Reviewed by Jenny Argante, Co-ordinating Editor, Bravado Magazine
In her foreword, Joy Cowley reminds us that “Creativity, in all its forms – social, artistic, domestic – tends to take the creator beyond the personal and into the great heart of creation where there is an interconnectedness of all things.”
Artists, whether visual or verbal, glory in such ‘interconnectedness’; in unexpected juxtapositions. In fact, creativity is a product of what I like to call ‘associative intelligence’, the ability to make links, connections, between one disparate and diverse thing and another.
Here is the genius of the creator, and it is the diversity of flora and fauna in the world that brings me closer than anything else to a belief in God.
Though Fishing from the Boat Ramp is not a religious book, it contains much soul wisdom about the act and art of creation; its disciplines; its mysteries and the strange power of serendipity in any artistic enterprise.
Another quality the artist needs is perseverance. How to get this without encouragement? Jillian Sullivan knows about persisting at what you want to do. She wrote seven novels before one was accepted. Since then she has had many successes as a writer of poetry and fiction for both young adults and the grown-up reader.
Fishing from the Boat Ramp developed from an exercise devised with a writer friend. They agreed to text each other two random words at night, and, in the morning, to make meaning out of them. This would curtail doubt and procrastination, and allow them to start each day as writers.
“This was what I learned – that simply by doing it” – writing – “something would grow.”
If I explain to you that Godfrey is her writing angel, you might decide that Fishing from the Boat Ramp must be impossibly twee, and Sullivan a complete flake. Nothing could be further from the truth. Out of the writer’s imagination, for her own purposes, and, ultimately, for writers everywhere, she has found a simple means of discussing matters important to anyone who is wrestling with words.
It’s a wonderful book, New Zealand’s answer to that long-term classic, Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.
What is discussed within its pages? Well, who’s in charge of the words, how to practise writing, finding ‘the manure that feeds the roses’, defeating the fear of failure. How to be there, and write about it, whatever, whenever.
Sullivan is instructing us in all those tools, techniques and tactics the writer needs to acquire to overcome real and perceived obstacles. How to recognize the force that flows through us when we’re ‘in the zone’ and how to harness it. How to get to the end from where you began.
Each section is brief and beautifully written – Sullivan is by now a mistress of her craft. You could usefully ignite a writing group by beginning each session with one reading. Listen to this:
“Writing is like flying a kite”, he said. “You don’t know what is up there, what invisible currents or energies are there or how the air works. You launch the kite up, you hold the string in your hand and you feel the energy through it. You look up at your kite duck and leap and soar and you have wonder. You know you hold the string, yet you are not making the kite fly. “Maybe you love kite flying,” he said. “I do.”
By the end – and Fishing from the Boat Ramp repays slow reading – you’ll understand what Sullivan is talking about. She covers the mundane – apostrophes, commas – and makes it important, plus all the general components and characteristics of good writing and of creativity in general.
(Because every art, every undertaking, has its rites you must fully understand before you dare to defy them.)
Here’s a writer who knows the value of exercises and note-making; why it’s important to create real people to tell your stories; what metaphor can add, and the importance of managing your time.
What is the power of writing? What is the worth of art? Godfrey explains:
“About the butterfly. That butterfly exists in this world and it exists despite fear. Even on the streets over there, there will be a pebble, there will be a butterfly, there will be smiles. There will be music. There will be moments of tenderness. The most fragile things we must hold on to.
“And underneath everything, whatever phase the world has gone into, there must be artists, there must be musicians, there must be writers – because they are the ones who remind people of hope. They remind people of the small fragile moments of life, how the best in us can live when the fear is in the streets.
“The writer must know then, more than ever, how a butterfly moves its wings. The writer must transfix the readers and bring them home to themselves. Take them
by the hand, I say. Really, it is peacefulness that is next to godliness, and peace is everywhere. That is the writer’s task – to show it.”
Above all, what Sullivan is teaching us is all about passion and commitment; about the necessity of discipline, and how it is never the enemy of creativity. She writes about doors that open up to us when we rap upon them firmly and doors we must close behind us to protect ourselves from the dark.
So that when Godfrey finally departs we know it’s because his work is done, and ours can now begin. For we have learned how to live the creative life now and forever. In Fishing from the Boat Ramp, Sullivan answers the all-important question:
“How do you keep going when doubt and rejection loom larger than belief?”