The Novel: Update #16 – Maintaining the Joy (Feat. A Sneak Peek)

It’s been too long since I checked in with you all about the progress of Tabula. It is progressing, slowly but steadily. Words are getting written, chapters finished, new ideas emerging, old ideas crystallising and maturing.

I started working full time in January, which is great for stability but can be pretty draining. Some days there’s very little energy left for creative work. But I’ve been using my lunch breaks and evenings to do what I can, then putting in big sessions at the weekend.

Maintaining the Joy

I wrote a while back about inspiration being bullshit. I’m holding less of a hard line about that now – all day in an office really does dull your mind. I’ve had to find ways to maintain a little joy and keep reminding myself anew why I love to write; why I want to spend my off-hours working on an epic sci-fi novel when I could be bingeing on TV or just sleeping.

A few ways I’m staying mentally alive through the grind:

The Clarkesworld Magazine Podcast

Almost every day on the train I listen to a story from the amazing Clarkesworld podcast. The quality of the work is ridiculously high.


Each story is thought-provoking, richly imaginative, and often deeply moving – they constantly remind me that storytelling is legitimately magical! The podcast is hosted by Kate Baker, who read each story, and she seriously has one of the world’s great voices!

If you’re going to listen, I highly recommend throwing Clarkesworld some money. I’m signed up as a subscriber, which gets you a bunch of great content for about $6 a month.

A Steady Diet of Cinema

Cinema is one of the most complete artforms ever created and I find it endlessly rejuvenating and inspiring, not just in my work but in my life, too! Currently, I watch at least three new movies a week (usually more), always with a notebook handy to catch the inevitable flood of ideas they evoke.

Here’s how I keep my movie addiction fed:

  • The Criterion Collection – one of my few consumerist vices is buying shiny Criterion editions of amazing films.
  • Mubi – curated streaming site full of amazing cinema and documentaries from around the world. It’s the best!
  • Brotherhood of St Laurence in Brunswick – they have a surprisingly good collection of DVDs for $2 a pop.

    The latest haul from the Brotherhood
  • IndieFlix – as a member of my local library I get a free membership to this service, which is mindblowing to me! They have a great selection of Australian cinema, as well as world movies, classics, and some good mainstream stuff.
  • Cinema Nova cheap nights – every Monday night this cinema has $10 tix, and it’s only a quick tram ride from my new office. So far this year, I’ve seen The Shape of Water and Sweet Country there, both very good films in very different ways.


One of the best things I’ve been doing is escaping the city most weekends to swim in waterholes and rivers amongst the gums…


Pound Bend


So, there are some ideas if you’re struggling to stay connected to your art – consume a lot of good art to remind yourself why you’re doing this, and escape to your happy place to recharge, whatever that might mean for you.

Speaking of which, here’s an excerpt from Tabula for you:

Sloane’s scar is beautiful, Audrey says. It runs from the very base of her neck on the left side, across her back raggedly diagonal, then curls like a smile around the bottom of her ribcage and onto the right-hand side of her belly. When clothed, just a glimpse of the scar can be seen, peeking occasionally over the top of her t-shirt or collar. It looks like a tame scar, then, a small, pale line against her mocha skin, slightly raised. But that belies the true glory of the disfigurement.

Let’s track the scar with our mind’s eye, slowly, like distant landscape through the window of a train. Just a few centimetres down her back, Sloane’s scar changes. The pale line thickens, widens; gains texture and webbing. A few more sentences and the scar starts to transform. Do you see? There, to each side of the line. Like wings. No, like the undulating fins of a manta ray. Burn scars. Thin at first, then widening out, narrowing, widening again. Telling the story of a flame, weak at first, red, then bursting into fullness, billowing through the air like milk through coffee — shifting to brilliant orange and yellow, then greens and blues as the flame grew hotter and fiercer. Telling a story, too, of human cruelty.

In places, the burn scars stretch 15 centimetres to either side of the central scar, the one made by slicing flesh rather than cooking it. The burned skin is thick and richly patterned. It looks like melted wax or like a landscape. In some places, it looks organic but hard. As if tree trunks and roots burst verdant from the cut in Sloane’s back, then froze in place when the scar sealed the gash closed.

The scar is multi-coloured too, just like the flame that helped create it. The white line you’ve already seen, but alongside it run vivid purples, deep reds, and sickly yellows. The colours swirl together in places, claim whole areas to themselves in others. They form patterns too, looking like raised purple veins, rivulets of liquid — near the centre of Sloane’s back they weave a fierce red and purple spiderweb. Under Sloane’s ribcage lies a colourless desert. The skin there is a pure, snow white where a burst of particularly intense heat seared away all pigment.

Some nights Sloane wakes up to the sound of her own screaming, from nightmares she can’t remember. On those nights her scar burns, too. Truly burns with a phantom pain no amount of rationalising can reduce or banish. Sloane simply waits. In the arms of Audrey, or another lover, or all alone. Waits, and remembers.

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