Senses on fire: what Helen Garner helped me understand about my writing

One thing the outback does is clears my mind of all the clutter. I have time to think, I am not scrolling through social media or getting caught up in the craziness of everyday life. I listen to birds, watch the sun come up, watch the sun go down and notice tiny details. Most importantly, I am inspired to write…

In the air-conditioned tractor cab while my husband sweats through another forty-five degree day on the post driver, highly lauded Australian author Helen Garner reflects on decades of searching for perfect sentences in her 80th birthday podcast episode.

Oops! I forget to lift the driver before I move forward another seven metres and I lose track of Garner for a few seconds, distracted by the exuberant hand gestures in my rear vision mirror. Back on the line, I slide my finger back a minute or two so I don’t miss one single word of Helen’s.

She lights a flame and my senses are on fire. I can’t wait to swap the GPS and tractor wheel for my keyboard. I’ve always been an observer of small things but Garner makes me appreciate the power observation gives me as a writer.  It is left to me to capture moments, landscapes and places very few people are privileged enough to see.

Dragonflies dance millimetres from the surface, while life-sucking carp feast greedily to create bubbles that spread from beneath and muddy the waters.

A yellow belly vies for position, determined to survive amongst the river-invading carp who breed like rabbits in the flush of flood waters that have spent months snaking their way across what is usually a parched landscape.

Bright white spoonbill ibis circle overhead, cussing in a deep throaty tune at human intrusion on their sacred place.

Birdsong from hundreds of tiny robins and rare bush birds fill ancient eucalypts that line the banks. The closer we get to the long concrete weir that stretches from one side of the remote river to the other, they’re barely audible above the hypnotising roar of water.

It is easy to picture Aboriginals gathering in this sacred place, feasting from the rich food and water source that nourished them for thousands of years.

Yabbies the size of crayfish.

Rock skimming amusing us for hours.

Now all I need to do is insert a body floating over this isolated weir and I’m well on my way to my next plot twist. Watch this space!