I am watching a wonderful program about Isfahan, part of a series on Iran. I want to go there and eat fessenjoon, walk in the mountains, visit the beautiful buildings and talk to the sophisticated and friendly people.

As Claudia said on Once bitten.

The dog is playing with the icecream container. She crouches in the long grass with it poised two inches from her front paws. A moment later she leaps and seizes it, carries it off to the hidden corner of the darkening garden to enjoy. She reappears, having forgotten her toy or placed it somewhere where she can later take delight in finding it again.

Or maybe she has done none of these things, because I can’t see into the mind of a dog, not my housemate’s dog or even my own dogs. I just know their behaviour and explain it to myself in a certain way, but that may be wrong to a little or large degree. It reminds me not to think that I can explain other people’s behaviour either. I can have ideas and guess and possible recognise general patterns in other people’s lives, but I can’t explain their thoughts or their responses.

Some philosophers might say this means there is a vast and necessary loneliness between people at a deeper level. But it seems to me that instead there is mystery and unknowability, made beautiful and meaningful by the ties of empathy, love and attention that are the opposite of control and of trying to explain others or to understand them. This unknowability and mystery appeals to me as a subject and it moves me in my relationships. The unbearable and fundamental risk of love speaks to me from every part of experience, from being born and being a child, to being an adult and an elder. I wonder if there is a void in incomprehension between people who have known love when they were infants and those who have not.

The real things can only be experienced, not thought about, and the feeling of feeling another’s life from the clues in their eyes and their movements is like a quick breath. I wonder how I would show a person I was writing about experiencing that emotion. There are guesses upon guesses on the part of characters, writer and readers about the characters and soon it is nothing but a web, the web of which is what we experience in our daily lives, of intuition and recognisable and difficult patterns.

I look at my garden in the fading light and realise that it needs bold movements and proud actions. I should plant a very simple summer bed with only five or six crops, but do it right from the start, with big layerings of manure, soil and hay, and plant boldly, things that will grow tall and rich, and don’t try to do it all at once.

Following the metaphor I want to listen for the bold and central thing in my story. I need some concepts – story, idea and characters. It doesn’t mean that I expect myself to know all about them right away but to encourage myself that there are things I can do, and will need to do to. I want the big idea like the stand of sunflowers in the centre of the untidy battlers’ backyard, overrun with dogs and littered with minutely chewed up debris that can never be completely picked up. This is the idea that will seize my heart and which I will follow to the end of the road.

This is the insanity that any writer must allow to rule in their life and accept it without question if they are to work, like the insanity of love when you surrender to it not knowing where it will lead or that it will lead anywhere but only knowing that you don’t know, because you are not buying goods or ordering a service over the phone.

I want to make myself open to that love, to lose the self obsession that cuts out everything else and destroys the chance of life. In the writing life I am an emotional infant and this time each day is my time to grow up a little, by playing, like all babies grow. Babies grow by playing with what falls under their sticky, clenched up little hands. Many things have fallen under my hand but I have hardly known how to touch them; just sat with bulging eyes, staring in surprise. I am a developmentally delayed baby writer.

I think about books I love and admire. Some are big books; some are small and intimate in scale, but very carefully wrought. The story will bring its scale, place and people with it, and its symbols and sensory obsessions. I will bring to my task what I have learned in life; life has humbled me.

Ten rules

Don’t get it right



The start of the story

Daily routines

Reflections by writers on their work

Fifty questions

You’ve got to start being your own best friend. You have everything you need to do what you want; how long will you keep believing that your life, effort and time do not belong to you? You need to be wholehearted, passionate, convinced and single minded – your own true nature. You also need to completely let go of your fears and regrets about the time that has intervened since you were were 15 – 26 years. Yes, it is 26 years. 26 years you will never recover. Accept this now, today. Acknowledge your pain and regret and don’t hide it, but don’t let it control and bind you either. The same thing with your even deeper fears about your creative power and impetus being gone, dissipated and vanished in the wearing down that has accompanied your entanglement with emotional needs. This too you can’t control, like you never could. Art is created in this moment like a breath is taken, so breathe fully right now. Release yourself from fear and your obsession with control and being controlled. Nothing controls you, not your past, your position, your place, your time. You are a sail in the wind, a hoop floating on the sea, a window opened for a moment, and what will, will pass through you. The how and not the what is your concern and it is this moment that you can do something about it. There is no rulebook but truth to yourself and the person you have learned you are. You can do as you please.

You have to write the story that comes to you, that possesses you, as BHR did EW when he took five months’ leave to write it in a hotel room, before it left him. The story that came and was not in his control. The story that came to him, that grew out of his being and experience of life at that time, he made available to the whole world for the rest of time by writing it. You don’t need to analyse the forces that enable or drive this kind of human work, as with those that drive the body. Just live in this as in your body. A huge part of experience is learning what you can safely and properly ignore. The sideline into research and analysis was a huge blind alley for me; it frustrated my creativity and stunted my mind, not of its own nature, but by its mismatch with my nature. You need to live in yourself as easily as animals live in their elements, and make as little apology and ask as few questions. You also need to be with others a lot less, and talk to others a lot less, and unashamedly take in all that you desire of music and art, theatre and drama, writing and poetry, because this feeds you. This is what you were created for. The outer circumstances are not the point, or only become the point if you make them the point. When you follow this imperative the outer things will fall into the shape that supports it one way or another, like a body turning over in bed. Plunge in and let the current control you, and forget any need to explain or deal with things you don’t want to deal with; let them brush past the outer part of your mind. You’ll know when you are wrestling with the angel and when the trivial is calling you away. You don’t need to explain it or make account, not even to yourself; the latter habit of a lifetime has had [… … ] time devoted to it. Confidence is the one thing you’ve lacked and the reason for this squashing yourself into painful shapes. It’s confidence and breathing the air of your creative self like a fish breathes in water that will stop the accounting that [… … …] before you begin. Surrender yourself, open and empty your mind, swim in art and music and work hard, lost in the moment of work, and let what comes to inhabit you have its way – whatever it is or is not. This is not vanity or humility, it is not self concern or self forgetting, it is just being and work, which is the same thing. Fear and control will near every few moments; notice it and return your attention to being and work, again and again, notice and ignore fear millions of times for the rest of your life.

Be totally self driven. You know what bores and engages you; follow that. You are your own employer, your own director, for you are the whole tool and instrument you have to achieve the work that will come to you. There is no ego in it.

I’m not an historian, I’m not an analyst. I’m a writer, I’m an artist. That’s what I always was.

Pure drama on the mountain in the Tour, with Contador attacking and Schleck pulling back even and then staring into his eyes .. incredible atmosphere with the road buried in mist.

ThisĀ  is a satellite image of Dregerhafen in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea, with a white dot showing the location of the small house I lived in in 1992-3; the school, which shows as a pale grey blob above the dot; the cove where Ellen McNeil and George Latham moored their yacht Winddancer for several days during bad weather on their way to the Solomon Islands, and took me snorkelling for the first time; the small island by the cove that I swam out to one day; the route to the south where one of the regular boats (MV Rita, or MB Mamose) took me away to Lae when I left in December 1993, crying on the deck while watching my little house on the edge of the land become a tiny dot, tinier than this white dot, and disappear from view.

‘The suffering of others’ was on my mind quite a lot, on and off, over the period of the last year or two. Watching two programs on TV tonight, about the experiences of children and young people in Australia over the present three generations, and about a woman who has been paralysed and unable to speak since she had a stroke fourteen years ago, brings this subject back to my mind. There are thoughts about the enormity, variety and depth of suffering in the world, from the torment of a person suffering from mental illness, the desolation of emotional abandonment, the despair of the economically oppressed; debt slaves, child soldiers, rape victims; those multilated or made homeless by disaster, war, atrocities; orphaned and abandoned children; and their adult selves, later selves, families, those around them; and on and on. More than this, there are thoughts about the experience of suffering and how people move through suffering. There are thoughts about coping through acceptance, and coping through humility and reaching out for others’ help. There is also the realisation that, for very many people, help is sometimes never there, and that to me is a tragedy, and the reason why the fundamental condition of human welfare, everywhere in the world, no matter what conditions of political, economic, cultural or spiritual devastation and chaos may prevail, is the preservation of connectedness, the presence of a hand to hold when all else is gone. Tonight I cried hardest when an Indigenous woman aged in her 60s spoke of the moment when, as a child, she looked out from the train upon which she was being taken away from the loving security of her birth home in the bush camp of her mother and her aunts and uncles, to be an adopted child of a German immigrant couple in the city, and saw her mother and grandparents on the train platform, waving goodbye. The utter desolation and brokenness of that separation. And I cried as much at the tragedy of an eight year old girl in a Scottish orphanage, being sent with hundreds of other orphans on a ship to Australia after the second world war.


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