Am loving reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses, here at Varuna.

I have been meaning to read it for ages because I never have, and it’s the text on which the French Baroque composers based many of the operas in which La Maupin performed. Also because, hidden in among the exploits of Jason and Perseus is the story of Iphis, who was raised as a boy: a story La Maupin would have known well.

I don’t get much reading time, but it’s glorious, and one of those splendid, robust 20th-century translations (Rolfe Humphries, Indiana University Press, 1955).  I imagine Eleanor Dark reading this, while the wind rages around the house, as Juno (or whoever is in charge of the weather in Katoomba) decides to flood the earth:

… he turned loose

The South-wind, and the South-wind came out streaming

With dripping wings, and pitch-black darkness veiling

His terrible countenance. His beard is heavy

With rain-cloud, and his hoary locks a torrent,

Mists are his chaplet, and his wings and garments

Run with rain. His broad hands squeeze together

Low-hanging clouds, and crash and rumble follow

Before the cloudburst, and the rainbow, Iris,

Draws water from the teeming earth, and feeds it

Into the clouds again.


This week and next I’m at a writers’ retreat: the glorious Varuna Writers’ House in the Blue Mountains, outside Sydney. It’s the  home of the legendary Australian novelist, Eleanor Dark (The Timeless Land and The Storm of Time, which I haven’t read for years, but must revisit).

All very 1930s and quiet and misty and autumnal and we are utterly pampered. Feeling very lucky. While I’m here, I’ll be finishing the first draft of Tragédie, and might even get on to some redrafting.

Not me. Hem. But same idea.

Unpleasant people

You spend an awful lot of time with people when you’re writing.

Not real people. They get in the way. Unreal people. Imagined people.

And not all of them are the cheerful, supportive, well-balanced type.

That’s not so hard when you’re writing a downright evil villain who, although they must have hidden depths and some kind of comprehensible motivation, is a blackguard and a scoundrel. They are quite fun to write, although you might not invite them over for a cup of tea.

That’s why we all secretly admit to loving characters like Deadwood‘s wicked Al Swearengen more than dour Seth Bullock, even though we know we should really be on the side of the sheriff and not the brothel-owning murderer and his fabulously Jacobean swearing.

But what about your favourite characters, the people you spend months exploring and expanding? What about their weak moments, their shameful days, the incidents that might crop up later on facebook or the tabloids or a seventeenth century police report? How do you write your hero or heroine into a corner from which they can never escape, into a pitiable state, into an embarrassing scene from which nobody emerges with honour?

And how can you not?