Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Melissa Harrison

Melissa Harrison | 15th December 2014

Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings where Caught by the River’s ever-reliable contributors and friends old and new take a look back on the events that have shaped the past twelve months. Today it’s the turn of Melissa Harrison:

DSC_7364Photo: Brian David Stevens

There are different ways of moving through time, different rhythms and pulses that push us forward: the changing seasons, the ebb and flow of school terms and holidays, the circling weeks and months, the slower beat of year following year. And then there are the rhythms that are particular to each of us, the things we set in motion and work on and finally conclude, and that give a shape, a narrative drive to our lives. I’m thinking of work assignments, hobbies, ways of being inside time. For me, now, writing is the main thing that does that: what I happen to be creating gives a shape to my year.

And this year seems to have got away from me, it slipped past while I wasn’t looking. I lost it somewhere in the spaces between one event and the next, between preparing for things and recovering from them: readings, festivals, walking holidays, visits to my dad. I feel as though I’ve pin-balled through 2014: quite a lot of momentum but little of it my own. What I find I crave now, in November, is stillness, emptiness, a line drawn under the year. What I want is a moment to breathe, and then to start walking forward again under my own steam.

It’s an illusion, of course: I know that. The last twelve months haven’t really any less self-directed than usual. I accepted invitations, and turned some down; I worked and wrote. There were busy weekends, at Wells Literary Festival and Gladstone’s Library, and at Port Eliot and Branchage with Caught by the River; there were lazy weekends at home with nothing to do, too. But the difference is this: for the first year since 2008, I wasn’t writing a novel. I spent a lot of time editing and proofreading one (At Hawthorn Time, out next year); I wrote non-fiction (Rain, for Little Toller) and I turned in journalism, and reviews. But the sense of being inside something with its own narrative energy, its own drive and shape and force, was lacking for me in 2014 – and as a consequence the year has felt bitty and strange.

Looking back, I’m surprised by the degree to which I’ve come to rely on writing as a way of navigating life. Something that once felt so effortful has now become a structure I depend on, like scaffolding, or satellite navigation, or the stars. As an author I’ve moved forward this year, sure, but haltingly, crabwise, and not into a new novel. In the periods when I haven’t been at my day job, or working on bits and pieces of writing, I haven’t had anywhere to escape to.

So now, as we start to hurtle towards the end of 2014, I want somehow to carve out a little space so something new can enter. I need to get a sense of whatever’s next so I can feel its weather and come to know its shape. Eventually it will develop a momentum of its own – and so will the year to come. This time next year I’ll know what it is – and I’ll be writing my Shadows & Reflections piece from the inside of my third novel, looking out.

I can’t wait.