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Following in the Foot Steps…

November 8, 2010

… of Paul yesterday I intend to post up the opening of my novel-in-progress “The Lichtenberg Trust.”  But before I do, I had an odd encounter Friday, which I’d like to share.

Friday my writing stopped. Any other time it wouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s not what you want to happen mid-word target on day five of NaNo.

You might think it had something to do with the raging argument on the way to school with my six year old son, shattering the calm and peace of my morning. You might think it had to do with the usual surroundings in Border’s café – being seated at a pedestal table (think small, tall, round table found in bars) and the ridiculously high stool. You might think it even had to do with the very loud child who came to play in the kids’ area directly behind my highrise writing area. But it wasn’t. You might think it had something to do with the fact I decided to abandon the loud child and stupid table in Borders for the quiet of a massage and reflexology. But you would be wrong again.

I stopped writing because I needed a vital piece of research… but not any old research. No this wasn’t the name of an 1850’s clipper making the crossing between London and Melbourne in record time, or the Chinese colloquial term for ‘my friend.’ It wasn’t even a map (circa 1852) of the town my story is set in. All these things I haved dodged with some creative finesse (promising to build all this essential kind of detail in during the second draft rewrite)

No this research had to do with the i Ching… an ancient form of divination and wisdom, the bedrock of Chinese culture. I knew when I sat down to write the scene Friday morning, with the feeling of anger and frustrating ebbing from the earlier argument and the weird sense of vertigo from my far too high coffee chair settling that there would be a moment later in the scene when Henri, my Chinese character would bring out his i Ching, to cast a prediction for my main character, Ryan.

So. No big deal right. I could wing it.


It turns out the characters actually wanted me to cast a prediction… that is, to get the three coins and throw them six times, work out which hexagram the throws related to and the wisdom in. I did contemplate going through the i Ching book I bought to find an appropriate prediction, a cracker piece of wisdom.. but it just felt wrong.

I’ve learnt to trust the voices in my head, the feelings the characters bestow on me, the secrets murmured and the odd requests – both as a writer and an editor. Perhaps I’m easily lead astray, perhaps I’m just a little mad or perhaps I’m willing to go the extra mile for my characters in the hope they’ll return the favour at some stage. Whatever… it was definitely an interesting experience Friday night sitting with the coins, a pencil, note pad and the trusty “Book of Change” to see what Ryan had in his future. Especially when I explained to my partner Dave, that “Henri and Ryan made me do it!”

I won’t spoil  it by telling you what Ryan asked or what he was told (it will be posted up on my blog in the next couple of days)… but it was dead on the money. Not exactly the earth shattering “oh wow” moment I’d hoped for… but it was so in line with the progression of the narrative, that I had to keep it. There will be more throwing of the coins no doubt during the rest of the month… and we’ll see then, just what comes up.

So you really want to know what the prediction was… all I’m saying, where there’s clouds and thunder (which hexagram #3 ‘sprouting’ is also a symbol of), there is…

Now to the opening scene.

Electricity discharges in a tree-like pattern when lightning strikes. When it hits the ground it has greater beauty and intricacy than anything seen in the heavens above. Even in the wilds of nature, in the unpredictability of an electrical storm there is system and reason.

The first time the lightning tattoo spread across my milky skin I plied my craft as a simple coffin maker who having lost his first and only love begged God to let him die. The ragged scream forcing its way out of my smoke burnt throat was echoed by the storm. My savage plea reverberating overhead in the peels of thunderstorm, lightning clawing beneath the belly of the black clouds like the cold fingers of betrayal squeezing the last of the love from my heart, the hot tears countering the large, cold drops of rain.

I should have been dead. No one survives a positively charged strike but I regained consciousness later, naked and disorientated amid the mud and refuse of the Lambing Flats goldfield. The claret-coloured dendritic limbs of lightning radiating across my chest in ever diminishing size.

Like a bolt from the blue Ryan Anderson, as the world knew me in 1855 ceased to exist and I became an anomaly – dead man walking, a man out of time, luck and love in 1856. In time I consoled myself with the knowledge of Georg Lichtenberg and his Lichtenberg figures… if there was method to the behaviour of lightning, then there was hope for me and my strange time travelling.

So tell me, what odd things happen to you this week on your way to your daily word targets?

Image via Give Attention to Reading.

Jodi Cleghorn’s father suggested in 1985 she write a story about a person who time travels when hit by lightning. Funny how some stories just never leave you. You can find more of Jodi’s musings, including daily updates of ‘The Lichtenberg Trust’ at Writing in Black and White or by following Twitter.

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