Saturday, January 07, 2006

Pass tense

Sometimes I catch myself thinking, as I used to when I lived in more temperate climes, “it’s such a gorgeous sunny day, I shouldn’t waste it inside!” But really, the days here are all sunny and clear. The forecast for us is always the same: fine and 33º. And as I was telling Jan on the phone last night, if you watch the part of the evening weather when they show the time-lapse pattern of clouds moving over Australia, you will see that the clouds swirl across the northernmost tip of Queensland and up from the south across the bottom of the state, but they never seem to cross that point on the coast, just above halfway, where Townsville is. So I was surprised this morning when I wandered down to the rockpool and saw that the sky was overcast. I wanted to take a picture to show the sea a deep strange metallic aqua, and the marbly effect on Magnetic Island with all its dents and hills emphasised under the clouds. I went back and fetched the camera before I realised that its batteries are still flat. Sorry.

Everything else was the same as usual down on the Strand this morning; bobbing heads within the stinger nets showed where people were swimming; little kids were fighting under the outdoor showers while their parents stood by with their arms full of towels, hats, swimming noodles and car keys; a youngish fellow lounged incongruously against a palm tree, his pallor quite grey. He was wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, which is nothing but eveningwear in Townsville. He might as well have been wearing a tux or a ball gown. He obviously spent the night on the sand.

Recently I have been spending too much time reading this site and this one, both written by bitter snarky literary agents, and it has been giving me headaches. I read them to try to learn a little bit about what happens when you want to become a published author. You see, I am trying with all my might to teach myself about writing. I have heard a lot of criticism of the creative writing courses that you can do, mainly that they turn out uniform, unemployable writers and masses of unwanted, pale, flabby text, and that the best thing about doing them is that you get loads of free time to read. I already have loads of free time for reading, plus I have two qualifications that I am already not using and I am loathe go into major debt for a third, so it suits me to listen to that criticism. But it is sometimes difficult trying to work it all out on my own. There are whole shoals of people waiting to tap into my desire to be a writer and they’ve all got something to sell: ‘how-to’ books or online courses or whatever. I have to choose who to listen to, who to believe, and so I have been reading those two because they are not paid to write their blogs, and they seem to talk about what actually happens in the business. I have been listening to what they say about the need for writing to have substance and plot and internal dramatic sense.

I agree that a story should have internal dramatic sense. Every good book has it, even the most flowery like Proust and probably even Joyce. It is like the physics of writing. Necessary but painful. Anyone who has known me since high school knows that I am pretty much dyslexic when it comes to physics; in fact anything maths or sciencey. For me, doing a sum is like the bad dream in which I am at a dinner party where everyone is eating daintily with silver cutlery except for me, because my arms have for some reason shrivelled to stumps and I must chase the food around my plate with my mouth. I simply don't have the necessary equipment. So I try to avoid as much as possible.

Even the physics of storytelling is torture for me, and that is what has been causing the headaches. I have been waking up with a sore neck and sometimes a sore back and I have been blaming our saggy mattress, the fan we have on all night, my pillow, everything but the real cause of the problem. It got so bad that I even went to have the tension massaged out of me professionally. And then I thought about giving up on writing and trying to become a masseuse instead. And then yesterday, finally, I came home in the heat and quiet of the middle of the day and put on my How To Speak French CD and listened to the lovely French man say Qu’est-ce que vous preferez? ("What do you prefer?") and Je l’aime beaucoup mieux comme ca ("I like it much better that way") and I finally relaxed properly and let my mind float away with language. Ahh language. Language and words. That’s what got me into this.

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