Five talented emerging writers were offered professional guidance and support in developing their work for publication in Westerly, both in print and online. We are now delighted to be able to showcase their work here at the Editor’s Desk, and look forward to their inclusion in our upcoming print issue.
I Am Now (Present Tense)
A friend of mine, who is a writer, talks to me very slowly. She listens to everything I say. Sometimes she stares at me for a long time before she says anything. I used to wonder what she was thinking: did she think I was stupid? Did my conversation make no sense?
A friend of mine, who is an artist, stood chatting with me by the trampoline as our children frolicked outside of part-time school hours. The next year they would be starting big school. It meant that they would have less time to bounce. It also meant that my friend and I would have more time to ourselves, to focus on ourselves. We talked about what we could possibly do with ourselves, having all that extra time.
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I asked my friend.
‘I’m going to be an artist,’ she laughed. ‘What about you?’
‘I don’t know. I’d like to write…’
‘Well, you should!’ she told me.
‘Yes. Okay.’ I raised my chin. ‘I’m going to be a writer.’
I began a major in Literature and Writing at the South West Campus of Edith Cowan University, looking forward to the glorious moment when I would be a writer. I’d always been a dabbler, of course. Words always spilled onto my skin from the showerhead and washed against my feet as I walked the beach. Words fell with wasted paper as I trimmed plans, sometimes hundreds, in the cartography section at work. I often caught the words: on a tissue box, a serviette, a superseded town-planning scheme, but they were never complete. During my studies I learned to complete things. It was a good start, and I continued, waiting patiently to be a writer.
I sent some completed writings off to competitions, and had some successes. Success is encouraging, and being selected to participate in Westerly’s Writers’ Development Program has been a particularly rewarding experience. I am a writer, now. And of course, I always had been. Like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, I’d been wearing the ruby slippers all this time, but I didn’t realise. Whether I used it efficiently as a tool or not, I’d always had a certain way of looking at the world that is peculiar to artists.
There are characteristics that may be common to writers—inbuilt, or perhaps developed —that make them writers. A favourite of mine is the ‘sponge’ characteristic. I understand now that when my friend, who is a writer, stares at me through an awkward silence, she’s absorbing. I recognise this state of being. When I walk along Back Beach and my world reduces to the cube forms of basalt, when I disappear into the cracks, I’m absorbing, and being absorbed. Everywhere there are places and spaces and people and things, things that happen, things that don’t. I think here of the words of writer and academic Nigel Krauth, when he discusses his own style: ‘I spend much more time … focused on my reactions to experience: the awareness of being and responding; the alertness to recording of details…’ (189). I become particularly inspired when he talks about his interaction with the world, in terms of using himself as a crash-test dummy in a head-on collision experiment. This is where Keats’ negative capability comes into play. The ability to be, and just be. It’s about being present.
As part of the program I spent two nights on a writing retreat at Caroline and John Wood’s amazing cottage in Redgate. Being still and being present allowed a symbiotic relationship to develop—the absorption of myself into the land, and the land into me. Eye of newt, and toe of frog: somehow tossing things into the cauldron together, boiling them up and letting them settle results in a new thing, something that resembles its constituents and yet is different. I can only use magic to explain what happens when the outside mixes with the inside; reality with imagination. Perhaps poet and academic David Morley expresses this more succinctly as creating a synthesis ‘by drawing on relationships in the exterior landscape and projecting them onto the interior landscape’ (162).
The synthesis of place and imagination proved a fertile ground for short stories and I found the retreat to be a very productive time. As I stood on the balcony and absorbed the bush beneath, a character appeared as imagination overlayed place, and I, watching, became his mother. The short story, Hundred Acre, unfolded, full of images such as this:
She sat down on bristling leaves, banksia men falling about her. So quiet. So isolated. She might die out here and no one would notice. No one would find her. She leaned against the banksia tree; it didn’t comfort her, not the way a mother would.
En route back to Bunbury, I spent time at various spots along the south west coast. The places and the people went about their business of being, and I observed. Being present, again, allowed for the magic of synthesis to occur and despite the elements, I wrote most of the short story Osprey in situ. Descriptions of place feature strongly in the writing:
Scattered throughout the car park, squashed between rust-buckets and BMWs, bodies prepared to brave the ocean, and bodies recovered from the ocean, coming down, slowly.
The waves are awesome today. It’s going off, was the word in the car park. Some of the voices were from drowned rats, totally spent, coming in with tingling skin. The dry ones couldn’t get out there fast enough.
To accept that one is a writer means that time is granted to sit and watch, to listen and to think. Being present is an important part of my writing process, and being part of Westerly’s Writers’ Development Program has given me the time and space to discover my own creativity. Being present is where I begin.
At the other end of the process is editing, and here I have found the most wonderful guidance from my mentor, Susan Midalia. There have been many things along the way that, although small, have made a good deal of sense; bits of knowledge that I will never put aside now, and am very grateful for. Susan never seemed to tire and was very open-minded with my sometimes unconventional writing style. I bombarded her with a number of stories that were all very different and Susan switched between them smoothly, giving them space to breathe and develop individually.
Alongside the little things is the huge and lasting impact that is affected by positive feedback and encouragement. I find it extremely valuable to have someone else be confident in me while I am building up my own self-confidence. Susan’s industry knowledge was informative and helped me make decisions about my own direction as a writer. Certainly, this kind of support and guidance transforms ‘I’m going to be’ into ‘I am now’, in the present. And now that I am, I can move forward as a writer, enriched by the knowledge and experience gained from the Program.
Krauth, N. (2006). ‘The Domains of the Writing Process’. In N. Krauth & T. Brady (eds.) Creative Writing: Theory Beyond Practice. Teneriffe, QLD: Post Pressed, pp.187-196.
Morley, D. (2012). ‘Serious Play: Creative Writing and Science’. In D. Morley & P. Neilsen (eds.) The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 153-170.
Images by Rachelle Rechichi