Angels, graves and unseen helping hands: How things got weird when I was writing Tensy Farlow

Sometimes, weird shit happens when you write books and stories. Actually. Scrub that. Replace sometimes with all the time.

When we write stories we tap into our subconscious. But, I believe we also tap into the collective unconscious.

In my opinion, the collective unconscious informs and fuels the imagination.

I see the imagination as a realm. A sparkling realm full of endless possibilities. And this realm— yours, mine, everyone’s — is interconnected.

Interconnected.

Which is why we return with stuff that makes no sense to our logical brains.

We ask ourselves, how on earth did I think that up?

We didn’t.

We cherry picked it from the collective unconscious. From the place where everyone’s thoughts, ideas and experiences are enmeshed.

Step into the Realm of the Imagination and you’re stepping out of consensus reality into a world, a field, a matrix, that is rich with ideas, imagery, symbols and, well, weird shit.

For instance.

Every time I write a book, I can rely on synchronicity to help me out. Every time. Without fail.

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When I’m lost, unseen forces, guides, muses, jump in and show me the way.

The more determined I am, the more committed to the story, the more willing I am to venture deep into the Realm of the Imagination, the more responsive these unseen forces.

Which brings me to Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children (Penguin Books).

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It was early in my career when I wrote this book, so my direct experience of creative woo woo was limited.

Didn’t matter. I still realised that odd (sometimes inexplicable) stuff was going down.

Small things.

Like, I was going round in circles with my research about angels and beginning to fret.

One day at school pick-up, a school mum who knew I was writing about angels, handed me a book.

It was a strange book I’d never heard of. A book all about angels. Wise, intelligent, throughly researched.

‘This might help,’ she said. ‘It’s my husband’s. I have no idea why he bought it.’ (Her husband was a hard-arse businessman who I had never met. Why he had a book about angels is still anyone’s guess).

That  book was… heaven sent. It helped me solve many riddles and inspired me in countless ways.

There was other stuff.

My partner and I went at the Melbourne Art Show. This was years before I finished the book and way before I had a contract for it.

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At the Royal Exhibition Buildings. About to ‘meet’ Tensy.

I’d been drawing Tensy often, but always it the same position— arms outstretched, dark skies, usually on a cliff.

Himself and I were wandering through a massive crowd in the Royal Exhibition Buildings when, at exactly the same moment, we both cried, There she is! There’s Tensy!

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We literally ran across the room, pushing our way through the crowd, terrified someone would beat us to it!

We bought the painting (oil on silk) there and then.

It’s called ‘Gathering Storm’. The artist, Rachel Carmichael, was at the stand. But she refused to tell me the background of the painting. She just smiled mysteriously and said the story behind the painting was not important…

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It’s only a little painting. Which makes it even more surprising that we actually noticed it in the first place.

Then.

Weeks later, my dear friend called. She was a writer too and had a contract for several educational books for kids. In fact, she had over-committed and was freaking out, afraid she would never make the deadline.

She called me in distress.

She said her sister had given her free access to a little holiday house in the country and would I please come away with her for the weekend and help her work up some outlines for the books she was sweating over.

In return, I’d get a weekend escape and time to work on my own book (Tensy) in peace.

I grabbed the chance.

Saturday morning we packed our bags (and our pens and notebooks) and headed off.

I had never been to this little town. It was outside Ballarat, tucked away in a cold mountainous area. Windy roads, mist, black ice, old forest.

As we drove into town I saw the sign to the local cemetery.

‘Oh!’ I said, ‘I love country cemeteries. Let’s go check it out!’

We hadn’t even found the holiday house yet, but my friend swung the car around and we headed for the cemetery.

I walked through the gate and my jaw dropped.

This little cemetery was EXACTLY as I’d described the one in Tensy Farlow. (A book set in a fictitious part of post WW2 England.)

There was the angel on a small rise at the centre. The ONLY angel in the entire graveyard, raised on a pedestal overlooking all the other graves.

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But there was more.

Directly to the angel’s left was the grave of Charles Gribble!

Charles Gribble is the father of Albie Gribble, one of the main characters in the book. Albie  goes to the cemetery to talk to his dead father and is bewitched by the stone angel (who speaks to him).

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Mr Gribble’s grave even had a blackberry bush growing out of it. Just like in the book.

In those days, we didn’t have phones in our cameras (hard to believe, yeah?) so we hopped back in the car (beside ourselves with wonder), raced to the local store (there was only one) and bought a disposable camera. Hence the crappy photos.

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I imagined her pedestal a bit lower. The grave in the foreground (with the sunbeam) is also a Gribble grave.

But.

Honestly?

Did I go there in my dreams? Did I partake in a bit of astral travel?

I have no idea.

Except…

In the story of Tensy Farlow, I (as the narrator) suggest that our guardian angels are always with us. But, if we ignore them, refuse to acknowledge them or interact with them, they fade. Their influence is diminished.

It’s the same with the Realm of the Imagination. The more often we visit, the more time we spend exploring it, the richer and more startling the results.

This has always been my experience and this is what I teach to all my students. It’s what informs all my thoughts on writing, and on creativity.

Embrace the Realm of the Imagination, allow it to work through you. As a writer, an artist, a musician, a dancer, in all creative pursuits, foster your relationship with this realm and all that it holds, for it is your source, your support and, ultimately, your champion.

Jen xo


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