Archive for the ‘Refreshing the Wells’ Category

P.S. Cottier is a marvellous poet. Funny, run through deep with horror at times, she has a way of capturing character in story, and of making me laugh out loud. I published her poem The Fruit of Her Hands in the issue of Midnight Echo I guest edited.

You can find more of her work here, and you should.


“When my writing well has been poisoned by evil naiads, I follow the following detox program:


  1. Stick to routine as much as possible.  Sit down and stare at the computer.  Torment editors about work sent out ages ago. Write lists of recent publications. Browse a dictionary.
  2. Read other poets, and even prose writers. A word or phrase may trigger something. If nothing else, you may be pleased to find a particularly bad poem by a very well known person and think Well at least I write better than that!  It’s like hugging a big smelly teddy bear called Schadenfreude.
  3. Go to the gym. The theatre of grunt removes unnecessary thought, leaving space for new thoughts to breed like massive, rippling cane toads.
  4. Enter a competition, particularly one with a theme. Even better if the theme is outside your usual area of exploration.  Do you invariably write haiku about water, frogs and loss?  Try a competition about climate change.  (True, that might involve water, frogs and loss…)
  5. Dabble in other art forms. After producing your fiftieth hideous pinch-pot, poetry will seem like a blessed relief.
  6. (This number sick is definitely not endorsed by the AMA.) Get totally drunk, until you begin to feel like you have jet lag.  The feeling of disassociation can produce some nice new perspectives.  Some people travel for the same reason, but I find that Planet Vodka requires no visas.
  7. Murder a naiad by drowning her in her own poisoned well, while reciting an original nursery rhyme. A dunking motion is the best, I find.


There I stand, looking at my own reflection, totally cured with a nice fresh well. Please fell free to adopt my seven step programme, should it appeal.”


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Reading anything from Anna Tambour (her World-Fantasy award shortlisted novel Crandolin and her stunning short story collection The Finest Ass in The Universe to name just two) you are tranported to another world. She has a touch of pure magic with words, as you’ll see when you read how she refreshes her well.


“There is an unmentionable well—neither deep and therefore talked of with awe as for a sage (though the depths might be full of rubbish) nor shallow and beauteous as a mirrored cloud-frothed sky (or brainless butterfly).

This well is middling.

But being isn’t everything in this law-filled universe. Ever since the Law of Threes was passed, location location location trumps more than most. Even middling’s lack of notoriety.

And so this middling well, being just up a bit and to the left of the mouth of the face of Earth, has been getting more and more noticeable to that planet who is faced, nowadays, with an unavoidable, bewildering array of reflections leering back from skies that were undeveloped as Cretacean airwaves only too short a time ago, Earthtime, to warrant ago.

You would know the feeling Earth feels if, in place of your eyelids, there descends a ‘funfair’ hall of distorting mirrors—that you never escape.

Earth, distraught, could not only see a plethora of goggle eyes, but myriad noses—peaked, sloped, caved, ridged and double-humped.

And as to skin . . . Skin! The smooth places are either dry as dust or shiny and slick. The rough—crags, canyons, crevasses: a great lined -scape.

Nothing bothered Earth as much, however, as the open pore beside the mouth Earth thought “distinguished and still mobile enough to be regarded as attractive” in the firmament of planets Earth would have wished heartily to disregard the judgments of, if only Earth knew who to wish to.

So this perfectly located-to-bother pore (our middling well) has just been filled with a “Miracle Moisturizing Camouflage” Earth saw on the air, in what Earth thought: a News report (for Earth is old old old; and being so, so so sooo naive).

Still, the well has now been filled.

And so now, in the nowest sense of now, in the myriad reflections:—Earth notices, and omg! sees with a myriad eyes wide-opened as if for the very first time, two myriad eyebrows desperately needing reshape.”

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Karen Viggers is a vet and a writer. I haven’t taken my cats to her, but from what I hear, she’s equally as good in both jobs! Her novel The Lightkeeper’s Wife recently sold a bucketload in France (I’m talking over 100,000) so they’re clever readers over there! Here she talks about refreshing her wells in a gloriously evocative way:


“Two ingredients are needed for refreshing my wells: being outside and being alone. Even better if I can do both together. I need space and time to expand my mind and allow ideas to rise. With two teenage children, life is hectic, so opportunities are rare. Either I snatch space during the day, walking the dog in the local bush land. Or I wait until holidays when the usual daily demands fall away. Then I can park the family taxi, defer the cleaning, shelve the cooking, and take time out with my favourite companions: a notebook and pen.

The best places for me have big skies and horizons, and they’re high in the mountains or down near the sea. In alpine areas, I like to be above the tree-line, where wind moans around rocks and water trickles down gullies. I sit and listen to the air moving, smell the sweet scent of grass, gaze into distance and watch the changing light: shadows shifting over the land, clouds scudding, the silvery waters of streams reflecting the sky. Peace settles. I feel myself breathing, the warmth of happiness, and then a great openness awakens inside me. This is where my wells are refreshed and ideas are born.

The sea generates similar sensations for me: different but the same. I seek out a nook along the shore and some solitude, and there I sit, feeling the rhythm of waves, the thump and swish of dumpers on sand. I watch birds doing what they do. Oystercatchers poking out molluscs in rock pools. Cormorants poised on sea-stacks, airing their wings. Far out, a fishing gannet plummeting into the swell. A sea-eagle sailing over, wings spread wide, riding on the wind. These things cleanse me.

My stories come from Australian landscapes, so it’s not surprising that I find inspiration outdoors. Inside the house, it’s too easy to be distracted; all around I see tasks that need doing, whereas outside, I can breathe.

At home I walk with the dog. It works when I’m stuck, when something’s not working. Instead of beating my head against the keyboard, it’s better to run away. Up in the tangy woodland, the knots of frustration fall away and I see a way through, how to fix things.

Writing comes from deep within, so those creative wells do need replenishing. Sometimes, as writers, we work ourselves dry and run out of energy. We give everything to find the right words, to massage the plot, to create the right feeling. We peel ourselves back to fit into the skins of our characters and empathise with their pain: possibly a type of schizophrenia? Then we have to ground ourselves again. To carry on with normal life, when we are not really normal. Is anyone?”

I don’t think I need to post this picture of Karen in the wild, because she’s described it so well, but it’s too lovely not to share!


KV in the mountains


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Lee Murray and I share a TOC in The Refuge Collection, a fascinating shared-world anthology. Lee won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for her story! Here’s her wonderful take on Refreshing the Wells:

“For a long time, years really, if the well were empty, I would put on my trainers, double knot my laces and go for long run. There is something marvellously refreshing about running: breathing new air, smelling the ozone, taking in the sky. When you’re running, if everything comes together, it’s almost spiritual. For me, inspiration would come on the back end of a long run, somewhere around 25km: I’d be in that zone where I’d simply be putting one foot in front of another, eating up the distance, and a solution would come to me. It would just be there. One minute I’d be listening to The Piano Man, and the next thing I knew whatever it was I needed would appear in my mind and I’d have no idea how it got there.

Science friends will tell you it’s linked to a runner’s high, a chemical reaction in the brain described by Henning Boecker and his alia, who traced radioactive markers bound to endorphins in runners, measuring its absorption in the brain via 3D radioactive tracing ‒ as opposed to killing and sampling the subjects’ brain tissue ‒ and finding it to be inversely proportion to subjects’ feelings of euphoria. Hardly a romantic explanation and, for my liking, too perfectly inverse to be related to anything as ephemeral and elusive as a creative muse.

Did I pluck the idea out of the air? Inhale it? Could it have been in the energy transferred in the cadence of my footfalls, the puff of a fern spore on my ankle as I passed, or infused in the rain that seeped through my thermal? On those occasions, I wouldn’t ask questions: I’d come home, rinse off, and write it up.

That was my old process.

For past year and a half, I’ve been too injured to run. Yes, I could still walk ‒ and I do occasionally ‒ but I’m an impatient little madam, and the opiates, the raindrops, the magic isn’t there. So how have I been refreshing the well in the year since my injury?

I’ve tried looking for it in a packet of chocolate biscuits, or two, or three. It wasn’t in any of those packets, but it might have been a problem with the brand, so I’ve opened several more, just to be sure. I used to be an endurance athlete after all. Perhaps the trick is that you have to wash your Toffee Pops down with coffee. Large volumes of it. Magnums of coffee. Jeroboams. Methuselahs! In which case, my caffeine intake, or lack thereof, could be the issue ‒ I have a maximum of two cups per day and always before lunch, unless I’m prepared to safety pin my eyes closed at bed time. But all the evidence suggests that writers can turn caffeine into text in a process akin to carbon fixation in legumes. Or maybe it was the Kreb’s cycle? Something to do with pyruvic acid? I can’t remember. In any case, it hasn’t worked for me yet, but there are still a few jean sizes remaining before I top out, so I haven’t yet given up on the coffee and chocolate theory.

Reading is good for refreshing the soul. It isn’t so good for refreshing the well, though. Actually, that isn’t entirely true, because to my mind there is definitely a reader’s high that comes from losing oneself in a fabulously good story. But I’m mistrustful of  ‘aha’ moments that I might have while reading a book in case it is someone else’s well I am drinking from. Yes, yes, I know there are no new ideas, but the thought of inadvertently stealing someone’s metaphor, subconsciously pinching a plot event, or lifting someone else’s concept bothers me. So instead I read for enjoyment, and to pay virtual visits to my writer friends while trying not to notice any proofing errors.

Travel is another way to refresh the well. Better writers than me have said as much:


“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.”

– Anaïs Nin

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

“Oh the places you’ll go.”

– Dr. Seuss

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

– Ibn Battuta


And it is true that I have yet to return from a trip without a renewed sense of wonder and an urgent desire to write. It’s a pity more of those trips aren’t tax deductible.

Other mini quick-fire ways which help me to refresh the well:

Receiving lovely reviews and feedback from readers.

A hot bath with lavender soap.

Cuddles with my family, including my dog.

Taking the laundry out of the dryer and burying my face in the towels.

Raking leaves out of the garden.

Sharpening pencils.

Cheese, any kind, eaten gluttonously.

Long conversations with friends.


Day trips to the Wairarapa…

I’ll leave this thread here, because the everyday things I do to reset my mechanism amount to a long list. Sometimes, it can be as little as standing at the sink, watching the birds eat the persimmons off the tree outside my kitchen window.

I can spend a lot of time researching things ‒ a euphemism for wasting time on social media and news sites ‒ and then following up interesting snippets that take my fancy. But I also visit museums, attend lectures, and browse the library for ideas. And each time I uncover a piece of research which resonates with something I am writing, then the well is refreshed again. For example, while I was writing my novel Into the Mist, a military monster thriller, I did some research on the possibility of New Zealand having been home to the mighty theropods, which lead me to amateur New Zealand palaeontologist Joan Wiffen, who people ‒ mostly academics ‒ initially took to be a dotty old lady, but who found New Zealand’s first dinosaur evidence, a fossil toe bone… in the Urewera ranges! Exactly where I had set my story. I went back to my work with renewed vigour. Then, a year ago, our national museum, Te Papa, hosted an exhibition and lecture series on dinosaurs, entitled Tyrannosaurus: Met the Family, which showed me where Wiffen’s discoveries fit in terms of the worldwide explosion in dinosaur knowledge that has taken place over the past decade. And just this week, a story ran on news site Stuff about New Zealand government funding in support of a Te Urewera dinosaur hunt. Of course, I’m excited and motivated all over again. I’m delighted that the Tūhoe tribe have joined forces with GNS and Victoria University in the hunt for dinosaur fossils. You never know, they might just turn up my Sphenodon!

My current work has me in Fiordland. I’ve been chatting with my military advisor just this morning. Today, at least, the well feels nicely full…”


You can find Lee here.

T-Rex Shadow at Te Papa

T. Rex shadow at Te Papa by Lee Murray

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Rjurik Davidson is a writer who takes a unique look at the world. He’s wise, he’s funny, and he knows how to pull a story together. Here’s how he refreshes his well:


“There’s a place in the Dandenong Ranges that I visit to get away from Melbourne. The Dandenongs are a small range of hills, gloriously populated with mountain ash, great trees that rise up to the sky and fern-trees clutching the damp earth. The place is a temperate rainforest, cool in summer, full of mist and water in winter.


To drive there is to drive into the past, because I grew up in the area and I know the roads (though they’ve been paved and widened). I know many of the walking tracks. As I walk I find myself thrown back into that younger self, remembering days long gone, but again experiencing its passions. Here, relaxed and surrounded by that beauty, I feel the well replenish. Stories leap into my mind. Not only ideas but also the feel of the stories: their dash and excitement, their flights of fancy, their half-perceived promise. I see images of wilderness adventures, which make up so much of my new novel The Stars Askew. I picture characters facing forests and mountains, striving for something, facing dangers.

(Photo by Nick Carson at English Wikipedia)

What are the elements that replenish the well so quickly (and it can take 10 minutes!)? First, the relaxation that comes from escape from the everyday. Second, the stimulation of natural beauty rarely seen: the immense tress, the wonderful greens, the alien-looking tree ferns, the sound of creeks in the distance. Third, the associations with my childhood, the passions of youth, from which springs the authors first loves. If ever I want to get excited about writing, I think about the loves of my younger self: ancient ruins, immense landscapes, Ancient Rome, fantastical beasts, the 1920s, horrific monsters – if I can place myself back into that space, them my well refills quickly. An easy way, then, is to visit the Dandenongs with their wondrous trees.”

You can find Rjurik at  rjurik.com and twitter: @rjurikdavidson and you should because he’s a very interesting fella.

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Trust a Scotsman to bring whisky into it! Alistair Rennie talks to me about the magic of the water of life.


“To refresh my well I like to go places, do things, get active, get outside, make music, make videos, go drinking, watch football and rugby, be with friends.

I go trekking in wild places, go camping, go mountain biking, visit castles, stone circles, ancient sites of natural or historical interest, obsess over skies and explore the wild coasts. I’m very lucky to have access to places where I can do all of this with relative ease. Both in Scotland and in my second home, Italy.

All of this, I do it with friends. And they’re probably the true source of the waters I need to replenish my empty vats.

If I’m alone, I go on escapades without direction. I enter the darklands of the mood and become inwardly vacant of purpose. I become as much of a void as humanly possible. I exist with only a shimmer of sentience, with no self-consciousness at all, like a wandering animal without the awareness of an animal.

All of these activities, whether with friends or done alone, are probably a sort of emptying of the well – a psychological drainage technique, an evacuation of the dregs to make way for a fresh refill.

At the same time as the drainage occurs, the well is being filled up with new ideas derived from the experiences of seeing and feeling the world of geography and weather and night time revelry. I take these things and, in my mind, I turn them into melodrama – which is the emotional basis for ideas.

I stress ideas rather than inspiration.

Ideas, for me, are the elements of the process that inspire you to write. Inspiration alone can’t formulate a character or design a scene or envisage the outcome of a story. Ideas are “the water of life” of stories – the uisge beatha – the whisky of storytelling that puts fire in the belly of creative purpose.

That’s when I’m ready to re-enter those intensive periods required for writing. And I’ll keep going through those intensive periods till the well runs dry, till its resources are reduced to muddy silts and murky dregs – and the spirit of outdoor adventure and reckless pursuit, of drinking with friends, making music around the fire pit, lying under the stars with a beer in hand – the spirit takes over.

And the water cycle goes on again, without any kind of rationale or regularity whatsoever. Which is exactly how it should be!”


Alistair’s latest novel is Bleak Warrior. Jeff Vandermeer called it trangressive and hard-edged, and he should know!

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Angela Slatter is an astonishingly good writer. Her story in In Your Face is one of my faves of the year so far, and that’s only one of her excellent stories. I asked her how she refreshed her well.


“As I’m a writer who always has multiple projects (read: deadlines) on the go, I’m also a writer who needs to refill the well regularly. Unfortunately, I’m also a writer who doesn’t always remember to refill the well.

That’s okay. My body and brain remind me, quite forcibly, when I get past the point of needing a grease and oil change, so to speak. I’ll get very tired; I’ll develop a low-level cold or a high-level headache; I’ll sit at the computer and try to write but nothing will come out, at least nothing good. Eventually (hopefully sooner rather than later) I realise I’ve reached the Buffy Summers “Fire bad, tree pretty” stage of writing – I’ve got nothing left, the creative gears are grinding against each other and producing nothing but nasty creaking sounds.

That’s generally my Ah ha! moment.

The temptation with deadlines, even for someone who’s methodical and organised in their delivery of projects, is to let them overwhelm you – to start to think that they are more important than your well-being. By all means, take them seriously, be a writer editors can rely on, but also remember to take care of yourself. Writing is a skill and a talent and a gift like any other. It needs to be exercised in order to be honed and kept sharp – but overuse will blunt it.

So, when I realise there’s a creaking sound coming from my brain – or even sometimes when I’m especially self-aware and smart* – I will stop. I will grab a book from the TBR pile and take to the couch. I will go outside and sit in the park for a while. I will watch a bad movie, sometimes a good one. I will binge-watch a series on Netflix, sometimes documentaries because they seed ideas into your brain while you’re not really paying attention (it’s kind of cheating when you’re meant to be resting). I bake something – it’s invariably a failure which fills my significant other with dread and results in me being banned from the kitchen for a while, but it does its job of taking my mind off the empty well. I go out and talk to people, catch up with friends, eat donuts. I read and critique other people’s work because although it’s still a creative and writing-related endeavour, it’s not my writing and I don’t have the same investment in it – and it has the added advantage of teaching me new techniques, reminding me of mistakes to avoid, and giving me the joy of seeing something new and amazing created by a friend.

All of these things help replenish the creative well of my brain.

At the moment, I’m in a weird place. Not physically – I’m at the KSP Writers Centre in Perth and it’s decidedly delightful, not weird at all – but in terms of writerly things. I’m not at home. I’m far away. I’m the Established Writer-in-Residence – and yes, it does need to be a capitalised title, like Queen Angela First of Her Name – and I have a very long list of things I need to do before the end of August. Several of these are end-of-project tasks – sending off corrections to a new collection, finalising and sending off the manuscript for another collection, writing three short stories in time for a deadline, critiquing work for several other people, starting the edits on Corpselight, and beginning the plotting on Restoration.

That’s a lot of things – a lot of deadlines. The upside of being at KSP is that there’s a distinct lack of distractions, so I’ve been able to put my head down and power through the to-do list. While I’m here I’ll also be teaching and mentoring, talking a fair bit. When I go home at the end of two weeks, I’ll most definitely need to refill the well.

I’ll need to feed myself on the things that make me think, that make me look at life differently, that make me tell myself stories, the things that give me joy in my chosen profession, that fire my imagination. Writers are not, in spite of what we might wish, cornucopias; we’re not cups or horns of plenty, we don’t remain eternally full and rich. We run down, we run out, we get tired. We need to recognise and accept this fact – there’s no reward for running yourself into the ground – and plan for those times when we’re exhausted. Have a think about it: what refills your creative well? Then do those things.



Nota bene: doesn’t happen that often.”


Angela’s novel Vigil launches soon. Early reviews tell me this book is one not to be missed!


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