My village

Often when I walked I was moved by the sense of community I observed in the Spanish pueblos. People in small towns battened down against the elements and the swirling forces of global economies, swapping tomatoes and jokes, bread and comfort, chorizo and chat. They knew each other’s most intimate details, gathered for births, deaths and fiestas, and committed to wading through the tough times together, and celebrating the joys.

The life of a village has always been seductive to me – the idea that we are all responsible to those within the sound of the church bell. Walking across Spain, there would be mornings when I would hear bells from all sides, in all notes, ringing out to me across the fields. I loved it, though it did occasionally make me lonely. I was reminded that in spite of kindness and welcome, I was an outsider, a pilgrim passing through.

It’s easy to forget that I inhabit a village.

Mine isn’t a picturesque camino pueblo with adobe houses, or white-washed walls, or a town square. It isn’t focussed around a church or a community centre or a bar. It isn’t in a physical space at all, although there are places where I can locate deep connection. Places where I have history on the earth, like the house in which I type these words, and the neighbours and shopkeepers nearby.

But that isn’t it.

My village is located in the ether. It lives in the space and time alignment that we call love. It has been forged through travails and triumphs and poems and wishes. It is often glued together by laughter, but tears have cemented much of it too. Loss has also shaped this village, so when there is a gain, we all rejoice.

This last week has reminded me of the depth and breadth and potency of my community. As the book began to make its way into the world, my village has been holding a fiesta! Photos arrived in my Inbox – people I love holding the book, shouting its praises to the skies, and spreading the word as though it was their own. And of course it IS their own! I’ve learned that my book is no longer mine. Maybe it never was. It has its own life, and to see it snuggling into the hands of my village, my beloveds…Well that is joy unexpected and unparalleled.

My villagers have become ambassadors, mailing information to journalists and peers, chirping to the twitterverse, group emailing their fingers raw, and waltzing into bookshops and libraries demanding they stock SINNING ACROSS SPAIN.

“Everyone in Claremont will want to read this book!” one friend said to a bemused bookseller.

Now that is faith!

I was even sent flowers for my opening night! Some of my village know the traditions of the theatre live deep in my bones, and that although there is no curtain or lights up, “attention must be paid.”

Well attention has certainly been paid.

I’m sitting here at my keyboard, the most confounding, wonderful, frustrating view I know, trying once again to suck words from the air to express my gratitude for the miracle of my village life. For the mystery of love, and that I get to wallow in so much of it. For the fact that my journey is your journey. That your days create my days – colour them, infuse them, light them. That we all hear a bell, and move toward a village square that exists in the space between our hearts.

We have a centre. A forum. A meeting place. We know where it is.

And we flock there. Every day.

Thanks for gathering for me this week. Thanks for ringing the bell.

I bow in gratitude.

Bloggy, newsy, gossipy, booky bit

I’m still walking a new path on this blog – learning my web-manners by trial and multitudinous errors.

So I hope the doyens of the digital will forgive me for blogging about a guest blog on another blog.

Too late to worry now, I guess, because today’s news is – I’m a guest blogger!

If you go over to the Readings site, they have posted “The Story of My Book.” The link is here…

Please don’t be put off by the first image that confronts you. I do know it is the worst self-portrait I’ve ever taken. Winds were squalling off the snow-covered mountains in the north, and I’d have done almost anything to warm my nose, though why I felt the need to document my sartorial choices, I’m not sure. Anyway, look and laugh. The sign in the background translates as “Ice.” They weren’t kidding.

This blog post also means that Readings have the book in stock. Yep! Across all stores. Yippeeee! It is out there having its own life now.

Please don’t forget that, for those who live in Melbourne, I’d love to see you at Readings Carlton on April 17th for my “In Conversation with Hannie Rayson.” Hannie was a sin-donor, so she has a very particular insight into the journey. If you can make it, it’s free, but Readings ask you to call and book on (03) 93476633.

And in other bloggy bits…

Have a look at poet E.A. Horne’s blog. She has posted about her poem, which is in the upcoming SINNING ACROSS SPAIN episode of ABC’s Poetica. Address here…

There are lots of other pieces of info about book-talk under the EVENTS AND MEDIA tab above, and please subscribe if you’d like to be kept abreast – or to get more opportunities to laugh at my clothing choices. Just click on one of the buttons on the top right.

Hmm. Has this post committed the sin of gossip?

I may have to go and do some walking for penance.


The walker waits

But not for too much longer!

It is two weeks today until publication. Two weeks until SINNING ACROSS SPAIN will be in the shops. Two weeks until it is real, and I can share it with everyone I have ever met, or heard of, in my entire life!

For better or worse.

The excitement mounts, as do the butterflies. Fear and pleasure in approximately equal parts, although there’s no doubt that on certain days the fear quota increases.

Fear tells me that it matters. Fear tells me I care.

But fear is something that only goes away when I walk smack into the centre of it. So it will be a relief when the book is out and I am able to stare down this particular set of fears.

Many of them are to do with being exposed, not only as a writer, but as a person. As I wrote, I tried very hard to be unflinching and ruthless about myself; to never commit a sin of omission, or of white-lying. And now, as publication approaches, I have to fess up to a touch of dread. Honesty is all very well. It is good. But there are days when I do wish I’d made myself seem just a little smarter, or more savoury!

But I was carrying sins, and I always vowed I would try not to commit any of them, as I walked or as I wrote.

Now I’m waiting.

And I’m wondering if perhaps I am not dealing, once again, with my old friend PRIDE. Is that who is responsible for these stomach-flutters? Is it a form of pride to feel fear about being discovered for who I am? Or is that vanity? Is vanity a form of pride?

Regardless of the answer, it would surely be vanity/pride to assume I was skilled enough to have made myself over, in the writing, into someone smarter/better.

I am two weeks away from publication, and what am I doing?

Wrestling with sins!

The journey continues…

When you walk…

…you are able to see…

The world is made over: up close, deeply personal, and in your face. The bubble of the car or bus or plane can’t protect the plodder. When I walk, I am in and of the world in a way I never can be when I’m using mechanised transport.

On my feet, I’m transported.

Like last week, when I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a calf, freshly slithered from its mother. And the cow? Well, she was busy eating the afterbirth, feeding up on nutrients for the wobbly, slick little critter she had just produced.

Everyday miracles.

They are all along the road, because the world keeps on making them happen. In spite of the violence and cruelty we humans can inflict, there remain births and wonders just waiting to be noticed.

I thought of that Mary Oliver poem as I walked – the one from the previous post. I really was the bride married to amazement as I watched the calf, right there in the miraculous mess of the road. No, I was not just visiting the world, and the cow didn’t care whether I stayed or walked. The cow felt no embarrassment. The cow was busy with life.

Like the butterflies that fanned my face and flew at me in swirling gusts of orange and brown. They were drunk on autumn, it seemed. Dozens of them, rising in drifts from gullies and crevasses. Impossible to photograph but indelibly imprinted on my heart-camera.

And invisible from a car.

There are costs in slogging. Sweat, slips, bruises, callouses and occasionally fear. But what rewards…

One of the loveliest gifts for me is the layering of road-memories I have, from decades of walking. There are times when I can barely recall where I am, which road I walk. This weekend I remembered an autumn road in Spain. As I’d walked that road, I’d felt I was I Australia. You can see why!

The road plays tricks with me.

Takes me away to other places and times.

Lets me drift, high above myself and into the past and the future.

Takes me out of my insignificant concerns and reminds me of the ongoing mysteries.

The road brings me home.

Every time.

Home to the ordinary, day-to-day, humdrum wonders and miracles. Birth. Death. Beginnings. Endings. Seasons. Times.

Footfalls on a road.

Like heartbeats.

Sometimes the rhythms find each other.

Then I fly…

My borrowed credo

No-one says it like Mary Oliver. She is my sustenance and my guide.


When Death Comes by Mary Oliver

When death comes

like the hungry bear in autumn;

when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse


to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;

when death comes

like the measle-pox


when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,


I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:

what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?


And therefore I look upon everything

as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,

and I consider eternity as another possibility,


and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular,


and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,

tending, as all music does, toward silence,


and each body a lion of courage, and something

precious to the earth.


When it’s over, I want to say all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.


I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.


I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.




I do love to be beside the seaside

Isn’t that splendid?

A lighthouse.


A festival.

And a pub…

Aireys Inlet on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road is one of those places everyone refers to as “special.” When I moved to Melbourne, I was told I had to see it; to feel the salt air, lifting up from below the lighthouse; to amble by the inlet or tramp along the shore, my bare toes squishing into icy sand.

So I did.

And Aireys lived up to its reputation. It always does.

Now, the thought of going there puts me in mind of the lighthouse at Finisterre – “world’s end” – where I completed the 1300 kilometre sin-walk. Another light in a wild place. Another town that welcomes travellers.

And in April, Aireys will welcome writers and readers, thanks to Nicole, who runs Great Escape Books, and Hannie Rayson, who has programmed the Litfest with her. I’m so excited to be there, and to be able to celebrate the remarkable group of hero/scribes they have assembled. I’m in over-excited fan mode. I can’t wait.

If you’d like to see the full programme of events, just click on this link:

It is going to be a glorious celebration of all things wordy and thought-provoking. If you can come, do. Do, do. And don’t take too long to decide. They tell me that last year’s event sold out in under a fortnight.

I can feel the sand between my toes…

Space to move

Lookout overlooking Victoria's Valley of A Thousand Hills

They call it the Valley of A Thousand Hills.

It’s about 80 minutes from Melbourne, but it feels like another world. A place out of time, and a place that gives back the time you felt rushing past you, away from you.

I’d been feeling fraught and helpless; impotent to help people I love, and overcome by world events. Fear was edging in, coupled with a gnawing, undirected fury. I was waking in the night wondering how to rescue people from the fallout of Europe’s financial crises, or rehashing images from TV coverage of the horrors in Syria. Constantly asking that same old question – What can I do?

I ran away.

Cowardly, perhaps. But I know my brain. And it doesn’t function when it is panicking. So I hit the hills to be a pilgrim. The straining of calf muscles, the thunder of the heart trying to break out of the chest, and the burning of lungs as they expand to match a giant landscape – they will quiet the mind every time. And then to reach the top of one of those hills, and to look around into space, all that empty space. A meseta…

Valley of A Thousand Hills. Strath Creek. Victoria

It’s restorative, a bit of perspective. Nothing like being reminded that I’m just a speck, and that the best thing I can do is to settle the mind, and to step back, to take some space and time, and to be still.

I’m returning now to the land of news cycles and bloggofaces. I’m taking small slow steps to understand what I can do that will be productive. Useful. Practical. I will get my house in order so I can be of benefit in some small way.

And I will breathe…

I can make a difference, no matter how small, but not when my angry mind is rattling at its cage.

But I’m grateful to anger. It’s the thing that propels me in the first place. It’s the sin that makes me move, that reminds me I have to DO. It’s a sin with virtues, sometimes!

And in case I needed a reminder that one person can do the impossible, this place emerged, right at the heart of that astonishing valley…

It’s the Hume and Hovell cricket ground!

A perfect cricket pitch, deep green and lush, with a Lords-like pavilion and a cafe serving delectable food. Behind it there is a bunk room that can house two cricket teams! It’s just like a refugio on the camino, and I felt I’d come home. Bunk beds, views for days, and roads leading to the hills.

And at day’s end…cricket, of course.

Sublime and crazy!

And best of all, in the Pavilion Cafe, Chris’s poached eggs! Ask him how he does it. Your mouth will pop open. In fact your mouth will pop open for all of his treats! I recommend the oven-baked tomatoes.

It’s a curious and restorative place. Have a look here…

I wish you space and time. The greatest luxuries on the planet.

And a hill to climb…