Poetry and Prose

Poet!

This weekend it is Australia Day down under. For some, our national holiday means BBQs, beaches and surfing carnivals, for others it’s a day of tragedy and mourning. For me it’s always HWB’s birthday and a time for having fun with family and friends. Except for last year.

The plan for escaping and writing my book had been burgeoning in my brain for some time and, filled with new year inspiration and good intentions, I decided that I’d better follow some of the advice on writing I’d been imbibing. Without exception all the advice says that in order to be a writer – and wait for it – you actually have to write!

As previously noted, I have a peculiarly persistent procrastination perception (OK, maybe a little too much alliteration there …) that I can’t write while working. In my head this definitely applies to novel writing. You can’t just pop one of those out over the weekend. However, what if I were to write something shorter? Something achievable in a briefer period of literary exertion? Something like a poem?

I wrote my first poem at age 7. Here it is:

I am Catherine,
Catherine with a C
I am Catherine,
Catherine that’s me.

The C/K thing is very important to us C/Katherines. I could go on about it at length. Suffice it to say, my muse was clearly dwelling on existential matters stimulated by the fact that I had found myself in a class with no less than four like-named little girls. We had a Kathryn, a Katherine and a Kathy. Evidently, my C-ness had struck me as something distinctive and deserving of poetic exploration.

Me aged 7, with my brother Simon and the Banana Bender – my first big bike

I loved making words rhyme. It seemed a magical thing to me then, and it still does. Over the years I’ve penned many, many poems, pretty much all of them in traditional rhyming format. Though they don’t strictly adhere to the technical specifications of the genre, I call them all odes. I’ve written odes for weddings, birthdays, farewells and parties of just about all descriptions. Such was my penchant, that as a young journalist at The Advertiser I was dubbed the Official Oder by the Sports Wine and Grub Club (a fine institution, led by the Grand Gourmet (Sports Editor) and Vice Victualer (Senior Sports Writer), which convened in the sports department each Friday night after the paper was put to bed).

Anyhoo, last year I came across a mob called the Australian Bush Poet’s Association. This band of merry rhymesters are dedicated to sustaining the grand Australian tradition of Banjo Patterson-style poetry and they hold a number of events and competitions around Australia each year. On Australia Day, the big daddy of them all is held – the Golden Damper Awards (for international readers, damper is a simple flour and water bread cooked in the coals of a fire). My interest was piqued – I wanted that trophy!

So, what to write? It had to be on a specifically Australian theme, completely original, and complying with some very strict specifications.

After quite a bit of pondering, I decided that I would endeavour to tell the tale of how my grandfather got his name. It’s a bit of a legendary story in our family and something that I would love to write for posterity, Golden Damper or no Golden Damper. So, one weekend I felt the creative urge coursing through my veins and I bashed out ‘Charlemagne’, survived some vicious editing from my friend Rachel, and sent off my entry form for the competition.

Immediately I was struck with the horrors. What had I done? I was going to have to memorise this thing, and perform it in front of true officiandos, competing against seasoned poets from around Australia. I, who had never even entered a poetry competition before!

Then HWB stepped up. He became my trainer, coach and cheer squad and drilled me for weeks until I was word perfect. He critiqued each gesture and intonation and repeatedly assured me I was going to be great. My desperate need for reassurance surged to increasing heights once we had actually made the five-hour drive to Tamworth and I was gibbering with fear and literally shaking in my RM Williams boots.

Well, I somehow survived the experience, and was thrilled when I was awarded second place. I was officially recognised as a proper poet 🙂 My medal has pride of place in my study and reminds me of what I can achieve when I put my heart and mind into it. Courage is not about being fearless, it’s about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Do I fear that my novel will be a failure? Of course, but I’m going to do it anyway.

And for those of you who may be interested, I give you Charlemagne.

CHARLEGMAGNE

“What’s in a name?” old Shakespeare asked – well, names have a tale to tell.
As the Bard also said “come lend me your ears” and I’ll tell you what befell
a bookie, a mother, a jockey, a log, and a horse called Charlemagne
whose fates came together one Monday – a refrain of joy and pain.

‘Twas Easter nineteen-eleven, in Adelaide’s rolling hills
Down valleys and up gum-lined roads, past farms and trundling mills
came a crowd of holiday revellers – by foot, by buggy, by train –
to the pretty Oakbank Racecourse, quaint Sport of Kings’ domain.

Carts lined the track-side railings, children dashed here and there,
families laid out blankets and strolled the picnic fair.
Across in the Members’ Grandstand gentlemen nodded and bowed
while flocks of flower-decked ladies eyed fashions among the crowd.

Round by the stables no ladies were seen, Akubras abounding.
Here punters and trainers lounged, amid cries of the bookies resounding.
Backs were slapped, rollies lit, cash passed from hand to hand,
while beer was downed in the bar to the tunes of the Balhannah band.

Now, Bill Boomer was a bookie, a straight man so they say,
and he stood with his board and betting bag among the crowd that day.
He called the odds with gusto and a twinkle in his eye
and a line of engaging banter that lured the passer-by.

The money was all on Charlemagne, the favourite that day
for the tough Great Eastern Steeplechase – renowned equestrian fray! –
where the hardiest of horses go three miles round the track
and leap a fallen gum tree on the hill around the back.

Charlemagne had won at Flemington only the month before.
He was worth four hundred pounds they said, classy to his core.
He wasn’t much to look at, but by golly that horse could jump, so
Bill Boomer called him at ten to eight from his perch on an old gum stump.

At two o’clock the trumpet blew, the horses took to the track
with Cosgrove riding Charlemagne, in white with a cap of black.
Thirteen riders bowed and waved to the roaring assembled host,
but only four would return that day past the winning post.

Starter’s orders: they all lined up, at the shot they dashed away,
with Charlemagne leading the pack leaping hurdles along the way.
Steelbit, Barnesby, Matchlock, Vanguard, Carrington, Valour, Bright,
all dogged the heels of Charlemagne but none could match his flight.

Hooves thundering on the turf they galloped up the hill
towards the fallen log where many have had a spill.
Charlemagne leapt a mighty leap! The crowd let out a cheer
split suddenly by ladies’ screams and indrawn gasps of fear.

Charlemagne was down and thrashing, the jockey lay still as death.
Seven more fell in the turmoil, the meeting held its breath.
Mothers shielded children’s eyes as a whisper went round the crowd:
“Broken neck”, “No hope at all”, hats doffed and heads were bowed.

Matchlock won but no-one watched, their eyes were on the hill
where Miller, the manager, tore his hair and gave the command to kill.
Cosgrove was stretchered from the field, the punters watched aghast.
Over the valley a shot rang out. Charlemagne had breathed his last.

Bill Boomer made a fortune on the back of the favourite’s fall,
his betting bag was bulging, and he was standing tall.
He whistled as he slapped the reins and trotted through the dim,
home to a beloved wife, who was waiting there for him.

All was quiet in the house, Bill called out Caroline’s name.
Her voice came from the bedroom where, lit by candleflame,
he found her pale and glowing with a baby by her side
born while Charlemagne was making his last and fated ride.

Big chestnut eyes gazed up at Bill’s, the baby gave a wink.
His mother smiled fondly and asked: “Well, what do you think?”
Bill looked down in wonder and thought of his log-gotten gain,
then grinned and said: “He’s perfect. His name is Charlemagne.”

For my grandfather, Charlemagne Carlyle Guilford Boomer – born 18 April 1911 – who, for many years, was legendary for picking the winner of the Great Easter Steeplechase each Easter Monday at Oakbank.

My Fellow Travellers …

HWB and me

I’m very excited! My first blog post exceeded all expectations and I am in the exalted position of having 20 followers! OK, so I know that all of you are my dear close friends, but that just makes your support and encouragement that much more potent in fuelling my inspiration 🙂 Thank you so much for joining the journey!

Everything I have ever read about the process of writing affirms that having a band of enthusiastic supporters is essential. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by a bunch of well-wishers who are kind enough not to think I’m delusional in my authorial aspirations.

First and foremost amongst the cheer squad is my husband Martin (pic above). Ever since we first met he has believed, deeply and unreservedly, in my writing dream. Martin will, of course, be travelling with me to Carcassonne and will be in the thick of the creative maelstrom – so you can expect him to feature prominently in these epistles. Henceforth, he shall be known as He Who Believes (or HWB for short).

Coming in a close second in the supporter stakes is my wonderful mother. Mum is a prolific reader, and when I say prolific I mean really, really prolific. At a guess she’s probably read about 10,000 books. I kid you not. This calculation is based on a conservative estimate of three books per week over the course of her life. Sometimes she reads quite a lot more than three in a week. So when it comes to writing, mum knows how to identify the good stuff. She has sampled my literary endeavours over many years and has bestowed enough kind words to keep the flame of my ambition burning. Thanks ma!

And then of course there’s my gals. Where can I start in extolling these fabulous femmes? I suppose I can legitimately begin with Rachel as she’s been round the longest. We’ve known each other since we were eight and have shared a love of books ever since. We bonded over the Anne series of LM Montgomery, a passion which culminated, in our 50th year, in a pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island to pay homage at our muse’s grave and visit the scenes and setting of her life (and Anne’s).

Rachel and Catherine in full pilgrimage regalia (with Anne finger puppets!)

Rachel has appointed herself as my editor. She’s an English teacher, so she wields a fierce red pen and, as another prolific reader, she’s also an astute and critical judge of quality writing. A word of literary praise from Rachel sends me scooting to raise the flag, let off fireworks and pop the champagne. I know Rachel is going to be an indispensable aid in making my writing the best it can be. I just hope she’s gentle with me …

Another long time mate and staunch encourager is my friend Fontella. Fonty and I met as young cadet journalists at The Advertiser newspaper, and like me she’s nourished a persistent dream of seeing her name in print.

Also like me, she’s doing something about it and is busy tapping away at her own novel. I know we will share solidarity and boost each other up on this crazy ride. You can check out Fonty’s story here: https://crossbordertales.wordpress.com/

I owe a special debt of gratitude to my wise counsellor, teacher and mate Bronnny. This incredible woman has perhaps done more than any other to help me envision, grasp and pursue my purpose as a writer. One of the central themes of my novel sprang from my work with her – this will definitely deserve official thanks in the published work!

Closer to home in Narooma (Rachel, Fontella and Bronny all live in Adelaide, so our F2F rendezvous are infrequent), I have two fabulous and totally biased partisans in Hannah and Julie. We are known to play golf, cook fondue dinners and generally have a hilarious time whenever we get together.

Hannah, Julie and me rocking the golf course as Christmas angels

Hannah and Julie have borne the brunt of me blathering on about my burgeoning book. Being close at hand they have valiantly endured my rants as new inspiration has struck me, and their wholehearted, bubbling enthusiasm has been, and will continue to be, the wind beneath my wings.

I could go on and on, but I fear the length of this post might become excessive. I can’t end, however, without also giving mention to a few more of the wonderful friends who are cheering me on in this adventure. Amanda, Imke, Susie, Simon, Tracy, Jamie, Sue, Mariella, Anna, Leen, Corina, Jeanne, Brittany, Natalia, Gigi, Deepesh, Sharon, Judy, Stephanie, Rebecca, Daisy, Jacquie, Bettina, Gabi, Helen, Terence, Di, Adrian, Michelle, Alice, Sam, Claude, Marie, Raphael, Peter, Nick, Steve – thank you all!

My fellow travellers, I’m humbled by your faith in me, and promise to do my very best to meet and exceed your expectations 🙂

The Journey Begins

I’m sitting in a hotel room in New York at 3 a.m. (don’t you just love jet lag?) and gazing raptly at this photo of Carcassonne. It’s the view from the window of the apartment that will be all mine for three months later this year. It’s the view which will be my inspiration/distraction as I finally put fingertips to keyboard to write my long-desired novel. I’ve no doubt it’s the view that will tempt me to flee a recalcitrant character or a crippling infestation of writer’s block. I’m sure it will be the view that lures me out to hunt down baguettes, a fruity fromage or a lip-smacking local bouteille de vin rouge. It is the view of dreaming and – I have the anticipatory temerity to say – fulfilment.

At the risk of being extremely boring, and of causing stifled yawns of cliched contempt, I’m going to have to tell you that I’ve wanted to write a book for a long time. A very long time. Since I was about 5 years old in fact. Over a varied career which has spanned journalism, politics and humanitarian advocacy (amongst other things including flamenco dancing and featuring as the Scarlett Fairy at children’s parties) I’ve done lots and lots of writing but most of it has had nothing to do with creativity.

Leaving aside sundry juvenile writing endeavours, I have occasionally taken this writing thing seriously. On two separate occasions I have stepped boldly out of the workaday world and had a good hard go at bashing out a book. In my mid-30s I was inspired to pen a young adult novel. Thanks to a generous inheritance from my grandmother I spent six delightful months squeezing out about 20,000 words, but most of the time I was desperately not writing and rather more eagerly embracing the pursuit of knowledge. I conceded defeat and went to uni to do a Masters instead.

About eight years later, after a punishing two year work secondment in New York, I took a month off to rest and recover and decided to give myself a little stimulation by taking on NaNoWriMo – a fiendish challenge where the foolish writers who sign up are required to spit out 50,000 words in 30 days. I did it! For a month I was inspired, my fingers flew across the keyboard, my characters took on a life of their own, I was in the flow – I experienced all of the symptoms of successful, burgeoning, unstoppable creativity described by writers in ‘how to’ workshops around the world. On day 30 I wrote the 50,000th word, returned to work and I haven’t touched the manuscript since.

So what’s going to be different this time? Well, I guess turning 50 sort of focuses the mind a little. One tends to ponder sinister questions like “what will you regret when you are on your death bed?” and “what don’t you want written on your gravestone?”. In my case, the answer to both of these is “I/she didn’t write my/her book.” I simply just have to give it a go. I am compelled by every fibre of my being to do this thing. It feels a bit like now or never.

More pragmatically, I confess that my most powerful procrastination technique is telling myself that I can’t write and work at the same time (you will note that both previous attempts have involved escaping the coal face). Well, thanks to the wonders of Australian workplace law I am eligible for three months “long-service leave”, the delightful reward that Aussies get for sticking it out with one employer for 10 consecutive years. Yes, I am going to be paid for my three month writing sabbatical – Carcassonne here I come!

So why this blog? I’m reliably informed that when I become a hugely successful best-selling author it will be de rigeur for me to have a blog presence. Frankly, whether I get published or not is pretty incidental to this journey, but hey, one may as well be prepared 🙂

Also, I think it will be kind of fun to track this journey of mine using this blog as a sort of personal electronic journal. I’ve already got three guaranteed followers (thanks Mum, Martin and Rachel!) and maybe they will be the only ones who ever dip into this jotting space. That would be fine with me, but in this crazy world who knows? Maybe others may be amused or entertained enough to want to see whether my authorial dreams come true. Anyhoo, I’m off and running. Let’s see what happens!