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‘Whiskey is spelt with an ‘e’.’ That’s what my writing colleague told me 20 years ago after I’d asked him to comment on a short story of mine – he thought the story was alright but made it clear that I’d spelt whiskey incorrectly. ‘That’s the Irish way,’ he said, in his broad, multi-generational Australian accent.
I too have Irish ancestry, though it dates back well over 200 years, so I took his point. And ever since, no matter what I’m working on, even a column for a newspaper, I make sure that whiskey has its ‘e’.
A couple of years before the writerly conversation with my colleague, I visited Ireland – I did the typical young Australian thing of chucking everything in, donning a borrowed backpack, and flitting off on adventures overseas. First I trained it across Canada in the North American mid-winter; I was told that it would look just like Tuggeranong – it didn’t. Then I flew over the Atlantic and landed in London; being someone who also has English ancestry, I was told that I’d definitely ‘feel something in Old Blighty’ – I didn’t. I caught the train to the top of Wales before riding the ferry across to Ireland.
Dublin. What a city. Eire in general. All the faces seemed so familiar, as though I could tap a random person on the shoulder and they’d turn around and say, ‘Ah Nigel, you’re home!’ Which is absurd: I’m as Irish as a glass of water. Still, I spent six weeks backpacking up the west coast, from Caherciveen to Inishboffin, which is like spending six weeks backpacking from Batemans Bay to Wollongong. But I loved every minute of it, despite the rain, and the insidious damp, and the pale light. The conversations. One in particular, with a village shopkeeper. She: ‘You have that Paul Keating as a prime minister.’ Me: ‘Yes, he’s a republican.’ She, deadpan: ‘And look at what republicanism’s done to Ireland.’
Regardless, when it was time to catch the ferry from Belfast to Scotland I had an Irish accent and now wore an emerald-green coat that made me look like a walking field. A fortnight later, when I made it back to London, I found myself even more in love with Ireland, and even more out of love with the UK.
Had I become radicalised?
If so, my radicalisation has only ever manifested itself in spelling.
Whiskey is spelt with an ‘e’.
(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 13 July 2013.)
- Write for myself and no one else.
- Compare myself to no one.
- Write what I’d like to read.
- Write the story only I could write.
- Some writing sessions are better than others.
- Take the time to enjoy the creation, because the creation is the whole point, potentially the only point.
- Taking breaks during writing sessions isn’t a bad thing.
- Reading and writing are the two sides of the same coin – one can’t happen without the other (well, to be sure, I can’t write my own stories without reading the stories other people write).
- I’m not writing a book; I’m telling a story.
- Simply being in the writing-room and writing, even if the writing is utter rubbish, is 70% of the task.
- When in doubt, play and dream – enjoy it.
- Be gentle with myself.
- Just keep going.
The audience gasped and it was because of something I said, or, at least, had written in a humble novella called I’m Ready Now. I didn’t think much of it, because I had to keep reading, engaging the crowd as much as humanly possible (especially when your hands are shaking and your legs feel as though stuffed with porridge). It wasn’t until I finished and stepped off the stage that Greg Gould from Blemish Books said to me with a cheeky glint in the eye, ‘Some may have found the reference to X a shock to the system.’ Of course, Greg didn’t say ‘X’; he told me exactly what some may have found a shock to the system. But I didn’t mind, not at all, because it’s better for an audience to have a strong reaction than to have no reaction.
Now it’s time to focus on the next public-speaking gig: the 2013 Southern Highland Writers’ Festival, which runs from Friday 12 July to Sunday 14 July in Bowral, New South Wales. Shit – next weekend! Check out the festival’s website for the program. As mentioned before around these parts, my session, which is with Wollongong-based novelist Christine Howe, is at 4pm on Saturday. Not only am I looking forward to participating in this amazing festival and gratuitously rubbing shoulders with eminent writers like Anne Summers, Mark Tredinnick, and Ursula Dubosarsky, I have a few familial connections to the region.
My father worked in the local hospital, my parents lived on neighbouring Mt Gibraltar, my maternal grandparents lived opposite the town oval (now named Bradman Oval, which is apparently a reference to some cricketer or other), and family lore has it that in the late 1700s, after immigrating in a boat – yes, Australian politicians, IN A BOAT – my forebears, convicts the lot of them, were granted land just south of Bowral. These days, my kin are all over the joint, but I’m just an hour down the road, in bloody-boiling-one-day-and-fucking-freezing-the-next Goulburn, which is, quite frankly, where I’m happiest.
But I’m getting carried away.
If you’re not doing anything next weekend, why not head for the Highlands? It’ll be great to see you. I might even tell you about X.