You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance. Anne Lamott
I write in my bedroom. My desk is on an angle in front of the windows and if I stand up at my desk, which I must do, apparently, at regular intervals when working, in order to protect my miserable sagging spine, I can see the Wharekopae River across the fence line at the edge of the driveway and beside that the curve of the gravel road and the one way bridge. I can also hear if a car is coming up or down the gravel road; get to see which of the neighbours is having a town day.
Directly in front of me is a huge oak tree, just scrappy grey branches now. It’s a bit lopsided near the top. In Cyclone Bola which caused huge damage in Gisborne, the central branch snapped off and there was a real fear that we’d lose it. But it survived. We had a table made up from the wood that came from the central branch. We waited years in the end for the guy who was storing the slabs of oak to make the table. He made a lousy job, but the trees looking great. There’s quite a lot of stuff here, when I think about it. Story stuff, I mean.
I’ve been reading Janet Frame. I read everything I could of hers a few years back. I was reading Sylvia Plath at the same time. I was mid-way through a paper through Massey, extramurally and had also just had a baby and was feeling quite isolated. Can remember reading The Bell Jarby Sylvia Plath and loving it, and then whenever the baby was asleep, throwing myself into Janet Frame and particularly, Faces in the Water.
I picked up Janet Frame’s Towards Another Summer. Had forgotten how lovely it is to lose yourself in her writing, to swim in her thoughts almost. I do love that about her work. I think there are a few comparisons I could make with her and Alice Munro.
It’s a beautiful sunny day today. We had so much rain on the weekend that we were cut off up here in the hills for a few hours. Not so bad really, except that I had seven ten year olds waiting at various points along the gravel road beyond our two water crossings to be ferried into the bright city lights of Gizzy to kick their heels up. We got there.
I was looking at Alice Munro again last night, from her collection Runaway. I had read a discussion on the net where the interviewer asks Munro about the role of memory in her stories and how it shapes our lives and what is it about this that intrigues Munro. Munro’s response:
Memory is the way we keep telling ourselves our stories — and telling other people a somewhat different version of our stories. We can hardly manage our lives without a powerful ongoing narrative. And underneath all these edited, inspired, self-serving or entertaining stories there is, we suppose, some big bulging awful mysterious entity called THE TRUTH, which our fictional stories are supposed to be poking at and grabbing pieces of. What could be more interesting as a life’s occupation? One of the ways we do this, I think, is by trying to look at what memory does (different tricks at different stages of our lives) and at the way people’s different memories deal with the same (shared) experience. The more disconcerting the differences are, the more the writer in me feels an odd exhilaration.
Talked to Kathryn last week about the way that Munro ‘does’ tenses and flashbacks. In my writing, I often feel that this is my ‘problem’ a technical difficulty. But part of me, believes, that it is also just the way my characters want to behave and I think I want to hang onto that somewhere in the background of my writing in this MA year. I realise that I’ve not got the skills developed to pull it off. As Kathryn said, it’s a very advanced sort of style. I think it’s just the way that people in reality think and behave. I think that’s what Munro captures in her writing.
I’ve got my folio workshop this week. Feeling a mixture of excitement and gut wrenching fear at the prospect of it. Spent hours and hours on it in the last couple of days I have before hand-in. Only once it was photocopied though, stapled and handed out, still warm from the photocopier even, only then did I see the first of my monumental errors. The last page of my first story I have slipped into the incorrect tense. Why does this happen? I hand a copy to Damien where he stands at the whiteboard, have a little bleat to him about my mistakes. It just happens, he says.