My Writing Practice – What’s Yours?

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I’ve trod the rocky road towards the beacon of Living the Writing Life since childhood. At first it was easy, then work, family, and the basic job of surviving every day, got in the way. In the end, you have to trust yourself, and kill that critic in your mind. You know, the one that keeps whispering in your ear that no-one will want to read what you write, and ‘who are you kidding?’ Then I discovered I wasn’t the only one, and that wonderful writers like Natalie Goldberg , Kate Grenville, Patti Miller hold out helping hands. Slowly, I gained confidence, and the voice became fainter, only to revive on those bleak days when nothing seems possible. Here is some of the best advice that’s helped me become the writer I am.

Courtesy Harleysville Books Inc

First: Join a Writers’ Group. Better still, if you can’t find the right one, convene  your own. Which is exactly what I did, forming the Randwick Writers’ Group five years ago,and it’s still going strong. It helped me to complete one novel, and gave me the courage to start another.To find out more about my group, see the page ‘Randwick Writers Group convened by Dina Davis’ on the Facebook Pages. Watch this space for some exciting news about RWG!

Continue reading “My Writing Practice – What’s Yours?”

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An Excerpt from ‘Capriccio”

The following extract from my novel ‘Capriccio’ is a fictional recreation of the last day of Sylvia Plath’s life. In this version I haven’t named her, partly to comply with a request from the Hughes estate, and partly to see if it works. What do you think, Dear Readers? Does it work?

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The moon has nothing to be sad about,

Staring from her hood of bone.

She is used to this sort of thing.

Her blacks crackle and drag.

          – from  ‘Edge’ by S.Plath

EDGE 

Rubbing her hands together, desperate for warmth, the young mother dragged a blanket from the empty cot nearby, to drape over her shoulders. Her two children were still sleeping in this hour before dawn. It took a supreme effort of will to shuffle to the little table under the bedroom window that served as a desk. She opened her journal with stiff aching fingers, and reached for her fountain pen

 The water’s frozen in the pipes, and the blood’s frozen in my veins.  My hands are stiff and blue with cold as I write this. It’s the worst winter London has known in over thirty years. Thirty years; my age last birthday and what have I to show for it? A failed marriage, a few poems, and a mediocre novel. At least I didn’t publish it under my own name. Mother would be mortified if she knew that monster was based on her. 

There’s nothing left. Only the children – my two roses. They’ll surely be better off without me. How it breaks my heart to see them, both asleep now, thank God, curled up into their little balls in the bed we needs must share, just to keep warm. I’m seizing these precious moments to write, before they wake. As the temperature drops so the words, bitter words, are pouring out of me on these dark mornings. I’ve a feeling these new poems are the ones that will make my name, make Mother proud of me.  I’m putting them all together in one collection, a small book but a powerful one.

There was just enough light to see the loose page with the draft of her last poem, Edge, its crossed out lines and scribbled notes rebuking her.

She looked again at the title page of her collection, with its simple dedication to Fleur and Timothy. The words were wrung out of her in these early mornings, when she woke to the blackness, after the sedative Dr Horder prescribed had worn off. These hours before dawn, while the children were still mercifully asleep, were hers alone. At first, in the months after He had left her, the words had flowed out of her in those silent ghostly mornings at Court Green. It was as if she needed to fill the gaping wound his absence made inside her with these new, angry, savage poems.

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Continue reading “An Excerpt from ‘Capriccio””

Are you a Morning Lark or a Night Owl?

 

Tell me, do you sparkle in the morning?  In other words, are you a morning person, otherwise known as a Lark?

Or are you like me, an Owl, or ‘afternoon/night person? If so, please join me in the campaign for equality with those oh-so-smug morning people, who roll their eyes when you ask not to be disturbed before 9am. Don’t you just hate it, when friends say, with an air of virtue: ‘I’ve been up since 5.30am, it’s the only way to get things done’. Well, I vehemently disagree. I’m usually up till midnight, finishing a chapter (whether one I’m writing, or one I’m reading) while they’re snoring their heads off. For years, I’ve suffered discrimination from morning people. Just what is that worm they’re so eager to catch?

Like so many other Owls (including, may I say, such luminaries as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Gustave Flaubert) my brain slips into gear by midday, and I’m at my best when most ‘normal’ (i.e. morning) souls are sensibly turning in for their eight hours. Useless to tell them I’d rather meet for a catchup in the afternoon rather than at sparrow’s fart. Anyway, our world being geared for the early risers, all respectable cafes in my neck of the woods are well and truly closed after 3pm.

‘I’m not a morning person’, posts Australian writer Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies, Truly Madly Deeply).’ I’d be fine if a maid glided in with my breakfast on a tray, drew back the curtainand asked if there was anything else madam required. Then I could gently ease myself into each new day, rather than having it slammed against my forehead with all its bright, shiny light.’ (lianemoriarty.com.au) At last a fellow not-morning person! And one whose nocturnal body clock has done nothing to stop the flow of her highly successful novels. As Liane suggests, we night owls may have noble blood, just like the Princess and who slept so lightly that she could feel a pea underneath a mountain of matresses. Now we noble night owls can thumb our noses at those holier- than-thou  early birders.

Other famous night-people include Barack Obama, Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill and Bob Dylan.

Although morning types may achieve more socially and academically, night owls tend to perform better on measures of memory, processing speed and cognitive ability, even when they have to perform those tasks in the morning. Night-time people are also more open to new experiences and seek them out more. They may be more creative. And contrary to the maxim (‘healthy, wealthy and wise’), one study showed that night owls are as healthy and wise as morning types – and a little bit wealthier!

 

Darwin in the BuildUp

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Bliss in the Pool

We stepped off the plane on Boxing Day into what felt like a sauna, turned up to the max. In an instant our clothes were soaking wet, our mouths dry. The short walk to our waiting car took our breath away. ‘The Wet’s late this year,’ said my lovely daughter, a Darwinite for the last twenty years, ‘so it’s still the Buildup. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.’ I silently prayed that our housesit had aircon in every room, and started disrobing in the car.

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Thank goodness for the Pool

Thankfully our Rapid Creek house does have aircon,  at least in the bedroom. Otherwise it would be impossible to sleep. There are ceiling fans going all day, a wide balcony also equipped with fans, and best of all, a pool, into which I plunge (once fully dressed) whenever I reach boiling point. Continue reading “Darwin in the BuildUp”

Fun at Ubud Writers’ Festival

Balmy October in Bali. Rice paddies, lotus ponds, brilliant flowers, smiling people. Add to this mix the company of Writers from near and far, talks by such luminaries as Robert Dessaix, and workshops including one from Josephine Wilson, the winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Award,  and you have the perfect recipe for body and mind bliss.

I’ve wanted to go to this Festival for years, in fact each time I’ve been in Darwin which is just across the water from Bali. But the timing was never quite right. This year, with the collusion of my two daughters, I bit the bullet, so to speak, and booked our flights six months ahead. Which was just as well; in spite of the imminent eruption of  volcano, we book nerds descended on Bali in sweaty droves. Luckily Mt Warung didn’t belch it’s lava while we were in Ubud, and as far as I know, it still hasn’t. Here’s a picture of the volcano behaving itself at sunset:

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Robert Dessaix’s session on his new book ‘The Pleasures of Leisure’, was a highlight. His dry wit, a la Oscar Wilde, had the audience rapt. Some gems which have stayed with me: Idling is an art in itself, not to be confused with time-wasting. Far from feeling guilty for doing nothing, to be idle is a perfectly legitimate pastime. And never say you’re Busy as an excuse when asked to a boring event (busy-ness is a mark of failure, an inability to be free). Far better to simply say you simply don’t want to attend ( Politely, of course).

For me, the greatest pleasure of the Festival was the company of my daughters. Feisty, funny, fabulous, and unashamedly hedonistic, they were the perfect antidote to their mother’s somewhat dour outlook on life. My daughters and I managed to work towards perfection in our Idling practice. Robert Dessaix would be proud! We three had sundowners on the terrace of our beautiful cottage, surrounded by lush green rice fields and exotic statues, and each night planned our next adventure. There were shopping sprees, yoga Bali style, massages, and delicious food.

 

Catching up with Marieke Hardy at her ‘Women of Letters’ session was  another highlight. We’d last met at the Darwin Writers’ Festival five years ago, when I was a volunteer, helping to set up  an earlier version of Women of Letters. ‘Let’s do this again in another five years!’ Marieke said.

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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?