Monday musings

Here are some things I’ve come across in my internet wanderings this morning:

1. A wonderful piece on Hilary Mantel. It’s from last year but it gives you a lot of info about her as a person and a writer. Lots of bits in it resonate for me, but when she’s talking about taking a shower and the way her mind goes all over the place, how her imagination works. That.

It’s like an exercise, the way a dancer would go to the barre every day… I think this is how you live as a writer. You wake up with some uncomfortable thought and instead of dismissing it, like a normal person, you indulge it.

The unquiet mind of Hilary Mantel.

2. This is a piece Tim Winton wrote as an op-ed contributor to the New York Times as a response to the death of free-diver Nicholas Mevoli last week. I have to say I think this tells us more about Winton as a person than anything else I have ever read about him (which is, like, nothing.) We never see articles from him in the papers here, he gives the impression of being hermetic, very tucked away. (I don’t know if there’s an adjective form of ‘hermit’ but hermetic fits too: he seems sealed away.) But recently I read, or heard in interview or when I saw him at the Melbourne Town Hall, that he keeps very up to date with both the writing world and the larger one too. I was surprised — and not — to read that he considers himself part of the free-diving fraternity. When I started reading the piece I thought Yeah but he’s a surfer, they get wiped out and have to hold their breaths sometimes until they get to the surface. Not so.

I am curious to know whether he submitted the piece on spec. Surely they didn’t commission it? Surely he doesn’t regularly write for the NYT?

The Thrill of Breathlessness

3. My friend Sarah’s book Salt Story was in Fiona Capp’s picks of the week in the Saturday Age.


I’m reading it now, almost finished. It’s very good.

I bought my copy at Readings, and wanted to send Sarah a pic of it on the shelf.

I’m not a good sailor at all, I think almost every time I’ve been on a boat I’ve gotten seasick or thought I was going to die or both. Yes, the imagination comes into play, like Hilary in her shower thinking about being in a prison shower. I have a few boat stories including being on one off the coast of Egypt puttering across to the bottom tip of the Sinai to a little druggy-snorkelling place called Dahab. I remember the men caught a huge fish and cooked it on a BBQ and we all ate it. I remember there was a young backpacker guy with terrible seasickness and he had to go down below to lie down. I remember the journey took about four hours. But all these memories are sort of fuzzy. The one memory that’s not is how when we were out of sight of land in all of the three hundred and sixty degrees I got anxious, and how when another boat appeared on the horizon and then started to ‘drive’ towards us, I remember the prickling feeling of fear, of absolute certainty that they were pirates, they were going to rob us backpackers, they were going to kill and rape us. No one else on the boat seemed to notice this other boat, coming closer and closer. In all the wide sea, I thought, that boat should be steering clear of us. Why was it ‘driving’ straight towards us? I looked around at the others; people lolling, drinking beer, laughing, eating fish. Flirting. I sat rigid, watching this boat, until it drew closer, almost pulled up beside us, looking as if it was slowing, stopping, and then the men on that boat lifted their arms and waved to the men on our boat. Shouted out something — how are ya? — And drove on.

My uncle was a sailor, and my cousins, and there are lots of stories in the family. I’m obsessed with Hemingway, his life more than his writing, and I love the idea of the sea. I don’t think I believe in past lives but I do wonder whether I’ve drowned before. Just writing those words makes my throat close up a little. Makes me hold my breath. Like Tim.

Which is all a long-winded way of explaining part of the reason why I’m loving Sarah’s book so much. The other much-larger part is that she is a beautiful writer, her prose is stunning, and she tells stories that are on one level about fish and boats and the men and women who live that life, and on another level, they are stories about all of us. About how humans relate, our territories, our comfort zones. Stories about nature and the human spirit. And there’s humour, as well as fabulous, fabulous characters who are all real. Dialogue that is authentic; exchanges that often end on a point that lingers in your mind as a kind of Buddhist teaching. It’s the sort of book I want people to read. I want to press it upon people, tell them how fantastic it is. Grip their upper arm and get a little intense about it. I suspect much of this might embarrass Sarah to read. We haven’t met, we are blogging friends, but I really love this book.

4 thoughts on “Monday musings

  1. Yah!
    No, not embarrassed … waving :~)
    I will read the Winton piece once I’ve gotten over myself. Thanks a lot for that write up Jen. I am trying hard not to be insufferable to friends and family at the moment – but that Age review brought me pretty close to the line. “Look! Look!” Thrusts mobile phone photo of the article in their faces. “Look at this!”

    1. Oh my god it doesn’t come around often if at all Sarah so bloody lap it up and make the most of it. Long may it last. I’ve clipped that article for you to keep. Happy to mail or bring.

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