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persistence & precipitation

Great news on New Matilda!

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I just spent a fantastic week at Varuna in the company of seven other writers, writing all day and talking about short stories all evening. If i ever start to forget how lucky i am to be doing the thing that i love, Varuna is a great place to be reminded of it. The big old house at the bottom of Cascade Street is positively brimming with creativity and fine conversation. I was there almost two years ago, when the Diamond Anchor came out. This time I stayed not in the house but in a b&b down the road, with canopied four-poster beds, paintings of grouse, awkward family dynamics, excessive English politeness, and what i am told was a Chesterfield sofa. A great eccentric mountains setting which happily lacked the temptations of Varuna’s library.

I was working on a few short stories up there at Story Camp, mostly ideas from my time in China, but a couple of other, quirkier ones as well. I am trying hard to get away from the temptations of excessive realism in my work. Knowing how to make things make sense can be dangerous. Have been thinking a great deal in terms of kites and flight, of writing which lifts off the ground.

In some ways this has been a difficult year creatively. I have had fantastic opportunities to stretch myself, experiment, and learn, which I am very grateful for. But I had to make those happen for myself, because Gone really wore me out.

I’ve described the exhaustion I felt after writing it as hitting the bottom of the well. But perhaps the book itself provides a better metaphor: Gone opens with an image of a boy climbing down into a drained water tank. The dark interior place he’s in gives you an idea of where the book goes, but it’s also a fair analogy for the hollowed-out feeling I had for most of 2010. Every creative act felt like it had to be scratched from the mud at the bottom of the tank.

A week of writing together with such strong voices and minds was like a droughtbreaker thundering down, the gutters overflowing, the frogs waking up and singing – a flash flood of ideas which I’ll be drinking from all summer.

Come to think of it, I have never seen Wentworth Falls so full and thunderous.

My sincere thanks to all of the participants: Adrienne Ferreira, Boris Kelly, Joanne Riccioni, Julie Gittus – names to watch, people!! – to Robin Hemley and Cate Kennedy for their wonderful generosity and endless reference points and anecdotes, and to Peter Bishop, whose good humour and enthusiasm for writing runneth over. After all of your stimulating conversation I am beginning to feel full up with work to do again, and even beginning to think that i know how to do it.

I am sure the work will disabuse me of the latter illusion in no time, and return me to the hard ground of human failure. Failure is good. Fail better, as Beckett said. But keep trying for lift-off. Often, particularly in the face of financial stresses and yet another housing crisis, it is enough just to be encouraged to keep going. Persistence, as my publisher once told me, is far more important than raw talent.

In all the excitement of heading up the mountains, i missed this fine review of New Australian Stories 2 which gives special mention to my story Moth. Scifi? Sure, why not. If you are stuck for a Christmas present idea, it’s an excellent anthology.

And one more thing on writing: i am very much enjoying Five Writers Talk About Their Editors. Would love to see “Five Editors Talk About Their Writers” next!