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Me shaving at Brideshead Castle, October 1923. (Warning: this post may contain things that aren't strictly true.)

Me shaving at Brideshead Castle, October 1923. (Warning: may not be strictly true.)

Summer is the land of tradition and regrettably I’m no different.  Making the morning cup of coffee before heading to the writing room and getting stuck into it is one, as is marinating in a glass of wine at 6pm to celebrate the end of the day.

All things considered, however, these are relatively recent traditions, one befitting of a man who’s slipping disastrously into middle-age.  If there’s something I’ve done for a very long time, from when I shared a home with parents and brothers, it’s this: to celebrate the completion of some writing, a novella say, I play the soundtrack to the BBC’s serialisation of Brideshead Revisited.

My family, avid ABC viewers the lot of us, had the Brideshead soundtrack on vinyl record, but these days I have it on CD.  It’s dated 1981, so perhaps the series aired in Australia that year, or the one after.  I would have been thirteen or fourteen years old.  With the music playing I’d spend whole days on the couch under a blanket, a pad in my lap, pen in hand, and make up a story – a school assignment.  I can remember the plot of one of them: two country-town boys who aren’t old enough to go to war are forced to stay home and do the hard work of grown men.  Where on Earth I got that from I don’t no.

I simply wanted to listen to Brideshead Revisited and write and wish that I didn’t live on Sydney’s North Shore but in a humble abode called Brideshead Castle and be a Marchmain or a Flyte (but not Sebastian – he was too uptight, even for me); perhaps I could be Charles Ryder and waft here and there and fall in love with this and that and do a watercolour painting whenever the mood had me.

It’s odd, because I’m not fond of classical music, and my music knowledge isn’t sufficiently refined to know how to describe the Brideshead score – contemporary chamber music?  All I know is that, just like Eveyln Waugh’s famously fading English family with their own twisted traditions, I still like to play the soundtrack to Brideshead Revisited whenever it feels as though a piece of writing is on the home stretch.  Perhaps it reminds me of being under that blanket on that couch, crafting a story without a clue as to what I was doing.  How comforting.

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 25 January 2014.)

Wow.  Today, right now, I find myself feeling peaceful, so very peaceful.  It might have something to do with the blue sky, which is such a relief after the weather we’ve had around these Southern Tableland parts, blustery and drizzly, sleety even, so it makes your hands turn grey-black and your nose feel as though it’s going to snap off.  But it’s not just the weather, that deep dark blue Goulburn sky.  No, it’s because yesterday, I feel, something momentous happened.  It’s not momentous as in a change of government, or a great sporting achievement (as if sport can ever be such a thing), it’s just momentous to me.

You see, yesterday I submitted my second novella to my publisher.  Yes, I’ve done this before; I’d thought I was finished, because I felt finished.  It must have been some kind of trick, because Blemish Books came back with changes, good changes, and wise, which then set in train changes I wanted to make.  So that’s how the last seven days have been, making changes to a manuscript and thinking about changes, even at night, and making more of the bloody things, until everything – everything – is perfect.

So I hope.

I’ve been going through I’m Ready Now with a fine-toothed comb, well, in reality it was just a Bic pen.  I’ve agonised over words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters.  I’ve never forgotten something that the Australian children’s-book author Mem Fox once said: ‘Care about writing because it matters.  Ache over every detail.  Be involved in the painful and intolerable wrestle with words and their meaning.’  So that’s what I’ve been doing: wrestling with words and their meanings until I’ve ached.  Until the deadline loomed, the deadline that was 5pm yesterday.

At 4.45pm yesterday I bundled up the manuscript onto a flash-drive, loaded it onto my laptop, crafted an email…and pressed SEND.  The next time I see the manuscript it will be professionally laid out, and the opportunity for making changes will be limited.  Oh, what a relief.  Last night I celebrated with a glass of wine and a fire in the hearth.  And two steaks of salmon, which was an extravagance, but why not.  I slept well.

Today, yes, such extraordinary peace, as though every worry I’ve had has simply dissolved.  But I’ve not given myself a day off – I’ve been in the writing room, in uggboots and tracksuit pants and an old stripy-brown jumper my mother knitted for me when I was a teenager and I’ve kept it with me all this time, it has holes but who cares.  And I’ve worked, going back to another project, except I’ve taken it easy.  I’ve even allowed myself to listen to music: the soundtrack to the BBC serialisation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.  When I was a teenager I loved nothing more than wrapping myself in a blanket, lying down on the couch, and writing school-boy fiction to the Brideshead soundtrack, which would be on LP and on repeat.

So here I am, thirty years later, doing exactly that, although I’m at a desk and the music is on CD and I hope the words I write amount to more than school-boy fiction.  Whatever I write, however I’m Ready Now is received, today has been one of the most peaceful days in my life.  And I am so very thankful that writing remains with me.  Tomorrow I might feel differently, perhaps even the opposite, but today is today and today is calm, serene, still.  So very still.

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