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.

Monday, 26 November 2012


I continue my travels through the unfamiliar territory of literary fantasy. So far, it continues to be rather a tiresome trek. I think half the problem is the number of pages it takes to really hook me.  If the characters, or the writing, have not grabbed me by the end of the first chapter I’m inclined to think it will be a waste of my time to read further. But there is a bit of bulldog in me so I slog on.  Having begun, and sort of finished, a fantasy novel for young teens, I am now reading two adult titles, swapping from one to the other when I get too bored, determined I will complete them and maybe, even, arrive at a point where I’m so engrossed that I want to give each one my sole attention to the end. But as wise Solomon wrote, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”, so it had better happen soon!

The books I am alternating between are The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde, and William Horwood’s Awakening. I thought it best to read different styles of fantasy, so this is a comparison between magic realism and traditional fantasy. This is the third time I have attempted Eyre. I’m a third of the way through - the same point at which I stopped reading the first two times – and while I recognise the cleverness of it all, I don’t care about the characters or what happens to them, and I haven’t laughed once. The bulldog is in command, but only just.  With Horwood’s book, I’m four chapters in and there are some teensy-weensy signs of warming in the care-factor. It’s a big book so I hope the temperature rises rapidly from now on.

The exception in my fantasy journey thus far has been Charles De Lint’s urban fantasy, The Mystery of Grace.  The main character, a tattoo enthusiast known as Grace to her fellow mechanics at the garage where they restore classic cars, had me hooked almost immediately. But even without that, DeLint’s command of language would have kept me reading; that, and the redemptive nature of the story. I don’t need a happy ending for me to enjoy a book, but I appreciate  layers of story-telling that make it possible for the characters to be redeemed, if not in the confines of the plot, then in the landscape of my imagination.  DeLint made me think, made me laugh, made me re-read lines just for the sheer pleasure of it, and, yes, gave me a fresh appreciation of the grace of God.

Monday, 19 November 2012


Right, you have a room of your own, you have squeezed some hours from your schedule and you have a great idea burning a hole in your imagination.  All you have to do is start writing. Yeah, right. So what stops you?

My own experience is that it’s usually interior issues that derail the process, not external ones. You know, the whisper in your head that says your writing isn’t that good, that you’re wasting your time and, is that what you’re really here for anyway? Or that confrontation with a colleague or family member that, while smoothed over, has left you feeling out of kilter. It’s all that stuff that camps in the inner sanctum of our being that causes a vague uneasiness.  On the outside, in the ‘real’ world, we attempt to conform things to the ideal, but inside, there’s chaos.

This was brought home to me this week by two unconnected events. A Face Book friend was spending time in an idyllic setting, away from home, in an attempt to re-ignite the writing fire.  At the same time, I began reading The Mystery of Grace by Charles De Lint, an urban fantasy novelist. Both illustrated the point that we don’t deal with interior issues by changing our surroundings. My friend hoped that by substituting an idyllic setting and solitude for the real world, she would sort out the doubts and write freely. Charles De Lint’s characters realise that “wherever you go, you take yourself with you. That’s the way it is when you’re alive, and it doesn’t change after you’re dead….Our baggage stays with us until we deal with it.”  

My friend has recourse to God and a higher reality, while De Lint’s main character, Grace, is marooned between heaven and hell. Will they discover where they belong? Will they find fulfillment? I’m not worried about my friend, but if you’ll excuse me, I must finish the book and find out about Grace.

Friday, 9 November 2012


Today I was guilty of committing an un-natural act.  I found myself in the Fantasy section of my local library, which was not only un-natural, but downright scary.  I gazed at shelf after interminable shelf, mesmerised by little yellow dots on thousands of spines the titles of which had mostly to do with dragons and mazes and quests. Can there truly be this many fantasy writers in the world all writing the same plots? How do they all make a living? Silly question, really.  There must be money in it. There wouldn’t be this many people doing it, otherwise. As with any other genre, however, I reckoned some fantasy writers might be better than others and so I set out on my own quest to find one.  I flicked through the pages of a few examples. Please, there has to be one.

I gave myself an imaginary slap on the side of the head and forced myself to focus. Get a plan of procedure, Arrowhead. That’s my blog name, and for the first time I was wondering why I’d chosen it.  It sounds suspiciously like something a fantasy writer might choose. Have you noticed how many names beginning with ‘A’ feature in fantasy writing?  I killed the thought and concentrated on my action plan. First, I selected a few titles that didn’t actually turn my stomach.  Next, I read the blurbs on the inside front cover flap.  Any mention of Merlin, or witches or vampires, and it went straight back on the shelf.  I read the lists of ‘also written by’. If the author had written in other genres I was encouraged sufficiently to read the first page and if that piqued my interest I was prepared to wade through the rest of it.  And that’s another thing; apparently it’s obligatory for fantasy fiction to be heavier than an old fashioned mobile phone and four times larger.

 I reminded myself why I was doing this.  It had been brought to my notice that the only fantasy I had ever read was the Narnia series – and that was only because I was reading it to my children.  I grew out of fairy stories by the time I was six, was bored rigid by Greek mythology, and never had I seen more than the first 15 minutes in several attempts to watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’. It was suggested I might be missing a link in the writer’s chain of command of language and genre.  

But just two books met my initial selection criteria before my brain fogged and my eyes glazed.  I’m sure there could have been more, but I’d lost the will to live.  I carried home ‘Awakening’ from the Hyddenworld series by William Horwood and ‘The Mystery of Grace’ by Charles De Lint, who is the ‘master of urban fantasy’ according to the back cover. I might need a stiff brandy to get started on either of them.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


In my very first post I included a poem and I said I’d never do it again.  Hand on heart, I meant it. But I'm going to break my promise. This is why.

Last weekend I joined a group of very enthusiastic and creative Young Things at a writing workshop; a workshop the like of which I’d never encountered before.  I kid myself that I may have been invited in the capacity of elder statesman, to contribute words of wisdom re the writing process, perhaps to inspire them to heights I, myself, can only dream of.  The reality is I received much, much more than I contributed.

The format was simple. Following on from a time of free-form singing in praise of the One who is the Word from the beginning (and what a wild time that was!) there were to be several ten minute sessions during which we were invited to relax and listen, soaking in the live sounds of guitars, keyboard and a hand drum. As we listened, images and phrases came dancing into the mind like whispers from infinite space/heaven and soon we were jotting notes of the ideas that flowed. I could only describe it as prophetic writing.  It didn’t ignore the intellect so much as over-ran it, in the manner of a great river rushing to its outlet, sweeping along with it those things that had previously been deposited in its course.

What appeared in my head as the musicians played was a large W.  Not knowing what else to do I began by jotting random words beginning with that letter and because parts of the music sounded bubbly and fluid the first one was ‘water’.  This, not re-worked since, is what I wrote in that first 10 minute session using some of those ‘w’ words.
Vagrant wandering, wasteland waiting,
                                    Just breathing is war, like a wail from a distant train.
                                    Walked into a waterfall, found a well,
                                    Washed me light, like dust dancing.

I feel like I want to engage in the whole process again in order to develop this stanza into a longer piece, but I’m almost scared to try just in case I spoil what I have.  And then I remember something I saw on Face Book recently:  “The essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid”.  So there it is, I will have to give it a go. Dust has to dance.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


What a difference 47 years can make. That many years ago I travelled across the Hay Plain for the first time.  I did it again this week, but not in January and not in an Austin A30.  Pause for raised hands and sound bite of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. This time we travelled in air-conditioned bliss and considerably faster than our old Austin had been capable of.  There was no sign of the hell I remembered. 

My 47 year old memory is of a dead straight road flanked by an occasional skeletal tree poking its deathly limbs into a sky as pale as an over-washed shirt. Nothing moved in the endless paddocks; not an animal or bird, neither farm vehicle nor human being.  On arriving in a township – whether that was Hay, itself, I can’t recall – dehydrated, exhausted and earnestly desiring deliverance from the hellish heat, we spotted an oasis of green behind a weatherboard building.  We hauled ourselves out of the car and collapsed onto the cool grass, flat out like lizards at a dripping tap.

My latest experience of Hay Plains was Paradise by comparison.  Sure, I did spot a farm with ‘Hell’s Gate’ blazoned across the entrance, but it was only a blip in a landscape swathed in a purple haze of Salvation Jane, which sported regular watering holes for drifting cattle and sheep, and which provided the backdrop for many emu, kangaroo and wombat, although I admit, quite a few were road-kill.  And then there was the township of Hay; neat, bustling, proud, with many shops and businesses operating from two storied heritage buildings, each one with its plaque detailing a colourful history of ownership, function and triumph over adversity.

This is not my home territory, but nevertheless I was filled with a sense of pride of place. My land, my people. I was overwhelmed, too, by a fresh appreciation that this land is yet another expression of God’s glorious provision for humanity. 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012


I’ve done it, by George I’ve done it! I submitted my book to a publisher.  It was like leaving one’s first-born at the school gate at start of term. Have I done enough to prepare him for this day? Will people like him? If they don’t, will he survive the experience? Actually, it was much harder than that. Waving off a child to school has undertones of ‘Yippee, freedom!’ (Yeah, yeah, I know I’m an un-natural mother. Love me, love my lack of maternal feeling!) But the freedom bug is never really allowed free rein because it’s all over in a few short hours and after a week you are inured to the delirium of free-flight, anyway.  There’s still the housework to be done, even if it is done quicker without junior underfoot.

Submit a manuscript, however, and you are sentenced to months on a high wire in the circus of the writer’s life.  Have I done enough? Will they like it? If they don’t, will I survive? Is it worth starting another book yet if, after many months, the publisher replies with ‘like this but requires some re-writing’? Should I let the new book idea incubate a little longer and concentrate on short stories until I know one way or the other? It’s exhausting keeping one’s balance on the wire.

I have decided to pretend the book has been accepted, requiring nothing more of me until I face the barrage of cameras and world fame at the celebrity book launch: a harmless fantasy if it allows me to get back to my computer and tackle the next project.  

But I might just indulge in a small siesta first.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


I find myself asking why I read what I read.  This was prompted by being asked to list my ten all-time favourite works of fiction. Was there a common theme running through them, and did this say something about me? In no particular order, I began jotting down titles as they came to mind. I had trouble confining myself to just ten, but there was no doubt as to which book came to mind first.  There it was in scrawled blue biro. Miss Susie Slagle’s.

Miss Susie Slagle’s, by Augusta Tucker, was published in 1940, but I would have read it for the first time around 1958.  I don’t remember how I came by it.  I’m presuming it was brought into the house either by my mother or my older sister. It was part of a number of books deemed too ‘adult’ for me and guaranteed, therefore, to be irresistible, like Dad’s Carter Brown stories, which, incidently, must take responsibility for my life-long enjoyment of crime fiction. 

But back to Miss Susie Slagle’s.  Concerning a group of young medical students lodging in Susie’s boarding house, it was engrossing not only for the depiction of the medical world in 1930’s USA, but also for its wisdom and portrayal of human nature at its most noble and its most base.  Though in no way salacious, it taught me much about the opposite sex - heady stuff to a 12 year old female.  I have no doubt it influenced my view of what a real man is or is not.

While differing in regard to writing style and genre, the books on my list are notable for being character driven.  Primarily, they are about what makes people tick, not about what they do or say, although of course a good writer enables us to decide what people are like by showing us the things they do and the way they do them.  So my own writing was always going to be character driven, I expect.

However, dear blogger, I’ve realised my list says a lot more about me, which is why I’m not saying what the other titles are.  Self-disclosure can go way too far.

Thursday, 13 September 2012


Recently, I was invited to take part in a photo shoot on the theme of the writer’s habitat. The photographer is highly talented, enormously creative, and prone to working with hip young things, so I was being paid a huge compliment. Any right thinking person would have jumped at the opportunity to buy in.  Instead, I ran a metaphorical hundred metre dash in the opposite direction. Failed the first hurdle, dropped the baton. No medal, no purchase, no sale. Clearly, my sanity had been passed in at auction. Sigh.

So what was going on in my head? I’m not photogenic, I’m 10 kilos overweight, which as everyone knows equates to an extra five in a photograph, and I have a chipped tooth, that’s what!  In addition, my writer’s habitat is a perfect shambles at the moment. Not that that would matter if the writer looked halfway decent. I could have donned a French beret and a ton of mascara and dismissed tidiness as impossibly ordinary behaviour unbecoming to a serious writer.

It took nearly a week to deal with the self-hating, insecure teenager, who had emerged in my otherwise mature head. The truth is, I actually like myself and the person I have grown into. I’m comfortable with who I am. But it has been a process of years to accept the packaging Creator God gave me; to accept that He deems ‘good’ what He made and loves what He sees. I just didn’t believe it enough. Not enough to submit to a series of photographs, anyway.  So I have been taking stock.  I wouldn’t dream of despising the physical imperfections of any of God’s other creations - all His works are wonderful ‘and that my inner self knows right well’ as Psalm 139 puts it – despite how society might shun, ignore or pity them.  To despise the packaging I am in, is to despise the Designer.  God forbid.

The same Psalm records that our bodies were ‘formed in secret, intricately and curiously wrought as if embroidered with various colours’.  On my way to my seventh decade, I intend to re-imagine the image I have long held of myself.   I rather like the imagery of myself as colourful embroidery!

Saturday, 8 September 2012


Even as a child I had a sense of the privilege and authority in naming. I gave a lot of thought to the naming of my pets. When the same privilege was afforded to my children they knew better than to settle for ‘Fluffy’ or ‘Spot’. Our dog was named ‘Gumption’, and a succession of cats have answered to ‘Cobber’, ‘Gypsy’, ‘Yum Yum’, ‘Miss Moneypenny’, ‘Boris’ and ‘Gellis’, to name just a few. When I learnt from scripture that God the creator gave naming rights to human beings, I understood why it has always been important to me.

It was Shakespeare who said a rose’s perfume would be stunning regardless of the name given it. He’s right of course. But does the same maxim apply to personal names? I have just finished reading a book that suggests the inherent meaning of our name is not always reflected in our lives; that a mangling of meaning over time plus interference in our emotional and spiritual backgrounds can result in a schism between identity and destiny.

I spent a lot of time searching for the meaning of my own name, consulting dozens of name books without success over the years. I could never quite accept that a red-headed actress beloved of my mother, an avid film buff, was the rationale for my own name.  In retrospect, I can only be grateful I wasn’t the son my parents hoped for. In recent years I have located well-researched name meanings – thank the Lord for Google, I say - and am amazed at how apt both my given names are. But my husband’s name is an example of how the original, and accurate, meaning can be corrupted over time.  There is no way he fits the ‘usurper, deceiver’ tag usually attached to ‘James’ in the mistaken belief that it comes from ‘Jacob’. No, James belongs to ‘Jamin’, as in ‘my right hand’, with connotations of integrity, reliability and aptitude as a great second in command.

God’s Poetry, written by mathematician and dedicated researcher, Anne Hamilton, persuades me that our names are gifts embodying a divine destiny. It is a notion that sits comfortably with me. 

Friday, 7 September 2012


I attempted to answer this question from a fellow blogger recently.  I say attempted because a window appeared saying I hadn’t copied the garbled letters correctly and refused to accept my comments.  In fact the more times I tried, the harder it became to actually decipher what came up in the ‘prove you’re not a robot’ window. I gave up. I feel badly about this. Bloggers deserve to be rewarded with comments.  It is the unalienable right of wordsmiths everywhere.  Of course it’s preferable that said feedback be stimulating and complimentary, even congratulatory, but on occasions it may be necessary to apply the blog equivalent of anti-bacterial sheep dip to the foul mouthed bleating you’ve just read.  

But I digress.  Why do I blog?  I want to say it’s because my technologically savvy daughter insisted I learn how, but because I’m incorrigibly and incurably honest (inculcated in childhood) I have to ‘fess up.  Writing is cousin to those other forms of social interaction - speaking and acting- and, like them, it requires, nay craves, an audience. We like to say we just have to write or we’ll curl up and die, but really it’s all about ego and/or exhibitionism. The writing variety is more subtle than the other two of course because you get it all out and off your chest without scripted or unplanned for interruptions.  We never know when the reader has muttered ‘Bah, humbug’ and hit the exit button.  Just as well. Writers are sensitive souls.

So, to return to where I began, I will seek instruction on how to successfully post comments and compliments to fellow bloggers.  And grovel for a few in return. Did I mention it’s Be Kind to Writers Week?

Friday, 31 August 2012


This week I attended an expo for people involved in the creative arts.  In God’s Company was aimed primarily at artists, writers, musicians, photographers and dancers who are also followers of Jesus. I’m still on a high.

I’m aware that creative arts have so often been given lip service in some branches of the church; relegated to the sidelines in favour of more conventionally ‘useful’ activities such as teaching, evangelising or counselling. While such activities may indeed be useful, worthy and God-breathed, they are by no means expressive of the full range of ways God demonstrates His goodness. Because there are many who have never been affirmed and encouraged in their giftings, there were a few tears of healing at IGC, but overall the atmosphere was electric with a delicious freedom to release and cross-pollinate ideas.

The workshops were conducted by teachers who combine the pursuit of excellence with a passionate desire to glorify the King of the Universe, the author of all creativity. This was heady stuff for me.  My previous teachers (all of whom were very experienced, knowledgeable and really good at what they did) were inclined to dismiss the very notion of God, let alone that creative abilities are gifts from Him, that it pleasures Him to watch us using them, and that it’s an expression of our love for Him.  I drove home each day with a big grin on my face. 

It’s so easy to experience God’s presence and pleasure when you’re doing what He designed you to do! It sure beats just doing what you ‘oughta and shoulda’.  

Friday, 24 August 2012


All this cold, wet weather is making me very couch-potato-ish. When the necessary chores are done, a good book, an old black and white movie and the heater going full bore, are some of my chill outs of choice (should that be, ‘warm ins’?). Another one is Scrabble, but there’s no other person in the house who will play word games, so I play Facebook Scrabble. Actually, I much prefer the variation on Scrabble called Take Two, but there still must  be the minimum two players. And it’s not yet available on Facebook. Bummer.

For the uninitiated, let me explain the difference between Scrabble and Take Two. Scrabble is all about making the biggest score. You don’t actually have to have a great vocabulary or even an enjoyment of language.  It’s all about winning. It’s possible to achieve a winning score with three-letter words strategically placed on triple word squares. It helps if you use obscure words containing X, Z or Q, which of course requires an encyclopaedic memory because the rules prevent you from consulting the lists in your Scrabble dictionary during the game. You can also gain big scores by constipating the board with words run parallel (either vertical or horizontal) to existing words. This should be named Diarrhea Scrabble. Because that’s what it does. Believe me.

Take Two isn’t played on a shared board.  Each player makes her own individual crossword puzzle. To this end, you can freely dismantle words to make new ones as you pick up new tiles. For example, you may have made ‘acquire’ to start with, but yearn to make ‘acquisition’ when you later find yourself with an overabundance of I’s.  Each player finishes her turn by calling ‘take two’ (tiles) and the game is ended when all tiles are used. The ‘winner’, if there must be one, is the player who finishes first. The beauty of this is that a nine year old could, in theory, defeat a Stephen Fry. It's hilarious when the nine year old is shouting 'take two' every minute and Stephen Fry is still happily working on his 25 letter masterpiece. Take Two is a great leveller and therefore an ideal family game.

But enough of this. If only my Facebook friends would stop gardening or whatever and join me on the potato couch…

Thursday, 23 August 2012


“What? You swallowed a dictionary or something?” I don’t know how many times I was asked that question when I was at school.  Somewhat in the manner of young Joseph flashing his many-coloured coat I was probably unwise to use my precocious vocabulary in front of my classmates. Like Joseph’s brothers, it really got up their noses. Sure, the question was rhetorical and said with an accompanying laugh, but it often sounded like a put down.

So for many years I deliberately dumbed down and used words of one syllable wherever possible. With changes in life experience I met people with unselfconscious, unstunted vocabularies. On hearing a new word I either ask the meaning or make a note in the ubiquitous jotter that travels in my handbag and consult the dictionary later.  With the confidence that comes with age I'm less concerned with what people think and now I, too, use the words that live in my head.  But wouldn’t you know it, I still get that old put down from many adults. To compensate for ignorance they invariably decide attack is the best form of defence, conscript support from bystanders and come in with all guns blazing; “Ho ho, you swallowed a dictionary?”

These days I just have a good laugh with them, and silently marvel.  Some people will never know how sweet a dictionary tastes!

Thursday, 16 August 2012


According to Google, ‘windows of the soul’ is attributed to no one in particular, being simply a traditional English phrase. The French have a similarly worded phrase, ‘the eyes are the mirror of the soul’, equally old and traditional.

What had sparked my interest in sourcing the phrase is the work a psychiatric nurse has been doing with long term institutionalised mental patients. She is a follower of Jesus Christ but the facility she works in does not permit her to speak of His love or His power to heal. While working with a severely delusional man she began to engage him in uninterrupted eye contact for about 15 seconds, during which time she quietly refuted his specific delusions and spoke encouragement directly to the deepest part of being, his spirit. He became quiet and reasonable and remained so between sessions. She had found a way to communicate with the man he really was – in his spirit, not his mind.  What was even more remarkable was that in the following months he occasionally would approach her at the nurses’ station and lean forward for eye contact, saying, ‘I just need to look awhile’.  His spirit had begun to recognise when it needed a bit of encouragement.

All of this reminded me how valuable eye contact is in ordinary life.  Giving someone your true attention with eye contact is so affirming. It says, ‘You are valuable as a person. You are worth noticing’. It is information conveyed at the most primary level of our need for affirmation and it is information received and welcomed regardless of the depth of conversation that accompanies it.  The eyes have it.

Sunday, 12 August 2012


Mark Applebaum, the mad scientist of music, says boredom is good. His argument is that it can push you into taking roles and having experiences you wouldn’t otherwise attempt. On hearing what Applebaum does with experimental sound many people – and I ‘m one of them - ask, ‘This is amusing, but is it music?’ His answer is, ‘You should not be asking, is it music, but is it interesting?’  He has a point.  I suppose. I’m still wondering about that. But it did get me thinking about how it might relate to being a writer.

Firstly, the boredom bit.  In my case I don’t get bored when I’m writing. I might get frustrated with my inability to find just the right word, the pithy phrase, the knock-‘em-dead start/ending/climactic moment for my story, but that’s not boredom. Boredom results from jadedness about what you are doing. That says more to me about the ineffectiveness of any form of ‘doing’ to satisfy the inner person; the futility of finding one’s identity in what you ‘do’.

Applebaum’s second point had me questioning whether or not a piece of writing should be good or merely interesting. How on earth can you separate the two? It doesn’t matter how innovative or unusual the premise/plot/setting/ may be, If the writing is poor none of those factors will impress the reader for very long.  A certain novel with ‘grey’ in the title springs to mind.  Applebaum’s tongue in cheek performances make for amusing theatre, but is it enjoyable music? Could you bear to hear it more than once? In the same way bizarre or titillating writing may have shock value, but if it’s bad writing it won’t stand the test of time. 

The fact is, if a book is well written it is also more likely to be interesting, keeping the reader fully engaged with both plot and characters and becoming one of those to be read again and again. When a writer is more interested in shocking or titillating the reader at the expense of fully developed characters and depth of language  the writing soon becomes – dare I say it – boring.  That sort of boredom certainly prompts me to experience something better to read.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

My favourite book is 53 years old. It’s a bit tatty having been thumbed through, pored over, underlined and dog-eared.  It was a gift from my English teacher in second year high school, who, desiring to reward me for some excellent work, had told me to select any book of my choice at a particular book shop. I came home with a paperback copy of Roget’s Thesaurus.  It has been carried in satchels, briefcases and handbags and packed and unpacked during numerous house moves.  It went with me to England for six years when many other titles were reluctantly culled. It even survived, albeit charred, smelly and minus a front cover, a workplace fire in 2007. It has been indispensable as a student, teacher, parent and now, writer. It's worth its weight in gold.

It is a tool of trade, but not merely so. A dictionary is a tool. A telephone directory is a tool. A thesaurus is fun. As a trainee teacher I once introduced it to a class of young adults who had severely undernourished vocabularies.  Their writing and speech was full of the word ‘nice’.  The poor, wretched word was used to describe any pleasing thing or emotion and it got a sweat and grunt workout every time I asked the question, “So why do you like such-and-such?” I borrowed thesauruses from everywhere, enough for everyone, gave instructions on how to use it, and set my students to replacing ‘nice’ in a set of example sentences. To my surprise and delight they completed the exercise and spontaneously went on to repeat the process in examples of their own written work.  There was a buzz of discovery as they critiqued each other, selecting replacements for many over-worked words and consulting dictionary meanings for hitherto un-heard of examples. They had discovered that words could be fun, that language could be played with.

I bought myself a new thesaurus to replace the fire-damaged one, but I don’t use it. Quite apart from the different layout, which doesn’t please me, it’s pages don’t contain the memories of discovered joys.  So I cobbled together a new front board for the old one and covered the whole with shiny gold, self-adhesive plastic. Its weight is now ‘gold-plated’- sort of!

Friday, 10 August 2012


I do a lot of mental meandering, especially when I should be asleep. I even wrote a poem about it, once. Don’t panic, this is probably the only poem that will ever appear on my blog, unless someone else writes it.

There are no signposts in my head
Just vast, uncharted plains.
No dwelling places, no oases,
Merely tasks meandering,
Rising, crossing and dissolving,
Ideas revolving on themselves.
Doubts, perceptive in the mind,
Journey on to innerspace.
There are no streetlights in my head
Just deep unlighted lanes,
Dead ends for brave imagining.
Craters darkly deep
And lonely satellites of dreaming
Hurtle into orbit
Claimed by territories of sleep.

The thing is, I can think all I like, but unless I start scribing those ideas I’ll never be the writer I want to be.  So I’m going to dream and think and describe and proscribe, every which way I can. I will scribe until I die.