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A month ago I heard the squeal and clunk and whoosh of the postie: in my letterbox were two proof copies of MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING. Which meant I had reached a particular stage in the journey of writing this novel. Here was my last opportunity to make changes; and at that time there were only three months before the baby would be out in the world.

Yikes.

So, for the past few weeks, in my crumbly old house in regional New South Wales, I have been hunched over the pages, tightening here and there and everywhere, making sure every word is right and resonant. Well, that’s the dream, isn’t it. In a way it is an exciting time, because it means the novel will soon be no longer be mine – I will have given it to others, the book will be the reader’s. But it is also a challenging time, because I really do want every word and sentence and paragraph to be perfect. Which, of course, is an unattainable goal.

I shared my battle (if that is the right word) with perfection with two other novelists, both of whom are multi-award-winning. One said, ‘Perfection is something I’ve neither aimed for nor achieved.’ The other shared with me a story:

Some years ago, when we lived in a different city, we had a dog, Meg, who was a Shetland collie-kelpie cross. She was one of those gorgeous dogs you mourn for ages after their death. She was so full of life, and when she was young we wondered if she would ever settle down. But our friend, John, talking about the biblical line, ‘Be perfect even as God is perfect’ or something similar, said that Meg was perfect not because she was good or obedient, but because she was perfectly dog and perfectly herself. That she was thoroughly herself and that’s all she needed to be. I don’t quite know how that transfers to novels and writing, but I always think of that story as taking away the need to get things right. I suppose for my writing I hope that I can let it be itself, and breathe; I don’t need to get it ‘right’. It also reminds me that I don’t need to compare with other work because only mine can be its perfect self.

Which was very helpful.

Perhaps, in the end, we can only hope that our work, in its own wonderful way, is perfectly imperfect.

Another anecdote, another that is entirely true:

Towards the end of last year, the day after I sent to my wonderful publisher at Ultimo what at the time was the latest draft of the novel, I was tidying my writing room when one of my journals threw itself from a shelf to the floor. My journals contain ideas for stories, most of which are destined to remain just that: ideas in a journal. Now sprawled on the floor, the journal had opened randomly to a page, in which was a note (written in my dreadful hand): ‘The Tiger Quoll: both Alison and Shaw are obsessed with the story of the tiger quoll’. The note is dated June 2007. I’ve long forgotten who Alison and Shaw were meant to be, but I have never forgotten about the tiger quoll. Perhaps it was me who became obsessed with that beguiling little creature – because it is a key motif in MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING.

The very final edits of which I finished on Wednesday this week. Fifteen years, it seems, after I wrote that scrappy note. The occasion called for a G&T. More than one.

Next stop: publication on 4 May.

If you would like to be first in line to get your hands on a copy, the novel is currently available for pre-order. Should you head over that way, thank you.

Before you go, here are my recent adventures in reading:

THE RIPPING TREE by Nikki Gemmell – a powerful and, at times, harrowing novel about the lies non-Indigenous folk tell about the forming of this thing called Australia. It shook my bones.

WHEN THINGS ARE ALIVE THEY HUM by Hannah Brent – the commitment of sisters, the shenanigans of families, the lure of Hong Kong. A poignant and thought-provoking delight.

NEW ANIMAL by Ella Baxter – I tore through this novel and it tore through me. Really. Truly. My god.

QUESTIONS RAISED BY QUOLLS by Harry Saddler – nature, fatherhood…and how are we meant to live when everything seems to be going to hell in a handbasket? A book about worry, but not without hope.

FOUND, WANTING by Natasha Sholl – the grief memoir everyone is talking about, and rightly so. How is someone meant to respond when their partner dies unexpectedly in their sleep? Despite the subject matter, it’s beautifully observed, and lightened with wit and humour.

COLD ENOUGH FOR SNOW by Jessica Au – one of the most remarkable pieces of prose fiction I’ve read in a long time. A mother and daughter holiday in Japan: that’s it, that’s the plot. And it’s extraordinary.

THE SWALLOWS OF KABUL by Yasmina Khadra (actually a former male officer in the Afghanistan army) – an incredible, and gut-wrenching, tale about life under the Taliban. Written, of course, before recent events. Heart-breaking.

AMONGST WOMEN by John McGahern – a profound study of the lifelong impacts of war (it’s set in Ireland in the 1980s) on a man and a family. McGahern is no longer with is, but what a gift is this novel. Colm Tóibín is a fan; now I am too.

WHAT ARE YOU GOING THROUGH by Sigrid Nunez – I love Nunez, and I loved THE FRIEND, and I loved this. Brief, but so wise. If only I had a tenth of her ability.

As ever, much gratitude, and love to all. Especially during these turbulent times.

I reached in and there it was, exactly where it should be, exactly as I expected, except it’s not a daily occurrence, no, I’m not lucky enough for that. But still there it was, just sitting there, left there, waiting for me to come by and collect it.

I picked it up. Between my fingers, in the palm of my hand, it was perfect, truly perfect, no markings, no scrapings of dirt. So warm, so recent, recently left for me to find – the best of presents.

I went to return to the backdoor but stopped. I stood motionless in the middle of my handkerchief-sized yard, Cat the Ripper catching the mid-morning sun by lying on his side in the veggie-patch mulch (a bed just for him, he thinks), sparrows chirping industriously in the bush of the potato vine on top of the pine-log pergola as if they had picks in their beaks and mining the sky – clink clink clink. But I stopped only because of what I held in my hand.

I couldn’t believe it, I was incredulous. And it really was the perfection that got me. The creamy colour, only a hint of coffee in the hue. And simple – the simplest of the simple. And smooth! Did I know of anything smoother? Dry glass perhaps, but this was microscopically pitted. So it was like bone, the thinnest of bone, a bony membrane. I could crush it. A slow, concerted turning in of my fingers and palm and it would be gone, an oozing gooey mess remaining, the sharp shell bits digging into my skin.

I got going again – I had work to do, words to write, stories to create – but at the back-step I stopped for a third time. Could there be anything more beautiful than this simple thing, so whole, wanting to be nothing more than this? Wouldn’t that be good – to be as whole as this and believe it, understand it, know it.

Inside the house at last I washed it in the laundry sink, but – oh of course – my efforts made it no more perfect. As I went into the kitchen I remembered some words that Lou Reed used to sing: ‘It’s such a perfect day/I’m glad I spent it with you’. It’s true: how glad I was to be in the company of that day’s backyard-chicken egg. Because I’m not perfect, and never will be.

(First published as ‘Joy in the little things’ in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 17 November 2012.)

'Nigel's interior' by Rudy Kistler (oil on panel, 2011)

There’s a new painting on my wall.  It didn’t just appear there out of the blue, of course, although it would have been good if it had (fancy a house where art just appears on the walls, and disappears again, just like that!).  No, I bought this one, at least I’m in the process of buying it, because it’s a painting of a room in my house, the doors to the ensuite no less, which doesn’t sound like a worthwhile subject for a painting, and if you could see the actual doors, and the actual ensuite, with its over-cast grey tiling and floor-to-ceiling crack in the wall, you’d think it even less worthwhile.  But there it is: a painting of my ensuite doors, a painting by Australian artist Rudy Kistler.

Last month, while I was working words at Varuna, the national writers’ house in the Blue Mountains, Rudy was at my place in Goulburn, ostensibly house-sitting, and chook-sitting, the latter much more important than the former.  But in reality he was painting.  One of the joys of those two weeks was seeing Rudy post on Facebook the paintings he was producing.  There was one of sparrows in the budding Manchurian pear tree in the backyard.  Another of a whiskey bottle on my dining-room table, French doors behind, the tiling beneath the table rendered as if peeling away, like baked mud in a summer dam.  But it’s the painting of the ensuite French doors that really took my fancy, because – because why?  Because here was someone, Rudy Kistler, engaging with my house, connecting with it, interpreting it.

Had he woken one morning and saw something that took his eye?  Had he sat up in bed and sketched it?  I’ve asked Rudy about the motivation of the painting.  He said that he was taken by the light, how it came through ‘three rooms in one’.  That’s all; it’s nothing more complicated than that.

To me, however, it’s the magic of being able to see through someone else’s eyes.  If writing is all about walking in someone else’s shoes, and communicating that as fully as possible, perhaps painting – all visual art – allows the viewer to spend a moment experiencing someone else’s sight.  And how extraordinary that is, because it’s a rare privilege. So that’s why I have this new painting.  When I look at the painting of my ensuite doors by Rudy Kistler I’m out of my own wretched body, I’m not of myself, and that’s such a good feeling.  Perhaps, for some, religion takes them out, but for me it’s art, art that is as good as this.

To finish with a quote from Rudy himself.  You know how I mentioned that other painting with the tiles like dried-up mud?  I asked him why he chose to paint the flooring in such a way, especially when the flooring is actually brand new (and cost me a small fortune).  Rudy replied, ‘I had a teacher once who said, we’re not interested in your straight lines, anyone can paint in straight lines, we’re interested in your wobbly lines.’

There’s something in that, isn’t there, the startling beauty of imperfection.

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