On having a posse

Sisters on retreat

I blame all those books I read as a child. The characters had posses: groups of amazing friends who helped them solve mysteries, went on adventures with them, stayed up late at night in boarding schools telling them spooky stories. I desperately wanted a posse, and tried to develop one as a teenager, but adolescence doesn’t seem to sit well with posse-hood: there’s too much dividing and conquering going on.

Sisters on retreat

I’m delighted to finally have a posse now, though:  my wise and lovely friends Bek, Char, Fi, Meg, Nic, and Sal. All of them are writers whom I met when teaching through the Queensland Writers Centre. We come from all walks of life—two are scientists by training, one is a medium; some of us have kids, some of us don’t—but we talk, debate, fight, and see each other’s perspectives like champions. We write novels and articles and lectures and short stories and endless emails on our dedicated email list, Sisters of the Pen (yes, we know it’s lame, but the acronym is SOP, and we are a soppy lot).

But the best part of having a posse is the writers’ retreats. Twice a year, my Sisters and I rent a big house in the Gold Coast hinterland and spend a long weekend writing. We take turns making meals (they all cook better than me), we race each other for word count (one retreat, Sister Meg and I made a pact that the person who wrote the fewest words would have to streak across the front lawn: we tied on 8000 words each), we talk about our books or about life or about nonsense (Sister Bek has a real affection for “man-titty”), we have a brilliant time.

September is International Women’s Friendship Month, so this is a public shout-out to my posse who not only inspire and motivate me, they also pat my head when I’m feeling blue. What more could a Sister want?

On mountains and books

Mount Coot-tha
Mount Coot-tha at dawn

I walk up a mountain three or four times a week. It sounds much more hard-core than it actually is. I live in the foothills of the mountain, Mount Coot-tha, and it’s technically not actually a mountain at just a whisker under three-hundred feet (Brisbane, where I live, is pretty flat). But nonetheless, it is covered in fantastic bush tracks and can take you from its foothills to its summit, surrounded by the tangy scent of Australian flora and the sounds of birds calling and water running. I do it on different days and at different times. I like it best when my dear friend Mary-Rose walks up the mountain with me late in the afternoon: we use the walks as informal therapy sessions and it always seems to go quicker in company (the whole walk, up and down, takes about an hour).

There is a difficult point, just past halfway on the walk, where the path takes a steep and rapid ascent: one set of very deep stairs that make my heart pound and always make me pause to catch a breath. It would be easy to give up at this point, because after it the walk gets hard. The incline is more marked but the summit is now visible. Up and up and up. I often think, as I do this walk, how very like writing a book walking up the mountain is. I start out energised and full of certainty. I make my way through the gentle inclines then, as I hit the middle of the book, it starts to get hard. A point passes of acute difficulty: getting the middle written in such a way that the story is pulling together logically and moving in the right direction towards the end. But the effort it has taken to get that far temporarily cripples me. I want to stop. I want to start a new book instead and blow off all my deadlines. But I have to keep going, and pushing until everything starts to ache. Then I’m on the last piece of the track, and the summit is just there, and I know if I just push a little harder I’ll get there and I’ll be able to celebrate (cue Rocky music).

I’m at the steep stairs at the moment in my new novel, Isabella’s Gift, which I’m delighted to announce has just been bought by Touchstone, my publishers for Wildflower Hill in the United States. I have held it together through the middle, and everything is set up and ready to go to write the rest of the book, but it seems so very difficult right now. So I’m standing there, puffing and panting and aching in my big muscles, gathering my energy for the next few months. I’ve glimpsed the summit, but I’m not close enough yet to be inspired by it: only daunted.

But I’m not going to stop. If there’s anything walking up mountains teaches a girl, it’s to keep going. The view from the top is marvellous. Wish me luck.