Month: April 2017

SOWING STORY SEEDS

Today is the day that I start my new book. I’ve worked up to it for the last few weeks like a marathon runner limbering up for a big race. I know some writers (like Tolkien) take years and years to write a book but as I suffer from ADHD (true story) my concentration and focus won’t allow me to do that. I would lose my train of thought and all direction and end up with a patchwork quilt of thirty books that just go round and round in circles with strange squirrels appearing out of no-where in tutus singing opera because I’d get so bored and need to entertain myself and then I’d probably decide that the squirrel thread would make a good feature film and I’d embark on a screenplay, possibly scribbled in the back of my most recent journal and then I’d lose that journal and start another one and find a poetry competition and decide quite foolhardily to become a poet. You get my drift. I get distracted and bored very easily and THIS is not necessarily a good trait for a writer to have, particularly a novelist, because a book requires you to sit still, in solitude and write about eighty freaking thousand words….in order….that make sense and work to keep a reader glued to the page without getting distracted and running off to chase burlesque squirrels until the very LAST page after those magical words THE END get written.

I can bang out a short story in an hour. That’s like a cracker and cheese to me. A blog…that’s more like popping a grape into my mouth BUT A BOOK….a book is a banquet of words that requires a hunger, a gnawing aching hunger, for THAT particular meal and it will require menu planning for the entree, the main and the delicious dessert. One will need to make a list, check it twice and then go hunting for all the ingredients and for a really good feast you’ll need to seek out some impossibly exotic tit-bits that make your meal unique and so you may have to seek out unpronounceable spices from hidden alleyways. Then you’ll have to prep and cook and make sure you get it all right, so that the damn thing rises when it should, marinates all the way through to the marrow and has just the right, heady blend of flavours when it hits the plate, so that it will entice people to gorge themselves on your story. Not just nibble but gorge! At about two dollars a book…writers need readers who are ravenous and bring all their mates to the table!

For someone who finds boiling an egg unthinkably tedious, this culinary/literary ordeal is a challenge for me and so I have evolved and adapted my process around my diagnosis so that we’re all happy. Books get written and I stay pepped up and focused and don’t run off with the squirrels (except for Saturday night which is designated squirrel night).  And I do this how, you might ask? I do this at break-neck speed and all else evaporates from my life. I tumble down the rabbit hole of my book…..

I am a very lucky writer. I have the luxury and leisure of being able to write full-time. I have no other day job (other than being a wife and mother which is not to say that that doesn’t pose all sorts of challenges as well!) The advice most commonly given to budding writers is ‘to marry well’. That doesn’t mean you have to marry someone rich as much as it means you NEED to marry A SAINT! Writers, by and large, are an intolerable breed. We are emotionally needy and insecure and tortured with story-lines and characters that leak out from our heads into our lives and this can sometimes be disconcerting to those around us who can’t see KATHERINE AT THE END OF THE BED GIVING ME INFORMATION ABOUT HER CHILDHOOD IN SEVENTEENTH CENTURY SCOTLAND AT THREE IN THE MORNING …CAN’T YOU SEE HER…SHE’S RIGHT THERE!!!!! That one freaked my husband out for days. But I am lucky, as I said, because I did marry a Saint. He’s not perfect, mind, he is a bit gassy and dances like an emu and inserts the words gloopy schmook schmook into the lyrics of every song and he plays WAY too much Forza but….he’s a keeper. He lets me write… and that means he puts up with the screaming lunacy, the complete gulf between me and reality and the fact that I make NO money. Writing is a thankless job. It is even less thankless (or should that be more thankless?) than parenting or wife-ing. Oh, sometimes you’ll hear something nice from a reader, get a nice review or an email, but the neurotic writer’s voice inside your head will tell you that they are just being polite and actually didn’t even finish your book and just feel sorry for you. Being a writer is a bit like sitting day in day out looking at a mirror, finding flaws while singing NOBODY LOVES ME EVERYBODY HATES ME I THINK I’LL GO AND EAT SOME WORMS. I think that’s what being a writer is like….or perhaps that’s just me….eeek….

Back to my process…I did tell you I get distracted and go off on tangents….

I write fast. I have to. I open a file …type the title (I always have the title first and work my way out from there)….and then it’s a race between my typing fingers and my ADHD. Who will win? It’s very exciting early on because I never know how it’s going to go. The thee hundred and eighty-seven unfinished manuscripts clogging up my Documents Folder in my laptop are testament to that. They are the ones that got outrun. They sit waiting for me to accidentally chase a squirrel past them one day and stop and go AHA I REMEMBER YOU. And then I’ll forget the squirrel and start up from where I left off and see how the replay race plays out.

When I say I write fast, I do not lie. I wrote my last completed manuscript in ten days. I do little else in those days other than write and I type at a speed of about a hundred and twenty words a minute and I tend to sleep in brief bursts, waking up to hammer at the keyboard again. I start with a seed. A simple seed. I don’t necessarily know what sort of seed it is. It will be an idea and a title. That’s all. I’m like Mr Squiggle. He was a television puppet in the seventies for those of you who are under a hundred years old. His nose was a  giant marker pen ( I know right…the seventies was like a festival of acid) and he would go to work in front of a piece of paper that someone had drawn a squiggle on and he would have to turn the squiggle into a drawing, upside down, and then ‘voila’ the pretty t.v presenter/hostess would turn it over and there would be a great drawing for the kids in the audience, most often a spaceship or a tree-house. So, yes, I start with a title and a premise. Little more than a squiggle.

So today I have my title and my premise. It’s not much to go on but I feel the swell of a wave under me and know that it’s a big one and I’m ready to ride it. That’s one analogy for the process of writing. Waves. Ocean. Swell. As for the story-line….that’s more like a regular seed. I bury it in the soil of my mind and the keyboard and coffee are the sunshine and water and we’ll wait to see what grows. Might be an oak tree or a fern or a patch of parsley or a weed. I don’t know. It’s a mystery.  But I’m excited. That’s all I’m saying. Exuberant, squirrel-chasing loony writer over and out….stay tuned for the progress reports.

Nik x

Raising my pen as a sword!

Today one of my own is being besieged! I am a writer. I am a woman. I am an Australian. This makes me me and it also makes me part of a small but powerful group. Women in this country who pick up their pens to change the world are a small force and when they have a bee in their pretty little bonnets well…..stand back and take cover….because they become a swarm!

Yesterday (in case you missed the public holiday, dawn services and two-up games) was ANZAC DAY. This is a national day of remembrance for our fallen soldiers. A day to sadly reflect upon WAR and the sacrifices and suffering that come from it. During these uncertain, worrying, tense times, days like ANZAC DAY summon up, not just remembrance, but important reflections of what we can learn from past conflict so that those who died did not do so in vain. The men and women of all colours and creeds who fought in wars past, did so to strive for PEACE, love and tolerance – you know…..the greater good. FREEDOM.

Yesterday, a young woman I have great respect for, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, made a comment on her Public Facebook Page. It read ‘LEST WE FORGET (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine).’ And the National Offence Brigade went freaking ballistic! The hate cannons and buckshot of outrage blew, they sharpened their bayonets and ran screaming for Yassmin’s blood. She quickly retracted the comment and left it as LEST WE FORGET and apologised to anyone she might have offended.  Never mind that other social commentators were busy writing articles in the mainstream media questioning the continued relevance of days such as ANZAC DAY. It was pointed out that the Indigenous Australians got one sorry day while we’re raking up a hundred to say thank-you for past military services. There are also many men and women who fought for our country who don’t march on ANZAC DAY. We are allowed to have this dialogue in this country, thank goodness because you know FREE SPEECH. I understand and respect those who honour the day and I understand and respect those who don’t for reasons of their own.

Now – I’ve only been called UN-AUSTRALIAN a couple of times in my life and each time it has weirdly enough been when I have been calling out racism. I once called Australia Day, Invasion Day (while not very original….it’s still kinda apt, eh?), and I got some poisonous spears and burning torches flung my way. So if every-time I stand up against racism I get given the red unaustalian card, does that mean, ipso facto, that to be a true-blue Aussie, I must be a teeny bit or a whole lot RACIST? Well, fuck that. I don’t roll that way.

I met Yassmin at a writers festival recently and fell in love with her energy, her passion and her infectious laughter. She is a woman who speaks out with heart and refreshing sincerity. The outpouring of HATE….(if I could think of a stronger word I would use it….maybe VILE-BILE would work)….toward Yassmin in the last twenty-four hours, has thrown and winded me. It’s really really sick! And it has nothing to do with deep national offence and the defense of ANZAC DAY or national pride; it has everything to do with RACISM and hate. It seems to me that those who sit at home, swilling beers and eating snags on ANZAC DAY, (most of whom wouldn’t lift an actual finger for their country and certainly haven’t fought any war outside of ones on social media of their own making) act like sharks who’ve come across an accidental school of tuna and work themselves into a frenzy. Opportunistic outragers!

A Muslim WOMAN pointing out that there are not only other victims of war outside of our diggers but that it IS STILL GOING ON RIGHT NOW! Holy fucking hell…..it becomes a battle-field and the drums start beating and the blood-lust bubbles. Seems also to me, that the army of ‘OUTRAGED and OFFENDED’ weaponed-up on social media, sit around just WAITING for something to be outraged and offended by (on behalf of someone else….always) and if that offense has been bristled by a MUSLIM WOMAN then they are become so hungrily frenzied that they are mouth-frothing on the verge of apoplexy. Someone call them a doctor! STAT!

It takes a lot to offend me… offence is a flimsy cloak to hide beneath and I don’t have much call for it. I’ve been eaten by a flesh-eating spider, I’ve given birth five times, I’ve been sexually assaulted, I’ve suffered profound loss but being OFFENDED has never caused me much concern because you CHOOSE to be offended. I choose not to be and I’ve been called a lot of things in my time. Not one toss was given.

My fellow AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS stand with me (mostly I hope) when I say that words are weapons and should sometimes only be wielded by those who know what they are doing. Social media is a platform where people say their bit. Freedom of speech. Debate is great. ANZAC DAY…still relevant? Worth a healthy discussion. But to use someone’s words against them with such vitriol, hatred and small-minded bitterness just because everyone else is throwing stones and flinging flint onto the burning mound is school-yard bullying and to my mind not only UNAUSTRALIAN but INHUMAN! Dick-heads should sometimes just zip it!

I showed my children what Yassmin wrote and then what the OFFENDED masses wrote and they were horrified. At 12 and 13 they could clearly see who was in the wrong…who was hateful. Yassmin didn’t incite that hate. She opened a window and inadvertently let the haters lean out and spew forth their hate. Yuk!

As a woman, a writer, an Australian, an atheist, a human being, a mother, sister, wife, pacifist, respecter of values and person with a deep regard and gratitude for fallen soldiers AND concern for those suffering because of war on Manus Island, Nauru, in Syria and in Palestine…..I stand with Yassmin!!!!!

JUST WRITE

It’s Monday. I am listless. I feel just a little bit sick. Not urgh sick. Just icky sick. I am a bit flat. I know that writing lifts me up and away from these human distractions. Once I’m in the flow it’s go-go-go and I can be anywhere and anyone. I can create characters and make them brave and daring and sometimes…sometimes I can kill them with one stroke of a pen. Writing makes me feel powerful. I walk around my empty house in my slippers and tattered p’j’s. My back aches. I’m jittery from too much coffee. There is mess. Dishes. Beds to make. But more importantly…there are words to write.

I made myself a promise about five years ago and that was to write something creative every day – no excuses. I’ve kept my promise to myself because writing is my one true thing. It is my life-raft, my safety valve, my very salvation. I am prone to the snarl of the black dog. It bares its teeth and growls at me from time to time. It bites and tears at my flesh and leaves me bleeding and ragged during particularly vicious attacks. But I’ve found that writing is my secret weapon and sends that dog limping away with its tail between its legs, whimpering, afraid.

I write, therefore I am.

Sometimes I feel that I would simply evaporate if I was not wrapped up and defined by the shape of letters and the smooth sleek lines of sentences. I shuffle down into paragraphs like a free-fall into quilted clouds.

Today I will write of laughter and majesty because writing is my magic, my mojo.

I write, therefore I am. What I spin onto the page is Rumplestiltsken straw into gold. I make things happen. I can take an icky day and make it gleam. I can save the world. I can move mountains with a few taps on a keyboard. I paint with words. I can make pictures. Moving, visceral, pulsing worlds of words. I can bring the impossible to life. I can be God.

As a little girl, I found comfort in books. My first love was Heathcliff. I learned to be the person I am from books. Now, I find that words are my breath and words keep me balanced. Someone asked me recently what my favourite word was and I couldn’t think of one. I think now that I shall choose WORDS. WORDS.

Today I am going to create a character that embodies everything I wanted to be when I grew up. I am going to invent my super-self. And maybe….just a little bit of this character will seep into my bones and make me stronger….happier…less icky. More Nikki.

WORDS. Thank-you words for reaching out and pulling me to my feet. I love you.