For years I have been a writer, an editor and a teacher of creative writing. Now I want to share some of what I have learned along the way. Write On The Fringes is a blog about the dangers, the disappointments and the rewards of writing. It's a record of the writing of a novel, from the tantalising first inklings of an idea, through to the final draft. But above all it's an exploration of the art and the craft of writing and the nature of story, as well as a search for the essence of creativity and the complex nature of truth.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reading Between The Lines

'Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind.'
James Russell Lowell

It was a timely decision to designate this year as the National Year of Reading. Literacy is fundamental to living in our society, to meeting the demands of everyday life and to discovering the magic contained within books. Yet even when we are literate, we run the risk of losing that magic. In this increasingly fast paced, hi-tech society we have become impatient, finding ourselves drawn to abbreviations rather than elaborations. Facebook and twitter reduce our news to paragraphs and sentences respectively, micro-fiction is blossoming, the pace of our stories is increasing, as is the speed with which they are delivered, until there is little time for contemplation, for pausing over a beautiful passage in a story, for allowing stories to seep into us and change us from within. And yet stories are vital. More than mere entertainment, they tell us who we are and they help us to find ourselves.

As Ralph Waldo Emmerson once said, 'I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.' Each of us is the product of the stories we tell ourselves, the stories our culture, our society, our family, our friends, our teachers, our filmmakers and our authors tell us. Story is what forms our identity and our opinions. But stories can do something else too. They can be truly revolutionary. When we read heroic myths, or novels which tell of the coming of age of a character, then we find that these stories can also help to free us from an identity that has been constructed by others and to see through the ideology in which we are immersed. Reading can and should help us to learn how to live as individuals within society, by encouraging us to reach inwards and explore ourselves and showing us how to reach out and connect with others.

Our imagination is a vital part of each of us. It is what makes us human, enabling us to experience events and emotions we might not normally experience, to reflect, to find commonality with others and thus understand ourselves. And most importantly, our imagination is what allows us to step into the shoes of others and so develop empathy. For as Joyce Carole Oates once wrote, reading helps us to 'slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul,' A tool, a toy, a gift and a responsibility, the imagination is something which must be developed and nurtured, not ignored or stifled. Reading is a collaborative effort between the author and the reader, allowing the reader to use his or her imagination to bring a story to life. Hence, our frequent disappointment with film adaptations of novels, which rarely come close to the extraordinary world or the characters we have already created in our imaginations from reading the novel. For as Stephen King wrote in On Writing, 'description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's.

If the stories we tell ourselves, and the way in which we use our imaginations play a role in creating who we are, then it might not be enough to simply encourage reading, we might also need to consider what we choose to read and how we read. At present, many of our stories, across much of our media, celebrate violence and cynicism, anger and betrayal. A premium, it seems, is placed on ugliness, and stories that 'tell it how it is' receive accolades from critics. There is much that is ugly and violent in this world and much of it needs telling, but from chaos and pain it is possible, through story, to create harmony and peace. Why are we so afraid to tell stories that explore love and compassion and hope? Why do we so often deride them? If story can change us, then it can also change the world, so perhaps we should be writing and reading stories that are optimistic, that 'tell it how it might be' instead of 'how it is'. Franz Kafka once wrote that 'a book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us'. These are the kinds of stories that I search for as a reader and the ones I seek to write. Stories should stay with us, should linger in our conscious and unconscious selves, working their magic even after we have finished with their writing, or their reading.

And as to how we read? Perhaps it's time to once more step beyond the limitations of the predominant story of science and rationality. Instead of insisting on the distinction between fact and fiction, or denigrating myth as false, we might then allow ourselves to read more deeply, exploring the nature of truth rather than fact. For not all truth is measurable. As Maya Angelou writes, 'There's a world of difference between truth and fact. Fact tells us the data. . . but facts can obscure the truth.' Stories can be unifying, building bridges between people but often it depends on how we read them. There are many stories that build fences, creating dangerous 'us and them' distinctions but this only happens when stories are read literally rather than metaphorically. Religious stories are sometimes an example of this. They are too often read literally, which misses a good deal of their beauty and wisdom, whilst creating fences that divide and divisions that kill. It happens too when we skim the surface of a story rather than peer into the depths; when we criticise or value a book for it's language and miss the beauty and purpose of its story; and when we dismiss a memoir because it is not entirely factual, missing the powerful emotional journey the writer has taken us on. In this year of reading, we must remember once again that truth is not fact. That, as the great Sufi poet, Rumi wrote, 'a tale, fictitious or otherwise, illuminates truth'.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Story As Therapy - Healing The Wound

'Write to save yourself and someday you'll write because you've been saved.'
Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces

Whilst working on my recently completed PhD I began to explore the origins and purpose of story. I say, 'began', because the more research I did, the more I realised that this is a never ending exploration. My interest was initially sparked by my own experience as a storyteller, but also by the realisation that many of my creative writing students were finding some sort of therapy through their own storytelling, some drawn to it consciously, others unconscious of the motivations but surprised by the results. Surprisingly, this occurred not just in writing memoir but also in fiction writing, something which I have come to believe is often autobiographical in theme, if not in plot and character. With this in mind I began exploring the link between creativity and healing, and more specifically the therapeutic functions of writing and of story.

For a time I became particularly fascinated with our first recorded storytellers, the shamans. Playing the role of priest, healer and story teller, the first shamans were responsible for the health of the mind, the body and the spirit of their people; interconnected roles which in today's society have been separated. As psychologist, Jean Achterberg wrote, 'in traditional shamanic cultures, healing bears little relationship to the remission of physical symptoms. It refers rather to becoming whole or in harmony with the community, the planet and one's private circumstances'. Rather than treating the symptoms they search for and treat, the cause. To do this shamans journey into 'other' worlds, returning with stories to tell their patients in order to help them realign with the forces of the universe.

The Navajo Indians and the Tibetans use intricate sand drawings as part of their healing ceremonies, the patient symbolically entering the story by sitting inside the drawing. Prophets such as Jesus and Buddha told parables to help rebalance peoples' lives. Even the traditional Catholic confessional can be seen as a space in which a person is able to tell their story, in the process relieving themselves of its burden. Today there are a plethora of narrative based therapies that encourage the patient to uncover their own stories, the therapists aware that within the stories or 'wounds', lie the clues to their patient's health. As psychologist, Bill Plotkin wrote in Soulcraft, Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche, the patient must 'find one inner place in particular that is immensely and uniquely painful. This place harbors an early psychological wound, a trauma so significant she formed her primary survival strategies of childhood in reaction to it, so hurtful that much of her personal style and sensitivities have their roots there'. In order for healing to begin, the stories behind these wounds must be uncovered, acknowledged and then released.

From my own experience of writing, I knew the power of the imagination to step beyond the boundaries of the physical world in order to heal or simply give meaning to life, so it was a natural step to begin exploring the parallels between the writing journey and the shamanic journey. In Writing as a Sacred Path, Jill Jepson argues that 'writers, like shamans have a special connection with the world. They view reality through the lenses of imagination, intuition, dream and myth'. This is a connection I recognise, not only in relation to the process of writing but to the 'call' that makes writing essential for survival, because, as Kafka once put it so succinctly, 'a non-writing writer is a monster inviting madness'. In shamanism, too, any shaman who resists the call will die, for according to anthropologist, Mercea Eliade, 'a shaman's vocation is obligatory; one cannot refuse it'. The call involves a descent into sickness and the only way to heal is to accept it, for the shaman is 'above all a sick man who has succeeded in curing himself'.

Retrieving lost or stolen fragments of souls is an important aspect of shamanic work and is a large part of Fern's journey in Flight. In the beginning of the story she is paradoxically, at once too light and too heavy. The heaviness is due to the amount of guilt, fear, grief and anger that Fern is holding, while the lightness is caused by that fact that much of herself is missing. She has left parts behind, possibly in other places, other times, other dimensions even. And other parts have been stolen. Fern must acknowledge and release the guilt, fear, grief and anger, whilst following the threads and reclaiming each missing part, in order to become whole once again.

Fern's journey also, in a sense, mirrors the process of initiation that a shaman must undertake before he or she is qualified to heal others. When the story opens Fern is suffering from a sickness of spirit that will be fatal if she doesn't address it. As the story progresses, Fern moves (sometimes willingly and sometimes reluctantly), from ill health to vitality or fragmentation to wholeness. Gradually she becomes her own healer and in the end she will become a healer of others. A shaman of sorts.

As writers and readers, as tellers of stories generally, perhaps one of those hidden rewards that stories provide us with, is a way to frame and comprehend the journeys we take within ourselves to uncover the stories we didn't know were there and to bring them out into the light. As with my earlier novels, the writing of Flight represented a stage in my own evolution as a person and a writer. It wasn't easy to write and in the process I had to explore some of the darkest corners of my psyche. But it was essential that I write it. There are different ways in which Flight can be read: as an adventure story, as a psychological story, and as a journey of the soul. The challenge has been to write a story that is true to myself and yet will satisfy the reader in each of these readings.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Writing Space and Time

'Stay at your table and listen. Don't even listen, just wait, be completely quiet and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked.'
Franz Kafka

Last week I wrote about the helplessness that can overcome the creative process. Overcoming the helplessness meant also facing the other factors that had held me back. The major one, or so I thought, was time or more precisely, the lack of it. I had been complaining for weeks that I had no time for my own creativity, that the needs of others always came first: family, friends, students, work. . . My 'To Do' lists were getting longer and longer; each day ended with fewer jobs crossed off and my novel even further out of reach.

'The only thing stopping you, is you,' said my husband, fed up with my complaints. Irritated at his lack of sympathy, I went back to my 'To Do' lists and studied them to see what chores I could drop, looking for a way to prioritise my time. Then I noticed what I had been doing all along. Each day's list contained notes on meetings, housework, places I had to drive my children, marking . . Of course I always included, 'write my novel', however that particular one was at the end of each list. In a sense I'd been punishing myself, setting impossible standards - if I couldn't complete each day's work then I had no chance of getting to my novel. My solution had been to work harder and harder in order to create a space for writing but of course that left me exhausted, which is not a good place to create from. So last week I turned the list upside down. Each day the first thing to go on my list is 'write my novel'. At first I gave myself an hour from 8-9am, then I extended it to 10am. In those two hours I lock myself up in my study, away from the phone and the internet and out of view of the dirty dishes and washing basket. One or two hours a day doesn't seem much but it's possible to achieve a lot in that time, sometimes words on paper and sometimes simply a mental space for the novel to grow.

Then I realised that time wasn't the issue in my writing life, not really. I had written my way through busier periods, such as when my children were very small and I would get up at four in the morning just so I could have some space to create and of course to keep my sanity because that's one of the many blessings writing gives me - in our family a writing mother is a much nicer person than a non writing mother! So if time wasn't the issue, I began to wonder what was. I pondered this for a while and came to the conclusion that it was a lack of legitimacy around the act of writing itself. Even after I've had two novels published I still feel as if I'm sneaking something forbidden when I write. Partly it's a money issue. If my writing fully supported my family then perhaps I wouldn't feel this concern. Partly it's fear too. I worry that this next novel will struggle to find a publisher and I'll have to go through the whole heartbreaking process again. And I worry too about the discoveries I will make about myself on this next writing journey because from past experience I know that this is not always a comfortable process. But more than any of this I think the reason for my reluctance to settle down with this next book is a belief that I don't deserve the joy that comes with writing.

As an adopted child, illegitimacy is a word I am most familiar with, having heard it many times in the context of my own childhood. However, more importantly it is the feeling behind the word that has crept into my life and in part formed who I am. A sense of being undeserving that permeates the way I relate to myself and to others. That stops me from doing what is best for me. We all grapple with our own demons and having taught creative writing for many years I have heard all sorts of excuses for not writing, some of them more authentic than others. There are times when it isn't possible to write but for the most part the only person who is stopping us is ourselves. If we have a story to tell then I believe it is imperative that we find a way to tell it and if the way we choose is through writing then we probably have to carve a space in our lives to make this possible.

Students often ask me about my own writing routine in the hope that it will help them to find their own. But our routines have to grow around our circumstances and our natures. Some people write daily, others only once a week, some in the evenings others in the mornings. We don't need an office to work from or the latest computer, but we do need to make a regular space for our writing and commit to it in the face of life's distractions, many of which are self created. It's not easy to ask our friends and family to help provide this space and they won't always be supportive as sometimes creativity can be perceived as a threat by those closest to us. We live in a society where success is measured by externals and without the justification of a publishing contract it's hard to maintain confidence in our writing. But the hardest part of the commitment we need to make to our writing is to look closely at our distractions, peeling back the layers and discovering why we make them in the first place. Perhaps the blame doesn't lie in our circumstances or in those closest to us. Perhaps it lies squarely at our own feet.

The stories we tell help us to see the limitations in our own lives and to overcome them. But in a sense it is the commitment we make to telling our stories that is most important because although many of us might at times describe writing as torture, it is really a form of self-nurture. We have to love ourselves in order to create. And by that I don't mean an egotistical loving; I mean a forgiveness of ourselves, an acceptance of who we are and what has formed us. It is only through this acceptance that we can move on.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Writing Through 2012

'The world is changing and we are changing with it. It is too soon perhaps to see how.'
Rosie Dub, Flight

It's only early March and I have already had a significant birthday, a new novel published and I've become a Doctor of Philosophy. There have been school holidays and guests, colds and overgrown gardens to attend to. Time seems to be speeding up, it's difficult (well actually impossible), to fit everything in each day. And not least of all, it's 2012; there are murmurings of dread in the air – whispers of prophecies and predictions, the end of the world, wars, earthquakes, social disruption. . . . The news is full of injustice and upheaval, insane violence and corruption. 'The Apocalypse,' people are saying. 'The Mayans predicted it for 2012. It is coming.'

Needless to say, so far this year I've found it difficult to settle down and write, difficult sometimes to even credit the value of writing or to focus on anything positive. Because hope is what keeps us moving forward, it's what keeps us creating when around us is destruction. Without hope, we find ourselves sinking into a mire of helplessness and with that comes a shadowy inertness that becomes stronger and darker each time it is fed. Caught in this helpless spiral I found myself sinking quickly, and seeking more fuel to feed this hopelessness. I stared at the blank screen on my computer and found nothing to say, stopped writing in my journal, forgot I had a new novel to write, a new story to tell, something that sought harmony through chaos and beauty through ugliness, something that just might help provide a little nudge towards making this world we have created into a better place. I forgot why I had written Flight, what gifts it had given me and a growing number of readers. In short, I forgot the power of hope.

'We do not inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children.' I read this anonymous quote many years ago and at the time it shifted something within me, helping me to see from a different perspective, one that is not so much 'me' centred but rather 'world' centred, a perspective that reveals a bigger picture and a sense of responsibility. When I read this again recently, I realised that with three children growing into an uncertain world, it is vital for me to keep the flame of hope burning. In fact, it is my responsibility.

'Enough,' I said to myself and set about making a few changes. Firstly, I made the decision not to watch the news for awhile, or anything else for that matter; no ruthless elimination shows, no violent dramas, no historical war documentaries and no flashy, inane celebrity shows. I went for a walk, then another, took up yoga again, made myself a vegetable juice – all the things I couldn't do when I was filled with hopelessness. Quickly I began feeling better. I looked at my journal again, went over what I had already written and once again began getting flashes of insights that I hoped would lead me back to my new novel. But all the time I kept wondering about this apocalypse business, wondering if it would be more useful to grow vegetables, put in a water tank, get off the grid, protect my children from the inevitable. . .

Frustrated, I looked up the word 'apocalypse' a term we associate with widespread destruction, with the end of the world as we know it. But in the definition I found something quite different. Apocalypse comes from the Greek word, apocalypsis, meaning a 'lifting of the veil' or 'revelation'. According to Wikipedia it means 'a disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception'. Not an end then, far from it. Rather a time of change and a seeing through. A time perhaps when truth will be harder to hide. When humanity will look for different qualities in their leaders; integrity perhaps, compassion and honesty. Looking at it in this way, it is not an end but a possibility of a new beginning. With this definition in mind I can sit in front of my computer screen and find the words needed to create something new. Once again I have found hope and optimism and with it the possibility of action. And with that, the key to my new novel, Between Worlds.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website: