THE SISTERS' SONG coming in January 2018 from Allen and Unwin. Sign up to be the first to know. x Louise

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post, and here’s why:

About six weeks’ ago, maybe even more, my novel stalled. I was nearing the end of the rewrite, but the words weren’t coming. I knew how I wanted the story to end, but I didn’t know how to write my way there, so I wanted to skip that part and just write the ending. I felt as if I’d been driving along the road and come across a fallen tree blocking it. The tree was too big to move or drive over or around, so although I could see the road ahead and even the destination, I couldn’t go forwards.

Then other things started to trouble me. Like the high standards expected by publishers, and the feeling that my writing and story didn’t meet those standards. Madame Critique returned and perched upon my shoulder, continually reminding me that I was really a Science/Maths person, that I didn’t have a degree in Literature or Writing, and that I’d never been gifted with words anyway, so why was I even bothering with this wild goose chase.

She also reminded me of my age, and asked me why a publisher would want to take on someone old like me. Wouldn’t they rather someone young and fresh, with energy and decades of time to write shelves and shelves of books?

She wouldn’t shut up, and my enthusiasm for Ida and the kids hit an all-time low. Every time I sat to write, it felt too hard and I just couldn’t ignite any passion or motivation.

So, I decided to embark upon the only thing that could possibly be worse than facing a novel you’ve spent four years writing and have lost enthusiasm for: a house renovation.

~

Our house is over a century old, and within it, we’ve raised four children and three dogs. The dogs have run amok outside, and inside they’ve chewed the legs of chairs, the arms of couches, and the corners of rugs. They’ve even gnawed on the skirting and the doors. Our boys have thrown and kicked balls around, skidded up and down the hall, and laid on their beds with their soiled feet pressed against the wall, leaving sole-prints. Our daughter has spilt nail polish remover over the floorboards in her room, causing the varnish to bubble and crack. The ceiling plaster is full of crevices, the paint is flaking, the door handles sometimes fall off or get stuck so you’re locked in, and the shower base has leaked. We added furniture as we needed it, but didn’t worry too much about matching it. You get the picture …

This has all become especially noticeable to me over the past couple of weeks as I’ve stood with the designers and builders who’ve come and gone from our house. Most have been gracious, acknowledging that a house is a home above all else, and a family needs to be able to live in it.

Except for one beautifully made-up and floaty dress designer who wafted in and took over my tired, old home as if I wasn’t even there.
‘Hampton’s style,’ she said to her scribe, who wrote it down. ‘All white.’
She stomped her heels on the floor to check what was underneath, rocked back and forth over a squeaky floorboard, and picked at the paint flaking from an architrave with her manicured nails.
‘New doors. New architraves. The whole house needs painting,’ she said. ‘And you need to declutter. Get rid of all your wooden furniture. And your antiques. And Wedgwood. Sell it on Gumtree. But you won’t get much for it, because no one wants it anymore.’

After she left, I walked back through our home, and felt quite sorry for our beautiful old dame. I know she’s showing her age, but she’s been through a lot. She’s patiently weathered our family growing up within her walls, pounding and battering her over many happy years.

These marks on the architrave are the record of our children’s growth.

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We've even recorded the dogs' heights.

We even recorded the dogs.

And although that old, wooden meat safe with nicks and stains might not look attractive to anyone else, it belonged to my grandparents, and it’s made of Huon pine from an old growth forest, felled a century ago or more. Before we were married, my father scraped the ’70’s paint from it, oiled it, and gave it to us as a wedding gift.

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And to an outsider, that coffee table might appear old-fashioned, but my Great-Uncle Ron made it as a wedding gift for us, and he’s since moved on from this life. Those tooth marks in its edges, they’re from our daughter when she was teething.

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We won’t be selling our wooden furniture for a pittance, and we’ll be keeping the antiques, too—they might be scratched, look gloomy, and smell musty, but they’re staying.

Along with the Wedgwood. And one day when I’ve departed this world, my kids might set it on their table, and say to their family, ‘This was my Mum’s’.

As much as I’m taken by the photos in Home Beautiful, and as much as I’d love to have a stylish house, I can’t do it. I have too many memories with which I’m not prepared to part. Besides, I can live with clutter—it’s our family’s story, and I like having it around me.

We’ll freshen up our home, but there will be limits. And they’re non-negotiable.

~

After all of that, I returned to my novel, and yesterday, I printed out the final chapters and spread them over the floor.

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I cut them up and shifted them about, stapled bits together, then picked up my pencil and paper and, in a burst of creative energy, plotted out the rest of my story.

It all fell into place. I have the ending, and I know how I’m going to write my way there.

So, deciding to renovate has unblocked my writing. Actually, I think the key was taking a break and allowing something else to completely consume my brain for a while. I’ve returned all revved up and raring to go again.

And, after all these years, our dear old home will finally get some new body parts, and maybe a little of the TLC she deserves.

 

'The Sisters' Song' is coming in January 2018.


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