One day I’m gonna sit down and write a long letter, to all the friends, I have known – Neil Young, Harvest Moon
When I met you, I was big and round and bloated from chemo and cancer drugs. My hair was barely growing back, my eyebrows and eyelashes weren’t growing back at all. I wasn’t me. At least not any version of me that was recognisable to me. I felt like me had died and some freakish clump of fragile clay had crawled out of darkness to take my place.
Somehow you saw through that.
Remember the first time we spoke, it was on the phone.
I had sent you about 12,000 words of my manuscript for the Varuna HarperCollins Award.
You rang and asked, ‘How long is your book going to be?’
I ‘d never written a book so I pulled one off our shelf, flipped to the last page and said, ‘343 pages.’
I didn’t know you talk book lengths in words not pages.
Here are a few book writing facts:
On an average day I can write 2000 words. 343 pages is about 90,000 words. So, to write the next 72,000 words would take 39 days, if I wrote every single day.
‘When can you finish your book?’ you asked.
‘Next weekend,’ I said naively.
Remember when we sat up till 4 in the morning and went through two or three bottles of red. I don’t think 4 in the morning was long enough for us to say all we wanted to say but we had to stop because we couldn’t stay awake and our words slurred into each other. I think we said pretty clever things though – don’t you?
I wrote you an erotic short story about a man and his piano. You laughed and said, ‘No one’s ever written me a funny short story before.’
Remember how we breakfasted our way around the Blue Mountain’s cafes? You were broken and barely there, just as I had been a few years earlier. I had been swimming in grief for my lost self.
You were swimming in grief for Libby – Libby with the big eyes and the gentle smile.
I wrote you a very bad poem. You laughed and said, ‘That’s lovely. No one’s ever given me a very bad poem before.’
The first time I heard you read your writing I was swept away on soft rolling tumbleweeds of jasmine scented air. It was about your father and words that began with T. I can’t really remember but I remember floating, up high, gently flying on Aladdin’s threadbare carpet whilst the world beneath turned and churned.
I have heard wanna-be writers call you “a writing guru” and watched them fight over who was your favourite. They all thought you had a magical wand you would wave and hey presto abracadabra they would wake up published authors. They do not know that writing is hours of aloneness, of plummeting your fingers into the depths of your soul and yanking up some memory, feeling, experience that does not want to dragged into your clumsy words and fights you all the way. If only you did have a magic wand.
I should never have tried to be an artist. Not of any kind. I don’t take rejection well and I have no faith in my abilities. You laughed when I told you this and said, ‘Don’t worry, I have all the faith in your abilities.’
Turns out you are a guru.