Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Monday, July 25, 2011

Ar Hyd y Nos

At Heathrow, waiting to fly home - ar hyd y nos - all through the night.

It took me five hours to get Heathrow from Swansea, the towns shedding Welsh names and becoming more prosperous and less interesting, en-route. I sat listening to the girls opposite chattering in Welsh, all the while trying to dislodge a lump in my throat. Entering the subway to walk from the bus station to the airport, I passed the entrance to the underground. It's sign read, Piccadilly Line. The same station from which I caught the tube into London five weeks ago.

I fought a sudden mad desire to plunge back down into the earth and start over.

But no, I took a firm grip of my overstuffed-suitcase and turned into the subway.

Waiting for my flight, I find myself reflecting. What have I achieved? What has this trip meant to me?

First and foremost, it has been a recognition - of duality and loss - a search for the five year old girl who left these shores forty two years ago and had always meant to return. A recognition that I will ever be drawn back to this place of my beginning. Forever, in search of the part of me that never left. It is significant to have realized this.

Secondly, it has been a time of clarification. I have always wanted to learn Welsh, ever since mum pulled out a battered brown book of Welsh grammar and showed it to me. I finally put that desire into action about six years ago when I started learning Cymraeg at the Celtic Club in Melbourne. Going by my early ineptitude for languages (in school), I never expected to actually speak Welsh. I was content to simply learn.

But not anymore.

With the help of a fabulous online program called SaysomethinginWelsh,' I did a great deal of language preparation prior to this trip. As a consequence, I managed to speak a little Welsh in North Wales (I spoke a great deal more in my head, as I read signs and pored over my dictionary). This has crystalized my desire. I am no longer content to simply learn Welsh. I want to speak it. I hope to come back and do an intensive residential language program in a couple of years.

Finally, this trip has given me space - to walk, to think and to pray. I researched while in England and wrote while in North Wales and did a great deal of walking and sightseeing. But by far my most important re-discovery was of myself. After the terrible strain of the last few years, I needed to be reminded who I was. To walk by alone in high windy places, to see myself reflected in the habits of distant family, and to be welcomed by people I have long wanted to greet.

They have just made the final call for my flight. I must board the flight and travel home now - ar hyd y nos - all through the night. If you have ever heard that haunting melody, you will know exactly how I am feeling.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Yr un hen iaith

Gogledd Cymru
Lle o caeau gwrydd
 Mynyddau carreg
Blodau gwyllt
Nentydd llifio-cyflym
Pentrefi unig
Muriau llwyd-maen
Dyfroedd hudol
Adfeilion castell

South Wales

Place of green fields
Craggy mountains
Wild flowers
 Fast-flowing streams
Lonely villages
 Grey stone walls
Magic waters
 Castle ruins

Yr un pobl - same people
Yr un hanes balch - same proud history
Yr un hen iaith - same ancient language

Bron ar goll?
Dod yn ol? 

Mae'r wlad yn llefain amdani hi enaid
The land weeping for her soul

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fy wythnos yn Cymru

Fe wnes i dod i Gymru, dydd Sadwrn diwetha. Roedd y taith tren yn hyfryd. Fe welais i llawer o mynydd a y glan y môr hefyd.

I came to Wales last Saturday. The train journey was lovely. I saw many mountains and the seaside too.

Fe gyrraedd yn y bwthyn. Roedd hi 'n gwych. Fe wnes i troi o cwmpas i agor fy ngwarbac ond dw i ddim yn medru gweld o. Dw i wedi gadael yn rhywle.

I arrived at the cottage. It was wonderful. I turned around to open my back-pack but I couldn't see it. I had left it somewhere.

Bydda i'n stopio ysgriffenu yn Cymraeg rwan achos. Does gen i ddim y geirfa i disgrifio fy nheimlo. Ond roedd ofn iawn arna i.

I will stop writing in Welsh now because I don't have the words to describe my feelings. But there was a great fear on me. My computer was in the backpack. My journal and all my cables. My iPhone battery was getting very low. Soon, I wouldn't even have a phone.

I called the taxi. No he hadn't seen a backpack. That meant I had left it on the train. I called the Arriva help-line. They said my best bet was to try and meet the train on its way back. I called the taxi. We made a dash for the train. Fortunately, it was running late and the conductor had put it in his cabin for safe keeping.

After I had recovered ...

Fe es i y pub. Fe archebais i fy nghinio nos yn Cymraeg. Roeddwn i yn balch iawn.

I went to the pub. I ordered my dinner in Welsh. I was very proud.

Fe gerddais i i Cricieth y bore 'ma nesa. Fe brynais i rhyw bwyd a edrychais i o cwmpas. Wnes i ymweld a y castell, hefyd.

I walked to Criccieth the next morning. I bought some food and had a look around. I visited the castle too.

The next few days were spent writing. For some time now, I have suffered from a lack of confidence with my writing. Whenever I sit down to write a new scene, I feel sick with anxiety. I have some moments when it all comes easily. But often, it is a struggle. I wanted to face those thoughts and fears, while alone in my cottage.

By Thursday, I was wondering whether this may have been a mistake. But I persisted.

Yn prynhawn dydd Iau, fe wnes i cyfarfod fy ffrindiau newydd Aran a Catrin o SSIW. Fe gawson ni yn sgwrsio hir. Fe ddwedais i Aran sut roedd yn teimlo pan dw i'n ysgrifennu.

Thursday afternoon, I met my new friends from SSiW, Aran and Catrin.

I shared how I was going with my writing. Aran said he faced a similar struggle when writing his lessons.

Fe wnes i teimlo yn well dda, wedyn. Rywbryd mae rhaid i ni 'legitimise' ofnau arnon ni.

I felt much better after that. Sometimes, we must legitimize our fears.

Noswaith Iau, fe es i y pub. Fe welais i fy ffrindiau newydd Arwen. Fe wnes i ei chyfarfod hi ffriniaud. Fe siaradais i yn Cymraeg. Fe ddychwelyd adre yn hapus iawn.

Thursday evening, I went to the pub. I saw my new friend Awen. I met her friends. I spoke Welsh. I returned home very happy.

Dydd Gwener, fe godais i car o Llandudno. Fe gyrrais i adref trwy y mynydd. Roedd y hen wlad fy nhadau edrych yn brydferth iawn i fi.

On Friday, I picked up a car from Llandudno. I drove home through the mountains. The old land of my fathers looked very beautiful to me.

Dydd Sadwrn, fe gyrrais i Llangollen am y eisteddfod. Fe welais i dawnsio a canu a llawer o corau. Roedd o'n gwych. Wnaedd fy Nghfynither dweud: Bydda i'n edrych i ti ar y teledu. Dw i'n gobeithio ei bod hi neb wela i fi yn y teledu. Achos roeddwn i'n eistedd yn y rhes cefn yn grio.

Saturday, I drove to Llangollen for the eisteddfod. I saw dancing and singing and many choirs. It was wonderful. My cousin said: I will look for you on the TV. I hope that she didn't see me. Because I was sitting in the back row crying.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Goodbye London ... until next time

I have survived a week alone in London - and my first ever stay in a backpackers - and it was a backpackers: basic, staffed by the United Nations, and with a distinctly Dickensian feel.

My room was on the fifth floor, at the end of a lonely corridor where nobody could hear me scream. But the bed-linen was fresh and I had the luxury of a basin and tiny fridge. What more could I need? Actually three things, a pair of rubber thongs, a hanging dilly-bag and a Boroondara gym towel. Fortunately, I had them all - and a slick daily routine. 

I drank coffee from my portable plunger every morning, packed a picnic for each day, and charged my various electronic devices in the evening (or late at night - depending). I spent my days in museums, reading rooms, and on tours. I also saw the Beggar's Opera in Regent's Park and in between, I walked the streets of Covent Garden.

You see, last year, after my novel had been rejected and then assessed, I had to decide whether to move onto another project, or keep going. I also realized, that if I were to keep going I'd have to redraft my novel yet again. It felt like failure (though, this is quite normal I am learning), and I wasn't sure whether I could face another draft - indeed whether I'd have the heart to write ever again. Of course, the latter statement is foolish. I need to write for my sanity. But in the interim, I found myself unable to form the right words. I therefore turned to research.

I knew my main character came from Covent Garden - this was quite a down market area in 1841. I also knew I had to come up with a completely new beginning for my novel, and this involved knowing what Covent Garden looked like in 1841. I needed to explore my character's backstory (or maybe I just like research) to find out where my she lived, worked, and went to school. Very little of this will actually be in the finished novel. But I needed to know it, in order to decide where to begin (at least, that's what I tell myself).

There are no exact maps of Covent Garden in 1841 (at least not that I found). Only maps about twenty years either side of this date - in between there were multiple changes to street names, layout and buildings. I read everything I could find at SLV. Trawled British History on line. Wrote pages of notes. Made mud maps of possible changes - and it worked. I am thrilled to say - I could see my Covent Garden of 1841, though it has changed markedly. I  heard my characters speak. On my last evening in the Piazza, I came across a set of market rules that put some final niggling questions to rest. It was so very hard to leave, that night - like returning from Narnia or stepping out of a time machine. But I had a train to catch in the morning.

My main character's father has always been a musician (but I wasn't sure what type). In this draft his employment needed to be specified - he has therefore become a theatre musician. To this end, I have read books on Victorian Theatre and, more specifically, theatre musicians. In the V&A reading rooms, I encountered the names of actors, as if they were old friends. It was kind of electrifying. I wanted to turn round and shout it out - look, Macready! Bunn! Kean! They are real people! 

But the librarian held a finger to her lips.

The other aspect of my novel's new beginning is life in a Deptford emigrant depot, followed by a journey down river to the sea. I decided to take a Thames river cruise from Gravesend. The Thames is an amazing river, tidal and ever-changing. The commentary of the waterman was both droll and informative. I found the Upper Watergate from where my migrants would have boarded wherries in order to be rowed out to their ships. I also visited Lewisham library and with the help of the Local History librarian, added some important details to their route through Deptford. Friends in Essex had warned me against visiting Deptford, but the librarian said it would be fine as long as I didn't wander round the housing estates after dark. As his warning was made just on dusk, it had to be a quick visit. But I got a sense of distance and space, felt the thrill of walking where my characters might have walked - almost forgetting, in my excitement, that they are not real. :-)

My other aim during my two weeks in England was to get an impression of WW2 London and the East End. My dad lived in Ilford during this time - hence my time in Ilford Library. In London, I visited Churchill's Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, as well as a WW2 theme museum that gave a sense of the sounds, enclosed spaces, and smells of this brave chapter in Britain's history. I want to write a story based on his experiences. 

I am almost ready to begin.

Now, I am in Wales and the adventure of trying to speak Welsh has begun. I hope to put on the page all that I have learned in London and Essex and, of course. Hopefully, it will make my story better - more tactile. Maybe, it will make the finished product more publishable. It has certainly made the process more enjoyable - which is by far the most important thing. For there are no guarantees in this writing game. The journey is everything.

PS. I had some nice photos to add - but Vodaphone is not coping with all the mountains. :-)