Artworks that inspired ‘All That I Remember About Dean Cola’

The Mice and Me — Meghan Boody, 2008

‘The Mice and Me’ sculpture is a replica of the artist, Meghan Boody, as an eight- or nine-year old child. When asked in an interview if it was creepy to sculpt a face in your own image, she said ‘No, it was comforting, nostalgic.’ She grew up in New York and feels a strange tug or presence whenever she walks past her old apartment. When she looks up at the window of her bedroom, she thinks about how wild it would be if she saw herself as a child looking back down. ‘The Mice and Me’ is an ode to staying young forever.

Night is generally my time for walking — Meghan Boody, 2006

‘What is it about fire, do you think, that attracts you?’
I shrugged.
All That I Remember About Dean Cola p9

Collins St, 5p.m. — John Brack, 1955

Trudging towards the office reminded her of John Brack’s painting of Collins Street. In school, the blank-faced office workers and grey city buildings reproduced in the Handbook of Art had seemed alien to a small-town girl. Now, glass towers had replaced Brack’s 1950s sandstone buildings. Not all the faces were white, and mobile phones were stuck to ears, but the blank expressions were the same. Strange now that here she was — that girl grown up — in the street, in the picture, in the book. Her past self in the future. Or her future self in the past? Or the present? Thoughts like that — time plains, continuums, illusion — could do her head in; she shook them off as she crossed King Street.
All That I Remember About Dean Cola p43

The Bar — John Brack, 1954

He pointed out another Brack painting — The Bar — in which the office workers from Collins St, 5 pm were sculling beers behind a yellow-faced barmaid. So that was where they were trudging to after work. The days of early closing, the six o’clock swill.
‘It reminds me of something,’ Sidney said.
‘It’s a nod to Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.’
All That I Remember About Dean Cola pp58–59

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère — Édouard Manet, 1882

Time flaws the perspective of memories like the skewed angles of the mirror in A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. In the reflection, the barmaid … leans forward, friendly with the shadowy, top-hatted customer, but in ‘reality’ she is standing straight, hands firmly on the counter, ambivalent to his attention. In ‘reality’ — if the mirror were parallel to the plane of the painting — it was impossible for the man to even be there. Which is real: ‘reality’ or the reflection?
All That I Remember About Dean Cola p60

On days like this there are always rainbows — Pip & Pop, 2016

The sign said: Do not touch the installation. But she couldn’t resist. She glanced over her shoulder — no attendants in sight — reached out and crumbled off a piece. It tasted sweet, but stale and artificial. Hard to swallow, like a shard of illusion.
— All That I Remember About Dean Cola p60

White Shoulders (The Feeding of Her Private Fire) — Meghan Boody 2012

In the cheval mirror, she saw her past self, wearing the red dress. She touched the glass and whispered, ‘I’m sorry.’
All That I Remember About Dean Cola p114

Land Line — Patty Maher, 2016

In her mind she heard a phone in an empty place ringing, ringing, echoing.
All That I Remember About Dean Cola p120

Last Stop Out of Town — Patty Maher, 2016

‘Do you remember a girl called Faye?’
‘Nah.’
‘At a truck stop on the highway a long, long time ago …’
All That I Remember About Dean Cola p259

I think I wrote a book

I wrote a book, I think. I must have written a book because I have a journal in which I documented the process — unless I made that up too.

The rain has stopped, the sun shines gloriously, and Melbourne’s lockdown is set to end tomorrow. Yay! I guess. I’m feeling ambivalent, haven’t even bothered booking the long-anticipated hairdresser appointment yet.

This morning I opened my wardrobe and burst into tears. Not because of a lack of summer clothes! But because winter clothes hang, still with labels attached; a couple of boxes hold pairs of boots never worn; a travel pack of luxury aromatherapy skincare sits unopened on a shelf. I remember feeling guilty for spending money on these items, but I did anyway, anticipating events and festivals to celebrate my book that was published in June. The book I quietly wished, secretly dreamed would be successful, my ‘breakout’ book. The one. For non-writers my lament might be hard to understand — try to imagine putting five years of painstaking work and ALL of yourself into a project, which then just … disappears.

I was luckier than many authors with books released during lockdown — in the brief respite when venues opened up, I was able to have a launch. All other appearances (aside from a few online): cancelled.

While we’ve been cocooned in isolation, seasons have changed, newer books have replaced the new books on the ‘new releases’ tables. I doubt my book is even in bookshops anymore; it’s three-month shelf life has expired. Did anybody see it?

Coming out of lockdown feels like waking, having slept through something important. Perhaps it was a dream. I think I wrote a book.

Life of an indie book (released in lockdown) | Part three

Week three and four

Week three was pretty quiet, so I have combined it with Week four.

16 June

Australia Reads 2021 ambassadors announced. My ambassador profile is here.

24 June

Bookshop visiting / book signing day

26 / 27 June

Review in the weekend section of The Australian

Life of an indie book (released in lockdown) | Part two

Week two

Melbourne lockdown ended on 10 June (the day after my book launch was scheduled).

8 June

First mainstream review from Better Reading [I worry about how including a content warning might affect sales].

Plus a Q&A and an extract [I’m glad they chose this section — the start of it is one of my favourite parts and the very first thing I wrote of Dean Cola.]

Australian Society of Authors promote books, including Dean, affected by lockdown on their website and social media.

11 June

Pile by the Bed review [for which I am extremely grateful, but I just wish reviewers could spell character names correctly].

Life of an indie book (released in lockdown) | Part one

My writer and bookseller friend, Aoife Clifford, says a book’s shelf life is shorter than that of yoghurt. I can’t remember if that’s three or six weeks — either way, I’m sure this is going to be a short series of posts.

Week one

1 June: Publication day

Flowers (in Dean Cola colours!) from my publisher. And the news that my book launch will be cancelled due to lockdown [that coffee mug — a Mother’s Day present from my son — got more attention than anything else I posted on social media!].

3 June

A campaign run by Books on the Rail (now Books on the Bed, in Victoria) is generating lots of reviews on Instagram. This one is my favourite [also on Goodreads — a place authors are warned not to go, but thankfully, so far (at the time of writing!), nobody has totally slammed Dean].

5 June

To generate sales, Hill of Content bookshop runs a competition for online orders, the prize being a pack of books released in lockdown (including Dean Cola).

6 June

#helpmelbbooks campaign is started by Melbourne author Graeme Simsion on Twitter: If you purchase a Melbourne writer’s book from a Melbourne bookshop (online) and tweet it using the hashtag, you’ll go into the draw to win a prize pack of donated books (including Dean Cola).

Interview for Kate Mildenhall and Katherine Collette’s The First Time Podcast, in which I forget to mention the five years and hundreds of drafts it took to write Dean Cola. Or anything else of interest, really. [I wasn’t going to post this one, it’s so cringeworthy. It’s here to help me learn from my mistakes: Don’t rush; don’t waste precious chances like this to tell people about your book; people are actually interested in what you have to say (still trying to believe this one); breathe …]

Interview for Words and Nerds Podcast, in which I demonstrate how out of practise I am at interviews by constantly saying ‘um’ and ‘you know’. The podcast also features Ruhi Lee, Michelle Wright and is hosted by the awesome R.W.R. McDonald.

Why I wrote All That I Remember About Dean Cola

The initial spark for All That I Remember About Dean Cola came to me during a visit to MONA on a long weekend in Hobart. Back at my hotel, I wrote in my journal:

8 June 2015

I want to write a novel infused with the essence of these two ideas:

2. We are more than the sum of our parts
2. An ode to staying forever young

And these are descriptions I wrote of the two artworks that had inspired me:

The room is dim and claustrophobic, humid. And it stinks like shit. Clear hospital-drip-like bags and tubes hang in a row from a steel beam containing buttons and dials. Part alien-robot, part surgical-looking, the apparatus reminds me of cow-milking equipment. It whirrs, burps and farts, mimicking the machinations of the human digestive system. ‘The Cloaca Professional’ (Stomach Machine) is fed food and produces faecal matter once a day. The sum of our parts. Soulless.

In another room, a life-like little girl in a frilly party dress lies inside a metal cabinet with chicken wire doors. Alice in Wonderland in a coffin comes to mind. Attached to the underside of the cabinet is an old-fashioned fire extinguisher with a clear tube that somehow pumps ‘saliva’ to the girl’s silicone mouth. Inside, beneath the girl, is a floor of fake grass or moss, and above her hang two small chandeliers. Mice crawl around her, keeping her company while sustained by her saliva.

I listened to an interview with the artist, Meghan Boody. ‘The Mice and Me’ sculpture is a replica of herself as an eight- or nine-year-old child. When asked by the interviewer if it was creepy to sculpt a face in your own image, she said No, it was comforting, nostalgic. She grew up in New York and feels a strange tug or presence whenever she walks past her old apartment. When she looks up at the window of her bedroom, she thinks about how wild it would be if she saw herself as a child looking back down. ‘The Mice and Me’ is an ode to staying young forever.

The Mice and Me — Meghan Boody, 2008

The storyline for Dean Cola came to me in a rush, all at once, and I jotted it down that weekend in Hobart. After dozens of restructures and hundreds of drafts, the final story ended up being pretty much as it was in those initial notes (I would have saved myself years of work if I’d just stuck with the original outline!). When Dean first came to me, I didn’t have time for it because I was working on my second novel. But it wouldn’t leave me alone and when it started pervading my dreams I guiltily, in spare moments, started writing it.

My protagonist, Sidney, first appeared as an intriguing, vivid character, but she wasn’t fully formed; she developed over time. Initially, I wanted to explore ‘madness’, but the more I researched psychotic disorders, in particular schizophrenia, the less I wanted to write a ‘mad person does a bad thing’ novel. I wanted to write the complete opposite: a novel that challenges the stereotype, perpetuated by the media, that people with mental illness are more evil or dangerous than the general population.

Having waged my own life-long war against mental health issues, I hope All That I Remember About Dean Cola will make a contribution to the conversation aiming to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Old photos

We’ve started packing up the house. Today I sorted through old photos. I laughed at the ones of the first few times away with Greg — camping, bushwalking, fishing. I had packed high heels and a dress, just in case we went somewhere ‘nice’ for dinner. I lied about being the outdoor type.

I cried over the photos of my poor tiny baby in hospital. And my poor self — I looked so skinny and unwell in photos for a long time after. I realise now how serious things were, and an emergency C-section is a major operation.

And I had two more after that (emergency, but thankfully not premature).

I didn’t allow myself enough time to heal physically or emotionally (a common story for mothers, of course) — and it’s all there in the photos. If I had that time over, I’d be much kinder to myself.