KSP's long-running Past Tense Social History Group is launching its fourth anthology, 'Truth or Lies', on Saturday 11 June 2016 at the Centre from 11.30am. All are welcome to attend for a great hour of readings, refreshments and mingling. In this article, I have a chat with group member Christine Driver about the anthology and her association with the KSP Writers' Centre.
For a bite-sized sample of the anthology, Christine's submission, Under the Lid, is republished at the end of this article.
Why and when did you join KSP?
I have always been interested in the writing process and was involved in a research study into children’s writing when teaching. After I retired it was time to explore for myself and when we moved house 7 years ago I found Katharine’s dark-timbered cottage, 5km up the road and around the corner. It’s a flourishing place for shedding light on all aspects of writing, a community of learners and facilitators who love literature and the dance of words. My people.
Has KSP helped you as a writer?
The structure of dedicated groups, genres, facilitated workshops and informal association with writers-in-residence gives me the chance to try out many styles and to explore in depth the connotation of words that come through my writing. Hearing writers read and promote their work is illuminating and encouraging. The chance to have fun and laugh and cry over attempts to put words on a page in a safe place is invaluable.
What do you enjoy most about belonging to the Past Tense group?
It’s a treat to watch our facilitator, Mardi May, manage the flood of shared experiences that explode when we arrive, mostly early, early for the monthly sessions. She has to rein in the talk in order for the writing to have its turn. When we begin, the written story is ‘queen’. We are encouraged to ask for specific feedback according to our needs as authors and then we can depend on attention from listeners alert for meaning. There’s plenty of editorial help when we are ready but the feedback on content only, is invaluable in early drafts. Past Tense is a large group which allows for writers to come and go as their lives change focus. Members regularly replenish their continuing ‘Life” stories and social histories and then return to use writing as a means of contemplating the experience with growing detachment. The spiral from individual to universal truths of life can be discussed and then practised to develop the richness and depth of each person’s writing. I enjoy wrestling with the ‘homework prompts’ and the shaping of contributions to anthologies. My anthology piece Under the Lid was a response to one of the former. I also appreciate the wealth of discourse from authors in related genres brought to our attention by Mardi.
Why is the 2016 Past Tense anthology called Truth or Lies?
It’s hard to estimate how much we are a product of our times and families. Some of us need a long lens to look into our past and it’s hard to see through the blur and distortion of memory. We stumble across something we ‘know’ to be true and it turns out to be a family secret. A newspaper report of the time offers a different view of a ‘fact’ we’ve owned for years. ‘Cover-ups’ are revealed amongst the papers of the generations. What is true? Is the not-true a lie? Whichever it is, writing about it will help us find out. “Art is the lie that enables us to realise the truth”. Pablo Picasso.
The Past Tense group meets every second Saturday of the month from 10am-12pm.
UNDER THE LID
On the label in gold writing, the enticing words – ‘an assortment of milk and plain chocolates, 1.65lb (26.45oz) Made in Switzerland’. I stroke the creamy indented surface, feeling the texture of thick matt-finished paper covering the once-white box. Embossed gold imitation parcel string markings, complete with gold seal, hint at luxury within. Once, the saliva inducing aroma of well-tempered chocolate would have arisen with the lifting of the lid. Not today. Instead, the musty smell of old papers fills my nose.
I’m looking for any yellowing photos of our time in Whyalla amongst the letters and keepsakes. We lived there for five years during the late sixties and we want to restore some of the photos from that time. My husband was working long hours in business and I had plenty of evenings to pursue my interests. Across the road from our house the local high school offered a wide range of evening classes including gem-cutting and polishing. I want to write about some of my experiences and hope a photo or two will inspire me. Ah, what’s that? A dark red velveteen bag with gold drawstrings of twisted embroidery thread is tucked under the papers. Something my husband brought back for me from a business trip.
I open it. A small piece of blue rock falls into my palm. Sunlight catches tiny sparkles of pyrites. Not too many, I’m pleased to see. If there were more, then this specimen of lapis lazuli would be of inferior quality. Its blueness grades from medium to dark, so I can imagine it may have come from the far West Hindu-Kush Mountains in Afghanistan where the finest lapis has been mined for six thousand years. Although it’s a rock and not a mineral, lapis lazuli has been used to fashion gemstones since antiquity. My interest is in another of its qualities. When ground into dust and suspended in water with a little gum-arabic, a pigment of exquisite blue colour becomes available to the painter. For centuries artists used lapis lazuli to colour Mother Mary’s robe in paintings; for King Tutankhamun’s eyebrows on his death mask; and for colouring the deep azure skies in scenes of courtly life in illuminated manuscripts.
The ‘blue stone’, named from the Persian lazarward (blue) and the Latin lapis (stone) came to me from a gemstone shop in a Sydney mall. When Peter first gave it to me I said, “How exquisite, and how much bluer it will be when we grind it down to make some paint.”
“Might be nice to keep it for a while as it is,” choosing his words.
I found the box containing the lapis lazuli specimen, still intact, in our library of books relating to the fifty years of changing hobbies and pursuits I’ve followed. I’m disappointed now, I didn’t use a little of it to try making pigment. Squeezing ultramarine blue out of a watercolour tube isn’t half as exciting as what might have been. What I had been looking for were photos relating to our stay in Whyalla, South Australia. There, in the late 1960’s I had belonged to a lapidary club for a while and learned to cut and polish gemstones, including opal. One weekend we had gone on a field trip to a pink salt lake to collect gypsum crystals. My husband has uncovered these in the shed recently and we’ve been recalling the experience. The photos must be somewhere.
© Christine Driver 2016