The Bridge Less Travelled



My book is launched! Pieces of North Shore. I say ‘my’ but the book is a collection of short stories from seven writers from Stanton Library Writers Group. Here is my presentation at the event in which I share the background to my story The Bridge Less Travelled. The book can be purchased on Amazon and Google and independent bookstores in Sydney.

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2 April 2017

Can I have a show of hands, how many people crossed the harbour bridge to get here today or came from outside the North Shore? When I finish my speech you will understand why I asked this question.

When I first arrived in Australia I went to live in the south of Sydney. I knew nothing about Sydney’s suburb rivalry and every area looked just fine to me. Then one day, I was waiting for the train at Riverwood station and started chatting to another commuter. With such a strong accent, I always get asked an inevitable question: “where are you from?” When this gentleman learned I was from Brazil he said: “wow, you crossed the pacific ocean! I’ve never even crossed the harbour bridge.” – I thought he was joking, I didn’t think it was possible for a Sydney sider to have never crossed to the other side, so I asked: “Are you serious?”

He answered: “Sure, am. There is nothing to see on the other side.”

My train was approaching so I left it at that but I took a seat next to the window thinking that there is a lot to see and experience on the other side of the harbour bridge or any bridge for that matter. And that’s what The Bridge Less Travelled tries to explore.

My story is about a beautiful Australian icon that connects places and people. But, as I show in the story, the structure that joins can sometimes separate and isolate people from change, acceptance and inclusion.

When you cross a bridge for the first time you leave behind the familiar and comfortable to enter the unknown. The more you do it the more used to difference you become. I’ve met people on both sides of the bridge that were pretty comfortable to live within the very well defined boundaries of their suburbs. But by limiting their lives by geography and excluding others from getting in, these people can only see the world through a very narrow template. My character, Sarah is one such person:

This is how the story begins:

‘Oh, you were brave to cross the bridge,’ says Sarah looking more immaculate than the unit she is trying to lease.

‘What’s a bridge when you’ve crossed the Pacific Ocean,’ I reply referring to my pilgrimage from Brazil to Australia just a few months prior.

‘True,’ she concedes, while tucking her straight dyed-blond hair behind her pearled ears. ‘But the North shore isn’t just like any other place in Australia darling,’ she pauses, ‘the North Shore is the Promised Land, home only to the “chosen few”.’

My character’s stereotyping is shameful and we are quick to look down on her but what strikes me though, is that if we really stop to take stock of our own attitudes and behaviours we will find that we all have lots of bridges to cross.

There is an old proverb that says “Don’t cross the bridge until you come to it” – after moving to Australia I learnt that the problem is that many times we don’t event realise we’ve come to a bridge. When we are blinded by stereotyping we normally only see the gap. To close the gap it takes effort and courage. In this respect, I agree with Sarah, you have to be brave to take a step in the other direction.

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Apparently, I’m a writer.

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Last week my son’s school teacher invited me to speak to her class about being a writer. While she was making her request I was squirming in my seat, completely taken by surprise because I don’t think of myself as a writer. I have, however, spent a good chunk of my time penciling down words this year. My children often see me in front of the laptop typing away or in bed with a notepad, my mind lost in another world. So I guess that’s the behaviour my son has observed and he matched my actions with his words. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy that my little one sees me as a writer but at the same time, I feel a bit like a fraud. There are so many excellent writers out there who have crafted wonderful stories. I don’t have a journalism or literature degree, I don’t get paid for writing. I question if I’m entitled to use the word writer to refer to myself.

The Oxford dictionary has two definitions for writer:

  • A person who has written something or who writes in a particular way
  • A person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or occupation

The Free Dictionary has a few more definitions including:

  • a person who is able to write or write well
  • a person who commits thoughts to writing

Using the definitions above, anyone can be called a writer so I guess to segregate the proper writers from everyone else new words were introduced: blogger, storyteller, wordsmith, communications consultant, the list goes on.

I’m often wondering if I should I accept the honour to be called a writer or choose one of the other alternatives.  Then on Saturday I received the copies of my book (Pieces of North Shore, an anthology from my writer’s group). I was sitting in a cafe with my friend sipping a latte and flicking through the book’s bounded sheets, smelling the beautiful scent of a freshly pressed book, staring at my name in the top of the pages and it hit me that hey, I have a book, I must be entitled to call myself a writer.

I guess you don’t have to get paid to use the title. We don’t do it for money or glory. We write because of the things we notice in the world and to make sense of it all. We do it because we love the art and the craft or to fill up the time when a story does not let us sleep. It just feels right to spend hours scribbling down ideas and sometimes we even find an audience to read our stuff.

A year ago this would have  been an unlikely story. I had written a couple of things but wasn’t sure how to progress, what next step to take. At that time, a friend invited me to attend the writer’s group at North Sydney library and here I’m being called a writer and wondering if I should accept the accolade.

I still don’t feel confident in my ability as a writer, it’s a work in progress and it probably will be for the rest of my life but I think now I have found my calling. I don’t really think we need a label to describe the pursuit of a dream but for practical reasons, next time I’m asked if I am a writer, I’ll nod in agreement.