Words as will-o’-the-wisps

It’s a tempting thought, that words distil the world.

Is it true?

The diary of Athol Yeomans

Through a friend’s diary, scratched with pen and ink in Sydney in 1943 at his boarding school, I taste with him the disappointment of a blackberry pie plan that went awry.

Saturday 19: Chas and I picked blackberries along the line, to be made into a pie on the arvo, but as the blackberries were good we thought we might go out tomorrow and get some. We will certainly enjoy that pie tomorrow.

Sunday 20: Woe! They aren’t going to make us a pie, but are going to chuck the lot into an unholy mess and stew them. Bugger it. We went and got some more blackberries before church parade, and decided to give them to Ma Hindmarsh. (They ate them with icecream). We had our unholy mess in the arvo …

On and on through his adventures I read – about their home-made golf course, the never-ending quest for cigarettes, the canoe they found on the river and christened Esmerelda before she sank.

Image courtesy Andrew Buchanan

With Athol and his friends Duckie and Johnno, I rode the trains and trams and buses and ferries on weekends to the Blue Mountains, to Point Claire, to the CBD, and Manly as if I too were there, almost 80 years ago.

His words chart memories – of people and places and events long gone, yet so vivid I am there beside him. Through his writing, his memories become my own.

Athol became a writer. Was he thinking of the reader back then when he penned his diary? Or was he writing to his future self? Or simply writing his truth?

Publisher Pan Macmillan shares these famous diaries. Do you keep a diary?

Image thanks to Dimitri Houttema

Writers are advised to imagine their ideal reader and entice them, bewitch them with their words, to read more than a sentence, to turn the page, scroll down and go on the whole joy ride.

In a school library, the spell woven by words drops down on a whole class as the librarian reads out loud. Words quell restlessness. They quench the thirst for diversion.

Image thanks to Priscilla du Preez

They can make your mouth water for that blackberry pie.

Silently, words can calm, coax, stretch and inform. Depending on the genre, they may woo or horrify, educate or mollify, delight, scarify or inspire action.

It’s true words connect us across continents and centuries.

Image thanks to Marek Piwnicki

But where do they go, when you close the book or turn off the screen? Are words merely will-o’-the-wisps?

Email me at AmberJakemanSydney@gmail.com to share your views.

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