Tag Archives: grief

The Cartographer

The cartographer
saw the vastness of landscape
and rendered it knowable.
Transformed terrain
to elevations, angles,
contour line etchings
and watercourse filigree.

The cartographer
used his raptor vision
to view conflict as landscape,
charting paths through
political quicksand,
over bureaucratic dunes
to the ocean of truth.

The cartographer,
now guided not guiding,
his acute compass
dizzied by Alzheimer’s.
Piercing the fog,
he cedes, all pauses and sighs,
“I’ve lost the path”.

On talking to readers, not at them

Regular travellers down Thunder Road will have noticed I’ve turned off and meandered along Michael Morpurgo Lane lately. (If there isn’t a mossy lane somewhere in the UK with this name, there should be.) I was just about to indicate and head back onto the highway when I had cause to flick through an old notebook while preparing for a media interview about Five Parts Dead.

And there, among my crypto-calligraphy, was a page of notes on the talk Mr Morpurgo did at the State Library in September 2007. After decoding, I can share some of what he had to say:

On targeting a specific age group when writing:
“What dictates the tone of the story is the story itself.”

On writing for children, not at children:
“If you are writing something for children because you think they could learn from it or that they would like it, you are probably patronising them.

“You don’t have the children in mind when you are writing , you have the story in mind.”

On protecting children from topics such as death and grief – don’t do it:
“Children have always had to deal with pain … At some stage they are going to have to deal with the loss of a grandparent.”

On character arcs:
“I like the idea of redemption … but not if I have to work too hard to get it in there.”

On where to find stories:
“I had a teacher who used to say, ‘Use your imagination, Michael’. What she should have said was, ‘Use your eyes and use your ears’, because that’s where your imagination begins.”

I particularly like that last quote because it’s essentially what I tell students when conducting writing workshops.

Mr Morpurgo also spoke of how he uses poems, songs, nursery rhymes and folk tales to flesh out and give structure to his books, stating that ancient tales still speak to us all as human beings:
“We survive, as long as our stories survive.”

Amen to that.

Snapshots from a novel #3

Extracts from the sensory and beautiful How To Make A Bird by Martine Murray.

‘I didn’t mean to say it like that. Sometimes sentences rushed out before I checked them over for holes or hidden weapons.’ p6

‘I spent a lot of my life waiting, to tell you the truth, which was why I was getting out of town. It was a deliberate strategy, a counterattack to waiting, which wasn’t getting me anywhere. There are two types of waiting. There’s the waiting you do for something you know is coming, sooner or later – like waiting for the 6.28 train, or the school bus, or a party where a certain handsome boy might be. And then there’s the waiting for something you don’t know is coming. You don’t even know what it is exactly, but you’re hoping for it. You’re imagining it and living your life for it. That’s the kind of waiting that makes a fist in your heart.’ p16

‘It’s not surprising that someone in my circumstances would always be wanting something. Probably ever since I started out with the wrong shoes. There was the wanting and there was the waiting, too. That’s two feelings that move all out of step with each other. Waiting doesn’t really move, it doesn’t have direction, whereas wanting dashes out of you, like an arrow. So if you wait and want and wait and want, then you live in a jagged way. You go along in zig zag, not in a clear line forward, like most people do.’ pp41-42

BTW, I was reading Martine’s Henrietta Gets A Letter aloud to the Little Monkey (5) recently and was pleasantly surprised when the Little Dragon (9) joined us, then my god-daughter, aged 10. Moments later my god-son (7), added to the throng. Only a good story draws kids in like that. The Henrietta books are junior fiction in the vein of Lauren Child’s Charlie & Lola books – quirky & fun.

Listing

Coming up to Christmas the media fills up with list articles. Top Tens of this and that. Bests and Worsts. Most memorable. The Season/Year/Decade/Century in Review and so on. It will be even more rife this year as we’re ending a decade.

Why do so many of these get published? Because they’re easy to write. Because people like them and argue over them. And because they’re usually a great filler at a time of year when less newsworthy stuff happens.

I indulged in lists here last year. This year I’m so befuddled I’m listing sideways myself. Better to be listing than listless, I guess. Here be some recommendations from me:

Favourite things I read in 2009, (old or new)

A Beginner’s Guide to Living – Lia Hills
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Faceless Ones – Derek Landy
Henrietta – Martine Murray
Little Brother – Cory Doctorow
Paper Towns – John Green
Somebody’s Crying – Maureen McCarthy
Ten Mile River – Paul Griffin

Picture books:
Mannie & The Long Brave Day – Martine Murray & Sally Rippin
Isabella’s Garden – Glenda Millard

2009 favourite listens

It’s been an odd year for my iPod. Normally I buy albums. This year I purchased individual tracks and largely sat with favourite albums from 2008 – or delved into the past to discover Tom Waits, John Coltrane and retro Wilco.

Of the few new albums that have had regular rotations, my favourites have been Smoking Gun from Lady of the Sunshine, Wilco from Wilco and White Lies for Dark Times from Ben Harper & Relentless7.

2009 favourite films

Man, there were so many flicks I wanted to see this year but didn’t get to in time (District 9, Samson & Delilah, Balibo, Blessed, The Changeling, Coraline). I’ll catch some of these on video over the silly season. Of those I did get to, I really enjoyed Ponyo, Watchmen, The Reader and The Hangover. I saw the latter with a bunch of mates on a boys’ night out. Laughed until my jaw hurt.

Given my aforementioned befuddlement, I know there will be things I’ve forgotten.

Personal highlights from the year have included finding a passionate publisher for Five Parts Dead, some of the workshops I conducted with students around the state and getting to know several other authors … and then realising we all struggle with the same stuff.

Every year has its tough times too. My thoughts are with those whose lives were altered forever by the February 7 inferno, along with those confronted by cancer or mental illness. Hang tough.