Category Archives: Author Talks

Working Class Boy-Jimmy Barnes.

This morning, I finally finished reading Jimmy Barnes’s harrowing memoir: Working Class Boy. As much as I could write about the book, Jimmy Barnes summed up his reasons for writing the book so well:

“I want people to read this because I know there are other people out there, just like me. People who think they’re alone in life and that their cards have been dealt and that there is nothing they can do to change anything. That’s how I felt too for a long, long time. I nearly killed myself because of it. But now I know there’s always time for change and there’s always a better path. You just have to look for it.

This book was my first real step in looking for hope.

Peace and love

Jimmy”[1]

In many ways, Working Class Boy echoes Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and it has been a great read with meaningful insights on living with adversity. Jimmy’s world was brutal. Not that he throws blame. It was what it was and he shares that journey with a dark wit and philosophical insight you’d hope for from a songwriter, who releases the cry of the heart through music. Working Class Boy covers the ins and outs of his tough and brutal childhood and is something of a prelude to his second book, which will cover his career.

family-with-jimmy-barnes

Our family meeting Jimmy Barnes at our local bookshop, Book Bazaar.

Jimmy Barnes was born as James Swan on the  28th April 1956 in Cowcaddens, Glasgow, Scotland and went on to find success as the front man for Australian rock band Cold Chisel. From there, he has also had  a very successful career as a solo artist.  He grew up in a violent, impoverished family where his father blew his pay packet on alcohol, leaving his mother scratching to feed the family with whatever she could find. Not that she was an angel.  She could throw a punch along with the best of them and was as tough as nails. He writes:

“Mum was tough, too. Sometimes I think that she thought she was tougher than Dad, which might have been a mistake. When she physically fought with my dad after he came home drunk with no money to feed us, she was the one who wouldn’t back down. She would throw herself at him, hitting him with anything she could get her hands on. Night after night she was the one who ended up battered and bruised on the floor, not him. But she just kept getting up.[2]

She even did childbirth tough:

“I was born in that very kitchen. My granny made my mum scrub the floor with a brush to take her mind of the contractions. It killed two birds with one stone. She didn’t notice the pain as much as she had a clean floor. [3]

In 1962, when Jimmy was 6 years old, his family immigrated to Australia settling in Adelaide. Unfortunately, things for the family didn’t improve with a change of scenery and their battles continued. His mother left his father but finally returned marrying Reg Barnes, the guardian angel who stepped in and loved those children like his own.

Yet, his demons pursued him and he was gripped with fear. He takes us into this space throughout the book but most poignantly in the Prologue:

“From the moment I start to drink, I feel absolutely nothing. When I first started taking drugs and drinking, I found the fear that had filled me since I was small almost disappeared. The fear of not being wanted. The fear of letting my guard down. The fear of letting anyone in. The fear of being found out. The fear of not being worthy. The fear of looking into my own eyes. It was gone. All of it. As long as I stayed smashed.[4]

While the book definitely delves into his dark side, there was also love joy, and family and it wasn’t all bad. There does seem to be a glimmer of hope there somewhere, which may just be the fact we know “Barnsy”not only survived but also had a great career and family. He became a success.

So, the book has a very strong tension between the public success of his music career juxtaposed against a brutal childhood Barnes was blessed to survive. It is probably this tension which gives the book much of its force a long with Barnsy’s down to earth, personable wit. After all, you feel like you’re sitting down having a yarn together as you read his story and get to know the man inside the rock legend.

book-signing-jimmy-barnes

At the book signing.

While I would recommend Working Class Boy to anyone, I would particularly recommend it to men battling with depression or adversity. Despite its horrors, it really is an uplighting story of success against incredible odds…a great Christmas gift.

Have you read Working Class Boy or have a Cold Chisel of Barnsy story? I’d  love to hear from you.

xx Rowena

 References

[1] Jimmy Barnes, Working Class Boy, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2016 p 358.

[2] Ibid p. 11.

[3] Ibid p 13.

[4] Ibid p I.

Jimmy Barnes: What do you Say when you meet a rock legend?

This morning, we rocked into our local bookshop to meet Australian rock legend, Jimmy Barnes,  lead singer of Australian rock band, Cold Chisel. Jimmy’s just recently released his memoir: Working Class Boy. (By the way, as I read those lines out in my head, I’m hearing the voice of Molly Meldrum,  the inimitable host of music show Countdown back in the day.)

So, what do you say when you meet a rock legend and you’re way too old to even think about throwing your underwear anywhere but the dirty clothes basket? When you’re visiting your local bookshop and meeting him as an AUTHOR…a rock legend in a different guise.

I’m not there as a gushing groupie but as a reader who loves his writing and is madly underlining bits throughout his book and loving his writing style as much as his storytelling abilities.

autograph-jimmy-barnes

Indeed, meeting Jimmy Barnes the author is a long way from singing  “cheap wine and a three-day growth” at the top of my lungs at  Schoolies’ Week,  Surfers Paradise back in the Summer of 1987.

Rather, through the book I’m meeting James Swan, the little boy behind the legend. A little boy growing up on the battlefields of Glasgow as a “working class boy”.

To be perfectly honest, while reading his story , compassion was swelling inside my heart wanting to burst its banks.  I wanted to hug that boy, stick a bandaid on his heart and do want mothers do to make their own kids feel better. I also wanted to tell that young boy that it’s going to be okay. That he’s going to find his way out. That despite the war and violence of his childhood, that he will find a place beyond numbing his soul. That while he mightn’t completely escape his battle scars,  that he will find love, family and some kind of peace…along with the trappings of being “Jimmy Barnes” and Cold Chisel.

As he said: “Life’s good…I’m fit, I’m healthy, I’m doing yoga – who would have thought? Yoga and medication … I mean meditation! And the family’s great, Jane’s great. And I think I’m singing better than I’ve ever sung…” https://www.jimmybarnes.com/biography/

Not unsurprisingly, Australian actor and author, Magda Szubanksi described Working Class Boy as: “Viseral, brave, honest: it’s like Angela’s Ashes  meets Trainspotting– only more brutal. A deep, guttural  howl of a book, it speaks of the pain and hurt that haunt so many men. And it may just save lives”.

I sure hope so because I know there are many of us who’ve yearned to feel numb. Stop the unending anguish and feel nothing at all.

Jimmy writes: “When I first started taking drugs and drinking, I found the fear that had filled me since I was small almost disappeared. The fear of not being wanted. The fear of letting my guard down. The fear of letting anyone in. The fear of being found out. The fear of not being worthy. The fear of looking into my own eyes. It was gone. All of it. As long as I stayed smashed. [1]

Reading the book, my heart is breaking. Forget that he grows up to become one Australia’s greatest ever rock legends with legions of fans. He was once a boy battling on the streets of Glasgow where violence was a way of life. Indeed, they lived and breathed violence.

How could anyone survive this?

I know what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger but hey, these days we think twice before letting our kids ride their bikes on the streets or go to the park… even if we’re with them. We read aloud to them every night and keep telling them we love them. We might also tuck our kids into bed a night, kiss them on the cheek and wish them sweet dreams. It’s not a perfect world and domestic violence is huge. Life is no picnic for many families in Australia now, but that wasn’t my childhood. My Dad was my hero who could save me from anything and anyone and my Mum was mild-mannered. Wouldn’t throw a look at someone else, let alone a punch.

However, there’s no bubble wrap on the streets of Cowcaddens, Glasgow.

If you are old enough to remember the chilling murder of two year old James Bulger[2] by two ten year old boys, you can’t help seeing the similarities with what Jimmy survived. When he was four “myself and another kid of about the same age made the mistake of walking out of our street into the next without an escort.[3]”  “Next thing I knew I was running as fast as I could, dodging a hail of rocks and glass, but I got away. My friend was still frozen and couldn’t move at all. They pelted him with rocks and bottles until they were bored and then they cut him up and set fire to the shelter. He ended up in hospital for a long time…Was life in Scotland that bad that even little kids had no chance? It seemed no one had a chance.[4]

Jimmy’s world was brutal. Not that he throws blame. It was what it was and he shares that journey with a dark wit and the philosophical insights you’d hope for from a songwriter, who releases the cry of the heart through music.

So, what did I say to Jimmy?

Well, before I get to that, let me tell you what’s been running round inside my head in the lead up.

I’d been told that they’re trying to get 200 people through the bookshop in 2 hours and when I said I was thinking of bringing down my son’s guitar for a photo, it was suggested that was a bit over the top and that it was going to be a very fleeting meet and greet.

queing-for-jimmy-barnes

Queuing up to see Jimmy Barnes at Book Bazaar.

So, I was intrigued about what, if anything, I would pick up about Jimmy Barnes the person when he was just a face, a signature and the next person was literally breathing down my neck and the “queue Police” would have me out the door before I’d even smiled for the camera.

Obviously I wasn’t expecting much. I mean…how can you connect with someone in seconds? And besides, we’re talking about an uber-famous King of Rock. Sure, I might be reviewing his book for my blog but aside from my long lens, I was a nobody in a very long line of nobodies.

BUT…!!!

I had read some of his book and that made me A READER. It seems even Jimmy Barnes appreciates his readers. Values someone who isn’t just there for an autograph and a selfie, but has actually stepped inside the cover and read his story.

book-signing-jimmy-barnes

Jimmy Barnes signing our books.

So, what did I say? What did I say?

So, as he’s signing our book and the queue cop has doubled as a photographer capable of handling my Nikon SLR without flinching (they always have to ask me where the button is), yours truly doesn’t address Jimmy Barnes the rock legend but Jimmy Barnes the boy and says:

“As I was reading your book, I wanted to hug the boy. Give him a matchbox car. Something. “

I should’ve been embarrassed about my gush of emotion but since I’ve never been the cool kid, why start now?

Then, Jimmy looked up at me. Looked me right in my eyes making contact. Not just eye contact, but that experience of two souls meeting and said: “we survived”.

My husband Geoff said that once he saw that I’d read the book and spoke to him from the heart, his whole demeanour changed. I shook his hand and there was warmth, personality and a moment just between the two of us. So, it was there in a crowded bookshop in a long and winding queue, that I knew that I’d really met Jimmy Barnes.

I feel so blessed.

Do you have any memories of Jimmy Barnes and Cold Chisel? I’d love to hear them. I will be following this up with a more detailed review soon but if you’ve read the book, please share your thoughts and any links.

xx Rowena

Here are a few of my favourite songs:

Sources

[1] Jimmy Barnes, Working Class Boy, Harper Collins Publishers, Sydney. P. 1.

[2] James Patrick Bulger (16 March 1990 – 12 February 1993) was a boy from Kirkby, Merseyside, England, who was murdered on 12 February 1993, at the age of two. He was abducted, tortured and murdered by two ten-year-old boys https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Bulger.

[3] Jimmy Barnes, Working Class Boy, Harper Collins Publishers, Sydney, 2016 p. 17.

[4] Ibid p. 18.

Jimmy Barnes Official Web Site: https://www.jimmybarnes.com/

On Being A Cartoonist- Leunig

“I give thanks for the fact that I can get this stick with a bit of steel nib on the end, dip it in some black carbon stuff, and draw on paper. Now, people did it the same way 2,000 years ago. And there’s something lovely about that play, and making mud pies and a mess. That’s a lovely privilege.”

– Michael Leunig, Australian Cartoonist.

I was thrilled to bits to hearing Michael  Leunig speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Indeed, I actually caught the lift with Leunig on the way to the session and of course, yours truly was gushing unlimited praise all over the poor guy, without so much as offering as umbrella. How rude!  He must’ve been soaked by the time he got out.
You can read about it here: Catching The Lift With Leunig.
Leunig signature
By the way, if you’ve never read Leunig poems and cartoons, you’re really missing out and you can duck over to his website  and click on Works. I promise…no regrets just mind-blowing morsels of inspiration.
Enjoy!
xx Rowena

V: Virginia Woolf Replies: A Letter To A Young Poet

 

for my part I do not believe in poets dying; Keats, Shelley, Byron are alive here in this room in you and you and you — I can take comfort from the thought that my hoping will not disturb their snoring.

Virginia Woolf, Letter to A Young Poet.

This letter arrived for me this morning written in Virginia Woolf’s characteristic purple ink.

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter and see the fine art of letter writing isn’t dead. Back in my day, I observed:

“The penny post, the old gentleman used to say, has killed the art of letter-writing. Nobody, he continued, examining an envelope through his eye-glasses, has the time even to cross their t’s. We rush, he went on, spreading his toast with marmalade, to the telephone. We commit our half-formed thoughts in ungrammatical phrases to the post card… But when the post came in this morning and I opened your letter stuffed with little blue sheets written all over in a cramped but not illegible hand — I regret to say, however, that several t’s were uncrossed and the grammar of one sentence seems to me dubious — I replied after all these years to that elderly necrophilist — Nonsense. The art of letter-writing has only just come into existence. It is the child of the penny post. And there is some truth in that remark, I think. Naturally when a letter cost half a crown to send, it had to prove itself a document of some importance; it was read aloud; it was tied up with green silk; after a certain number of years it was published for the infinite delectation of posterity. But your letter, on the contrary, will have to be burnt. It only cost three-halfpence to send. Therefore you could afford to be intimate, irreticent, indiscreet in the extreme[1].”

Your human words were much appreciated. These days, I write my words on Autumn leaves, which are promptly read and eaten by the worms. While it might be a much humbler existence, I have finally found peace and stillness in my once turbulent mind. What a relief!

Your series of Letters to Dead Poets accumulating our collective wisdom, enthralls me. What a flood of words, thoughts, feelings are flowing through your pen and this laptop machine you keep tapping away on.

Indeed, you are “ a poet in whom live all the poets of the past, from whom all poets in time to come will spring. You have a touch of Chaucer in you, and something of Shakespeare; Dryden, Pope, Tennyson — to mention only the respectable among your ancestors — stir in your blood and sometimes move your pen a little to the right or to the left. In short you are an immensely ancient, complex, and continuous character, for which reason please treat yourself with respect.[2]

Naturally, I was quite wary about sticking my head above ground again. Even my beloved Leonard, couldn’t save me from this wretched disease and I have found such peace. I couldn’t go back. You’d have to say that filling my pockets with stones and drowning, despite my great love for Leonard and my sister, reflects great determination.

Yet, I’m such a curious soul. When offered the chance to travel into the future, I grabbed it with both hands. I was so relieved to wake up to peace, instead of a living in a battlefield with planes fighting overhead and bombs blowing up homes with their precious families still inside. I still remember seeing the shell of an exploded house. All were dead inside yet a bottle of milk survived unscathed out the front. There was no meaning in any of it. No sense at all.

No doubt, the news that World War II is finally over, will be tempered as further news comes to hand..

However, my first order of business is the theatre. I wanted to catch up with Judith Shakespeare (see A Room With A View) and see whether she finally calls the world  her stage. Indeed, I was most delighted to have tea with Angelina Jolie this morning. Indeed, Miss Jolie embodies all the dreams and hopes Judith Shakespeare ever had. That said, she has also made tough decisions and remained that lighthouse standing tall. I wouldn’t want to follow in all of her footsteps but she has my utmost respect.

Letters to Young Poets

Now that I’ve settled that matter, I wanted to get back to my Letter to Young Poets, which you mentioned. What might have been a little obscured, was that these young poets were not only learning the craft of poetry, but were also from a younger generation who experienced the world through quite a different lens.

Indeed, this letter was ostensibly written to John Lehmann, who was the manager of our Hogarth Press. We had published his first collection of poetry: A Guarde Revisited in September 1931.  However, the letter was also addressed to three other young poets WH Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis and Stephen Spender.

You might not be aware that I received quite a hostile response from Peter Quennell, representing the younger generation. He urged me to empathise with the discontented outlook of the younger generation who “can recall barely five or six summers before “the end of the Ware to end all Wars” He added that the modern poet is “the creature of his social and political setting.[3]

Yet, I was still concerned that collective experience should be the main subject of modern verse.

Prose Writers’ View of the Poet

Although you’re quite the social butterfly and mix with writers from all genres, I thought you’d appreciate  some insights into the novelist’s perspective of the poet. It’s always good to see yourself from an alternative perspective:

“For how, we despised prose writers ask when we get together, could one say what one meant and observe the rules of poetry? Conceive dragging in “blade” because one had mentioned “maid”; and pairing “sorrow” with “borrow”? Rhyme is not only childish, but dishonest, we prose writers say. Then we go on to say, And look at their rules! How easy to be a poet! How strait the path is for them, and how strict! This you must do; this you must not. I would rather be a child and walk in a crocodile down a suburban path than write poetry, I have heard prose writers say. It must be like taking the veil and entering a religious order — observing the rites and rigours of metre. That explains why they repeat the same thing over and over again. Whereas we prose writers (I am only telling you the sort of nonsense prose writers talk when they are alone) are masters of language, not its slaves; nobody can teach us; nobody can coerce us; we say what we mean; we have the whole of life for our province. We are the creators, we are the explorers. . . . So we run on — nonsensically enough, I must admit.

What is a poet?

“On the floor of your mind, then — is it not this that makes you a poet? — rhythm keeps up its perpetual beat. Sometimes it seems to die down to nothing; it lets you eat, sleep, talk like other people. Then again it swells and rises and attempts to sweep all the contents of your mind into one dominant dance. To-night is such an occasion. Although you are alone, and have taken one boot off and are about to undo the other, you cannot go on with the process of undressing, but must instantly write at the bidding of the dance. You snatch pen and paper; you hardly trouble to hold the one or to straighten the other. And while you write, while the first stanzas of the dance are being fastened down, I will withdraw a little and look out of the window. A woman passes, then a man; a car glides to a stop and then — but there is no need to say what I see out of the window, nor indeed is there time, for I am suddenly recalled from my observations by a cry of rage or despair. Your page is crumpled in a ball; your pen sticks upright by the nib in the carpet. If there were a cat to swing or a wife to murder now would be the time. So at least I infer from the ferocity of your expression. You are rasped, jarred, thoroughly out of temper. And if I am to guess the reason, it is, I should say, that the rhythm which was opening and shutting with a force that sent shocks of excitement from your head to your heels has encountered some hard and hostile object upon which it has smashed itself to pieces. Something has worked in which cannot be made into poetry; some foreign body, angular, sharp-edged, gritty, has refused to join in the dance[4]. “

So, I would say that if your children love to dance, that they could well indeed have a poet’s heart.

Advice to Young Poet’s

“And for heaven’s sake, publish nothing before you are thirty.

That, I am sure, is of very great importance. Most of the faults in the poems I have been reading can be explained, I think, by the fact that they have been exposed to the fierce light of publicity while they were still too young to stand the strain. It has shrivelled them into a skeleton austerity, both emotional and verbal, which should not be characteristic of youth. The poet writes very well; he writes for the eye of a severe and intelligent public; but how much better he would have written if for ten years he had written for no eye but his own! After all, the years from twenty to thirty are years (let me refer to your letter again) of emotional excitement. The rain dripping, a wing flashing, someone passing — the commonest sounds and sights have power to fling one, as I seem to remember, from the heights of rapture to the depths of despair. And if the actual life is thus extreme, the visionary life should be free to follow. Write then, now that you are young, nonsense by the ream. Be silly, be sentimental, imitate Shelley, imitate Samuel Smiles; give the rein to every impulse; commit every fault of style, grammar, taste, and syntax; pour out; tumble over; loose anger, love, satire, in whatever words you can catch, coerce or create, in whatever metre, prose, poetry, or gibberish that comes to hand. Thus you will learn to write. But if you publish, your freedom will be checked; you will be thinking what people will say; you will write for others when you ought only to be writing for yourself. And what point can there be in curbing the wild torrent of spontaneous nonsense which is now, for a few years only, your divine gift in order to publish prim little books of experimental verses? To make money? That, we both know, is out of the question. To get criticism? But you friends will pepper your manuscripts with far more serious and searching criticism than any you will get from the reviewers. As for fame, look I implore you at famous people; see how the waters of dullness spread around them as they enter; observe their pomposity, their prophetic airs; reflect that the greatest poets were anonymous; think how Shakespeare cared nothing for fame; how Donne tossed his poems into the waste-paper basket; write an essay giving a single instance of any modern English writer who has survived the disciples and the admirers, the autograph hunters and the interviewers, the dinners and the luncheons, the celebrations and the commemorations with which English society so effectively stops the mouths of its singers and silences their songs.”

Well, you Rowena don’t need to consider all of that. Not that I’d consider you an “old” poet but let’s just say you’re free to publish!

By the way, before I head off, I’ve already seized upon a new subject for one of my legendary essays…the mobile phone. While I’ve heard that texting is “speaking with your fingers” and doesn’t represent the final destruction of the English language, I am not convinced.

Virginia Woolf Grave

Adding fuel to the fire, is the selfie. You wouldn’t believe the thousands who visit my grave leaped in front of my visage with their mobiles mounted on some metal contraption photographing themselves. They no longer come here to see me but to see themselves, their own reflections…a touch of narcissus I suspect.

Anyway, I understand your train is due to depart. Quite a marvel of modern engineering and no smoke and coal dust billowing over the platform.

Keep dancing my friend!

Warm regards,

Virginia Woolf.

Tagore-Dancing Woman

Dancing Woman – Rabindranath Tagore

 References

[1][1] Virginia Woolf “A Letter To A Young Poet” in The Death of the Moth, and other essays.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Alice Wood: Virginia Woolf’s Late Cultural Criticism: The Genesis Years.

[4] Ibid.

V:A Letter To Virginia Woolf #atozchallenge

“I see you everywhere,

in the stars,

 in the river,

to me you’re everything that exists;

the reality of everything.”

-Virginia Woolf Night And Day

On March 28, 1942 …seventy five years ago…author Virginia Woolf wrote letters to her beloved husband and sister, put on her overcoat and filled her pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse outside her home in Sussex and drowned herself. Contrary to some of the newspaper reports of the day, according to her note, her suicide was brought on by her mental health struggles and not an inability to cope with the hardship of the war. Read on…

Her body was found three weeks later on April 18, 1941.

  Dear Ms Woolf,

To write, or not to write? That is the question.

Should I be leaving you to rest in peace rather than risk resurrecting the anguish, which stole your life away? Your ”disease” was not a game and as much as I might enjoy writing letters to dead poets, is it fair for me to impose? Break into your peace threatening to cart you off to Whitechapel Road…a place I only knew from the Monopoly board before last night.

No matter how well intentioned I might be, I am a stranger and not the one you cried out to from the very depths: “If anyone could have saved me, it would have been you.”

I am not trying to save you but I don’t want to walk past your grave like you weren’t even there. Indeed, while paddling along this stream to your door, I have read: Flush, A Room of One’s Own and A Letter to A Young Poet. So, although we were once strangers, we have embarked upon that negotiation towards friendship…two women writers being eaten alive by too many unanswered questions.

However, before I could reach any kind of conclusion, words were filling up the page and destiny stepped in. You were meant to be. That was weird, especially when I’m not  sure that you’re a poet, but you were definitely a prose poet and the rest is all semantics.

So how are you?

I cast my question out into a slow flowing stream with my characteristic awkwardness and after a few false starts, the float is bobbing up and down in the current as I await your reply. It is a picturesque country scene and the stream  meanders through weeping willows and English grass so bright I need shades. Of course, my camera has been a thorough glutton devouring everything in sight on this trip. We’re accustomed to a “sunburnt” land.

Of course, for you, there is no such thing as a simple question. You would need some time to pause and consider your response. Perhaps, you have gone to Oxbridge. Or, you’re at the British Museum, ploughing through that huge stack of books looking for answers. You might even consult Mary Beaton. Or, let  Lady Winchilsea speak on your behalf. She had quite a way with words:

Alas! a woman that attempts the pen,

Such an intruder on the rights of men,

Such a presumptuous creature, is esteemed,

The fault can by no virtue be redeemed.

They tell us we mistake our sex and way;

Good breeding, fashion, dancing, dressing, play

Are the accomplishments we should desire;

To write, or read, or think, or to inquire

Would cloud our beauty, and exhaust our time,

And interrupt the conquests of our prime;

Whilst the dull manage of a servile house

Is held by some our outmost art, and use.

 Introduction, Lady Winchilsea

 

By the way, when I asked you how you are, it was really more of a social convention. You didn’t need to write me an essay so long, that it’s become a book. Indeed, I’ll need a room of my own and independent means to have the time to read it.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf.

Ms Woolf, I am writing to you because for so many years I took your words to heart:

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”-Virginia Woolf

How I’ve longed for a room of my own overlooking the beach with the waves rolling in and crashing on the rocks below!. Indeed, I used to have that room once upon a time in the now mythical land of Whale Beach. Unfortunately, it’s long been lost and buried in the sand, just like Atlantis. Indeed, it now feels like a dream…

There’s a street light shining down the other end of the beach and a stream of light slithered like a snake through the surf mesmerising and luring me away from the blank page like the Pied Piper. I wasted so much time thinking the quest for love was all there was and nothing else mattered. My sense of self went up and down the waves and the tide like a helpless piece of driftwood without any kind of anchor. As much as I could stretch my wings and fly in that room of my own, I was alone.

I didn’t understand just how precious those hours were back then. I do now.

beach wide angle 2

I AM FOREVER walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my foot-prints,
And the wind will blow away the foam.
But the sea and the shore will remain
Forever.

Kahlil Gibran: Sand & Foam

However, I have also longed for that room of my own, that much needed oasis where I could write and even hear my whispering thoughts without competing with the ugly din of TV, fighting kids and barking dogs.

So, I did what any dreamer does when the outside gets a little tricky, I retreated within. Built a room inside my head. Indeed, it was a Kombi and especially in the midst of utter disaster and despair, we would head up North to Byron Bay and I’d run through the sun chasing butterflies.

Fortunately, the clouds lifted and the disease which has been stalking me like a crazy possessive lover for the last ten years, has left me alone. Well, not entirely alone but his shadow has retreated out through the back door and is crouched on a distant hill. I’m hoping he’s run out of manoeuvres and I’ve finally won but I’m staying vigilant. Reminding myself that even though things are going well, I still need to take precautions. Be prepared.

So, now my view of the room has changed and I no longer need or necessarily believe that a writer, regardless of gender, needs a room of their own to write fiction or any other genre. Rather, there is so much to be gained from rich, complex and nourishing relationships that you simply cannot experience in a room of your own.  Moreover, as a lover of the wings of a butterfly, the rich beauty of a rose and basking in the sun under an azure sky, I’d rather be outdoors. Liberated!

Mummy & Amelia

An extraordinary moment.

I also have to ask whether it is truly necessary for a writer to be a single person and not experience an ongoing, intimate relationship without being forced to hang up their pen, computer or quill. Is it possible to love and be loved and still be a writer? Taking that relationship further, dare a writer male or female have children? Or, must these be also sacrificed to the cause as well?  Is the muse an all-consuming beast and the writer is but its inglorious host?

Well, being something of a glutton myself, I am trying to have my cake and eat it too.

So, I personally believe “the room of your own” needs a re-think. After all, while it has solitude, it is missing so much! There are no other people, no affectionate tail-wagging dogs sleeping on your feet. There is no one bringing you a cup of tea and calling you ”darling” and wrapping their arms right around you like a vine and drawing you close enough to feel their heart beating next to yours and all that entails. There’s  no one who cares whether you live, die or whether your train was delayed and you were late for work. Or, how the muse whispered in your ear and the words flowed through your pen and onto the page in a never-ending glorious stream.

Personally, I find there’s nothing like standing with your feet anchored in the wet sand as the waves roll into the shore. Meanwhile, you’re watching your children carving out engineering masterpieces trying to contain that great uncontrollable force…the sea. I watch them through my camera lens soaking up their delight and also my daughter’s intense fear and avoidance as the waves roll in and her little feet run up onto dry sand and stay put.

Those days were very precious and have slipped through my fingertips like sands through the hour glass.

While it’s easy to focus on all the “losses” sustained when a woman embarks on Marriage, Mortgage,Kids” , it is very easy to overlook the “gains”. While that all might sound incredibly mushy and more like something a grandmother might say, my children have actually extended me at least as much as they have clipped my wings. This includes taking up the violin which I’ve now been playing for four years and taking up skiing, despite having a chronic life-threatening disease and mobility issues. Possibly even more challenging, have been all the challenges involved in being a “Scout Mum”. Trust me, this is no passive support role. Rather, I’ve had to drive to remote locations and find their tents in the rain bumbling through the dark while helping them carry their gear. It’s meant having to empty and inspect my son’s backpack with him after funnel web spiders had been found in bags and I thought two sets of eyes were definitely better than one. Probably the most challenging thing for me, has been helping them to pack their bags for camp. Although they’re provided with a very easy to follow packing list, even this can be too much for us some times.

On one hand, you could say all these other activities are distracting me from my writing. That being a writer and indeed taking that leap towards becoming a best-selling critically acclaimed writer, takes focus. Absolute focus and not all these detours all over the countryside driving Mum’s Taxi.

Yellow taxi

However, to become a writer, you must have something to write about. Taken literally, you can argue the mere act of writing makes you a writer but that’s not the sort of writer we’re talking about, is it? We’re talking about writers pursuing the Holy Grail. We’re going straight for the jackpot, the gold medal and not settling for silver or bronze. Being the Shakespeare of our generation…no less!

That’s why we often do a deal with the devil and follow the muse straight over the edge. Go too far.

Perhaps, I’ve been doing that a bit too much myself lately. Locking myself away in my cave writing letters to dead poets while my kids are at home on school holidays. I should be spending time with them. I want to spend time with them but then the muse comes along and can be extremely possessive. Does NOT like sharing! Besides, , I’ve been going round and round the mulberry bush with the writing project for ten years and couldn’t walk away. I had to grab the sweet fruit with both hands and indulge. Let its sweet nectar drip all over my fingers and lips and let my soul feast.

And, so I found my heart torn in two.

Anyway, as the train has zoomed through A-U, I know find myself stopping off at V with you. There are so many questions I could ask.

Throughout these letters, I have explored what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. While I had found poems by Hemingway and Kipling outlining the traits required to become a man, I couldn’t find any equivalent for my daughter. I don’t want to paint women as victims, unable to achieve. Rather, I want her to believe in herself and that she can conquer her particular sphere of the world and potentially be the difference there. I definitely don’t want her following in the footsteps of your Judith Shakespeare. Not at all.

So, it’s looking like  I might have to write my daughter a poem all of her own.

Make that another one!

Well, I hope you have experienced happiness along our journey together and I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

I apologise this has been rather rushed and I will head back in due course and revise it somewhat. School goes back tomorrow and getting organised has been a nightmare!

 

I-Issa Haiku Master: A Reply #atozchallenge..

When I first started writing Letters to Dead Poets for the A-Z Challenge, I never expected a reply…not even in my quirkiest, wildest imaginings.

Yet, I’ve received replies on silver trays, in glass bottles at the beach and on Saturday, I received my reply from Issa before I’d even finalised and posted his letter. I’ve grown used to expecting surprises from the muse, who is usually several steps ahead of my laboured footsteps. However, this was very pre-emptive. Moreover, this is the first reply I’ve received via a living poet and it certainly wasn’t via a direct route either!

DSC_0895

Pictured with Thomas & Meg Keneally.

On Saturday, I attended a literary luncheon with Thomas & Meg Keneally discussing their new  Monsarrat Series of novels. While you might not know Thomas Keneally by name beyond Australia, he wrote Schindler’s Ark which became Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Meg is his daughter. Although she’s been a successful journalist for many years, this is her first published novel, written in collaboration with her Dad…very much a joint effort!

Anyway, I spotted a familiar face in the crowd but couldn’t place her. Afterwards, she introduced herself as  Beverley George. Ah ha! I’d met Beverley last year when I attended a local writers and illustrators’ forum. Beverley was President of the Australian Haiku Society from 2006-2010. Indeed, Beverley’s Haiku have been translated into Japanese, which I view as being the ultimate acknowledgement for a modern Haiku writer, although I could be wrong.

Anyway, Beverley passed on this message from Issa when we spoke after the lunch:

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
casually.

Issa

Although I’d expected Beverley to be at the lunch, it was brilliant timing. Imagine running into such a Haiku expert when you’re only just starting out! Moreover, you might recall I was looking for a translator so Issa and I could understand each other better. I doubt I could find anyone better. Beverley has written extensively about Haiku and other forms of Japanese poetry. Indeed, you can read an interview with her here.

By the way, in case you’re wondering about the relevance of this Haiku to me personally, maintaining the house is quite a struggle when I’m in “writing mode”. Yet, as much as I long to submit myself entirely to the muse and her passionate flights of fancy, the house or family always comes calling. I can’t find that book I need to resource. The kids wonder away from the their electronics bleating: “I’m hungry!” It’s hard to snatch away a moment’s peace, which is, of course, a common lament among writers!

Mind you, there was one scenario involving housework and spiders where I wasn’t so casual. That was when my son arrived home from the Australian Scouting Jamboree and a warning was issued to all parents. Potentially deadly Funnel Web Spiders had been found in two backpacks on return and we were advised to use “extreme caution” when emptying their bags. As soon as my found found out, he lugged his backpack out of his room and dumped it at my feet. As if I look like some crazed spider catcher/killer!! I’m just the taxi driver.

Do you have a favourite Haiku by Issa?

By the way, I also came across this one on my travels today:

Look, don’t kill that fly!
It is making a prayer to you
By rubbing its hands and feet.

Issa

Will the inspiration ever end? I sure hope not and the house better not start praying for the well to dry up! While I haven’t exactly been vigilant, I have been nibbling around the edge.

xx Rowena

Here’s a link through to my previous Letters to Dead Poets A-H.

More Caffeine Required!

Welcome to another Weekend Coffee Share.

If we were having coffee today, I’d be asking for a hammock for my head. The Blogging A-Z Challenge has been incredibly intense and my brain is simultaneously firing on overdrive and completely exhausted, even though that makes little sense. When you’ve been writing Letters to Dead Poets for a month and even receiving replies, nothing makes much sense.

I’ll be putting out an Alphabet Soup every Sunday, which will be listed my challenge posts to date and I encourage you to do the same. It can be difficult navigate your way through missed posts. Here’s the link: Alphabet Soup

DSC_0895

Pictured with Thomas & Meg Keneally at an author lunch, Pearl Beach.

Yesterday involved another brain blow out when I attended a literary lunch with Australian authors Thomas Keneally and daughter, Meg. While you might not recognise Keneally by name, he wrote Schindler’s Ark, which became Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster movie, Schindler’s List.

Not unsurprisingly, Keneally is an incredibly intelligent man with a deep social conscience and is also a flag-waving Republican. What did surprise me, however, was his incredible wit and humour and his passion for Rugby League. I felt so incredibly blown away meeting this  inspiring man, who has well and truly stuck to the road less travelled and turned it into the yellow brick road. Actually, on second thoughts, he would’ve made an excellent Wizard of Oz hiding behind the curtain fiddling with the controls…no doubt with a huge grin and his gutsy laugh.

However, as much as I was thrilled to meet and listen to Thomas Keneally, I was riveted listening to his daughter, Meg, who is co-authoring this series of novels with her Dad. As a writer beavering away to get my first book out the door, I really appreciated her insights into her own journey. Just because her father is a famously successful novelist, there were no guarantees that she’d follow magically in his footsteps. As with any kid with a successful parent, it’s very hit and miss. Moreover, as she said, writing is a very solitary process, so it’s not like she’s been looking over his shoulder all her life!

Meg Keneally is an experienced, successful journalist and a Mum. Some years ago, she apparently wrote a few novels which she said wouldn’t see the light of day. That didn’t surprise me as a lot of writers have a few of those stashed in the bottom drawer. She went on, however, to explain that she was “half-baked” when she wrote them. Her choice of words immediately captured my attention. These are words I’ve used to describe my writing process, although I leave my stuff “to stew”. However, I’d never thought that I needed to cook or bake as a writer and it was only once I was fully baked, that I could finally pull off “my book”. Yet, this made a lot of sense!

After having a number of serious efforts at my “Book Project”, I’ve finally found my voice writing these Letters to Dead Poets. Indeed, I can feel that sense of galloping hooves in my head. There’s incredible momentum. Indeed, it feels like I’m on the homeward strait, even though I’m only just through the gate. I’ve only made it through H.

Why does this writing game have to be so hard? Why couldn’t that book just fall out of the sky and into my lap?

I know! I know! If it were that simple, it wouldn’t be worth reading. Or, would it?!! Am I making it all too hard?

As you can see, I’m well and truly immersed in my writing and making great leaps ahead… just in time for the kids be on school holidays. Now, I’m having to switch hats and go into the entertainment business. Not that I can or want to drop the writing project altogether. That’s the beauty of the A-Z Challenge. It keeps you in the flow so you can actually produce a body of work.

When it comes to what’s going on beyond these four walls, I have absolutely no idea. I’ll be rising to the surface 1st May and until then, the world can wait. At least, I hope it can!

If you are doing the A-Z Challenge, how are you going? Do you have a theme? Please share your links!

Hope you’ve had a great week and an even better one awaits!

The Weekend Coffee Share is hosted by Part Time Monster.  You can join this week’s Coffee Share on her blog or by clicking on the “Linkup Linky“. It’s a fabulous blogging community!

Best wishes,

Rowena