Directly behind me is a 100,000-person city. Really.

Courtesy of the Launceston City Council, the Kings Bridge Gatekeeper’s Cottage, pictured above, is my home for the next four weeks.  For those not familiar with this neck of the woods, Launceston is a small city in the northern part of Tasmania.  Between Tasmania and Antarctica is…well, nothing except a shitload of ocean.

The 120-year-old Kings Bridge Cottage is perched on the side of a 200-million-year-old dolomite cliff overlooking the South Esk River.  From where I’m sitting, if I look to the right I may as well be in wilderness because all there is to see is dark brown deep water and bush-covered valley walls (with the sound of rapids not far behind); but if I look to the left, there’s traffic scurrying across two bridges and further back the red-roof clutter of the Launceston CBD.  So this humble cottage (though it’s not really that humble: four times a day cruise boats glide up and down the river, the passengers snapping away at this architectural miracle, so I stand a distance back from the windows in case I look like a caged animal) is a gatekeeper in more ways than one.

Why I am here?  Because the good folk of the Launceston City Council have the generosity and foresight to offer their gatekeeper’s cottage to artists who not only want to progress a particular project but are also willing to engage with the local community.  Which means I have a responsibility to write and to connect.  (I have decided that while I’m here I will write everything – even blog posts – by hand, meaning handwriting.  For those who’ve had the great misfortune of experiencing my illegible scrawl, this will be quite an achievement, if I can pull it off.)

But that responsibility of writing.  It has me thinking of a quote by Ben Okri, author of The Famished Road.  ‘Writers have one great responsibility: to write beautifully, which is to say write well.  Within this responsibility is that of being truthful.  To charm, to amuse, to enchant, to take use out of ourselves, these are all part of beauty.  But there is a parallel responsibility: and that is to sing a little about the realities of the age, to leave some sort of magical record of what they saw and dreamt while they were alive (because they can’t really do it the same way when dead), and to bear witness in their unique manner to the beauties, the ordinariness, and the horrors of their times.’  (A Way of Being Free, 1997)

So here I am, in a 120-year-old gatekeeper’s cottage perched on the edge of a 200-million-year-old dolomite cliff, hoping, by heart and hand, to bear witness in my own way to the beauties, ordinariness and horrors of my time.

It sounds so bloody grand.  And hard.

Oh Christ, what have I done.

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