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Walk With Me

Another night of tracing paths for my characters: They walk, I walk. They live in shadows, I follow. And so. Here are the walks that are building a novel. Some are based in Melbourne, other scenes are character ‘memories’ of European cities. I don’t always like to give away too much of the interior of a work-in-progress but these are some of the images I’ve been staring at every day.

Melbourne: 8:35 pm, Monday 19 February 2018

Prague: 3pm, 12 January 2018

Leipzig: 5 pm, January 2018

Berlin: close to 3:30 pm, January 2018

Berlin: the day before, 10 am. January 2018

Leipzig: 10 am, 2 January 2018

Melbourne: late afternoon, September 2017

Melbourne: mid morning, June 2017

Melbourne: late night, my house. Probably June, 2017

Melbourne: early morning, storm warning. My house, approx June 2017

On the way to Canberra, toward a mountain: probably noon, early January 2017.

And this road. This road is Eleanor

Repeat until you discover something new

I’ve been walking through the old hospital again, been imagining George and all the other men, those lumps of flesh and memory, sitting under verandas, under trees, under beds, under, under. This walk I’ve done again and again since the second novel began, these same buildings, same gardens. Nothing new to look at. There’s a section of the hospital around the back that always compels me to stop. I’ve never been able to figure out what it is exactly that I’m drawn to, only that when I’m there, I see images of men jumping from the roof, images of horses hoofing dirt. And I know on some level that images like these make the stitch of the novel. I revisit this spot because it allows me to build image into character, into narrative. But lately I’ve wondered whether something else draws me here, something I haven’t yet unlocked in the novel.

I have been walking through the old hospital again, to the back of buildings. The scenery hadn’t changed. And yet. Something different. I stood, imagined men jump, horse hoof, and right at that moment I felt something inside me click into place. It happened when I was staring at this:

These lights without globes. Sun without heat. Here was something!

I looked closer:

Those dirt-lace cobwebs. Flies; a meal.

Closer still:

That feeling of eye to eye, of moving closer, of wanting to reach inward.

And then I felt it. Structure. A way of developing this novel’s point of view. It had been there all along. Was this why I always stopped at this point? Is this why repetition is so important to me, all these rituals?

I now have something even more tangible to work with. The structure is right there in image. Why does it take so long to understand what the novel needs? Why can’t I think quick enough? Why is it so difficult to arrive at something that now seems so obvious? What else is yet to be discovered?

I’ll keep walking, keep revisiting. Persist.

Photo Reel Night

By the end of 2017 I was creatively and mentally exhausted and beginning to hate the second novel, all that stagnation. Then I briefly left Melbourne on holiday and took mediocre photos of things I found interesting, whispered in my ear. For the first time in a long time I didn’t write a single word while I was away. I simply walked, explored, thought, let myself give into all feeling and emotion, stayed silent as much as possible. And then I returned home.

I now have the hauntings of future work somewhere in the back of my mind.

Suffer my (very selected) holiday photo reel:

Photo 1: my favourite holiday photo

Morning. That cold, made heart burn. I walked further into the forest to make warmth from blood movement. The sound of unknown birds, of old-bone tree limbs stretching. The wind, the wind. I made eye contact with the top of trees, saw X-Ray lungs, a cancer. Reminded myself that I am just another human on the continuum of a spinning planet. I kept walking.

All My Best Work Happens When I Sleep #1

If I don’t dream I cannot write. All that is me, from page to skin, that is the best, the worst, the ludicrous and irrational, the patient and accepting, the being that has the ability to form her own creative truth, lives inside dreams. I have known this from an early age and I simply accepted that was where all stories, the entire self, were stored: we just have to be vulnerable in sleep to find it all. We have to be open to what could happen.

But as I got older I realised not everyone thinks this way and often when I would talk about my dreams, some so real and alive I knew they must exist in a future day, I’d watch the other person’s reaction, watch them process thoughts from ‘You’re crazy’ to ‘Blah blah blah blah.’ So you learn to keep these things to yourself, secretly search for others like you (and no I am not declaring myself as psychic. Go away)

See What I Have Done came to me in a dream. My novel-in-progress, Blue Mountain, came to me in a dream. I have caught glimpses of future books (though still unformed – they require more life experience and further sleep) and more recently I have dreamt other creative projects that wake me up at night, haunt me all day until I write something – anything – down. As I get further into a project I will dream scenes, characters, possibilities, textures of narrative, themes. It all feels so clear in those moments but when I wake it often feels like I’m chasing it all, can only catch the tail end of the perfect thing I had created in sleep.

Of course another explanation as to why I struggle on the page is that I have no idea what I’m doing (which is most times) and my skill set is not yet developed enough for the ambition of the book that wants to be written. But this thing – creative self doubt or genuinely striving to better your work and skill – is for another post.

But I have also learnt to distinguish between mundane, processing thought dreams from the guttural, intuitive dreams. The differences are enormous, especially if they’re recurring dreams.

I have many thoughts on dreaming and creativity, on sleeping (and what happens when you can’t sleep and how that effects creativity), on the wonders and benefits of physically walking and running through a novel, on collecting and accepting patterns but I need to give these ideas actual considered time (I know, it’s going to be amazing the day I churn those posts out) and moreover, there are other, better practiced people to steer you towards when it comes to ideas on creativity and dreaming and, and, and…

So here you go, here are a few people. I may or may not agree with them in totality but interesting nonetheless. I’ll have more for you later:

Some Kind of Influence #1

From 1990 to early 1997 I lived in a house that came alive at night, shadowed throughout the day.  It was a nightmare and dream made of brick and concrete surrounded by humanoid-trees and a long stretch of road that would whisper your name. There was always something happening in that house: strange sounds, possum scratching inner roof and walls, figures out the corner of your eye, odd men knocking at the front door, tall Eucalpyts that would catch fire, my parent’s symphonic arguing, my brother teaching himself how to play guitar and fall in love with science, he and I hand holding down the hallway because we were too afraid of what was hidden in the dark. And there was always me in my room: writing, inventing characters, talking to myself. Me reading late into night hours, me wondering what type of adult I would become, if there was anything I’d be able to offer the world once I got there. 

From time to time I’m asked who or what has influenced me and my writing. The answer is that house. This was the place I learnt to observe one adult after the other as they came to visit the family, the place that taught me to listen to physicality, to listen to gut instinct. This was the place I spent hours collecting the minds of others: I watched film and t.v as if they were breath, read books like scripture, listened to music until it became muscle memory. I learnt what I liked, what I didn’t. I learnt that you should be curious.

Here is the first part of some of the things I learnt about in that house, the things that helped me become a writer: 

Lost Pages: The Book See What I Have Done Might’ve Been

In the beginning naivety was the greatest gift. I had no idea how long writing a book would take me, how many drafts I’d complete, how many false starts would become false ideas of failure. 

I went along, wrote the words, went along, and then after a time I began to feel the enormity of it all, what it takes to write a book. Sometimes I couldn’t breathe. Many writers will tell you that to write a book is to run  a quiet marathon, others a test of character. The only thing I know about writing books is this:  you need to be able to sit within yourself day in day out, be able to block out the inevitable hate-noise that will thunder for you, be able to recognise the gold days when they arrive. To write a book you need to accept the repetition of it all and still be able to make something new.

Your book is never going to be the work you have planned in your head. You’ll start writing those first words and from that moment the book adapts to the environment it’s in, adapts to the molecular changes in your own bone structure, muscle fibre. Adapts to your growth as a writer and human.

Since publication I constantly rewrite the novel in my mind, fantasise about new chapters, new plot points, new characters. I rewrite what already exists. A few weeks ago I caught myself digging out an old, half-used notebook from 2015, ready to begin writing a new section for Benjamin, this character I seemingly can’t get enough of. But I stopped myself. The past is the past. I can’t unwrite See What I Have Done. It’s the best book I could write with my abilities at that given time. 

The only thing  I can do now is write another book, a better book, one that matches the writer I am today, tomorrow, next week, the years until it’s done. 

Is See What I Have Done the book I imagined it would be? There is yes, there is no. But it’s as close to the original idea I had…which is something because for a long time it veered in directions I never knew it could go. I mourn the book I lost, the one that came to me in a dream all those years ago. If I’d been able to work faster, would I have saved that version? Instead I took the slow route and created a ‘thing’ I never thought I could or would. It exists, flaws and all. And it’s the version that has allowed me to begin my second novel. 

So what might a different version of See What I Have Done look like? Easy. It was once called FALL RIVER and I have a selection of old sections here:
In the beginning Benjamin had the ability to change into other people. I was playing around with identity and duality, inner and outer lives, the ways in which we can fabricate our own stories to suit a narrative. He was many people living inside one body. Does this mean he had multiple personalities? No. For many reasons (perhaps I’ll share them with you at a later time) this version of Benjamin wasn’t working the way I wanted him too and it didn’t fit the story I was building. But the original idea of him appeals to me so much and I hope I can use him again one day, somehow.

Below, Benjamin is in his form as ‘James’ circa 2012. Reading this again for today’s post I can see that quite a bit of this was used in some form in the final version of the book. But it’s also lazy writing.

In the same year I was getting to know Emma, who at the time was a relatively new narrator. I had no idea what to do with her in some parts and so I often wrote her in quick points, just to get something down on the page. Almost a sketch:

And now structure. I found a contents page from the time I submitted to the woman who is now my agent. I’ll let you figure out what changed: