Today’s guest is writer of young adult fiction, Simmone Howell. Simmone's most recent work is Everything Beautiful, and she is now writing her third novel.
I told Damon I would write about STUFF. “Stuff is my writer’s tool,” I said confidently. (Actually, I didn’t say it. I put it in an email. But I did do it confidently. I remember that feeling even now as I wonder where it’s gone.)
Post-Xmas I feel foolish. I’ve lost a week of writing time and gained a blow-up Clark Rubber lilo and, probably, kilos. When I first thought stuff I was clammy with the mythic power of random objects. I was going to write about how stuff has history and presence and how oftentimes it is the very flint that sparks the story. But I’m tired, and my house is too small. The chances of me ever reading that Ayn Rand book I bought from Bentleigh market (because we really didn’t have enough stuff to take home what with the lilo and the kilos and the stickball and the pram and the badminton racquets and the tofu that’s cheaper in Melbourne) are really very small.
I went to a garage sale. I am always going to garage sales. I don’t get embarrassed like my husband does. I even make small talk. At this particular garage sale I bought a book called How to Create a Peaceful Haven in Your Home. The introduction says: 'A cluttered room means a cluttered psyche.' I have a cluttered psyche. The book looks unread. It’s previous owner doubtless has a cluttered psyche too. My argument for stuff is that this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. What if the best writing emerges from the clutter? I have a book of photographs of Francis Bacon’s studio. The place looks like hell. It’s so messy. Cadmium red and carcasses. This makes me wonder what someone like, say self-help guru Tony Robbins’ studio would look like. I bet he’s really neat. I bet he’s like that guy who lost all that weight because he hypnotised himself into thinking that sugar was ground glass and chocolate was poo.
When I do writing workshops (mayhem!) I talk about how as a writer you need to have both sides of your brain working together – Dyonisius and Apollo or Amy Winehouse and Amy Grant - the calm and the crazy must hold hands to get the work done. Even if it’s just for a minute and afterwards they’re wiping off, going “Ewww!”
The shadow box: allow me to walk you through it. Some of it means something. The buddha was given to me by a guy whose wife wished me dead. The babooshka came from the op-shop. The cowri shell, I don’t know. But I like cowri shells. I like how they have teeth. The pig is from the op-shop. It has that ugly-cute quality that I like to give a main character. My son’s passport picture – he was seven months and I had to lie him down on the shop floor. I think the hippo is his. The voodoo doll I got with the babooshka. (There’s another one in the collection called No Face. He has balance issues and falls easily and so must live elsewhere.) The squirrel came from England. The wedding couple came from our wedding cake. We had a garter hanging around for a while but it didn’t age so well. The photo is of my grandmother. My Dad gave it to me because he thought I looked like her. I showed it to a friend and she said, “Nice Frame”. (Which reminds me of a certain episode of The Brady Bunch: Jan finds a photo of an aunt she’s never met. She looks just like her! Jan gets excited and arranges to meet said aunt but when they do meet Jan is disappointed because her aunt is kooky and ugly. But Jan’s aunt is an Adventurer - she’s swashbuckled pirates and dined with gorillas - and the moral of the story is that adventures beat beauty.) Big Ears is useless. I put a boiled egg in him once and it fell out immediately. The bottom row is hazy – if you were to come to my house and pocket any of these creatures I wouldn’t notice. Except perhaps now.
For a while I lived in England. I tried to write a novel, and I failed. “It’s because I don’t have my stuff around me! How can I write when I don’t even know who I am? How can I know who I am without my Ace paperbacks and art deco picture postcards and that red silk scarf with the kangaroo that’s followed me through seven houses?” Possibly, Damon knows the answer to this question because he is a philosopher.