It gets busy. You know how it is. You bumble around, nothing quite clicks, there’s no real pressure and the weather is really, really dispiriting.
Then you look at your diary (old school paper version) and realise that the magazine articles you enthusiastically pitched at the start of the year – and even drafted slightly – are due in two weeks.
At first, it’s a drag. The world’s in a conspiracy against you. You need MORE TIME. And a cup of tea and a biscuit and a tidy desk. And a blanket.
Oh please. Just write the things.
So you start slowly with the points made in the rush of ‘oh, fantastic! They want my stories!’ bliss, and the world gets lighter and less words are deleted and it’s how it’s all meant to be…not all the time, but when you actually do what you are meant to do.
You tell stories that give people a spark in their day.
Here I am, walking up and down (exam supervision), no other possibility than to draw entertainment from my own mind. I can’t sit down for very long, have to keep moving around the students, and can only jot down occasional words and reminders.
‘Get petrol’ features heavily at the moment.
So…Clancy Of The Overflow it is. My grandfather loved AB Paterson’s poems, and I went on to study them in Australian Literature. As with many aspects of reading and absorbing, I found that excessive analysis sometimes soured the enjoyment. A couple of decades later, however, that analysis has mellowed to an innate understanding of the writer’s background, and an appreciation of the times and circumstances in which they wrote. It’s much better this way.
‘He was shearing when I knew him’…
Someone needs a script book. But Clancy remains poised in the mid 1800s, a figure of our pioneering past, steadily being overtaken by Paterson’s city based workplace.
‘Get more hand sanitiser’. This is cold and flu season, and the exam halls are a soup of coughs and sneezes.
‘…we don’t know where he are.’
‘in my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy gone a-droving down the Cooper…drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.’
It’s a chant now, and all is quiet except the shuffling of papers and steady brush of pens and pencils. What subject is it? Engineering-Information Technology-Immunology. I am sure there is ‘poetry’ of a sort in any of those.
And in my fancy, I can see the ‘vision splendid’ and recall many nights seeing stars in cool air on the edges of suburbia. Those ‘everlasting stars’ propel me through another two turns of the room.
Paterson’s stuck in the city like I’m marooned (entirely voluntarily) in this big barn of a place, and you can feel his sadness and see the half light as it ‘struggles feebly’ between the buildings.
He doesn’t like the people – ‘eager eyes and greedy’.
He doesn’t like the noise – ‘fiendish rattle, Of the tramways and the buses’.
He doesn’t like the bustle and busyness – ‘as they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste’.
Do I need more lemonade? I think so.
Poor ‘Banjo’ Paterson…there is nothing like being in the middle of nowhere and having the ‘seasons come and go’. But at the same time, there is nothing like finding a patch of loveliness – an oasis – in the middle of a big city, and finding your own people to share it with. Both have their charms and detractions.
‘And I somehow fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy, Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go, While he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal – But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of “The Overflow”.’
And with that, the ten minute warning announcement is delivered. The timing, and the final verse, are both perfect.
In a varied writing and reading life, interspersed with some absolute highlights, I often have to balance the good and bad. So it is that:
I don’t remember having to track down hundreds of ‘lost’ footnotes (keeping track of them was a horror, and not a highlight for me!), but I do remember being complimented on my ‘clean’ referencing.
I don’t remember the trauma of travelling to meet my interviewee for a magazine article, but I do remember the good humour, great conversation and ‘highlight’ article that resulted.
I don’t QUITE (qualifier – this was huge and messy) recall redoing a heap of thesis work, but I do remember the graduation that followed, and the sense of achievement and worthwhile research.
I don’t remember the messy proofreading involved for a client who didn’t have time to write well, but I do remember the polished final result and the sound of relief in their voice.
I don’t remember having to trek into university on winter weekends to do track down resources, but I do remember the joy of finding wonderful books and hidden gems that I’ve retained ever since (not the actual books, just the good quotes and passages. I’d hate to imagine a late fine for those books – this was the early 1990s!)
Now it starts to head down to a new generation. As the aunt of two little girls – aged two and ten months respectively – I’m building a whole new list of moments. One day, when they’re both a bit older, I will say to them, hopefully while reading a book or writing a story:
I don’t remember when I started reading and writing – but I’ll always treasure the worlds and wonders I’ve found through both.
Having recently put together my reading ‘bucket list’, I turned my thoughts to the other side of the desk. As I am a writer of many parts – sports history, craft, business, the odd bit of fiction – so I enjoy writing across a wide range.
Now, with keyboard poised, what would/could/should I write if I have the chance? Here are just a few ideas for my own consideration.
A sporting related history. This is already in progress, as I am researching and drafting the history of an abandoned sports venue in Melbourne (Australia).
A biography. I would love to write the biography of Lady Rachel Dudley, who was wife of Australia’s Governor General, and who played a huge part in hospital care on the front line in World War One…and so much more.
The story of a flower. As Helen O’Neill has written the superb Daffodil: Biography of a Flower (a welcome birthday present), so I would seek to write the story of lavender.
Wartime history – battlefield tours. I’m interested in what’s involved in these, and some of the stories around names on memorials. Having worked as a sports historian, I once researched a player who was killed at Bapaume, France, in 1917. We could never find a photo of him (he played just 15 games), and the only image available was of his name on a war memorial.
Craft related – stitch by stitch. The characteristics of yarn crafts and crafters around the world.
Travel/culture/history – islands around the world, under a certain size, telling their story and sharing their culture.
Those are just a few of the ideas that I have, and some are more defined than others. But they all keep me interested in both researching and writing, and encourage me towards finding great stories and good writing to absorb for my own future endeavours.
While doing so, I have been thinking about my favourite books, and where I would enjoy most to have the opportunity to read them. So, I’d like to share that idea with the world out there; here are a few and what would be my ideal location (accompanied by a cup of tea, biscuits and crochet) to read these volumes that are friends of mine. I’ve tried to avoid simply saying that the ideal location would be where the story is set. Sometimes, of course, this can’t be helped.
Neither Here Nor There – Bill Bryson. In Scotland, looking at the Northern Lights (chasing these is one of the quests for Bryson – but he doesn’t go to Scotland).
No Stopping For Lions – Joanne Glynn. Given that this is about an extended African adventure, I’d actually like to read it at a coastal property in the middle of winter! It would still be wilderness, but in a different form.
Anne of Green Gables (and all LM Montgomery books) – well, this would have to be Prince Edward Island. There is no alternative. Red cliffs, beautiful hills and stunning ocean – perfection.
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen. I can envisage reading this while sitting on a window seat in a country house; not necessarily in England, but if that was on offer, of course it’d be lovely.
Gone With The Wind – I read Margaret Mitchell’s only publication once a year as something of a tradition, and I always make sure to read it while sitting on a verandah. One day, I hope to add a porch swing for the ideal situation.
A Bunch of Sweet Peas – Henry Donald. This is an engaging short story about a sweet pea growing and display competition; always refreshing and enjoyable. I’d love to read it in the Conservatory at Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens (budget version) or at Kew Gardens (wish list).
The Great Escape – Paul Brickhill. I first read this when in high school, and – while imperfect and ultimately tragic – it really sparked my historian’s sense of connection and immediacy. I’d love to read it on a long train journey.
Towers In The Mist – Elizabeth Goudge. Given that this typically detailed and delicate writing is about Elizabethan Oxford, what can I say? Oxford it is.
Fever Pitch – Nick Hornby. This is the reason my younger brother in particular is a fervent Arsenal supporter. So, I feel we’d have to head to Highbury and Emirates Stadium, just to cover all bases.
Foxeys Hangout – Cathy Gowdie. The story of a sea changer who headed to the Mornington Peninsula from Melbourne, and started a winery with her family. I live not far from the Yarra Valley, so it is there that I would revisit this beautiful book, albeit with my teetotalling Earl Grey and the inevitable biscuits/crochet combination.
There are so many others, so many connections with what and where we read; a volume rather than a bucket list, really. But one more I will mention – my atlas. Being Australian and at the base of the world, the curiosity and close-my-eyes-where-could-I-land potential of my 1957 Oxford atlas has long sparked my imagination and thoughts about the world around and beyond. I read it, and wonder.
As I type, I’m sitting here with at least three different varieties of writing to complete.
I have to:
Provide captions of up to 100 words for a range of historical photos
Write an article about a family of cheese makers
Complete a report about business activities.
In between, I am also researching a long lost soldier for an article due in about three weeks’ time, as well as drafting an article about a knitting charity, and researching some other ideas for future articles. I have a newsletter to redraft for an accommodation business, and the prospect of a big spell checking job by the end of April.
Sometimes, when your work depends on words, you can feel that there’s just not enough out there. But there is usually more than you think. Make a list of your interests and abilities, and pursue assignments along those lines. I can spell, have extensive qualifications in historical research, and know how to edit effectively on a small scale. I am also good at creating slightly quirky articles, and specialise in sports and military history, as well as craft enterprises. It’s an odd mix, but at least it gives me some avenues to pursue, as well as confidence in my abilities.
I can also adapt my activities around finding other topics for articles, and adding to the list for possible future subjects. For example, I went to Melbourne’s Flower & Garden Show – based in the Royal Exhibition Buildings and surrounding gardens – a few days ago. As well as being a lovely excursion, it was a scouting trip. I picked up brochures, took notes and had ideas generating even as I walked around; small businesses, interesting profiles, amazing products – all are now in the mix for future pursuit and consideration. I often have a ‘research day’, on which I follow up topics, checking websites and other sources such as local newspapers, and I now have at least a dozen ‘possibles’ to add for consideration.
It just goes to show that sometimes, when your work depends on words, there are more ideas out there than you can imagine!