September light and colour in Manchester is such an evocative time machine. The chilly edge to the air, the plum, red, orange, yellow and gold in amongst the green leaves; the pearly quality of the sky all transport me.
To 2009 when I arrived as an uprooted Australian to start my creative writing MA.
To 2015 when I was in the thick of my first draft.
To last year, when I was working with my agents to get my manuscript ready for submission to publishers.
This cafe has always been one of my daydreaming hotspots. Time after time I'd pass this window on my way inside to order mint tea, put my headphones in and face the page alone. To turn that vapid blinking cursor into something. To make sentences that hadn't existed the day before. Because that's all my first draft had to do: exist. Making it any good came later. I took such heart from that. We can't edit blank pages.
Maybe you've got a dream on the stove, simmering. Maybe you've had a dream die down to embers. Maybe you feel like you don't know if it's worth the risk of being vulnerable, of trying and maybe failing, of standing up for your own heart. The tricky part is we're the only ones who can do that for ourselves. We're the only ones who can make space for the dreamer deep inside, who can clear a seat and say, you can sit here. And this, at least in my case, seems to be a lesson never learned, or, rather, one that has to be learned repeatedly. But would we want life any other way? In mindful self compassion practice, embracing contrast is key to accepting our humanness. We can't know joy without pain, we can't know full-bellied satisfaction without hunger, or warmth without cold, or creative fulfilment without the blank page. It's something constantly on my mind as *whispers* there are stirrings that feel something like The New Thing.
We change, we dream. We start by turning nothing into something.
Happy Sunday, wildflowers.
I’ve been asked a few times recently about Fear while I was writing Lost Flowers. Did I feel it? Was I afraid to write a novel?
Ummm, YES. Writing is what I’ve wanted to do with my life since I was 2 years old and understood what an author was; in 2014, when I was a few months shy of turning 34 and started handwriting the novel, Fear was a buffet in my life and I felt unable to stop more and more piling on my plate.
How did I write then, when I was sick and stuffed with Fear?
Part of the answer is that I drew on past experience and process: I instinctively understood that I was THE ONLY ONE who could defend the remaining space in me I knew was not sick with Fear. I chose to believe in that space. Quietly, but vehemently. I consumed books about writing + fear, shame, anxiety, panic, trauma and the emotional sickness they cause. I learned that Fear doesn’t discriminate; I wasn’t alone. (AREN’T BOOKS AMAZING?!) I set my intentions to nurture my imagination, which had been trampled by my inner critic who was ADEPT at keeping it, and me, small. I acknowledged that I'd reached the point where staying stunted by Fear was more unbearable than taking a leap of blind faith and fucking going for it. I didn’t want to live to my death wondering who I might have been if I’d treated Fear as the vapour it is and found the courage to just TRY.
A wondrous thing: no matter how long it’s been since we’ve engaged in creativity, our imaginations wait for us, like a loyal dog with her lead, for the moment when we’ll turn and see them, really see them, and whisper, wanna go for a W-A-L-K? It’s not about an Olympic effort. It’s about getting out there; feeling the air on our skin, the blood in our veins, the freedom to roam and explore, giving ourselves a fucking chance, to wonder and dream and roam in our imaginations, the incredible gift we’re all born with.
I know how vile an ogre Fear is. If I could side-step it, so can you, wildflowers. Here's to courage, first one step. Then another. Step. By step. By step. Ad infinitum.
"I am most at home in the bush, or when I can see the fluid, moon bark of a eucalyptus tree from a window, or smell the hot powder of winter wattle on my way home." - Daisy Beattie
Recently, we were walking through my favourite public garden in Manchester, which belongs to the home of Fletcher Moss, a writer who left his estate to the people of the city. I come here most often when I'm craving Mum's native garden or the Australian bush except, of course, my need is never satiated even though English trees and flowers are evocative and gorgeous.
You can imagine my reaction when, as we strolled through the gardens recently, I FOUND A GUM TREE.
There may have been squawking. Honking. Throwing my grateful heart at this cider gum was the only sane reaction. I confess I sniffed its trunk and leaves with abandon.
Plant love notes: Cider gums (eucalyptus gunnii) are Tasmanian natives and tolerate cold temperatures. They produce a sweet sap similar to maple syrup, which Indigenous Australians traditionally tapped the tree trunks to collect. When bottled and capped, the liquid ferments and resembles apple cider, hence the English name.
"...and when all the wars are over, a butterfly will still be beautiful." — Ruskin Bond, Scenes from a Writer's Life.
Letting moments linger as I begin to pack relics from Alice's world away; these monarchs were tactile research for automotive decal designs, tattoos, and Mexican folklore. The power and gift of imagination never fails to leave me a bit speechless.
There's a box in my office slowly filling, labelled Lost Flowers. Already it has the feeling of being a capsule Future Me will use to time travel.
"All glory comes from daring to begin." — Ruskin Bond, Scenes from a Writer's Life.
Monday. May we have the awareness to dare and the courage to begin. And begin. And begin.
This month marks my 8th year in England, my infinity-symbol anniversary, which feels about right; Manchester will always run through my Australian heart now.
To squeeze every drop of gratitude I’ve got for my northern life, I’ve set my intentions to make September a mindful celebration. And to kick it off, like the fairy godmother who appears at the perfect time, Paul-bloody-Kelly came to Manchester last week, touring his new album, Life Is Fine. I’d read him say: “At first I worried about Life Is Fine as a title because life is not fine for everyone. But I like the original meaning of fine, as in life is a fine thread. We never know what is going to happen the very next minute, or what is just around the corner.’’
Before we got to the gig, I was a picture of calm.*
I didn’t drink my pre-show-wine too fast, or tear up constantly through dinner sharing Paul Kelly song stories with Sam.**
And, when PK later walked out and greeted us by reciting lines from Tony Walsh’s This is the Place, tying my two worlds together with his warming, familiar timbre and magical storytelling, I was UTTERLY stoic.***
"And this is the place where a Manchester girl named Emmeline Pankhurst from the streets of Moss Side led a suffragette city with sisterhood pride..."
I was ready as I could be to hear live for the first time a voice I’ve heard all of my life, like so many Australians. What I wasn’t expecting was seeing Vika and Linda perform too, feeling their emotionally-charged, familiar voices also fill the room, our lungs, and hearts. What POWERHOUSE women. There’s no sound like songs from home.
Those who know my story know I came to Manchester alone, knowing no one, with a couple of bags, a wine box of books and the lifelong dream of writing my own burning in my belly. It’s extraordinary to conjure 2009 Me and look at 2017 Me through her eyes. 2009 Me is a bit mute with disbelief, awe, and pride; on her shoulders I humbly stand. Without her determination, nor this city, beloved Manchester, and all its gritty, beautiful gifts, I wouldn't be where or who I am.
And so, the celebration begins. Because life, as PK sings, is fine.
* I was not.
** I did.
*** Utter rubbish.
Yesterday, Sam and I hid away from a chilly, drizzly afternoon in the countryside with the beautiful, warming Kate Forsyth. We devoured hours talking fairytales, courage, and flowers.
Every English summer since 2014 when Kate and I met in London, we’ve managed to meet again somewhere on this tiny island, together away from our big island home. In 2015, I was lucky enough to have a sponsored place on Kate’s extraordinary week-long History, Mystery & Magic writing retreat in Oxford and the Cotswolds, where I found time, space, and the flint I needed to spark Alice fully to life. In 2016, we reunited at Manchester Art Gallery, gazed at pre-Raphaelite paintings together, and Kate gave me a box of Frida’s prints for my birthday, which I later plastered all over my office walls. Often while I was writing, Frida (and Kate’s spirit) would stare me down, crack me open a little bit more, ask me to dig a little bit deeper. What would Frida/Kate do?!
This year however, raising our glasses of prosecco together with Sam in company, was particularly special. “To Alice,” Kate beamed.
To women, who empower each other.
Refuse to fall down.
If you cannot refuse to fall down,
refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down,
lift your heart toward heaven,
and like a hungry beggar,
ask that it be filled.
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you from lifting your heart
It is in the middle of misery
that so much becomes clear.
The one who says nothing good
came of this,
is not yet listening.
— Clarissa Pinkola Estés, The Faithful Gardener: A Wise Tale About That Which Can Never Die
When you find a door made of an ivy veil, by a river, with every shade of green you've ever dreamed, you don't think twice, right?
You walk through. Open your arms in gratitude, despite the pains you carry, and you lift your heart. Because you don't give up. We don't give up.
It's Friday, wildflowers. Take excellent care of yourselves this weekend.
This week felt like the right time, finally, to clean up my Manchester office after the carnage of the last six months writing and editing.
I'll never grow out of keeping my mum's handwritten love letters. Ever since I left home in my early twenties, wherever I've lived in the world and no matter how tough a time Mum and I have had managing the distance between us, she's always sent me pressed lavender from her garden.
In the last couple of weeks I've had moments of bewilderment questioning where the story of my novel came from, how my characters seemingly 'found' me in singular moments of my everyday life. When I was buying milk, or tying up my shoelaces, or filling up the car, or washing the dishes, there they were, so vividly alive I was often disturbed by the fact that they weren't 'real'. I've heard other authors talk about this and it's not that I didn't believe them, it's just surreal to experience myself it for the first time. In other moments, it feels utterly clear where this book came from in me and how it found me: I have a mum, and a granny, who taught me to see a whole world in a single flower. To look for magic in the dirt.
It's a strange thing to feel that this circle in my life is turning, towards a time when the writing and editing will actually finish. There will be no more to be done. And Alice will soon go out into the world, separate to me, to live her own life and story with readers. The thought makes me dizzy.
Plans for today: call my mum. Write love letters. Cut lavender from my garden.
My parentals got hysterical over Book Week Parade at Mum's primary school this year. Reading is one of Mum's great passions as a teacher, but I still didn't quite get the extra level of excitement...
...until they texted me photos. With #TeamAlice captions.
Multiple heart meltdowns in England this morning. 😂❤️😭
HOLLY RINGLAND grew up barefoot and wild in her mother's tropical garden on the east coast of Australia. Her interest in cultures and stories was sparked by a two-year journey her family took in North America when she was nine years old, living in a camper van and travelling from one national park to another. In her twenties, Holly worked for four years in a remote Indigenous community in the central Australian desert. Moving to England in 2009, Holly obtained her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester. Her essays and short fiction have been published in various anthologies and literary journals. She now lives between the UK and Australia. To any question ever asked of Holly about growing up, writing has always been the answer.