It's a funny old job, being a writer.
Sometimes it's like flying; sometimes like pulling teeth. Sometimes it's like playing an endless game of "let's pretend". And sometimes it's like trying to put together a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle -- disturb one piece and the whole edifice comes crashing down.
Little do editors and other commentators realise the havoc they can wreak with their helpful suggestions. Recently one reader of my WIP suggested setting the action in a real small town in central Victoria which spookily matches the description of the fictional village in the manuscript. Great idea, embedding the story firmly in a real landscape (which is an important element of the book).
But -- if they live in X, why doesn't my protagonist go to the real high school there? Why doesn't her mother work at the real hospital in town, instead of miles away? The nearest regional centre is now an hour and a half away, rather than the conveniently fuzzy "about an hour" of the (fictional) big town in the original version. There's a real footy club, with its own colours and rivalries, different from the ones I invented. Where is the war memorial in this town? Where is the football ground? Every time my protagonist goes for a walk, I have to adjust my mental geography.
It's a fine line between adhering to reality and letting the edges blur, and everyone draws that line in a different place. I have no problem creating a fictional family to be the stalwarts of the footy club or the major landowners of the district, nor with shifting trees and even lakes around to suit my story, but it nags at me that Sadie's bus ride to school is now way too long. I think I might send her to the local school after all. But then I need to invent a plausible reason for her to meet her mum in the big town... And that conversation in chapter 7 doesn't make sense any more... But if I change that, I have to change that scene in the restaurant...
And the dominoes topple, one by one. You just have to have faith that when you've patiently picked them all up and fitted them back together, it makes something better than what you started with.
PS If you're interested, there is a thoughtful discussion of Winter of Grace here. Thank you, Lizbee.
Today might have been my grandmother's 105th birthday (there was some confusion about whether her birthdate was actually the 16th or 17th June).
Doris Alice McCulloch was tiny, tough and stubborn. Having survived the Depression, she abhored waste; she kept a basket of half-dead batteries near her radio and rotated them, eking out the last spark of life in each rather than throw it away. She re-used teabags. Before her marriage, in the 1920s, she worked in the rag trade in Flinders Lane, and sometimes used to model the clothes for clients. (Maybe she modelled some of Phryne Fisher's fabulous outfits?) She was a keen amateur actor; she won elocution prizes, performed radio plays and toured country towns with a drama troupe.
At 80, Nana moved into a granny flat attached to my parents' house just as I was moving out. I picked up her armchairs, some saucepans, an antique stove-top coffee-maker (later broken by a careless housemate who didn't even have the decency to confess his crime).
I still have some relics of Nana: her sewing basket, complete with wooden darning mushroom; a china jug; an elocution medal; a book of household remedies called "Consult Me For Everything You Want To Know." But this week, I broke the knob off the lid of Nana's old saucepan that I've been using for the past 25 years, and I felt sad -- one of the last links to my grandmother is about to disappear from my daily life.
But then Alice came down from the attic brandishing a fur hat. "Can I wear this?" The same question I asked Nana when I rescued it from the top of her wardrobe as an 18 year old.
From hand to hand, down the generations, things pass on. Not the things you expect, not jewels or furniture or works of art -- what survives is a funny old hat, a vanity case, a darning mushroom. And I wonder what objects of mine my own grandchildren might end up with?
Happy birthday, Nana. Alice looks great in your hat.
It's almost Evie's birthday, which means it's also almost the anniversary of us moving into this house. We moved in a few days before Evie was born (two weeks early, impatient as always to wriggle into the middle of things).
That was nearly six years ago. By the end of this year, barring catastrophes, I will have lived in this house longer than anywhere else in my entire life.
The previous record is held by my parents' home in Upper Ferntree Gully, where I lived from the middle of Grade 6 till the end of high school; six and a half years. After I started uni, I never lived there again, though it was always my safety net (and emergency storage facility -- sorry Mum and Dad!)
Third place goes to the little dark house in Budd St, Collingwood, which I shared very happily and harmoniously with Robert and the cat (happily, that is, until the very end when it all turned rather messy -- sorry, Robert.) I find it hard to believe now that I lived quite contentedly for six years in a house with almost no external light source, but there you go, it's true.
Six plus six plus six is eighteen, which leaves 25 years of shiftless gypsy roaming. I have a suspicion my restless days are over; this one feels like a keeper.
THE PROUST QUESTIONNAIRE
What is your most marked characteristic?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
To play a straight bat
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
When they confide in me
What do you most value in your friends?
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is your favorite occupation?
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Second hand books and lots of em
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
As a parent, you are only as happy as your most unhappy child
In which country would you like to live?
Australia, but with holidays in Scotland, Italy & France and places I haven't been yet
Who are your favorite writers?
All my friends of course, and today: Nancy Mitford, Helen Garner, and Patricia Wrightson
Who are your favorite poets?
I don't do poetry
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, Tristan Farnon OH DEAR
Who is your favorite heroine of fiction?
Rosamund Stacey, The Millstone
Who are your favorite composers?
Christine McCombe, Jane Siberry
Who are your favorite painters?
Sandra Eterovic, First Dog on the Moon
What are your favorite names?
Der, Alice and Evie of course.
What is it that you most dislike?
Which talent would you most like to have?
To be able to sing and draw, preferably at the same time
How would you like to die?
In my sleep, knowing the world is safe and my family are all happy, and many many years from now
What is your current state of mind?
Astonished by the number of breweries in Australia (don't ask); very excited to have found a book of Joan Aiken's short stories today (All But A Few)
What is your motto?
Okay, your turn.