Saturday, 29 December 2012


In this season of marking time until I can properly give my head to something solid, I have enjoyed trawling through other book lovers’ blog posts. In this journey of going down obscure alleyways and taking detours and, at times, being derailed altogether, I came across this quote from Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor.

“People without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality.  It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.”

I think I would have liked Flannery in the flesh - too late now, of course, and unlikely, given that she was something of a recluse, if I remember rightly. Every sentence in this quote says something profoundly challenging and thought-provoking, with layers of ironic and rueful truth.

Yes, it takes a long time to write a novel – at least, in my case – and given that I was well on the way to ‘old’ before I even started my writing journey, I intend to give my hair and teeth extra attention. Yes, I am irritated by people, including myself, who worry that fiction writing is somehow inferior to the factual; that the effort should be directed more usefully to writing devotionals or self-help volumes. And yes, the drilling for a character’s voice often releases an understanding that shocks me into deeper revelation of issues I hadn’t considered.

Having heard too many fellow writers speak of the small financial return for their labours, I am one who is sustained by the hope of salvation. I hope to write a novel that has the capacity to set in motion a chain of events where the unseen will impact the known in ways I couldn’t imagine. My hope is to fulfil what was written on the pages of my heart in my mother’s womb, maybe even before.  I am sustained by the desire to hear the Everlasting Word say to me, “Well done! I read it and I am pleased!”

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


I don’t know what it is about this time of the year, at this stage of my life.  The buzz of festivities used to be energising, now it’s just enervating (I’ve always wanted to use that word). So this is the year I decided all presents would be gift vouchers or cash. I would plan the simplest of menus for Christmas Day and accept no invitations to “we must catch up” in the two weeks prior.  I even decided I wouldn’t send Christmas cards, except to some aged friends for whom a mantelpiece festooned with cards is a must. I decided I would have time and head space to stroll up to the big day in peace and harmony with all, with enough time in my days to add a few hundred words to my current writing project.

But here, two weeks out from D Day, I have unearthed presents purchased months ago, which in all conscience should be wrapped and given to the people I bought them for; cards arrive daily from people I thought had long ago forgotten me, and who I no longer think about, either, and I am writing cheery little replies on cards I bought in a rash moment in a Boxing Day sale two years ago. Not only that, but I am pouring over my recipe collection for that amazing Bombe-Alaska-substitute-for-plum-pudding. I am too distracted to write but not enjoying myself enough not to regret it. So, to cheer up myself I accept an invitation to an Open Day at a creative arts project in the Adelaide Hills.  At the very least, I’m thinking, it will be a few degrees cooler up there than down here on the plains.  It isn’t, but it doesn’t matter.

The old stone barn with its large skylights is a perfect place to relax and create from the heart.  A space is cleared, a large canvas spread on the floor, and we are invited to work on a group painting with an Aboriginal artist, who has suggested a theme of healing. In an adjoining room an accapella choir practises Christmas carols and, later, emerges to give a polished and beautiful performance in person. We lay down our brushes, sit back on our heels and join in the songs of praise.  How wonderful is Jesus Christ who put aside the majesty he was entitled to and humbled himself to live with us!

It has been a wonderful three hours. I have returned to the city on the plain with my spirit and soul washed clean.  I won’t be writing any more cards.  I’ve ceased the search for the Bombe Alaska recipe.  And I won’t be feeling pressured or guilty about it, either. Joy to the world!

Friday, 7 December 2012


The highlight of my writers’ group this week was the reading of a poem that included the dreaded “f” word. During the critique session that followed one member strongly objected to the use of that word. Several group members then objected to her objection. It was a fascinating little scenario. I found myself acting as piggy-in-the-middle, fully appreciative of the point of view on either side of the divide. 

How is it that this four-letter word has such power to polarise a group of people? There’s no doubt the word divides on the basis of age.  In reality a 15th century word describing the act of sexual intercourse, it is today used by many young people as an expletive to express impatience, annoyance, anger, a situation beyond repair or to give a strong emphasis.  Occasionally, they use it to describe the sex act. An older person considers its use to be crude, lewd and vulgar, even if it’s not in the context of sex. Then there's the religious divide. A religious person is likely to object to it on the grounds that such vulgarity would be a disqualifier to having a clean heart and mind and, what’s more, incur the condemnation of their peers.

But it is, after all, only a word, isn’t it?

My own view is that its traditional vulgarity and over-use has trivialised sexual intercourse. For me, it detracts from the sacredness that is inherent to sexual union in a committed and lifelong relationship. However, in terms of the poem that was under discussion, I was not offended. It was appropriate in terms of its context and its current usage as an intensifier. The person who objected did so out of a personal aversion. This was clearly outside the requirement of critiquing the actual writing, which is to assess the structure, tempo, scanning, etc .

Would I use this word myself? No. But there may come a time when one of  my fictional characters might.