On getting away to write

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Last week I had the great good fortune of being offered a house in a seaside town south of Sydney for a few days. The idea was to get away and put my head down to write and edit without the distractions of family, friends and pets. I am very distractible, I have to admit, and it’s totally my fault that I accept all invitations for coffee and lunch, dog walking with friends, or dinners and drinks. It’s sometimes amazing that I get any writing done at all, in fact. Anyway, there I was, in this lovely house in a sleepy seaside town in late Autumn, with time, my computer, notebooks and pens spread out on the dining table, a view of the sea through the window, a breeze gently ruffling the curtains. Are you with me? Suffice to say, it was heaven, and I did get a lot of work done.

The friend whose house it was said that it was very quiet, but as I listened I realised that it was not quiet at all. There was certainly no sound from the neighbours, who must either have been away or hermits. There were no cars driving down the road with music blaring, no planes flying overhead on their descent to Sydney airport. But it wasn’t quiet; there were birds singing, kookaburras laughing, waves crashing, wind rustling crisp autumn leaves. It was really noisy, but in such a soothing way, a backdrop to work rather than an interruption. And I was able to quieten and really listen to the voices of my characters and the landscape of their story.

When I went into town to get the essentials that I’d forgotten (toothpaste, merino wool cardigan, vegan muffins) I observed a holiday town in the off season. No tourists, yet all the ice cream parlours and gift shops were open, the bored staff leaning against counters, only to perk up as a stranger passed and glanced in. The bookshop was doing well with three people browsing. The cafes that didn’t smell of chip fat were doing a reasonable trade amongst the 40 somethings in their gym or yoga gear, but the holiday park near the famous Blowhole was quiet, the caravans and cabins shuttered and empty. The one or two people walking on the hills above the town were rugged up and instead of looking excitedly out to sea to exclaim at the view, it was their everyday backdrop  to their dogs’ exercise. I found it fascinating, that what to me was so new and interesting was to others, mundane. Or maybe I shouldn’t assume.

On walks along the beach I would have conversations in my head with my characters as I watched seagulls picking at mounds of drying seaweed on the sand, and peered into rock pools, enjoying the Australian beach as my protagonist grappled with life in Northern Pakistan. Writing can make you feel a little schizoid at times, the reality of your situation so at odds with that of the characters you have created, but perhaps it’s there, in that space, that creativity happens, where you are free to wonder and dream without censorship or censure.

I have decided that I need to get away more often.

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