Tag Archives: Nicole Sinclair

2, 2 and 2: Nicole Sinclair talks about Bloodlines

2nd Nicole's photo 2016

Nicole Sinclair and I have been connected in a variety of ways over some years. I first came into contact with her work—anonymously, of course—when I chose one of her stories as winner of the Down South Writers Competition. (Not long after that, she won the Katharine Susannah Prichard Short Fiction Award—the first writing award I ever won.) Later I discovered what a skilful and generous interviewer she is when she took that role in a conversation session with me at the Margaret River Writers Festival. And in 2015 we appeared together in an issue of Review of Australian Fiction. I’m delighted that we are now friends as well as writing colleagues.

Nicole’s short fiction and non-fiction has also appeared in Westerlyindigo Journal and Award Winning Australian Writing, and forms part of the artworks along Busselton Jetty. Bloodlines (Margaret River Press, 2017), which was shortlisted for the 2014 TAG Hungerford Award, is her first novel.

You can meet Nicole and hear more about Bloodlines at the Bookcaffe Book Club, at the State Library of WA, on 8 June (5.30–7.00pm). Bookings and more information here.

Here is the back-cover blurb:

Thirty-one-year-old Beth, who grew up in Western Australia’s wheatbelt, is running from her past when she heads to an island in Papua New Guinea. Interwoven with Beth’s narrative about the joys and brutalities of island life is the story of her parents’ passionate, tender love for each other. But Clem and Rose’s union is beset with tragedy, forever marking the lives of those around them.

Shifting between the perspectives of five memorable characters, this ambitious, big-hearted novel heralds an exciting voice in Australian literature. Above all, Bloodlines asks us to consider what it means to make a home, and what we might owe to those who dwell in it.

And now, over to Nicole…

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2 things that inspired the novel

Shearing sheds

Shearing sheds have been a part of Sinclair family culture for generations and my father was a shearer for over fifty years. As kids, we loved climbing through packs overflowing with soft wool, chasing lambs in the pens and sweeping the boards. We worked in sheds when we were older, earning money while at university or to go travelling, and we had greater appreciation for the back-breaking work Dad did to provide for us. Shearing sheds are such a rich source of story: old junk is often stored in them, watching a roustabout throw a fleece can be captivating, and the pranks and talk at smoko and cut-out are always interesting! Many people believe that shearing sheds are places full of crude talk and drink, and I wanted to present an alternative to this stereotype. I also hoped to represent the very act of sheep shearing as something skilled and graceful. Beth’s parents (Clem and Rose) both work in shearing sheds and, through them, I was able to pay homage to this very formative part of my life. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the challenge of depicting their tender love affair (without being sentimental and soppy) against the gritty grime and stink of shearing sheds.

Mothering

I could not have perceived how greatly my life would change through the course of writing Bloodlines. I began writing this novel as a single woman, and within a short period of time, I fell in love and had a baby. Within two years, we had another daughter. Motherhood greatly affected how I wrote and what I wrote about.

An impending baby makes a great deadline! For the first time in my life, I was disciplined with my practice. When the baby was born, and I was strapped for time and sleep-deprived, mothering made me work-savvy. I wrote willy-nilly on scraps of paper, receipts discarded on the kitchen bench bore jottings for a character, a plot point would be recorded on a serviette at a cafe on a much-needed escape from the house. The very structure of the narrative—the prose fragments or small chapters—reflects these small snatches of time afforded me. I was determined to write whenever I could (the house often in disarray) and gave up many of my idealistic, perfectionist attitudes towards creative practice. My work, like my mothering, had to be ‘good enough’.

I used my creative musings to explore the wondrous, often frustrating experience of new motherhood, and the narrative became the richer for it. Rose remains one of my favourite characters, perhaps because in her, I see so much of myself as a vulnerable new mother. Fellow-writer Robyn Mundy read an early draft and commented, ‘…I nodded several times at the moments from your own life: Rose’s challenges with baby Beth’s crying and sleep deprivation (could you have written that wonderful layer into Rose without your experiences?).’

Most likely not.

2 places connected to the novel

Bloodlines is told from five different perspectives, with shifting times and places. The two key settings of this novel are based on places of great significance in my own life. In many ways, the narrative is a tribute to both the physical landscape and the people to whom I felt a close connection in each place.

The first is Toodyay, a small town (or at least it was when I grew up there!) on the edge of the West Australian wheatbelt. The rolling hills, meandering river and small town characterise my fictional town of Hope Valley, which is drawn from my childhood memories of growing up on a farm near Toodyay. I think the wheatbelt is often overlooked or dismissed (it’s not the coast, the desert, the forested south, the city), and yet I find the wheatbelt landscape very evocative. Through Clem’s daughter, Beth, I explore some of the complexities of belonging and connection to a particular place; how we might long for it, yet also spurn it, hate it.

In 2007 and 2008, I worked as a volunteer in a Catholic school on an island in Papua New Guinea. The experience was intriguing for many different reasons, and I knew I ‘had’ to write about it. Few Australians know much about PNG except the violence and corruption emanating from Port Moresby or, more recently, the debacle of the off-shore detention centre on Manus Island, but it offers the would-be writer (and reader) an extraordinary backdrop: environmental biodiversity, hundreds of distinct cultural groups, locals who love drama, rumour and sharing stories. From the outset, I wanted to evoke the dense-jungled mountain interior and palm-fringed island where I lived and worked, and I wanted to pay tribute to the generous, friendly, hard-working people I lived and worked with—which brought me face to face with the challenges of writing about another culture, one (at times) so vastly different to my own. Bloodlines is my investigation of the outsider in PNG as they grapple with cultural difference and the legacy of colonialism.

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These two quite disparate settings—the wheatbelt and PNG—allowed me to look at the ‘push–pull’ of places and tease out some of the inherent issues such as belonging and un-belonging, home and dislocation.

2 favourites lines about connection in the novel

In many ways, Bloodlines is about connection: connection to the past, connection to place, connection to others. Two of my favourite quotes about connection are as follows:

Clem and Beth’s connection (pp. 311–312)

He takes the bleating baby, slips down the hallway and out the back door. He grabs his raincoat and covers her with it, feels the tar-black night wrapping around them.

‘Here, my girl,’ he says, jimmying a swollen shearer’s finger into her mouth.

Under the stars he walks up and down the back lawn, round and round the weeping willow, past his vegie patch where the corn quivers in the pre-dawn breeze, past a whimpering Dog, past nappies forgotten on the line. He walks past the tractor with the flat tyre he’s been meaning to fix, past Rose’s Cortina and the ute, til he’s facing east and can see the first pink softening of morning. He holds his little girl, inhales the sheep and sweat of his raincoat mingling with the sweet, soapy smell of her, until the little body stops shuddering at last and her mouth gives up the suck.

Val’s connection with Beth (pp. 380–381)

(Val is Clem’s cousin and Beth goes to work with her in PNG.)

Val knows Beth will be leaving soon—whether it’s now or next year—and something in her feels like breaking. She’s spent over thirty years up here trying to avoid most white people and now Beth, on the island five minutes, is so far under Val’s skin it hurts. She’s got used to having her around, likes knowing she’s in the far house in their compound: two white meris bookending the others, keeping them safe. She’s going to miss their gin and tonic musings and those hot Sundays after church when she loads the ute with Beth, Lena and Grace, Delilah and Ruth, and they all escape to a waterhole down the highway.

signing with oona

Bloodlines is in bookstores now.
You can find out more at Margaret River Press.
Read Lisa Hill’s excellent review here.

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Filed under 2 2 and 2 (writers + new books)

Three pearls, a squirrel and a couple of jam biscuits

If you’re looking at the heading of this post and wondering what the heck, these things have a place in a new story of mine that has just been published in Review of Australian Fiction.

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RAF is a fabulous online publication dedicated to short works of fiction. It publishes two stories every two weeks, delivered in mobi (for Kindle) or ePub (for iPhone/iPad, Kobo, Nook, Readmill) format, and each issue pairs an established writer with an emerging writer.

The six-issue volume that has just begun is a special one featuring Western Australian writers—an innovative and generous gesture of support by the editors following the announcement a few months ago that funding for the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards would, in effect, be halved. Commissioning editor for the volume is Laurie Steed, whose own stories have been widely published in literary journals and anthologies; his is one of the first names that would come to mind if I were asked to name notable contemporary Australian short story writers.

The Western Australian lineup is a stellar list and I’m proud to be part of it: Kim Scott, Brenda Walker, David Whish-Wilson, Susan Midalia, Natasha Lester, Nicole Sinclair, Josephine Clarke, Maria Papas, Liz Hayden, Yvette Walker and Sam Carmody.

The first issue, just out, features my story alongside Nicole Sinclair’s ‘All That’s Gone Before’, set in Papua New Guinea and vibrant with ‘brightly torn strips of fabric’, the juice of betelnut and the sound of voices in Pidgin, as young Australian teacher Beth takes up her new job at Saint Mary’s Catholic School.

I’m delighted to be sharing the issue with Nicole, an emerging writer based in Western Australia’s South West whose unpublished novel was recently shortlisted for the 2015 T.A.G. Hungerford Award. I first met Nicole when she interviewed me at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival in 2012, but I knew of her writing before then through having judged the Down South Writers Competition the year before and awarding her outstanding story first prize.

And so back to my story in RAF… It’s called ‘Pearls’ and its cast of characters includes a little girl called Ursula, a 1970s wannabe-rock-star called Bean, and a nightmare grandmother who is the antithesis of Elemental’s Grunnie Meggie. Here is Granny’s opening line:

We belong together, you know, she says, here in this house. Your mother, me you—all knotted onto the same silken thread. Three pearls.

Individual issues of RAF are $2.99. A subscription for six issues is $12.99—per issue, less than half the cost of a cup of Perth coffee. In other words, it’s pretty good value!

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Filed under Publishing news, Review of Australian Fiction

The next wave: exciting news!

This morning I attended the announcement of the 2014 City of Fremantle TAG Hungerford Award shortlist, a biennial award given to a manuscript by a Western Australian author previously unpublished in book form. The winner will receive a cash prize of $12,000 and a publishing contract with Fremantle Press.

The award has launched the writing careers of eleven previous recipients, some of whom have gone on to receive national and international recognition with their published work. The previous winners are: Brenda Walker (1990), Gail Jones (1991), Simone Lazaroo (1993), Bruce Russell (1995), Christopher Murray (2000), Nathan Hobby (2002), Donna Mazza (2004), Alice Nelson (2006), Natasha Lester (2008), Jacqueline Wright (2010) and Robert Edeson (2012).

I was thrilled to see Louise Allan on the shortlist, for her novel Ida’s Children, recently featured in the looking up/looking down series The next wave: you can read the post here. Congratulations, Louise!

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Of course, my congratulations extend to all five shortlisted authors. It’s a significant, meaningful achievement, and I look forward to picking up all these titles off a bookshop shelf in the future.

2014 shortlisted authors and manuscripts

Louise Allan, Ida’s Children
Madelaine Dickie, Troppo
Portland Jones, Seeing the Elephant
Mihaela Nicolescu, Other Place
Nicole Sinclair, All That’s Gone Before

Portland Jones, Mihaela Nicolescu, Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt, Louise Allan, Nicole Sinclair, Fremantle Press fiction publisher Georgia Richter

Portland Jones, Mihaela Nicolescu, Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt, Louise Allan, Nicole Sinclair, Fremantle Press fiction publisher Georgia Richter

The winner will be announced early in 2015. Good luck to you all!

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Filed under The next wave