Learning from the best. Love you, Mum xxx
I had a recent stint of five weeks, knee-deep in a work contract, where I didn’t have (or make) time to work on my book.
And here’s what I discovered: the longer I stayed away, the harder it became to return. It started to feel impossible; that I’d never again be able to open the document and feel as though inside it. That feeling paired with a sense of loss, a heartache for the work. I wanted to write but no longer trusted I still “had it”, or knew what I was trying to say.
This occurred around the same time I was considering giving up cello lessons (I’m a complete beginner—I’ve been learning for 9 months and playing from Suzuki Cello Volume 2). My wonderful teacher sat me down, opened the first page of Volume 1 to the most simple of pieces. She told me to allow myself to return to the physicality of the experience.
‘Feel the cello between your knees,’ she said. ‘Feel the bow hair tugging against the strings. Breathe.’
Slowly, gently, I’ve reaquainted myself with my instrument and have returned to daily practice. It’s taking time to build confidence and technique again, so I’m still working on the simple pieces, finding enjoyment in the process.
The same day of the cello lesson I returned to my desk and, for the first time in five weeks, opened the manuscript. I stared at the words on the first page, then scrolled down and then up the entire document, black words on white pages flashing past. I swallowed, closed my eyes for a second. I couldn’t even remember where I was up to! Breathe, I reminded myself, just breathe.
So, instead of trying to write, I printed off a few chapters, took them to the couch and started reading, getting to know the work again, making pencil marks as I went. Now, a week later, I’m able to write, enjoying the sensation of fingers on keys; feeling my way back to the book, rediscovering what it is I am trying to say.
We are all roaring with laughter—not a polite chuckle in sight. I mean tears streaming, snorting, thigh slapping, high pitched, cross your legs before you have an accident laughter. Hell, it feels good. Emma, Kirstin and Kiri started this Writers Group in Point Chevalier four years ago, Anna joined later, I joined three months ago, and Mary’s new tonight. So, perhaps that’s the joy of laughing so hard—it joins us together, affirms that we have things in common, that we like each other. I love these girls already.
The reason for our laughter? We’d agreed to bring along a poem from our teenage years.
Earlier that evening I’d scrambled around the attic looking for the black ring binder that contained laboriously typed pages and pages and pages of poetry written between 1994 and 1996, when I was aged 17 to 20, studying journalism at AUT. The poems abruptly stopped in March 1996 when my father died, my pen stunned into silence for years after. I’d thought for a time that the poetry in that black folder might win competitions, make me famous, or at least find me my very own Ted Hughes. Continue reading
Hooray for Alec Patric! His book ‘Black Rock White City’ just won the Miles Franklin Award for best book. And that is a big ole deal, as it’s Australia’s premier literary prize, and is worth a whopping $60,000 AUD. Not bad for a man who works in a St Kilda book store and struggled to get published.
I gave the book five stars on Goodreads back in June 2015—click on the link to read my review.
And, after meeting Alec in Melbourne, we had a lovely, long conversation over email. Click on the link to read some wonderful insights into a writer’s mind.
I still go to my phone, to dial you up on FaceTime to see you folding your washing while we talk, to laugh, to talk about our children, to plan the next time we can be around a table together, to bitch, to talk work and to reminisce about the wonderful times we’ve had in six different countries over 19 years.
I’ll always remember the first time and the last time I saw you. The first time was at L’Oreal in London. You were the technical centre manager and I was the temp. You had long red hair with a fringe—only until one of the L’Oreal hairdressers took control! I forgot sometimes that you were nine years older than me. You’d had a whole life before we met. We were friends immediately, I think because we understood each other’s backgrounds, both being Kiwis. You were a hard worker; you were brilliantly funny but sensible at the same time. You were so private. Getting to know you was like unwrapping a present—first the wrapping paper, then the tissue and then opening the box. I was proud you chose me as your friend, that you let me unwrap you and be delighted at the gift of your friendship.
So then, the last time I saw you. It was on FaceTime and you were lying in your bed in Prague, ten days before you died. You lay against white pillows, a plump white duvet pulled up to your chin, against a white wall, luminescent skin and cropped strawberry blonde hair, barely there after all the treatment—a beautiful white angel. I’d had one of those awful, yelly, afternoons with my children and, as sick as you were, you gave me the best advice, as always. You were scared about going to Paris for treatment but knew you’d go. At one point you looked down at your hands, then said quietly, ‘I’m ready to go’, and I knew you were saying goodbye.
I couldn’t have loved you more at that moment. Your braveness astounded me.
And in between the first and the last times I saw you was every conceivable celebration—our weddings, the births of our children, and crisscrossing the globe for catch-ups. I am so grateful for the week our families had together at Castellet in 2014, where I was reminded that you were a wonderful mum, a great cook, still hilarious. It was wonderful to see that after years abroad, you’d found your home in that small village in Provence, surrounded by the lavender you so loved.
Be at peace, darling friend, and know that you will always be remembered.
Thank you for being my brilliant friend.
We don’t often have the privilege to get inside another writer’s mind to see how they fared throughout the arduous process of beginning writing, then finishing, a book. Louise Maich wrote this wonderful letter after reading my post The Psychology of a Second Draft. She has agreed for me to publish it here. Thank you, Louise.
Firstly, congratulations on winning the Lilian Ida Smith Award. I was shortlisted into the final six, and that has given me a huge boost of confidence to continue on and see this manuscript through to publication. As for this next draft, your post, The Psychology of a Second Draft, caught my attention.
Auckland Writers Festival: Sunday 15 May @ 3pm: A Zest for Life: Petina Gappah, Zimbabwe’s answer to Zadie Smith, and author of The Book of Memory, in conversation with Bianca Zander.
On how Petina fits writing into her busy life as a lawyer and mother:
“Since I had my son 12 years ago…I haven’t slept. I’m not as efficient as Margaret Thatcher, who got by on four hours, perhaps that’s why she was so cranky. I get by on about five.” – Petina Gappah
Auckland Writers Festival: Sunday 15 May @ 1.30pm: In Praise of Ferrante: Ferrante translator Ann Goldstein joins writers Kate de Goldi and Giovanni Tiso to dissect the anonymous author Elena Ferrante’s infamous Neapolitan novels.
“In the beginning she wanted to protect herself and her family. Also, once she’d written the book it was separate from her, it didn’t need her. For myself, I feel the author of the books is a strong personality—for I think it is a she—I feel she is a strong person who is not the narrator. There’s an intelligence behind the writing that is the person. And I don’t need to know anything else.” – Anne Goldstein (Elena Ferrante translator)
Auckland Writers Festival: Sunday 15 May @ 10.15am: Recording the War: Jenny Haworth (author and publisher), introduced by Caroline Barron.
“He (Nugent Welsh, war artist) painted these pictures (of bombed out villages and historic buildings) to show the cost of war. That war has no historical respect.” – Jenny Haworth