In Memoriam

RodMy big brother passed away without warning over Christmas. I’ve been paralysed, unable to write since. So my dear friend Sydney has written this wise, beautiful post for me. It’s about Rod. Thank you Sydney. Somehow by your gracious act, I’ve been set free to write again. I just needed a little help 🙂 xx

In Memoriam by Sydney Smith

Jenny’s brother Rod died in late December, suddenly and out of the blue, and since his going, I cling to a small yet persistent belief that he isn’t really dead. It’s involuntary. In my mind I “know” he’s gone. But that knowledge lives on the surface of my consciousness. In my heart, he lingers gently yet persistently.

I went to his funeral thinking that would put a full stop on this feeling that Rod isn’t really dead. A friend picked me up from the train station, and as we drove to the church, I told her how, three days after Rod’s death, my computer hid my Start menu, that every time I minimised a document or a browser, it vanished from view, and I didn’t know how to get any of it back. ‘Ghost in the machine,’ I said. Normally, I would call Rod for help and he would sort out my problem. He did that for lots of people. That’s how to get to know computers in a deep-down way, by fixing them when they get sick. I said to my friend, ‘Rod’s telling me I can’t live without him.’

The funeral went along as these thing usually do. Rod’s friends and family stood to speak about his life, his achievements, his effect on them. The minister invited people to come up to the lectern and add their piece about Rod. I wanted to say something but didn’t know what that should be. These people had told anecdotes of Rod that captured aspects of his mischievous, independent spirit, his charm and his talents. I wanted to say something else, but what, I didn’t know.

As I travelled home after the funeral, I was aware that it had not done what I hoped it would do. I still didn’t “know” Rod had died. As I write this blog, ten days after the funeral, I still don’t “know” it.

Death is a strange thing. No matter how often it happens, it remains a foreigner in our midst. It speaks a language we each have to learn. The spark that once animated a body is wrenched free, and what is left is familiar and at the same time shatteringly inadequate.

This “not knowing” Rod is dead is a kind of haunting. It’s an awareness of a space that used to be filled by a flesh and blood person, and which is now filled with the fact of absence and an ongoing, elusive presence. Rod is hovering in this room where I work at my computer. The air tingles with the voice that is about to speak. The air shifts with his movement. From the corner of my eye I almost see his beige and oatmeal plumage. This haunting isn’t oppressive. It simply is, gentle and lingering.

Rod 2Death isn’t a single, decisive event. The body loses its life, and we are led to believe that this is the end. But it isn’t. There is no end, no finality. There is a gentle shifting into another kind of perception, where each of us in the intimacy of grief meet him again.

 

 

Buy Nothing Week & A Half!

Buy Nothing day 3November the 28th was Buy Nothing Day. It’s an international day of protest against consumerism, and I took the pledge. However it felt too easy for me. As a rural writer, I work from home, and live quite a way from the nearest shops. November 28th was a Saturday. Tuesday is my regular shopping day, when I drive into town. So I decided to buy nothing for a week instead, not even food.

When Tuesday came around, number 2 and 3 sons, who still live at home, expressed surprise when the weekly grocery shop didn’t appear.

‘But we’re out of peanut butter, and mandarins and Sultana Bran.’
‘Eat something else,’ I said.

Buy nothing day 4It turned into an excellent way to use up what was in the cupboards. Two frozen squishy bananas turned into banana bread. I cooked the potatoes and onions that were almost past their use by dates, mixing them with eggs, cheese, frozen vegies and old packets of soup to make delicious fritters. Ends of flour in two canisters, and the apples in the bottom of the fridge became apple crumble. Lemons from our groaning trees became home-made lemonade. We managed just fine, and saved money. Ten days and counting of buying nothing. I could go another week, I decided.

Star

Star

Until last night. On-line shopping brought me undone. I’m just bringing my beautiful but high-spirited mare Star back into work. She had an unexpected three week paddock holiday, when she unceremoniously dumped me and I sprained my knee. Star has always had a sensitive mouth, and fusses with the bit. I’ve tried her in bit-less bridles, and she hates them even more. Since starting to ride her again, she’s been chewing non-stop, and I started researching bits that offer more tongue relief. I found one last night that sounded perfect, promising to alleviate pressure by over 85% – and it was on special! I hesitated for few minutes, debating with myself. I’d been so good! Then I bought it.

Buy nothing day 2My buy-nothing campaign lasted ten days, and was cut short by the ease of internet buying. She’ll probably hate the bit, and it will hang on the wall along with all the others, testament to my lack of self-control. And tomorrow’s Tuesday – shopping day. The boys will be happy that I’ve given up my campaign against corporate domination!

But seriously, as we enter the holiday season, consider what it might mean to celebrate a holiday that isn’t driven by commercial forces. (Apart from books. You’re always allowed to buy books!) Maybe go local, independent, or make something. We shouldn’t blow the family budget on things we might not want or need. Lets take back our lives and try buying less for Christmas. It might be the most joyous holiday season ever 🙂

Here’s a video of Star (stud name Brokeford Heide) including slow motion shots. How very beautiful! I think she deserves an early Christmas present, don’t you?

BB14

The Multi-Talented Lyrebird

LyrebirdA lot of fencing has been happening at Pilyara lately. Thanks to a state government grant, we are fencing stock out of the timbered gullies that lead down to our creek. This is designed to protect wildlife and vegetation, as we live in a beautiful, mountainous area of high conservation value. All this hard work is already paying off – for the first time in years we’ve spotted a pair of Superb Lyrebirds in a fenced off gully, quite close to the house. What a thrill!

Lyre_bird 1

John Gould’s early 1800s painting of a superb lyrebird specimen at the British Museum

Lyrebirds are famous for their amazing ability to mimic any bird song. They also mimic human sounds such as mill whistles, cross-cut saws, chainsaws, car engines, alarms, gun shots, camera shutters, dogs barking, babies crying and mobile phones. The male is renowned for the beauty of his long, lyre-shaped tail feathers and hypnotising courtship display. However our resident pair of lyrebirds bring more than beauty and music to Pilyara. They provide a far more practical service – as fire wardens in what is predicted to be a summer of deadly heat.

Recent studies show that lyrebirds reduce the chance of bush-fires in areas where they forage. They rake the forest floor in their search for worms and insects, burying leaf litter, speeding up decomposition, and reducing the amount of fuel available for bush-fires. They also inhibit the growth of ferns, grasses and other plants which would otherwise burn. The Latrobe University research was conducted in burnt and un-burnt sites of Black Saturday‘s two most devastating blazes. It showed lyrebirds reduced forest litter by a massive 1.66 tonnes per hectare over a nine-month period.

Lyrebird 3‘Our modelling suggests the reduction in litter fuel loads brought about by lyrebird foraging has the potential to result in markedly subdued fire behaviour…The loss of lyrebirds from forests could result in higher fuel loads and an increased likelihood of wildfires threatening human life,” said the report, published in the CSIRO’s journal Wildlife Research. ‘They forage like chickens, they’ve got big feet with really long toes so they’ve basically got rakes for feet. They rake through the litter looking for worms and little bugs, stuff to eat. They’re digging through that humus and litter layer looking for little invertebrates and whatever they can find.’

‘Through that process they reduce the litter fuel load by, on average, 25 per cent, or about 1.6 tonnes per hectare. And we put those figures into a fire behaviour model and found that that level of fuel reduction is enough [that] in low fire-danger weather conditions it excludes fire, fire’s not possible under low to moderate conditions. But even in more extreme conditions the fire behaviour will be more moderate, [with] lower rates of spread, lower flame height, so a less intense fire.

Our conclusion is that lyrebirds are reducing the chance of fires occurring in the areas where they forage and the ecological significance of that is that un-burnt patches within large wildfires are really important sites for animals to survive post-fire.’

On Black Saturday in 2009, the wind change that saved us, devastated Marysville and took many lives. Summer is always a tense time here at Pilyara. It’s lovely to know that we have at least two new fire wardens watching over us. 🙂  Play the video below for a taste of lyrebird song. (You have to skip the ad first) The great David Attenborough looks like he’s wandering around one of our gullies, and he misses the Whip Bird call.

BB14

Almost There + Book Giveaway

These Saddles Will Soon Get A Workout

These Saddles Will Soon Get A Workout!

I’m putting the finishing touches on my new manuscript, which is due at Penguin on Thursday. This has been the hardest, but also the most satisfying book that I’ve written so far, with a broader focus than my previous novels. From Afghanistan’s last wilderness, to Australia’s great eastern escarpment, an epic tale of love, loss and redemption.Writing it has been an emotional roller coaster, and more than once I’ve found myself in tears.

DSCF0619

Waratahs

So, you can imagine how pleased I’ll be to send it off, and turn my attention to things closer to home – like the beauty unfolding all around me. Spring is my favourite time of year, and I’ll finally have a chance to enjoy it! This post is dedicated to Pilyara, the beautiful property where I live, and the animals and plants that I share it with.

DSCF0626Pilyara has many forested areas, with spectacular grey gums, mountain ash, and messmate stringy bark trees towering overhead. Below grows a dense layer of smaller plants including correa, heath, dusty miller, and golden bush pea. Delicate ground orchids abound, and ferns fringe the creek, including tall tree ferns. An astounding range of birds are found here: honey-eaters, bower-birds, parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, currawongs, whip-birds, willy-wagtails, magpies, herons, swallows, swifts, ducks, eagles and owls, just to name a few. We’ve even spotted a lyrebird once or twice.Native animals include wombats, wallabies, koalas, echidnas, kangaroos, possums, gliders,bush rats, antechinus,bats and platypus in the creek. We also have the odd goanna and snake.

DSCF0615

Native Mint Bush

We received a grant from Victoria’s Healthy Waterways program, to finish fencing off the gullies and creek, and the work is almost complete. This will further enhance Pilyara as a habitat for native flora and fauna. Just talking about it makes me want to head off down to the creek! But no, first things first. Only a few more days work on the manuscript, and then the farrier comes to shoe the horses. (My present to myself for finishing!) Pilyara is only a few minutes ride from the Bunyip state forest, with its stunning scenery and heritage horse trails. Here are some photos taken today. Roll on Thursday!

I’m giving away a two-pack of my books. Leave a comment telling me your favourite native bird, or your favourite first line of a novel, to go in the draw. Let me know which two books you’d like. Closing date next Sunday 4th October. (Aust & NZ only) 

DSCF0602

Crabapple

Rex

Rex

Kitchen Garden

Kitchen Garden

Grevillia

Grevillia

DSCF0632

Sheba and Star

BB14

Heartland – Connect With Nature In Your Lounge Room.

Heartland ACFI am thrilled about the recent launch of the hard-covered, coffee-table book Heartland by the Australian Conservation Foundation, not least because an excerpt of my writing has been chosen to grace its pages!

Heartland is an impressive, commemorative book of photography, and heartfelt expressions by Aussie writers – a glorious homage to nature. It has been published to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Australia’s oldest and largest national environmental group. Begun in 1965, it’s funded almost entirely by individual donations. CEO, Kelly O’Shanassy, says ‘The foundation is nature’s advocate and has been a part of every significant Australian environmental victory, ably assisted by the community.’

Uplifting and inspirational images capture the natural world across the continent, and people interacting with it in a myriad of ways. Stunningly beautiful, all-original photography is contributed by the MAPgroup of documentary photographers; two hundred images in all. They tell many stories. Of the profound bond between Indigenous people and country. Of our amazing plants and wildlife. Of surfing waves and rafting rivers. Of farmers’ relationship to the land, and of the deep, instinctive connection that children have with the natural world. It’s available from all good bookstores.

Heartland also has written pieces from various Australian writers (including me!) A stellar line-up features iconic authors and poets such as Patrick White, Judith Wright, Gillian Mears, Les Murray, Henry Handel Richardson, Favel Parret, Alexis Wright, Murray Bail, Christina Stead, Lee Kofman and more.

In the foreword, Australian cartoonist, poet and cultural commentator Michael Leunig writes that it’s ‘essential to our health’ that we love nature. Even better, we should understand and appreciate it deeply, enjoy it thoroughly and respect it utterly.

Leunig Cartoon 1‘Gratitude is the appropriate way, for mother nature supports us all and provides what we need to live: the air, the food, the vital elements and the materials with which cultures are built and sustained.

If you’re wondering about the meaning of life, it’s right there before you – and inside you. It’s nature. It’s the great beautiful common cause. Know it, love it, enjoy it – and do all that you reasonably can to rescue and protect it; but don’t delay.’

RWA 15

Me (L), Helene Young (Middle) and Ann Lee (R)

On a different, but no less inspirational note, the RWA Writers Conference was held last weekend. Co-convened by my good friends Kate Belle and Kathryn Ledson, it featured a wide range of work-shops and sessions on the writing craft. Anita Heiss gave a sensational key-note address about courage, and the need for a diversity of voices in Australian commercial fiction. She seemed to be speaking directly to me! The conference was a great success, and raised buckets of money for the Indigenous Literary Foundation, a fabulous cause. I can’t wait for the next conference in Adelaide next year. Here’s a photo of me with fellow Penguin author Helene Young, and fiction fan extraordinaire Ann Lee. She and her friend Evelyn brought an entire trolley-load of Aussie novels to the book signing! Now it’s back to my work-in-progress, which is turning out to be the never-ending story 🙂

BB14

For The Love Of Horses

Riding Sheba

Sheba

A passion for horses has always been a part of me. I’ve owned them (as much as anybody can ever really own a horse), dreamed of them, played with them, ridden them and loved them all my life. I’m not alone in this. Not the only little girl to draw nothing but horses, filling reams of paper with bays, blacks and greys, as if sketching them might conjure them into reality. Not the only child to go everywhere at a walk, trot or canter, and write poems and love letters to favourite ponies. But for some, this intense horsiness is a passing phase. At around fifteen or sixteen, a lot of my friends discovered boys, and began scrawling the name of their latest crush on their exercise books, instead of the name of their dream horse. Not me. If anything, my passion for horses grew stronger as I grew older.

Candy and young rider

Candy and Young Rider

Starfire

Starfire

What is it, I wonder, that makes horses such powerful figures in the lives of many women? Why is there such a natural affinity? I think it’s because horses are both mystical and intensely physical. I like how they ground me, link me to the natural world, to the wind, rain and sun. Riding requires me to understand and respect my own body. It doesn’t matter how much I weigh, or what I look like, or how old I am. All that matters is how my body can best work with my horse.

Lofty

Lofty

Yet the sweat and straining muscles of a pounding gallop, also has a spiritual side. I’m at one with the universe. My focus turns inward. My senses heighten in a kind of meditation. I stop thinking about bills, and car services and deadlines. I see and hear what my horse does: the flash of a wallaby hide through the trees, the liquid song of a butcher bird, the rise and fall of the trail ahead.

I’ve been blessed to share my life with many fabulous horses, but you don’t need to own or ride one to feel this special connection. I get a tingle from seeing a horse in a painting, or a photo or just reading about them. When I started writing, I learned that horses also inspire creativity. Their mystery and beauty fires my imagination, taking it from limitation to freedom. ‘Since the dawn of civilisation, the horse and the Muses have been companions in all the heroics of mythology and history.’ – Robert Frothingham. There isn’t a book I’ve written that doesn’t involve horses to one degree or another. For me, horses embody sensuality, power, beauty, trust and freedom. What’s not to love?

BB14

 

 

 

The Phantom Herd

 

( … orWhy I Changed My Mind About Alpine Grazing’)

Bessie CreekA beautiful little creek runs along the northern boundary of our family property, Pilyara. Beyond it lies Bunyip State Park, a forest in the southern foothills of the Great Dividing Range. Land either side of our creek is virgin country, too steep to bother with when the area was originally cleared for timber and grazing. It has always been a shady haven for ancient tree ferns and delicate ground orchids, all flourishing beneath a soaring canopy of messmate and mountain ash.

swamp wallabyPilyara’s bottom paddocks run down to this creek. There’s never been a fence. Steep, thickly timbered slopes have generally acted as a safe barrier for stock, although for years we regularly lost our colossal pet bullock, Toro, to the neighbours. My son often walked the friendly beast home with just a rope around his neck. Many times I’d toyed with the idea of fencing along the creek, but there was a problem. What about the black-tailed wallabies? What about the forester kangaroos? What about the fat wombats, that emerged from their gully warrens and  lumbered uphill each night to graze the moonlit paddocks? Fencing Toro in, would mean fencing them out – and after all, they were here first.

CattleOne rainy winter morning, I fed out hay to the cattle as usual, and got a big surprise. Our mob had been joined by another mob.  Dozens of big steers had appeared from nowhere overnight. Where had they come from? I rang around the neighbours and heard a fascinating story. Pilyara was apparently playing host to the phantom herd, a mob belonging to an old man upstream. He no longer maintained his boundaries, and his cattle had been roaming along the creek for months, randomly popping up to graze properties along the waterway, and disappearing just as quickly. I rang the ranger, complained to neighbours and begrudgingly fed hay to the blow-ins. Within a few days they were gone, just as mysteriously as they’d come

Braving the weather, I walked down the hill and tried to track the vanished herd. Sure enough, they’d moved out along the creek. What a mess! The banks were broken, caved into the water, taking great swathes of vegetation with them. A once pristine environment was little more than a wallow, flowing sluggish and muddy past trampled reeds and pugged up pools. Pity the poor platypus. The damage was plain as the nose on your face.

Until then I’d been a cautious supporter of alpine grazing. It reduced bush fires, didn’t it? In 2009 my family had spent days watching a monster fire lurk in the forest to our north. On Black Saturday, a capricious wind change saved us, but doomed many others. If grazing really reduced fires, I’d still be for it. A ton of research later, and I got my answer.  Both the extensive Esplin Report (following the 2003 alpine bushfires) and the recent combined CSIRO, LaTrobe University and NSW Department of Environment and Conservation study found that cattle grazing had no influence on the spread of fire.

EFNI’ve since joined the Environmental Farmers Network. It supports rural ecological programs, and acknowledges farmers as front-line stewards of the land.  Our farmers fence off creeks. They replant and reseed with locally indigenous trees and restore degraded river banks. They build wombat gates, preserve stag trees and put fish ladders in dammed streams. They work hard to give nature a helping hand.

We’ve just received a Healthy Waterways grant to build a wildlife-friendly fence along our creek frontage (Yay!). Healthy rivers, creeks and wetlands are the arteries of our landscape … the life blood of the bush. State and Federal Governments encourage such programs as best practice. Why should management of our precious alpine regions be any different? Look at the Bunyip State Park management plan and you find the seven Alpine grazinggrazing licences in the southern section of the park are not transferable, and no new licences will be granted. This is because cattle spread weeds, and damage native plants, wetlands and waterways. It’s true for the Bunyip forest and it’s true for the alps as well.

Our magnificent high country is celebrated in Australian art and literature (Including in my own 2012 novel Brumby’s Run).The mythical beauty of Man From Snowy River territory forms part of our national psyche. Romantic images of red and white cattle, stringing between the snow gums, feed into this notion. But the unfortunate truth is, cattle damage fragile landscapes, and there are plenty of forward-thinking farmers who understand this.

BB14

The Wingham Brush

Wingham Brush 1I’m on a trip to research my new novel, and am taking inspiration for its setting from Tapin Tops National Park north-east of Wingham in New South Wales. The park lies on a spectacular section of the Great Eastern Escarpment.

Ten hectare Wingham Brush Nature Reserve, just a short stroll from the centre of town, is a rare rainforest remnant. Along with five hectare Coocumbac Island at Taree, it represents 90% of the remaining subtropical lowland rainforest in the Manning Valley. This tiny oasis boasts 195 species of native plants and 100 species of native birds. The most impressive trees in Wingham Brush 2the reserve are the massive Moreton Bay figs, many centuries old. They are a type of strangler fig, and begin as a tiny seed, deposited in the fork of a host tree by birds or bats. The seedling lives as an epiphyte until its roots reach the ground. It then enlarges and strangles its host, eventually becoming freestanding. Like all figs, it has a unique relationship with wasps; figs are only pollinated by fig wasps, and fig wasps can only reproduce in fig flowers. Massive buttress roots support the weight of the trees in the shallow rainforest soils. Other Wingham Brush 3interesting trees include paperberries, black apples, white cedars and rosewoods. Giant stinging trees grow close to the path, so visitors must be wary.

The Brush almost didn’t survive. By 1860 it had been selectively logged, especially for red cedar, and the remains of two saw pits can be seen today. It was saved from clear-felling in 1909, by being declared a reserve associated with the now historic wharf on the Manning River.

Manning River In Reserve

Manning River Inside Reserve

However by 1980 the Brush was so infested with weeds, that its very survival was threatened. Concerned locals commenced an innovative program to return the reserve to its natural state. The Wingham Brush Method has become an international model for rainforest restoration.

 

 

Manning River A Few Hundred Metres Clear Of Reserve

Manning River A Few Hundred Metres Clear Of Reserve

The Brush is an important maternity camp for vulnerable grey-headed flying foxes, and they can be seen roosting overhead. Wingham spent 70 years trying to kill off these fruit bats, before realising their importance. Flying foxes transport the seeds of a wide range of rainforest plants up to 40 km between camps, connecting isolated remnants to other rainforest gene pools.

Walking through Wingham Brush is like going back in time. Bittersweet, imagining the sheer majesty of these forests two hundred years ago, when they ranged from the coast all the way to the edge of the Great Eastern Escarpment. What a magnificent sight that would have been!

BB14

Monty Roberts In Australia

Monty Roberts 1This weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a two-day horsemanship seminar at beautiful Boneo Park Equestrian Centre. It was conducted by the legendary Monty Roberts, aka The Man Who Listens To Horses. He’s a proponent of natural horsemanship, and I’ve been a fan of his forever. Of course natural horsemanship has also been around forever, at least for as long as humans and horses have been partners, about six thousand years. It’s a way of interacting with horses using minimum force, and designed not to stress or upset them. Unfortunately, it’s not the only way.

Monty roberts 3So eighty-year old Monty Roberts didn’t invent natural horsemanship, but he has been a decades-long proponent. He developed his particular method by watching wild mustangs interact with each other. He recognised a body language among the horses that was used to communicate and set boundaries. He found he could predictably read their fear, anger, irritation, relaxation and affection. Using this silent language allowed training in a more effective and humane manner, encouraging true partnership between horses and humans. Monty calls this language Equus. He inspired both the book and film The Horse Whisperer, and holds doctorates in human and animal behavioural psychology. By personal request of Queen Elizabeth, he trained the palace horses and has since spread his non-violent training techniques all over the world.

Monty roberts 2Monty Roberts is also an author. His first book, The Man Who Listens to Horses spent fifty-eight weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list. It was translated into fifteen languages and sold more than five million copies worldwide, His other books include the best-selling Shy Boy: The Horse That Came in from the Wild, Horse Sense for People, From My Hands to Yours, The Horses in My Life and Ask Monty. Oh, and did I mention that he and his wife of fifty-eight years have also fostered forty-seven children 🙂

 

 

2015-04-26 10.11.25I was curious to see the man in action, and was not disappointed. Monty performed his signature ‘join up’ liberty technique, a round yard trust exercise, with over a dozen very different horses that he’d never met before. It was astonishing how predictably each animal reacted: cocking an ear towards him, narrowing the circle, licking its lips and finally bowing its 2015-04-26 11.33.19head. At this point the horse sought out Monty and reliably followed him – joining the herd. This was the precursor to some pretty amazing things. Youngsters calmly saddled and ridden for the first time, within the space of half an hour (four of them!) Dangerously spooky horses willingly following Monty over ground tarpaulins and past scary objects without lead ropes. Notoriously difficult loaders nonchalantly entering floats. This was truly impressive. One horse had taken four people and five hours to load it the previous day. Monty had it trotting, yes trotting, into the float of its own accord within fifteen minutes. More importantly, its young owner then replicated this success.

Me and Monty RobertsAnd Monty Roberts, at eighty years old, did all of his own horse-handling. I’d expected him to delegate much of the teaching. He was most generous with his time, answering questions and giving me some wonderful advice on a training issue I’m having with one of my mares. I’m convinced! He seems to be on an urgent mission to make the world a better place for both humans and horses. That is a wonderful thing!

Monty roberts 5‘For centuries, humans have said to horses, ‘You do what I tell you or I’ll hurt you.’ Humans still say that to each other — still threaten, force and intimidate. I’m convinced that my discoveries with horses have value in the workplace, in the educational and penal systems, and in the raising of children. At heart, I’m saying that no one else has the right to say ‘you must’ to an animal — or to another human.’ Monty Roberts

BB14

 

Sunday Sermon

Sunday Sermon 1I’m not religiously inclined, not at all, which is probably a bit of a disappointment for my brother Rod, who is the Uniting Church minister for beautiful Phillip Island in Victoria. He has his own manse and everything, with a pretty church right in the backyard. He is also an aspiring author of young adult fantasy. I may be no church-goer, but I’m a great admirer of witty and/or unusual perspectives on ordinary things. So when Rod told me about a recent sermon he gave, (yes he actually gave this sermon!) I just had to share part of it. What writer could resist this editorial take on an excerpt from the Gospel of Mark! 🙂

Mark 1:9-15 ‘In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness for forty days, and he was tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God …’

“In fewer than 150 words Mark covers Jesus baptism, the temptations and the beginning of his ministry.  The baptism gets the most coverage, about 65 words – telling us about the descent of the Spirit.

I can imagine what Mark’s editor would have said.

‘Now Mark, it is important to jump into the action, especially with a fast-moving narrative like yours, but really, you have to bring your readers with you. Show not tell – not even much telling here. You’ve done all right with John – camel’s hair, wild locusts – that’s good, we get a sense of someone unique, fanatical even, calling for change – you could do more, still, it’s ok. But with Jesus, your main character – ‘In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan.’ I mean, really. It’s lame.

What was he doing in Nazareth?  Why did he go to John – I mean if he was as special is you imply in the rest of the story?   Take us into the event – we have to be there. Was it hot? Were there crowds? Was the water muddy? What about a conversation, with someone in the crowd, or John?  And that voice and vision – it gives a whole new meaning to ‘omniscient narrator’. Who heard it, who saw it?  Describe the reaction of the crowd: amazement, fear. Bit of work there I think.

Now, the next part.  Wilderness is good.  From the deserts the prophets come.  Grounding himself in God, people will get that. But, honestly, forty days blah, blah, blah – ‘and he was tempted by Satan.’  And he was tempted by Satan!  My God, is that all you can say.  Ultimate battle between good and evil – that’s what you’re writing about– ‘and he was tempted by Satan’. How was he tempted?  What was it like for him?  Did he nearly give in?  That’s good, he almost fails – try that.  We have to be there, we have to feel for ourselves what he was going through, the struggle, the turmoil.  Lot of work there, but done right it could set up the whole story.  Oh and get rid of the angels – we could all vanquish Satan if we had angels. The next bit, again it’s good that you don’t hit the reader over the head by explaining every little detail but perhaps a bit more wouldn’t hurt.  I know you’re concerned about the word count.  Honestly there’s nothing to worry about. Anyway have a think about what I’m suggesting.  I’ll see you again in a couple of weeks … Ah, Matthew, come in.’ ”

Thanks Rod.  ‘ … and get rid of the angels.’ I love it!  

BB14