The Cannibal Writer
First of all, I tender my apologies for the length of time between blog posts. The last few months have been fraught not only with a lot of work, but with a lot of family drama that has swallowed up my writing energy even when I had the time.
At the risk of sounding like an appalling human being… at least all of the drama will someday be worth the pain when it gets mulched, ferments and comes back out somewhere and in some form in a story.
Because that’s part of what writers do. It’s not the only thing we do, of course. We don’t only make stories from our own experiences. Our own joy and our own pain. No. Sometimes we make stories out of the pain and joy that we observe in others too.
We sound awful, don’t we?
But part of what it is for me to be human (I can’t speak for anyone else) is making sense of my world, both observed and experienced, through my words. I tell stories to explore the universe in which I’m immersed, and this ship of flesh and bone in which I navigate that universe.
My writing is filled with the things I’ve learned, or am curious about, or am hopelessly ignorant about but hope to become less so, as I burrow into motivation, unpack detail, peer at the nuances of my own reactions and guess at the motivation and reactions of others.
I do sometimes put people directly into stories but mostly, I dismember myself and others to build characters and situations. I make a great big soup out of my life and splash select parts of it onto the page to tell stories to myself first, and later to others, about the enormous, complex beauty and terror that being human can be.
I know already of something that happened last week that will find a way into my stories.
Walking along a hospital corridor with my youngest brother as we accompanied my ill mother into an operating theatre to have her broken hip repaired, we were filled with anxiety and grief, because the surgery was risky but the only option.
But we were haunted down that corridor by the clacking of my mother’s false teeth in a plastic box, which I promised her I’d keep in my pocket so they wouldn’t get lost. It was like we were being followed by a ghost right out of a schlocky Victorian-era horror novel.
In one of the most emotionally intense moments of our lives, we kept giggling – because life is filled with tragedy but also absurdity, and often at the same time.
(Oh, and spoiler alert: My mother came through the operation and is getting stronger every day. She also got her teeth back.)
Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.