Happy Bastille Day…

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Taken not on Bastille Day but on a snowy January day in one of the coldest Paris winters of recent times.

 

 

 

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Happy Anniversary, Little Jock

Ten years ago today, Little Jock came into the world—in fictional form, I mean; the real Little Jock was born about 170 years before that and left it, in horrifying circumstances, in 1882. There is no gravestone to mark his singular journey through life as a maybe-man—waif, thief, convict, shepherd, sandalwood carter, murder victim. But there are all kinds of memorials…

My first novel, The Sinkings, which in part imagines Little Jock’s life, was released on 1 July 2008.

UWA Publishing director Terri-ann White has gone on record as saying that having your book published will not change your life. I’ve told her more than once: I disagree. A big thank-you, Terri-ann and UWAP, for changing mine.

And Happy Anniversary, Little Jock.

thesinkings

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2, 2 and 2: David Whish-Wilson talks about The Coves

David Whish-Wilson
The Coves
(Fremantle Press)
NOVEL

David-Whish-Wilson-websiteDavid Whish-Wilson is well known as the writer of three richly imagined, superbly crafted crime novels that delve into the seedier threads of Perth’s past: Old Scores, Line of Sight and Zero at the Bone. He is also the author of Perth, a lyrical portrait of the city in all its brashness and beauty, corruption and innocence. He has been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award and WA Premier’s Book Award, and in 2014 won the Patricia Hackett Prize for best contribution to Westerly for a story I remember well as a master class on landscape and character, tension and silence.

To many Perth writers, David is a much valued teacher, mentor and supervisor, as coordinator of the creative writing program at Curtin University. But he has not always been an academic. At the age of eighteen, he left Australia to live in Europe, Africa and Asia, working variously as a barman, actor, street seller, petty criminal, labourer, exterminator, factory worker, gardener, clerk, travel agent, teacher and drug-trial guinea pig. Now, that’s what I call research. He returned to Australia a decade later and now lives in Fremantle.

I was intrigued when I heard that David had a new book coming out, and that it wasn’t in the crime fiction genre. Even more so when I read what it was about. (And all those intriguing vintage mugshots that he’d been posting on Facebook a few years ago suddenly made sense.) Here is the blurb for The Coves

San Francisco, 1849: a place gripped by gold fever, swarming with desperate men come to seek their fortune. Among them are former convicts, Australians quick to seize control in a town without masters, a town for the taking. Into this world steps an Australian boy in search of his mother. Just twelve years old, and all alone in a time of opportunism, loyalty and violent betrayal, Samuel Bellamy must learn to become one of the Sydney Coves if he is to survive.

‘A clever tale of criminal plots, family bonds, and the birth of a new world. Holds like a vice and never lets go. Every turn of the page builds the pressure.’—Rohan Wilson

‘A lyrical coming-of-age tale and an historical crime novel, lit by something fresh, honest and generous.’—Joan London

Over to David…

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2 things that inspired the book

Having written three crime novels in a row, I wanted to do something entirely different. I’ve never written from the perspective of a child protagonist, and the idea of opening up the spare Australian vernacular used in my crime novels to the more expansive diction of mid-nineteenth century language seemed like a liberating thing to do. When my then seven year-old son came to me and asked me to write a book about him, I told him that I couldn’t do that. When he then changed tack and suggested that I write a book about a boy ‘like him’, I said that I’d think about it, but the right project wasn’t on the horizon.

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It wasn’t long after that I came across mention of the Sydney Ducks—a gang of Australian criminals who ran organised crime in San Francisco from 1849 to 1855, and in some cases beyond. I did a bit of research, and many of them were ex-convicts, some of whom escaped to make their way to California. They were a colourful bunch of characters, but even so the idea didn’t stick. It wasn’t until I did some further reading and visited San Francisco that I realised there was more to the story. Many of the same men and women who populated gold-rush era San Francisco returned to Australia for the 1855 Victorian gold-rush, and then later the Otago gold-rush in New Zealand. Everywhere this chaotic, multicultural and sometimes violent band travelled, they unsettled the existing social order, demanding democratic reform (such as those that followed the Eureka Stockade incident in Australia) that matched the egalitarian and self-reliant ideals practised on the goldfields. It wasn’t until I started looking at the early Australian presence in San Francisco, when roughly one quarter of the city’s population was Australian, as less of a collection of wild men and women and more as a proving ground for some of the social ideas later associated with Australian identity that I was able to commence writing the novel.

2 places connected with the book

The novel moves between various locations in Australia and California, but the most important are the Swan River colony where my protagonist, Samuel Bellamy, was born, and San Francisco. At the time of Samuel’s birth, Perth was a struggling village. After his father’s murder and mother’s transportation to Van Diemen’s Land, Sam is adopted by the local Magistrate, growing up along the banks of the upper Swan River near Guildford. Sam’s memory of living among the Whadjuk Noongar and the sense of mystery described by his early memories of place linger with him and help shape his view of things throughout the novel.

San Francisco in 1849 is a new world for Sam and his Australian peers. Where in Australia the stern realities of British governance were ever-present, in post-revolutionary and newly American California the pace of change outstripped any capacity for the rule of law to moderate the behaviours of the Australian arrivals in particular. As men and women who’d often served prison terms and were used to deprivation and manual labour, they were well suited to life as prospectors but also as criminals in the rapidly growing city. The police force and judiciary were easily bribed, and elections were readily rigged. When local merchants looked like organising (as they eventually did) in a bid to ameliorate the depredations, it was easy enough to wait for a sea-breeze to come in and set a fire that burned the city down, while sparing the Australian quarter. Sam Bellamy arrives in the city to find the Sydney Coves gang is well established but always vulnerable to political change. He learns to work alongside them, although for Sam the city is not just marked by opportunity. It is also marked by the absence of his mother, who he’s travelled there to find. It is her absence that is the thread that leads him to retrieve treasured memories of their early life together on the Swan River. Hers is a spectral presence that imbues the land of his childhood with a symbolic importance and power.

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2 favourites elements of the book

The novel opens with a quote from a Hart Crane poem, ‘Cutty Sark’, which to me captures the tenor of the times and characters who populate the story.

Murmurs of Leviathan he spoke,
And rum was Plato in our heads…

I’ve chosen a few images of the period in which The Coves is set. When an English policeman (Isaiah W. Lees, who went on to become chief of police) was placed in charge of ridding the city of its Australian criminals in 1854, he soon realised that exiling them didn’t really work. The Australian criminals would merely leave town and return under a different name. To fix the problem, he instituted the use of daguerreotype images, now known as mugshots, of known criminals to circulate to various merchants. Lees’s use of mugshots is thought to be only the third time this practice was instituted worldwide, following Paris and New York. Sadly, many were lost in the great San Franciscan earthquake of 1906, although I was able to find some early examples in various archives.

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This circa 1850s ‘Sydney Duck’ mugshot of a resident of Sydney-town is of Rose Church, who ran a brothel, and was charged on this occasion with drugging a ‘gentleman’ and stealing his wallet. She was born in New Zealand and spoke with an Irish accent. Described in her arrest record as five-foot-two, with bad teeth and a burn on her forehead, Rose later died in San Quentin prison.

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‘Redhead Burns’—a young Australian thief

 

The Coves is released on 1 July 2018
Find out more at Fremantle Press
Follow David on his website and on Twitter

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A few Paris angles…

…because it’s Friday, and why not?

Have a lovely weekend 🙂

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2, 2 and 2: Robert Lukins talks about The Everlasting Sunday

Robert Lukins
The Everlasting Sunday
(University of Queensland Press)
LITERARY FICTION

Robert Lukins Author Photo.jpg

A few months ago I read Robert Lukins’ debut novel The Everlasting Sunday and was absolutely blown away. As I wrote in my newsletter:

I can’t praise this novel too much. Lukins is a writer of rare originality in both the way in which his characters view their world and the language he finds to render their impressions. It is infinitely tender and, at the same time, quietly brutal, and I was moved and devastated and elated after finishing it.

I’ve been recommending the novel to readers and book clubs ever since, so I was delighted when Robert agreed to tackle my 2, 2 and 2 questions.

Robert is a Melbourne writer whose work has appeared in publications such as The Big Issue, Rolling Stone, Crikey, Broadsheet and Overland. His author blurb tells us that he has worked as an art researcher and journalist, but he is apparently pretty versatile in his working life, as you’ll read below!

Here is the blurb for The Everlasting Sunday:

During the freezing English winter of 1962, seventeen-year-old Radford is sent to Goodwin Manor, a home for boys who have been ‘found by trouble’. Drawn immediately to the charismatic West, Radford soon discovers that each one of them has something to hide.

Life at the Manor offers only a volatile refuge, and unexpected arrivals threaten the world the boys have built. Will their friendship be enough when trouble finds them again?

At once both beautiful and brutal, The Everlasting Sunday is a haunting debut novel about growing up, growing wild and what it takes to survive.

‘Robert Lukins’ powerful, assured writing cuts like a knife into a world cracking with secrets and tension.’—Lucy Treloar

‘Lukins’ great achievement is to have created an atmosphere that is at once very much of this world, and musical and timeless. Everlasting indeed.’—Michelle de Kretser

‘Extraordinary…The Everlasting Sunday is a beautifully written, subtle novel, dealing with loss, forgiveness, love, redemption and the complexity of our natures.’—John Purcell, Booktopia

And now, over to Robert…

The Everlasting Sunday Cover

2 things that inspired the book

1 A crumbling manor house in rural Shropshire
Beginning just before Christmas in 2002, I spent a year working as a postman in a tiny village in Shropshire, England. I would take my Royal Mail pushbike out into the pre-dawn darkness and make my deliveries through the cobbled streets. My final destination each morning was three or four miles out of town, up through the empty grazing fields. Against the fog and empty white of the hills, a great manor house would emerge. A remarkable sight, though as you approached it was clear that the building was in decay. Abandoned but still collecting junk mail, of course. After pushing the letters through the front door’s slot, I would stand at the gates of the manor and watch the sun rise into the landscape. It was always such a beautiful and lonely moment, and so concentrated. I have carried this memory with me through all the years since, and when I came to write The Everlasting Sunday my subconscious took me back to that place. My story takes place within those crumbling walls.

2 Old family photographs
I stumbled across photographs of my father and his family living through The Big Freeze: the catastrophic British winter of 1962–63. As I grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, hearing the stories my parents told of this winter had a lasting impact on me. They described the chaos of countries grinding to a halt. People being stranded in their homes; some not making it through. When I discovered these pictures of my father and grandfather it reawakened my memories of these family stories and I was drawn to this incredible time. This is the winter that forms such an important part of my novel and is the boundary, and sometimes antagonist, of its story.

Family Photos 1 copy

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2 places connected with the book

1 Childhood
I’m interested in how the adult self is connected to the child it once was. Whether we are, as a character suggests in my novel, ‘forever children’. With this in mind, I have tried to play with time in this novel. To have time stop in some ways and compress within this house and this winter. The pasts of these characters and the landscape that surrounds them merge with the present and future and I’ve attempted to create a sense of blurring around how the single season of this story sits within the wider world. I’m interested in how moments of the past can haunt us or provide peace.

2 A particular table in a particular pub in a small Shropshire village
In the Shropshire village that was my home for twelve months in the early two-thousands, there was a certain pub at the top of the high street in which I would sit at the same back-corner table for quite a decent percentage of my waking, post-work hours. The building dated from the very first years of the 17th century and inside it felt heavy with history. The oak table that I would sit at looked ancient in its own right. I would perch myself there, listening to the merry hubbub of the room, and slowly attend to my ale and chips. I would imagine the centuries of conversation and stories that the beams and walls and table had listened in on. I thought of all the beer and grime and workers’ sweat that the oak must have absorbed. It was an intoxicating atmosphere (in every sense) and I have never forgotten that intense connection that can exist between a person and the building that protects them. This pub found its way into The Everlasting Sunday, as too did a bound relationship between the manor house and the inhabitants it defends.

2 pieces of art connected with the book

1 J.M.W. Turner’s Snow Storm—Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842)
A small copy of this painting was sticky-taped to the space above my desk for the entirety of the writing of my novel. It became a shortcut into the atmosphere of the world of the story. Swirling, claustrophobic, and raging around a more solid centre. This is how I would visualise the physical and psychological space the characters were trapped within. It’s a painting I have always loved and I enjoyed that I was able to connect with it so intimately in writing this book. I truly would stand with my face pressed in close to the picture, trying to get lost in it. The silly things we do.

Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth exhibited 1842 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

2 ‘Fern Tree’ by Andrea Keller
Again, a shortcut into the tone of the novel. Andrea Keller is one of my favourite musicians. She usually operates from a more obviously jazz place, but this track is a highlight of her sparse, at times melancholic, solo album Family Portraits. The song is built on layers of looped, crystalline piano lines that come in and out of the picture, overlapping to form a beautiful and chaotic noise before retreating into calm. I would often play this song before writing to switch into the mood I needed. It an amazing piece of music that captures so closely the atmosphere I was trying to attain in my writing: of a storm circling a fragile centre of calm.

The Everlasting Sunday is available now
Follow Robert via his website
Listen to a Radio National conversation with Robert here

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2, 2 and 2: Robyn Cadwallader talks about Book of Colours

Robyn Cadwallader
Book of Colours
(HarperCollins)
LITERARY FICTION

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One of my favourite novels of 2015 was Robyn Cadwallader’s haunting The Anchoress. I had the pleasure of interviewing Robyn about her brilliant debut at the Perth Writers Festival that year, and reviewed it here. The Anchoress was a bestseller in Australia and was also published in the UK, the US and France.

Discovering that Robyn’s second novel would be coming out in 2018 gave me that delicious sense of anticipation that comes from knowing something special this way comes. Book of Colours was recently released and is sitting right now on the top of my reading pile.

Robyn lives among vineyards in the country outside Canberra and has a writerly background that embraces a good deal more than two novels. She has published poems, prize-winning short stories and reviews, a poetry collection, i painted unafraid (Wakefield, 2010), and a non-fiction book based on her PhD thesis about virginity and female agency in the Middle Ages, and has edited a collection of essays on asylum seeker policy, We Are Better Than This (ATF, 2015). She is also the reviews editor for the online literary journal Verity La.

Here is the blurb for Book of Colours:

London, 1321: In a small stationer’s shop in Paternoster Row, three people are drawn together around the creation of a magnificent, illuminated prayer book. Even though the commission seems to answer the aspirations of each one of them, their secrets, desires and ambitions threaten its completion. As each struggles to see the book come into being, it will change everything they have understood about their place in the world.

Rich, deep, sensuous and full of life, Book of Colours is also, most movingly, a profoundly beautiful story about creativity and connection, and our instinctive need to understand our world and communicate with others through the pages of a book.

Over, now, to Robyn…

Book of Colours Cover high res copy 2

2 things that inspired the book

The initial inspiration for Book of Colours was curiosity and a question…well, several questions. I had seen many medieval decorated prayer books and had admired their beauty: prayers copied carefully, a beautiful decorated capital or a larger picture, illuminated with gold leaf, of Christ, Mary or the saints, and some delicate foliage in the borders. We’ve probably all seen pictures of them, all written on parchment and decorated by hand.

But I was particularly intrigued by those that seemed to break the rules by including a carnival of life in the margins: jugglers, dancers, cock fights, ball games; animal fables, where animals apparently wreak revenge on humans (Monty Python’s killer rabbit comes straight from a medieval manuscript!); dragons and all manner of fantastical beasts, and even scenes of sin, like a monk and a nun having sex.

All of this in a beautiful and expensive prayer book intended for a woman! How could this be? What was the purpose of such play and fantasy? Scholars have theories, but no-one knows for sure. The margins seemed to resist the authority of the centre, to say that there is more to devotion than paintings of holy figures. I love those fault lines, the places where expectations are undermined, forcing us to rethink our assumptions. What rich material to explore!

A more direct inspiration Book of Colours was a manuscript in the British Library that helped me to find my characters. I sat in the Manuscripts Room with a manuscript painted in the early fourteenth century and an art historian’s study of that particular manuscript. She describes the way it is possible now, through close examination of the painting—brush stroke, detail, style, etc.—to distinguish individual, though unidentified, artists.

So, for example, she described Artist 1 as the most experienced of the group, recognisable by his use of detail and colour, while Artist 2 had a particular talent for painting a crowd and capturing some sense of drama and energy. She went on to describe two more artists, and as I looked at the paintings and followed her analysis, I could imagine the personalities of the illuminators, or limners, as they called them. Why was it, for example, that Artist 4 painted neatly coloured flowers, but his paintings lacked any dynamism? What gave Artist 2 the ability to draw crowds so well? Was Artist 3 perhaps an apprentice? How did they feel about their work? Was Artist 1 the owner of the atelier? How did they get on together? Was there competition or admiration among them all? Instead of four artists distinguished by technique, four characters began to emerge. What personalities and life experiences might their paintings reveal? By the time I closed the manuscript and stood up from my desk, I had the glimmerings of four illuminators, unformed as yet, but each one itching to be in my novel.

2 places connected with the book

London, the setting for my novel, of course—old and new. I’ve spent time in London before, and in 2013 I had a wonderful ten weeks there, researching fourteenth-century London in the British Library. But I was able to do more than read about it: it’s a huge help to be able to walk the streets and land, notice the topography of the land, feel the weather and observe the people. Seven centuries is a long time, and so much of the city has changed, but there’s an essence to a place that seems to seep into the ground.

And there is still the Thames, and the way the land slopes down from St Paul’s; there is Paternoster Row, where my limners have their shop, though it’s now only a small lane; there are Old Change, Cheapside, Smithfield Market, St Bartholomew’s Church and Priory, and parts of the old London Wall. The old stones, the tight network of roads and lanes, the way Old London hugs the river.

Once I had absorbed it all, I pasted my map on the wall above my desk, and let my London take shape in my imagination. It’s different from the London we know, but I can see it all—shops, churches, houses, mud and markets—and walk down its streets.

The second place is the world of possibilities that stories open up. I’m intrigued by the ways that stories are never still, never final, but able to shift and change, depending on our circumstances. You know how it is to read a novel as a child, then as a teenager, then as an adult: the words are the same, but we might understand it differently because we have changed.

In the medieval prayer books made for women, the paintings tell stories: the story of Mary giving birth in a stable, perhaps; or how Jesus rode into town on a donkey and the crowd cheered, only days before he was killed. Each picture has its own narrative. These were familiar, even conventional images and stories, but that doesn’t mean that they were fixed, and unable to be understood in different ways.

In my novel, my characters discover that the pictures go far beyond being simply pious reminders of dogma or morality, and instead become stories of people and places that can touch their everyday lives, meeting them where they are. For the limners who paint the pictures, and for the woman who has commissioned the book, they evoke memories—sometimes memories they have tried to repress, or they speak to their hopes and worries, or they offer consolation and understanding, even possibilities for the future.

I love that subversive idea!  Once the book is made and sent into the world, its pictures and the stories they tell—even those in a book of prayers for women—cannot be controlled. The open and always-opening network of ideas and connections is one of the most lovely qualities of stories.

2 favourite things from the novel

 I am especially fond of the gargoyle in Book of Colours because it just seemed to insist it should be included. When I was writing the first draft, I described William, one of my main characters, arriving in London and admiring St Paul’s Cathedral. He looks at the army of gargoyles at the base of the cathedral roof, and as he watches, one of them very slowly turns its head towards him and blinks. I had no idea why; the words just seemed to follow one another and there it was. I liked the idea and left it, thinking I would wait and see what happened. Soon the gargoyle was appearing in all sorts of places. It was ugly, and pushy, and shadowy, and I thought it should stay, this creature of the margins. I had some idea of its significance, but it was only at the last draft that I began to really understand why I had kept it. It’s unnerving, but I love that aspect of writing, where the unconscious leads.

A favourite passage in the novel is from a guide to illumination that one of the illuminators is writing for an apprentice. While it is intended as instruction for those who paint, I recognise now how much it applies to me and the novel I have written:

The Book
A book is shaped so that it may be picked up and carried, held onto as a baby might clutch a blanket, pondered in the quiet or lonely hours of the night, visited like a friend. You decorate the book for another, for it to be passed on from owner to daughter or son and from them to their children. Once you finish it, you cannot say where it will go and how it will be used. It might sit for years on a shelf, or stay wrapped in a cloth, forgotten. It might be a grieving woman’s companion for the rest of her life, or a child’s first sight of words, open at a page that carries the marks of much use. Perhaps it will go across the sea in a boat. Perhaps it will crumble or burn. It might be passed from hand to hand, through years, for longer than you can dream of. You cannot know. All you can do is paint faithfully and well, then let the book go.

 

Book of Colours is available now
Find out more at HarperCollins
Follow Robyn via her website

 

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2, 2 and 2: S.A. Jones talks about The Fortress

S.A. Jones
The Fortress
(Echo Publishing)
LITERARY FICTION

SA Jones-The Fortress headshot 1

The Fortress is the third novel by S.A. Jones and, with its speculative and erotic elements, a radical departure from Red Dress Walking (2008) and Isabelle of the Moon and Stars (2014).  The Fortress has been described as:

The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Natural Way of Things at a cocktail party thrown by Anais Nin’
‘A Molotov cocktail of a book: intensely furious, perversely fascinating, and unputdownable.’—Jodi McAlister
‘…a damning judgement on patriarchy, and a meditation on the labours of atonement.’—Damon Young
‘One of the decade’s best books’—Better Reading

I found it absorbing and confronting; a fast-paced read and, at the same time, a work of intelligence and formidable imagination that makes you pause to think; a novel so relevant to the #metoo movement that it appears to have been expressly created in that dark light. Which, although a lifetime in the making, it has been.

S.A. Jones’s impressive author blurb will tell you that she has a PhD in History, and has published opinion pieces and essays on politics, history, sexuality, public policy and theology for Kill Your Darlings, The Age, The Guardian, Overland, The Toast, Regime, The Drum and Page Seventeen. In 2013 she was recognised as one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence for her work in public policy, and just this week was named a finalist in the 2018 Women in Industry Awards.

The blurb fails to mention her great love of chardonnay and Wuthering Heights and all-things-Christmas, and her fierce capacity for friendship. But there, now you know.

The blurb for The Fortress reads:

Jonathon Bridge’s arrival at The Fortress—a society run and populated by women—begins with a recitation of the conditions of his stay: he is forbidden to ask questions, to raise his hand in anger, and to refuse sex.

Jonathon has offered himself as a supplicant in The Fortress after his pregnant wife Adalia discovered the ugly sexual violence pervading his top-tier firm. She has agreed to continue their fractured relationship on the condition he enter The Fortress for one year.

Jonathon is utterly unprepared for what will happen to him over the course of the year—not only to his body, but to his mind and his heart.

This absorbing, confronting and moving novel asks questions about consent, power, love and fulfilment. It asks what it takes for a man to change, and whether change is possible without a radical reversal of the conditions that seem normal.

And now, over to Serje…

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2 things that inspired The Fortress

I began writing this book when I was about twelve, although I didn’t know it then. At the time I was a competitive swimmer and had the occasional dream of Olympic glory. But I also wanted to be Prime Minister and David Attenborough, so I was keeping my options open.

Along with four others in my swim squad, all boys, I had achieved the qualifying time to try out for the state swim team. This meant travelling from our tiny island in the Buccaneer Archipelago to the big smoke of Port Hedland in the Pilbara.

Being four boys and me in the 1980s, our squad was called ‘SJ and the Meaner Machine’, after the formidable Australian relay team ‘The Mean Machine’.

We were chaperoned by the coach and his wife and billeted with a family in Port Hedland. A roster of chores was drawn up for us five kids while we were there (a sensible thing to do given we ate constantly and created mountains of chlorinated washing).

When it was Jeffrey’s turn to do the dishes, he refused. This put my coach and his wife in an awkward position, because Jeffrey was their son. His parents insisted.

Jeffrey refused and began to glow red around the ears. This was a warning sign we were all familiar with. Jeffrey was an epic tantrum thrower—the sort of tantrums that should be preserved on scrolls and alluded to in awed whispers.

The embarrassment in the room at Jeffrey’s refusal became a palpable thing, another presence.

As the redness spread from Jeffrey’s ears to his temples and a high-pitched whine began to escape his mouth, Jeffrey’s mother announced that I would do his dishes.

His dishes. As well as the dishes I was rostered to do.

‘That’s not fair’, I pointed out.

But the desire to avert a scene was stronger than the inclination for fairness, and my protests fell on deaf ears.

As I stood by the sink doing Jeffrey’s dishes, my face burning with humiliation, Jeffrey smirked at me from the doorway.

For the few days we were billeted there, I had to do all Jeffrey’s chores as well as my own.

During those few days, my consciousness of girlhood, and what that means in relation to boyhood, was born. Even setting aside the gross error of judgement in releasing Jeffrey from his chores, there were three other kids in that team besides me and Jeffrey. But they were boys.

Housework was girl work. I was the girl. The SJ in the Meaner Machine.

In some ways, Jeffrey has always been smirking at me from the doorway of that kitchen.

I’ve read wonderful, powerful books about the female experience such as Kate Grenville’s Dark Places, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things.

But where was the book about Jeffrey? About what happens to a boy who learns early in life that the world will bend his way. Who is not taught to discipline his emotions and appetites. Who expects that handmaids will clean up when he won’t.

And, more importantly, what does it take for this man to change?

The Fortress is my answer to that question.

For my second point of inspiration, let me return to Jeffrey’s smirking. That experience was humiliating, but it was also galvanising. Perhaps without the Jeffreys and their smirking I would not be so driven and so focused.

Nothing inspires bloody-mindedness so much as being told ‘you can’t’.

2 places connected with The Fortress

I began writing The Fortress in the most idyllic circumstances. I was on holiday in Kamala Beach, Thailand, with my husband, daughter, sister and brother-in-law. After breakfast I would find a secluded spot under a tree or beach umbrella and write. Over dinner, we would discuss the ideas and characters I was developing.

Thai food, margaritas, sand underfoot and good company made writing this book the most joyful of my novel-writing experiences.

Bec and SJ Kamala Beach

The Fortress is also connected to the dining room in one of my close girlfriends’ house. I’ve sat around her table many times over the twenty plus years of our friendship, and on a particular evening I realised something: that with one exception, all the women sitting at that table had disclosed to me their experience of sexual assault.

Some had been sexually abused by a trusted family friend, some by family members, some by partners, some by people they didn’t know. The ubiquity of the experience, the banality of it even, both saddened and enraged me.

The Fortress represents the concentration and disciplining of that rage.

2 favourite artworks inspired by The Fortress

Ekphrasis has always fascinated me, so to have The Fortress refracted in other mediums is gratifying and intriguing.

Tom Conyers painted this after reading The Fortress. His visual rendering of my words moves me so much. And those olöcks…sublime. [Olöcks are ground-dwelling birds that inhabit The Fortress.]

The Fortress painting

Ambient musician Jason Johnston, performing as Newtropic, composed this piece after being inspired by a space in The Fortress called the Shaenet. The Shaenet is a garden where medicinal and recreational herbs are grown.

The Fortress is available now
Reviews at Better Reading and The Australian
Listen to an interview on RRR
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