Another year and new writing adventures dawn

Happy New Year dear readers.

Yes, it has been a while since I was last on the blog, a hiatus I can partially blame on writers’ block once again. Sigh.

While crossbordertales has had a rollercoaster ride with many starts and stops, I am pleased to report the past 12 months has been its busiest year with the grand total of 12 blogs!

Over the past eight years whenever I have sat down to post on this site, admittedly not as often as I would have liked, I have never been short of a topic and the words have seemingly flown onto the screen. However in November the yips struck… two blogs just didn’t work!

As you may recall, I acknowledged a case of writer’s block in my July blog – Creativity through tears – following the sudden and untimely death of my brother. Interestingly I was never overly concerned at the time as I understood it to be a natural part of the grief process. However when it struck again in November however I just couldn’t explain the why or wherefore of the abyss, other than the rest of my life was incredibly busy at the time. Maybe it was just case of trying to do too much and not providing a space for contemplation and absorption for writing.

So rather than force something onto you all at the time something that was not quite right, I decided to take a break. Given the whirlwind that the end of the year ended up being it was I think in hindsight a wise move although I was very grumpy about it at the time.

So here I am sitting at the computer on 1 January 2019, with the Festive season shenanigans now over. Thankfully the words are flowing once again – phew! Yes the break seems to have done me some good.

So given it is the first day of the new year, it is time to look back on the year that was and contemplate my writing plans for 2019. This year for the first time I am avoiding the big resolution declaration to concentrate rather on smaller goals, one of which was to write today, so already there is a tick. I believe that given the curveballs and surprises that can occur, especially with the year that has just gone, it is probably a more realistic outlook.

So back to 2018… just how did it go?

It was however a target that initially seemed to be on track during the first quarter of the year, despite some competing priorities, until the end of April when my brother’s untimely and sudden death brought things to a crashing halt.

For those who have been on this journey all the way through you will probably recall my grand resolution announcement with the 2 January 2018 blog – In fear and trembling or the latest attempt to overcome procrastination – that my resolution for the year was to have the first draft of the WIP completed by 31 December 2018. Um, yes well… as you can see that didn’t occur and as much as it would have been nice to have typed ‘The End’ yesterday I am not beating myself up on my missed deadline.

It was to be another 10 weeks before I felt able to return to my own writing again, a process helped by my Writers of Adelaide group, a local Facebook support group that morphed during the year into physical form. For a short period during the year we had a monthly block chain which provided the inspiration to the August blog – The importance of creativity | crossbordertales and the September blog Challenging Writer’s Block | crossbordertales (ironically another discussion on writer’s block). These exercises certainly helped to kick things along so to the WofA team thank you and hopefully we can try the chain again in 2019.

Then during September I came across a simple Instagram trend called #100DaysOfWriting.

As someone who struggles with finding the time to write, unfortunately a somewhat regular theme of mine as you have all probably noticed, I decided to give this concept a try, setting 1 October as the starting date. The October blog – #100daysofwriting | crossbordertales – was an update on the first 15 days of the challenge.

Initially this challenge seemed to be a good support in developing the writing practice until the second half of the month when organising a reunion of my Advertiser colleagues took over whatever spare time I had. It is probably no surprise to you all that the second writer’s block for the year then kicked in November.

During the abyss there were two blog attempts – one on the reunion and another on the centenary of the armistice – and you now know the story about what happened to them. I am sure they will resurface in some form, somewhere one day, I am a strong believer in that nothing is wasted in writing. I think it was a case that the time wasn’t right for them to see the light of day.

The Advertiser reunion was a personal highlight of 2018, providing a chance to reconnect with old friends. In some cases it was 30 years since we last saw each other and for one weekend it seemed as though time indeed stood still.

Despite impacting on my personal writing time, the reunion still had a link to the writing craft by providing an opportunity to look back on my journalism career. It was also a chance for all of us who attended to salute a grand profession and consider how lucky we have been to be a part of it.
Journalism may not be what it was during the 1980s and 1990s but I think whatever form it unfolds into the future, telling the news story remains paramount for a healthy society and democracy and I believe in some way it will survive. It is that belief and in celebration of my colleagues, some of whom are still on the road and some who are like me and trying their hand at different forms of writing, that our group photo is today’s blog pix.

So as to 2019 what are my writing goals?

It is quite simple, to write as often as I can, to post up on this blog as often as I can, to read as often as I can, to spend less time on social media and TV and maybe just maybe, get the first draft of the WIP completed.

The good news is that two years on from when I first came up with the idea I still believe in it and I want to see it reach full fruition. Enough to inspire one to continue.

As previously mentioned, already on day 1 of 2019 I’ve ticked off the first 2019 goal with writing on News Year’s Day. Today also marks commencing my second attempt at the #100DaysOfWriting challenge. A challenge that is due to finish on my birthday! I believe this is somewhat fortutious timing and when this attempt is successfully accomplished, it will be a fitting double celebration.

So whatever writing or reading you do during this year, may it be a wonderful adventure. So 2019 come at me and let this journey begin… now back to writing the novel.

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#100daysofwriting

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This latest post is initially brought to you from the lounge of the Maylands Hotel, armed with the iPad & a glass of wine, awaiting the monthly Writers of Adelaide face to face meeting.

Such a setting – writing ahead of a meeting to discuss writing – provides a good example of my writing life since I commenced the #100DaysOfWriting challenge at the beginning of October. The aim being to get a little bit more discipline back into the writing practice, particularly on the WIP.

Now that I’m half way through the first month I feel it is time to reflect on the early stages that I’ve experienced with the challenge so far.

For those new to this particular approach to writing practice, it is an Instagram driven challenge, created on a whim by British novelist, Jennifer Ashworth. For her it was a way to fall back in love with the WIP after her writing routine got out of whack. It didn’t take long for it to take off on social media and is now a considerable movement.

Regarded as a gentle way of getting a writing routine up – being more of a carrot than a stick approach – the main premise is that via Instagram you show evidence of having presented to your writing. You can be either at the desk in the study, the kitchen table, a cafe or bar, the train or even the lunchroom during a quick break at work. So yes on day #15 as I began to generate this piece, I presented to the writing sitting in a comfy lounge chair and typing away with a very nice glass of Down the Rabbit Hole Tempranillo by my side (yes it is the glass of red in the photo).

Even the day before (day #14 of the challenge) had me presenting to the writing at Norwood Cibo when I was able to squeeze in some time before the weekly grocery shop. The challenge, I’ve therefore found, is a really great way of showing that you can sit down to write anywhere. I no longer feel that need to only write when in the study and in front of my desktop computer. I now can write whenever and wherever I can.

Having said that the desktop computer and study is still my primary modus operandi and it will probably always be that way.

One of the other delights of this challenge is that it doesn’t matter if you don’t actually write any words that day, the aim is to just present yourself to it. Even if you take a photo of you procrastinating that still counts.

So with that all in mind, how have I fared with this task you may ask?

The answer is not quite that simple.

I presented every day for the first 10 days, which given my crazy life is quite good. Even when I was on a roll with the WIP earlier this year I was only looking at it two or three days a week at best, so this is significant progress.

However the bad news is that I’ve been presenting to the writing on most occasions at the end of the day, after I had finished work, made dinner and dealt with other chores. As a result I’ve been often so tired that there has been very little new writing, opting instead to do research or reading through some notes as that was all one’s fried brain could cope with.

However on some nights I have been amazed to find that I would start the session initially dog tired, but as the writing unfolded I seemed to become energised. This has also meant that I tended to head off to bed way later than I should. It is therefore no surprise that this challenge has coincided with sleep deprivation.

Then there have been the occasions when I have made a breakthrough with the WIP when I have least expected it and on the verge of switching off for the night. A good example was the night I suddenly found a pivotal scene in a chapter that come together all of a sudden after months of trying to work out just how it was going to happen.

So then after presenting to the challenge 10 days straight and thinking this was all ticketyboo, the rest of life kicked in on days 11,12 and 13. It would end up being day 14 before I picked up the challenge again. But not all was lost. During this three day hiatus while I didn’t physically present to the writing, I did find I was still writing mentally during this period, particularly on day 13 . What is it about getting inspiration while in the shower? Yes, one of life’s great creative mysteries.

In fact when returning on day 14 I was able to get that shower inspiration down and now it looks like the idea will fly, so maybe I can count day 13 to the challenge after all!

So inch by inch I am noticing the development of some sort of writing discipline, even it is only 15-30 minutes a day. I should point out however this challenge hasn’t been totally about minutes of writing snatched here and there. Some days have indeed resulted in writing bouts that have lasted a couple of hours or more. However a full day of writing has yet to emerge since I’ve started this caper but I am sure it will happen by the time I reach day 100.

What have I found now just over two weeks in is that this gentle prompt nevertheless works. I feel now that the day is not quite complete if I haven’t presented to my writing and by default the #100DaysOfWriting challenge.

Looking back at these last few days, I now believe I have experienced in a microcosm the writer’s existence in all its forms. From snatching any writing time when one can (even late at night), thinking of plot and character while doing chores and being very grumpy if the writing doesn’t happen.

And that is the quiet beauty of #100DaysOfWriting. Organically the writing practice seemingly evolves around you. It’s still not a finely tuned discipline yet, but it definitely feels as though it is baby steps in the right direction. Stay tuned for what happens during the remaining 83 days.

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Challenging Writer’s Block

September has been yet another crazy, busy, hectic and chaotic month with the Royal Adelaide Show, a fairly intense work environment, family commitments, the health not being on its best behaviour, a weekend dash to Melbourne and taking on the organisation of a reunion of my Advertiser colleagues. Phew!

So it is somewhat fortuitous that my local writer’s group, Writers of Adelaide, has set writer’s block as the topic for this month’s blog chain.

Initially when the topic was set, I thought, somewhat smugly: “Hah! I don’t experience that.” However as this crazy month unfolded, I started to wonder if this initial reaction was in fact actually correct. Somewhat evidenced by the fact that I am scrambling to get this written by the end of the month deadline now only hours away. Thankfully it is a long weekend so if I have to be up until midnight to post it up on time, then so be it.

Writer’s block is for me a somewhat interesting concept. While my initial reaction to the topic does have some truth, as I had no choice while as a journalist and now working in government media and communications, to always deliver a story or some form of writing to a deadline. There has been no room for writer’s block.

Over the years, I found some articles and stories to be very easy to write, while others have been like extracting blood out of the stone; but at the end of the day the goods have been delivered and pretty much to time. Even when writing university essays writer’s block was a rarity, again thanks to the deadline, although I must confess to successfully negotiating many an essay extension while in academia.

So staring at a blank page or screen waiting for some form of inspiration to strike hasn’t seemingly been an issue, I think partially because I’ve always had notes of some form to work off and thereby providing me with a starting point.

So while my professional and academic writing seems to have escaped the writer’s block curse, I am now starting to wonder whether I have been experiencing it with my personal/creative writing and not realising it.

Like many an aspiring author, I have started numerous writing projects over the years that have never been finished. Each time I have blamed the realities of life and while on one level that is true, could it also be the case that I didn’t ultimately believe in the project?

I am also starting to think that the form of writer’s block that has impacted on my personal/creative writing may in fact been because I haven’t developed a discipline to this area of my writing compared to my professional work. It is after all amazing how the need to pay the bills can be an incentive!

At the beginning of this year when I reactivated this blog site I made a somewhat scary New Year’s Resolution with my January blog – In fear and trembling or the latest attempt to overcome procrastination. At the time I declared I would finish the first draft of the existing work in progress by the end of this year. While there have been quite a few competing priorities along with way, it still seemed like an attainable goal until the end of April when my brother’s untimely and sudden death occurred.

It was to be another 10 weeks before I felt able to return to my own writing again, describing that period through with my July blog – Creativity through tears. Now thinking about those recent weeks in the context of this post, while I didn’t recognise it as writer’s block at the time, I am now realising that it was indeed the case.

In doing some preparation for this post, Googling “grief” and “writer’s block” produced a plethora of articles detailing the grief/writer’s block link. There are too many to list here, however if you are interested in the topic rest assured they are easy to find. That Google list also provided me with the solace that I was not alone in experiencing this problem.

When I returned to my desk back in July, instead of bashing myself up over the writing plans going AWOL, I decided to be kind to myself resetting my self-imposed WIP deadline to mid 2019 and committing myself to the writer’s group blog chain initiative (the latter ensuring there would be at least a monthly blog on this site). While I have kept up the blog chain commitment – even if it is at the 11th hour this month – the WIP is however been a bit of a struggle, not through the idea but in the time commitment to progress it.

So in thinking about writer’s block and my own writing I’m starting to think about the need to implement some discipline to the personal/creative writing space, following this timeless advice by Louis L’Amour:

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” – Louis L’Amour

Earlier this year when I was far more diligent about the WIP, it did flow and even now, despite the hiatus of recent weeks, I still believe in it, probably more so than any other WIP I have commenced. So as we roll into October I am going to try some new tricks that I have come across this month to instil structure and discipline to my writing process and in turn hopefully kickstart the manuscript back to life.

The first idea came to me courtesy of A.J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window (by the way an amazing debut novel), during his author event at Norwood Town Hall earlier this month. He discussed his schedule of writing every night, after finishing his day job as a book editor, from 8-11pm. After this talk, chatting to friend and local author Victoria Purman who interviewed Finn that night, she made me realise how quickly I could get a word count up by such a regime. Which made me think my initial WIP deadline is do-able. Thanks Victoria for the push!

The other idea, which I came across thanks to another local author Lia Weston, is the following Prolifiko article she shared on her Twitter account – #100DaysOfWriting – the gentle approach to writing productivity

This article looks at how British author Jenn Ashworth came up with the #100DaysOfWriting challenge. The idea she said was more of a whim than a significantly planned concept. The exercise also started as she was coming out of a period of grief.

She posted the idea on Instagram with the #100DaysOfWriting tag. It was not to be about about productivity, hitting goals or word counts or even nailing her then work in progress, for her it was about an approach to falling back in love with writing. As she said:

“Every day for 100 days I would turn up to the book. There was no obligation to write for any amount of time, or to a word count every day, but just that I would turn up. I hoped that after these 100 days, I would’ve made friends with the book again, maybe finished it, maybe got over my terror. I put this up on Instagram, kind of as a way of holding myself accountable. I thought if I sent it in public, then I’ll have to do it.” – Jenn Ashworth

During that initial challenge others joined her and the #100DaysOfWriting is now a well established movement on Instagram, and has expanded beyond writing to include all forms of creativity.

I feel that both approaches by A.J.Finn and Jenn Ashworth are not only attainable but provide a practical path to instilling discipline to my own personal/creative writing. As tomorrow -1 October – doubles as a public holiday here in Radelaide, it provides me the perfect starting point to give the #100DaysOfWriting writing challenge a go. I might not get the first draft of the WIP completed but I should be well advanced on setting up a far more disciplined approach to this craft that I love.

So follow me at my Instagram site @fontyk for daily updates on my progress with the challenge along with weekly updates here at Crossbordertales. Stay tuned…

I am the last of the Writers’ of Adelaide group to make the blog chain. To see how the rest of the group have tacked this common aspect of a writer’s life please visit their blogs:

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The importance of creativity

To be a creative I believe is something that is innate within you, it drives you, and to a certain extent, is your life force.

Creativity is probably one of the most important characteristics of being human. It is one of the main traits that makes us successful not only as individuals but as a species.

Therefore there is much to be said about the importance of creativity in our lives.

According to the Oxford dictionary creativity is defined as the use of imagination or original ideas to create something. Therefore we often think about creativity as making, but I have also come across a description of creativity meaning ‘to grow’, a definition I think is the closest to describing just how creativity operates.

When I am creative I feel as if the world, and all that is in it, is vibrantly alive and that indeed I am growing as a person.

Whether it is something that is a part of one’s nature or something that can emerge through nurture, I will leave to science to determine. However in my case I have been one of the lucky ones who has been surrounded by creativity all my life. It is probably why I have been prepared to embrace it not only as an important, but a vital, element of life.

With an artist father and a foster father who was a master craftsman in shoemaking, there was no way I could escape creativity. I have never known a time where there hasn’t been someone doing something creative around me. Even my grandfather who could be described as an ‘Ocker’ Australian – a football, meat pie and Holden cars type of guy – was also to me a creative man. He built his own veranda extensions, the barbecue, a fountain and even a caravan, before his untimely death to cancer. Things all made his own hands (and often part of family projects).

While that familial male creativity was of a practical nature, there is also a history of what I would call intellectual creativity within my family, particularly on my father’s side.

My father’s three brothers all had creative careers at some point in their lives involving such fields as advertising, acting, music and copywriting. I recall going to the Dunstan Playhouse a few times during the 1970s and 1980s to watch Uncle John perform in State Theatre Company performances (the sets usually also painted by my father), or seeing him appear on the television through South Australian Film Corporation miniseries productions such as Sarah Dane and For The Term of His Natural Life. His wife, my Aunt Judy, was also an actor, one of her most notable roles being the schoolteacher in the 1976 adaption of Storm Boy (and yes I am looking forward to seeing the new movie when it is released soon). Even their children, my cousins, have been dancers, musicians and writers.

I also suspect that growing up in Adelaide during the Dunstan in the 1970s provided a significant backdrop to this creative output that surrounded me.

Unsurprisingly most of my childhood hobbies tended to revolve around creativity. Being the youngest by a few years, I developed the knack of entertaining myself and regarded creativity as a friend. In addition to piano and dancing lessons, I would spend many an hour absorbed in writing, reading, drawing and listening to music. It was also not surprising that many of my friends also had a tendency towards creativity.

Given this background it was obvious that creativity would also play a large part of my adult life. The big debate of my secondary school years was over what form that adult creativity would be, as I vacillated between journalism or acting. I still remember clearly a wintry Saturday afternoon sitting in my bedroom and all of 15, when I made the momentous decision that whatever uni course I got into would probably determine my future professional creativity. Essentially, as a good creative I really left it up to the universe to decide my my fate. In the end that toss of the coin landed on journalism after successfully obtaining a cadetship at The Advertiser. As they say, the rest is history.

Looking back now it was probably always going to be the path I pursued. Although I have since crossed over to the ‘dark side’ to work in public relations and communications, writing remains my true creative outlet. While creative hobbies have included singing along with dabbling in drawing, painting and photography; my creative muse is strongest when I’m doing my own writing.

Maybe because of self-imposed deadline pressures, I know how I feel when I don’t get to take up that chance to write. I can be somewhat antsy when day-to-day life and other commitments get in the way of progressing either this blog or the work in progress.

Even when I don’t feel well, allowing a creative moment and getting a little bit of creativity happening always makes me feel so much better.

As I said before, when I am creative it feels as though all is right with the world and I feel alive.

However creativity is not just important to my own self being. I believe it is also vitally important at a broader level for our society. To me, if creativity was to cease around us there would no such thing as a civilised society. It is why the current culture wars I see occurring both here in Australia and elsewhere around the Western world scares me.

Without creativity and culture we would not grow, we would not innovate and worst of all beauty would, I believe, disappear. It would result in a very grey world. Such a world unfortunately presents the perfect ingredients for democracy to die and totalitarianism to flourish. The consequences of such tyranny is stagnation. It is why I will continue to embrace, practice and promote creativity and encourage you all to do the same. The price simply is too high.

This piece is part of the August 2018 Writers of Adelaide blog chain. Dean Mayes has kicked off the conversation with his take on the importance of creativity. Others who will be joining in include:

Please feel free to look at why my fellow Writers of Adelaide colleagues believe creativity is so important.

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Umbrella Fountain – Inspirational Adelaide, Part 2

IMG_4530Adelaide certainly provides great photographic opportunities. Snapped this one the other day while returning back to the office from lunch.

Another example of how Radelaide can be inspiring.

However sure they’re stopping the water or the sun! @umbrellaadl. #umbrellawintercitysounds #adelaide #rundlemall #rundlemallfountain #wintersunshine.

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Inspirational Adelaide

Adelaide – the Festival City.

It is one of the reasons I praise my ancestors who not only decided to jump on leaky boats from European ports for the arduous colonial sea voyage to Australia but had the sense to make South Australia, rather than the eastern seaboard, their destination.

As a born and mostly bred South Australian (there is a part of my childhood linked to the Northern Territory but I digress), my whole life has been imbued with the creativity and excitement that comes with having one of the most significants arts festivals in the world on your doorstep. Even when I have lived away from Adelaide and South Australia this influence remained with me.

While we are all aware of Mad March with the flurry of Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Writers Week, the Fringe and Womadelaide; Adelaide is in fact a hive of cultural expression all year round. No matter where your creative instincts may lie, should it be either in fine arts, music, crafts, performing arts or writing, there are a myriad of events that we can indulge in for the remaining 11 months of the year. This includes the Cabaret Festival, the Guitar Festival, the Umbrella Winter City Sounds, SALA, OzAsia or Feast. Then there are our cultural institutions such as the Festival Centre, State Theatre Company, State Opera, the Art Gallery of South Australia and the South Australian Museum that provide further opportunities for cultural pursuits. You can see why Adelaide’s nick name – Radelaide – has emerged.

If that isn’t enough inspiration for creatives living in Adelaide there are the artistic support networks located around the city. From my own writing perspective I have gained much from Writers SA with their resources, services and regular courses.

This cultural intensity also leads to some amazing community based and informal artistic and creative support around Radelaide. A good example of this level of support for me has been a local social media based writers’ group which I joined last year. Not only has it been a great source of support while embarking on the latest WIP but is also has also provided a forum to discuss and share articles and ideas on the writing craft.

The group – Writers of Adelaide – is quite an eclectic group with the membership ranging from those lucky ones who have reached publication status to others, like me, still wrangling that first draft together. One of its great joys for me is the opportunity to swap notes on juggling the writing life with real life, reminding us all as we sit down to write whether it is at our computers, on other electronic devices or handwriting down ideas with pen and paper, that we are not alone. The other thing we all have in common is our passion for writing.

This year the group has evolved away from our computer screens to now include monthly face to face catch ups providing further support to the creative life. A more recent innovation has been the establishment of a blog chain. With many of us sporting blogs we felt the concept provided an avenue for cross promoting each other’s blogs in turn hopefully generating more followers for us all. It also greatly helps in providing a blog topic prompt. It is in fact this month’s blog chain topic – Adelaide a source of inspiration for your writing or your job – is providing the mojo for this post.

Away from the support for creativity this city provides, Adelaide itself is a great source of inspiration as a writer. A former journalist with The Advertiser (Adelaide’s daily morning newspaper) I was fortunate to meet so many interesting people and cover some great events across this city during my time on the editorial floor. It won’t surprise me if any of them ever pop up in my own writing some time.

Away from the glitter and glam as a city renowned for its support of the arts and culture, there is a darker side of Adelaide. A dark side that also provides a source of inspiration for writers – its predilection for the unusual, brutal and in some cases still unsolved, crimes. Radelaide with its hot summers and long western coastline of sandy beaches provides a backdrop to one of the most baffling crimes ever – the mystery of the Beaumont Children. Having grown up and gone to school in Glenelg I must confess the spectre of that mystery very much played into my childhood consciousness. It was easy for my parents and teachers to just mention the Beaumont name for us to be very aware of stranger danger. There was no need to invent fictional ogres.

I was still at school when the victims of The Family and Truro murders went missing (a further contributing factor towards stranger danger awareness) and was at The Advertiser during the subsequent trials for those convicted. Where else but in South Australia could you come up with the Snowtown body in the barrels case?

They say that truth can be stranger than fiction and Radelaide certainly knows how to write a damn good crime story.

It comes as no surprise that this history has attracted the interest of writers and was certainly a topic of conversation at Adelaide Writers Week in 1984.  The event’s major drawcard British writer Salman Rushdie certainly got tongues wagging (and much newprint produced) when he declared the city the perfect setting for a Stephen King novel or horror film. “Adelaide,” he said “is Amityville or Salem.”

Away from the dark side, the romantic soul of Adelaide with its food and wine, gardens, parks and relatively close proximity to the Mount Lofty Ranges and South Coast also provides inspiration. Friend and romance writer Victoria Purman has included Adelaide (and other parts of the state) in her published works and one of my all time favourite local novels, Where The Queens All Strayed by Barbara Hanrahan is very much an ode to Radelaide.

Adelaide – the Festival City. I am a very lucky writer to be able to call her home and revel in the source of creativity and inspiration she provides to me.

I am the last Writers of Adelaide blogger to post my thoughts on Radelaide but the group through this blog chain have all provided some great takes on just what makes this city tick for them. For some it is an inspiring place to raise a family while for those who have come from elsewhere, inspiration has come through the joy of discovering Adelaide and ultimately deciding this was a good place to establish roots.

So while this is my creative take on Adelaide please feel free to look at what my fellow Writers of Adelaide colleagues have had to say about this grand girl:

 

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Creativity through tears

I will not say; do not weep; for not all tears are an evil – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King.

At the end of April my world was rocked by the sudden death of my brother, Werner.
Beset by a debilitating skin condition for most of his adult life he was not the most of well of men, his unexpected departure from this world was nevertheless a shock.
Having no partner or children, my Mother and I had very little chance initally to absorb the impact of his death as we quickly dispatched ourselves to Hobart, where he lived, to organise his affairs and say goodbye.
While a sad time, this immediate period after his death spent in Tasmania was also a cathartic time. In packing up his possessions, catching up with old mutual friends or meeting new people whose lives who had been touched by him, I was able to update my picture of a wonderful, crazy, and passionate man who left us way too soon. That mental picture has become central to my sense of remembrance of him.
The initial grief period in Tasmania through exchanging the stories of my brother and the shared experience of sorrow, confirmed for me how unique the journey of grief is for all of us. I now believe there is no right or wrong way in going about this fundamental life experience.
I am well aware that as time unfolds my grief and sense of remembrance will also change, particularly as major milestones such as birthdays and holiday celebrations including Christmas unfold in coming months.
However Werner’s death has not been the only one. Unfortunately Death has decided to remain active around me although not quite as directly. Since my return from Tasmania close friends and other family members have joined me on the grieving journey.
With Death being so prominent in recent weeks, it is probably needless to point out that writing, either on this blog or the work in progress, has not been a high priority.
My brother’s affairs had to be sorted out (a process that still continues), family members to support and friends searching for answers. This coalition of grief needed each other and the space for creativity was simply not a high priority.
Having made certain pronouncements on my writing goals at the beginning of the year , I quickly realised I had to be kind to myself and therefore decided not to get stressed about the fact that my writing projects have taken a hiatus. This wasn’t the time to force the writing.
Deep down I always knew that the need to do my own writing would return along with the reappearance of the muse. As you can see it is slowly emerging, although only baby steps at this stage.
However the creative life has not been void in recent weeks. It has been somewhat more a passive than active pursuit as the creativity of others guide me through these initial stages of grief. Solace has been gained through looking at a art, listening to music, attending a concert, reading books or watching fine acting. This passive absorption of creativity has been fitting. For my brother and I the creative world was a mutual sphere for us and through these activities I have been able to find him.
Indeed I can say that the creative world has been a blessing.
However these recent experiences have prompted me to ponder on the impact of grief on creativity. I am well aware that for some it can hinder the muse, while for others it becomes a central aspect of their healing process.
As everyone’s ability to grieve is unique I therefore believe the combination of creativity and grief is an unique process. We never know quite how it will hit us until we are in its midst. I also suspect that how I am experiencing it now could well differ the next time I confront grief and loss.
One of the most poignant experiences of grieving and creativity I have ever come across is the experience of one of the my favourite composers, Nigel Westlake following the murder of his son Eli in 2008.
For the first 12 months after the event composing and creativity was the last thing on his mind, as he recalls in the CD notes for his work Missa Solis:

“Many things, including music, completely lost their relevance and meaning. I was cast into an abyss of grief and yearning. All plans went on hold, future work prospects were postponed or cancelled.” – Nigel Westlake, Missa Solis CD notes.

At the time of Eli’s death Westlake had already started composing Missa Solis as a secular mass to the sun, however by the time the work finally premiered in 2011 it had turned into a requiem for Eli. As Westlake recalls:

“When I finally worked up the will and the courage to revive my interest in composition, in the forefront of my mind was the desire to express my grief at the loss of my son through music.
As the pages of Missa Solis stared back at me from the desk, I saw within them the potential to further expand upon this material in a way that might somehow reflect the enormity of my loss. As I pondered the parallel between the words ‘sun’ and ‘son’, Primavera’s ancient ode, ‘My joy is born every time I gaze at my beautiful sun’ now assumed a portentous significance. Here lay the blueprint for Eli’s requiem.” – Nigel Westlake, Missa Solis CD notes.

Since then Westlake’s grief and honouring of his son has continued to influence his creativity which has included the beautiful song cycle Compassion created in association with Lior. A piece of music that has been a part of my own grief soundtrack.
As my own words finally once again flicker from the screen, I suspect grief’s impact on my creativity is yet to fully express itself; however I am thankful that green shoots of creative expression are once again starting to emerge from within me.
Time will tell where the juxtaposition of grief and creativity will lead me, however I am already certain of one thing. There is beauty through tears.
Werner, may I continue on the creative journey for both of us. xo

adult alone anxious black and white

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Posted in Cross Border Tales, Family, memoir, This creative life, This Writing Life | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments