This new release from Fremantle Press, authored by publisher/editor Georgia Richter and writer/lecturer Deborah Hunn, is an essential guide for new, emerging and established authors in Australia on the business aspects of authorship. There are countless books out there on how to write—the one thing this one does not cover—but none that I know of that deal so comprehensively, and in a specifically Australian context, with the dizzying array of other things that writers need to know, whether they want to or not.
The cover displays some of the subjects the book tackles, although there are many more. There’s plenty of solid industry advice, lists of dos and don’ts, and answers to the kinds of questions that Richter and Hunn routinely field in the course of their professional lives.
The authors also canvassed a group of authors and industry professionals, across a range of genres and specialisations, for tips, experiences and practical advice on particular subjects. I’m proud to be included in this stellar group:
Liz Byrski, Alan Carter, Nandi Chinna, Tim Coronel, Amanda Curtin, Daniel de Lorne, Deb Fitzpatrick, James Foley, Alecia Hancock, Stephen Kinnane, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Natasha Lester, Brigid Lowry, Caitlin Maling, Meg McKinlay, Claire Miller, Brendan Ritchie, Rachel Robertson, Holden Sheppard, Sasha Wasley, David Whish-Wilson and Anne-Louise Willoughby.
The book is entertaining, well written, well designed and easy to navigate, and includes a great section on resources and a useful index.
It’s the kind of book that I wish had been around when I was starting out—and even now I know I’ll be consulting it again and again!
Happy New Year, fellow readers, writers and watchers of the world. Here’s hoping 2021 turns out to be memorable in a more positive way.
Today I’m delighted to be introducing a new series to the blog as the first post of the year. ‘Talking (new) fiction’ is similar to the ‘2, 2 and 2’ series, begun in 2014 (56 posts), in that it features authors talking about their newly released books. However, I have decided to rest the ‘2, 2 and 2’ series for now, in favour of more in-depth conversations with authors about works of literary fiction that I’m excited about.
My first guest is Perth writer and editor Josephine Taylor. I’ve admired Jo’s work ever since I came across it while I was fiction editor of the journal Westerly. Her story ‘Sigh-Co’ went straight to my shortlist and was published in volume 60, no. 2 (2015).
Jo’s own story has shaped the trajectory of her career and her writing, as will become clear in our discussion here. She was forced to surrender her profession as a psychotherapist after developing chronic gynaecological pain in 2000. Years later, research into the condition informed her prize-winning PhD thesis, an investigative memoir. She is now Associate Editor at Westerly and an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Writing at Edith Cowan University. She teaches in literary fiction and creative non-fiction, and presents on disorder and creativity. Her writing has been anthologised and published widely.
The book we are discussing is Jo’s debut novel, Eye of a Rook…
‘Now, Mr Rochdale.’ The surgeon leans back in his leather chair. ‘Before I give you my diagnosis, I require some facts from you about your wife. Is she restless—perhaps, excitable? Or is she of a melancholic disposition? Even…shall we say…withdrawn from you?’
In Victorian London, Arthur Rochdale’s wife Emily is struck down by a pain for which she can find no words. In desperation, Arthur seeks the aid of Isaac Baker Brown and contemplates the surgeon’s terrifying treatment for ‘hysterical’ women at his London Surgical Home.
Almost 150 years later, writer and academic Alice Tennant explores the history of hysteria to make sense of her own mystifying and private pain. Although she has direct access to a medical profession that should be able to help her, it seems that little has changed since 1866.
Circling ever closer to Arthur and Emily’s story, Alice begins to question her own life and marriage. With understanding comes the discovery of the possibilities of creativity—and a newfound knowledge of self that will change the course of Alice’s life.
‘Following where it took me…’
AC: The opening lines of a novel often contain within them a glimpse of the whole. Sometimes this is so oblique as to be barely discernible, but in Eye of a Rook, the first lines are immediately arresting in their directness and immediately revelatory of the novel’s territory:
It hurts like a toothache that pierces the bones of your face and shoots through your thoughts, scattering them like frightened birds.
What else? Alice opened herself to her body, registering the sensations she usually fled.
It hurts like an earache that squats in your skull and scrawls graffiti on its walls, trashing the house that was once your home.
It’s an introduction that foregrounds, lyrically and powerfully, the experience of Alice’s bodily pain. What it hints at, and what emerges as the novel progresses, is the impact of that pain—the difficult, inconvenient, unstoppable alteration of daily lives, careers, relationships, identities wrought by chronic illness.
I hasten to add that Eye of a Rook is also ‘about’ many other things—love, compassion and resilience among them—but my first question concerns the choice, as a subject for fiction, of pain in general, and the devastating pain of the gynaecological condition vulvodynia, which is poorly understood even by the medical profession. Jo, did you choose it or did it choose you?
JT: Oh, it definitely chose me! I spent a lot of years trying to get away from vulvodynia, trying to get back to the me I was before it began in 2000. After a few years I realised I wasn’t getting any better, for the moment at least, so I began to research vulvodynia and to reach out to other women, initiating a support group. Then in 2007 I began a PhD, writing a memoir that became a detective story—an investigation into the history of genital pain and hysteria, and an inquiry into the misinterpretation of women’s bodies and the silencing of their voices. I was still trying to get away from vulvodynia, but there was something in the writing of the PhD thesis that helped me realise I couldn’t. So I gradually developed a different relationship with vulvodynia, listening to it and following where it took me.
After I’d finished my PhD, I found I was still gripped by the anger I’d felt years before. My frustrated questions were still the same: Why is there such a yawning gap between the incidence of female genital pain and knowledge or awareness around it? Why does it take women so long to be diagnosed? Why is there no adequate treatment? Why is no-one talking about vulvodynia?
I think if I’d recovered or didn’t have constant symptoms, I might not have written more. But I hadn’t and I did, so when two Victorian men came to me in response to a workshop prompt in 2013, I wrote them. That image developed into a scene in my short story ‘That Hand’, in which a man in 1860s London—Arthur Rochdale—is consulting with surgeon Isaac Baker Brown about his wife Emily’s mystifying pain; the scene then segued into part of the opening chapter of Eye of a Rook, and a focus on Arthur’s pivotal decision.
Wounds and scars
AC: I was reminded recently of a piece of advice concerning the writing of trauma that I’ve heard several authors refer to: ‘Write from your scars, not from your wounds’ (attributed to Sisonke Msimang, author of Always Another Country and The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela). I understand this to be about putting some space between the living out of trauma and the writing (and, to some extent, the re-living) of that experience. Has that advice resonated with you? And I wonder, in the case of a writer experiencing vulvodynia, whether there might be some difficulty in separating the scars from the wounds.
JT: Yes, that advice does resonate with me, and I’ve referred to it myself on at least one occasion. I think it’s especially relevant and important for those who’ve experienced a discrete trauma and need to put some distance between themselves and the event or experience before writing it; to let the wound become a scar.
As vulvodynia is something I can always feel, and must then live with, it can’t become a scar. I do find, though, that the longer I have it and the more I write about it, the more I create a little distance from the wounding and develop more agency and confidence. Writing fiction has been especially important in this process, though I’ve noticed my pain increase around the time I’m writing scenes that reach a crisis or in which I immerse the reader in the sensations. I’m not sure how coincidental that is, but I think it helps me write more persuasively and in a more embodied fashion. Moving out of that state again shifts my relationship with the pain in quite profound ways.
I’d also say that even for those whose trauma is in a distant past, the feelings and sensations around it can continue in a strange kind of present. I think it’s important to be attentive to and kind with ourselves when writing from these complex and intense spaces.
Shaking the trappings
AC: There are parts of Eye of a Rook that are tough to read at the same time as being utterly compelling, and I’m thinking here particularly about Isaac Baker Brown and the horrific implements he used to ‘cure’ women of their so-called hysteria in the 1860s. But just as horrifying is the societal and legal positioning of women at this time as the chattels of men, ‘the weaker sex’, which meant that decisions about their bodies (and much else) could be made by doctors, husbands, fathers, without consent or even consultation. These are dark spaces in women’s history, and I’m wondering how much they contributed to your decision to make Eye of a Rook a dual narrative.
JT: Definitely! It felt so important to make space for that history, partly because the present-day understanding and treatment of vulvodynia is informed by it. But including the historical narrative also happened spontaneously or intuitively, which is so often the case in writing, right?
After Arthur had announced himself to me, I did make a conscious choice to continue using a male perspective for the historical narrative. I wanted to contrast Alice’s agency in contemporary Perth with Emily’s lack of agency in Victorian England. I was also really interested in what Arthur would do with the power he holds when he also feels so deeply for Emily.
The more shocking elements in the novel around Isaac Baker Brown, his dealings with women and the operations he conducted were very difficult to write, so I’m sure they’re hard to read, if compelling. But there is nothing gratuitous in this: I want people to understand how the past informs current medical and societal attitudes towards inexplicable female disorder. We need to shake the trappings that diminish women’s pain and suffering, replacing them with knowledge, compassion and trust in the woman herself.
When research takes you by surprise
AC: Jo, it seems that Eye of a Rook is interwoven with many layers of your life—not only pain but also your work as a creative writer, your academic life, your previous profession as a psychotherapist. But what about the flights into the unknown that writing this novel has required of you? Did the narrative take you in surprising directions or lead you to new areas of research?
JT: I deliberately placed Alice’s narrative within the time period during which I completed my PhD. This strategy meant I didn’t have to conduct any more research into vulvodynia, and it also meant that I could base Alice’s discoveries on my own.
I hadn’t anticipated how much further research I’d have to conduct into Victorian society and medicine. Fortunately, I loved it! I also continued research into the recipient of a dedication found in a copy of Isaac Baker Brown’s On the Curability of Certain Forms of Insanity, Epilepsy, Catalepsy, and Hysteria in Females (1866): ‘…with the affectionate love, of The Author’. I was trying to work out exactly how I felt about Isaac; I wanted to separate my fictional Isaac from the historical Isaac and to flesh out someone sketchily comprehended and easily demonised, without minimising the trauma he must have caused to countless women and their families. I did have Alice researching the dedicatee in the novel, but my wonderful and wise mentor, Susan Midalia, advised that it complicated the narrative unnecessarily, so I wrote a personal essay on it instead!
I didn’t anticipate Emily’s letters, but I knew I had to include her voice somehow while keeping Arthur’s perspective central. I really enjoyed discovering just who she was by writing her letters to Beatrice, Arthur’s sister. I also didn’t know, at the outset, whether Alice or Emily would recover or the fate of Alice’s marriage, and I allowed the writing to determine that, which brought several surprises.
AC: I’m always interested in connections between people and place, and the historical strand of Eye of a Rook is set in England—London and beyond. I sensed an intimacy in the way you wrote about the rural locations—the Rochdale family’s Hierde House in the fictional Herdley, and Rugby School. Were these created/re-created from personal associations?
JT: You’re very perceptive, Amanda.
Even at the very beginning, I knew Arthur grew from my father and my sons.
I knew some of Dad’s history, but writing Arthur gave me the opportunity to research it with him in a more detailed way, and this brought us even closer during his final years.
Dad was born in Rochdale, England. He was twelve when the family moved to the Naze House in Chinley, Derbyshire, and he boarded at Seascale Preparatory School, then Worksop College. Like Arthur, Dad experienced a loss that changed the direction of his life, and the news of it was delivered to him by the headmaster in much the same way. Dad was a great walker, and Arthur’s walks with Taffy to and around the Naze in Herdley are informed by Dad’s walks with his terrier Punch. In all of this I was reaching towards something to do with love and mothering that affects who Arthur becomes and the decision he must make on Emily’s behalf.
I was born on a farm near Rugby, so there are childhood sensations and memories from there lodged in my bones, though I don’t have any memories of Rugby School itself. I can’t travel easily, so didn’t return to England while writing Eye of a Rook, but I found I could research Rugby School quite thoroughly from a distance, and Tom Brown’s School Days (1857), by Thomas Hughes, immersed me in that time and place from a boy’s perspective. The Temple Reading Room at Rugby School also provided helpful information.
I did get stuck in these two chapters from Arthur’s early life for some time, but I think that was necessary in order to write and understand him properly. Dad died a couple of months before I finished the final draft, and the constellation of love, loss, mothering and creativity that formed then helped me complete the novel.
AC: When writing, I usually surround myself with photographs, maps, artefacts—things that speak, at least to me, of the world I’m trying to create. Part of that is because I am blessed with a dedicated writing space, but even when I’m writing somewhere else I manage to take a portable version of my clutter with me. So I’m wondering about your writing space, Jo, and whether you’re also a collector of bits and pieces. And if so, whether you would be willing to speak about some item that has been part of the journey of writing this novel.
JT: My bits and pieces are mainly paper based. I had many sentences drawn from novels stuck to my walls while I wrote Eye of a Rook. I’m still very much an emerging fiction writer; I learned so much about voice, expression and perspective from these favourite quotes, and would turn to them for inspiration when I was stuck. I also drew pictures of houses and clothes and purses, making sense of the habits and patterns of daily life in Victorian England, and detailed family trees for Arthur and Emily—I kept all these at hand.
A family treasure from my mother’s side of the family was used as inspiration for some of the meals mentioned in the novel: The Housekeepers’ Friend, by ‘A Lady’, published in Norwich in 1852. It’s strange yet endearing to see the childhood scribbles of my great-grandfather Harry Edrich inside the cover. In the novel, I repurposed my mother’s memories of her grandfather (Harry) in Ena’s memories of her grandparents’ marriage: Them that are lashed to the post must take the strikes.
The most useful item was Edward Weller’s Map of London, from 1868. I printed sections of the map as I determined where the characters lived and walked, and sticky-taped them together. Often Victorian London remained laid out on the floor, and I had to jump over it to get out of the office! It was a wonderful surprise when Fremantle Press sent me the concept cover, and designer Nada Backovic had incorporated this map into the background. I’m very grateful for everyone’s patience as I requested shifts in the positioning of the map! I wanted visible the location of Emily and Arthur’s home on Portland Place and parts of the routes taken by Arthur in his city walks. I’m just thrilled with the result.
‘Silently and under the cover of night’
AC: Rooks appear throughout Eye of a Rook and on that striking cover. Without entering into the territory of spoilers, can you talk about how they work metaphorically in the novel? Did they enter into the writing by stealth or was there always a rook guiding you?
JT: Rooks appeared in Eye of a Rook by stealth: silently and under cover of night. After deliberately writing the rooks from Thomas Hughes’ 19th-century Rugby School into Arthur’s school narrative, they started popping up unbidden. When I discovered, while researching the 1860s streets of London, that ‘rookery’ meant ‘slum’ as well as the place where rooks gather and nest, some of my thoughts and feelings around mothering and caring for others less fortunate coalesced.
Increasingly, the rook acts as a reflection of Arthur’s state of mind; through that, I was also gesturing towards Alice’s understanding of two bodies, reached through her experience of pain: ‘One, a symmetrical image reflected in the mirror and the sight of other bodies, whole and cohesive. The other, a figure in fragments, its bits and pieces scattered through the brain.’ Without giving too much away, the rook is critical in the creative process of bringing fragments together and making something whole and good. Again, I felt that this decided itself in some ways, the rook guiding me in the later stages.
In this singular year when many people have said they had more time for reading than ever before, I haven’t. But oh, how I have enjoyed the books I have read—books that have taken me places I’ve never been (in a year when no-one is going anywhere), opened my eyes to the wrongs of both past and present, made me think, made me cry.
Excluding books read entirely for research—and there have been many of those—I’ve read 24 books. Of those, 22 were by Australian writers, 17 by women writers and 7 by Indigenous writers. Only three of those unrelated to research were non-fiction, and there was one verse novel among the many novels.
Favourites? Well, it’s been a stellar bunch this year, and I find myself resisting any hierarchical ordering, but I’ll just mention a few.
Tara June Winch’s Miles Franklin–winning The Yield has made many readers’ favourites lists this year, and with good reason. This beautiful novel is equally a work of history, and I hope it will become mandatory reading for all young people. I also loved Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain, which won the inaugural ARA Historical Prize, and Ally Cobby Eckerman’s verse novel Ruby Moonlight hit me in the heart. And my most recent read, Jamaican writer Alecia McKenzie’s new novel, A Million Aunties, was one of the year’s stand-outs: deeply moving, engrossing and a joy to read.
During the year I also featured the following new works in the ‘2, 2 and 2’ series, in which authors talk about (among other things) their inspirations and the connections of their work to place:
David Whish-Wilson, Shore Leave(Fremantle Press), novel (crime)
Thank you to all these authors for sharing their thoughts and insights.
And so to 2021. I’m going to be spending most of my time in my backyard studio, surrounded by photos and maps and boxes of research, hard at work on my new novel. But I’ll come up for air from time to time. I have a new interview series coming on looking up/looking down and look forward to introducing some exciting new works of literary fiction.
Until then, thank you for all the messages and comments during the year, and I wish you a happy, more peaceful, perhaps less eventful New Year.
David Whish-Wilson Shore Leave (Fremantle Press) Crime fiction
David Whish-Wilson somehow manages to juggle a demanding day job (as creative writing teacher at Curtin University) with a prolific writing career—excelling at both. He has published six crime fiction novels, the brilliant historical novel The Coves (which he talks about here), and three creative non-fiction titles, including the (recently updated) Perth, a lyrical and idiosyncratic portrait of the capital city of the state we both live in.
David has travelled widely, and I love his author blurb, which tells us he has worked in Europe, Africa and Asia as a barman, actor, street seller, petty criminal, labourer, exterminator, factory worker, gardener, clerk, travel agent, teacher and drug trial guinea pig. It strikes me that you couldn’t orchestrate a better CV for a crime writer!
Three of David’s crime fiction novels have been published in Germany, and he has been shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards and twice for the Ned Kelly Awards—most recently for his last title, True West.
I’m delighted that he’s agreed to talk about his newly released novel, Shore Leave.
Here is the blurb:
It is Fremantle in 1989 and Frank Swann is at home, suffering from an undiagnosed and debilitating illness. When Frank is called in to investigate an incident at a local brothel, it soon appears there is a link between the death of two women and the arrival of the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in the port city. Shore Leave is the fourth book in the Frank Swann series and also features Lee Southern, the main character from True West.
Over to David…
2 things that inspired the novel
Shore Leave is the fourth novel in my Frank Swann crime series, although like the other novels it can be read as a standalone. The novel also has a cameo from the protagonist of my most recent novel, Lee Southern of True West (2019), who Frank Swann is training up in the craft of citizen investigations. The novel is set largely in Fremantle during the visit of the USS aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to port, part of the American fleet out patrolling the Indian Ocean at the behest of Presidents Reagan and Bush Snr. It was inspired by a couple of stories I’d heard over the years.
The first was when I was in my late teens, living in Mombasa, Kenya. At that time many of my friends were working prostitutes, whose main clients were the merchant sailors of different nations who berthed there. It was always interesting listening to the women break down the national traits of men from places like Bulgaria, Korea and Australia based upon their behaviour when drunk and in the privacy of the short-time rooms of the hotels that dotted the port. Some of these stories were funny, and others were disturbing, but most disturbing of all was the trepidation many felt when the American navy were due in port. It was a trepidation mixed with excitement, because apart from the Japanese, Americans were considered the most generous of clients. The rumours were strong, however, that on previous occasions when the Americans were in port there had been serious assaults, and alleged murders that were never investigated because of the inference that the money spent was important to the local economy, and because the Americans left as quickly as they’d come. I was present when one such visit occurred, and I remember the fear among my friends that they might be targeted, even though they were used to danger. I remember thinking then that for a certain type of man, being part of a navy that went from port to port, and was defensive about its reputation, would in fact be the perfect cover for a sex offender or even murderer.
A few years later I was working as a bartender in Tokyo, where much of the custom was US sailors and marines. I got to know some of them quite well, and one of them very well when we worked together in a different bar. He told me stories of life on board an aircraft carrier, both the racial politics and the black-market scams, and I took some of the things he told me, together with the atmosphere of fear and anxiety (contrary to my experiences of the navy being in Fremantle when I was younger) I’d witnessed in Mombasa, and worked these aspects into the plot of Shore Leave.
2 places connected with the novel
The two places connected to the novel are the port of Fremantle, and what might be termed, for the purposes of the law, the US territory aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. At the commencement of Shore Leave, Frank Swann is still suffering the ill-effects of his mistreatment and injury incurred toward the conclusion of Old Scores. As a result, he’s trying to live a quiet life, and tends to stick pretty close to his South Fremantle home. He’s put aside his usual source of income, retrieving money for those ripped off in stock-market scams. When the USS Carl Vinson arrives, however, he agrees to do a favour for an old friend, the US navy shore patrol officer whose responsibility it is to find AWOL sailors. A sailor was last seen upstairs at the Seaview Hotel (now the Local Hotel) and across the street at the Ada Rose brothel (which is still in operation.) Looking for this AWOL sailor means Swann spends a fair bit of time around Fremantle, then in the throes of the beginning of the restoration boom sparked by the America’s Cup and its status as a centre of Sannyasin life in WA.
The other place that defines Shore Leave is the sovereign territory aboard the aircraft carrier itself. Like all of my previous Frank Swann novels, Shore Leave proceeds by way of three separate narrative strands that become more and more intertwined as the story develops. One of these three characters is a US Navy midshipman with right-wing sympathies, who has a sideline smuggling black-market weapons ashore. Part of the novel involves exploring his life aboard the ship, which was quite entertaining to write.
2 soundtracks for the novel
If this novel had a soundtrack, it’d be ‘Shore Leave’ by Tom Waits. The song doesn’t relate directly to the narrative, but it does capture some of the strangeness and loneliness of being in a new place, all alone, that I remember from my early travels. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lh7JZUpaVPg
The other song I found myself thinking about when writing Shore Leave was Nina Simone’s version of Kurt Weill’s ‘Pirate Jenny’. It’s a song I’ve always loved, but its darkness and power were what I thought about while writing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7awW5nrDHk
In this year-like-no-other, we’ve been forced to face many previously unimaginable things, but I never want to imagine a world without bookshops.
Our local booksellers have been working hard throughout these difficult times, finding ways to keep us connected with books and ideas—sending newsletters, presenting Zoom events, offering special deliveries. I have often felt concerned on their behalf, knowing that they already exist in a space threatened by faceless global merchants.
Tomorrow it’s national Love Your Bookshop Day, an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate bookshops as one of things that make our lives worthwhile. I want to send out a big thank-you to all of the bookshops who have nurtured me as a reader and supported me as a writer—and to the special people who work behind their counters.
If you’re able to get out and about tomorrow (and commiserations to those who can’t), do drop into your favourite bookshop, say hello and tell them what they mean to you. And buy a few books while you’re there, of course!
Monique Mulligan Wherever You Go (Pilyara Press) Contemporary fiction
I first met Perth writer Monique Mulligan through her role as presenter (and founder) of the successful Stories on Stage program, a series of author conversations that has run for some years at the Koorliny Arts Centre in Kwinana, Western Australia. Since then, she has become involved in the local writing community in many other ways, not least as an author.
Following on from a career incorporating journalism, editing and publishing, she now combines part-time work at the arts centre with writing. Several of her short stories have been published, and her third children’s picture book, Alexandra Rose and her Icy-Cold Toes, was released in May.
Monique is an amazing cook—I’ve sampled some of her baked treats at Koorliny—and so it’s no surprise to me to hear that her debut contemporary novel, Wherever You Go, features food and explores the connection between emotional states and the art of cooking.
She’s also a talented photographer, as you’ll see below.
Here is the blurb for Wherever You Go:
A life-shattering tragedy threatens to tear apart chef Amy Bennet’s marriage. Desperate to save it, she moves with her husband Matt to Blackwood, a country town where no-one knows who they are.
Forced to deal with her crumbling marriage and the crippling grief that follows her wherever she goes, Amy turns to what she knows best: cooking. She opens a cafe showcasing regional seasonal produce, and forms the Around the World Supper Club, serving mouth-watering feasts to new friends. As her passion for food returns, she finds a place for herself in Blackwood. But when a Pandora’s Box of shame and blame is unlocked, Matt gives Amy an ultimatum that takes their marriage to the edge.
Rich with unexpected characters and extraordinary insight, Wherever You Go is a powerful and ultimately uplifting tale of heartbreaking loss, recovery and redemption.
Over now to Monique…
2 things that inspired the book
The first time I heard the quote ‘Wherever you go, there you are’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn, it resonated strongly on a personal level. The instinctual desire to run away from one’s self saddened, fascinated, frustrated, even infuriated me, because it perfectly summarised the behaviour of someone I cared about.
When I decided to write a novel, I knew I wanted this quote to be part of it, directly as in the title, but also thematically in my characters’ inner and outer worlds. I wanted to explore how people try to get away from themselves, how they try to outrun guilt and grief and pain and shame. To explore the truth that who you are follows you wherever you go. I asked: What happens when you deny this part of you? How long can you do it before the cracks show? How long can you watch someone hide behind a mask, when you know what lies beneath?
Late in the novel, there’s a scene between Amy and her elderly neighbour Irene that directly explores this quote. Interestingly, this was one of the easiest scenes to write, perhaps because it reflected what I wanted to say all those years ago. Perhaps it was a form of catharsis.
The second inspiration was a newspaper article about an Australian family whose children were killed in a tragic accident overseas. At the time our four children were still living at home, and the tragedy shocked and saddened me. I remember my husband and I discussing it, wanting to hold our teenage children tighter than ever. What if something like that happened to us? What would that do to our marriage? Later, when it came to starting Wherever You Go, I was compelled to unpack that second question, to examine the complex nature of grief and the consequences of incomplete grief.
2 places connected with the book
Most of Wherever You Go is set in Blackwood, a fictional town in Western Australia inspired by Bridgetown, about three hours south of Perth. I’ve taken elements of the real town—the soupy winter fog that rises from the valleys, the steep up-and-down hills, the old fibro homes, the locals’ friendly curiosity (and sometimes suspicion) towards newcomers, the region’s wonderful fresh produce and food; I’ve reimagined the town’s bakery as an artisanal bakery and I’ve added Amy’s cafe, Brewed to Taste, which is an amalgamation of many cafes I’ve visited but is bigger than any of the cafes in the real-life town. Early in the writing process, I visited Bridgetown in different seasons, and walked around the streets, taking photos of houses, streetscapes, and birds, flowers and plants. For months, a mood board sat on my desk and I’d refer to my photos whenever I needed to work on creating a sense of place.
A small but significant part of the book is set in Germany. I haven’t actually been to Germany, so my focus here was less on place and more on conflicted relationships and resolution. I chose Germany because that’s where my family (on both sides) comes from and, until the Covid-19 pandemic exploded, it’s where I planned to travel to next year.
2 favourites from the book
It’s no secret that I love good food and wine, and I often daydream of sharing a long-table feast with loved ones as the sun sets over golden hills. In this fantasy, we’re in Tuscany, or maybe the south of France. There are candles in jars and fairy lights strung up in trees, white tablecloths, potted herbs; there is an abundance of simple but good food and wine, laughter and conversation. This is the kind of atmosphere Amy tries to re-create with her Around the World Supper Club feasts—the setting is different, but the spirit of food and human connection is the same. In Wherever You Go, the characters travel vicariously to Italy, France, Morocco, Vietnam and Greece courtesy of Amy’s feasts—and many of the meals they share were tried and tested on my family.
One of my favourite characters is Henry, who has a small part overall but plays a pivotal role in helping to mend a friendship. Henry is ‘naughty’, unexpected, and of all the characters, most strongly drawn from a real-life experience. I can’t say more without a spoiler.
Ok, I’m a day late—Indigenous Literacy Day was yesterday—but I want to highlight a few of the novels by Indigenous writers that I have been enjoying recently.
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to find time for reviewing—something I like doing but won’t unless I can devote the time that all books deserve—so I’m including here links to reviews by Lisa at ANZ LitLoversLitBlogand Sue at Whispering Gums
The Yield by Tara June Winch, winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Award Review by Lisa
The Wounded Sinnerby Gus Henderson, shortlisted in last year’s WA Premier’s Book Awards (Emerging Writer categoy) Review by Lisa
It’s been nearly three days. You’d think I would have managed to post the news before now. But it took me by surprise, and it’s taken a while to come down to earth.
Last Friday, at the announcement of the WA Premier’s Book Awards,* I was awarded this year’s Western Australian Writer’s Fellowship. My fellow shortlistees were Lucy Dougan, Caitlin Maling, Rafeif Ismail and Carl Merrison, and it was a privilege to be in the company of these wonderful writers.
Unlike an award given for a published book, a fellowship is not a prize; it’s a contract. It comes with expectations and responsibilities, and I’m so excited about the work ahead. The fellowship will enable me to make substantial progress on the new novel I’m working on, set in Perth and Coolgardie during the 1890s—a story of emigration and racism and extraordinary social change.
My thanks to the WA Government, the State Library of WA and the judging panel for this unparalleled opportunity.
I was delighted when Will Yeoman, from The West Australian, invited me to talk about Scotland in this episode of ‘The Pod Well Travelled’. It was hard to choose one place among the many in Scotland I love, but in the end it had to be Shetland, where part 2 of Elemental is set. You can also listen to discussions about Finland and Arles in this episode.
And for the good news…
In a year that has been, and continues to be, so difficult and unnerving, it is a singular pleasure to be shortlisted for the WA Writer’s Fellowship, part of the WA Premier’s Book Awards.
The full shortlists are here. Congratulations and good luck to everyone!
My piece starts around the 16-minute mark, but before that you can get some great tips about places to visit in New Zealand as The West’s travel editor, Stephen Scourfield, talks to Nicole Ricksman from Flight Centre.
Author of KATHLEEN O’CONNOR OF PARIS (narrative non-fiction), ELEMENTAL and THE SINKINGS (novels) and INHERITED (short story collection). looking up/looking down is an occasional blog about writing, reading and watching the world...