One of the two, a good bloke, would get up too early in the morning, charge himself with caffeine, and – sparking with imagination and creative drive – write passages of prose that really excited me. I liked that bloke. The second, born on the same day as the first, was much older. A sour individual, crepuscular and nocturnal in habit, he’d cast a jaundiced eye over the other bloke’s matutinal erections and scorn them into impotence. He’s scratch out every virtuoso phrase, he’d cut through digression and elaboration. Mean as catshit, he believed less was more, and least was most. I found him unpleasantly convincing. I hated the bastard.
Both antagonists worked on Carrots and Jaffas from start to finish. They managed to draw out a six-month project to four and a half years. By the time the book was printed I was nearing sixty-eight and I resolved I was done with the novel: how many more fifty-four month projects did I have left? Bugger the novel, I decided. I’d read them still, I just wouldn’t write any more.
Three months later I had finished my second novel. Titled “A Threefold Cord”, it is a novel for shared reading between an adult and a child of eight to twelve. And it is a cracker. The book comprises sixty-seven chapters of action, suspense, hilarity, and the unremitting contest between good and evil. In addition there is sufficient reference to bodily functions to delight and liberate a well brought up child.
As the book raced towards Chapter Sixty I informed my oldest grandson I would end it after the sixty-seventh. “Why, Saba?”
“Because I am sixty-seven.”
“But what if it’s not finished?”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll just stop.”
“But you can’t!”
“Yes I can. I’m the boss of this book.”
“But…” The notion of such a summary ending outraged him.
I relented: “I might just start a second book where this one finishes…”
Grandson’s 10-year old face blazed with a happy prospect: “Wow! A series!”
Where were the antagonists of “Carrots and Jaffas” during the writing of “Cord”? I sacked them. I simply wrote for my five oldest grandchildren, aged eight to ten years. No virtuoso passages, no miserly pinching, “Cord” was a conversation with five kids who knew my voice, five kids whose tastes I knew: tastes I had helped to create.
My older daughter, a combined Regan and Goneril in her criticism towards my writerly Lear, assures me no child will tolerate a book with such a title as dull as “A Threefold Cord”.
I know she is wrong. Grade Four at a primary school near Shepparton served as unwitting testers when their teacher resolved to read aloud a daily chapter. Ordinarily, she informs me, the wrigglers would wriggle, the whisperers would whisper and the autists would be up and away. But when she read a Threefold Cord all sat, transfixed. The teacher got through five chapters on the first day.
Since then the children and grandchildren of selected Australian literary figures have read Cord and approved it mightily. From time to time over coming weeks I’ll post the odd sample chapter and you’ll see I am right: “A Threefold Cord” is, as I remarked earlier, a cracker.