2011 sucked. Bring on 2012.

We’re one hinge swing away from 2012, and like all human mammals I find myself reflecting on my year. 2011 had some awesome moments, but I have to admit, dear reader, that they were sometimes cold comfort as I got used to a whole new way of being in the world. The reason, which I have hinted at here but never fully explained (being an old-fashioned girl who remembers the concept of privacy), was the breakdown of my marriage after 20 years together and the subsequent recalibration of my motherly duties to two young children. I had incredibly favourable circumstances in this regard, being financially independent and being able to remain on good terms with the kids’ dad, but it still sucked all of the joy and industry out of me. I have never been so tired, so sick, so lazy, nor so self-absorbed. The year whooshed past my ears at supersonic speed, and all I have now are the tinny echoes.

And yet, hope blooms again. Other wonderful things, both personal and professional, are already coming to be. I realise now that if you are lucky enough to live a long life, you can’t avoid bad shit happening. It’s a simple mathematical equation: the longer you are out here, the greater the chance that one of those ill winds is going to blow you no good. I am in my forties; I was probably due. And then, because I’m still out here, more fair winds may yet come my way. Damn I’m grateful to still be out here. So grateful.

So here’s to all the shit, because if you put shit on your garden it might stink for a while; but then your flowers bloom in vibrant colours.

The Darnedest Things

I have nothing of interest to offer you from my own thoughts, but my kids have been saying pretty funny stuff lately so, even though it’s lazy and possibly lame, I’m plagiarising it wholesale.

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Luka (7): Astrid won’t kiss me!
Astrid (3): Your kisses are too wet!
Luka: I will kiss you dry as a wilted leaf!

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Small obnoxious girl: I’m Emmelina Ballerina
Astrid: I’m Astrid the Viking

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Astrid (after playing with a dead moth for 3 hours): Mummeeee! I brokeded my moth!

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Luka (to the spider in the web above our car): I’m watching you, with your black coat and your eight legs and your many many eyes.

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And my favourite:

Luka (bursting into the bathroom while I’m in the shower): Excuse me, but it’s an emergency. My new invention needs much more toilet paper.

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Go on, share yours.

The future of… well, everything…

So, I completely rooted my back.* I would like to be able to say that I did it in a glamorous extreme-sport way: perhaps heli-skiing or white-water rafting. But, no, I did it through hours upon hours of doing what I’m doing right now: sitting at a computer writing. Okay, so I’m a writer, both here and at the uni. But I don’t think it was writing novels and research papers that did this to me. I think what did this to me was the expectation that I must keep up with all this newfangled technology.

For the last 9 days, I haven’t been on the computer except once a day to check for important emails. And I’ve got to say, it’s been bliss. The endless stream of Facebook notifications dried up. I simply ignored the vast amounts of email that come through the various email lists and RSS feeds I am on. I picked up the phone and spoke to my bestie rather than Skyping her (she’s well, thanks for asking). If I wanted a cup of tea, I went downstairs and made it myself rather than instant messaging my husband (okay, that’s a lie; I just shouted for him to make me tea: it was classy). Oh me, oh my, it was bliss! There have been days in the past where I’ve been sitting at my desk at uni, trying to write a paper, and all I can hear is a symphony of beeps and buzzes as everything notifies me it’s arriving: Thunderbird, Skype, Google Talk, texts or emails on my Blackberry. Insanity. My attention is so divided. I start a thought and don’t finish it. So this week has been quiet, and I’ve felt a strange calm creep over me. If I see an email on a list come through, I don’t feel the urge immediately to wade in and offer my opinion on everything.

I recognise the irony of saying all this on a blog, and this is the strange impasse I have reached. There is so much that is good about the way that we connect with each other now. I love that I have found old friends on Facebook. From a purely practical perspective, the interwebz allows me to promote myself and build a market as a writer. I love doing writers’ races and being in constant dialogue with my writing friends: my bestie, my manuscript group, my stablemates at the literary agency, and so on: writers can feel isolated at times. But writing used to be different for me. It was quieter. It was early in the morning, with nobody around and a hot cup of tea. It was a special place I went alone. And then I just handed it over to my agent and got on with the next one. I am going to say, definitively, that the day my writing computer got hooked up to the interwebz, was the day my productivity dropped. I write in a distracted way now. I can’t seem to focus anymore. I’m too busy being a writer to write properly.

The wonderful thing about any kind of illness or injury is that it gives you an opportunity to take stock, and I realise that I really have to think about how I write. I don’t have a great deal of willpower (though I stopped biting my nails this year for the first time in my life–yayz!); so saying I will try to use Web 2.0 technology “moderately” may not work for me. Also, I don’t want to be one of those writers who only blogs or appears on Facebook when I have something to sell my “friends”. But at the same time, I’ve always found it borderline uncomfortable posting my opinions in public as though I think they’re all that. Besides, I should be using that energy on my novel, which, it must be said, is getting written very slowly. My agent told me recently that she’s seen a noticeable drop in the quality of manuscripts submitted to her since the advent and mass uptake of Web 2.0 technology. I can imagine why: our writing is spread too thin, just as we are.

Over the coming weeks, in the limited bursts I can actually sit at the computer, I’m going to try and find that still pool that I used to write in. I miss it. I’m not ignoring you, I’m just going to stop ignoring me.

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*Note: please don’t send me suggestions of ways to fix my back. I’m seeing a great health professional and I’m very happy with the progress.

Where have you been all my life?

MISTY_MOUNDSFalling in love with a new book is a billion different kinds of magic. I have cracked open that door and got my foot in the world and, even though I’m still suffering through the usual challenges, I have a lovely sense of rightness that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I’m basing many of my ideas for this book on Anglo-Saxon England, and one thing I’m really getting caught up in at the moment is the poetry of the time. You must understand, I had my first exposure to Anglo-Saxon poetry (sometimes called Old English poetry) 12 or 13 years ago in my undergraduate medieval studies minor. At the time, my response was “meh”. I mean, I liked Beowulf (there are monsters: what’s not to like?). But in general it seemed a little plain, even mundane. Then, while doing my master’s, I was part of an Anglo-Saxon reading group who spent months translating parts of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle and The Battle of Maldon. Again, meh.

So imagine my surprise, on revisiting it this time, to find all the meh gone. Where I thought there was kind of a detached bluntness, I now found a weighty strangeness. The split alliterative line… oh, my! What drama and measure there is in it! Discovering the beauty in it is like having a platonic relationship with someone your whole life, then suddenly looking at them and realising they are made of awesome. And falling hard, hard, hard in love. At the moment, my favourite poem is The Wanderer (click here if you want to hear it read to you in Anglo-Saxon). I must have read it ten times this week alone. Tolkien fans my recognise the adapted lines from it: “Where is the horse and where the rider?” (Aragorn sings it in The Two Towers, Theoden says it in the movie version).

So what is a girl loved up on Anglo-Saxon culture to do? Well, head off to England of course! I am dragging my family off to face a northern winter and investigate various sites and monuments (that’s the Sutton Hoo mounds in the picture). Oh, the kids are going to love it. That was irony.

Bump!

It is time for me to sweep away the negativity and sweariness from the front page of my blog, and talk about something positive. I’ve had a few batches of new students in the past couple of weeks: a new Year of the Novel group, a new Year of the Edit group, and two new courses at uni. It’s been so lovely to talk to them about writing. Together we’ve discussed inspiration, creativity, best times of the day to write, responsibility to the story, and ideas, ideas, ideas. It constantly amazes me that I’ve taught so many people over the last seven years, and yet each one of them has something unique to express. Even if they sometimes write about similar things, the stories always come out so differently, and I always get a little thrill of excitement when somebody tells me what it is they want to write during a course.

Sometimes teaching makes me weary, but I don’t think that I could actually give it up now. I’m quite addicted to it. I feel a bit like a midwife, sometimes, and it is quite an honour to be present at the birth of something new and so passionately loved. Of course it isn’t possible to stay in touch with everyone after a course, or help everyone develop their MS to publication (I apply the rule of Mum before I take on any work mentoring: if I haven’t seen my Mum for a week, then I’m too busy), but it’s nice to have had each student in my life however briefly. A little spark for my engines.

I am going to finish this damn book

I have 20 000 words left to write (hit 100K yesterday morning at 6.25am), and I am damn well going to finish the book this week even if it kills me. And it might. I have a virus and have lost my voice (this is irritating, as I can’t rouse at my children and they are incredibly naughty most of the time) and I have a big pile of marking to do at work.

Some people compare writing a novel to giving birth. I usually roll my eyes when this happens, especially when men say it, because unless you’re squeezing a hardcover out your left nostril the comparison is flawed. But this close to the end of the process, there is the same kind of awful momentum, the same irresistible compulsion to get something outside yourself that has been growing within for a long time. I have lost the world; there is only the story. My family talk to me and all I hear is “bwah bwah bwah” like the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons. My brain is finding the ends of threads and pulling them together, tying them, untying them, retying them different ways. I shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

I’m in a scary place for other reasons, too. Five years ago, after I wrote Rosa and the Veil of Gold, I took a sabbatical from writing adult fantasy because I felt I’d said all I had to say in that genre. So I’ve been busy doing young adult books, and children’s books, and Kimberley Freeman books. But now I’m being called. No other way to describe it. I’m not a mystical new-agey pan-flutey person in any way at all. But I am being called, and I’ve got a story waiting just at the edge of my consciousness. I can feel it, but I’m terrified to write it. What if I can’t anymore? What if it’s not a grand idea and just a piece of silly nonsense with shouty characters? What if none of it matters to anyone ever in the history of anything?

I guess I’ll just write it anyway.

The best laid plans of desperate novelists…

I am at home. I am not in Tasmania, where I was supposed to be. Instead, I am stealing a few minutes while the children watch a Yo Gabba Gabba DVD, to catch my thoughts.

Astrid came down midway through the week with a violent gastro bug, and Mirko and I have been cleaning up vomit and diarrhoea pretty much around the clock for a few nights (they are all starting to blur into each other, so don’t ask me to be any more precise than that). She was certainly not fit to travel, so we have cancelled the whole trip. (Can I just say that I was mightily impressed by Virgin Blue who bent the rules to save us losing our entire fare, and to Europcar and Curringa Farmstay, who were so bloody understanding and didn’t charge us any cancellation fees whatsoever: so rare for companies to show such good will). The cancelled trip means that my crucial research will not get done; this means that my plans for my novel are in turmoil.

Between bouts of irrational fury (for surely it was some careless parent who sent their still-sick child to daycare who is to blame for my work being disrupted) and teary despair (now the book will never get written), there is one hugely important lesson in this for me. I have a sick little zombie girl, who’s all floppy and still, and all that matters is that she gets better on her own time, with lots of cuddles and love (and a mattress on the floor in front of the television). My current predicament is the embodiment of those wise words by Stephen King in On Writing: life is not a support system for art; it’s the other way around.

Workwise, I’ll try to turn this week into a positive. Ordinarily it’s impossible for me to write out of order, but perhaps I’ll just have to do that, and save the scenes that need the most research until a time when I can get away to Tassie. I’ve pulled out my notebook, and I’m going to break the story down, scene by scene, and see if I can set myself the goal of writing 15000 words this week (thus reaching 40000) by just plugging away with what I can do, rather than moaning about what I can’t.

I can hear a little squeaky laugh from the other room; she’s getting better. What is there to be miserable about?