Oh Varuna, can’t I just live there?

Varuna, Oh Varuna. It doesn’t feel like words will suffice but I suppose I can convince them to.

I was sharing the house with five other women. On the first night when we all met around the open fire, Janisis, the Varuna CEO said to us:

‘It’s not so much the lack of interruptions here, but the lack of a threat of interruptions’

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Writing at Varuna is immersive. It’s like a soft blanket you wrap around yourself to make the word smithing safe.

And oh god, did I need it.

On the second morning I met with my consultant, Jo Chipperfield. I couldn’t have chosen a better person for the gig. Jo has the perfect blend of knowledge, skills and compassion to be able to pull out all the amazing bits and make you love them, then find the holes and make you want to fill them.

We talked about structure, my three levels of narrator and those god-awful-just-won’t-go-away problems with tense. Jo pointed out that I kinda forgot to mention the first four days in prison and that people are really going to want to know about those bits. She also showed me some holes in logic about the drug compulsions and gave me a straight world view on what addiction looks like from the outside.

I walked out of our consult with all sorts of burning passions and then sat down to write. I dug into my head and pulled out those first four days, plopped myself back into the dissociative state that you need to be in to learn how to exist in prison.

And I did great work, 13,000 words of great work between 1pm and dinner at 6.

Maybe too great.

On day three, I woke up antsy. The coffee didn’t work, the cigarettes didn’t work, I just couldn’t find my focus. There was something going on and I needed to give my body time to tell me what it was so I decided to walk into Katoomba for coffee.

As I walked down the path that led to the road it all came clear in my head. The closer I got to the road, the more my unease grew and then I realised what was happening. I was standing there, free to go wherever I wanted, to do whatever I wanted, and was waiting for an official-esque voice to pipe up with ‘Marino’ and a firm hand to fall on my shoulder.

I’d done a very good job of digging myself back into the prison mentality.

I cried the whole way into town, wore sunglasses to get coffee, cried the whole way back to the house while I debriefed with a friend on the phone, and then cried some more in Jansis’ office.

Then I walked outside, crouched down and touched the grass, rubbed my face against a tree and went back to my writing nest.

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It kept being hard but Varuna kept making it safe. When it all got too close with walls around me, I took the words outside into the gardens.

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When I needed to remember what my body was I cooked crazy and delicious food.

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And when I finished the week, I had more words than I’d ever imagined.

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Now I’ve got six months to polish it up, then I shoot it back to Jansis then have another consult with Jo.

This book is going to be amazing.




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