I’m excited because today’s writer in the attic comes from one of my favourite places in the entire world, my old hometown of Hobart, Tasmania. All of the things she writes about Hobart in this piece are true, and her words brought back memories of things I miss about my birth state:
‘Hobart, Tasmania. The words dance on my tongue and the clear night skies remind me of where I was born.’
Ruth Dawkins is a writer from a tiny island in the north of Scotland. Four years ago she moved from the UK to Tasmania, where the cold winters, beautiful light and generous measures of whisky make her feel very much at home. She tweets, Facebooks and blogs as DorkyMum and you can visit her professional writing site at ruthdawkins.net.
The Best is Yet to Come
I’ve tried to be a writer in a lot of places.
I was born on a tiny island in the north of Scotland and although that upbringing informs me now – I am fascinated by islands both geographical and metaphorical, and get slightly anxious when I have to spend time inland – I left when I was just eight years old. It’s fair to say I left no words of note behind me.
For the next ten years, growing up in the Scottish Borders, I churned out terrible poetry and confessional journal entries and hyperbolic essays for my English class railing against the injustices of the world. I wrote. But I do not think I was a writer.
In Edinburgh, where I spent four years on an English Literature degree, I learned how to construct decent answers to exam questions. The rotten poetry continued, and I took considerable pleasure from publishing unkind food reviews in the student newspaper. But I was still not, really, a writer.
Next came London, where I did an internship with a national newspaper, and there were surprisingly few words involved. Instead of teaching me how to write, London taught me other things: the strange, sad feeling of watching pantomime alone; to give people the benefit of the doubt until it’s time to run; to always buy clothes that are the colour of the sea. London made me too small and scared to be a writer. It was not my city.
When I spent two years living in the Home Counties – like London, but not – I wrote a blog. I wrote reviews of products that companies sent me for free; I wrote about my memories, because it was more interesting to think about 15-year-old me than 25-year-old me; and I wrote advertorials for the local paper in exchange for free acupuncture. It was an attempt to fill the hours in a town with no bookshop. I was not really a writer.
‘The best writing comes when I give it time and space, and in Hobart there is always space.’
I live in Hobart now. Hobart, Tasmania. The words dance on my tongue and the clear night skies remind me of where I was born.
In Hobart, I’ve learned patience and with it has come confidence in my words.
Here, for the first time, I call myself a writer.
Many writers talk about what they need to create their best work: the right pen or a special notebook, a tidy desk or lucky pants or a particular phase of the Moon. But my best writing usually comes on post it notes. It is written on napkins, or emailed to myself on the bus, or scribbled on a promotional brochure at the swimming pool. It comes when I read someone else’s good words and they fire something in me. It comes in the middle of the night.
It comes when I am patient.
When I step away from the computer and instead go for a beach walk, or when I spend a day on Bruny Island, or meet a friend for coffee. The best writing comes when I give it time and space, and in Hobart there is always space.
My husband is a writer too. A beautiful writer. A poet, whose stories hover so perfectly across the boundaries that I never quite know if they are true or not. But he is also a generous editor. Our favourite thing to do is to share a bottle of wine and the warmth from the fire. We sit with our notepads or our laptops and occasionally look up at each other and smile.
‘He will roll his eyes at my Oxford commas, and I will tut at his tendency to write about other loves.’
We pass first drafts across the old wooden table. He will roll his eyes at my Oxford commas, and I will tut at his tendency to write about other loves, but we help each other shape our words into something better. We each understand how important writing is to the other, and so we tread gently but with honesty.
I am so happy that I live where I do. Happy that at the age of 34 I can finally call myself a writer. Not a great writer, necessarily. Not even a good one. But a patient writer. An improving writer. An island writer.
I believe my best writing is still to come.
When I step away from the computer, perhaps it will be waiting.