Chasing an ending

2014 ended in an incredibly appropriate way for me…with a storm chase. It was only a few kilometres from home but it still counts. I saw the cumulus towers going up on the horizon, checked the weather radar and warnings and raced off to get a good position to watch it coming.

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It wasn’t a very big storm, it didn’t get severe-warned and it fizzled pretty quickly.

NYE storm 2

But it still looked impressive and the chase took me back to the endless days driving across the endless plains searching for supercells in the American Midwest.

NYE storm 3

Because that’s what started all this for me. I found my passion for writing and photography and creativity on the plains, looking for storms. The swirling vortexes sucked me in, blew apart my old life and set me on a new path–into a dark forest, lit by lightning.

Tense atmosphere

Storm season again in Brisbane has put me back onto my storm chasing story. Reading back over my planning, I’m actually really excited about this story. I feel that it will work really well. It has a lot of great elements that will, with enough work, go together to create a great narrative.

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I’ve been caught in a couple of the big storms recently and for this story I want to capture the tension of the season–of always having the weather hanging over your head, no matter what you are doing and where you are. I want to capture the reluctance to drive anywhere in the afternoon in case your car gets wrecked by hail; the drama and excitement of a severe storm impacting the city and totally disrupting routine and timetables; the nagging fear that you may not have a house to go home to at the end of the day.

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It’s one thing to chase storms but quite another, I’ve discovered, to watch a rotating updraft base form right over your house. That’s probably the best place for it, all things considered, because that means it’s unlikely to cause damage before it moves on. But the ominous swirling clouds, the deadly stillness on the ground, the oppressive heat and the faint hail roar are enough to trigger a very primitive awe and fear. And that sort of tension is gold for a story.

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The Zen of storm chasing

Time is the inhale and exhale of the sky.
The sky breathes in.
Your destination is wherever the wind blows.
The sky breathes in.
The endless flat earth rolls past on the curve of the horizon.
The sky breathes in.
Traverse and chart the lost and scattered dreams and faded stories.
The sky breathes in.
Form is your food, colour is your air, texture is your drink, discovery is your rest.
The sky explodes.
Clouds and cu and light and rain and wind and storm and hail and in and out and core and tails and walls and scud and spin and run and run and run and run and catch the lightning.
The sky breathes in.


Surprisingly, storm chasing in real life is not like it is in the movies or those TV shows. For some reason they leave out all the days where there’s nothing to chase and the hours and hours spent just driving, instead focussing more on flying cows and people over-dramatically screaming at the camera. To be honest, I didn’t see any of that. I did, however, see some amazing storms, some incredible landscapes, some beautiful abandoned buildings and even a couple of tornadoes.

As exciting as it sounds, for me, storm chasing was incredibly relaxing. I think it’s because the life of a storm chaser is so far from my normal existence. Not being any kind of meteorologist, I chose to go on an organised tour. (You’d be crazy to try it on your own, with or without meteorological experience, because it is dangerous – driver fatigue could get you even before you see a storm.) As with any vacation tour, having everything organised for you is a nice break from real life. But I chose the Jim Reed Tornado Photo Tour with Tempest Tours (highly recommend these guys). So for two whole weeks, the weather and photography were the only things I thought about. No work, no commute, no computer, no books – just pure creativity and the awesome, random power of nature.

 

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Writing lightning

It occurred to me quite suddenly that, if I want to be a professional writer, I have to take inspiration a lot more seriously. If one of my goals is to regularly finish and publish stories, then inspiration is a resource I simply cannot waste. Any moment of brilliant thought has to be captured before it vanishes.

Taking that thought further, it makes writing a much more hardcore profession than I first thought. It’s 24/7! If I’m eating dinner and inspiration strikes, I have to write it down and deal with eating a clammy, vomit-like risotto later. If I have an idea in the middle of the night, I have to get up and write it down. I can’t just wriggle back to my optimal snuggle position and go back to sleep. If I’m in the shower, I have to get out and write that thought down and worry about things like towels and spilt shampoo afterwards. How many other jobs (aside from parenting) demand that level of dedication?

But, if I wait or put off getting ideas down in writing, the moment ends and the inspiration slips away. And that could be the difference between a good novel and a bad novel. Or even a good novel and yet another addition to the collection of unfinished documents on my hard drive.

It’s kind of like photographing lightning. You practice your camera skills, chase down a storm, find the right place and get all set up. Then you sit there and (if you don’t have a fancy lightning trigger – which I don’t) take photo after photo of clouds and clouds and more clouds and clouds until you think it’s never going to happen. But if you stop and let the moment go, you’ll never have the amazing shot that only comes when circumstances align and you click the shutter at precisely the right instant.

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Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get dressed and mop up all the water.

A literary photo

Stared with a look of distant horror,
A pale and broken, upright queen.

Framed by neat-bound, white-straw hair,
A young and absent, line-scratched face.

Haunted and watery jewel-bright eyes;
A blank and naked, all-seeing stare.

Looked at my face without a form;
A lost reflection.


A novel without a main character is…just…not. I’ve been struggling with this one for a year. I have a fantastic setting based on storm chasing but the pitiful main character I had was in danger of turning the whole thing into a B-movie disaster and that’s already been done.

Then, coming home on the train tonight, I realised I’d been staring my main character in the face for ten minutes without even seeing her. She had this amazing, haunted, beautiful expression. All I could see of her in the crowd was her reflection, and the scratched and clouded window probably went a long way to enhancing her appearance of ethereal grief. For all I know, she could have just been thinking about a broken photocopier or wondering what she had in the fridge for dinner. For me, though, her face and expression triggered the creation of a complex and fascinating character (I hope), strong enough to carry a novel and withstand a tornado.

This is a literary photo – an instant or image or feeling that connects with something inside, lights up like a supernova and blasts stories out into the galaxy.