Prompts, Prods and WooWoo …

With less than three weeks to go I have started packing for my grand adventure. As well as puzzling over how to cram three months worth of everything into a single 25 kg bag, I’ve been gathering my writing tools.

Inspiration is going to be essential, and before I hunch down over my keyboard I’m going to be getting bucketsfull. For the first two weeks of my jaunt I shall be ‘on holiday’, powering down my work brain and having adventures.

First of all I shall realise a dream I’ve been harbouring for 30 years. With my dear friend Amanda, I’ll be cruising up the River Nile, gazing in awe at the pyramids, imagining myself as a temple maiden of Hatshepsut in the Valley of the Kings and taking tea on the balcony of the Cataract Hotel in Aswan where Agatha Christie was wont to weave her whodunnit plots. Amanda and I have some travel form, having previously jaunted together to Club Med in Noumea and the island paradise of Lankawi and I’m agog with anticipation for this next chapter.

Girls adventure, Lankawi

Once I’ve had my fill of Egyptian antiquities I’ll be flying to Prague to rendezvous with HWB. We will explore this most beautiful of cities, and nearby delights such as Cesky Krumlov and Hutna Kora, before locomoting our way through Munich and Lyon en route to Carcassonne. So, being a well-prepared traveller I’ve packed a couple of essential items in the form of travel guides (thanks heaps for these Mariella!).

As previously stated, once we get to Carcassonne it will be game on and I will need to draw on every possible tool available to support my ambitious daily writing targets. I have previously written about some of the tricks of the trade that writers employ, and I’ve adopted some of these and created several of my own devising. First of all, let me introduce you to my ‘Inner Critic’.

This dude won’t mess with me!

The idea is that inside every writer lurks a nasty, toxic spoil-sport who whispers disparaging remarks about work-in-progress in the authorial ear, crushing literary confidence and stymieing the flow of brilliance. By creating a physical representation of your Inner Critic and keeping it on your desk you can remind yourself to disregard these self-whisperings of doom and press on with the creative process. I had a lot of fun making this dude, and he will sit prominently in front of me in Carcassone. I shall blow raspberries at him if he starts playing his tricks.

Building on the ‘a writer writes always’ theme, I am packing equipment to ensure that I am never without the means of jotting down snatches of dialogue, scenes or other bit of inspiration that might fly into my head at odd moments. Journal – check. Coloured pens – check. Authors notebooks (thanks Rachel!) – check.

I am also an advocate of the inspirational quote. I once created a little handwritten book with hundreds of the best quotes I could find by luminaries ranging from Lao Tsu and Martin Luther King to Marcus Arelius and Omar Khyyam. The book opens with this one from Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it – boldness and genius, power and magic in it.” I’m on the job Goethe! But my very favourite is this one which I’ve had printed on my mouse-pad:

The quote book also features quite a few words of wisdom from one of the most inspiring authors I’ve ever read, a bloke called Dr Wayne Dyer. Some call him a ‘self-help’ author, but I believe he is a master of insight and a powerful teacher. He is of the ‘what you think you create’ school of thought, and a key message of his that leaps out for me is this one:

The idea here is that you need to train your heart and mind to believe that your success (whatever it may be) has already happened. You need to see it, touch it, feel it, smell it, live it. You cannot allow thoughts of failure to obtrude – if you think about failure that’s what you’ll get. I’ve laminated this piece of wisdom and it will also sit on my Carcassonne desk, next to my Inner Critic.

So, what I intend to create is a published novel imprinted by a major house, and acclaimed by authors whom I humbly hope to emulate. I had a most entertaining afternoon designing the cover of my book (with apologies to Harper Collins and Marion Keyes for my temerity in appropriating their endorsement):

Working title …

And finally, at the risk of scornful mocking, I’m going to reveal that I’m not above reaching into the woowoo draw in my efforts to leave no inspirational stone unturned. The colour blue has long been associated with imagination, intuition and inspiration and is the colour of the throat chakra (the home of self-expression) in the Vedic tradition. The power of blue in creativity has even been scientifically proven. So, I’m packing every item of blue clothing I own along with my collection of lapis lazuli adornments, the gem stone associated with truth-telling, insight, wisdom and written and spoken communication. Fully kitted out …

Lovely lapis

Back to Base …

With less than four weeks until I fly I have had the pleasure of returning to the nest, spending the past two weeks in my home town of Adelaide with my wonderful Ma.

The fabulous Jean

It’s been lovely to have quiet time with her watching PG Wodehouse DVDs, joining her Tai Chi class, nattering over meals and discussing books. As noted in an earlier post, Ma is an inveterate reader whose literary acumen I hold in highest esteem, so we’ve also had a chance for several fruitful sessions pondering various aspects of my plot.

It has also been nourishing to return to the womb of my childhood bedroom which is still adorned with a picture (somewhat faded) of me in the role of Joseph in our Grade 7 production of Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat, and three longstitch needleworks of gum trees that I perpetrated in my early 20s.

Joseph – career highlight aged 12

The family home is little changed since I penned my first nascent stories there and I still know how to dodge the creaky floorboard in the hallway when creeping into my room late at night, though teen subterfuge is no longer a necessity.

The Whyte House

Being home has also recalled my father to the forefront of my mind. It’s hard to believe but he has now been dead for longer than I knew him in life. Garth Boomer was a bit of a legend in education circles, a brilliant thinker and writer, a raconteur par excellence, enthusiastic sportsman and the life and soul of any party. He died tragically early at the age of 53 when I was 25.

Dad and I in our Christmas shorts

While taking my morning constitutional along the Glenelg foreshore it occurred to me that maybe this writing escapade of mine has a bit of a Freudian element to it. Just after I return from Carcassonne I will be turning 52, and perhaps there is some part of me that wants to guarantee I get this book thing sorted out before the ominous and perilous age of 53. I do know that if I complete my mission and my book is published there will be an extra twinkly star in the sky and an echo of his voice saying “Well done BG!” (his nickname for me – Beautiful Girl).

Apart from childhood naval gazing, my fortnight has also afforded some wonderful opportunities to take in the delights of the Adelaide Festival of Arts. I’ve crammed in four events and enjoyed every one. An especially huge thank you is due to my mate Fontella who is a mad artsista (OK, I just made up a word) who has shared with me the ticketing bounty she has reaped in her role as social media maven for Writer’s Week.

Full Fonty!

As a co-aspirational author, Fonty and I have delved into such all-consuming topics as whether or not to fictionalise locations in our novels, the inspiration v. application principle in writing discipline, and the merits and appropriate timing of when to seek beta-readers for our works-in-progress. Sharing the authorial journey with her is a joy.

And of course I couldn’t come to Adelaide without spending quality time with the irrepressible Rachel, my oldest friend and feared green pen-wielding editor (I previously and erroneously referred to her using a red pen – apologies). We had a great night watching one of her former drama students in her first Fringe production and supping on Greek delights in Unley.

But the best night of my Adelaide sojourn was the one I spent with Rachel, her husband Jamie and daughter Maddy, wrestling with the all-important, life-changing question of what to name my lead character.

Over the past 12 months I’ve tried on various names for her but none of them have ‘clicked’. I’ve gotta love this gal if I’m going to spend three months in her head, and none of the monikers I’ve tested have really rung true. Rachel, Jamie, Maddy and I scoured the nameiverse (yep, another new word) and I believe we have hit the jackpot (huge thanks guys!). I am pleased to announce that my protagonist shall be called Tess (or sometimes Tessa) Falkner. I hope you’ll like her …

Counting Down …

OK, enough with the backstory. This week we begin looking forward because … it’s now only four and a half weeks to go until Departure Day and I’m starting to get very excited!

I’ve been plotting this adventure seriously for two years now, and dreaming about it for (literally) decades. And now it’s all really going to happen. In a very short time indeed I shall be seated at this table with my fingers poised over the keyboard and my heart in my mouth.

The desk…

Of course I’m being consumed by self doubt. Who am I to think I can write a book? In an endeavour to avoid thinking too much about my own novel I’ve been feverishly devouring those of others. Each seems more luminous, insightful and stunningly crafted than the last and throws my own precious idea into eclipse.

I turned the final page on yet another tale of soaring brilliance this afternoon and felt about two inches tall. I knew myself to be a presumptuous, deluded idiot. Then I picked myself up, gave myself a good shaking and squared my shoulders. Sure, I may not achieve soaring brilliance, but I do have a story to tell and I have the hearty enthusiasm of my cheer squad to encourage me to have a go.

Interestingly, the writing advisers all seem to point out one very cogent and compelling fact. The authors that get published all do one thing – they actually finish their books! I myself know at least a dozen gunners (as in “I’m gunna write the great Australian novel”) who talk the talk but keep finding ingenious ways to avoid actually sitting down and writing. I myself have some form in this regard.

This is going to be the secret of my success – I will finish my book! Good, bad or indifferent, at the end of July I will have somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 words of prose on my hard drive and a foundation on which to build something potentially publishable.

Stephen King says that it should take no writer more than three months to pen a novel. Anthony Burgess churned out A Clockwork Orange in just three weeks. On the other hand Margaret Mitchell took 10 years to bring Gone With the Wind to fruition and J.R.R. Tolkein toiled over The Lord of the Rings for 17 long years. I’m going with the Stephen King approach.

I have been doing feverish calculations to work out how I’m can make it happen. I will be in Carcassonne for 78 days. Assuming my novel is 80,000 words long I would have to write just 1000 words per day (about 4 pages – a doddle!). If I stretch out to the maximum length of 100,000 it rises to 1200. However, I also want to live this sabbatical adventure, explore the Languedoc region with HWB, put my school-girl French into action and generally have some fun.

So, what if I give myself weekends? This would reduce me to just 56 writing days and my daily word target would rise to between 1400 and 1750 words. Let’s call it an average of about 1500 words per day. Six pages a day seems somehow rather more challenging than four, but I know I can do it because I’ve done it before. I nailed 50,000 words in one month back in 2011 when I took on the National Novel Writers Month challenge. I’ve got this covered.

I also know that I am a creature of habit and I’m very much a morning person. There will be no burning of the midnight oil for me. I will rise and shine and be sitting at my table with a view at 9 a.m. sharp every morning and I won’t allow myself to step away from the computer until those 1500 words are done. Here I’m going with William Faulkner who said: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at 9 a.m. every morning.”

Still, I know there are going to be days when I don’t want to do it, when inspiration will have fled and when I curse the day I came up with this crazy plan. I will sit at my window and look out and see the castle and think “what the hell am I doing in here when I could be out there?”

Inspiration or distraction?

I’m planning to walk a lot. I find when I walk I can step into my plot and often start envisioning scenes and dialogue. And I’m going to have plenty of beautiful places to explore on my peregrinations.

Canal du Midi – just round the corner

There is method to my madness and despite my periodic attacks of self-doubt and occasional feelings of unworthiness I know deep in my heart that I can do this. I will write that book. And I’m going to have an absolutely wonderful time on the journey.

It’s a Big Wide World …

I’m in Adelaide today, and it’s hot. Really hot! I’ve acclimatised to Narooma’s year-round temperate clime, and Radelaide’s summer swelter has come as a bit of a shock. I’m visiting my Mum for a couple of weeks (lovely) and may incidentally avail myself of the literary and cultural delights of Writer’s Week and the Adelaide Festival (excellent!).

It’s now just under six weeks ’till my departure and I’m starting to get very excited. This whole writing in the south of France thing is becoming imminent and I confess I’m occasionally experiencing qualms of trepidation. I’ll leave the cold feet for now, but will perhaps explore this increasing phenomenon in a future post …

Today I’m going to take you on a quick tour of the highlights of my past 13 years and how they have shaped my present passion for authorship. You may recall in my last post that a visit to the Solomon Islands with AusAID inspired me to save the world’s children from injustice and poverty. When I dream, I dream big! Going solo clearly wasn’t an option, so I looked around for a workplace that would enable me to add my mite to the cause.

In terms of organisations that dream big they don’t get much bigger than World Vision. WV is a global advocacy, relief and development NGO with an annual budget of $2.5 billion and more than 50,000 staff working in almost 100 countries. It is Christian, child-focused and community based, and strives to ensure that children are healthy, educated, protected and given the opportunities to live full lives, free from injustice. I decided WV was the place for me.

I joined the organisation in 2006 as their head of public policy, based in Canberra. My job was basically to convince the Australian government to give more and better aid to address global poverty and to represent WV to them as a desirable partner for achieving this aim. Initially I engaged with John Howard’s conservative government that wasn’t really into development at all, but shortly afterwards Kevin Rudd swept to power and declared that Australia was getting back in the aid game. It was a heady time.

All the random skills I had developed in my eclectic career came together in this role. I was an advocate, communicator, facilitator, spokesperson, negotiator, trouble-shooter and of course, writer, though my writing now focused on developing compelling evidence-based policy recommendations and proposals. I managed to get quite a few runs on the board and caught the eye of those higher up the WV hierarchy. WV is a federated structure, made up of a small Global Centre (the Feds), Support Offices (the ones that make the money, Australia, US, UK, Germany etc) and Field Offices (the ones where the real work of tackling poverty gets done).

I was tapped to go federal as WV’s global Director of External Relations. My job was now to coordinate representation of WV with UN agencies and processes like the G20. I would also become responsible for training our senior leaders and advocacy staff, building their skills for engagement and influence. The only problem was that I had to move to New York.

HWB loved it and I loathed it. The Big Apple might be a fun place to visit, but it wasn’t my cup of tea as a place to live. It is famously the city that never sleeps. I certainly didn’t. I was serenaded by a nightly cacophany of sirens, horns, reversing trucks and jack hammers. I waded through knee-deep snow to rat-infested trains and dodged racing commuters who would rather die than make eye-contact. I came home to Australia after my first 18 months and realised I hadn’t seen a star or a bird that wasn’t a pigeon or sparrow in all that time. Happily, my new role required me to do a lot of travel that enabled me to escape the city, and when I say a lot, I mean a LOT. I spent 25 of the first 52 weeks of my New York posting in far flung parts of the world, and over the past 10 years I’ve visited more than 50 countries in the line of duty. How lucky am I?

I’ve been privileged to visit many of WV’s programmes, meet with local communities and see first hand the difference that our work makes. I’ve trained advocacy staff and leaders around the world on how to influence their governments and hold them accountable. I’ve been shocked and saddened and enraged by injustices of all kinds, and inspired and awed by the resilience and persistent hope with which communities meet calamities beyond imagining.

Community meeting in Agra
Meeting child protection champions in Jakarta
Leading a session at a community consultation in Mali

Most inspiring of all have been the times when I’ve had a chance to meet and talk with children. Just look into the eyes of this little girl and see if it doesn’t make you want to leap forth and make the world a better place for her …

Malawi inspiration

Children aren’t just recipients of our aid. They are agents of their own destinies and one of World Vision’s aims is to empower children to be advocates themselves. I have participated in many children’s groups and heard kids from many backgrounds speak of their dreams and desires. They are so simple. Safety, enough food, a chance to go to school, a hope to be able to contribute to their communities. And always one kid who wants a new football and the construction of a playing field.

Kids in Tanzania

One of the most personally satisfying moments I had was in Nepal, just after the devastating earthquake in 2015. I had been visiting our WV disaster response centre in the north of the country and had asked if there was anything I could do personally. It’s sometimes hard to equate lobbying for an inclusion of a child rights clause in in a Global Compact in Geneva with a tangible difference for real children facing real problems in their communities. Our staff advised that there was a remote community whose little school had been completely destroyed. The children had nothing, but needed books and pens and backpacks. For a trifling (for me) amount of money I was able to have our team purchase enough kit for 50 children. We treked up the inaccessible mountain and delivered the little back packs of goodies to the children. I’ve never felt more alive.

Handing out school packs in Nepal

But is hasn’t all been work. Sometimes, when I had two trainings running back to back I would have a spare weekend in between gigs where I could escape the training room and explore a bit, and these snatched moments have offered me some of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I have white-water rafted the source of the Nile in Uganda,
made bouza (sort of dumplings) in a yurt in Mongolia, hung out with the Maasai in the Mara, been photographed in the Lady Di pose at the Taj Mahal, had close encounters with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, zip-lined in Costa Rica and sailed a dhow at sunset in the waters off Zanzibar.

Hangin’ with the Maasai

Apart from the gratitude I have for living in lovely Narooma, and for my dear family and friends, I am filled to the brim with thankfullness for the chance that I’ve had to get a glimpse into so many cultures and the lives of so many children. We talk about Australia being the lucky country. Well it’s true, and it distresses me that so many Australians don’t always seem to realise just how lucky we are. The world is a rich and wonderful place, despite the ongoing injustices that still need to be challenged by the idealists and believers. There are stories of hope to tell, and I want to tell them.