Category: Article

The Old Gum Tree and the Ironbark

The Old Gum Tree and the Ironbark

I was feeling very out of sorts today – precipitated by a Migraine attack that forced me to ‘STOP’ and rest.

Away from my glaring computer screen, lying down, I began to tune in to my body so I could observe how it felt. I mean ‘really’ felt. How often do any of us do that? Really check in with how we are feeling? As I scanned, weighed, held and shifted through the vibrations within, I couldn’t deny the unmistakable feeling of grief. It was clasped around my throat, fluttering in my solar plexus and twisting in my stomach.

Grief? But where had it come from? Why had it settled within, like a skulking, wounded animal, or a squatter stealing the joy from someone else’s home?

I felt compelled to walk the talk. To do as I have so often advised others on a road to healing. Write without form. Write without thinking.

Perhaps, if you’re able, you can follow seemingly unconnected words like breadcrumbs into the darkness. There’s always a chance you’ll flush the real emotion, thought or feeling out into the daylight, to be examined, to be acknowledged for what it truly is. For me, it’s a rogue energy that’s stolen my joy, leaving me bereft. Such is grief.

These last few months have been stressful in one way or another – on an emotional level at least.  We’re all suffering as a result of this COVID situation. Here on Lorikeet Lane, we have counted our blessings. And then counted them again. We are luckier than most and we know it.

But like anyone, we still feel sad that much anticipated and longed for plans have fallen apart. We feel the loss. Simple hugs and time spent with loved ones become ‘treasured memories’ to reflect on in our relative isolation.

As I say, we are luckier than most. We are the custodians of endless space under a benevolent blue sky.

I open the veranda doors to allow the cool Southerly breeze to flow through the house. As I lay on the couch, I feel refreshed by the chill settling on my brow. From where I lie, I have a view of the Old Gum Tree.

Her branches are reaching out to me across the deck, like a mother’s hand extended, patting down an infant in a pram. Her elongated leaves bristle in the wind, and yet I sense her busyness is accompanied by a melancholy. All at once, I feel the grief wash over me again.

I ‘feel’ the Old Gum Tree speak to me. Since moving to this property, I have often ‘communicated’ with the Spirit that envelops us here. As soon as we first arrived on this spot it called to me. I didn’t care what the house was like – I just knew I needed to be on this land.

I started my own journey of healing here – helped by the outstretched leaves the smell of Earth – and the unique, coded downloads of light I absorb on a daily basis.

I promise myself I will just write whatever comes. I am familiar with that feeling of being unable to keep up with the words as they flow – I am familiar with the illegible scrawl that blurts from my pen– the words that demand to be written so they may be exorcised along with the emotion they carry.

Grief. Could it be I am feeling grief for the two trees that have to be cut down on our property? Both are less than 10 metres from the house.

They stand proud like ancient Elders on this land, front and back, scanning, surveying the ridge – still with an instilled sense of purpose and responsibility – while simultaneously nodding down on the life that plays below.

One is sick and dying. She is the old Ironbark behind our house. The crimson red resin that bleeds from cracks in her blackened, wrinkled bark, hardens and twinkles like a Ruby, jewelled in the sunlight. In the twilight the resin takes on a candied appearance – though either way – beautiful, remarkable in her resilient substance.

She is arched and frail and has been quite stubbornly stoic in the face of her back-breaking pain.  She stands as patiently as a loyal dog, waiting for the command that allows her to lie down and rest awhile.  Though she may feel a blessed relief to be released from her post, I feel sad for her just the same. She is a part of our landscape. Indeed, she was here casting her gaze over the ridge long before the foundations of our home. Long before we set foot on this property. There is an energy of the Great Mother about her. She belongs here. And yet. She is precarious in the way she bends towards the roof at the back of our house – stooping, swaying. 

Though she is sick, she still provides shelter and a sense of home. She’s given me moments of wisdom and healing. I can see the stories of her past etched upon her and she reminds me of the times I used to sit with my grandmother at the kitchen table. Just talking and spending ordinary, precious time together.

Her outstretched, weary branches still provide protection and shade for the young raucous hens below, or a bow for the courting Australian Wood Ducks to jostle and woo, before bonding for life. The dear old Ironbark protects life from the eagle eyes that circle above but will just as willingly offer a rest stop for that same Eagle, providing a vantage point to survey the menu in an adjoining paddock. But the sad reality is, for all her willingness to nurture, she is a danger to herself – and to those she protects. We had knowingly put off the day when we would have to make some tough decisions about her future.  

With love comes huge and sometimes achingly painful responsibility.

The other tree – the one my eyes rest on now – the one that’s reaching over to me with a concerned presence – is the one that pains me the most. This tree’s impending demise feels more callous, more brutal because, though she is weary, she still participates fully in her life on the property. Enveloping. Protecting. She is resolute and proud.

The Old Gum Tree has already adapted to adversity more than once – her twin trunk now being her weakness rather than her strength. The split happened early on life. The left trunk bears left to overhang the front of our house while the right stretches skyward, backward, swaying with an unpredictable abandon, flailing in the wind.

The most striking feature of the left-hand trunk is a strong, horizontal bare branch. It juts out at right angles creating the perfect perch for the three Kookaburras that take turns to outlaugh each other as the sun dips below the ridge. It’s the perfect presentation platform for the Butcher Bird when she boastfully introduces her new clutch of chicks to us. It’s the place of respite for the exhausted Magpies who send their over-sized young to say hello to us while they take a much-needed rest from the incessant demands for food. So much life comes to sit on that branch, and we have a unique and privileged vantage point being so elevated ourselves. Here we reside amongst the Cockatoos and King Parrots under the benevolent, blue sky. Alas, fire season approaches.

I don’t understand the tears below the surface. The grief that’s demanding to be acknowledged.

I feel somehow, I am betraying what I promised to protect.   

After the unconditional support and shelter they have provided – I am to be responsible for cutting them down. I will preside over their fate.  I feel they know on some level – perhaps through their interconnected root system or through osmosis – but they know these are the last days they will see the sun set over the ridge.

As I continue to write – encouraging the emotion to surface – without thought – without judgment. My thoughts take a surprising turn and I find my inner viewfinder resting on Peter’s parents.

I met Peter’s mum (my mother-in-law) the very same year I lost my own mother.

I was welcomed as though I had been long ago lost to them, and now returned.

A memory of Peter and I announcing our engagement surfaces. Like branches, his mum extends her loving arms out to me, and as I stand there, eyes shining, she cups her hands around my face. She draws me in, holds me in a space of tenderness and love. I allow her to pour this love into me, knowing I have been unable to ‘allow’ before. In that moment she voluntarily steps forward to help me heal my own deep and aching mother wound. Peter’s father and I need no words – osmosis. A knowing. But love vibrates at its own frequency. It does not need to be uttered, It is felt.

The engagement. A bonding moment, rippling like rings in a tree, encircling Peter and myself.  I feel an acceptance I have rarely experienced in my life. A healing. It reminds me of the pure unconditional love I feel as the Ascended Masters, Elders and Guides step forward in my little studio. The connection, the belonging and the healing this land has poured into me. Whispering its secrets …

Then suddenly the tears blurt along with the words …

These last few months have been stressful in one way or another – on an emotional level at least … you see we’ve had to make some tough decisions lately … for The Gum Tree and the Old Ironbark 

This is just another example of how writing something down can help us identify a thought or emotion that’s niggling away at us – but we can’t quite place it. The process of writing takes us on a journey and we just follow along behind it – until it leads us to the source of our pain. This was written on a day I was feeling low, but just couldn’t understand why. As I began writing I realised the trees were a metaphor for that feeling of connectedness. I was upset they had to be cut down. They were both diseased and a fire risk – both of which could have impacted our home and the wildlife around us. So we had to make that difficult decision before something serious happened. It was a strange co-incidence to realise that in the same week, we were moving my husband’s parents into Residential Care. Both had been in hospital together for the last 2 months and it became clear they could not return home. So it’s been a challenging time. Suddenly the connection between the trees – and what they represented became so clear. Sometimes with love comes the responsibility to make difficult and painful decisions. This then led me to think about how we are all connected through nature and through love. So you can see the process for navigating emotions about seemingly unrelated topics which is why I say, if you are feeling out of sorts – just write. You’ll soon find your way again.

Let’s not turn a deaf ear to the silence breakers

Let’s not turn a deaf ear to the silence breakers

After the #MeToo campaign what’s next? We need to have an all-inclusive conversation that’s not just about who has the loudest voice or the highest profile. It has to be a cultural shift from the grassroots to the upper echelons and it has to happen now.  Cue the next hashtag?

It was around three years ago over casual afternoon drinks with my husband, my sister-in-law and her husband, I got as close as I’d ever got to admit I’d been sexually assaulted. As the conversation skirted around the subject, I bottled up what I really wanted to spill out, even though the first of these assaults happened over 30 years ago. Why after so long was I still keeping quiet? The honest answer. I don’t know. I suppose I still felt, as I had then, a level of shame or a feeling I caused them in some way.  So instead, I said it was my belief that the majority of women had experienced some form of sexual assault. I will never forget my brother-in-law’s look of surprise. “Seriously? You think MOST women have experienced sexual assault? That’s a big call,” he said with eyebrows raised. I nodded, aware the idea seemed a bit ‘out there’ – a bit of an exaggeration to him. After all, he was one of the decent men out there. Of course, it sounded a bit out there. My sister-in-law took a quiet sip of her wine.

It seems absurd to say I had goosebumps when the #metoo campaign hit social media, but I felt goosebumps along with a giddy excitement – something big was happening. The Harvey Weinsteins of the world were finally going to be brought to account. Even though I had remained silent, it was the vindication of something I had long since felt. A deep knowing that women around the world were dealing with sexually abusive behaviour (silently) every single day.

I knew it because I had experienced it myself.  I was nothing special. I wasn’t irresistible, I wasn’t a celebrity. I was just an ordinary girl, growing up in the 80s an ordinary town in the northern hemisphere – and yet the number of ‘unwanted’ experiences I’d had before I was even 20 seemed incredible. I couldn’t be the only one.

With all the dirty washing that’s being aired right now, I actually wonder if the men who sexually assaulted (or harassed) me over the years are quivering in their boots right now, wondering if I am about to ‘out’ them. Has it even registered with them that what they did was wrong and they put me in an uncomfortable position that made me question everything about myself? Do they see themselves as different to the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world?

Well, relax, I’m not going to out every single one of you, however, I am going to list just a few incidents so you can see what an ‘ordinary’ girl generally has to deal with growing up.  I had written about these events in great detail more as a cathartic exercise, but I’ve paired them down to provide a quick overview.

Age: 15 (still a minor)
Who: A Family Member
Situation: Lured/Tricked upstairs (he said the TV didn’t work). Held down. Unwanted sexual advances. I was terrified. I found an anger I didn’t know I had and managed to extricate myself from the situation.
Did I tell anyone? Only my best friend, and then my mother two years later.

Age: 15 (still a minor)
Who: Cross Country Coach
Situation: ‘Tricked’ (encouraged) into running a longer alternative route. The coach stopped part way through and because I didn’t know the route I had to stop too. It was then I was pinned against a tree while his hands groped my whole body. He said, “You know what’s going on, you know you want it.” Shock gave way to anger and I pushed him off and ran back to the club to pick my stuff up and caught the bus home.
Did I tell anyone? No.

Age 16
Who: Male gym teacher at school
Situation: There were 2 situations 1 day apart with the same gym teacher. Inappropriate/suggestive comments about ‘sexy bodies’ though he addressed these directly to me by name in front of gym class. The next day there was inappropriate touching (he used his finger to caress my hand in lunch queue). Seems innocuous but both incidents embarrassed me and were confusing because they were in public (made worse because he was one of the ‘hot’ gym teachers so who would believe me or feel I had suffered from the attention? I felt humiliated and confused.
Did I tell anyone? No

Late 20s
Who: would rather not say
Situation: Hard to define as the situation was complex. I had gone to a hypnotherapist to help with smoking cessation (which worked I’m pleased to say). While under hypnosis I divulged information about the incident. At the end of the session, the hypnotist suggested I get in touch with a Rape Counsellor. It was the first time I had heard that word in relation to what had happened. 
Did I tell anyone? My (long-suffering) best friend. My husband 16 years after the event. I eventually attended a Trauma counsellor through the NSW Judicial system. It has been life-changing!

In my 40s
Who: A visiting senior colleague
Situation: Social situation after work – normally a relaxed, safe and fun environment. However, on this occasion, a visiting senior member of staff persisted with unwanted lurid sexual talk. Even as I changed the subject he would change it back being more and more suggestive  After returning from the toilet I picked up my drink to go and sit elsewhere.  Shortly afterwards I felt ill. I had the awareness to leave the social situation completely when I realised people, noise and light seemed far off in the distance. I felt like I was in slow motion under water.  My significant other found me on a traffic island on the ground, totally disorientated in the middle of a busy highway. I cried and vomited on and off for hours. I was convinced my drink had been spiked and I wished I’d been able to go somewhere to be tested. That aside, the disgusting conversation was bad enough. Nothing ‘happened’ to me as such but I felt violated just the same.
Did I tell anyone? Not on an official basis. The whole team had been drinking so it was going to be too difficult to prove (a) I wasn’t just drunk/ill through alcohol (b) against a senior member of the company after the event

So there you have it. Moments in time that happened to an ordinary girl, living an ordinary life through the 80s, 90s and beyond. Those events happened on both sides of the world (the UK and Australia). You can see that sexual abuse or sexual assault, however, you coin it, hasn’t diminished in our so-called enlightened society. It doesn’t diminish with age, your looks or your weight.

You notice I don’t mention unwanted attention from guys in street – the wolf whistles walking past a building site to the ‘brave’ guys who hang out of car windows to shout something obscene. Whatever. I don’t class the latter as sexual ‘assault’ or harassment as such though it’s certainly embarrassing and unwanted.

As a woman your threshold to withstand these acts increase and to a point it all seems normal. We as women have normalised this behaviour to cope with it and then we do our best to shrug it off.

Even now, with all I have read and learned, I wonder, were all these incidents I experienced really ‘sexual assault’ or ‘just’ sexual harassment?  I know 100% none of these acts were invited or welcome – but ‘assault?’ – it’s such an aggressive word. And therein another problem.

You can see how completely different in nature each of those occurrences were. They affected me in wildly different ways, from covering up, to be being less ‘friendly’, being embarrassed and confused, to stopping going out on my own completely. You might think some of them are ‘nothing’ to get worked up about.  And perhaps that’s part of the issue too. We don’t really know what our red line is meant to be.

Take former INXS band member Kirk Pengilly’s comments about “loving the 60s and 70s when life was so simple and you could slap a woman the butt and it was taken as a compliment, not sexual harassment”. OK, so the boundaries have changed – things that were cool in the 60s and 70s are not cool now (if you really believe women didn’t mind back then) they’re not now.

Defining sexual assault and sexual harassment

Sexual Assault: According to the NSW Justice Department, sexual assault occurs when a person is forced, coerced or tricked into sexual acts against their will or without their consent, or if a child or young person under 18 is exposed to sexual activities. (sexual acts being: forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape)

Sexual Harassment: (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks. Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

By those definitions the incidents I outlined above would be classed as sexual assault or sexual harassment. One thing in common with all of the incidents I’ve mentioned here is ‘power’. Each was in a position of power over me – whether it was someone I looked up to or was subordinate to in some way. Another thing in common being ‘consent’ – or lack of it. I was not enjoying or inviting this attention. It was being forced upon me regardless of my thoughts or wishes. The problem was, I was an outgoing, sociable type so when things began to happen to me I immediately blamed myself. I must be doing something to give men the wrong idea.  And now I know for sure I am not alone in these experiences.

So where are all the other ordinary, every day (silent) women? Are you reading this thinking ‘yes that all seems pretty familiar’? Have they been silently rejoicing for #metoo?

The aftermath of #metoo

So as we celebrate the voice the #metoo campaign gave to over a million women (myself included), it’s time to turn our attention to what comes next. While I’ve cheered my sisters on from the sidelines, admiring their bravery and to hell with the consequences, I do worry that this unique movement will suffer an ‘unforeseen’ setback to derail the amazing progress that’s been made or worse still just run out of steam like so many any other social media-driven campaigns. We can’t allow this movement to be derailed – so we need an action plan in the name of progress.  the hashtag ‘what next’ would be great – but it is so overused on Twitter. It still begs the question …

So what’s next?

  • extend the discussion around consent and what it means beyond sexual intercourse. The ‘cup of tea’ analogy is fantastic. Let’s build on that.
  • begin discussions at home about respect and equality. It starts at home and we as parents must take responsibility. It’s not just about teaching our boys that girls should be treated with respect, it’s about teaching each of our children that men and women are equal and should be treated with respect and kindness in equal measure. We have to show this in our own relationships with our significant other – children learn by example.
  • re-enforce that educational and cultural message in our schools. By coming down hard on incidents like ‘bra-pinging’ or ‘slut shaming’ and double standards between the sexes, children will soon learn that there is no room in a modern all-inclusive society for this sort of behaviour. School is also the place to re-enforce cultural expectations and eradicate sexist behaviour early on.
  • harness the potential of social media and the internet. I guess you could say let’s use its power for good not evil. The truly great thing about the internet/social media is the transparency it provides. It is possible for the many and the few to shine a light on wrongdoing, but it can also help educate and provide support, no matter who you are in society.
  • bring an end to society’s sycophantic sickness. This is probably one of the biggest afflictions in our society today. Until the likes of Trump, or the politicians, the A-List celebrity, or even Royalty are brought to account – we have a long way to go – on both sides of the #MeToo fence. Society needs to stop thinking celebrities, politicians and Royalty can do no wrong or that they are somehow untouchable. Trump’s rise to power has enraged women everywhere because of the way he has yielded his power. His ascent to the highest office despite those accusations has doubtless powered the #MeToo movement – in the US at least. So we need to go further and make sure no-one is above scrutiny.
  • find a way to define sexual assault and sexual harassment in the most simplistic terms so perpetrators can no longer hide behind blurred lines and victims know where they stand.
  • avoid a witch hunt. Let’s be careful here. Let’s not condemn every man/woman that looked at us in a way we don’t like. This will set awareness and education back in the dark ages and will stop the campaign/progress from being taken seriously. We want a fairer more open society, not a scared, paranoid society.
  • let’s not generalise. Sexual assault and harassment may be disproportionate with more men than women suffering, but men have reported sexual assault and same-sex sexual assault also exists. So let’s make sure #MeToo and #whatnext? are inclusive. Let’s talk about human beings and society rather than women versus men
  • stop with the excuses. Don’t tell me that men are now worried they can’t compliment a woman in case they get accused of sexual assault. There is a big difference, Unless you lack social awareness or emotional intelligence, you know the difference and you know there is a time and a place for your compliments. As mothers we must stop turning a blind eye to our children’s sexist behaviours – ‘boys will be boys’ is not helpful and at some point, boys have to be men. We must ensure our children do not grow up with a skewed sense of ‘entitlement’.  Remember Brock Turner?
  • build trust. The majority of women do not report assault (myself included) because they genuinely think ‘what’s the point?’ Some women are fearful of losing their own jobs, or not being believed. Alternatively, nothing will happen at all. Some women worry strangely enough, about the perpetrator losing their job or breaking up their family (particularly if they have been involved in a family setting). There are just too many variables about how any given situation could go. We need an open and transparent system that everyone can trust and framework for working together. We need to trust in what’s next.

eviemcraeAs 2017 comes to a close, I am sure there will be a million posts, hashtags and articles written on the subject of sexual abuse and sexual assault and this article will be consigned to the great computer ‘Trash’ icon in the sky. But before I sign off, indulge me for a moment longer. Just as the onset of the #MeToo campaign gave me goosebumps, so too did the latest front cover of Time magazine. Can you imagine the vindication I felt, even though I myself had never really been brave enough to break the silence? Can you imagine what that meant to a million of the silent?
So yes let’s celebrate the Silence Breakers but let’s not stop there. Let’s not turn a deaf ear to these voices when it all becomes old news. Because abuse never feels old.  Let’s be braver in those difficult conversations. Let’s not skirt around the subject and hide behind ‘other people’s experiences’ – because it’s happened to you. It’s happened to a woman you know. Let’s create real change and real social progress that’s inclusive, open and transparent. Let’s start now.

Is it time to come out of solitary confinement?

Is it time to come out of solitary confinement?

As part of a busy creative team, I’ve always been motivated and inspired by those around me. I’ve always been in awe of the talented designers who have brought life to my words, no matter how dry the subject matter. Gifted wordsmiths and copywriters have always pushed me to think beyond my comfort zone and have provided invaluable feedback and critique before that moment where you send your handcrafted ‘baby’ out into the world to fend for itself.

If all this sounds frenzied, then you’re correct. However, the world of novel writing is very different. It is solitary. That means you have to be all things to yourself and your work. Many writers will identify with the roller coaster of emotions. The elation and self-belief that you are creating something that could change the world, all the way to despair and the pits of self-loathing. You know what I’m talking about. When you look at your screen and think ‘who am I kidding? A five-year-old could write better than this. I’m an idiot to think I could have something here-‘ and so it goes on.

Sound familiar? If you are one of those who has been quietly working in your corner of the world with no human contact, embroiled in your own nightmare of rejection and derision then I’m here to make a suggestion. Get involved with other writers. They’re not a bad bunch really.

I have to say I struggled with the very advice I’m imparting to you. First of all, I don’t want other writers stealing my idea (as if-). Secondly, having traversed publishing and corporates alike, I have met my fair share of -well I’ll just say it – stuck up literary snobs. The thought of spending evenings or weekends with a bunch of bespectacled ‘superior school teacher’ types makes my feet want to curl up and drop off.

Without wanting to sound like one of those very snobs that I shy away from, neither did I want to attend a writer’s group filled with old grannies writing stories about their cat (and, by the way, I love cats). I’ve been there, done that and I’ll be back there soon enough I’m sure. My desire was to find a group of people just like me – if that were at all possible. People who had enough intelligence to provide valuable critique without making me feel I should give up and stay home to watch the Jeremy Kyle Show. I soon realised that in order to test the waters with what I had to offer, I did indeed have to dip my toes in that scary water.

Taking my courage in my hands, I signed up for a writer’s workshop at Bloomsbury Press in London. The title of the workshop was “How to hook an agent.” I didn’t feel my writing was at the point of needing an agent. My coat of protection was the notion that this was a fact finding mission. If my work wasn’t up to scratch it was because it wasn’t ready – if you catch my drift.

The day of the workshop arrived as did I, all nervous with my laptop in hand. I have no sense of direction and was following my trusty Google Navigation along the streets of London. When I looked up, I met a similarly apprehensive individual, smartphone in hand, nervously looking around.

Are you here for the writer’s workshop?” I asked with all the coyness of a girl embarking on her first day at school. I was met with a smile and relieved nod of the head.

My new friend Alice and I walked in together and sat next to each other to provide each other with much needed moral support. As it turned out, there was nothing to be scared of. We met a group of 4 agents, each providing us with valuable information on what they looked for in a query letter and submission pitch. In the afternoon, we had an opportunity to use that information and deliver our own pitch.

Hearing yourself describe your book to a group of people you’ve never met before is an illuminating experience. First of all, you are fighting the fight or flight instinct with thoughts of ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ But what follows after your mind has scrabbled around trying to find as few words as possible to sum up your book, is the beginnings of your ‘elevator pitch’. Let’s be honest, how many of you would make yourself come up with that at home in the comfort of your study, until push came to shove?

Instead of blank expressions, communicating the much feared ‘what planet are you on?’, you will receive encouraging nods, and people breaking out into their own discussions about ‘your book’.

The feedback I received in my ‘one-to-one’ with my chosen agent of the day, was invaluable. What surprised me most was the questions from other writers and participants. Questions about characters, questions about what inspired the novel and so on.

In short, I came away from the day thinking, ‘you know what, I might have something here. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I know where the work needs to be done.’ Putting myself up for scrutiny like that provided fresh momentum, new motivation, clearer direction and a belief that my destiny didn’t lie in the lap of Jeremy Kyle while my writing languished in a bottom drawer somewhere.

So if you’re struggling with confidence or clarity, I really recommend putting yourself out there. Start with whatever group you feel most comfortable with. Nowadays local libraries run excellent writer’s groups who will provide you with a forum to read your work out loud. That alone is an invaluable experience.

Of course, for my part, the icing on the cake from my adventures in London was making the acquaintance of like-minded people who were really great fun to be around. We made a pact to email each other from time to time and offer support when moments of doubt come knocking. Nobody was interested in pinching my story idea because they all have fantastic stories of their own to tell. So yes, writing a novel is a solitary experience, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one.

Why writers write!

Why writers write!

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I am so looking forward to the release of Harper Lee’s ‘prequel’ of To Kill a Mockingbird. I know many of her fans over the years begged her to write another, yet she declined to put pen to paper once more.

Now, decades later, Harper has revealed that she did write another novel which featured Atticus Finch and his grown up daughter Scout – but this was written from a different perspective and before the story as we know it today.

It made me wonder what compels a writer to write – or not write – as was the case with Harper Lee. It seems such a loss that a writer should write something so successful and then never pick up the pen again.

If you’ve never really considered it, think about it now. Why do you like to write? Do you have a burning need to write or is it just something you quite enjoy doing as a hobby to fill in the time? If you have a burning need to write, is there something in particular that you are just bursting to tell?

I realised, like so many, that my initial love of writing came from reading wonderful books as a child. As I grew older the became a form of escapism from the outside world. Words were like spells that gave me hope, new families, new adventures that were so different from my own.

As I grew older, however, just the very action of writing down thoughts and feelings somehow released me from the emotions of the world I found myself in. It was as if my mind emptied onto the page and I felt better once more.

My life has been more turbulent than most. Certainly more turbulent than my friends around me. I often said, nobody would believe the things that have happened to me, or the situations I have found myself in, all those things cannot happen to one person in one life time. It was from this thought that my writing found it’s drive, it’s desire, which was to help others who had been through the rough end of life or found themselves in situations they were just not equipped to deal with.

So there it is – the purpose of my writing is to try to help others. Social injustice – indeed injustice of any kind jangles me to the core. It’s probably why a story such as To Kill a Mockingbird is etched indelibly on my sub conscious and the subconscious of so many.

In what I have read about Harper Lee to date, it seems that she was overwhelmed, perhaps even frightened, by the response to her book and subsequent success. She had obviously written something so meaningful at just the right time, that the book became bigger than her. Harper wanted to make a statement about racism and social injustice – and boy she made that statement eloquently. She touched people with her words and her observations. Ultimately she felt she had said all she needed to say in that one book. People got behind her book and embraced its values just as surely as they believed in Atticus Finch himself.

This led me to ponder another question. As a writer, if you had the choice, would you want to write just one book that touched millions with its message, or would you prefer to be a prolific writer churning out book after book?

Before you answer, consider Dame Barbara Cartland for a moment. Not quite on the same literary scale granted, but she wrote over 722 books over an 80 year period which averages out at around one book every 40 days. She was a self-proclaimed expert on romance right up to her death in 2000. She may not have had a deep and meaningful message to convey to the masses, as we recognise it, but she had plenty to say about morals and the subject of ‘virginity’.

Of course for many writers, finances come into the equation. That said, anyone involved in the arts will know, reaping the rewards financially is more of an exception rather than the rule. Some writers are lucky. They hit on a formula that works for them, and they can churn out book after book.

One of my ‘desert island’ books would have to be Paulo Cohelo’s ‘The Alchemist’. A simple parable about how to live life. I have read many of his books since then, but have started to become bored with what seems to be a well worn templated style. Still – at least he wrote The Alchemist – and he believed in it so much he self published. He had a message that he was bursting to share, even if his subsequent books may be more about making money, they still communicate something about how we should live our lives..

I admire the fact that Harper Lee was inspired by her father’s work as lawyer working on behalf of black people. I admire that she felt so strongly about this subject that she just had to write about the injustices faced by a marginalised society. She wrote a book that froze a moment in time for us to scrutinise at our leisure, a work that we could draw life lessons from. How wonderful, if not a little terrifying, that must feel!

Go Set a Watchman is due to be published on July 14, 2015, by Harper Collins.