2, 2 and 2: Tineke Van der Eecken talks about Traverse

Tineke Van der Eecken
Traverse
(Wild Weeds Press)
MEMOIR

Tineke Profile5

I first met Tineke Van der Eecken in 2010, when she asked me to take a preliminary look at the fledgling manuscript that would eventually become Traverse. And last month, it gave me great pleasure to launch the book, and to celebrate Tineke’s long creative journey of hard work and perseverance that would, along the way, see the unpublished manuscript shortlisted for the 2016 City of Fremantle T.A.G. Hungerford Award. What I felt were the strengths of the manuscript in its earliest form shine through clearly still: an unusual subject matter, a strong evocation of place, and the warmth and honesty of the narrative voice.

Traverse is not Tineke’s first book; she has also published Cafe d’Afrique, a memoir about her experiences in running a coffee shop in Zambia. And her poetry and non-fiction have been widely published in Australia, Europe and the United Kingdom. Belgian-born, she now lives near Fremantle, Western Australia, and works in conflict resolution. She also makes jewellery inspired by her travels.

Here is the book’s blurb:

Tineke, her husband Dirk and their two children have moved many times to support his career as a geologist. As the family struggle to settle into their new home in England, Dirk is away for months, conducting surveys in Madagascar; while at home, he is mentally absent. When Tineke discovers his infidelity, her life can never be the same.

Determined to save her twelve-year marriage, she decides to accompany Dirk on his next geological expedition: a 350 kilometre trek through the unrelenting terrain of Madagascar.

Traverse is both a travel memoir that charts Tineke’s difficult and dangerous trek, and a forensic examination of the denouement of a fractured marriage. The landscape of Madagascar—in particular, the powerful Bemarivo River—brings her face-to-face with her own limitations and with demons from her past. By pushing through a physical feat of endurance and examining the emotional truth of her situation, Tineke is finally able to resolve her own and her husband’s future.

 

Over to Tineke…

Traverse Book Cover

2 things that inspired my book

1 Working through painful life experiences is at the centre of my story. It’s nothing new; it’s the tragedy of life. The trick was to turn this negative into a positive, something beautiful and worth sharing. My first book, Cafe d’Afrique, tells the story of a failed business venture in Africa but it’s also about friendship with Zambian people and with Zambia as a country. Traverse is the story of a marriage breakdown, on one hand, and about daring to be vulnerable, on the other.

2 The immediate inspiration for Traverse was the trip itself: trekking 350 kilometres on foot through four climate zones in a remote part of Northern Madagascar, one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world—both ecologically and culturally. During the trek, I would meet the woman my husband had fallen in love with and try to decide if our marriage could be rescued.

2 places connected with my book

1 Northern Madagascar—in particular, the area east of Tsinzarano—following the Bemarivo River towards its source in the mountains, and ending in Ambilobe. In this part of the world, you go from one place to another by walking.

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2 Cotgrave, a small village in the Eastern Midlands in England. It is perched in an undulating landscape and connected to the other villages by ancient footpaths.

2 favourite Madagascan phrases

1 The question ‘Bis lanana?’—‘Where is the path?’—was commonly heard during the expedition. When you trek through an open landscape, you can see the path winding its way across the hills to the next village, ten or twenty kilometres away. It can take all day to reach that destination. There is something marvellous in arriving on foot in a village or town. You can never be anonymous. You know the others on the path, and they know you. The school you pass will have children chanting in French instead of their local language.

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2 Expressed as a statement, ‘Bis lanana’ meant there was always a path, even if it had to be hacked through the forest. I see it as a metaphor for a modern marriage. There is always a path, a way to make things work or to make the best out of what is not working. But paths, like rivers, merge and separate. Our path followed the course of the river all the way to the source. There were many tributaries, unexpectedly creating white water, danger. Our focus, more and more, was on how to manoeuvre these crossings.

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Traverse is available online here and on Amazon, and at select WA bookshops
More about Tineke on her website
Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @tinekecreations

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Researching an artist: a few favourite resources

Research played a major role in the creation of Kathleen O’Connor of Paris, and I learned a lot in the process. I had to. Narrative non-fiction is a new genre for me, and I knew I would need to be working from a strong foundation.

I also had a subject whose long life was lived in many places, and whose career would have to be examined from different perspectives.

Here are some of the resources I found particularly valuable.

Specialist art libraries
During the course of my research, I had the opportunity to visit the library of the Art Gallery of Western Australia; the National Art Library in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery Library and the Courtauld Institute Library in London; and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The collections of these wonderful institutions include materials such as exhibition catalogues, collections of press cuttings, obscure recordings and publications, regional registers, dictionaries of artists—and probably many other things, but these are the ones I accessed.

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Online archives
What would researchers in Australia do without Trove, the National Library of Australia’s searchable digital collection of Australian newspapers from 1803 to 1955? Thanks to Trove, along with the propensity of local nineteenth-century/early twentieth-century newspapers to report in great detail on just about every event that happened in the colony, I was able to get a sense of Kate’s adolescent years in Perth and Fremantle. Gallica, the online library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, was another source I used for locating press articles and reviews, although it is not a comprehensive collection of the national library’s resources.

Pay-for-view databases
I found it a sound investment to pay for a month’s subscription to ancestry.com in order to track genealogical resources relating to Kate and others. Similarly, a month’s subscription to an art auction database gave me access to several decades of auction sales, and to works of Kate’s I had not seen anywhere else.

‘Can you help?’
I placed a paragraph in this weekly column in the West Australian newspaper, asking for information from anyone who had known Kate or held her artwork. Although responses were few, each one of them was a gem—some wonderful anecdotes from a (then) young man who used to deliver art supplies to Kate; an artwork whose whereabouts I had not known of; a photograph of Kate that made me smile; contact from a family member; some details about the buying and selling of a much-loved painting.

Artworks
I’ve saved the best for last. I made a point of viewing as many of Kate’s artworks as I could locate during the course of researching her life, and the experience of seeing them up close was nothing short of thrilling. And I discovered something I had not known before: that the back of a painting—or at least of Kate’s paintings—has its own story to tell, in the form of inscriptions; old labels recording dates, prices, addresses, titles; exhibition history; sketches; even other works. The privilege of viewing these works in galleries, offices, store-rooms, vaults and private homes will stay with me as one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing life.

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Skygazing, Paris…

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(More of these on Instagram #kathleenoconnorofparis—but this one is my favourite!)

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Publication day has arrived…

…for this bright and shiny package that represents, for me, a decades-long fascination that developed, in the last few years, into an obsession. A big thank-you to Fremantle Press for making the package so beautiful (and for much else besides).

Welcome to the world again, Kate.

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For those based in Perth, there are a few events coming up over the coming two weeks:

3 November: Literary Afternoon Tea at State Buildings, Perth City, 1–3pm. Tickets (still a few left) from $60, bookings here.

6 November: In Conversation at Beaufort Street Books, Beaufort Street, Mt Lawley, 6.15pm for a 6.30 start. Tickets $10, including cheese and wine tasting, bookings here.

8 November: Author talk, A.H. Bracks Library, corner Canning Highway and Stock Road, Melville, 6–8pm. Free event but bookings essential here.

15 November: Great Big Book Club Read, Fremantle Arts Centre, 1 Finnerty Street, Fremantle, 6pm. (The winner of the T.A.G. Hungerford Award will also be announced on the same night.) Free event but RSVPs essential here.

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Kate’s Paris: Chemin du Montparnasse

During my research trip to Paris, I stumbled on Chemin du Montparnasse while looking for 21 avenue du Maine. I quickly realised that they were one and the same. The name is a modern one that Kathleen O’Connor would not have recognised, as this narrow little lane lined with artists’ studios was referred to in her time only by its street address. 

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An arts centre, Villa Vassilieff, today occupies the site of the studio of a former inhabitant of the laneway, the Russian artist Marie Vassilieff. Vassilieff ran an academy from her upstairs studio, and Kate occasionally attended her evening sketch classes with British artist Nina Hamnett. 

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It was a Sunday when I walked through Chemin du Montparnasse, peering into atelier windows and gazing up, imagining Kate at work with her charcoal and sketchbook. Although it was quiet, deserted, I fancied I could hear laughter and the clomp-clomp of feet trudging upstairs to class, the creak of easels, the patient, weary sighs of artists’ models holding a pose.

It was a delight to find this remnant of Kate’s Paris in today’s Montparnasse.

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Kathleen O’Connor of Paris will be available from 1 November

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Quick tutorial: the semicolon

iStock_000018482964XSmallIt’s been a while since I posted a quick tutorial, but I was asked recently to explain when and how to use a semicolon. Some writers hate this innocuous little slip of a thing, mostly because they’re not sure what to do with it. Others seem to like the idea of it but use it indiscriminately, hoping they’ll get it right.

Here’s a quick and easy guide.

Holding things together

The semicolon can be used to join two parts of a sentence that are closely linked in meaning and are independent clauses.

For example:

Charlene ate all the chocolates; she should have felt guilty.

Charlene ate all the chocolates and she should have felt guilty are linked in meaning and are independent clauses—that is, each could stand as a separate sentence:

Charlene ate all the chocolates. She should have felt guilty.

Whether you join them with a semicolon or cast them as two separate sentences is a matter of choice and nuance. Joining them perhaps confers a greater sense of judgment on the greedy Charlene!

Note that independent clauses can also be linked with a coordinating conjunction—for example:

Charlene ate all the chocolates and she should have felt guilty.

Charlene at all the chocolates so she should have felt guilty.

Each of these also gives a different nuance to the sentence.

But a comma should not be used to join two independent clauses. The following example, known as a ‘comma splice’, is incorrect:*

Charlene ate all the chocolates, she should have felt guilty.

Pushing things apart

The semicolon can also be used to separate items in a narrative list that contain internal commas.

Take, for example, this list of items:

  • three bags of coconut rough, one weighing 600 grams and the others, 400 grams
  • six bars of dark chocolate, two of them 85% cocoa
  • a silver-embossed, ribbon-tied foil carton of truffles

If this list were to be used in narrative in the usual way—that is, by separating each item with a comma—the sentence would look clumsy and be confusing to read, so semicolons are used instead of commas between the items:

That greedy Charlene ate three bags of coconut rough, one weighing 600 grams and the others, 400 grams; six bars of dark chocolate, two of them 85% cocoa; and a silver-embossed, ribbon-tied foil carton of truffles.

(OK, I confess: Charlene is me.)

I hope that helps!

*This ‘rule’ is often intentionally broken for creative purposes—for example, for rhythm, or to achieve a particular effect.

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The short, the sweet and the historical…

The Australian Short Story Festival takes place in Perth on 19–21 October, at the Centre for Stories in Northbridge (with some events at other venues). The festival’s creative director, Susan Midalia, has put together a wonderful program, which you can peruse here.

Guests include David Malouf, Maria Takolander, Roanna Gonsalves, Anthony Macris, Laura Elvery, Jennifer Down and an impressive list of local emerging and established writers. I’ve booked for several sessions and am looking forward to a stimulating weekend of discussion on fiction in its short form.

I’ll be presenting a workshop on historical fiction, It’s not just breeches and bloomers, on Friday 19 October, 1.30–4.30pm. If that’s of interest to you, here’s the link for booking.

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