How Stories Find Us

I’m not frightened of writer’s block. So far it hasn’t been a part of my experience, even though there have been times that I haven’t written. Ideas are always around.

For example, the other day, I drove over a new section of road with a strong lip at the edge of it. I imagined the person who had done that, a man saying ‘Near enough,’ to his workmate with whose wife he was having an affair. The workmate is a bit anal, likes things done properly and might have even quibbled with him about it. The wife is seeing the other guy because she finds his ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude refreshing. The wife, on her way to meet her lover, has an accident because of this lip of asphalt and is killed. The story remains with those two men. It appeared in full, in the time it took to drive over that lip of asphalt another 4oo metres down the road to the t-junction, where I turned right and headed into town, and the story filed itself in my brain.

I probably will never write it. And I’m happy to let ideas do this, because truly, I don’t decide which stories I will eventually write. I can have a story like that in my brain, and never write it down, because stories don’t arrive that way for me. Not on the page anyway. Stories arrive in my brain in quantities because I’m human, because I’m a writer, and because my imagination likes the exercise.

But written stories often don’t appear in my conscious brain. Only a glimpse of an image will, and that image will force itself onto the page via my hands, much the way poems also appear, although poems tend to be a verbal, auditory ‘image’ that demands to be ‘said’.

For some reason, the stories that demand their way through my writing vessel don’t seem to be ‘my’ stories. Aspects of my life certainly end up in them, experiences, recognisable traces of scents, feelings, things witnessed or physically felt, but the content – the themes and surface structures are from other lands, other times, other peoples.

What strange forces are at work in my psyche? I cannot tell, and I am sure no writer can. How does a story arrive? It is difficult to trace. All I do know is that they do, and that once I am inside them, what forces me on and through to the best possible outcome, is what it is that essentially makes us human. I want to know they why of it, and the how that such decisions are made. I want to know what it is like to fail in dire circumstances, to triumph and to delve deep into personal ethical quandaries.

I have wondered why this is. My writing is definitely post-colonial, although I live in the privileged position of the coloniser in my land.  (It’s not actually that cut and dried, being a first generation Australian from Dutch parents and victim at times myself to the oppressive force of anglo culture that holds its thumb over the land.)

Yet the stories that come are not from the outside looking in, but rather from within them. I don’t know how this occurs. I know I’m walking a fine line and that I stand to be smashed down by intellectuals and the people my stories represent. I have to take that risk.

The intellectuals I can punch equal weight with. The others? Indeed, how can I know what it is like? Do I? Is my imagination that capable, or is it something else bigger, higher, stronger and deeper than me?

I cannot speak for those who may criticise me. I ask that they might read my stories. I cannot even speak for my stories, because they are almost entirely unconsciously arrived upon, in terms of what happens. I research them, once I realise where they are or what they are about, and I try to find voices from the inside in my research. This usually gives up scenes and strong images. I am immediately inside them. Empathy is automatic.


I don’t know if I am wrong or not. Only the reader can tell. I hope that my stories simply achieve what they do in me when I write them – the ability to think about what has happened (they are usually historically placed) from the inside of it, to feel the mix of it in there, and to question not only where we have come from, but what is our place here today. I only hope to poke people who live in positions of privilege, such as I do, and to have them ask ‘ who am I to ‘deserve’ all this, when others suffer?’ and to live their lives according to whatever their answers preserve.

I will not push these stories away.


About talesbytink

I've lived various lives in various places but have been a writer at heart the whole time. The experiences of being other things in other lands and times can only make my writing richer. I have no regrets about the road travelled. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
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