Monday, October 12, 2009

One luminary clock against the sky

Good morning world!

It's Claire here, your Monday buddy. Our grand plans for this blogging empire see us each contributing one sage, witty post a week, and so nobody can shirk out of their turn, we've each chosen a day. Because I spend most of my days chasing an 11-month-old tiny person around the house, trying to disentangle her from the dog/ cat/ refrigerator/ power-points/ rubbish bins (just insert whatever babies shouldn't touch and that's where I find her most of the time), I've picked Monday in the vain hope that I'll get my posts written on the weekend.

Time shall tell.

Well, this week, you can look forward to a post each day from your new friends in which we'll elaborate on the grand question: why DO you write?

Those who have frequented my individual blog, Stones Bones and Artillery Shells, will know that I'm not good at brevity when it comes to pouring out my thoughts. But I'll try to be concise and entertaining here, I really will.

You've already seen in my introduction that I love reading and I love words. Books have always been an escape for me and I can't imagine life without them. I had a very international upbringing, growing up in Europe, Asia and Australia in an oil industry family, and for me books were a form of stability. I used them to make sense of the world, and to understand that human beings, by nature, think and feel in a multitude of ways. I still do.

I use my writing for the same things. When I write, I'm taking myself to a familiar world where I have all the control. If I want sunshine or rain, it's up to me. If I want flowers or mud, I can choose. And I can use that place and the people I meet there to help me understand the way people think and feel. In turn, this helps me understand how *I* think and feel.

It's all very deep, I assure you. I guess that's why my genre is literary fiction.

The ability to be a control freak might be one of the things I like about writing, but it's not what drives me. Nor is the enjoyment I get from understanding how people think and feel. What drives me is the way my breath catches when I read about those things as presented by a real master- when the mode of expression grabs me, makes me think, refuses to let me go.

And that's what I aspire to do to all of you with my writing.

The title of this blog post is a reference to just that- the breath-catching moment when you read something and think, "Yes! Yes. I understand- but not only that. I feel."

It comes from a Robert Frost poem, Acquainted with the Night. When I first read that poem, I was about 15 and I'd been working for a little while on a story about the London Blitz in WWII; a time in history that interested me. I had a head full of two-dimensional characters, some vague ideas about what I wanted to say. But I was lacking a certain... electricity. And then I read the Frost poem, and the spark was lit. My mind was crackling with possibilities.

I'll quote you some of the poem:

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain - and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I don't know exactly what Frost saw when he wrote that poem, but when I read it in the context of my story, I saw a man. Alone. Lonely. Walking in darkness, but not afraid like everyone else. And I wanted to know why- why wasn't he scared of being killed by a bomb?

The answers came flooding in; because he felt he had nothing left to live for. He wasn't even supposed to be there. His son was missing in action. He was desperate; desperately without hope, but for some reason hoping still. There was a woman. A child. A confessional letter.

A sense of history repeating.

Time began to unravel in front of me, and I saw how his life had led him there. The First World War. Love. Loss. Betrayal. The one constant thing in his world- his son. Gone. Now what?

Don't worry if you don't see the same from those few lines; you will. It's all in BETWEEN THE LINES, which tells the tale of Bill Cutler, an Australian who goes to fight in World War I and comes home to find himself a single father to a son, Jared, he knew nothing about. He struggles to raise his son while fighting the demons of his war experience, but the Second World War is coming, and the inevitable happens- Jared enlists. Bill's world falls apart when Jared is declared missing in action over Britain, and stricken with grief he crosses the world to search for his son. In London he finds Jared's fiance Laura, her eccentric sister Meredith, and their orphaned young neighbour Archie. And slowly, slowly, just when Bill thinks he's lost everything, he finds himself coming back to life for the first time in twenty years.

I'm delighted to have such wonderful company to share my writing journey. We may be all over the world, but we still see the same moon- that luminary clock against the sky. It's one example of the things that unite us.

So, in the interests if kinship, and friends both old and new, how about leaving me a comment to tell me this:

What makes YOU catch your breath, in writing, reading or otherwise?

(And in commenting, you'll also put yourself in the draw to win this week's book giveaway- FIRE IN FICTION, by super-literary agent Don Maass).


  1. Well, to be honest, your intro did! :)

    For me, there's nothing better than that moment when you have to simply turn away from something you're reading or writing -- just to catch your breath and let the moment sink into your being. It happens when I or someone else just nails a moment so perfectly that you feel the emotions of the characters rushing through you -- when you can see a scene so vividly and you've become part of it.

    Or my favorite. The moment I finish a book I truly loved. I often times close the cover and just sit there a minute in the quiet. Inspired.

    Great post, Claire!

  2. I love that Frost poem. Beautiful post, Claire. I too love the words. A good turn of phrase will always leave me breathless.

  3. Lovely post, Claire! And it's true, those are the moments that keep one reading *and* writing, hoping to catch that elusive feeling. Whether you stop to hold your breath, or cry or laugh, the best ones stay with you - maybe that's why I'm such a re-reader, always going back to the worlds that grabbed me...

  4. Oh, I love those moments when a turn of phrase just floors you! And I think you'll agree that Tim Winton is a master at doing just that; his books are such decadent, literary treats. And you're no slouch yourself, btw. (g)

    Wonderful post, Claire!

  5. Weirdly, the breath-catch moments within the actual language are often bits that I don't like - for me the line between beauty and pretentious showing off is very very fine indeed - which is probably why literary fiction is really not my genre.

    I prefer my reading experience to be more "cinematic" - I'm imagining what's going on rather than paying attention to the specific words used to convey the narrative or describe the characters. (Except when they're annoying me with their pretension - then I can't stop noticing the words).

    Having said that, for me you really cannot beat The Book Thief for being stunned into drop-jawed submission. Although having said that, the bit that affected me most deeply about that was the little picture book he made, which is incredibly simplistic in language. So maybe that's within my cup of tea anyway.

  6. In case you're wondering, you're falling on the correct side of beauty/pretension . . . at the moment. :P

  7. Ricki,

    You may be the coolest person to stop by. I'm a fan of ANY fan of THE BOOK THIEF. Stay tuned, I may be giving away a copy. (g)

  8. I love these moments in life where you realise you have two friends from totally different arenas who remind you so much of each other that they might *be the same person*. They like the same books. They've both considered marine biology careers. They're both sarcastic and hilarious. Jen, meet Ricki. Ricki, meet Jen.

    Ricki- kicking my ass for pretentiousness since 1994
    Jen- kicking my ass for pretentiousness since 2006


  9. I may not have made it completely clear there, but honestly it's not pretentiously written beautiful words that I like best- it's the scene or emotion delivered with true *economy* of words in a way that still achieves vividness and clarity. The moments where you catch your breath without noticing the words, and then you go back and read them properly, and feel impressed that they affected you so much.

    And I WILL fist-fight in defence of Robert Frost on that count (g)

  10. Claire that was beautifully written, you've managed to capture (and share) that elusive something that is part of what writing is about.

    For me too, I write because these people and their story is so vivid in my head that it literally haunts me. Any moment when I have nothing else to thing on, they will be there. I have found that if I write it down, if the tale is finished, I can let it go, although I will always remember it fondly, like childhood friends that you don't see very often. The intensity and the actual haunting does stop. I've had stories in my head all my life. It is only recently that I've shared them. It feels good.

    BTW the first line of the poem you shared pulled me strongly into night duties during my nursing career many years ago. Working night shifts is very very different from day.

    Thanks for sharing

  11. Claire,

    What makes me catch my breath when I'm reading? Something that evokes the senses, something so well-written I can see it or hear it or taste it or smell it. Maybe it taps something in my own experience - but it's a read it, go ooh! then go back and read it again kind of thing.

    What makes me catch my breath when I'm writing? When I surface from a prolonged attack on the keyboard and re-read what I've written and wonder where the hell it all came from! When characters leap into life and take off by themselves, and it's all just coming out of the tips of my fingers onto the page without any conscious help from me. Magic moments. Need more of them. Need to spend more time writing and less time reading blogs!!!!