On my first night at Montsalvat I was greeted in the late evening by the music of the Shakuhachi flute floating out and down the hill to me – it made my first evening complete. This morning I met the player, David Brown, renowned violin and Shakuhachi flute player and talked briefly about flutes, art and politics. He also walked me to Matcham Skipper’s recently finished bronze sculpture, ‘Boy with Copper Butterfly’ (my
title), a boy commissioned for the cemetery below Montsalvat. He stands some perhaps 10ft, his movement is fluid, and his feet, bare – are strong to the earth.
After lunch the, or one of the, peacock(s) here befriended me and has strutted on a fluid sort of tower-guard all afternoon. He doesn’t mind my constant movement up stairs across courtyard and into garden and back all over again. He just lifts one heavily kohled eye and observes my passing and then returns to a quiet melody of soft struts. I am suspicious though – I caught him loitering around my peppermint cup of tea – I had left it on the step… and I’m sure he then winked that upside-down-eyelid sort of wink.
Most of the day I was actually thinking about place as depicted in biographies.
I wrote a rough poem ‘Montsalvat’s Quandary’ set in the vegetable garden in the north west corner. Well… it was about place.
I re-read Ruth Park’s, ‘Sydney’, hoping to get a feel for this city that is a larger than life persona in its own right. A place that Miller made home from 1939 to his death in 1964. Sydney is so different to Melbourne. Even visiting as a researcher with map-movement limited to the arts precinct, you can feel a different sort of city is under your feet.
I thought about Raimond Gaita’s feel for character through, within, parallel to the landscape of Central Victoria and how he suggests it, “affected the entire mood and the tone of the book [Romulus, My Father], even perhaps the rhythm of its sentences.”
So place tells us where a character is and something about those characters that may not be entirely illuminated until further into the story. Place can be as broad as landscape or as focused as a truck stop, a grocery store – this is beautifully illustrated by Dorothy Allison in a Tinhouse publication, ‘The Writer’s Notebook’ – place is the answer to where a character is and their relationship to that truckstop, that bouldered hill. Both are essential for the reader to position themselves in the story. Place is a building, it is space on a hand, it is an identified area, it is home, it is a portion of area in which a person ‘is’ or meant to be, it is rank in society, a position in a contest, a mathematical concept and a human positioning framework.
This then means for the Miller biography that I could enter his story under ideas of place as per below, or a blend of below within the form I rest with –when I begin the writing phase in earnest.
- This could be geographical so I would work with: NZ>Egypt>NZ>Warrandyte>Europe>Asia>Sydney
- It could be a significant art production place NZ>Warrandyte>London>Sydney
- Homes/work places:
Hawera>Montecillo>Glenesk>Warrandyte cottage>Howland St London>Young St>Sutherland St>National Arts School-Darlinghust Gaol
Trees>Still Life>Figures (add sculpture, drawing & photography)
- Environment: land & politics:
Taranaki>Egypt>Warrandyte bush>between the wars London> during war>post war Sydney>Central Australia>Studio>House garden>Darlinghurst Gaol
These places will take on character roles of their own as they did in Miller’s life both in his participation within, and his response toward them, but they won’t be the form of the biography.
The form will be a structure dictated by Miller’s voice, alert to Miller’s ‘truth’, his spirit.
It is time to start actually writing to take up the flow provided in the letters and write draft chapters. I am thinking about beginning with, ‘Educating Lewis’, inspired by Jim Davidson’s choice to telescope the first thirty-six years of the Louise Hanson-Dyer story as ‘The Education of Young Louise’ due to the lack of early life resources. In Miller’s case, whilst, the first years are problematic, educating his half brother Lewis through a lifetime’s correspondence is a significant revelation of Miller, the man.
This is where I will reconnect with the writing and I won’t even review the early draft chapters written pre-Montsalvat.