Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.
George Bernard Shaw
In 2005 I sold everything I owned, and in doing so set myself free from all financial obligations and material commitments. In this way I would be free to write.
For decades I’d been longing to write . . . it was a secret voice, shhhhhhhh, a whisper murmuring an arcane longing deep in my deepest heart.
I always thought writing was something you did at school. When I was 13 one of my siblings found some notes I’d typed and hidden behind a poster on my wall. It was the usual teenage babble about being adopted, about being born into the wrong family who of course did not understand me. Sigh, siblings. Exposed, I slammed the door for decades on writing anything at all that might expose me or render me vulnerable to ridicule, shame or even minor misinterpretation.
My own personal revolution has been to claim my longing to write, to live a creative life beyond the merciless judgment of myself or others. For here is what I have learned, having published a deeply personal story that is universal in its theme: people read only their own story.
I’m sure most published writers will agree with me. Yes we expose ourselves in our writing, but this is not the point.
Our job, if you like, as published authors, is to expose readers to themselves. In fact, I feel most exposed as an author when people do not understand what I have written and proceed to tell me all about themselves as if their story was mine!
After I sold everything and set myself free to write, I ‘practiced’ writing for a very long time. I still have those bits and pieces lying around, waiting for their moment in the sun. Because the book I was working on through those early years is not the first book I published, nor the second.
My Pilgrim’s Heart
The first book I published is the travel memoir My Pilgrim’s Heart, whose strapline is A woman’s journey through marriage and other foreign lands. I am who I am and I have come to realise that a book worth reading exposes its author – it has to! If you think you can write and remain hidden you are kidding yourself. A masked writer cannot connect with her readers. This is why writing is an act of courage. This is why when people say I was brave to walk from Rome to Albania I smile a Mona Lisa smile and say ‘publishing a book was much braver’.
I loved writing My Pilgrim’s Heart. For 1500 kms and beyond I walked with a pen and small notebook within easy reach of my hands in the pocket of my pants. I scribbled notes about everything, reached for the poetry in every landscape, every face, every tree and road and moment. Then I returned to Mullumbimby and rented a beautiful house atop a ridge, overlooking a long green valley that ran all the way to the sea. And there I wrote. Every single day for eight months I did nothing but write my journey into the book that became My Pilgrim’s Heart.
Hymn for the Wounded Man
When the travel manuscript was completed, well! I had a book, a whole book. I understood at a very deep layer of my being that this writing time, this total immersion in my creativity, was precious, irreplaceable time and so I decided to write my second book before I entered the world of form and industry that is publishing. A few months later I flew to New Zealand, to Golden Bay, where my book would be set, and perched in a friend’s sunny spare bedroom among the fields beside the Anatoki River, I wrote Hymn for the Wounded Man, the book I’d been wanting to write for 20 years.
The book is about the hunting years, the days I spent following a beautiful man through the forests of Golden Bay, tracking deer and hunting boar. As well as a story about hunting, it became a patchwork of stories I have heard women tell about their relationships with men over the years.
One story that is mine in the book is about the way men tell hunting stories compared to my own way of telling stories. My hunter used to invite me into the conversations with men around the table, ‘tell ‘em about the time . . . ,’ he’d say. And I would stare at him blankly, having no idea how to explain to men full of gusto, adventure, whisky and man-versus-beast thrill-of-the-hunt bravado, that for me – a woman and a vegetarian – hunting was the most spiritual experience of my life.
How could I explain that when I hunted I entered the energetic realm of the forest, that I was alive to every twinkle of sunshine on every drop of water, to the burble of the running brook, to the whiff of darkened, dampened earth, to the breath of wind in the leaves. How could I tell them that the animal was a vital part of this story, that its death as food for their table was a finale that was vital to them, but irrelevant to me; though the death itself was not irrelevant, not at all.
This is what I longed to share with a wider world, to bring the light from the forest to them: that hunting for food is an ancient and noble way of putting meat on the family table. And this is what it is like to be out there on the forest’s own terms.