What's on the other side of silence: darkness, or hope?  Or might it be both?

What’s on the other side of silence: darkness, or hope? Or might it be both?

Silence is golden, so the cliché goes, a cliché being a cliché because at its core it is true, or partly true. But the fact is silence can also be a shadow, more, a shifty, dark, impenetrable black mass. Of all people, it’s our fiction writers who know about silence, know it only too well.

We need silence to read, to immerse ourselves in the work of others, to learn, to admire, to be moved. But we also need silence to dream and think and plan our own stories. We need silence when we’re about to jump over the edge – what a cliff it is; will we fly or fall? – and put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, however it has to be done. We need silence as the words begin to flow, as the characters and their story twist here and there, sometimes everywhere. We need silence when everything starts to unravel: when characters misbehave or fade into the fog; when plots tangle like lantana; when the whiteness of a blank page or screen becomes blindness.

Somehow, miraculously, if the gods are on our side, it comes together in the end, the story is finished, and perhaps, just perhaps, someone wants it enough to make it public, to launch it out into the world.

And then – and then what exactly?

The silence changes form, that’s what, the darkness comes, the blackness. After those days and weeks and months and years of sculpting, unearthing, fossicking, erasing, reshaping, losing, winning, turning, straightening, polishing, to the point that the fictional world is now as real as the world down the street. But once the finished words are on the published page, more than likely – oh this is the terrible truth – nothing will happen. The sun still rises, the sun still sets, and in-between there’s the same old hours.

Amongst the silence – the good sort and the merciless – there has to be hope. That the story, being like a prayer or a chant or even just a simple little wish, will go and do good things. Perhaps in response someone will say a kind word, even a blunt but honest one, and this will make the writer’s day. And it just might be enough to send the writer back into the silence one more time, to dream up another story, to do it all again. Despite themselves and everything they know.

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 20 April 2013.)