Yellow horses: a story of thwarted ambitions and coming full circle

August 29, 2017 at 8:25 am | Posted in art, creativity, Franz Marc, Living creatively, Writing | 1 Comment
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We wondered why the tulips were taking a long time to come up

Silver needles in my knees

I’ve been working on a book about an abstract artist and having some minor setbacks. First, a previous writing job kept spilling over into the time I wanted to be researching the new, much bigger project. (And this keeps happening. They come back wanting more and I do more because they pay me.) Although shorter and simpler than a PhD, the new project is like a PhD in that if I take even one day off it, it takes about two days to get back down to the deep level of engagement with the subject again that makes the connections come easily and the writing go quickly.

Second set-back: I hurt my knee and spent many hours of many weeks doing physiotherapy Continue Reading Yellow horses: a story of thwarted ambitions and coming full circle…

Go on – make something beautiful

January 23, 2017 at 2:45 am | Posted in Andrea Goldsmith, art, creativity, Living creatively | 1 Comment
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I believe that we’re all creative. We can express our creativity through dancing or drawing, cooking or wood-carving. We can express it in how we live ordinary life or in taking beautiful photos of our life, through making people laugh or by writing a blog.

Nigel Andrew once believed that blogs were ‘an outlet for opinionated egos’ but he’s now convinced that they can be ‘a thing of beauty, a repository of interesting and original thought, of humour and pleasure, of amiable interchange among friends’. (Literary Review, August 2016, p. 1) Continue Reading Go on – make something beautiful…

Cheerfulness is an achievement: favourite books of 2015

December 28, 2015 at 9:48 pm | Posted in art, Books, capitalism, creativity, health | 2 Comments

The Guardian Weekly ‘Books of the Year’ (18-31 December this year) is where writers and critics present their favourite reads of the past year and it is a reliable guide to some great reading. You can also hear authors speak about their work on theguardian.com/books/series/books

Popular choices of ‘Books of the Year’ were Ali Smith’s short story collection Public Library, Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet and Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster. Kate Mosse recommends selected essays by women under thirty entitled I Call Myself A Feminist (Virago, 2015).

The uplifting website www.brainpickings.org also lists favourite books of the past year. The first is the late Oliver Sacks’ On the Move: A Life.

If The Guardian were to ask me, I’d recommend Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go (Sphere, 2014). The plot leaps into action from page one, gripping the reader until the end. After a tragedy, protagonist Jenna Gray leaves everything and moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast. The novel is written from the perspectives of several characters, in first, third and even second person. I don’t usually read crime novels except for the psychological thrillers of Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell’s nom de plume for her novels in that genre) but, like the Barbara Vine novels, I Let You Go has much more insight and psychological depth than your average crime novel.

Continue Reading Cheerfulness is an achievement: favourite books of 2015…

How to write violently and live peacefully

September 1, 2013 at 9:31 am | Posted in art, politics | Leave a comment
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‘Be regular and orderly in your life so you can be violent and original in your work.’ Gustav Flaubert said that. So I make my house clean and tidy and lay the fire and fill two blue vases with bunches of my yellow jonquils, and I write my commissioned Churchill book.

Not that the Churchill Trust necessarily wants a ‘violent and original’ book! It will be original but perhaps I will leave the violence to my novel writing.

I brush the white cat who is so pretty he looks like a girl and I do my tai chi in the sunshine. And to relax, between writing and domestic things, I clean out two rooms and build a whole new decor around a glorious doona cover I fell in love with and so bought a single and a double and built everything around them. Doona covers are a good way to bring art and colour into your life. Often on special too. Some of them really are works of art, the same as rugs from Afghanistan or Iran or Pakistan are. If you can afford to buy ‘Persian’ rugs you can walk on art.

I need to do things like this because writing and art are what make me happy – those and people. And with an election coming up in Australia very soon that everyone predicts will be a huge win for a party who do not on the whole share my values, I need to cultivate my garden as Voltaire said.

And in a world in which: ‘For every dollar spent on U.N. peacekeeping, $2,000 is expended for war-making by member nations’, we need to find ways to feel at peace sometimes. Or we’d go crazy. That quotation and the next is by Paul Hawken in his book, Blessed Unrest: How the largest social movement in history is restoring grace, justice, and beauty to the world. (New York, Penguin, 2007) both on p. 18.

‘Four of the five members of the U.N. Security Council, which has veto power over all U.N. resolutions are the top weapons dealers in the world: the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Russia.’ So the latter quotation very depressing but the title of his book so hopeful! It is a good book, and good to read books like that at times like these.

And because I must get back to my Churchill book I’m taking the easy way out and ending with an extensive block quote from Hawken’s book.

‘Unlike indigenous cultures, whose worlds are local, intimate, familiar, we live in the age of giants. In one day alone we pump 85 million barrels of petroleum out of the ground, and then burn it up. And on the same day we spew the waste of 27 billion pounds of coal into the atmosphere. One hundred million displaced people now wander the earth without a home. One company, Wal-Mart, employs 1.8 million people. ExxonMobil made nearly $40 billion in profits in 2006, enough money to permanently supply pure clean drinking water to the 1 billion people who lack it. We have consumed 90 percent of all the big fish in the oceans. Bill Gates’s home covers one and a half acres and cost nearly $100 million.
Not surprisingly, people don’t know that they count in such a mal-ordered, destabilized world, don’t know that they are of value. A healthy global civilization cannot be constructed without the building blocks of meaning, which are hewn of rights and respect. What constitutes meaning for human beings are events, memories, and small dignities—gifts that rarely emerge from institutions, and never from theory. As the smaller parts of the world are knitted into one globalized unit, the one thing we can no longer afford is bigness. This means dismantling the big bombs, dams, ideologies, contradictions, wars and mistakes.
In the midst of such giants a worldwide gathering of ordinary and extraordinary people are reconstituting the notion of what it means to be a human being. While they are organizing themselves into the largest movement in the history of the world, the movement only happens one person at a time.’ (p. 23)

Beyond all rights and wrongs…

August 25, 2013 at 12:22 am | Posted in alexander technique, art, Books, tai chi | Leave a comment
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‘Beyond all rights and wrongs, there is a field – I will meet you there.’

Rumi said that. I found it in Richard Brennan’s Alexander Technique: Change your posture, change your life. It’s in the Canberra public library system and fairly recent. It’s a good book with some wonderful quotations in it. Who was Rumi? Sounds a bit Sufi. I almost don’t want to do the research because I want to retain the mystery for myself. The quotation sounds like someone promising to meet one after death. Even though I don’t understand that quotation I keep coming back to the poetry of it. It sounds profound; I just don’t know exactly why yet.

It’s something to do with there being no judgement, just pure acceptance. It makes me want to sigh with a deep sense of expansive, relaxed happiness. Even if I did the research and thought about it, and teased out and analysed the quotation to the Nth degree I suspect that a part of it would still elude me, and that’s fine. Part of the power of art is its mystery. It must retain some enigmatic quality if we are to keep wanting more of it, keep coming back to it, keep watching it or listening to it or yearning for it.

It also reminds me of some psychic once saying that all those young soldiers who died on the battlefields who were on different sides – there are no sides where they are now; those boys from opposing countries are on the same side now and having a good time together. (Now it’s girl soldiers as well.) No matter what your beliefs in the afterlife are, I reckon it still puts things in perspective. One of my beliefs is that our similarities are much stronger than our differences. It’s not in the interests of certain politicians and the big weapons dealing corporations to have people think like this but left to their own devices, most people would.

‘Beyond all rights and wrongs, there is a field – I will meet you there.’ I just want to repeat it. Such a peaceful and beautiful thought. Like that famous line from one of my favourite poets, Andrew Marvell: ‘To a green thought in a green shade.’ From his poem The Garden. You just want to repeat that too, don’t you? – á green thought in a green shade.’ And sigh with bliss at the perfection of that line.

Back to more prosaic things, in the same Alexander Technique book by Richard Brennan, he quotes Ram Dass: ‘Life is not an emergency.’ p. 78. It does our bodies and minds much harm to rush through life. I have rushed through a lot of my life, but I’ve achieved heaps! Makes me feel good, even though in the writing field I’ve probably published about a tenth of what I’ve actually written! I’m proud of finishing my degrees and of my careers and achieving stuff in spite of life always throwing massive obstacles in my way. But someone always is there to help me – fantastic counsellers etc. who come into my life just at the right time. And then you really must slow down – there is no rushing some things. But my instinct is to rush! Driven by curiosity and a hungry impatience to know. However, I’ve learnt to slow down more these days and it feels good.

Brennan writes that posture is the outward expression of how you feel inside. It’s not something many people in our society are aware of now. The author describes what we get from the Alexander Technique as a feeling of lightness and ease that is brought about by all the parts of the body working in unison rather than in conflict. This gives a sense of peace, oneness and awareness.

It sounds like Sarah Wilson on meditation, which she does every day. See her recent blog on it at http://www.sarahwilson.com.au

Tai Chi is a kind of meditation too. It certainly is at the pace that my teacher does it on the DVD I bought. It’s really hard for me to slow down that much! I can do all the moves okay but I want to race through them! That is not the way you’re supposed to do it. I’m learning but it’s hard. It’s something you can improve at every day though, and that’s always a good feeling.

Happiness and the What if…? questions

August 15, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Posted in art, creativity, Movies, Quotations | Leave a comment
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‘Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.’ Ghandi said that. It makes me happy just thinking about it.

Although for most of us it is more an ideal to strive towards as we flounder our way through life trying to earn a living. In our society almost totally geared to maximising financial profits for the few (someone called our system Totalitarian Capitalism) it is extremely hard to find worthwhile work. I’m lucky enough to have two worthwhile jobs I believe in: writing for the National Rural Health Alliance and writing a book for the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.

More on these another time. I’m also doing an ANU Centre for Continuing Education course, taken by Roy Forward. It is an erudite, witty ride through much stimulating aesthetic and intellectual pleasure. It’s on Art and Film. Roy said that aesthetics can give you a sense of infinite possibility, of the renewal of life, he spoke about the amazing capacity of art to catch us unawares and open up life for us once more.

It was such a pleasure being able to immerse myself in art when I was writing my latest novel, Beyond the Pale. This novel was inspired by an artist Roy talked about the other night in class: Camille Claudel. A film about her life (Camille Claudel) was directed by Bruno Nuyttens in 1988. This film was based on a biography of Camille Claudel that the Canberra Times asked me to with some others, then the editor said, no, we haven’t got the space for that Camille Claudel one, you just keep it and write about the others. It was too early in my writing career to take on this complicated subject so I wrote a simpler one first (Full House, Simon & Schuster, 1993) but I always knew I’d come back to Camille.

Camille Claudel was a talented sculptor who did not get along with her mother and who was determined to follow her passion, sculpting – and she was in love with her teacher and mentor Rodin, and he with her. When her father died she lost her protector. It’s a tragic tale that ends up with her being forced into the asylum in Paris where she stays for decades, until dying in the middle of World War II. If you read my novel you’d recognise almost nothing of this because I was burning to write a novel where I gave her a happy ending – and not by some sentimental deus ex machina.

What intrigued me about the biography of Camille Claudel was that there were a couple of unexplained, lengthy absences in the country before she was incarcerated. You should see her sculptures of small children. They tear at the heart! I kept thinking: What if…? What if…? I imagined she might have had a baby, out of wedlock of course, and he/she was looked after by a woman in the country, and that was where Camille went, to visit sometimes. I kept thinking that her life would have been different if only she … if only she … I kept thinking, What if…? What if…? What if she hopped on a boat and sailed to Australia? What if she could have had a second chance in a slightly more forgiving social climate?

What I did in my novel was bring her dates forward so she could have more of the 20th century in Australia plus I made her Irish because that’s my own background and plenty of Irish immigrated to Australia in those days but surely hardly any French? (Although I recently discovered the name of my paternal great grandmother – Ginnane – that sounds pretty French! What a French women might have been doing in Cairns, Queensland in the 19th century is anyone’s guess.) So my Camille Claudel became Deirdre Wild and was a surrealist painter who had an illegitimate daughter and settled in Clovelly, Sydney, in the 1920s.

That first novel was a comedy but this one is more serious, and involves three generations of women. It was great to immerse myself in the modernist art world of 20th century Sydney all the time I was writing that novel. And the cemetery at Clovelly, Waverley Cemetery – vast and on a cliff above the sea – inspired me. There were a lot of Irish names there too. The whole place was so intriguing. (As was a trip to the Blasket Islands in County Kerry – a whole ’nother story, as my American friend Susan says.) My stepdaughter was renting a Clovelly flat and I stayed there sometimes, walking the streets, exploring the cemetery, snorkelling in the bay, dreaming about the Razor Gang and Deirdre’s best friend who got mixed up with them and wound up in Callan Park asylum. Broughton Hall it was called then.

This novel has a happy ending but it’s hard to have a happy ending for everybody. Someone’s happiness might be at the expense of another person’s. What Deirdre Wild, the artist in Beyond the Pale thinks, says and does are in harmony, at least by the end, but that’s a long journey she’s taken, with sacrifices along the way. She sacrifices things for her art, but most people – including her daughter – sacrifice things for their children, so this novel is also about parent/child relationships. The mother/daughter ones I knew from the start would feature heavily, but the father/daughter relationship theme is one that took me by surprise.

Pan Macmillan is considering the novel MS. I say that not because there’s a probability that they will eventually accept it, but because this is about as good as it usually gets in the fiction game. I feel good because it’s very hard to get a publisher to just read the whole MS these days if you haven’t got an agent. Reasons leading up to the fact that it’s now harder to get an agent than it used to be to get a publisher is a blog in itself. In the meantime we writers try to make a living and have what we think, what we say and what we do remain in harmony, and some of us continue to write fiction on the side. Even if you’re successful there’s no money in it except for a tiny percentage (that’s another blog’s worth of reasons) but we do it because we love it, we love playing with words, we love following where our curiosity leads us, we love trying to find the answer to those What if…? What if…? questions.

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