It doesn’t feel like summer in Melbourne. The sky is silvery grey, there’s a chilly breeze rustling the leaves of our tomato plants and the ground is deliciously soggy from the latest downpour.
But the cool weather has been great for reading. I’ve been convalescing the past month and there’s nothing nicer on a cool day than lying in bed with a cup of tea and a stack of good books to hand.
One thing I noticed as the piles grew higher is that the more I read, the more deeply I engaged with each new book. Towards the end of last year I’d spent too much time on the internet, done too much shallow reading. (If you want to understand exactly what it means to read shallowly, get a hold of Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows)
The beautiful thing about deep reading is that it’s like working a muscle – the more you use that muscle, the more powerful it becomes.
I’m an eclectic reader. I like to read across all genres and forms. I enjoy a good children’s book as much as a work of complex literary fiction. I don’t grow fatigued with reading if I vary it. A couple of prize winning literary novels are nicely leavened by a graphic novel or a playful kid’s adventure book. Reading widely can help you develop the ability to read all types of books with more clarity.
Silence is golden. Sometimes, being silent is the only way you can make sense of things going on around you. Or making music.When things get too intense, singing and making music about life can also help you make sense of it.
When I was a teenager, I read Mario Puzo’s novel ‘The Godfather’ and then everything I could find of his, including his comments on how to be a writer. I’ve forgotten much of his fiction which was eventually overshadowed by the film versions of his books but I do remember a column he wrote on being a writer. He said that if you want to write interesting books, lead a dull life. There’s truth in the remark as life has been anything but dull of late and I have done very little writing.
Here is a list of a few things that I haven’t written about but which I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, not necessarily in this order:
Katoomba Music Festival (misty, moisty but fun)
Hanging out with the wonderful James Roy (more fun)
Lymphoma, health scares and false alarms (not mine, but someone very close to me)
Mr Punch and his audiences (particularly kids who can’t help charging the booth)
Orange (the city, not the colour or the fruit)
Dubbo, Gilgandra and Warren (all of which I’ve visited in the past 3 days)
Romance in caravan parks (other people’s – not just mine)
Ukeleles (I’m getting better at playing them – we have two now)
Tomorrow I’m driving to Gulgong to spend a day workshopping stories with students at Gulgong High School.
As ‘Annie’ would sing: “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow, you’re only a day away.”
On the right is the view from my campsite in Castlemaine, overlooking the Botanical Gardens. This afternoon a riot of kookaburras cackled their outrageous laughter into the hot afternoon sky. In the morning, I sat in the Castlemaine gallery, flanked by beautiful paintings by E. Phillip Fox and Fredrick McCubbin and watched Mr Punch set off a small riot of children.
We’re on our last practice run before we hand over the keys of our house to our tenants, lock all our possessions into storage and head off on our grand 12-month tour of Australia. Castlemaine feels like a very soft start. When I was a kid, I associated this town with The Wild Colonial Boy. As any Australian school kid who sang about him in class I knew he was ‘born in Castlemaine’. It wasn’t until I was driving through the West of Ireland, researching the ‘Children of the Wind’ novels that I discovered that the Wild Colonial Boy was actually born in County Kerry.
It’s one of the things that has always perplexed me about being a member of an immigrant culture – it’s hard to know where one thing ends and another begins. Late afternoon found The Professor and me sitting in our director’s chairs admiring the view from campsite 13. I knew I should be working on the new book but the heat of the day and the fact I had a good novel to read undermined all my good intentions. Same old problem – when does one thing end and the next begin? When does the holiday give way to the work-a-day ethic of writing on the road?
Castlemaine is full of old and new friends and fellow writers that I want to catch up with including the lovely Simmone Howell, Lee Fox and Robyn Annear.
Lunch today was spent with two long-term Castlemainians and then dinner with two newer friends who regalled us with tales of Afghanistan and Germany. The Professor and I walked home through the cool dark of the Botanic Gardens and I realised the day had slipped away from me in terms of writing anything other than lists of what I should be doing. But at least I’ve stuck to one of my new year’s resolutions to read more and finished Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel. It’s nearly Friday. I sit listening to the cicadas and the occasional possum arguing outside and remember John Lennon lyrics, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.’