Category Archives: 2 2 and 2 (writers + new books)

2, 2 and 2: Alice Nelson talks about The Children’s House

Alice Nelson
The Children’s House
(Penguin Random House)
LITERARY FICTION

ALICE NELSON PHOTO

It’s such a pleasure to introduce Perth author Alice Nelson talking about her second novel and one of my favourite reads of 2018. The Children’s House, released last October, was longlisted for the 2019 Indie Awards and has been described by Better Reading as ‘spellbinding storytelling at its best and purest’ .

Alice’s first novel, The Last Sky—another favourite of mine (I featured it in this post)—was shortlisted for The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award, won the T.A.G. Hungerford Award and was shortlisted for the Australian Society of Authors’ Barbara Jefferis Award, and Alice was named Best Young Australian Novelist of 2009 in the Sydney Morning Herald’s national awards program. Her short fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in publications such as The Sydney Review of Books, The Asia Literary Review, Southerly, the West Australian Newspaper and the Australian Book Review.

The blurb for The Children’s House reads:

The Children’s House explores the traumas that divide families and the love and hope that creates them.

Marina Hirsch is a young professor teaching at Columbia, made famous by a book on the Romani people. In her small academic circle, she is known as ‘the Gypsy scholar’, a chronicler of hermetic communities.

Recently moved into a Harlem brownstone with her psychoanalyst husband, one hot summer day she witnesses a Rwandan refugee woman—Constance—leave her tiny son in the middle of the sidewalk. Scooping the boy up, Marina hurries to his mother and hands him back. The year is 1997, three years after the Rwandan genocide.

As the summer progresses, the two women form a tentative relationship, but soon Marina’s fierce attachment to the young boy and the dark opacity of Constance’s past threaten to test the boundaries of love, motherhood and power.

If you haven’t already read The Children’s House, I feel sure you will want to after reading this beautiful guest post by Alice…

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2 things that inspired The Children’s House

There’s a line in a novel by Anne Michaels that seemed to me to so beautifully summarise the complex terrain that I wanted to explore in The Children’s House. Michaels writes:

‘There is nothing a man will not do to another. But there’s also nothing a man will not do for another.’

My novel ventures into some difficult territory and while it is about some of the terrible things humans are capable of, I also wanted to explore acts of grace and empathy; the profound echoes that compassion and generosity can have. I wanted to write about consolation and restoration as well as loss and exile, and Michaels’ beautiful lines were a reminder for me of the ways that kindness and goodwill can be incredibly potent forces in an individual life and in a community, and acted as an encouragement for me to write a novel that was about the co-existence of acts of horror and acts of compassion.

Another literary gift that inspired me to continue writing this often unwieldy and difficult novel over many years was listening to the Irish writer Anne Enright talk about the way that the work of writing a novel is also a process of educating the heart, and that we have to become equal to the books we wish to write. I write very slowly and painstakingly and this particular novel took several years to write, so hearing Enright’s words of encouragement gave me faith that the work I was doing was a way for me to spend a sustained period of time dwelling with some of the questions and preoccupations that haunt me; questions about memory, loss, inheritance and the possibilities of restoration and solace.

2 places that inspired The Children’s House

One of the interesting things about the writing of The Children’s House was the way that particular houses exerted such a profound influence on the story, even to the point of altering the narrative arc. There is the brownstone in Harlem where the novel is set, which is actually the house that I lived in during my years in New York. I never consciously planned that the characters in the novel would live in that brownstone, but it was a place that I was enormously attached to for a long time and as the novel took shape, it seemed to be the natural home for my characters. Towards the end of the writing process, I actually went back and stayed in the New York brownstone for three months. It was a somewhat surreal experience because I felt like I had been transplanted into the world of my novel and I kept expecting that I might glimpse one of my characters disappearing around a corner ahead of me, but it was also incredibly useful in making sure that the texture of Harlem was authentic, that I had got it right.

Harlem Brownstones

The section of the book that is set in Cape Cod came about because I spent a winter there writing in a little cottage above the dunes in Truro. It was a very cold, bitter winter and all of the nearby houses had been shut up for the season. The insufficient midwinter light, the windswept beach and the isolation made a deep impression on me and it was during that time that I wrote the sections about my central character Marina travelling to Cape Cod to try and uncover the mystery of her mother’s disappearance many years earlier. That winter house above the dunes became Marina’s mother’s house, and the section of the book set there turned out to be very important to the narrative trajectory.

Cape Cod Cottage

2 influences that helped me to solve particular problems in the novel

The Children’s House is a complex novel and my challenge in writing it was to find a way in which echoes, patterns and symmetries could be brought together to form a coherent whole. It’s also a novel that slips in and out of the consciousness of different characters and contains several voices. I play the piano and I was working through Bach’s Preludes and Fugues when I was writing the novel, and at one point I realised that what I was trying to create was almost a literary version of a fugue, where there is a main theme and then several voices in contrapuntal motion. The form can be quite intricate and very complicated technically, with three or four voices interweaving, but Bach is masterful in creating the most harmonious wholes, these glorious polyphonic pieces. So conceiving of the structural problems I was having in these musical metaphors was very helpful and gave me a new way to look at what was happening on the page.

Another influence on the novel was my extensive reading of psychoanalytic literature, and in particular, a paper called ‘Ghosts in the Nursery: A Psychoanalytic Approach to the Problems of Impaired Infant–Mother Relationships’. The Children’s House is very much concerned with the ways that we inherit the unresolved lives of our parents, and the different ways that our psyches are shadowed by history—both personal and collective—so my deepening understandings of psychoanalytic theory were immensely helpful.

The Children’s House is available now in Australia,
and is forthcoming in other territories this year
Find out more at Penguin Random House
Contact Alice via her website

 

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2, 2 and 2: Marcella Polain talks about Driving into the Sun

It’s a late start to 2019 on looking up/looking down, but as I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege of travelling throughout January, my working year has only just begun.

And what a wonderful way to begin the year’s blogging, with a guest post from one of Western Australia’s most accomplished writers…

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Marcella Polain
Driving into the Sun
(Fremantle Press)
LITERARY FICTION

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I worked with Marcella for several years at Edith Cowan University, where she played a prominent role in developing the Writing program and has taught and mentored hundreds of emerging writers. Marcella is one of those enormously talented writers who can turn her creative mind to almost any genre: she is well known throughout Australia as an award-winning poet (winner of the Anne Elder Prize and shortlisted for many major awards), has a background in theatre and screen writing, and has published widely as an essayist (longlisted for the Calibre Prize). Her debut novel, The Edge of the World, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Marcella was born in Singapore and arrived in Perth as an immigrant, at the age of two, with her Armenian mother and Irish father.

Having eagerly awaited Marcella’s second novel for many years, I am thrilled to be able to feature it here.

The blurb reads:

For Orla, living in the suburbs in 1968 on the cusp of adolescence, her father is a great shining light, whose warm and powerful presence fills her world.

But in the aftermath of his sudden death, Orla, her mother and her sister are left in a no-man’s-land, a place where the rights and protections of the nuclear family suddenly and mysteriously no longer apply, and where the path between girl and woman must be navigated alone.

And here is Marcella…

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2 things that inspired Driving into the Sun

I can’t read Nabokov’s Lolita. I know you’re probably thinking that I should try harder [I would never presume to do that, Marcella!], that many writers are of the view it’s one of the best novels ever written. Well, I’ve tried several times and I just can’t. To me, reading about Humbert is unbearable. Children and women are taken in by people like him, have to shape their lives around them—living contingently, and sometimes not living at all. When I try to read it, I just keep thinking, ‘But what about the girl? What about her story?’

A fleeting conversation at a café on the Swan River (around the turn of the last century, when I was beginning my first novel, The Edge of the World). Some women writers, a little older than me, were saying how safe Perth was when they were teenagers. I was taken aback because that’s not my memory of it at all. The Perth of my youth had an underbelly, clearly visible to me. I could tell that class had something to do with this difference of view (and Australians don’t like talking about class), but it really got me thinking that there must be a lot of people like me, for whom the past is not a safer, happier place in which they could move about freely. And I thought: well, those stories—the underbelly stories—are just as legitimate as any other. I’m also not entirely convinced that wealthier suburbs were much safer and happier in the 60s. They still had men returned from war who drank too much, and women whose lives were curtailed. They had serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke, as well.

2 places that inspired Driving into the Sun

Is monstrosity a place? It’s a state of being, culturally prescribed, and, in that way, a place occupied by some. I’m interested in the way culture creates its monsters—not just by mistreating people and so shaping their behaviour into the aberrant, but also by prescribing ideas of what monsters are—how they look, where they reside, how they behave. We believe these cultural delusions, and so we run from those who fit the stereotype (maybe unkempt and dishevelled) into the arms of the well-groomed one who can appear safe but isn’t.

Childhood is a place powerfully remembered and embodied; we all carry it with us and within us. And grief is a place—we talk a lot about grief as a journey, so it can certainly be considered terrain we traverse. Think about the impact of each of these places on their own and then consider their intersection. Childhood and grief make a very special place, indeed. It’s an elite world. Only some are chosen. All go unwillingly. And it’s largely invisible. Those who live in it might look just like the rest of us but they’re not.

2 of my favourite things about Driving into the Sun

Driving into the Sun began as a story in which horses were a major focus. I love everything about horses—their smell, their sounds, their breath, their nervousness, twitchiness, drowsiness, disinterest, their power, eyelashes, warmth, their muzzles, hooves, necks, the way their hides ripple when flies land on them, the texture of the hair of their manes, their muscularity, the way they turn their ears to track sound or lay them flat when annoyed. As I write this, I wonder (again) why—of all the creatures in the world—I feel closest to horses. When I look at the list above, I think perhaps I’m a bit like a horse. Or maybe it’s just that I fell in love with Fury when I was five. (Does anyone else remember Fury?) The opening shot is still vivid in me: Fury (of the title) suddenly appearing on a rise, rearing, pawing, whinnying. Even very young, I recognised that power and agitation—that life-force. I thought it the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I wanted to write about all this, about horses and what they mean—and I think that is still in Orla as she longs for a horse—but writing also has its own life-force, and the story became about other things, as well.

Fury was wild and the other wildness I love is the Indian Ocean, a gift largely taken for granted where I live. It draws me in the same way it draws many. My first ever home was surrounded by jungle, built right alongside the curve of sand in a protected cove. I don’t remember but I’ve seen photos. I grew up in Perth and loved visits to the beach. In Driving into the Sun, Orla wonders why her family doesn’t seem to know that before the sea breeze arrives is the best time to be at the beach, which is something I did wonder as a kid. Perhaps we have to grow up in a place to embody that kind of weather knowledge. Or perhaps it’s just that it’s hard to get three kids organised quickly enough! Or perhaps it has to matter. Writing any scenes with real or imagined ocean is always infused with the extra pleasure of re-creating a little wildness.

 

Driving into the Sun is a February 2019 release
Find out more at Fremantle Press
Marcella Polain will be talking about her new novel at Perth Writers Week

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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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2, 2 and 2: Alan Carter talks about Heaven Sent

Alan Carter
Heaven Sent
(Fremantle Press)
SERIES CRIME FICTION

Alan Carter 3jpgAlan Carter has had a meteoric career in crime—crime fiction, that is—since the publication of his first novel in 2011. He’s prolific, too—four novels since then, and here he is, about to release the fifth. (And I happen to know there’s another in the making, as I had the privilege of reading a draft—it’s a cracker!) 

As well as being a successful author, Alan is sometimes a television documentary director, and it’s in this capacity that I first met him: he has often worked with my husband, sound designer Ric Curtin. Clients have on occasion had their suspicions about Alan’s faraway gaze while working—deep in thought about their project or solving a knotty plot problem?

Alan’s Cato Kwong series—Prime Cut, Getting Warmer and Bad Seed—has been published in the UK, France, Germany and Spain, while his last novel, Marlborough Man, won the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and was shortlisted for the 2018 Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Novel.

He was born in Sunderland, UK, emigrated to Australia in 1991, and now divides his time between Tasmania and life on a farm in New Zealand’s South Island. Such idyllic locations—such criminal preoccupations!

Here is the blurb for his new release, Heaven Sent, the latest in the Cato Kwong series:

Detective Sergeant Philip ‘Cato’ Kwong is light on sleep but high on happiness with his new wife Sharon Wang and their baby girl. But contentment is not compatible with life in the Job, and soon a series of murders of Fremantle’s homeless people gets in the way of Cato’s newfound bliss. As New WAve journalist Norman Lip flirts online with the killer, it becomes apparent that these murders are personal—every death is bringing the killer one step closer to Cato.

And now over to Alan…

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2 things that inspired the book

Mark Billingham’s Lifeless, where his hero Tom Thorne goes undercover to track down a killer targeting London’s homeless, was, for me, a great example of how crime fiction can be used to interrogate an important social issue. In that regard, it’s a direct inspiration for Heaven Sent—although I don’t have Cato going undercover for this story. But victims and victimology are an important choice a crime writer makes in every story, and the representations we use and the attitudes we portray can say a lot not only about society but about us as writers.

Another inspiration, this time for the Norman Lip journalist character, was the long line of writers/reporters stretching back to, say, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and forward to the amoral journalist in the first series of The Bridge who decide to ‘deal with the devil’ for their professional advancement. It’s an ongoing dilemma that storytellers face, particularly where real life, true crime, and fiction converge, and again it’s fertile and explosive territory to tiptoe through.

2 places connected with the book

The old Swan View Railway Tunnel up in the hills outside Perth is a spooky place in a beautiful setting, and the brief history outlined on the information boards provided me with metaphor and suspense galore.

The spaces occupied by the homeless in and around Perth and Fremantle constantly shift, too. Beachside carparks, shop doorways, abandoned buildings, tourist precincts, parks, fast-food joints—all find different meanings and uses, depending on whose eyes you view them through, and when.

2 favourite elements of the book

DI Hutchens, Renaissance Man. Cato’s boss continues to be one of my favourites. He’s a dinosaur, not very PC, and gets to say a whole bunch of things I’d love to say but normally wouldn’t dare. But…old dogs, new tricks. He’s now spearheading the force’s new social media hearts and minds campaign. For Cato, it’s a disturbing development.

Catching a middle-aged man mid-tweet somehow deprived him of any residual dignity, reflected Cato. This former warrior of the streets, sunk so low.

Cato holds a mirror up to society. Over lunch, he discusses with amoral journalist and wannabe deep thinker Norman Lip the changing nature of immortality and fame.

Everything now is about fleeting associations with fame. People crave it and seize it like it’s an entitlement. These days Zapruder would probably miss the president’s assassination because he’d be too busy taking a selfie.

Heaven Sent is released on 1 November 2018
Find out more at Fremantle Press
Follow Alan on Facebook and Twitter

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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.

San-Francisco-in-1849

 

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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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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

Family Photos 2

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

Robyn-13

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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