Art imitating life?
... for Knots in the String...
Last week, we had a line cleared at the farm for new fencing. It’s along the edge of a stocklane we use to move sheep in a direct line from one end of the property to the other (and thence underneath the Tasman Highway).
A few years ago, on a sparkling autumn day when the sun was blindingly low, my husband and I were moving a mob of pregnant ewes to the underpass. I had opened double gates, he was out of sight, and I was waiting for him to move the mob toward me.
At that point, the day really went to Hell in an ugly handbasket. No amount of glossy wordage can really describe the next few hours.
A ewe broke from the mob and my husband chased her, but in the glare of the sun he collided with a large rock and went flying over the handlebars. The bike and the ewe hit different parts of the fence, the mob split into two and my husband lay on the ground, his helmet having flown off on impact.
At first, he thought he was just winded, and so flooded with adrenalin he jumped up, wrenched the ewe out of the fence in which she was caught, switched the bike off and then tried to breathe but the pain was excruciating. He managed to phone me, saying ‘Bike down. Can’t breathe!’
After a nerve-wracking ambulance journey, we found he had fourteen rib breaks, front and back, a broken collarbone, bruised kidneys, a massive hip haematoma which eventually had to be dealt with surgically, and a certain amount of emotional scarring.
I had many ‘what if I had lost him’ thoughts at the time and knowing this I decided to channel it into writing. It became the story of Annie who loses her husband in a worse version of that self-same accident.
I didn’t want it to be a stricken story, depressing anyone who read it, and so the imagined spirit of Annie’s deceased husband is often by her side (not in a Ghost and Mrs. Muir sense, but something far deeper, and dare I say quite normal.). Annie also has a bolshy little terrier as a companion, and an acidic and honest friend called Lisette who drags her away from her self-imposed exile from life.
The narrative becomes Annie’s journey through grief.
I’d never written contemporary fiction before and wasn’t sure that this wasn’t just therapy for me as I worked through the accident. But when Annie’s husband arrived at emergency, it actually became fiction, a compelling story, and the story grew legs.
I researched emergency medicine but mostly I researched grief.
Such an honest journey, such an awakening for me, and I hoped as Annie moved through her life between the pages, that it would give people hope.
Ultimately Passage was published to acclaim from one of the world’s greatest contemporary fiction writers, Irish writer, Cathy Kelly.
I’m glad I wrote the book. It shines a light on marriage, love, loss, inner strength and the raw (and healing) beauty of my home coast.
Would I write another contemporary fiction?
The funny thing is that part of the story came true this last week when my son engineered the removal of the fateful rock which has been called Dad’s Rock for a long while.
One of Annie’s sons initiated the same thing in Passage some years before.
Life imitating art, no?
A little neurotic really.
Remember I mentioned two young teenagers who were terrorising our community through the summer?
Last weekend, as they haired around the streets, their unleashed dog tried to attack my leashed dog as my husband and I were walking along the street (it was their dog attacks some years ago that gave my terrier PTSD). My husband bravely jumped between their dog and mine on this evening and was almost being bitten in the legs in the process.
My terrier was reduced to a state of hyper-anxiety and it has been hard work encouraging him to feel confident out walking again. Our dog-trainer believes that after three attacks from that family’s dogs over three years, and no matter how hard we have worked with the little fellow, it is unlikely he will ever be completely healed. All we can do is be his support and give him his best life. We did a Sniffari on the back-roads the next day.
The attack dog has been reported to local Council.
There’s this part of me that wants to write all of this and much more into a book one day, so maybe I will write another contemporary fiction…
In the meantime, I made a small amount of Spiced Chutney with windfalls from the orchard.
But best of all, I knocked up a pair of heavy, moist itty-bitty chocolate ricotta cakes. It made me feel better and TBH, I let the dog lick the dish after!
Obviously Substacks, of which my favourites this week have been Tom and Dan.
Earthy both of them, for different reasons. With Tom I escape to far lands I know I will never visit, and I’m blessed to read the most poetic observations that quite make my heart sing.
Dan is wonderfully down-to-earth about one of my favourite pursuits – gardening. He puts fire in my fingers as I gird my loins to protect my berries, the pumpkins, zucchini and kale from insects who have appetites the size of a dinosaur’s…
I’ve also used Landscapes by Robert Macfarlane as displacement therapy. The colloquial idioms used around the UK for places are superb. They role off the tongue and tell stories the minute I pronounce them in a whisper as I lie in bed at night.
But a serious blessing this week has been discovering
This blog is filled with delightful impressions (or perhaps expressions) of life. I’ve since spoken to ‘Speranza’ (a kindred spirit I’m sure – for a start she owns a terrier, and all terrier owners are special types of people) about her superb writing and she has mentioned an occasional flirt with the idea of Substack.
Oh, would that she should!!!
I’m also now reading Book Two of The Paper Magician Series, The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg. Engaging and exciting from the get-go…
Via audiobook, just finished Agincourt which I saved for car-trips and solo house chores. I remember very little from history lessons of the 100 Years’ War. My interest has always been the 1000 – 1200’s AD so I spent a good part of an evening reading about Agincourt to arm myself a little more as the novel progressed. Cornwell would be delighted that he encouraged me to read the history. It’s the mark of an excellent fiction writer to achieve such a thing, I think.
I’ve now moved on to Fools and Mortals, set in Elizabethan England with William and Richard Shakespeare, Burbidge, the theatre and drama and detail as only Bernard Cornwall can do it. Wonderfully cinematic.
And that’s it. As I think about the need to write another contemporary fiction that allows art to imitate life, I listen to Spotify – to my personal Coastal Grandmother’s list. It calms the neuroses and makes me a happy chappy.
And just because Annie’s story in Passage was, when one strips it right away, a story of lifelong love, and just because I love this song 11/10, I leave you with this:
Maybe I should have found a hip, 21st century piece but when’s all said and done, I reckon big bands, strings and voices do it best!
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Oof, your poor husband! That had to hurt for a long while. In spite of that, I loved this piece and now want to read your book. As you know, I'm in the midst of that awful grieving process right now, so I approach reading about grieving tentatively, ever ready to bail. Still, I think I'm ready to give it a try.
That cake looks amazing. Any chance you'll print the recipe? ❤️️
I remember that time Prue, looking back it was such a harrowing and worrying time! Annie as you know I loved. Poor dog too,people like that family should not be allowed have have a dog.
I love that you're like me in as much as when I'm upset and stressed I keep myself busy. Xxx much love xx