This indigo city which is not grey,
is not a thing but a situation
or atmosphere or layers of living,
beginning with the earth that hoards the bones,
artefacts and lost words of ancient folk
who are not my ancestors and to whom
I wish to pay my respects, for over
their unknowable songs, their past of togetherness, all one-ness, we laid
our history of separate histories;
single doorways, gates and grates and ghettoes
of unique belief, of language, even
our forensic presence – footprints, fragments
of hair, skin that falls into the ever-
transmuting light, which is not grey but the
shimmering colour of a dove’s wing (think
of the NGV, its moat and water-
wall, the stone like fresh-cut lead,
that stuff has crystals in it you know -- it’s not grey but
indigo.) We plait ourselves into this
place which offers itself, clean of account -
we each know our discrete moment walking
the swirling corridor of Collins Street
in that renowned wind, past 101 and
churches with dusty hides like elephants.
This indigo city which lies beneath
skies of milk or cobalt or Prussian blue or
oppressive thunderclouds, such unspent force;
elsewhere El Greco painted skies like ours.
This theatre of breath and cloud is not
grey, which has neither black’s eternal might
Nor the polar finality of white
and is indeterminate, is nothing;
nothing will come of nothing: speak again.
Smog and sunlight, air the hue of opals,
veils of light shuffling through our laneways like
a deck of cards, this ‘devil’s colour’ stands
alone, until it reveals its secret
on the ubiquitous necks of pigeons;
indigo forfeits itself from alone
to all one-one iridescence in the sun.
First published in Reflecting on Melbourne, Poetica Christie Press
This is a story I wrote many Easters ago which was later published in my short story collection Bearings. Recently someone got in touch to say they read it every Easter which was lovely to hear ... thought I'd post it today.
Unveiling Elena Ferrante
World famous author Elena Ferrante was not on my radar until an editor put The Days of Abandonment into my hands and said:
“No-one knows who she is. Except her publisher.”
At home I opened Ferrante’s novel and was swept up in the story of Olga, and a voice that I had never before encountered in literature, not like this, not so pure, nor raw, nor so comprehensive. From its pages unspooled a kind of female darkness, a rage, startling in its consistency and in its near-flawless execution. And though I’d never read anything quite like it, the voice was familiar; it was the voice of friends weeping in cafes; of wives screaming in helpless fury at philandering husbands, the hurt and outrage of a woman passed over and sinking into invisibility. Olga’s emotions are so extreme they teeter on madness and they’re laced with poison too - the vengefulness of the woman scorned. That phrase is of course familiar; we all know that there’s something true about it, but it’s another thing to see it fully realised on the page, page after page, till you find yourself hoping that Olga can pull herself together.
I saw immediately how anonymity might make such writing possible, indeed, might even be its foundation stone. It is, as Virginia Woolf said, a refuge for female writers:
“Anonymity runs in their blood. The desire to be veiled
Ferrante's stayed anonymous for seven novels, including the bestselling Neapolitan quartet, and has managed to avoid the personal aspect of marketing that most creators have to participate in, for worse or better. A recent article by Konrad Marshall in The Age's Good Weekend touched on my own ambivalence about this:
“Today we are all brands. We define our philosophy by what we retweet. We refine our image with the perfect selfie…We curate our reality through the comments, shares and likes we bestow on Facebook..."
All this endless, self-conscious curating! Self-consciousness - and its close friend, self-censorship, and its flip side, self-doubt - these can so easily block creativity. We are not brands, though our works might be. Branding is a shortcut between reader and writer, between audience and artist, part of the public transaction; one has to switch gears cleanly between one and the other. But sometimes it’s not quite possible. Author Nikki Gemmell found she could not write her 2003 novel, The Bride Stripped Bare, until she permitted herself to publish anonymously. She’d read Woolf’s statement that for most of history “Anonymous was a woman.”
“And with that simple sentence, my recalcitrant novel was unlocked.”
(She was unmasked before her book even went to print, to her great distress.)
Elena Ferrante told her publishers at the start of her career that if books had something to say, they would sooner or later find readers:
“I very much love those mysterious volumes, both ancient and modern that have no definite author but have had and continue to have an intense life of their own.”
Twenty years later Ferrante remained, till last week, a celebrated writer who’d managed to keep her veil, engaging with her readers purely through her art as Saul Bellow and many others also have preferred or would prefer, if they had the choice. Yes! What luxury, what joy, to communicate purely through an artistic language of one’s own devising! And while as a reader I'm fascinated by biography, it seems to me as a writer that to communicate only through art should be possible. And so I felt, as did many, protective of her secrecy.
Years ago, I drew a simple cartoon: an angel, labelled ‘Art’ stood in the path of a huge truck labelled ‘Commerce,’ and I thought of it last week when I read that Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project, had been warned that his new novel might damage the Rosie brand. What? A writer has success and then is stranded in the straitjacket of his brand? Are we losing sight of what art is?
To behold a free woman who uses a veil at will is powerful experience, according to Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run With Wolves. Estés describes seeing, when she was eight, her cousin preparing for her wedding. When she put on the veil, she became remote, immortal:
“She was only of herself, contained and powerful, and just out of reach in a right way.”
This was part of Ferrante’s achievement. But Ferrante, it would seem, is no longer out of reach.
Investigative journalist Claudio Gatti claimed last week that Elena Ferrante was an Italian translator, based mostly on financial evidence. Citing Ferrante’s quote that she would use lies ‘to shield my person’ when necessary, Gatti claims that the author has:
“in a way relinquished her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown.”
There was a mystery, said Gatti, and he went after it. And perhaps this is what's so objectionable about the whole affair. A journalist is hunting and uncovering one kind of truth, while a novelist may be working to reveal something more ephemeral. In this particular case, the journalist has destroyed the protective condition the novelist finds necessary explore these emotional truths. Milan Kundera writes in The Art of the Novel that novels are a form of inquiry into different aspects of existence; such as the tedium of everyday life in Flaubert's Madame Bovary. But maybe this kind of novelistic intelligence is less graspable in our cultural landscape, as Kundera suggests:
"Every novel says to the reader: “Things are not as simple as you think.” That is the novel’s eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off. In the spirit of our time, it’s either Anna or Karenin who is right, and the ancient wisdom of Cervantes, telling us about the difficulty of knowing and the elusiveness of truth, seems cumbersome and useless.”
Pseudonyms are fragile, (and sometimes constructed to deceive, as in our own history of Helen Darville, Wanda Koolmatrie, Elizabeth Durack and the infamous Ern Malley hoax) and so maybe Ferrante’s unmasking was inevitable. Our age doesn’t permit mysteries. If anyone veils anything, it’s ripped off. Half the time it’s ourselves , giving up our details to corporations for delicious new apps, posting our own images, obeying magazine articles urging us to turn ourselves into brands. In France, burqas are literally banned. There's a rumour that Pokemon Go is really about mapping every last secret space on the planet. And when it comes to artists, one of our central preoccupations seems to be matching the biography to the work. Ah yes, we say, this author writes about poverty so beautifully because she grew up with a single mother. And so on. We seek evidence for brilliance in the material realm, in facts, rather than in the imagination.
But what has transpired this week is that many readers, and other writers, are just as invested in her anonymity as Ferrante herself. It was part of her contract with the world.
Ferrante was that rarest of things; a celebrated artist who was anonymous. The tearing away of her veil is not just a loss for her, but for all creators everywhere.
It was early spring 2015 when we made our way into the forest to film a book trailer to promote Irina: The Trilogy, a golden book that contains all three adventures. It was exciting to be heading towards our deep forest location with a crew, an actor, and a 'wolf.' We'd see what Irina could look like on screen -- a dream realised. The tall trees glittered with bits of shining sunlight.
Brigita was playing the role of Irina. In our makeshift outdoors change-room she put on a simple white dress and a crown of fern fronds, and became: Irina The Wolf Queen. And I felt that thrill of delight when something comes together, and looks right. This was magic.
I'd wanted to make a book trailer that would invite people to see into Ragnor's enchantments and battles; a world that has its roots re-wilding, inspired by the archetypal wisdom of fairytales.
But who could make a trailer that would suggest this world? I approached some film-maker friends, Annika Glac and Marcus Struzina of Glass Kingdom Films, who made the feature films Belladonna, and Bunny (glasskingdom.com.au) When they said they could do it on our budget, I was so excited! They understood the aesthetic -- not too pretty, not too Disney, but rough and beautiful and natural. This is how we once lived and how part of us yearns to live still.
We gathered the elements. A real wolf was out of the question. Could we splice in some footage from somewhere? Hire someone’s husky? A white wolf would be good…
And then we learned that a friend had a stunning white dog who had been rescued, called Apollo. On the day of the shoot, we had to keep Apollo on a lead as he loves to run through the forest, and does not always come back! On the day, he seemed to accept his role by Brigita’s side, and he brought his wonderful, canine presence to the final film.
We had chosen costumes from Rose Chong’s in Fitzroy, and we made a wild crown. We found a magnificent tree to serve as a backdrop, and on our way we passed a patch of blue flowers so beautiful that Annika insisted we add an extra shot to our planned series.
We had our main shot in front of the tree; another where Irina wears a royal cloak, the romantic field of blue flowers, and an image of the cell where Irina is trapped at the beginning of Irina and The Lost Book: Marcus had the inspired thought of shooting it after dusk, next to a small stone wall, lit from above.
And what about the score? The amazingly talented Marcus and Annika composed something of their own, using bagpipes, which I loved for its evocation of an archaic, rustic atmosphere.
My heartfelt thanks goes to Brigita, who plays Irina The Wolf Queen, to Adam -- and his dog, Apollo, for standing in as one of the wolves of Ragnor; to Annika and Marcus for inspiration, understanding and hours of work and their nephew Gulliver; to my friends Tony and Julia, son Amos and husband John, who carried heavy equipment in and out of the forest, and made ‘wind’ by using reflectors as great fans when the wind machine broke down!
Watch the trailer: irinathetrilogy
The story behind the story...
As a Valentine's Day present, you can read the story below.
You can buy a copy of Australian Love Stories at a reduced Valentine's Day price: here
Read the rest of this review: here
Watch the trailer: here
Buy the book: here
The First Fold
When the decahedral box defeats me, I look through the box-making instruction book for something easier. I’d planned to make this decahedral box for my geometry tutor, to reflect our multiple dimensions. I’d fill it with chocolates, to thank him for mysterious words like vertex. Using models made from dowel, he pulls triangles from squares and reflects squares into triangles. I could kiss his feet from awe. You don’t obey these strange compulsions. Resisting impulse is what makes us or unmakes us, depending on your philosophy.
Pinwheels are lovely for storing teabags. Use Japanese rice papers; gold cranes on aqua lakes, a repeat of violet fans on a translucent parchment ground, red dragons, that sort of thing.
Try for a smooth curved line when making cylindrical boxes for bottles and neckties, and remember to push the end of the pleats into the first fold. (Ah, the first fold. The first container is the womb, where we make our first folds. The second container is the life. We make our lives outside the womb. We enfold ourselves like babushka dolls. We enfold. And we unfold. And then we fold up, into the final box known as the coffin.)
The paper blossom is suitable for presenting candy. The folds make an eight pointed star and look like a celestial diagram. Fold forward along broken lines. Suck slender straws of striped sweetness straight from the blossom.
A book-style box has many uses. Choose vintage orange, put lettering in a sixties font, or move on to making steampunk boxes from leather and brass. Design your own book covers! The artist still matters!
None of my boxes will ever be finished because my folded curves are inexact, and unrepeatable. I lack patience, I am sanguine, I am as rubbish at making paper boxes as I am at learning geometry.
Containment, boundary, structure, shape: these make something out of tangible and intangible things. I also want to say, who cares about the packaging? It’s what’s inside that counts.
Charlotte got all the quiz questions right, and made her Dad send them in just in time for the deadline... well done Charlotte, and I hope you enjoy the art work by xoum's talented cover designer, Roy Chen! I think it's a beautiful image of Irina and Durrell embarking on an adventure, riding through the snow on their way to the Crystal Sea....
"Irina's elation grew. She embraced her father, said goodbye, then climbed onto Durrell's back and pushed her gloved hands into his fur. Astride the mighty wolf, she gave King Harmon such a radiant smile that he had to smile in return. Irina put her head down and the pair sped off, leaving tracks in the white snow, Amicus flying high above."
p 67 Irina and The White Wolf.
--- Raizel ---
"There, behind the hare, was an old crone. Her skin was as withered as a
fallen apple...and she wore a floor length wrap made of furs, and held a basket of stones over one arm. Her eyes were partly obscured by the folds of her eyelids, and they gleamed darkly, like wet stones in a river.
The crone was studying Irina with such concentration that it seemed to pour from her in waves, wrapping Irina warmly and firmly. Irina had never seen the woman before, and yet she felt she had always known her.
Instinctively, barely conscious of what she was doing, Irina knelt."
p118, Irina The Wolf Queen.
Have you ever had this kind of experience, this feeling of interest from an older person, a teacher, a mentor, or grandparent perhaps, someone who helped you grow into who you are?
Welcome to my blog about writing, books, arts, ideas and events.