2, 2 and 2: Richard Rossiter talks about Refuge

Richard Rossiter
Refuge
(UWA Publishing)
Literary fiction—novel

DSC_6973[1]Richard Rossiter is a highly respected and much loved member of the Western Australian writing and publishing community—writer, editor, mentor and occasional judge of literary awards (including the T.A.G. Hungerford Award and the WA Premier’s Book Awards). He has been the fiction editor for Westerly and Indigo, has supervised many postgraduate creative writing students, and is an editorial board member with Margaret River Press and an Honorary Associate Professor at Edith Cowan University.

Richard was the academic supervisor of my Honours and PhD theses—and without his encouragement, they might never have happened. He continues to be a trusted and generous mentor and friend.

His new release, Refuge, follows on from his acclaimed novella Thicker Than Water (2014) and short story collection Arrhythmia (2009). Refuge has just been launched in Margaret River, and I’m thrilled to have been given the honour of launching it in Perth on 24 July.

Here is the blurb…

Quentin ‘Tinny’ Thompson and his German neighbour, Greta, have at least one thing in common.  In their tin sheds close to the coast, they are attempting to live out of the firing line of modern society. Tinny’s sons are growing up and one of them, Rock, wants to head to the city and live with his mother, who is sometimes Prue and sometimes Peaches.  Greta’s dream of life in Australia began with a school project on the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. Heedless of his fate, she decides to follow in his footsteps. However, isolation does not guarantee safety. Violenceso visible in a disintegrating Europe—is not contained. It arrives at her shed in the bush in the figure of the disturbed Clive.

Lives do not remain static, even for those who resist change.

Refuge is a tender exploration of love and friendship, families, race relations, the consolations of the natural world and, above all, what it means to belong.

Over to Richard…

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2 inspirations for the book

1 Place is integral to this novel. Here it is informed by many years of roaming a narrow strip of coast accessed along Juniper Road in the south-west of Western Australia. The cover image (by Caroline Juniper) is indicative of the mix of coastal vegetation, granite rocks, reef and ocean typical of this part of the world. The view south leads to Gracetown, Cowaramup Bay.

2 The story is driven (I suppose) by my own ambivalence about either engaging with a world that seems increasingly unstable at all levels—socially, politically, environmentally—or attempting to withdraw from it and live in a more self-contained manner, where the land itself is your nearest neighbour.

2 places connected with the book

As suggested above, the story is anchored in a particular south-west location. For me it represents more general characteristics of the natural world: contrary strains of mutability and constancy, flux and permanence, chaos and the ‘still point of the turning world’, to quote Eliot. Survival against the odds. ‘At the still point, there the dance is’ (Eliot). 

2 Harder to name, there is also a psychological space, no doubt evolved from life experiences of serious surgery that compel acknowledgement of your own mortality. Time’s winged chariot is a powerful motivator to bring on the philosophic years, to force into the open the big questions concerning our existence.

2 favourite quotes

1 After Tinny returns from hospital, he no longer has a secure sense of self; he is no longer clear about the boundaries—social and physical—that define him. In the passage below, he is walking towards the coast in the late morning.

He came to the top of a small rise and innthe distance could see the ocean, mad with whitecaps. He moved slowly, stretching out his arms like the wings of a bird, and then his legs in giant strides. His long hair flicked into his eyes and he moved his head so it blew backwards. He could feel it streaming behind him. Then he bent low to the wind and started to run down the slope: at any moment he could take off and fly over the treetops to the sea. His eyes watered in the wind, he spun around and around, his arms the limbs of a tree, his bare feet digging into the soft, damp sand; he swayed with the gusts, his thoughts deserted him; the leaves of the marri brushed his face and he could feel the coarsening bark of his skin, the red blood sap moving through him. He stretched out, shooting upwards with purple tips of the new leaves, his trunk thickening, feet rooting below the ground, around rocks, through sticky clay and into the stream below.

2 I was first introduced to the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins as a school student. These lines from ‘Heaven–Haven’ (subtitled ‘A nun takes the veil’) have remained with me all my adult life. At various points in the development of the novel, it was titled ‘Where no storms come’ and ‘The swing of the sea’.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

 

Refuge is available in bookstores now
Find out more at UWA Publishing

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WA Premier’s shortlists…

Earlier this month, the Western Australian Minister for Culture and the Arts announced the shortlists for the 2019 WA Premier’s Book Awards, and I couldn’t have been more delighted, or surprised, to find myself shortlisted for the inaugural Western Australian Writer’s Fellowship.

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It’s an honour to be in the company of this stellar group of writers. Thanks to the judges for making my year!

Shortlists for the three other awards being presented are as follows:

Emerging Writer

  • Alicia Tuckerman, If I Tell You (novel, YA; Pantera Press)
  • Dervla McTiernan, The Rúin (novel; HarperCollins Publishers)
  • Renée Pettitt-Schipp, The Sky Runs Right Through Us (poetry; UWA Publishing)
  • Gus Henderson, The Wounded Sinner (novel; Magabala Books)
  • Laurie Steed, You Belong Here (novel; Margaret River Press)

Writing for Children

  • Sally Morgan, illust. Craig Smith, Grandpa, Me and Poetry (Scholastic Australia)
  • Mark Greenwood, illust. Andrew McLean, The Happiness Box (Walker Books Australia)
  • Kelly Canby, The Hole Story (Fremantle Press)
  • Barry Marshall & Lorna Hendry, illust. Bernard Caleo), How to Win a Nobel Prize (Piccolo Nero, Schwartz Publishing Pty Ltd)
  • Kirsty Murray, illust. Karen Blair, Puddle Hunters (Allen & Unwin)

Daisy Utemorrah  Award for Unpublished Indigenous Junior and YA Writing

  • Paul Callaghan, ‘Coincidence’
  • Kirli Saunders, ‘Mother Speaks’
  • Karl Merrison & Hakea Hustler, ‘Tracks of the Missing’

Congratulations and good luck to all!

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Thinking time…

I spent most of May at one of my favourite places in the world, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig, in County Monaghan, Ireland, among an always-changing, always-inspiring household of writers, visual artists, composers, filmmakers, translators, photographers.

This beautiful place, opened in 1981, was the home of renowned theatre director Tyrone Guthrie, who bequeathed it to the Irish State as a retreat for artists. That act of vision and generosity has since touched the lives of thousands of artists who have become Annaghmakerrig residents for a few days or a few weeks.

For me, it was a productive, regenerative time, with quiet days (and often late nights) of work and reflection framed by glorious early-morning walks and warm, convivial evenings.

Here are a few visual highlights…

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2, 2 and 2: Meg Caddy talks about Devil’s Ballast

Meg Caddy
Devil’s Ballast
(Text Publishing)
YA fiction

009 Meg Headshots 180823 JWyldWestern Australia has more than its share of brilliant YA authors, and one of them is Meg Caddy. Her debut novel, Waer, shortlisted for the 2013 Text Prize and the 2017 CBCA Children’s Book Awards, was described by The West Australian as ‘an astonishing debut…The writing is assured, the action is swift and the characters ring as true as Caddy’s psychological insights.’ I loved it!

I’m delighted she’s here to talk about her much-anticipated new release, Devil’s Ballast.

Meg introduces herself as

a short, nerdy, bespectacled D&D geek. She spends her days ordering and selling books and her nights penning novels. Meg has an Honours degree in Literature and History and Not Sleeping Enough. She lives with two rescue cats (Captain and Lieutenant) and an ever-expanding bookshelf.

She’s also a researcher after my own heart, as you’ll soon see!

The blurb for Devil’s Ballast reads:

Anne Bonny was eighteen when she ran away from her violent husband, James, into the arms of pirate captain Calico Jack Rackham. Now she’s ensconced aboard Jack’s ship Ranger, passing as a cabin boy and playing her ruthless part in a crew that is raining down mayhem and murder on the ships of the Caribbean. But James Bonny is willing to pay to get his ‘property’ back. And pirate-hunter Captain Barnet is happy to take his money. The Ranger’s a fast ship: Anne might just be able to outrun Barnet. But can she outrun the consequences of her relationship with Calico Jack?

Devil’s Ballast is action-packed yet nuanced, culturally relevant and sharp as a cutlass. Based on the true story of Anne Bonny, this new novel by the remarkable Meg Caddy brings to life one of history’s most fascinating anti-heroines.

Over to Meg…

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2 inspirations for the book

anne beginning 18I’ve always been mad for pirates, and for history. I have a clear memory of insisting on the role of ‘pirate princess’ in a game when I was four, and the obsession never went away. There are photos scattered through my childhood, teenage, and adult years of pirate dress-ups. When I was eighteen, I went to England for a gap year and spent every spare moment researching pirates, visiting old ships, and planning pirate stories. I found my way around London using a map from 1720.

I did a number of papers at university on pirates, and when I started my Honours degree I decided to write my thesis on the changing representations of pirates and piracy in the Early Modern Period. The dissertation tied together a lot of research and also uncovered a lot of stories I’d never known before. I started to focus on the micro-societies that functioned on a pirate ship, especially when many of the crews included marginalised individuals. I wanted to write a pirate adventure, and I wanted it to reflect the diverse, interesting, brutal crews that actually existed during the Golden Age of Piracy in the early eighteenth century.

As well as being pirate-obsessed, I’m a passionate feminist. I’m surrounded by badass, clever, dynamic women in my everyday life, from my mother and grandmothers, to my cousins and friends, to my coworkers and fellow writers. For me, Anne Bonny’s story was born from those values.

anne bonny picUnlike most pirates, who met dramatic, well-publicised and often grisly ends, we don’t know what happened to Anne. She was never executed, and it’s suspected that after being arrested, she was rescued by her father’s influence. The most popular rumour is that she went back to Charleston with her father, married one of his business associates, had a ridiculous number of children, and settled down into obscurity until the end of her days. The first time I read that, it broke my heart. It’s a story that gives her a long life, yes, but not one she chose. And then I read other stories of Anne’s life; stories where she’s demonised or fetishised or reduced to a damsel in distress.

The historical accounts, on the other hand, show that she was young, impetuous, cunning, ruthless, and fearless at sea. She demanded her right to her own body, and defended that right fiercely. She had close friends, people who loved her to the very end of the gallows rope. The aim of Devil’s Ballast was to put that in ink, to try and give her a voice that wasn’t heroic or villainous, but human and raw. I hope it’s a good intersection of pirate adventure, and feminist love-story to this woman who knocked back every restriction the world tried to bind her with.

2 places connected with the book

In 2018, when I was in the literary Doldrums and trying to rewrite Devil’s Ballast from scratch for possibly the sixth time, I decided to take a month off and travel to places where Anne lived. I started in Nassau, a small island in the Bahamas, where she lived from the ages of sixteen to eighteen with her husband James Bonny. It was also the first place she personally led a successful boat-heist.

My hotel was a street away from a pirate museum with Anne’s face painted on the side. Everyone there knew her, knew her story, had rumours and legends and connections to tell me. In Australia when I talk about Anne Bonny most people have never heard of her, so it was beautiful to see how alive her memory is in Nassau. I went on boat tours, swam with dolphins, visited museums, interviewed a professor at the university there and generally spent a lot of time breathing Anne’s air.

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After Nassau I went to Charleston in South Carolina, where Anne lived from age twelve or thirteen until she eloped with James Bonny. I met with my two American pen-pals there, Kristin and Beverly, and we spent six days living on a boat in the marina. Both Kristin and Beverly are delightful nerds, so they were more than happy to help me track down glimpses of Anne throughout Charleston. We went on a three-hour pirate tour in the pouring rain and travelled out to Goose Creek, trying to find the plantation where Anne used to live. It’s a lake now, difficult to access by road, so we had to trespass over private property to get to the bank—one of the most rebellious things I’ve ever done, for the nerdiest reason possible. I was trying to channel my inner Anne!

Nassau was research directly for the book but Charleston was a pilgrimage as much as anything, a way of reminding myself that Anne was a person with a full and detailed life before she was ever a pirate.

2 favourite pirates

If I’m going to talk about favourites, it’s going to be favourite pirates, and that will always include Bonny and Read, so I’m taking them out of the running here. You can read all about them in Devil’s Ballast (shameless plug). My favourite two pirates aside from Bonny and Read are as follows:

I’m usually a Golden Age kind of girl, which means I keep to the pirates of 1500–1750, but there are always exceptions and Ching Shih (late eighteenth/early nineteenth century) is right up there with some of the most prolific and exciting pirates of all time. At first a sex-worker in a floating brothel, she became more successful as a pirate than Bartholomew Roberts and Blackbeard put together, with over three hundred ships. Some place her followers at as many as forty thousand at some points, both men and women. Originally the fleet belonged to her husband, but after his death she stepped into power and kept it for years before retiring peacefully. She was ruthless and fearless, and her Red Flag Fleet withstood attacks from Chinese pirates, Chinese officials, British bounty hunters and the Portuguese Navy.

Grace O’Malley, or Granuaile, was the original Pirate Queen. She sailed in the sixteenth century, a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I—and they were both red-headed, bad-tempered women who commanded men. Grace’s father, Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille, had a large fleet of ships and Grace grew up with strategy and seafaring. She married, and when her husband died his men were so loyal to her that they followed her back home as her own private army, and she started to amass power and ships. She rallied against the English in Ireland, gave birth on a ship (and supposedly fought off pirates the same week), kicked her second husband out of his own castle, and managed to gain the friendship and support of Elizabeth I, even after a lifetime of disrupting English ships and control. I love her utterly, and I hope one day to have the writing chops to put down her story.

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Devil’s Ballast is released on 7 May 2019
Find out more at Text Publishing
Follow Meg on Twitter and Facebook

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A window into grief on Anzac Day…

Kathleen O’Connor lived through two world wars, and war profoundly affected her life and her career as an artist. There were also close family losses in both wars—two nephews in the Second World War and a brother in the First.

Kate’s younger brother Corporal Roderick O’Connor was killed in action, aged 36, on 15 April 1917. In peacetime a civil engineer, like his father C.Y. O’Connor, he enlisted in March 1915 and served in the 17th Battalion, C Company, in Egypt and Gallipoli and at the Western Front. Three campaign medals—the 1914–15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal—honoured his service.

A private who had served with Corporal O’Connor wrote to the family:

He was liked by all and the best pal I had through this dreadful conflict which has broken so many homes throughout the world, still I feel certain the sacrifice will not have been in vain and peace will shortly be with us combined with complete victory over this beastly tyrant.

The letter left me wondering about the conflicting emotions that might have been felt by families bereaved during what H.G. Wells predicted, erroneously, would be ‘the war to end war’. Grief, of course, but did patriotism provide comfort? Did pride hold despair at bay? Was there bitterness towards the military machine that turned young men into wooden crosses and names on rolls of honour?

Kate was in Paris, far from the rest of her family, when she received the news of the death of her one-time tennis partner, Rod. With no surviving letters from that time, I had to look further for clues to her response to his death, and to the war:

A poem dedicated to Roderick, dated the year of his death, survives among Kate’s papers—less an emotional response to the loss of a beloved brother than a romantic tribute to ‘Australia’s Men’. Kate was no poet, but she worked on the lines, and it’s difficult now to determine which is the final version of her several drafts…

I examine each line of the spidery scrawl, and the words speak to me in spite of their awkwardness, their self-conscious striving for rhyme and meter, their emotional lack. Here they are, the traces of Kate’s experience of the war in its fourth year, as casualties climbed and families mourned and she absorbed the blow of loss. Telling is the poem’s glorification of the Australian soldier’s ‘beauty’ and ‘grace’ and ‘light’, the spirit perceived in the ‘hat’s recline’, at the expense of patriotic notions of bravery and militaristic might and the senseless sacrifice that lies behind the Anzac legend. It is people she wants to honour—individuals, men—not the dehumanising forces that marshal them for war. And the men she exalts are victims, not victors. It is the closest she comes to allowing us a window into her grief at the waste of her brother’s life.

Kathleen O’Connor of Paris

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There is no known grave for Corporal Roderick O’Connor, but his name is recorded on the roll of honour at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in Picardie, France, as well as on a brass plaque in St George’s Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia.

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2, 2 and 2: Nigel Featherstone talks about Bodies of Men

Nigel Featherstone
Bodies of Men
(Hachette Australia)
LITERARY FICTION

NF_5785-HRWhat a pleasure to be able to introduce a novel I’ve been looking forward to ever since I heard about it last year via social media. And from a writer whose short fiction I have admired for a long time.

Nigel Featherstone’s publication record is even more impressive and varied than I knew: story collection Joy (2000); debut novel Remnants (2005); The Beach Volcano (2014)—the third in an award-winning series of novellas; libretto for The Weight of Light, a contemporary song cycle that had its world premiere in 2018; and short stories in literary journals such as Meanjin, Overland and Review of Australian Fiction. Nigel has held residencies at Varuna (Blue Mountains), Bundanon (Shoalhaven River) and UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy, and otherwise lives on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.

Here is the blurb for Bodies of Men

Egypt, 1941. Only hours after disembarking in Alexandria, William Marsh, an Australian corporal at twenty-one, is face down in the sand, caught in a stoush with the Italian enemy. He is saved by James Kelly, a childhood friend from Sydney and the last person he expected to see. But where William escapes unharmed, not all are so fortunate. William is sent to supervise an army depot in the Western Desert, with a private directive to find an AWOL soldier: James Kelly. When the two are reunited, James is recovering from an accident, hidden away in the home of an unusual family—a family with secrets. Together they will risk it all to find answers. Soon William and James are thrust headlong into territory more dangerous than either could have imagined.

‘A beautifully written, tender and sensitive love story told within the tense and uncertain context of war.’—Karen Viggers, bestselling author of The Lightkeeper’s Wife

Over to Nigel…

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2 things that inspired Bodies of Men

For much of my writing life I’ve more or less plucked stories from the air: perhaps a story was inspired by snippet of conversation overheard in public; or maybe it was asking myself ‘what if?’ (a common question for a writer) and the narrative evolved from there. But Bodies of Men came into the world in a different way.

Back in 2013 a friend sent me an email out of the blue that said in its entirety, Apply for this, and then a link to a residency opportunity at UNSW Canberra, which provides the campus for the Australian Defence Force Academy. I’ve spent much of my life being a pacifist (both politically and domestically) and I took to the streets to protest the first Gulf War. Why would I want to spend time in a military academy? I had also become concerned about Australia’s amplification of its military history for nefarious political purposes. Did I really want to add to that noise? Further, could a novel really combat the increasingly nationalistic narrative? The more I thought about it, however, the more I became intrigued by the idea of researching different expressions of masculinity under extreme military pressure. So I applied and somehow was awarded the residency.

I spent three months that year researching and writing in the Academy Library, which, according to UNSW Canberra, is one of the world’s best military resources. For someone who had doubted the wisdom of being on a military campus, it turned out to be a highly productive time!

Day after day I searched the stacks. I found that I wasn’t so much engaged by military strategy—the politically driven machinations of war—but then I came upon two books that moved me deeply. The first was Peter Stanley’s Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial Force, which was a joint-winner of the 2011 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for History. Using evidence that exists on files, Stanley brings to light the diversity of men who served in the First World War and reveals their various crimes and disgraces. The book includes a paragraph about a man called Thomas Chilton, who was born in Scotland but enlisted in Melbourne; he was a former member of the British regular army, so was valuable to the AIF. Chilton went on to be wounded in Gallipoli and, despite facing a charge of stealing and receiving stolen goods, received a promotion. In Belgium, on Christmas Day 1918, Chilton was caught being rather intimate with a local man; a court-martial on St Valentine’s Day found him guilty of a serious demeanour, but he failed to appear at the dock to return to Australia. The AIF chose not to pursue him. Whatever happened to Thomas Chilton? Did he disappear in Europe with his lover?

The second book that burrowed into my bones was Deserter: a hidden history of the Second World War by Charles Glass (2013). In a refreshingly compassionate way, Glass tells the story of three servicemen—two US and one British—who found that they could not fully commit to serving their respective armies. Perhaps many of us have the idea that a deserter is someone who is a coward, but Glass shows that the matter is much more complex. For example, one of the men Glass brings to life was able to perform well when he had respect for his superiors and they of him, but whenever he couldn’t find it in himself to respect his superiors he deserted. Was that an act of cowardice or courage?

While I would go on to read many books about the war experience, including poetry, the above two inspired the story that would become Bodies of Men. Of course, during the writing, and the rewriting, the story followed its own course, with James Kelly and William Marsh having free will, but I very much doubt the novel would ever have come into existence without those three months spent in the Academy Library, UNSW Canberra.

2 places connected with Bodies of Men

There are two important places in Bodies of Men, one I know intimately, the other only through the main characters. While the narrative focuses on the experiences of James and William when they are serving in Egypt, the story of their adolescent friendship is a significant part of their journey; that adolescent friendship reaches its conclusion while on holiday in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. This part of the novel is set in a slightly fictionalised version of a village where my own family holidayed regularly. The village is nothing more than a collection of garden estates—it’s in an isolated part of the mountains and there are no shops—but it is surrounded by national park, and the contrast between the lush English-style landscape and the natural wilderness is marked. I loved the place when I was a child, and I wanted to give what I would call in the novel ‘Mount Bellstay’ to James and William as the setting for a moment that would change their lives forever. But I’m being coy: while Bodies of Men is a work of fiction, I did base this part of the story on an event that I experienced when I was an adolescent and on holidays in the Blue Mountains.

(A potentially interesting side note: during the writing of Bodies of Men I discovered that Patrick White, who met his partner Manoly Lascaris while serving with the AIF in the Middle East in 1941, also had a childhood connection to the same Blue Mountains village.)

The second place that is important to the novel is Alexandria, where James and William spend much of their time. This Egyptian city is entirely fascinating: founded in 331 BC, it has a long and colourful—even magical—history, especially in terms of its connection to Alexander the Great; for a considerable period, Alexandria considered itself to be at the centre of the world’s intellectual and cultural life. As opposed to a certain Blue Mountains village, which I know so well (right now I could draw a detailed map of it from memory), Alexandria is a place that I have had to learn a lot about.

During the writing of Bodies of Men I arrived at two important decisions: I would only tell the story from the perspective of James and William, who, when not working, are essentially tourists; and that their perspective must be informed by experiences that can be found on the historical record—diaries, memoirs, photographs, handheld movie footage, official war art, among other sources. Through the eyes of Australian servicemen who documented their experiences of Alexandria, I have, to a certain extent, been able to experience the city as they experienced it, at least in an imaginative sense. Further, because Bodies of Men is a love story, and love stories are essentially about dreams, it has been my intention to render the Alexandria sequences with a dreamy quality. Love stories are also about the contrast between familiarity and unfamiliarity, and I hope that comes across on the page as well.

2 favourite things about Bodies of Men

All the characters in Bodies of Men are fictional, though they have been informed—directly, indirectly, or creatively—by what’s on the historical record: a diary entry here or a photograph there sparked something in my brain and a character started to come to life. As is the way with these things, some characters seem to appear more or less fully formed, and that was the case with Yetta Hillen, a Turkish-born Jewish resident of Alexandria who rescues James after a motorbike accident. The novel is James and William’s, but to a certain extent it’s also Yetta’s: there is a very good reason for why she rescues James, and there is a very good reason why she is nervous about having done so. Still, she and James develop a closeness that has been present since the first draft (of which I did many); for whatever reason, I have always enjoyed being in the presence of that closeness, and in the presence of Yetta as a person. Why? Although her life is very different to mine, I came to realise that we have certain things in common: our life trajectories have been from religiosity to atheism; we have found meaning in words on the page; and we have found peace in looking after a small garden. Although I have spent much of the past five years in the heads of James and William and have absolutely adored being part of their journey, often, when I think of Bodies of Men, I am with Yetta Hillen. She also good at giving advice. Here she is sharing some wisdom with James and William:

There are three types of courage. There is the courage to stay the course. There is the courage to admit, this is not for me. And then there is the courage to love. The wise person knows which type of courage they need, and when and why.

I write by putting a literal pen to a literal piece of paper, and I approach the first draft as an exercise in stream-of-consciousness; it is through the redrafting process that the story finds its structure and narrative spine. Before pen goes down on paper, I do know a fair bit about the characters, the story, and the core theme, but apart from that I allow myself to follow the energy in the story and try to just put one sentence after another. That means I sometimes go down dead-end streets, which is okay—it’s all a part of the creation of the novel—and sometimes I find myself writing about something that I don’t entirely understand but it feels as if there is something there, a life force that should not be ignored.

That happened with the pelican.

When in the Western Desert William receives a letter from Jillian Knowles, a friend from Adelaide, who tells him about finding an injured pelican on a beach. When she tries to help the bird, it scurries away and then disappears. What on earth did that mean? Indeed, an early reader of the manuscript wondered if the sequence should be removed. During the rewriting process I deleted many sections for a variety of reasons, but I always resisted getting rid of Jillian’s letter.

Long after the novel was acquired by Hachette—indeed, this was only a few weeks ago—I found myself considering the stained-glass windows in the Australian War Memorial. There are fifteen windows, each depicting a human trait during the First World War—‘comradeship’, ‘patriotism’, ‘loyalty’ etc. All traits are represented by a male form, except ‘devotion’, which is represented by a female form and includes ‘a pelican feeding her young from her bleeding breast, the ancient symbol of devotion’ (that from the AWM’s website). Uhuh! Was that why I felt that Jillian’s injured pelican needed to be in the story? In an unconscious way, was she trying to send William a message about the meaning of devotion, and its danger, and its ever-shifting nature? No doubt I’m not the best person to judge; readers will have their own interpretation. I’m just glad the pelican remains in the final version of the novel.

Perhaps Jillian can be the one who brings this post to a close, in the same way she brought her letter to a close:

The injured bird made me think of you, William, being such a long way overseas, wherever you are—in Tel Aviv, perhaps, or Damascus, or Cairo. None of those places mean much to me, I’m afraid. I just hope that you are safe and well. But it’s a false hope, isn’t it? You are unlikely to be safe, but still that is my wish for you.

 

Bodies of Men is released today
Find out more at Hachette Australia
Contact Nigel via his blog

 

 

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Wild, Weird & Wonderful in Margaret River…

For those of you who don’t know—and I’m sure most of you do—Margaret River is a world-acclaimed food and wine region in the South West of Western Australia, and one of Australia’s most beautiful and vibrant tourist destinations. It is also home to a fabulous writers festival, and I’m delighted to be taking part in this year’s Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival, 3–5 May, at Voyager Estate.

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The festival theme is Wild, Weird & Wonderful, and I like to think there’s a bit of all three in all of us.

I’m in very good company this year. Among those on the very long list of authors and presenters are Germaine Greer, Anna Funder, Kim Scott, Liz Byrski, Susan Midalia, Sarah Drummond, Ian Parmenter, Dave Warner, Michael Leunig and William McInnes.

I’ll be talking about Kathleen O’Connor of Paris with chair William Yeoman (Friday, 9.30–10.30am, Main Stage), and about Elemental in a session entitled ‘Salt, Sleet and Wild Seas’, with Sarah Drummond, author of The Sound, and chair Rashida Murphy (Friday, 2–3pm, Main Stage). You can view the full program here.

If you’re going, please come and say hello!

Need a reminder of just how glorious Margaret River is? Here are a few of my favourite photo-memories…

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Margaret River resident and all-round treasure Ian Parmenter

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