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Sunday, 31 July 2016

You don't have to be crazy to be a writer 3.

In the last entry, I explained that it was sometimes necessary to charm suspicious people.

Still, that required my looking affable and cuddly. As I get older and more sinister-looking, I have taken to hunting rocks. Pretty much by definition, rocks are out of doors, often in scenic places, and they don’t get you into trouble.

Rocks that float are fun, and for the past couple of years, the coasts of NSW have been littered with pumice that came from east of New Zealand, but by the time they washed up here, most of the larger pieces were inhabited.

Chasing those on Myrtle Beach, I recalled that the lowest level of the Sydney Basin was exposed in the cliff behind the beach, so of course we hunted that down. Here, you can see my wife’s hand spanning (probably) more than 150 million years. One example is never enough, so my sons helped me traipse in, almost to another good exposure, 15 km from the road, in a place we had visited before.

We made good time until the fog came in and we came to a patch that had been burned at the same time I was on Myrtle Beach. The track sort of disappeared, and there were brown snakes about. This forced us to go slow, and in the end, 1.5 km from our target, we reached our turn-around time, and not being crazy, we turned back.

Some of my friends are a bit crazy, and when we went looking for alleged fossil trees near Box Head, one of them felt the need to get close to the “trees” to act as a scale. I just took shots, angling them so as to make it look more dangerous than it was.

Basically, my geologising involves temporary obsessions, but tilted strata and folded rocks are always high on my agenda. We went to Switzerland for several reasons, and the geology was high on the list, but I also needed to go to the Reichenbach Falls, because there is a comic fantasy novel lurking in the wings, and it opens when the hero is saved from drowning by Sherlock Holmes, returns to Australia and invents most of 20th century science.

Why would I do this? Well, at one stage in my mixed career, I conned some violent frauds into giving me the evidence I needed to convict them, after one colleague had been injured, and another had been shown a handgun. I played Mr. Bean so well, they sniggered at me and handed over damning papers to the idiot they saw. I wrote a very interesting report.

Then again, I once spent three days displaying two savages in a cage as an art event/hoax. I write history most of the time, and all of the history will be good. Then again, at other times, I write apparent history which is severely misrepresented and invaded by fictional characters.  This is sold as fantasy or historical fiction, and there is never any reason to doubt which is which.
Anyhow, back to Switzerland: the falls are close to the town of Meiringen, claimed to be the place where meringues were invented. People who know their Holmes canon will recall that Holmes staged his death at the top of the falls: anybody who visits Meiringen cannot avoid the connection because there are images, signs, statues and more, celebrating the fictional Sherlock Holmes.

My aim in being there was to establish the ground truth for the opening chapter of a fantasy in which Holmes plays a small role, when he rescues our hero as he is being hunted by monsters

I concluded that I could rewrite the area’s geography to meet my needs, and I realised that after Holmes disappeared, he accompanied our Australian hero to his home and laboratory, somewhere on the NSW coast, and reverted to the looking at the Swiss geology. It remains a legitimate expense for taxation purposes!

We went up Mount Pilatus for the rocks, strayed into the wilderness of Heidiland, where I found a perfect setting for the Reichenbach Falls sequences. There was just one danger: the area was completely deserted, and while the bus out had been empty, when we went to board the last bus back, geriatric Switzerland had emerged from the woods and crammed the bus to overflowing. In the end, we fitted in, albeit poked by walking poles, but that was the closest we came to danger in Switzerland.

We came home, and for a while, we concentrated on rocks that push in, making dykes and sills. That isn’t too dangerous: you just have to clamber over them, but often the best exposures are on rocky seashores, and that means looking out for blue-ringed octopuses (or octopodes, if you must have a classically correct plural), gaps in the rocks, and waves (plus seals if one is in New Zealand).

It is a curious fact that in Scots English, a dyke can be either a wall or a ditch, but igneous dykes take both those forms, and we chase them. Only once have we found one where the weathering of the dyke had kept pace with the surrounding rock.

The other danger that I have faced in the quest for material is eating local foods. On one occasion as a representative of the Australian government (long story), I was constrained to eat part of a dog that I had heard killed while one of my colleagues made a speech. After that, it was a downhill run, and in the past two years, I have eaten reindeer, foal steak, llama, alpaca and guinea pigs, but I will only be happy when I have tried camel, which is recommended by several early explorers. And rainbow lorikeets, which the old explorers called “Blue Mountainers”.

You don’t have to be crazy to be a writer, but having crazy temporary obsessions, pursuing crazy ideas, makes your writing more interesting.

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