What follows is a commentary on the novel that I wrote as the creative component of my M.Phil work. The novel, that I plan to publish as a book, is called Pomegranate Flesh. It is a retelling of the Greek myths of Demeter/Persephone and Narcissus tangled up together. It is set in a mythic, ambiguously ancient landscape but the issues the characters face are modern issues. Demeter is faced with ‘empty nest’ syndrome. Kora, who during the course of the story becomes Persephone, is travelling through adolescence and learning how to love without losing her sense of self. Narcissus is searching for the meaning of his life. Around these three characters other members of the old pantheon appear as catalysts and cameos supporting their processes and posing challenges.

This commentary is called Pomegranate Juice because it is an extraction of issues that would normally remain implicit and unsaid. Written after the book was finished, the commentary seeks to add to the existing body of knowledge about the process of writing by documenting the many and varied sources of information and inspiration involved in the peculiar task of breathing new life into the reconstructed fragments of an old story.

Introducing his thesis on creativity and the writing process, McLeod said:

To my knowledge there has been no previous full length study by a practicing writer of the nexus between writing process and the construct of creativity. This gap in the literature exists despite considerable interest in the study and practice of creative writing, both at tertiary education level and in the wider community. Perhaps a partial explanation of this discrepancy lies in the relatively low level of interaction between the disciplines of literary studies (where creative writing is usually positioned) and psychology (where the empirical study of creativity is usually positioned).
(2001, p.302-303)

As a psychology graduate, a counsellor, an editor and the author of Pomegranate Flesh, I hope that this commentary will contribute to bridging the gap described by McLeod (2001) between the disciplines of psychology and literature, and consequently shed light on the complexity of the process of re-writing mythology.

The picture of the writing process that emerges through the course of the commentary is one of a series of intermeshing motivations. The writing process was partially, but not purely, an academic exercise involving the study and restatement of the elements of the story as recorded in various historic texts. It was also partially, but not purely, an exercise in cultural psychotherapy, deliberately seeking to provoke thought about adolescent risk taking and empty nest syndrome. It was also influenced by personal artistic sensibility, and possibly subconscious or even meta-conscious urges.

Rather than pointing at a single explanation for why the text was written as it was, such as suggesting that it grew from psychodynamic (Freudian) urges, the commentary reveals the process to have been organic and flexible and to have involved simultaneous consideration of a number of factors. A psychological theory that fits particularly well with this view of the writing process is Bronfenbrenner’s (1995) ecological systems theory of human behaviour.

Through the course of his long career as a psychologist and writer Urie Bronfenbrenner developed a theory that describes the forces that motivate human behaviour as complex and comparable to the forces that operate within eco-systems. Put simply, he described cases in terms of the way individuals’ behaviour was influenced by personal issues, family issues, community issues and larger global/cultural issues. Multiple influences such as these are comparable to the historic, cultural, personal psychological and artistic motivations that shaped my text as it grew.

That said, what follows is an honest attempt to describe the thinking processes behind Pomegranate Flesh, written in the hope that it will illustrate, to the limited extent that this is possible, the impact that the many varied motivations had on the text.

The commentary begins with a backward glance at the old myths that make up what Clarissa Pinkola Estes would call “the story bones”. She says:

Collecting stories is a paleontological endeavour. The more story bones you have the more likely you are to find a whole story. The more whole the stories, the more subtle twists and turns of the psyche are presented to us and the better opportunity we have to apprehend and evoke our soulwork.
(1992, p.17)

Later she speaks about the need to “sing over the bones” to breathe life back into the old stories. Her advice was taken to heart and the bones of the old myths were fleshed out into the story now called Pomegranate Flesh. Having looked back at the origins of the myths in Chapter One, the commentary then, in Chapters Two and Three, provides background on the approach to combining myth and psychology taken by Pinkola Estes and other writers influenced by Carl Jung’s methods of psychotherapy. As Pinkola Estes says:

There are many ways to approach stories. The professional folklorist, the Jungian, Freudian or other sort of analyst, the ethnologist, anthropologist, theologian, archeologist, each has a different method in collecting tales and the use to which they are put.
(1992, p.17)

The Jungian approach to myth posits that stories can provide a blueprint for common human experience and provide guidance and inspiration about ways of reacting to circumstances. Chapter Three also looks at the particular qualities of the Greek mythic tradition and provides a rationale for the selection of this particular story. Chapter Four of the commentary draws together the broad Jungian perspective and the specific Demeter/Persephone myth and compares the writings of Jungian psychologist Virginia Beane Rutter (2000) on the myth with the text of Pomegranate Flesh. This process reveals commonalities and contrasts between various versions of the myth and encompasses discussion of many of the contemporary issues the story covers, including insights and opinions on how the myth can be useful to people undergoing these life challenges.

The second half of Pomegranate Juice discusses the writing process from the seed ideas through to the final polish. Examples are given of specific decisions made in the unfolding of the text, including considerations of the spelling of various characters’ names, the logic behind the presentation of the process the soul undergoes after death and the delicate handling of the homosexuality of Ameinias. While considered separately each of these issues may not seem important, presented together they illustrate the care involved in the construction of the manuscript and the deliberate nature of the brushstrokes involved in its creation.

Throughout the commentary, references are made to the work of scholars and authors who have worked with Greek mythology and psychology and attempted to make sense of what is a vast literary and psychological field. All references in the essay are cited in the style prescribed by the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (1991).

It is hoped that these comments will contribute to the evolving understanding of the creative writing process and its relationship, in this case, to a number of constructs from the field of psychology. However it is understood that an exploration of this kind can only partly account for the writing process. As Perth-based Gestalt and art therapist Tarquam McKenna who says: “The artist can never fully see his or her own work. It is hidden by a veil.” (Personal Communication, July 14, 1996).

While every attempt has been made to honestly acknowledge and express the motivations behind the text, much of what follows is, of necessity, based on speculation and exploration.

[Chapter One ~ Ancient History]