Friday, March 6, 2009

Digging the Dirt


Okay - this is how it happens for writers. You're walking along beside the beach with your dog, and you see a digger and a dirt gap where your friend's house used to be and you're suddenly terribly sad, even though the day is exquisitely calm and the the sea is barely flopping onto the beach leaving drifts of lime green seaweed; even though as you walk you have in your head a scene in your book where the two women are talking about the properties of rose petals; even though you can hear a piano faintly; even though your dog is ebulliant with the smell of a dog called Moose.

You're sad because Paddy lived here not so long ago, and it was a cosy house filled with books and shells and paintings, and she had pot luck dinner parties for women friends, and grandchildren who made teepees from sticks, and parties with fairy lights in the garden. And you're sad because she had to leave it, and now it's gone completely, and the new owners will build something smart and shiny with lots of glass.

But then out of the corner of this sadness comes a single insistent thought. 'That's a digger,' it says. 'You need to know about diggers.'

There's a digger in the opening scene of my in-progress book Precarious - one that's left like this after a day's work. The problem is, the scoop of my digger is left at head height. I need it to be like that for very good reasons. So far I've only seen diggers and bulldozers with their scoops left on the ground ... like this one. It's starting to bother me. Is it possible to park a digger and have the scoop left in the air. A bulldozer? These are the sorts of things novelists wrestle with.

What pleases me is that I am wrestling again. There's been a house-sized gap in my writing over the end of year/summer holidays period, due to family things and travel things, and all sorts really. Now at last, I have time. I have given myself Monday and Tuesday to write. I am fencing them off (except for a bush walk with a friend on Tuesday morning.) I am telling everyone and making a note of it on the bottom of emails.

Anyway, I decide I need a photo to help me work out what to do with my fictional digger. So I take the dog back home and get the camera, and then walk along again and photograph the real digger so I can stare at it a while. I guess I'm going to have to call David who owns a business called Tite Site and a stack of small diggers. He likes to read novels and I'm sure he won't mind spending time talking me through the niceties of digger parking.

By the time I leave the building site I've almost forgotten what made me stop there in the first place. That's the writer for you - in any tragedy, there's always something useful to cull.


14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I heart Google images...

There's a photo of a digger with scoop off the ground at http://www.farmingmachines.co.uk/machinery/M03097

:-)

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Hi Mary,
my aunt used to say "It's all grist to the mill, for a writer"

which is cold comfort, some days, but good to know that pain can be transformed later into something rich and beautiful.

I found another nice pic of a digger parked with its scoop uo, at http://balconytv.co.uk/?p=242

Cheers,
px

Mary McCallum said...

This is fantastic, Anon, thanks! I didn't think of google images for this ostensibly banal subject... I still wonder if the pic you found doesn't have a blurry person inside the cabin of the digger (hence scoop is up)? Hmm... perhaps not... in which case I can proceed with confidence.

Mary McCallum said...

Oh PC - I've just seen your comment, too, apologies. Thanks for your Aunt's comment! It couldn't be more encouraging.

Oddly your digger is the same as Anon's digger. Which begs the question - is there only one digger driver in the whole world who parks his digger with the scoop up, and if so - why? And do I still need to chase up David at Tite Site... being me, yes. Obsessive researcher that I am...

But hey if you see another one - LET ME KNOW.

Mary McCallum said...

p.s. I saved the digger pic (with the scoop up) and zoomed in - there is no-one in the driver's seat.

scott said...

Hi Mary, I came across your great blog while looking for information on whaling and New Zealand. I am a big reader of Melville(is he much read there in NZ?) and your poet James K Baxter, looking forward to reading past posts and your book 'The Blue'

Scott Baxter
(I live in Atlanta Ga and came across Baxter's name as we share the same last name but after reading his stuff was hooked)

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Hi Mary - no they are links to two different diggers! Perhaps you just pasted the same url twice?

The second digger at balconytv is interesting because it's in the blog author's garden...

Happy International Women's Day!

Te PC

Mary McCallum said...

Ok now - I don't know how this happened. You're absolutely right, Paradoxical Cat, Anon's digger is quite different from yours, it is smaller and doesn't have a cabin. Yet, I am sure I pressed on Anon's link and came up with the digger you found left at half-mast in someone's English garden... Very strange. Oh well, the best thing about this is I now have evidence of two diggers parked with their scoops up. Thank you both.

And Scott - thanks for your comments. I am interested that you landed up here due to your interest in whaling in these parts. It makes me think I should have some whaling links on theblog and have a post on the non-fiction books that came before The Blue... good thought.

I also like the way you found James K Baxter - who is a national poetry icon - because of your shared surnames. There is a fantastic collection of his poetry that came out in the early 1980s and has recently been re-released I think. You can also buy his collections of poetry second-hand online and at book fairs here. I bought Autumn Testament that way - for $2! There is a wonderful bio by WH Oliver I recommend you read too (bound to be online somewhere.)

Good luck in your searching...

scott said...

I look forward to reading your book, the reviews sound very interesting. I have a copy of Jerusalem Daybook and Autumn Testament by Baxter and have read Oliver and McKay's biographies; he was a fascinating and complex guy

Keri h said...

Kia ora Mary - Graham Greene called it "the splinter of ice" that inhabits every serious writer. Even in the midst of tragedy, you continue to observe & store away the images, sounds, scene...

Scott, Melville is still read, but mainly for "Moby Dick": there's that fascinating possible link between here and a major character...

scott said...

That is indeed an interesting connection between Quequeg and New Zealand. I feel sure Melville was thinking of New Zealand when he mentioned Q's home island of Rokovoko

harvey molloy said...

All week I've been looking at diggers, thinking about this post. The diggers' scoops have always touched the ground. But what if your digger wasn't parked--what if the digger had broken down? That way the scoop could still be raised. Just a thought.

Mary McCallum said...

Keri H - yes, the splinter of ice -I suppose it has to be there. And I'd forgotten about Quequeg's links to this part of the world!

Harvey - strangely enough, walking past the building site the other where I saw the digger with its scoop on the ground, I saw a smaller digger with - guess what - an elevated scoop! But perhaps the smaller ones can do that being lighter, and what I need is a bigger digger. So a broken down one could do the trick ... excellent thinking, thanks.

Mary McCallum said...

that should read 'walking past the building site the other day...'