Writing Is Not Unlike A Sushi Roll

salmon, prawn, rice, seeweed sushi rolls on blue and white dish
Credit: Creative Commons Image

Sometimes there is a person in one of my creative writing classes who is obviously very talented.  I can bring to mind one in particular.  You could sense people holding their breath as she read, and often her hands shook.  The writing process opened her up.  She said she had wanted to write for years.  She was so excited about writing that she straight away wanted to write a book.  I said to her, slow down.  Just practice writing for a while.  Learn what this is all about.

In Japan becoming an itamae of sushi requires years of on-the-job training and apprenticeship.  After five years spent working with a master or teacher itamae, the apprentice is given his first important task, the preparation of the sushi rice.

Writing, like becoming a Sushi Chef,  is a life’s work and takes a lot of practice.  The process is slow, and at the start you are not sure what you are making.

Futomaki  (“thick roll” – rice on inside, nori on the outside)

Uramaki   (“inside-out roll” – rice on outside, nori on the inside)

Temaki     (“hand roll” – cone-shaped roll)

That’s how it was for me.  I thought I could jump in and write a book in 6 months.  In fact, it’s taken me 20 years to write a publishable manuscript:  ‘My Year With Sammy’, the story of a difficult yet sensitive child, published by Ginninderra Press last year.

So cut yourself some slack before you head off on a writing marathon.

Writing is like learning to prepare the rice for sushi:  the apprenticeship is long, and in the beginning you are not sure whether a Futomaki, a Uramaki or a Temaki will be the end result.

Fortnightly Story: Tango

a man and a woman giving a tango performance
Credit: Creative Commons Images

 Tango is a passionate dance.  A conversation between two people in which they can express every musical mood through steps and improvised movement.  (Source Unknown)

1.

Just before nine o’clock in the evening, Sofya gets out of her car and looks up at the sky.  She has sensed a shift in the weather.  There is another breath of wind, a whispering in the air, but the clouds are stagnant against the dark night.  She turns and moves downhill towards the club, ejecting the chewing gum out of her mouth with a loud splat into the bushes, feels the first drops of rain on her bare arms.  She passes the public phone box where frangipanis lie on the grass, picks one up, sniffs at it, throws it back, then quickly enters the club.  Continue reading

I Am Not the Stories I Tell

Creative Commons picture

Sometimes when people read my stories they assume those stories are me.  They are not me, even if I write in the first person.  They were my thoughts and feelings at the time I wrote them.  But every minute we are all changing.  There is a great freedom in this.  At any time we can let go of our old selves and start again.  This is the writing process.  Instead of blocking us, it gives us permission to move on.  Just like in a progressive ballroom dance:  you give your undivided attention to your partner—keep eye contact for the time you are dancing together—but then you move on to the next person in the circle. Continue reading

Fortnightly Story: The New Baby

new born baby asleep in white cot

 

‘Being a parent is harder than being a Prime Minister,’ said British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  His 16 year old son had just been arrested after being found lying drunk on the footpath in London’s West End.

In the second month after the baby was born Kate came out to meet her mother wiping her hands on her grey tracksuit pants.  Kate’s hair was tied back off her face revealing tiny white milk spots above her cheeks.  Anny told her that already she looked so slim and good.  Kate ran her hand over her rounded stomach, arched her back and stuck her belly out at her mother.

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Turning Towards the Inner Critic

book cover: Mindfulness

It is essential to separate the creator and the editor, or inner critic when you practice writing, so that the creator has plenty of room to breathe, experiment, and tell it like it really is.  If the inner critic is being too much of a problem and you can’t distinguish it from your authentic writing voice, sit down whenever you find it necessary to have some distance from it and put down on paper what the critic is saying, put a spotlight on the words—“You have nothing original to say, what made you think you could write anything anyone would want to read, your writing is crap, you’re a loser, I’m humiliated, you write a load of rubbish, your work is pathetic, and your grammar stinks …”  On and on it goes!

Say to yourself, It’s OK to feel this.  It’s OK to be open to this.

You can learn to cultivate compassion for yourself  during this internal process by practicing Mindfulness Meditation.  Sit up straight, close your eyes, bring your awareness to your inner experience.  Now,  redirect your attention to the physical sensations of the breath in the abdomen … expanding as the breath comes in … and falling back as the breath goes out.  Use each breath to anchor yourself in the present.   Continue, concentrating on the breath for several minutes.  Now, expand your field of awareness to include the words of the inner critic.  Turn your attention to where in your body you feel the unpleasant thoughts, so you can attend, moment by moment, to the physical reactions to your thoughts.

 “Stay with the bodily sensations, accepting them, letting them be, exploring them without judgment as best you can.”—Mindfulness, Mark Williams and Danny Penman.

Every time you realise that you’re judging yourself, that realisation in itself is an indicator that you’re becoming more aware.

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Book Launch

mother and daughter with book and signing pen

My daughter, Erika and me at the launch of my new book, My Year With Sammy.  Notice the fountain pen in my hand ready for all the book signings 🙂   The cover of the book is a painting by my talented daughter.

The book was well reviewed nationally in newspapers and magazines in Australia and internationally on Goodreads.  I am very happy, especially as it’s my first novel to be published.

Here is what Kerryn Goldsworthy said when she named the book ‘Pick of the Week’ in Spectrum Books.

“Eight-year-old Sammy and her long-suffering elder brother, James, spend alternate weeks in the home of their mother, Madelaine, and that of their father and his new girlfriend.  The story is mostly told by Sammy’s maternal grandmother, who helps out as much as she can, and Madelaine needs a lot of help because Sammy is wilful, stubborn, determined and strange, and given to tantrums.  Libby Sommer writes about this sort of child with more delicacy and intelligence than any other writer on this topic that I’ve ever read.  Without sentimentality, she explores the desperation of dealing with a difficult child while staying patient and open-minded.  There is no clear diagnosis, only day after day of struggle, all of it negotiated within Sommer’s sharp and subtle observations of Australian society.”

An excellent review.  And many more on Goodreads.  🙂

10 Topics for Writing Practice

books on Victorian mahogoney dressing table

Sometimes we sit at our desks to write and can’t think of anything to write about.  We face the blank page.  We sit there until blood pours from our foreheads, as one famous author was heard to say.

 

Making a list can be good.  It makes you start noticing material for writing in your daily life, and your writing comes out of a relationship with your life in all its richness.

 

 

10 ideas for writing practice:

  1. Begin with “I don’t remember”. If you get stumped, just repeat the words “I don’t remember” on the page again and keep going.
  2. Tell about sound as it arises. Be aware of sounds from all directions as they arise:  sounds near, sounds far, sounds in front, behind, to the side, above or below.  Notice any spaces between sounds.
  3. Tell me about last evening. Dinner, sitting on the couch, preparing for bed.  Be as detailed as you can.  Take your time to locate the specifics and relive your evening on the page.
  4. Tell me what boredom feels like.
  5. See in your mind a place you’ve always loved. Visualise the colours, the sounds, the smells, the tastes.
  6. Write about “saying goodbye”. Tackle it any way you like.  Write about your marriage breakup, leaving home, the death of a loved one.
  7. What was your first job?
  8. Write about the most scared you’ve ever been.
  9. Write in cafes. Write what is going on around you.
  10. Describe a parent or a child.

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Work-Out

books on bedside table in front of painting of vase of flowers

FORTNIGHTLY SHORT STORY

Work-Out by Libby Sommer

first published in Quadrant

 

 

 

 

You run up the stairs to the gym avoiding the women and men from the previous class rushing down the stairs.  Keep to the left.  Give your membership card to the girl at the desk and then in through the turnstile.  Rummage for the $2 coin in your bag that works the locker.  Insert the money, leave the bag, take the towel and the bottle of water and the book to read then up the stairs to the third floor to the exercise bikes all the time hoping there’ll be a reclining bicycle free and not one of those awful uprights that hurt your bum.  Sit on the bike read your book, wipe the sweat off your face, drink from the bottle, look out the window to the workers erecting a block of apartments that are gradually blocking the view of the harbour. Warm up for 60 seconds on a low speed, then 20 minutes at a higher speed and a sixty second cool down.  Then into the main gym for the body power class.  Get a step, four platforms, a rubber mat and a long weights bar.  Two large discs, four small discs.  Stand up the front so you can see yourself in the mirror and in front of the fan.  Fight for this prime position. First the warm up, then legs, lunges, squats, chest, back, shoulders, legs, triceps, biceps, stomach.  Bend from the hips.  Clean and press.  Dead rows.   Wipe the sweat from your face, adjust the bar across your shoulders.  Knees over toes as you squat.  Straight back, stomach in to support the back, shoulders back, head up out of the neck.  Concentrate on the music, the instructor speaking, the fan in front of you.  Watch yourself in the mirror, the women beside you and behind.  Check out how old they are and if their weights are heavier or lighter.  Smell the sweat.  Swallow the water.  A quick stretch between tracks.  Calfs, quads, shoulders and back.  Lie down on the platform for the chest track.  Use your nipples as markers.  Down to the markers, up slowly.  One, two three up and then slowly down.  Vary the rhythm.

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Towards the End

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He leaned back on the chrome chair, stretched his legs out under the square black table and placed his mobile phone in front of him. He looked over to the counter at the back of the cafe at the cakes and muffins on display and the Italian biscuits in jars. He turned back to the glass windows and wondered if he had the guts to tell her today. He wanted to. By Christ he wanted to. He straightened up, his elbows on the table, his hands clasped together in front of his face. There’d been some good times, that’s for sure. But what the heck. A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

The sliding glass door clanked open and Anny walked in. He looked over at her, first from the rear as she closed the door and then as she approached, her face flushed, her dark hair flying back from her shoulders. Not bad looking. A bit on the heavy side but not a bad looker all the same. Yes, there’d been some good times. Especially in the sack.

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