2, 2 and 2: Sarah Drummond talks about The Sound

It’s a pleasure to welcome Sarah Drummond to looking up/looking down to talk about The Sound. 

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Photo: Nic Duncan

Sarah is a sublime writer. I was delighted to find that we both had pieces in the anthology Purple Prose (2015), and hers— ‘“Is a magnificent story”: Interviews with pigeon fanciers’—is one of my favourites.

Her first book, published in 2013, is the much lauded Salt Story (2013), a memoir of her time deck handing on the south coast of Western Australia. It was shortlisted for the Emerging WA Writer Award in the 2014 Premier’s Book Awards and longlisted for the prestigious Dobbie Award in the same year.

Sarah has also published essays and short fiction in Shadow Plays: an anthology of speculative fiction, Short Stories Australia, Creative Nonfiction, indigo journal, Best Australian Essays 2010, LINQ Journal, Overland and Kurungabaa.

Her new book, and first novel, The Sound, is based on the true story of the Aboriginal women and sealing crews who sailed from Van Diemen’s Land to Western Australia in the 1820s. Here is the blurb:

Wiremu Heke of Aramoana joins a sealing boat on a voyage from Tasmania to Western Australia. He is on a quest to avenge the destruction of his village but soon finds himself a part of the violent and lawless world that has claimed the lives of those he’s known. It’s a world inhabited by men from many nations. Men who plunder seal colonies and steal women and children from the indigenous communities who live on the islands and shorelines of Australia’s south.

Over to Sarah…

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2 things that inspired my book

1 Selkie stories have guided a lot of my historical fiction. For those who don’t know the tale, selkies are an old Orkney legend about the female seals who shed their seal skins to turn into women on the full moon. They sing and dance on the shore like sirens. When a man finds their shed skin, the woman has to follow him. Often she will spend years searching for her skin, yearning for her sea people. She may have children with him, she may love her husband, but she still wants to be beyond his control, to return to her people. Every day, she searches for her skin. I saw the Tasmanian women as searching for their skins after the sealers took them to the islands as wives and workers.

2 Working on small boats with Salt directly inspired my first book, Salt Story, of sea dogs and fisherwomen, but it also inspired and informed much of The Sound. (I was writing both books at the same time.) My boss, aka Salt, is descended from a sealer who died when he was accidentally shot through the neck in the 1850s. Fishing the south coast was rich with stories, experiences, landscapes and seascapes. There is nothing quite like being out on the water at night and seeing phosphorescent whale tracks.

2 places connected with the book

1 There are many places connected with The Sound. My favourite is the inlet Waychinicup. It is the setting for a scene in the novel where William Hook, Moennan and Tama Hine set a fishing net at night and they see phosphorescence, fire in the water. This scene is peaceful and sensual, a cultural meeting, and an intermission from the chaos and violence in their lives.

2 I say often that The Sound was written from the sea. A proofreader mentioned to my editor that, although many writers dwell on the Australian landscape, this was the first book she’d read where the landscape is experienced from the sea. I really liked that comment because I tried to write it that way. In the 1820s, European Australians were sea people and the Southern Ocean was their highway to transport goods and people.

2 favourite sources

1 The paper ‘Of Other Spaces’ by Michel Foucault helped me to explore how the Breaksea Islander community survived and negotiated living as a kind of separate society, lawless and away from the rest of the world. I think his final paragraph is quite magnificent:

Brothels and colonies are two extreme forms of heterotopia, and if we think, after all, that the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port, from tack to tack, from brothel to brothel, it goes as far as the colonies in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in their gardens, you will understand why the boat has not only been for our civilisation, from the sixteenth century until the present, the great instrument of economic development (I have not been speaking of that today), but has also been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination. The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilisations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.

2 And this is not a quote but a painting by Louis de Sainson, artist aboard the French exploration ship Astrolabe that was moored in King George Sound while the sealers were there. The day after the Astrolabe left King George Sound, the sealers marooned five Menang men on an island so that they could kidnap those men’s wives and daughters. I realised one day on looking at the image that it gave me a tremendous amount of information, including how a European could include a grass tree on a beach shore to give an ‘authentic’ vision of Australia to the folk back home! It also gives me a sense of immediacy, a sense of occasion.

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The Sound is in bookshops now
Visit Sarah’s website here
Find out more at Fremantle Press

 

 

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2, 2 and 2: Dianne Touchell talks about Forgetting Foster

Author PhotoDianne Touchell is one of my favourite writers of young adult fiction. Among the many things I admire in her work are its fearlessness, its compassion, its humour, and the respect she so obviously has for her young characters. It comes as no surprise to me to hear that she thinks young adults are far more interesting than grown-ups.

Dianne’s debut, Creepy & Maud (Fremantle Press, 2012), was shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Award in the Older Readers category. Her second, A Small Madness (Allen & Unwin, 2015), was a Notable book in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards, and you can read her 2, 2 and 2 interview about A Small Madness here.

I am delighted to be featuring her new novel, Forgetting Foster. Here is the book’s blurb…

Foster suddenly recognised the thing that rolled over him and made him feel sick. It was this: Dad was going away somewhere all on his own. And Foster was already missing him.

Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all he likes listening to his dad’s stories. But then Foster’s dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.

A heartbreaking story about what it means to forget and to be forgotten.

Over now to Di…

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2 things that inspired the book

1 Two people I loved were affected by Alzheimer’s disease and psychotic dementia. Strong, opinionated, charismatic women with large personalities and a lifelong interest in their internal and external worlds. The sort of women you can never imagine would die at all, let alone slowly walk out of their own bodies long before death actually took them. It does something to you, watching them slowly leave you, watching them slowly leave themselves. It did something to me.

There’s the denial that anything is actually wrong, then the anger that you’re now caring for someone who should be looking after you, then the guilt about that anger, then the exhaustion of that caring, and then the fear that as this godawful illness seems to have its teeth in the women of this family I might go the same way. Every time I misplace my keys or walk into a room and forget why I’m there I laugh and then I panic.

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2 I began to wonder what makes a relationship. If a relationship is created and sustained through shared memories, mutual histories and love, what happens when one person in that relationship begins to lose their memory, their history. What happens the first time they look at you with fear instead of love. I struggled with this. I still struggle with this even though both these women are dead now and it doesn’t make a lick of difference.

2 places connected with the book

1 The grown-up mind, which hides in practicalities, logistics, rosters, medical jargon and medication regimes. The mind that takes comfort in turning emotional chaos into an Excel spreadsheet of what time this pill has to be taken and what time this doctor has to be seen. The mind that doesn’t breathe much because too much down-time will create a space for pain. An impractical landscape where I chose to pitch my tent. I spent a lot of time there.

2 The child mind, which hasn’t learned to prevaricate, hasn’t learned to white-knuckle things, hasn’t learned the need to control everything. The mind that acknowledges being frightened and feeling hurt and does both things loudly. The mind that can separate love and fear and can express frustration in words and in play. Their feelings are just as big and confusing but can be relieved by one big long scream. I spent time there too.

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2 favourite things about the book

1 Foster’s father loves stories and has created a love of stories in Foster that enables him to retreat to toy soldiers and dragons and myth as a way of interpreting and coping with confusion and grief. This gives Foster a lovely perspective, an understanding that the world is big and full of bravery. I particularly like this response from Foster when someone takes the time to ask him what he has learned from his dad:

He said stories are the most important thing. He said people don’t tell stories or listen to other people’s stories enough. He said people are mad as March hares but to love them anyway. He said battles are won or lost before the first shot is fired. He said babies need to get the finger of God on them. He said if God is real then so are Dragons. He said the brain is a super-hero and he said Mum is a princess. Oh, and he said an unkind word can clear a room quicker than a fart.

2 Foster has a way of making things that aren’t funny…very funny. He hasn’t learned to be self-deprecating or cynical yet, which means much of the humour comes directly from bald honesty. I like the scene where Dad takes all his clothes off because they are ‘itching’ him. Fossie simply announces that Dad has his Christmas socks on, without mentioning they are the only thing he has on. The grown-up response is shock, embarrassment, defeat. Mum is so appalled that she drops her phone mid-conversation into a bowl of cereal. Throughout the book I could always rely on Fossie taking the sting out of desperate situations by speaking his mind without fear of the consequences, the result of which is often very funny.

Forgetting Foster is available in bookshops now
Visit Di’s website
Find out more at Allen & Unwin

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Writers Ask Writers: early inspirations

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It’s been a while since the Writers Ask Writers group has posted, but we couldn’t let the opportunity to celebrate two new releases go by! The main characters in those new novels—Georgia in Sara Foster’s All That is Lost Between Us, and Evie in Natasha Lester’s A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald—are young women who are inspired to pursue big dreams. Georgia dreams of being a champion fell-runner, and her flight through the Lake District becomes a matter of life and death, while Evie dares to believe she can study medicine when social conventions say otherwise. So the topic we’ve chosen this time is: books we read as young women that were early influences on our own pursuits.

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Links to the posts from Dawn Barker, Emma Chapman, Sara Foster, Natasha Lester, Annabel Smith and Yvette Walker follow mine.

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There are probably many books I read as a girl and as a young woman that contributed to what I would eventually choose to do with my life, but it isn’t always easy to draw a direct line between cause and effect, especially when (as in my case) the journey has been a circuitous one.

Novels as diverse as Catcher in the Rye, Little Women and Great Expectations made lasting impressions on my literary sensibility, and in that sense were early inspirations. But on reflection, I’m surprised to find that I also owe a debt to a popular historical/romance novelist for scattering a few seeds—some that grew into a love of history; others into a vague dissatisfaction with who and what seemed ‘worthy’ subjects of history and historical fiction.

English writer Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert (d. 1993), writing under the pseudonyms Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr, achieved sales of more than 56 million books during her writing life. In my late primary school years, I devoured the Jean Plaidy catalogue, jumping from series to series—the Queens of England, the Tudors, the Stuarts, the Georgians, the Plantagenets, Isabella and Ferdinand, the Medicis, the Borgias…

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These novels were enchanting, easy reads, and they took History—previously a dry subject consisting of dates and places and names and lists—and turned it into page-turner stories. I can trace the simple thread connecting the schoolgirl I was, eager to read about people rather than facts, to the writer I became.

But I also remember being curious about what went on in the margins of those stories. Fascinating though the lives of royalty and the powerful and the high-born were—not to mention the array of aspirants and pretenders and scheming mistresses—I would wonder about people who were not destined for a life at court or in other theatres of power. What did it feel like to be an ordinary person in such a society? What gave their lives value? Was life without status no life at all? Was the equation really that simple? It is only now that I can trace this other thread between the schoolgirl and the writer, and see that the debt I owe to ‘Jean Plaidy’ was part inspiration and part challenge.

As for those 56 million sales, I salute you, Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert! And I thank you for playing a part in sending me on the circuitous route that led me to convicts and gutting girls.

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Yvette Walker tells us why Graham Greene was the greatest influence on her young writing life.

Annabel Smith writes about her ‘beloved and much-underlined copy’ of Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home.

Natasha Lester was inspired by Jane Eyre, and through this book her ‘love of the epic novel, the love story…was born.’

Sara Foster recalls two very different novels that she says continue to influence her today.

Emma Chapman tells a beautiful story of a former employer who taught her that anything is possible.

Dawn Barker concedes her favourite was an ‘uncomfortable read’ but knows it helped her to realise ‘the power of words and stories.’

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2, 2 and 2: Natasha Lester talks about A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald

UnknownIt’s a pleasure to welcome Natasha Lester to 2, 2 and 2. Natasha has been a writer friend for several years (see the Writers Ask Writers series of posts) and I’ve had the privilege of reading, in draft form, parts of the novel she is about to release, so I know that readers are in for a treat!

A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald (Hachette Australia) is Natasha’s third book, and she already has her fourth ready to follow in April 2017. Her previous novels are What is Left Over After (2010, winner of the TAG Hungerford Award for an unpublished manuscript) and If I Should Lose You (2012). She is well known as a writing teacher and mentor, and has been described by The Age newspaper as ‘a remarkable Australian talent’.

Here’s the blurb for A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald:

It’s 1922 in the Manhattan of gin, jazz and prosperity. Women wear makeup and hitched hemlines—and enjoy a new freedom to vote and work. Not so Evelyn Lockhart, forbidden from pursuing her passion: to become one of the first female doctors.

Chasing her dream will mean turning her back on the only life she knows: her competitive sister, Viola; her conservative parents; and the childhood best friend she is expected to marry, Charlie.

And if Evie does fight Columbia University’s medical school for acceptance, how will she support herself? So when there’s a casting call for the infamous late-night Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, will Evie find the nerve to audition? And if she does, what will it mean for her fledgling relationship with Upper East Side banker Thomas Whitman, a man Evie thinks she could fall in love with, if only she lived a life less scandalous?

And now over to Natasha:

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2 things that inspired your book

1 Bizarrely, a biography of Emily Dickinson, Lives Like Loaded Guns, by Lyndall Gordon, was the thing that really kicked the idea off. And no, I’m not a huge Emily Dickinson fan, nor am I a big biography reader. It was really a moment of serendipity. I was at the Perth Writers’ Festival in 2012 and Lyndall Gordon was speaking about her book and for some reason I went along to the session—I don’t know why but I’m so glad I did! Lyndall spoke so feelingly about Emily Dickinson and her biography that I just had to buy it. One of the things the biography touched on was the fact that in the mid to late nineteenth century, a very small number women began to go to university for the first time, even though it was very much frowned upon by society. Of course, these days, women go to university and nobody thinks twice about it, so I was fascinated by the idea that university used to be, for women, an exception rather than the norm. Being the evil novelist I am, I began to wonder what would be the most unacceptable thing for a woman to study at university and it was medicine, with obstetrics right at the top of that list. That was when I knew I had my book.

2 The other inspiration was a scribbled note I’d written down after watching an ABC documentary on the history of music about 10 years ago. One of the segments in the documentary was about an infamous Broadway revue called the Ziegfeld Follies and I thought to myself at the time: wow, that would be a fabulous setting for a novel. So, a woman studying obstetrics in New York combined with my scribbled note about the Ziegfeld Follies in New York became, via a long and winding road, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald.

2 places connected with your book

1 New York is the lifeblood of my book. It wouldn’t be the same without that city. It’s a city I love, a city with a huge history, but it’s also a city of opposites: uptown and downtown, the east side and the west side, skyscrapers and tenements. And it’s those contrasts that I play with in my book: two sisters who are unalike, yet related by blood; two brothers who are the obverse of the other, yet love the same woman; the struggle of a woman to break into the world of medicine and obstetrics against the wishes of all the men in charge; the life that goes on in a boardinghouse in Greenwich Village versus that which takes place in a mansion on the Upper East Side. All the places I’ve used in A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald actually existed, from the New Amsterdam Theatre at 42nd Street, to the Sloane Hospital for Women on Amsterdam Avenue, to Chumley’s speakeasy in Greenwich Village, and Minetta Street, where Evie lives, on one of the few curving streets in the city.
[The following photos were taken by Natasha on a research trip to New York.]

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Grove Court, Greenwich Village

 

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Perry Street, just off Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village

2 Evie grows up in Concord, Massachusets, which is where Louisa May Alcott lived, and where she wrote Little Women. I wanted Evie to grow up outside Manhattan so that the decision to go to medical school involves not only a complete shift in the direction of her life, but also a physical shift in terms of where she lives. And Little Women was a source of inspiration to me when I was writing—it’s a book about sisters, as is mine—so I thought it was fitting to set part of A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald in Concord. It’s completely unlike New York City, full of pastel-coloured timber houses and so much greenery, so it lends another contrast, plus it’s close to Radcliffe College, where Evie initially goes to school. I visited both Concord and New York when researching the book, which meant I was able to write with a full and complete picture of both places in my head.

2 favourites from the book

1 The 1920s has a very specific set of slang words, which I just loved using. Terms like panther sweat for whiskey, spifflicated for drunk, hotsy-totsy for excellent, and billboard for a flashy woman. Plus the animal anatomical phrases, used to signify that something is great: cat’s whiskers, cat’s meow, cat’s pyjamas, butterfly’s boots, bee’s knees, elephant’s eyebrows. I had lots of fun with all of these.

2 One of my favourite quotes from the book is the first line of Part 2, where we jump ahead two years in time. Our last impression of Evie at the end of Part 1 is as a determined woman who’s decided to go ahead with medical school no matter what the cost to her reputation, but she’s still a relatively polite person, and a little afraid of what her decision will mean. Then she has this line of dialogue at the start of Part 2 and we know instantly that things have changed: she’s much braver now, and she’s prepared to fight. Her supervisor at the hospital, a man who can’t comprehend the idea of a female obstetrician, has just told Evie, in front of all the other medical students, that she’s not qualified to have an opinion about birthing women, and this is Evie’s response:

‘Given that I possess one, I think I have a more intimate knowledge of the vagina than any man could ever lay claim to. That should make me well qualified to be an obstetrician,’ Evie said.

Exactly!!!

A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald will be in stores on 26 April.
Visit Natasha’s website
Find out more at Hachette Australia

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