Skating on Thin Ice...
I have just finished editing the page proofs of a collection of stories that Allen and Unwin are bringing out in May, called Metro Winds, so this is the perfect moment to write my first Insideadog blog. It is actually 4.14 am in the morning, 0 degrees and snowing hard outside the window. Reading that, you might wonder if I am a bit dazed and it would be excusable, given I have just finished a 17 hour marathon of reading and correcting punctuated by deep, heart felt sighs, but in fact it is snowing because I am in Prague in the Czech Republic, and here it is winter.
This is where I have been living a good bit of each year for the last 8 years.
A while ago, Penguin did a little film about the Australian half of my life.
This is it.
As you see, it mostly focuses on Apollo Bay where I live when I am there, but you do get a few tantalizing glimpses of Prague, so I have decided that as well as talking about writing during my month’s residency, I am going to tell you about life here. I am going to talk about why a writer travels and why I came here and stayed and what I like and hate about being here, and when I will come home.
The first thing about living here is that in winter, it snows. Sometimes it snows a LOT. I love snow and ice and that black and white, sound-swallowing chill of a white winter. I like a little sun – apparently you actually need it, though being Australian I am phobic about the sun. I feel I will be struck dead just stepping in it without slipping, slopping and slapping- only an Australian would know what that means. ( Living overseas, you keep stumbling with surprise over things that ONLY an Australian would know or notice or understand or care about, and somehow it tells you the roots as still planted deep in home ground.) But my favorite season is winter and here, winter, and the other three seasons, are decisively different. Other than the gloomy black and white beauty of it, especially in a city that is itself ancient and beautiful, it makes sense that Winter is better for a writer. After all who feels like sitting for hours and hours inside a room alone, writing, when the sun is shining? You can’t help but feel you are being punished.
Last week, I went on a 4 hour train ride out of Prague to a lake called Machovo Jezero. It had been minus15 degrees most of the week leading up to the trip, but that day the temperature had risen to around zero, so I knew the ice would be thick enough not to crack and swallow me but that I would not freeze my head off skating. It was surrealistic, stunning, spookily magical, to be skating alone on a lake that was white. I later learned that what I had somehow imagined to be a pond depth covered in ice (that is knee deep at worst), was actually 12 meters deep. So I had been blithely skating on twelve meters of black water under a fractured layer of ice, over which fresh snow had fallen thickly. A vehicle of some sort zoomed over the ice at one point, goodness knows why, leaving a swath of cleaned ice and oh the deadly blackness of it.
Given that right now I am drawing rough pictures of Bily and Zluty ( the two little guys introduced in The Red Wind) in snow and ice right now, it was perfect timing for the visit. That as much as wanting to skate on a lake, is why I went. It was inspiring and thrilling and a little bit scary. I felt that at any second, the snow queen would appear. I pretended to myself that I was the snow queen in the same way I used to pretend I was a mermaid when I was swimming all alone. I did pretend lavishly when I was a child, but I give myself permission to pretend now that I am grown up by telling myself that is what writers do. I am often startled, as well as pleased, by the mad confessions of other writers. One whose fantastic memoir/how to write book I read recently (Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott) confessed that she talks to herself in accents, and argues back with herself in other accents. I felt amazed and relieved because I do that all the time, and I had been a little anxious that it meant I was going off my head. It is a relief to find another writer does it because then I can tell myself it is weird but normal for a writer!
Here are a couple of photos of me skating on the ice lake.
Next time I will post some pictures of Prague deep in snow, just so you can see how beautiful the city of Prague is, and so you can see how much more beautiful a beautiful city looks, covered in snow.
Isobelle Carmody (who is sometimes a snow queen and sometimes a mermaid)