Good Grief

When writing is lewd, rude and shocking

Jackie Ballantyne, Melbourne, July 2018

A year ago my muse left - took off to live in someone else’s head, I guess. Probably someone with fertile thoughts between the ears. At least the absence of the muse took the pressure off trying to write. I convinced myself that I had nothing to say.  I was bereft of ideas and focus. My half-completed manuscript sat untouched in the cloud.

Side Note:  A year ago life changed overnight. While I was already struggling to come to terms with a momentous change of situation, moving from one country to another and leaving my writing buddies behind, my role of wife became one of carer. My husband had an extensive stroke that has left him significantly disabled.

Even in denial I can be stubborn. I sat at the keyboard making myself punch words on to the page in front of me. They were not good words. They were often angry words. And the delete button was easy to reach. One session I wrote bugger one hundred and thirty-one times. I put the buggers into columns and added one more to make them even.




Side note: I made a promise that I would write this blog.  Surely it would make me work creatively. But my brain feels like bread dough. I have a deadline. I must not fail. They think I’m a writer.

Where to start?

Begin with stream of consciousness - an old strategy but worth a try.

I did a Crickler while I was waiting for inspiration (thanks Beatrice Hale for the link)

I fiddled around in Sporcle for a while (not sure who suggested Sporcle – it could have been Beatrice)

At the point where I was about to abandon the whole exercise my fingers took off across the keyboard.  Here was the old ferment of thought pouring out faster than my fingers could cope. How I had missed the feeling. Don’t pause. Don’t stop. I kept on bashing away knowing that if I could capture the line of thought, I could make corrections later.


Exhausted. Elated.

Three pages of words.


I pushed back my chair and read what I had written.




Incredulous - yes. Bewildered – yes. The ideas, the language, the character - where had all that filth and bile come from? I was confused.  Embarrassed at my vulgarity. How could I have written that stuff? How could I even think it?



Double delete

Make sure it’s gone completely

Side note: I, too, was now disabled by inner thoughts that I had let loose. I was beset with dark imaginings, tormented by recurring images that I had somehow constructed. Over days I became sleepless with self-doubt.

Roald Dahl. The idea came to me at 3am. Much of Dahl’s adult writing was from a place of grief. He, too had been carer to his wife, Patricia Neal, after a stroke. He had lost a sister, Astri, to appendicitis. a daughter Olivia to measles and his son, Theo, was severely injured in a tragic accident. The man had tragedy in bucket loads. And from that loss, from that grief had come lewd, rude and shocking writing that had received global acclaim.

I re-read Tales of the Unexpected, Kiss Kiss and My Uncle Oswald. I loved The Twits once more - and The BFG – who whizpopped (farted) in front of the Queen. I dipped into Revolting Rhymes  - “The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers. She whips a pistol from her knickers”.

It’s writing that crackles and snaps.

Side Note:  I once met a woman who would not let her children read Roald Dahl because she believed his stories lacked moral guidelines. She and I were never to become friends.

I have made procrastination an art form. Particularly if I can justify the tangent as useful to the cause. With the help of Google I set about reading interviews and opinions about Roald Dahl. I read for days. Like most writers of note, there are many observations, discussions and dissections of his work - positive and negative. For two weeks I hunted down information about “Roald Dahl’s response to grief”.

Side Note: “I witnessed the slow, mysterious recovery of a brain that had been severely insulted,” Dahl recalled one evening in Oxford, “and the steady return to consciousness of the owner of that brain.” Ours were parallel carer journeys, I told myself. I, too, was witnessing the recovery of a wonderful brain. Day by day I was watching a glacially-paced miracle. There were definite pluses in my days.

Blog for June 30. Idea – I will write about writers and grief.


I’m not quite ready. I need to understand more about grief.

Back to Google.

Side Note: FYI - There is a plethora of advice for writers dealing with grief. And no end to the platitudes to be found on social media.

In fact, there is so much grief online that I was whelmed (thanks for that lovely word Claire Beynon).

And given that the entire world is probably grief stricken in one way or another at the moment, the planet is no doubt whelmed by the weight of aggregated sadness

I particularly liked these quotes from writers which I found in my delving:

"Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you." The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

"Sometimes it seemed to him that his life was delicate as a dandelion. One little puff from any direction, and it was blown to bits." Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

"Sometimes sad is very big. It’s everywhere. All over me ...  And there’s nothing I can do about it." Sad Book by Michael Rose.

“I can’t be running back and forth forever between grief and high delight.” Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

"'Poor Earthworm,' the Ladybird said, whispering in James's ear. 'He loves to make everything into a disaster. He hates to be happy. He is only happy when he is gloomy.'" James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.

When I came across this I felt vindicated:           

“Tragedy gives me faith and fearlessness – and it is this layering of the two that ensures that tragedy doesn’t sink me. Instead, I would say, tragedy makes me roar.  It makes me blow the lid off of whatever I’m doing. Suddenly, I’ll do anything … say anything because when things are really bad, I feel liberated because there’s nothing left to lose.” Tragicomedian playwright Ann Randolph 

Side note:  I have a newly completed bookshelf in my study.  (I might not have been writing – or reading – but I have continued to collect books in numbers.) The new shelves meant a slight re-organisation of my work space. Instead of facing a wall when I work, I now face a window with a view across to the city skyline. It’s given me a whole new outlook.

Today I made a pact with myself: if lewd, rude and shocking words and ideas find their way in to my writing, I will have the courage to let them live.  Who knows, they might lead to BIG things.