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St Albans Writers’ Festival

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Here, as promised, is my report on the St Albans Writers’ Festival:

Anticipating a drive through the usual Sydney traffic blockages, we were gratified to find ourselves instead winding through sunny country lanes. We passed cherry trees in bloom, burgeoning jacaranda, and willow-fringed creeks. The two hours seemed to pass in a flash, so that our city stress had already dropped away by the time we arrived, via the old Wiseman’s Ferry, at St Albans.

Spring had sprung in all its glory as we meandered our way to the tent where the first talk, with Bernadette Brennan, author of “A Writing Life: Helen Garner and her Work” was being interviewed by Nicole Aberdie. Long a fan of the incomparable Garner, I was entranced by Brennan’s astute insights into each of her works, and also into the life of this iconic Australian author. Brennan’s biography is now top of my reading list.

On my way to the next tent I was waylaid by the great Tom Keneally.’Young Davis,’ he flatteringly addressed me,’how’s that book of yours coming along?’ Tom was referring to “Capriccio” which I was working on during his writing workshop a year or so ago. His interest in my work encouraged me to finish writing this novel, now rewritten and on a publisher’s desk somewhere.  His session with Susan Wyndham,  “Tom Kenneally: a Life in Writing”, was a highlight. Tom had us practically rolling in the aisles with his anecdotes and dry humour. This prolific and much-loved author, winner of the Booker prize for “Schindler’s Ark” on which the film “Schindler’s List” was based, is another of my heroes.

After a picnic on the sunny grass and a wander around the crowded bookstore, I climbed the hill to the tiny convict-built church to hear a panel of Emerging Australian Novelists. They were all young, confident and successful writers, who’d had the good fortune to be ‘picked up’ by agents or publishers early in their career (before the rot of despair kicks in). I must admit that, although applauding their early success, I left that session rather cowed, especially when I overheard one writer say she’d finished a first draft in two weeks, and it was all just a matter of being ‘organised’. If Only!

Our literary feast was finished off with a panel on “Rebellious Daughters”, comprising Caroline Baum, Jane Caro, Leah Kaminsky, and Susan Wyndham. A fitting dessert indeed. As we left, Caroline asked me if I’d be coming to the Festival dinner. (Sadly, it was booked out). It was that sort of Festival, where one could talk to one’s Writing Heroes and Heroines as if we were old friends. definitely on my calendar for next year!

 

 

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The Joys and Perils of the Writing Life

The Joys and Perils of the Writing Life

So here I am, as Abraham said to the Lord when offering up his son for sacrifice. “Here I Am” is the title of a wonderful new book by Jonathan Safran Foer, a monumental work close to 1000 pages, exploring themes of cultural identity, fidelity and betrayal, the ephemeral nature of love, families functional and dysfunctional, and what makes them so.

As for me myself and I, this post is in the nature of an apology to you, my readers, for my untoward absence. SInce I last posted back in April, life has overtaken me. There’s been illness, convalescence, slow recovery, as well as the joys of grandchildrens’ birthdays. and celebrations of their achievements, some sojourns in beautiful Darwin, home of my daughters and grandsons, and the minutiae of everyday life.

On the writing side, I’ve been hard  at work on my new novel, ‘A Difficult Daughter’, and preparing my first novel. ‘Capriccio’, for publication. This entailed a major rewrite, mostly in appeasement to Faber and Faber, publishers of the works of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, and the Hughes Estate. Like Jonathan Bate, I fell foul of the Estate when requesting permission to quote thirteen lines of Hughes’s poetry, fully expecting dispensation for such a small amount of material. The lines I quoted were used to introduce chapters, each of which was given the title of one of the ‘Capriccio’ poems by Hughes. Titles, I know, are not subject to copyright. However, to be on the safe side, I have removed every syllable of Hughes’s poetry, and, in order to comply with the other request by the Estate, changed the name of  every character. The astute reader will no doubt recognise my novel, “Capriccio”, as the tragic story of Assia Gutmann Wevill, the lover of Ted Hughes, who came between Hughes, and his wife, Sylvia Plath.  My novel ends with one of Assia’s poems (quoted with permission of her sister, Celia Chaikin), a final clue to the true identity of my protagonist.

Now for the Joy of the writing life: my company of writers, the Randwick Writers Group, continues to flourish, with all four of us preparing to submit novels or memoirs to publishers. Without my fellow-writers, I would never have achieved the completion of one novel and the development of another. Their constructive feedback, wise insights, consistent encouragement, and friendship, has been the motivating force which keeps me going.

In Darwin, I was lucky to join the talented playwright Sandra Thibodeaux for her weekly writers’ workshop, which helped me develop ideas for ‘A Difficult Daughter’, my novel-in-progress. Then there was the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May, the Jewish Writers’ Festival in August, and only last weekend, the St Aubin’s Writers’ Festival. More on this bucolic festival in my next post!

Yoga and Kabbalah

 The kabbalistic tree of life and the Ten Sefirot  

There are many similarities between the Jewish mysticism of the Kabbalah, and other Eastern philosophies.

In kabbalistic lore,there are ten Energy Centres (Sefirot), which correspond to parts of the earthly body. They are, in descending order, Keter (the crown), Chokhmah (wisdom), Binah (intuition, understanding), Chesed (mercy) or Gedulah (greatness), Gevurah (strength), Tiferet (glory), Netzach (victory), Hod (majesty), Yesod (foundation) and Malkut (sovereignty).

The ten Sefirot include both masculine and feminine qualities. Kabbalah pays a great deal of attention to the feminine aspects of the spiritual world. Focussing on a particular centre is said to greatly enhance the physical, emotional, and spiritual life.

The ten Sefirot are usually represented as in the diagram above. This diagram is commonly known as the Tree of the Sefirot, or the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. There is great significance to the position of these various attributes and their interconnectedness. The Sefirot connect with everything in the universe. Thus they are both a reflection of the individual’s spiritual life, and that of the whole of humanity.

Sages have spent millennia discussing these spiritual pathways, so I dare not presume a fuller explanation, after only two years of Kabbalistic study! This post is a very simplified comparison of the Energy Centres in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, and the Chakras in Yoga Philosophy.

Energy Centres in Yoga 

Similarly to Jewish mysticism, Yoga is informed by the Hindu religion. The  energy centres in yoga are called chakras, and bear a remarkable resemblance to the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. In ascending order, they are:

The Muladhara,  situated at the base of the spine, which governs your family ties and feelings of survival, belonging, and guardedness.

Svadhisthana, in the pelvic region,  corresponds with  the reproductive and sexual organs, and represents fluidity, creativity, and fertility.

Manipura in the solar plexus,governsself-esteem and confidence to take action and be productive.

Anahata, or the heart chakra, heals past wounds by reopening your heart, learning to love unconditionally, and forming healthy relationships.

Vishuddha,corresponds to the throat region. When this chakra is open and stimulated, the voice moves through space to help communicate emotions.

The crown chakra (Sahasrara), connects to beauty itself and the spiritual realm.  It is not located in the body but actually hovers above the crown of the head. When it’s closed, happiness seems  come from the outside. Working on this chakra helps you to feel free in any situation.

Meditating on the chakras is  said to be a powerful way to reach self-fulfilment.

There are countless more parallels between Judaic, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious and philosophical systems of belief. Do you know of others?

 

   Kabbalah and Creativity

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The Kabbalah teaches that space is essential to creativity. In the 16th century, Shabtai Sheftel Horowitz, an Eastern European sage, wrote: ‘Before the Creation of the World, the Infinite One withdrew itself into its essence, from itself to itself within itself. It left an empty space within its essence, in which it could   emanate and create.’ (©Orna Triguboff).

I have been attending a series of talks by Rabbi Orna Triguboff, in which we study a text fro the Kabbalah in detail. Each session is enlightening, adding to the knowledge and wisdom scholars have given us for centuries. Kabbalistic scholars describe two energy channels: the left side for logic and understanding, and the right for spirituality, the ‘spark’ of an idea. These two sides merge in the centre, so that both logical thought and spiritual energy give birth to the creative process. In other words, according to ancient wisdom, we need both ‘inspiration and perspiration’ to produce a creative work. Neither pure, raw, imagery, or carefully structured thought are enough alone; an artist, writer or musician needs both. The meeting in the middle is where the final work is manifested.

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CREATIVITY

creativity1As most who practice the creative arts know, creativity comes from a place deep within the soul. To reach that place, we need to make space in our lives, and in our minds. As a writer, I can immediately relate to this concept, knowing that I have to make space, both physical and mental, before being able to access the imagination, or the ‘unconscious,’ the source of dreams and fantasies. A clear period of time and an uncluttered space are essentials for creativity. In today’s busy world this is no easy task.

Strategies for creating space include clearing one’s desk, emptying the day of other commitments, and turning off the phone. Other methods are the practice of meditation to clear the mind, and freeing oneself of the ‘baggage’ of the everyday world. (Leave the dishes in the sink!)

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There are so many obstacles to creativity. In my case a spell in hospital and subsequent recovery time all but sapped my creative energy, after the assault on my brain from anaesthetic and  Which is why you, my dear readers, haven’t heard from me for so long. Now, two months down the track, my energy is slowly returning. With it is a stirring of that mysterious force that can put me in another realm where the laws of everyday survival, metamorphise into a  freedom and release, where creative writing, painting, or musical composition can take place.

Creativity is defined by Wikipedia as ‘a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible (such as an idea, a scientific theory, a musical composition, or a joke) or a physical object (such as an invention, a literary work, or a painting).’ (Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia).

Where does this elusive ‘phenomenon’ come from? Some say only certain individuals can access their creativity. Others believe it resides only in the right side of the brain – a theory of dubious scientific substance. More on this in the next post.

Watching my grandchildren effortlessly produce an intricate. original drawing, or playing a musical instrument, it seems to me that perhaps we are all born with this uncanny ability, but somewhere along the way, we lose the clear joy and freedom so evident in those early years. Where do you think creativity comes from? I’d love to hear your views.

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Interview with Kristel Thornell, author of On The Blue Train

This interview with the writer of a novel based on the secret life of Agatha Christie gives me heart:

In December 1926, Agatha Christie, already the famous author of several detective novels, disappeared for eleven days. The press and the public were agog as a massive investigation employing more t…

Source: Interview with Kristel Thornell, author of On The Blue Train