significant sites around Sydney throw their doors wide, and stickybeaks and architecture enthusiasts like myself can elbow our way in for a good old-fashioned sniff around. It’s an excellent idea, and one I thoroughly recommend to people as a way of seeing Sydney in a slightly different light.
Organisers (and we) got very, very lucky with the weather. It was forecast to be another shocker at the tail end of a week of them, and the idea of schlepping from one featured building to another in the driving rain would have been enough to put off at least this little busybody. Instead, last Sunday dawned bright and blue, a perfect day, and once we managed to drag ourselves away from the beach and our latterly sun-starved courtyard, we cruised into town and spent the afternoon poking our noses into posterity and planning both.
I’ve always wanted to get a gander inside the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) on Macquarie Street. As I’ve mentioned before, private clubs hold a peculiar fascination for me, and in Sydney, none more so than the venerable RAC. Personally I love how outrageously anachronistic such clubs are – they’re caught in a moment in time, increasingly ill-suited to modern life, and they’re eccentric and stubborn in a way I find enormously endearing. Today the RAC is like a stiff-backed old colonel, caught on the dance-floor at his granddaughter’s wedding during a thumping rendition of ‘Sex on Fire.’ Nobody’s sure quite how to handle his presence, but monstrous pride dictates he stands his ground.
I even feel some genuine affection for the dripping chauvinism of these places. Though a feminist by nature, I am also a romantic at heart – I wish such a thing as dinner and dancing still existed in the old school sense – and I feel nostalgic attachment to a place that still prints different menus for the sexes. At the RAC, only menus intended for the men list prices. And the ladies are privileged with the dessert list, because – ha – we’re obviously all sweetness and light. The absurdity of these matters of form is precisely what I adore about them – in this exhausting world of endless push and shove, such minor matters of etiquette take on a certain charm. And I was more than happy to succumb to it.
By the time we emerged, we were illegally parked, but decided to run the gauntlet since it was such a good park, and we were so close to a couple more properties that we thought we’d ever so quickly duck in and see. The first was the Chief Secretary’s Building, worth a look beyond its stunning exterior for the Governor of Sydney’s working office. It turns out Marie Bashir enjoys the ultimate corner office, a lovely capacious suite of antiques, Chesterfields and Victoriana little changed since it was occupied in the 1890s by the Colonial Secretary and Premier of NSW, Sir Henry Parkes.
Just down the road on Bridge Street is the Department of Education and Training, externally still intact as an example of the Edwardian Baroque, but inside now pretty bloody grim, a fairly horrifying example of what can happen when the public service aesthetic – here we can thank NSW Public Works – has its “modernising” way. I think I almost had a panic attack as we moved from one narrow grey Orwellian corridor to another, and when our guide (for this was also the severely controlled tour of the afternoon) ushered us into a soulless meeting room and insisted this is “where it all happens,” I told Llew in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t stand it for one minute more, let alone another twenty, and we made a break for the horrible institutional lifts. Depressing beyond belief.
Returning to our car (which was actually parked out the front of another noteworthy property, the Sir Stamford Hotel, which we had no need to inspect since we have loved it long time), we were delighted to find we’d escaped the hefty fine that was our civic due. We only had time for one more site, so we decided to go back to the future, heading down to the historic Rocks precinct to see and hear more about the controversial plans for Barangaroo (for some Lend Lease major stakeholder-style propaganda, and some good if curiously unrelated shots of Sydney, see a short film here, or the Barangaroo Delivery Authority has a pretty comprehensive website here).
Now, I love The Rocks, and in particular, the old residential and working streets overlooking what’s slated to become Headland Park, the development’s northern tip, is hands-down one of my favourite places in this whole entire city. If I didn’t have an almost physical need to be near the ocean, this is where I would want to live. I have fantasies – vivid, frequent – of one day opening a writers’ house there, because there are stories in the sandstone, tales in the terraces, characters in the cracks. And if they fuck it up, I’m going to SCREAM.
I have to say, the guy from the Barangaroo Delivery Authority did an excellent job talking the sizeable last group of the day through the plans before taking us for a walk through the site. I can’t for the life of me understand why they’re covering up the majestic sandstone wall that is currently one of the site’s most arresting features – this does not bode well – but I came away feeling rather more optimistic about the site’s future than I expected. In fact, I’d been feeling pretty tense about it all. Maybe he was just a very smooth talker, but he gave the distinct impression of sincerely and intelligently grasping the magnitude of their responsibility to get this right. The tour ran well over time, and he copped some colourful abuse from some of the crowd, but as we dispersed along the brilliantly named Hungry Mile at the end, Llew and I both felt hopeful.
Because we share a brain, a peculiar phenomenon that will be familiar to others in long-term relationships, by wordless mutual assent we then went for a long, satisfying stroll around the streets that so tug on my heart, before repairing to the Lord Nelson, Australia’s oldest licensed pub, for a beer (I had a small shandy) and a hearty if late Ploughman’s lunch. And there our Sydney Open came to a happy close.
Remembrance Day. I was out walking – listening to the Book Show on ABC Radio National, as has become my habit – and when the program ended, there was a brief piece about WWI’s Battle of Fromelles, the first major battle for Australian troops on the Western Front. They sustained heavy casualties, thousands died, and because some bodies were never recovered (as many as 1,335 Australians alone), there was long speculation about unidentified additional burial sites, one of which was eventually uncovered on the German side in 2007. The remains of 250 young men – 200 Australians and 50 Brits – were belatedly honoured with full military burials earlier this year, and I believe the last of them has just recently been formally identified. What a relief for their descendants, and their own unquiet souls. “Returned at last to their families,” said the man on the radio, “and returned to us.”
It was 11 am. I stopped on the beachfront and turned to face the water with my hands held behind my back and a lump in my throat. Through the earpiece came the always-heartrending notes of ‘The Last Post,’ the mournful bugle never failing to tighten and twist unnameable, unknowable things inside. A ghostly call to things I’ve never known and yet was raised never to forget.
I stared out to the horizon, past the surfers, beyond the boats, to the beguiling union of sky and sea. After ‘The Last Post’ there followed a minute’s static radio silence, and, as always at this time, wherever I am at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I thought of all those young men, their lost promise, and the life I enjoy that none of them lived long enough to properly know.
Lest We Forget.
Llew called me on his way home from the ferry.
“You have to come see this.”
“Just come outside. I’m about a hundred metres down the beachfront, and this is… wow! Oh my god! I’ve never seen anything like this! Get out here – bring the camera.”
I scrambled out the door, expecting something lunar, but the blanket cloud cover meant no stars, and certainly no silvery moon. People were lining up along the promenade, facing the surf, some murmuring quietly among themselves, others pointing and exclaiming. I looked out. At first, nothing, but as I kept walking down toward Llew, something glowed then vanished to my left. I looked again. Suddenly a fluorescent blue ripple shot across the full length of a breaking wave. Lasers? I glanced at the apartments opposite. A trick, surely? Teenagers on a balcony somewhere? But no. I turned to watch the breaking waves, still disbelieving, and one by one, in came the next set, this bolt of electric blue zinging along the shore time after time. Slowly it dawned on me: the light was in the wave, of the wave. I got down to where Llew was standing mesmerised and we gaped at each other.
“What is it?” I said. “I don’t understand how this is happening – what is it?”
“Isn’t it amazing?” he said. “I mean, I’ve seen phosphorescence plenty of times, so have you, but I’ve never seen it breaking in the waves before.”
We gasped as another wave exploded into vivid colour in the dark ocean before us.
“It makes me want to go swimming,” I said. “To get in there with it. Actually, I thought I saw someone…”
“Someone is in there,” Llew said, pointing.
And sure enough, there was a lone surfer in the water just south of us, frolicking in the electric blue, a solitary dancer weaving in and out of the steady bursts of pure light.
Today I’ve learned that what we saw was also visible at Freshwater beach, north of here, and the phenomenon is called “bioluminescence.” Check out a photo of it here and read an explanation for its appearance here.
In what is fast becoming a recurring theme, I am officially pooped again. I suppose it may have something to do with being 34 weeks pregnant, but it still takes me slightly by surprise. I don’t think I fully appreciated my normal energy levels in the past; I’ll never take them for granted again. That is, if they ever return. Parents tell me – with sick glee, I might add, as though nothing on earth will give them greater pleasure than watching my life fall in a heap – that exhaustion is the overwhelming feature of my forthcoming change in status, shortly followed by fear and guilt. Glad we’ve got that sorted, then. Sounds tops.
Another freelance job came in yesterday afternoon, and the tight turnaround meant three phone interviews before the close of business yesterday, then transcribing all last night. This morning was spent writing the two articles, and after filing on schedule at midday, I headed downtown to Sydney Ultrasound for Women for the 34-week ‘foetal wellness’ scan. Llewie met me beforehand, and luckily this time we were seen close to the appointment time, so my full bladder didn’t become the crippling Waiting Room Crisis of the last visit.
All, I am very pleased and relieved to report, appears well. Baby J made life a bit difficult for J, the lady performing the ultrasound, because he or she decided to keep moving right throughout the examination, barely lying still long enough for J to record the necessary measurements and images. Before we began I mentioned we were leaving the sex of the baby a surprise, so J instructed us to close our eyes – “I’m serious, close them, and don’t open them again until I say” – for that part of the ultrasound. When she suggested Llew and I might gaze at each other instead, I said, “No chance – he’s incapable of that when there’s any sort of screen in the room.” Llew laughed heartily at that one, no doubt because it’s so bloody well true.
The images are a bit dodgy – Baby J’s all squashed in there, and in one shot looks more like a demonic lion cub than a cute little human bundle – but it was still lovely to see him or her squirming around in there, ribcage, brain, heart, kidneys and all, weighing in at about 2.9 “totally average” kilos. And the cord? Working most obligingly, and not coiled around Baby J’s little neck. Hallelujah. Also it looks like my placenta has moved well out of the way, so assuming all goes well on the day, that clears me for a tilt at natural labour. In other words, things couldn’t have gone any better. No wonder I felt my first surge of maternal pride.
Friday already? This week’s been a blur, to be honest. It all started when I suffered a bit of a personal setback on Tuesday, being an email communication that unfortunately resulted in an immediate return to the insomnia and hyper-tension that brought about the break of contact in the first place, back when I acknowledged, with enormous difficulty, that the relationship was really taking a toll on me. Here is an impossible thing to explain satisfactorily or kindly to another party: “Our interactions are really bad for me, and they exact too high a price on my physical and psychological well-being to continue.”
That’s not a message that’s easy or pleasant to convey, let alone receive.
Cue sleepless nights, anxiety, hunched shoulders and tension headaches. Llew walked in on Tuesday night, took one look at me and said, “What’s happened, what’s wrong?” How to explain? Well, the feeling that comes over me is like a dense, suffocating shroud – a full blackout – and I wonder if it’s at all similar to what people who suffer from depression experience? The sense of airlessness is total, and even just writing about it now is making my stomach clench and my throat constrict. To tell someone who is not at all a bad person that they have this effect on me only makes things worse, because I feel enormously guilty about and burdened by the way I feel. And yet those feelings, regrettable though they are, do not change the truth of what having this person in my life does to me, and I can’t afford to avail myself to them any longer. I just can’t. I have to be healthy for my own family, for Baby J and Llew, and as callous as this may sound, that means making sure I avoid people and things that I know are damaging to me.
Heavy feelings. Heavy decisions. Not fun at all.
Luckily, I wasn’t able to really sink further into this emotional mire because duty called – I had a freelance job, as I mentioned, that kept me very busy until yesterday afternoon. Business as usual, which was probably the best thing that could have happened. And although I was staggering with overtiredness, Wednesday night we’d committed to going to illustrator/comic creator Matt Huynh’s latest exhibition opening, Alluvia, at the Paper Mill at 1 Angel Place. The Paper Mill is a great little gallery space, opposite the lovely Ash St Cellar. Matt had an excellent turnout, even scoring comic artist Chewie Chan as a grinning occasional bartender. With the exception of a couple of pieces – in particular Autocure, my favourite, the Alluvia collection is quite different in tone and style to his last exhibition, Asperatus – it feels like this show is evidence of Matt’s still very much exploring and defining the type of artist he wants to be, testing himself, trying different things, considering new possibilities, all of which couldn’t be more apt when you consider Alluvia is the spring to Asperatus’s winter in what will ultimately be Matt’s four-part interaction with the seasons in this new body of work. But it’s actually another of this prolific illustrator’s projects that has currently arrested my attention: personally I can’t wait to see the results of his Chinatown Comics project with the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.
The distractions from inner turmoil continued last night, when I got my September birthday present in November: a night at the opera. There is a story behind this particular gift. When Llew was still snuggled in-utero, his parents attended the opening of the Sydney Opera House, so Llewie liked the idea of starting a tradition of sorts by taking Baby J not to ‘Opera in the Park’ or ‘Opera in the Vines’ but ‘Opera in the Womb.’ Rather than opening night, ours was the last, as Llewie escorted me to Opera Australia’s final performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto. My date arrived late but bearing red roses, and we quickly made our way to the pre-opera dinner sitting in the southern shell of the Sydney Opera House, which houses Guillaume Brahimi’s renowned Bennelong restaurant. Now that’s what I call a birthday treat! It’s a pretty spectacular spot inside and out, very much a special occasion restaurant; my only regret is that we had to keep an eye on the time, although staff runs a very, very well-oiled machine in this regard. To start, I had the blue swimmer crab on a bed of avocado with cucumber, coriander and capsicum coulis, but Llew definitely took out the best entrée award: his scallops with cauliflower puree, Shitake mushrooms and chicken jus were sublime. Mains I’d call it a dead heat: we both scored, me with a Barramundi fillet served on a bed of carrot and ginger puree, coriander and pomme allumette, and Llew with a perfect fillet of beautifully marbled beef that he ordered too rare for me to even try (the nerve). We had a side of roasted fennel, too, something neither of us had ever tried and which was a lovely accompaniment to both our meals.
We made it into our seats in the Opera Theatre without a minute to spare. The performances themselves were excellent, in particular Alan Opie in the title role, and Natalie Jones as Gilda, Rigoletto’s [pretty stupid, in my view] daughter, who stepped in at the eleventh hour when Emma Matthews was struck ill and was pitch perfect. I’d mistakenly thought it a comedy, but the story of Rigoletto is really quite sinister in parts, and pathetically human in general. The standout feature of the production for me, however, was the stage design. We apparently have American Michael Yeargan to thank for that – and boy, he did a superb job. I was so fascinated by the sets that I almost forgot to follow the surtitle display. Fabulous.
But my birthday present didn’t end there. No, we went back to Bennelong for post-theatre refreshments. Llew got stuck into the port and a vanilla crème brulee, whereas I opted for peppermint tea and one of the best desserts I think I have ever had: the passionfruit soufflé. I was expecting it to be good, but this was positively scrum-diddly-umptious. As belated birthday gifts go, this one was a world-beater. Better yet, I even managed to get to sleep last night. Thanks, Llewie!!!
Freelance work – yay! Sunshine – welcome back! And manuscript – I remember you!
It’s positively bucketing down, although thankfully I got my walk in this morning well before it started, during which I saw whales mucking about offshore, which is quite a lovely way to start the week. It’s apparently a bumper season for migration sightings, but I keep missing them, so you can probably imagine the goofy smile on my dial when I looked out and finally saw these fellas throwing their vast weight around – I think my grin was almost as wide as the one spread right across my face yesterday, when I hopped on my bike for the first time in months. Llewie was busy out the back, stripping paint off the family bassinet we’re planning to use for Baby J’s early months, and needed me to go to the hardware store for some more tins of the frighteningly noxious stripping stuff (the potential threat of lead in the layers of old paint truly paling against this level of fall-down toxicity!).
The path to the hardware store is dead flat, takes me right along the beachfront, and is marked by a shared pedestrian/cycleway the entire way – perfect even for a pregnant woman. What I hadn’t reckoned on was the sheer pleasure of it – it felt absolutely lovely, so deliciously free, the sun on my skin, the sea breeze drying my hair as I pedalled at my leisure, my wide load comfortably supported by the cruiser’s low body and fat seat. Admittedly Llew was a bit anxious about my riding in the first place, so I could hardly wait to get back to tell him how much FUN I’d just had. Oh, it felt brilliant, it really did. And I’m sure Baby J enjoyed it too as we came whizzing down the beach promenade, happily headed for home.
Today I am thinking of my MS and new story ideas. I’m mulling over some of the redrafting advice that’s come my way thanks to researching this month’s Varuna feature, on the all-important second draft. If you’re interested, you can read the feature here. Of course, I’m well past the second draft stage, I don’t even know what draft this is, but I am still turning it all over in my mind, trying to decide what still applies. Much of it does. The main thing I’m wondering is if this MS is at a stage where I can fill in the gaps, or if instead I’d be better off treating it almost as a first draft, and starting over, embarking upon a “second” draft as upon a whole new and distinct journey. Yes, that promises to be vast amounts of work, but I’m not sure that all my plastering and puttying isn’t a false economy, even now when the draft is hopefully reasonably advanced. It’s a vaguely sickening thought, really starting it all over, but I wonder if it’s not what’s required. Certainly every other draft has continued springing leaks – which is why Llew is the handyman of our household. Anyway, it bears thinking about.
There’s also a different faint glimmer at the edges of my vision for a new short story idea, but before I do anything about it, I’m going to have another look at Mark Welker’s post about his short story ‘Without Country,’ out now in Griffith REVIEW’s annual fiction issue alongside our own Darkling Jewelene’s award-winning story ‘The Geometry Lesson.’ You may remember Mark from his gorgeous Varuna videolog; well, this post about the writing of ‘Without Country’ is just as riveting. It’s a detailed dissection of the entire process of creating the story, and stands as a very humbling testament to the sheer level of application required to make a short story work. As I’ve detailed countless times on this blog, I really struggle with the short form, and reading Mark’s post last week, I began to really understand why: I haven’t committed sufficiently, I haven’t worked adequately, I haven’t edited ruthlessly enough to break through to the other side, where a half decent story may yet exist. I’ll never know unless I work on the drafts of short stories the way I work on the drafts of my MS: obsessively, and repeatedly. That definition of insanity, of doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting a different result, that’s a writer’s life. That’s the only way across the dark ocean separating where I’d like to be in my writing from where I am.