On Writing

Writers, editors, agents, publishers and more share their thoughts, experiences and stories.

Alone, under the bare branches

of the pomegranate tree,

I feel the weight of these captive women lie heavily on me. 

Travelling alone is different from living alone. When you live alone, it’s easy to run away from social contact. You retreat to your cave and roll a stone across the entrance. When you travel alone, your solitary state is a magnet. It’s almost impossible not to attract like-minded travellers, or locals who want to share some knowledge. 

I have a picture of me sitting on the front steps of the ‘gîte’. Red geraniums cascade over deep pots and ivy climbs the stone wall behind me. My face is transformed by a smile which says I-can’t-believe-I’m-here. My husband has taken this photo minutes after arriving at Le Petit Village, in Fulvy. We are here with our children for a week of relaxation and post-Euro Disney quiet. 

It’s a gorgeous day to touch the sky.

In Brazil we put the contents of a small flower shop in our wigs so we can toss pretty relics for grandmothers to turn over in their hands after we have gone. The gig is in an enormous field where they fly kites across the road from the lucky people’s houses. You can tell they are the lucky people because of the broken glass lining the edge of their fences. 

I begin every talk I ever give – no matter what the subject – by telling people they need to have something worth selling. It applies to agents, publishers, and authors. The best description of something worth selling is: a good story, well told. This applies to fiction, narrative non-fiction and children’s books.

‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.’ – Marcel Proust 

Indiana Jones burst onto screens when I was a young kid and the film changed the direction of my life forever. No longer was I satisfied with stories set in worlds I knew, I now longed to discover cultures and destinations that captured my imagination and came to life as if they were supporting characters in a story. History, legends, descriptions of aromas and food I’d never smelt or tasted, details of narrow backstreets in ancient cities, languages that rolled off the speaker’s tongue but were foreign to my ears. I wanted all of it.

The first time it happened, I was writing in my studio. I heard it a split second before I felt the roof shake: a low rumble from somewhere above me. I grabbed a pen – my weapon of choice, apparently – and stood up. Did Icelanders have an avalanche warning the way we had bushfire sirens back in Australia? And then a mass of snow rushed from the gutters and hit the ground below. 

1st September 2009

Dear A or ‘Bastard Darcy’,

A: Oh god! She’s written me a letter. Bitch, please! What does she think this is? A Jane Austen novel? I am by no means her Mr Darcy and she is no Elizabeth Bennett. Does she expect me to write back? Jesus, I hope not. Is there a return address? No? Good, I can just send a generic text message. Something like, ‘Hey girl, thanks for the letter. It was . . . descriptive.’ Good, that should do it.

‘Being on top of a branch of a tree,’ is a way of expressing how travellers conduct themselves whenever they land in a new environment. They always have to be cautious of their moves, otherwise they might easily fall down and hurt themselves. Watching their moves and steps would always help them hang safely, as long as they will wish to stay happily, on their preferable ‘branch of tree’.