Halfway up the Burke Road hill in Camberwell, just before the railway station, there was once a bookshop known as The Little Book Room. It was unusual for its careful selection of books, as if the owners had hand picked each book with great and loving care. It had the feel of a personal library, like roaming through someone’s store of books in an overcrowded house. The books lined the steps and at times came in what seemed like no particular order at all.
It was in this shop that I first came across Drusilla Modjeska’s Poppy. The cover drew me in, the sepia toned photo of a mother and her baby, the words transcribed from the text, Modjeska’s words, so familiar to me now, a mother urging her baby to look into the mirror. ‘There, see there. See, it’s you.’ That moment of recognition, of mother and baby, that moment of connection.
I bought the book and read it over the next weeks. The story, the writing gave me hope, the greatest hope of all that someday I too might be able to write like this.
Modjeska became my point of reference for my own attempts at writing. When my writing teacher in the novel writing class I had joined in 1997 once criticized my narrator as drowning the energy from my story I listened only with one ear, one eye. I wanted too much to be like Modjeska and she could get away with it. Why ever could I not join her , imitate her style?
Now I recognise the need to find my own voice, even as it echoes back in my ears, tinny and self serving, with none of the gentle cadences and rhythms of Modjeska’s words. But I must trust myself, otherwise I will plunge back into that empty space of my childhood where I seemed able only to try to imitate the greats.