wings and things

Chapter 64: “The Clocks” [1990]

on December 4, 2021

I was doing a Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing at Curtin University and one of my lecturers was, in my opinion, one of Australia’s most interesting and famous authors, Elizabeth Jolley. I was in awe of her writing and even more in awe of her person as she was stern, eccentric, and my absolute hero as a writer.

She could be both gentle and terrifying at the same time, so we students were always kept on our toes. During workshop sessions, we would have to read our short stories out to the whole class after which Elizabeth would either sigh, make a short comment, or (rarely) appear to be interested.

Sometimes, her constructive criticism was ruthless and I well remember her asking me to share a story I had written that she had already failed (I received a 4/10 grade). She made me read it out to a class of around 30 students in order to point out to them why my story was so poorly written. I was so humiliated and yet strangely grateful for the group feedback, which of course echoed Elizabeth’s.

Later, privately, she took me aside and said, “I know you can do better, Julie. You may rewrite it for a pass grade.” I almost felt like bowing!

A few months later, my writing had improved, so I entered a short story into a Curtin University competition. By this time, I had a different lecturer but my muse was still Elizabeth Jolley.

I know I have the clipping somewhere but, like many memorable bits of paper, I can’t find it. Anyway, not only did my short story “The Clocks” win second place, it was also published in the university magazine: my first ever published story! I was elated and also astonished to find that Elizabeth Jolley was one of the judges. Luckily, our submissions were anonymous so there was no bias to give me another 4/10.

Of course the first person I wanted to tell this good news to was Anthony and he was so proud of me despite the fact that “The Clocks” was a story about a young woman in love with a man whose clocks meant more to him than she did. In fact, the last paragraph was about how the ticking of all those clocks began to sound to the young woman like the ticking of a bomb.

ME: “Do you not see the parallels, Ants?”

ANTS: “Of course, Jules; you are a brilliant writer!”

ME: “So I didn’t hurt your feelings?”

ANTS: “Of course not! She’s a burster, isn’t she – Elizabeth Jolley.”

ME: “I am beginning to think you don’t get the point of the story, Ants.”

ANTS: “You sound annoyed – what’s wrong, Jules?”


ANTHONY: “I’ll turn all the clocks off for the weekend – how’s that?”

The thing about Anthony was I often didn’t know if he were kidding or not. My clocks story was, by implication, extremely critical of him and yet the fact that the story was published overrode everything and, by then, he too was an Elizabeth Jolley fan.

My little cottage is now home to the most precious of Anthony’s clocks. I think it’s about time I wound them.

10 responses to “Chapter 64: “The Clocks” [1990]

  1. julia poller says:

    I love you for saying that.
    I hope you can picture some of our house and garden in these diaries. πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ™πŸ™

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. beth says:

    oh, i love this

  3. Men often miss the point

  4. susanpoozan says:

    I loved that chapter, keep going.

  5. julia poller says:

    Sorry that should have gone to daughter number one!
    I love reading your diaries too!

    Sent from my iPhone

  6. tootlepedal says:

    I have missed a few pointed allusions in my life too.

  7. KDKH says:

    Not surprising that a dairy farmer would miss the point. It was obviously too subtle. My engineer husband is the same way. But I learned that he always understands the middle finger, so that has improved our communications.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Another β€œburster” of a story, Juli! Keep them coming!

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