You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2012.

Death’s been good to me. Up until relatively recently at least.  I’ve lost grandparents – as if somehow I’ve simply misplaced them – but that happens to all of us, doesn’t it, the loss, not the misplacement.  Then, strike, first one, then another, two wonderful people, a cousin and a friend, both women, strong women, no nonsense, no bullshit, and now they’re gone.

My cousin, my extraordinary cousin, she was a poet, a good poet, eminent say some – they made a movie out of one of her books so that might qualify her as eminent.  But she’d hate that word.  ‘Oh cuz,’ she’d say, ‘don’t go down that road.’  She was the oldest of cousins, and I am the youngest, so I have only a few memories of her when we were growing up, family get-togethers at Christmas.  Some of the parents called her precocious; I was scared of her.  As an adult, however, I plucked up the courage to email her, and she replied with the best words I’d ever heard: ‘Cuz, if you’re looking for a friend for life you’ve got one in me.  I really am a very simple person.’  A friend for life.  But now she’s gone.  (She would never have wanted her end to define her, so you’ll get no details from me.)  I can’t stop thinking about her.  To some – many – she was indeed a poet.  To me, she was the guide to my family, my nut-case family, because from her position she could see so much.

My friend, my extraordinary friend.  She was an actor.  Whenever she was on stage I couldn’t see her, so completely did she dissolve into the characters she played.  Strange how now I’m thinking about this, my friend reminds me of my cousin, because both of them were small in stature, but strong, fierce, yes, they could both be fierce.  And hilariously funny, and sweet.  My friend: she married a good man, a kind man, a man with a motorbike.  One Saturday night, late, after midnight, she posted on Facebook: ‘Trying to work out whether or not to put on another load of washing.  That’s how exciting my life is!’  The next morning she and her good-man husband went off for a Sunday bike ride on the back roads into the country.  They didn’t come back alive.  So now my friend is gone, and I can’t stop thinking about her.  She was mad on pets, completely mad, so that every time one of my own animals is sick and I’m trying to decide whether or not a trip to the vet is warranted, I hear her say, ‘I can’t believe you have to think about this!  It’s your duty to spend every cent on your little guys if you need to!’

I love angels, in fact, if the truth be known, I’m obsessed.  But I don’t believe in them; I’m not sure I believe in an after-life of any kind.  Somehow, however, in some way, my cousin and my friend aren’t entirely gone. Yes, I think about them so much.  I hear them speak to me.  Wise words from my cousin, wise and blunt – ‘Compare yourself to no one, cuz, compare yourself to no one’ – and adoring words from my friend – ‘Oh Millie is the most beautiful dog, you know that, Nigel, don’t you?’ as if I’m blind to the luck around me.

And no doubt I am.

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‘So the movement,
the restlessness,

the striving,
the sense of never being at home,

and of being anywhere and everywhere
as at home as one might be.

And the impetus to get on,
even if one hardly knew the answer

to that question of questions
– get on where and why?’

I’m finished.  At least I think I’m finished. Not finished as in I’m done with this whole writing thing, from now on I’m going to spend the rest of my days planting daffodils and drinking wine.  But finished as in the manuscript for my second novella is done and dusted.  Well, I think it’s done and dusted; Blemish Books might have different ideas.  And it has a title: I’m Ready Now, yes, it can be italicised, because it’s official.  And I certainly hope the manuscript – the story – is ready now, because by the end of the year it will be out in the world and out of my hands.

How do you know if a manuscript is finished?

I’m Ready Now was first written in a mad storm of writing down in Launceston, Tasmania, two years ago almost to the day.  It came together in a week, except it didn’t really come together in a week, did it, that was just the first draft.  And I loved it; parts of it moved me, which, quite frankly, is rare, because I’m the most self-critical of writers, the most self-critical of human beings.  But in the two years since that shot-blast of writing, I’ve been editing and rewriting and polishing and editing and rewriting and polishing some more.  A lot more.  And it’s been professionally edited, which has resulted in more editing and rewriting – cutting, adding, cutting, adding – until I’ve felt that it’s in a state fit for final submission to Blemish Books.

On the Wednesday of the week just gone, I bit the bullet at last and sent it away.  So it’s in my publisher’s hands now.

Kindly, generously, Blemish Books sent off a tweet into the universe.  Just got the latest draft of Nigel Featherstone’s upcoming novella I’m Ready Now.  Can’t wait to dive back in.  Love watching words evolve.  A few months ago they put out some advance publicity: The second of Featherstone’s ‘Launceston novellas’ is an insightful and daring examination of family, sexuality, loss and moving forward.  How would I describe the book?  Oh don’t ask me; I’m so terrible at this question.  But here’s a stab in the dark: if Fall On Me, the first of my ‘Launceston novellas’, was a father-and-son story, I’m Ready Now is a mother-and-son story, which is always tricky terrain, isn’t it, especially when I’m a son myself, and I have a mother.  But this novella has nothing to do with Launceston: it’s set in Sydney, although the family is from Battery Point, Hobart.  And Ireland.

Do I think the manuscript for I’m Ready Now is finished? Yes, I do.  If my story was a house construction, it’s reached lock-up stage.

What happens now?  Blemish Books will put the manuscript through their own internal editing process, and then they’ll start working on the cover and internal layout, and then a date will be set for the launch, which will most likely be in November this year.  Am I excited?  Yes, I’m excited.  But I’m also exhausted.  This hasn’t been the easiest birth, this book, and it has challenging themes, and a challenging structure, and it’s not something that I’ve tried before, so it’s all a big fat dirty risk.

But what’s writing without risk?

Postscript: it’s not every day that someone writes a poem about a book of mine, certainly not when the book’s still a few months away from being published, but Gabrielle Bryden’s done just that.  Amazing huh?

No doubt it’s because of the season, but my backyard is a matter of life and death.  I have a rose out there, a standard rose in a pot, and a frightening wind came up last week and tried to decapitate the thing – the spindly crown hung upside down, held on by only a thin strip of what looked like skin.

I bandaged it back together with masking tape before realising that something stronger was required, so I’ve now wired it up, forming a splint.  Who knows if the rose will survive, and if it’ll be any better at withstanding the next frightening wind, which surely is just around the corner.

Then there’s a chook, Woo’s her name, and she’s unwell.  She’s jerking her neck as if she thinks she’s a break-dancer on the streets of New York.  She probably has a compacted crop, which means her food has lodged in a compartment in her throat that’s now fermenting.

Her days are numbered (a ridiculous phrase: all our days are numbered), and I’ve found myself waking in the night and wondering how I’ll go into the run in the morning and lift her up and say goodbye, thanks for all your eggs, but now, I’m afraid, I’m going to have to break your neck.  She’ll look at me, I know she will, so being the coward that I am I’ll put her back on the ground and wait another day.

And then there’s Cat the Ripper, who is – shhh don’t tell him – ageing.  He’s slowing down, sleeping more than ever, always in the sun.  So he has sun-blotches on his nose.  Cancer.  Last week the vet put him under and did an operation, burning off the blotches.  Hadn’t the poor bloody animal already been burnt enough?  Now and for another week I must inject antibiotics into his mouth and spread Ungvita ointment on his wounds.

Autumn: as always, it’s the poets who understand.  Verlaine, in ‘Autumn Song’ (‘Chanson d’automne’; 1866), incisively observed, ‘The long sobs/of the violins/of autumn’.  Keats, in ‘To Autumn’ (1819), described this time of the year that we’re in as ‘The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’.  So I’m off to check on a rose, a chook, and a cat, and then, at the dark end of the day, I’ll light a fire, pour a glass of wine, and listen to violins – life and death be damned.

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 5 May 2012.)

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