Late last year I had a fortuitous volley of writing inspirations that seemed to shoot me in a direction of character development and story telling that I simply didn’t want to go. Firstly I had come to a place in my long developed narrative where I had settled on all the core characters, plot development, character arcs and just wasn’t looking for another layer. Secondly the plot that seemed to find itself arising seemed at first antithetical to my crafted history. However I stuck to the creative process and subsequently discovered not just a fresh revelation within my storyline, I have encountered a personal witness that is still emerging within my rumination.
All this began on a flight I was taking to North Queensland. It was a ministry visit to train Chaplains and their teams to be prepared for responses in disaster scenarios. I had fallen asleep as the plane lifted off but awoke with a start as the first wave of inspiration hit. So I reached for my pen and paper and I wrote from the perspective of my main character:
The horse whisperer (his name is “cowboy”) was a quiet loner that remained a silent overwatcher in my childhood. Dad called him “ghost rider” because he seemed to always show up just at the right time. When Dad needed help. When Dad needed a mate. When I needed saving. He had an Acubra hat, and in that hat he had a white cockatoo feather.
I arrived at my destination and stepped into the Chaplaincy training. To my amazement the first person I shook hands with at the training event was a quiet, unassuming man who appeared to have just stepped off a farm. He had stashed his dusty hat under his seat which I made a comment about. He smiled carefully as I asked him straight up what his nick name was. I was not surprised when he said his real name followed by “….but my friends call me cowboy”.
I had a confirmation that something was brewing. A physical manifestation of my fictional tale. There was a sense of a creative leading. But I sensed this was only the beginning. I was perplexed that this new fictional character had emerged and had materialised before my unsuspecting eyes and had become ensconced into my already developed narrative. His appearance seemed at first a rude interruption and yet also seemed so right. But I had a problem – a perception and meaning issue- in my mind a white feather seemed to mean something I wasn’t comfortable having an emerging hero-type figure having as an icon.
I wrote :
“In the memorial box they found a white cockatoo feather. How and why it was significant they did not know. It remained a mystery….”
To me a white feather resounded with meaning that represented cowardice or conscientious pacifism; as in A. E. W. Mason's 1902 book, "The Four Feathers". In Britain during the First World War it was often given to men out of uniform by women to shame them publicly into signing up for war service. In the first-ever collection of Biggles stories (The Camels are Coming (1932)) Biggles (who is out of uniform in civilian wear) is handed a white feather by a young woman. She is later taken aback to find that he is one of the Royal Flying Corps' leading pilots.
I had a problem with this newly acquired problematic character and his white feather. In a narrative that was depicting heroism- especially in the light of bravery, self-sacrifice, mateship, and perseverance as core tenets of my synopsis that reflected ANZAC sensibilities I just couldn’t resolve this semantic difficulty. And then I flew to Canberra and visited the Australian War Memorial.
I had written several more aspects to this new character. This included a dream sequence that revealed a memory of my main fictional character:
“ His ruddy complexion reddened further as the exertions of moving with his mount increased. He rode on bravely as his horse flew down the smoldering mountainside. The rider wore a soldiers acubra. She was startled when she saw the white feather stuck into the hat. It was the “cowboy”. Then she realised she was there too. Drapped over his legs held by one of his big hands, as he held the reigns in the other. Then suddenly the bush exploded into flames….”
I was reflecting on all this and taking time out to honour our ANZACs as I sat at one of the outside memorials in Canberra. I prayed. I questioned. I wondered how this might be resolved. Then one of the noisy birds that frequent the eucalyptus flew down within reach of where I was seated. A sulphur crested cockatoo. He sat looking at me. Quiet. When he flew off he made one gentle sound. There where he had alighted, he had left a single, solitary white feather. I cried. And a fresh meaning came.
After visiting other ANZAC memorials, discovering other cockatoo feathers on several adventures, and having completed some research I have come to a powerful revelation. That the white feather rather than just being a symbol of cowardice, is expressed in some jurisdictions to signify extraordinary bravery, excellence in combat marksmanship, and self-sacrifice. It has been utilized by some pacifist organizations as an icon of abstinence from violence, but where this is the case, these references are usually towards a mark of justice and bravery in face of insurmountable threat. So I wrote about how my main character relayed what the white feather meant :
“Suffer like The Servant. Ride like the wind. On the breath of the Creator. The wind of the Spirit . Go where the Spirit goes. Do what the Spirit does. Creator’s Love. His heart. Creator’s breathe. Sacrifice. No greater love has anyone than they lay down their lives for their friends. ”
As I prepared to write this article I served as padre at our local cenotaph dawn service for ANZAC day. A story was told of a local doctor who was captured in Malaya by the invading forces during World War II. He along with hundreds of others met their fate in the horrific events that became known as the Sandakan Death Marches. The thing that impacted me was how when he was afforded the opportunity to escape he chose to remain with his weaker and less able mates. He chose an act of love over his own freedom.
Sometimes I pause to be thankful of the freedom we have that was paid with so great a price.
This causes me to not take my liberty for granted. To make it count. Perhaps even to aspire to some level of bravery within my life - even my writing craft.
Late last year my fortuitous volley of writing inspirations took me in a direction of character development and story telling that simply has been life changing. Firstly my long developed narrative has a deepening of its core characters, plot development, character arcs and a depth I had not anticipated. Secondly the plot that seemed to at first to be antithetical has actually become a meaningful mythology that weaves many other aspects of my narrative together.
Finally, I hope to convey some inspiration for us all that sometimes as writers we just need to ride the wind of the Spirit. Follow His inspiration. Stick to the creative process. But most importantly let Creator’s inspiration breathe afresh on all we do.
There is a fresh revelation within my own storyline.
By Shane Brigg.
Author. Chaplain. Story empowerer
I hope you find this too.