A second life for ‘Please Don’t Leave Me Here’

Zwei Leben’ (‘Two Lives’) is published in Germany today by Suhrkamp.

Geh kleines buch!

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This is the farewell and good luck note I wrote to my book (originally titled
Please Don’t Leave Me Here) the first time around:

I don’t know where you came from, why you chose me, or if you existed inside me for some time before I gave you life.

You were never easy to live with, but every day I nurtured you.

As you grew, I grew. I learnt so much about myself from writing you.

Some mornings I couldn’t wait to see you at 5.00am and some times I felt like deleting you, but I never gave up on you.

Leonardo da Vinci said: ‘Art is never finished, only abandoned’.

I will miss you and I’m scared of what could happen to you out there in the world, but it’s time to ‘abandon’ you, to let you go.

And here’s the playlist of music that inspired the book:

Writing place

 

I’m thrilled to be one of ten writers invited to participate in an exciting new
Darebin City Council initiative called Writing this Place. The project aims to uncover ‘hidden gems’ in the architectural, natural and social spaces in Darebin, and to celebrate local writers.

In a night of fun and mayhem involving bingo and raffles at the very original retro Thornbury Bowls Club, the writers were matched randomly (although I suspect some cheating may have gone on with the wheel spinning for location) with ten iconic places in Darebin. I was the lucky one to spin the wildcard, allowing me to choose my own location. The Westgarth Cinema.

We now have one month to research, explore and immerse ourselves in our matched location. And, of course, write about it — contributing to a new narrative for the city, investigating notions of place and form. Quite a challenge!

Quite terrifying, actually.

I find the short-story form daunting, and stand by whoever said it’s easier to write a novel than a short story [Or was it a long letter is easier than a short letter?].

I think I achieved a strong sense of place in both my novels. But it’s not something I sat at my computer and planned. It just kind of happened. I think it evolved after, or at least alongside, character development. Character usually comes first for me. But it’s hard to remember. I call it ‘novel amnesia’ — the thing that happens after you’ve written a book and have no idea how you did it. It’s like childbirth — a defence mechanism kicks in, making you forget the pain so you’ll go back and do it again.

I’ve tried to document my process while Writing this Place so I could share it here.

So, how to ‘write place’?

1. Researching online
For starters, I searched for information online. I found a lot of details about my place, especially the architecture. Post WWI eclectic Free Classical style; articulated engaged piers; cantilevered awning; smooth banded rustication; deep, dentillated cornice. That all sounds clever, but would make most people’s eyes glaze over, except for architects.

You need to let go of most of the technical terms and think about what the place looks like to you. Put it into your own words; give it your unique perspective.

While researching, I stumbled across war stories from the city of Darebin, which gave me the germ of an idea for a historical piece.

2. Visiting location
I know some authors have written wonderful, believable books about places they’ve never visited, but I don’t think I could ever do that. I spent time hanging around — immersing myself in my place, asking the staff questions. I even caught a movie while I was at it (research!). [Lucky I didn’t get a pub as my location.]

I took copious notes at my place. I also took photos. [Sometimes I record sounds when researching locations.]

My notes weren’t just about visuals. Sensory details drawing on all the senses bring stories to life.

When writing, think about:
Sight
Sound
Smell
Touch
Taste

3. Finding character and story
As well as WW2, I was interested in the Greek-language films that brought Northcote’s large Greek population together in the 60s and 70s. But I also wanted to incorporate present day into my narrative.

Hmm … Maybe three short story-vignettes?

Two of the three vignettes spoke louder to me, and I started weaving them into a single connected story. Finding characters and story was important for me — without them, place is just exposition.

4. Framing
I liked the idea of using frames to write about a place that showed pictures. Framing devices as well as literal door and window frames.

I try to capture subjects visually in my writing the same way a camera would. This seemed even more pertinent for this project.

Start with a close-up frame on an object or person in your story and then ‘pan’ out to a mid and/or wide shot. For example: go from a feature of a face, a brooch on a dress, and then out to the surroundings. Or start with a wide frame and then zoom in. The façade of a building, to the window, to a smaller detail on the signage. [I don’t think about this in the first draft, but when rewriting I check that I haven’t jumped around too much with the ‘framing’.]

5. Metaphor, simile and symbol
These literary devices can make your place more interesting.

Think about the green light in The Great Gatsby and the moors in Wuthering Heights.

I was interested in exploring contrasts like the dark and light spaces in a cinema. Past and present, love and loss, war and peace, life and death.

Memory is like a camera, recording the bright flashbulb moments. But what about the dark or blank spaces in between? This idea kept popping up in my thoughts.

6. Finding historical details
To get the historical details right, I visited my local library (Northcote), and the State Library Victoria for advice and information. Old newspapers and maps help build up a snapshot of a time. I was also in the wars a lot (sorry!) — searching the National Archives and War Memorial websites.

The Darebin Heritage website was another useful resource.

7. Seeking Feedback
Feedback is a very important part of the process. I can’t say I’m a big fan of it. All is happy and perfect in story land — until you ask for it. I have learnt / am still learning that seeking feedback too early on can fill you with doubt and derail your idea. Given enough time (and rewrites) you will come to a deep understanding of your story — and that’s when it’s time to ask for feedback. However, I didn’t have the luxury of time on this project. And, yes, conflicting feedback (from a few trusted readers) on my first draft did throw me off track for a while.

One point I took on board was that I had tried to include too much in my piece. I left in my [short, OK, short!] reference to the Greek films, but took out the stuff about Walter Burley Griffin and the lost building plans.

 [Also not included in my piece, but just so you know: INXS filmed the music video for ‘Listen Like Thieves’ at the Westgarth, and in 1940 double-decker buses replaced the cable trams on High Street.]

8. Other stuff
I like to use the light in my writing, and how it can alter the appearance of things. In fact I found the word ‘light’ ten times in my first (1000 word) draft! Light (harsh or soft?) can be a way of signalling to your reader that something needs to be examined.

Music inspires me. I listened to music from WW2 time while writing this piece. I wanted to include a song from the 40s in the past section, and ‘Unchained Melody’ in the present, but I restrained myself from going overboard on the sentimentality.

9. Above all
When writing about place, ask yourself:
What is the feeling here?
What is the universal truth that embodies this place?

For my place — a purpose-built picture theatre from the 1920s — it was nostalgia.

What to expect when you’re expecting a book: #1 Blurbs

Jane Rawson and Annabel Smith have launched a new blog series for debut authors. This is their first issue — it’s about getting a blurb.

Jane Bryony Rawson

So your first book has been accepted for publication: congratulations! You’ve been through edits, the cover is chosen, and it’s about to go off to the printers. In the next few months your face will be all over television and you’ll be getting daily bank deposits of thousands of dollars. Right?

Maybe not.

All authors’ experiences are different, but we (Jane Rawson and Annabel Smith) thought you might like to know what we’ve learned about the period just before and after your book hits the shelves.

Jane: Recently my fourth book – a novel – was published. I’m with a small independent publisher, and they’ve previously published another novel of mine, and a non-fiction book about climate change that I co-authored with an environment journalist. My other book, a novella, was published by a different, even smaller independent publisher. None of my books has been published outside Australia, and…

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Summer reading

Best book ever

29601654The Summer That Melted Everything by debut author Tiffany McDaniel is my new Best book ever (for January anyway).

Some ‘Antarctic noir’ might have been a better choice while melting in Melbourne’s hot summer, but I couldn’t peel myself off the couch until I’d read the final page of this dark, gothic novel.

This book requires some willing suspension of disbelief, and I saw most of what was coming, but from a few pages in I was completely captivated by McDaniel’s stunning prose.

It’s a hell of a story (sorry, I couldn’t resist 🙂 )! It’s about what happens when prosecutor Autopsy Bliss (don’t be put off by the name like I was — that’s why it took me a while to get around to reading) invites the devil to the backwater town of Breathed, Ohio in the summer of 1984.

The Summer That Melted Everything is about family, redemption, love and evil. It made me cry, and at times I didn’t think I could bear the suffocating claustrophobia and aching sorrow — there’s not much bliss for the Bliss family that the story centres on. I’m not sure about the ending, and the book left me feeling shattered for sometime afterwards. Its images are still infiltrating my dreams.

Compelling, beautiful, brutal. If you’re looking for a cheery holiday read — this is not it.

Something old

xjane-eyre-popular-penguins-jpg-pagespeed-ic-lunfyo9spvJane Eyre | Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is my current ‘bed book’. Unfortunately I often fall asleep and lose my page in my bed books. This one is so long — it’s going to take forever.

I avoided this classic when I was a teenager but felt compelled to give it a go after recently re-reading Wuthering Heights — which I adore — and was reluctant afterwards to leave the Bronte’s gothic 1800s world. Jane Eyre is quite different — obviously, I know; it’s not Emily — but I’m enjoying it. Slowly.

Something new

Confessions of a Mad Mooer: Postnatal Depression Sucks | Robin Elizabeth33152096

Confessions of a Mad Mooer was released at the end of last year. It’s a memoir about the author’s battle with PND and admission to a psychiatric hospital’s Mother and Baby Unit.

Confessions of a Mad Mooer is told with honesty and humour. The writing’s great, and it’s a compelling read about a widely misunderstood topic. Oh, and it also contains some hilarious parenting and cleaning tips!  

More info about Confessions of a Mad Mooer here

Something borrowed

1471987Tell Me I’m Here | Anne Deveson

Tell me I’m Here is Anne Deveson’s beautifully written, heartbreaking memoir about her son, Jonathan, who had schizophrenia. I borrowed it from my local library, and read up to the penultimate chapter. Jonathan’s death occurs in the next chapter — I read ahead to prepare myself, but still couldn’t continue.

While avoiding the last chapters, Anne Deveson and Georgia Blain (who I hadn’t realised was Anne’s daughter mentioned in the book) both passed away.

Tell Me I’m Here is still sitting on top of my TBR pile, with a book mark sticking out of the final pages. Now the library wants it back — I’ve already renewed it twice, so I can’t keep it any longer. Sadly, I don’t think I can finish.

Something blue

Mayan Mendacity by L.J.M Owen and The Light on the Water by Olga Lorenzo are on my TBR pile, but I haven’t started either yet. They both have beautiful blue covers.

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Mayan Mendacity | L.J.M Owen

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The Light on the Water | Olga Lorenzo

 

 

 

 

 

 

More of What I’m Reading can be found over on Meanjin’s blog.

What have you been reading this summer?

Tania Chandler: #Robinpedia

I’m very excited to have made it into #Robinpedia

Write or Wrong

Dreams can come true.

Who is Tania Chandler? She’s a crime writer, an Australian, and an all round rad shiela (is that how you spell it?). Like all cool writers she lives in Melbourne… I live in Sydney. Graeme Simsion, famous for the world wide smash The Rosie Project, has described her lead character as “flawed and troubled as any hard-bitten dick.

Tania’s novels are known for taking the archetypes from crime fiction and shuffling them around. Her character Brigitte has all the hallmarks of the femme fatale yet is the lead character. Aidan has the typical traits of the strong and silent police officer who drinks too much yet is relegated to the love interest category. Tania’s playing around with tropes gives her novels a fresh and light feel despite them dealing with distinctly dark subject matter.

Why does this cover scare me so?

Her…

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Nothing looks the same in the light

I like ‘Sorrow’ and ‘Life on Mars’ (after binge-watching the series Life on Mars), but I was never a big Bowie fan; I went through a Prince phase when I was young, but that didn’t last long; I love reading Leonard Cohen’s poetry and lyrics, but admittedly I prefer the cover versions of his songs performed by other artists. The 2016 celebrity death that hit me the hardest was George Michael’s.

Believe it or not, I was a Wham! fan. George Michael was one of my first crushes — after Steve from The Land of the Giants, Michael Douglas in The Streets of San Francisco, and Robert (a boy in Grade 6).

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George Michael

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Steve

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Michael Douglas

Robert (from memory)

In Grade 4 or 5, we had to come up with an act to perform for the class. My best friend at the time and I choreographed a dance routine to ‘Bad Boys’.

‘Last Christmas’ was the soundtrack to my very first summer-holiday romance, and my subsequent very first broken heart.

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in (Leonard Cohen) is far more profound, but there’s a line from a Wham! song that has resonated with me since I was twelve (although I had to google to remember which song it’s from): Nothing looks the same in the light. I have stolen borrowed and rewritten those words — that concept — in many different ways. I made a list of examples from my books, but deleted it (because, well, who wants to read random, out-of-context lines of prose? Plus it was quite a long list).

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I can still remember the inky, shiny-paper smell of the song-lyric sheet in the inner sleeve of the Fantastic album.

Art-inspired writing

I was recently invited to speak to a primary school class about writing and Storybird. Storybird is an educational platform, where students can create art-inspired stories, with the options of publishing their work and connecting with a community of readers, writers and artists. In
Storybird, writers start by choosing illustrations, which lead them into the writing process. A great way to prevent writer’s block.

I decided to make my talk a little about structure and process, and a lot about the artwork that inspired my books (leaving out the gory bits, of course!). The kids loved discussing art and stories, and their teacher is trying to organise an excursion to an art gallery before the end of the year.

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Lovers | Charles Blackman | NGV

Lovers
One of my writing lecturers at RMIT taught a class about ekphrasis [Greek ekphrazein to speak out, to call an inanimate object by name — Macquarie Dictionary], a concept that goes back to Plato. Put very basically, ekphrasis is the use of one art form to provide a commentary on another art form. Our class had an excursion to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Fed Square where we chose an artwork to write about. This was a very powerful exercise for me and it’s where I first became enamoured with Charles Blackman’s Lovers. I spent a lot of time admiring this painting. I occasionally visit it now, and it still always brings a tear to my eye. Lovers informed my first novel Please Don’t Leave Me Here so much that it appears as a print on Brigitte’s apartment wall, and is referred to several times — in real time, memory and dreams.

‘She looks across at the print hanging on the wall behind the sofa: two lovers embrace against a background that looks finger- painted — frosty white smears tinged with aqua. If you could taste it, it would be spearmint. The female figure rests her head against the man’s neck. She is veiled in black, her face hidden by a hood. He is shadow-like, grey, his face visible but chiselled, without detail like a sculpture. Against the small of her back he holds a bouquet of flowers: white, perhaps daisies, with centres the colour of fresh blood. Is this their last time together? Is she in his dream? A memory? Or a ghost? Why can’t they just be together?’
— Please Don’t Leave Me Here

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Four Darks in Red | Mark Rothko | Whitney Museum of American Art

Four Darks in Red
This was Aidan’s artwork in Dead in The Water. Brigitte disliked it and described it as: ‘… four lozenge shapes in different shades of red, from crimson at the bottom to liver-brown at the top … She’d never told him that she didn’t like it. It reminded her of bloodstains.

Four Darks in Red became a metaphor for blood.

‘There were stains on his clothing the sombre colours of his Rothko Four Darks in Red — he’d been to the accident scene.’

‘It wasn’t raindrops: it was crimson. Four darks in red.’
— Dead in the Water

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Feet Beneath the Table | Charles Blackman | NGV

Alice in Wonderland series
Strangely enough, I’m drawn to the artwork of Charles Blackman again — in particular his Alice in Wonderland series — while writing my third book, You Used To Love Me. The story (at this stage) is about memory, time and the line between sanity and insanity. For me, it seems to have many parallels with Alice in Wonderland.

‘Alice: How long is forever?
White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.’
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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Collins St, 5p.m. | John Brack | NGV

Collins St, 5p.m.
Again, I’ve placed artwork within my story. In You Used to Love Me, Sidney studies this painting in Year 10 art, and twenty years later finds herself in the setting of the painting.

‘… Glass towers had replaced the sandstone buildings of Brack’s 1950s background. Not all the faces were white, and mobile phones were stuck to ears, but the blank expressions were the same. Strange now that here I was — that girl grown-up — in the street, in the picture I remembered. My past self in the future. Or my future self in the past? Or the present? Thoughts like that — time plains, continuums, illusion — could do my head in …’
— You Used to Love Me (work in progress)

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Of Mice and Me | Meghan Boody

Of Mice and Me
I didn’t show this image to the Grade 2s! The germ of the idea for You Used to Love Me came to me while viewing this sculpture a year or so ago at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania. A lot of the museum-visitors were walking away shaking their heads, but I was utterly mesmerised. When I listened to an interview with the artist, Meghan Boody, I understood why this piece had captivated me. Boody describes it as ‘an ode to staying forever young’. And says, ‘I often feel a strange tug or presence when I walk by the apartment where I grew up. I look up into the window of my bedroom — and wouldn’t it be wild if I saw myself as a child looking back down?’ Boom! That, in a nutshell, was the essence of my vision for You Used to Love Me.

Back to my Year 2 talk … In case I’d traumatised them (which, of course, I hadn’t — eight-year-olds are very switched-on little people and they love scary stories), I finished with these images of On Days Like This There Are Always Rainbows, an installation by Pip and Pop, which I saw recently at NGV. The rainbow-candy-coloured miniature wonderland — mountains, valleys, pathways, crystal forests, and fluorescent flowers and animals constructed from glitter, clay, foam, sequins and pom-poms, topped with coloured sugar and cake decorations — was inspirational enough to me as an adult, but it would have been absolutely magical as a child.

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On days like this there are always rainbows | Pip & Pop (Tanya Shultz)

I would love to hear about artwork that has inspired you.