Dbure, the Hebrew for bee, is cognate with the root dhr which means word; bees distil nectar into honey, thus words into Word or truth. Deborah – eloquence, dogged work, hallowed honey – is my daemon. She grinds my imagination into a lens for the discerning of truth, challenges me to create then hounds me until I do.
“How do you do it?” I demand every spring of the roses as day after day they starburst into silky, luscious bloom. A cubic centimetre of compost contains up to a million different species of bacteria. The skill of seeds takes my breath away. How do spiders weave wind-light nets from thread as strong as steel drawn from their abdomens?
Writing is as close as I dare come to the miracle.
The skill of seeds takes my breath away.
Every morning I spend two hours in a country more real than real that exists only in my imagination. I sit blindly in front of a pile of empty paper with a sharpened pencil. I assay a word, half a word even, to prime the pump which judders and disgorges rust and gunge. Cerberus, keeper of the threshold, lunges at me. If I can placate and bypass him, and flounder on, the gears change and by a process as imponderable as falling asleep, I find the path, I reach the wellspring. The water might be fecund and clear, or a seething cauldron, or a river rushing almost faster than I can write. Time telescopes. Hours pass in a breath. I emerge dazed and wrung out. The well is stony dry. I fall into bed and rest.
My inner universe is singularly grey and silent. Yet there’s a place I access with a pencil in my hand where words pulse as purely, as profusely into being, as wildflowers do. How is it that words can be such touchstones, that language midwives the inchoate stuff of my psyche? Do I sculpt the void or does the void sculpt me? Yet it’s not a void, it’s astonishingly alive. I know more there than I do here, as I might do in a dream, or midway through a silent retreat. It intrigues me that what I write is much more vivid than I feel myself to be.
There’s a place I access with a pencil in my hand where words pulse as purely,
as profusely into being, as wildflowers do.
Am I inventing as I go along, or bringing to the surface, bucket by arduous bucket, something that already exists in another form at some other level of my being? And not just my being but all beings? We are every one of us star-dust, our cells inter-encoded with diatoms and dendrites, fins and wings.
There are three main strands to my fiction: the first is delight in story for its own sake; the second is autobiographical, a charting of the archaeology, the unplumbed depths of my own psyche. In hindsight, I can see that through the medium of story, a polyphrenic cast is enacting the process of soul-making that has engaged, at times engulfed, the last twenty-five years. It’s all there, from mental illness to tall ships. In October 2001, in the early days of Butterfly’s Children, I wrote about a Thalassan weaver called Ceren Shakti Lekkyuri who’d gone to a remote island to keep a lighthouse while she recovered from breakdown, a fractured spine, and the death of her son. The next autumn my spine spontaneously fractured in three places, I knew my son would never live in Tasmania again, and I was in intractable clinical depression. When I reread that chapter months later, I was staggered to find I’d scripted my own life half a year in advance. Now I keep the same kind of weather eye on my writing as I do on my dreams.
The third context is an exploration of the consequences of choosing rebirth over ecocide. I write about the kind of planet I want to bequeath my children, and that I’d give my eye-teeth to live on. On Thalassa, freedom is construed as interdependence. Ecological rigour is the basis of governance; this means that harmful substances are not used anywhere, for any purpose, and that male contraception is universal and mandatory. Misuse of power, personal or political, is treated as pathology. Security doesn’t mean paranoia, weapons and war, but the right of every sentient being to eat, sleep, shit, work, play and pray in safety. And because I’m heartily sick of living in the shadow of male violence, I’ve evolved a fatal virus which feeds off testosterone. Violent acts, by either gender, are literally suicide. Alleluia.
I keep the same kind of weather eye on my writing as I do on my dreams.
Though fiction is where my passion lies, and where I do my hard thinking, increasingly I write essays as well. It’s actually much easier to shape ideas that already exist than to struggle with the void. Yet it’s all the one landmass. The same theme – justice for all sentient beings – is at the heart of everything I write. Three hundred pithy words to the letters editor of the Guardian Weekly are simply a distillation of twenty years labouring on a planet that doesn’t exist.
We have less than a generation to make a species-wide choice between evolution and death. What, then, is my work in the ecology of radical transformation, of planetary restoration? Part of me yearns for action; to work in family planning and childbirth education in sub-Saharan Africa, or to be a tree-sitter protecting Tasmania’s old-growth forests. Instead, I end up forging words and fossicking around in inner space. I can’t not. It’s adamantly, joyfully the work I was born to do.
Knowing that makes me a lucky woman.
Butterfly’s Children by Annie March is published by Panacea Books at £16.95. For further details visit www.butterflyschildren.com