It was the light, such brightness. We’d had heat for days, temperatures hitting forty degrees Celsius, the chooks barely coping, before a stretch of cool, overcast weather, a little mist. But on Tuesday just gone, there it was, the light, such brightness, extraordinary clarity, as if we’d been living through a dust-storm that had suddenly cleared, or I’d finally cleaned the windows after twenty years of domestic laziness (which reminds me). In reality, it was nothing more than a morning with a clear blue sky, no heat, just the clear blue sky, but how magical it felt. I wanted to grab my coffee and sit outside and be out there, amongst the light on the blooming white roses, on the lavender that’s coming, and on the tomatoes that are fruiting up nicely; and the chooks, of course, those angels of the handkerchief-sized yard of mine.
But still I went down there, the opposite direction, to my writing room at the front of the house and opposite the library. It’s quite a big room, my writing room – it could easily fit in a queen-sized bed (which would result in no writing, that’s for sure). There’s a view out into the front veranda and the strip of yard out the front and the picture-postcard picket fence and the plane-tree avenue and the houses on the other side of the road and Rocky Hill on the other side of town. But I’m getting carried away. The point is I like my writing room: there’s no internet, no stereo, no bookshelves except a small white one that contains a collection of dictionaries. One black Acer PC, which is holding up well considering how cheap it was; a Canon colour printer-scanner-copier, of which I’m just a little too fond. The walls are painted a deep mud-red, which, in certain kinds of light, matches the turpentine floorboards. A lot of things on the walls: a painting done by a friend, screen-prints, photos I’ve taken (some dating back to the early 1980s), story outlines.
So I enjoy it, being in this place, but on a day when the light outside is so extraordinary that you find that you’ve spent ten minutes staring at it, marvelling, there are thoughts that go through my head: why do I go down the hallway to the writing room? What’s the true impulse? Perhaps the most honest – and potentially most famous – essay on the subject is ‘Why I Write’ by George Orwell (1953). Orwell talks about ego, and aesthetic enthusiasm, and political purpose, amongst others, with political purpose being his greatest motivator: ‘…looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally’.
I can’t find any reason to disagree with Orwell, but somehow there’s something missing. Although it’s rather presumptuous – pompous even – to talk about my own motivations (Fall On Me might be pretty good, but it’s no Animal Farm), the topic is something I often think about, especially when I’ve just received bad news – the rejection of a story submitted, notice of a bad review, or my own conclusion that what I’m writing is stillborn. Why exactly do I insist on spending the majority of my week sitting at my desk and making up stories? In many ways, it’s an absurd practice: I did it as a kid, it was just playing back then, and I’m still doing it now, aged forty-three, except it remains playing. Even though I write contemporary realist fiction, I’m doing nothing more than making up worlds and characters and predicaments.
Sure there are things I want to say, there are records that I want to leave behind, and, yes, I do love playing with words and sentences; getting life on the page is no easy task, in fact it’s more impossible than possible, so there’s an almighty challenge in all of this, and when it happens, that life, when you can feel pulse on the page, when the world is as real as any world can ever be, well, there’s no other feeling of accomplishment – it’s as though you’ve managed to go to the moon and back. But I can’t escape thinking that the main reason why I turn away from spending a day outside in the most magical of light is that, on the whole, I find the fictional world more interesting than the world on the other side of the glass.