The truths and lies we tell ourselves can and do shape our lives. You’re ugly. You’re stupid. You’re worthless. These are the lies that devastate us, worming their way into our hearts, especially when we’re young or feeling down and vulnerable.
Truth is a trickier, more colourful fish, though. What exactly is the truth of who you are? What’s your story? What’s your history? The answers to these questions are far harder to pin down. But these are exactly the questions that enrich our lives with love, curiosity, wisdom and possibility, if we dare to follow their trails of breadcrumbs through time.
What is my identity?
Where do I belong?
Where is home?
Why am I sad?
Why am I afraid?
What do I really want to do with this crazy gift called life?
Truth shifts around these questions as we grow and, if we’re lucky, we never do stop growing. And learning. And questioning.
The Truth & Addy Loest is my trip through these conundrums as they hit me on the cusp of womanhood, at university in the mid-1980s. It’s not a memoir of any sort – my memory of those days is pretty hazy for reasons of too much anxiety-induced befuddlement and hard-partying that will become clear in the pages of the book.
But it is brimming with my truths. And my favourite among them comes from the mouth of a papier mache zebra in a Newtown op shop who tells Addy not to listen to the lies but to remember that she’s perfect and important just the way she is. Because we all are. In all our shape-shifting uncertainty and imperfection and absurdity and occasional terror, we’re all near enough to one-hundred percent wonderful. We’re all capable of fixing our mistakes, too, when we’re brave enough to face our own music. And we’re most definitely all infinitely magical.
Find out why on the first of Feb, when Addy steps out in paperback, ebook and audiobook from all major online retailers worldwide.
I’ve never made a Christmas pudding, nor ever saw my mother or grandmother make one. I was in my mid-thirties before I made my first attempt to (under)cook a poor turkey. These kinds of traditions were things other people did – cousins and neighbours, and people on TV.
Christmas in my house was always a pared back, laid back affair. Mum would buy cold meats and salads from the supermarket and loads of festive stone fruit. She worked so hard the rest of the year, she wasn’t going to work on Christmas day. Her idea of decorating the house was to drape a bit of tinsel in a bowl full of pinecones, semi-artistically, under the watchful eyes of the Modigliani print above the dining table. Then she’d don a sarong and crack a tinny.
I miss my parents and their quiet, romantic internationalism, their ordinary beliefs in decency and dignity for all across the world. I miss Dad’s cheerful, almost childlike understanding that you can’t say g’day to someone and hang onto any mean-spiritedness at the same time. Once you’ve shaken hands or shared a beer, that’s it – mates for life.
My parents were as perfect as I am – not very. But the gift they gave me that I value the most is generosity: to open my home and heart to anyone who turns up on my doorstep; to share my good fortune in ways that might somehow nourish others; to listen to others’ stories; to always try to find room in my ever-cluttered brain to learn more about the things that matter.
So, dear reader, here’s a humble little gift from me to you: a short, sweet story called ‘For Pigs’, about a young girl becoming herself at Christmas, once upon a time. The girl is not me, but she is brimming with my spirit and all my hungry wonderings. I hope you enjoy it. Click on the ‘Download’ link here to read it:
If novelists and all other types of fictioneers are mimics, armchair actors and intrepid travellers through time and space, what does authenticity mean when we’re always at some level dealing with the imagined?
Does fiction ever give us a free pass to write about whatever and whomever we want? No, it does not, in my emphatic opinion, after a few decades of thinking about authorial voices both as an editor and a writer myself. Can we ever truly portray the experiences of others? No, we can’t, I don’t reckon, either. It’s difficult enough to faithfully portray our own, if you think about it – there’s nothing like attempting to write an autobiographical piece to put you on a collision course with your own bs.
So, perhaps the more important authenticity wonder here is: how can we try to ensure our fictions are steeped in useful, meaningful truths?
There is a solid school of opinion that says authors, for the sake of truth, should write only from within the realms of their personal experience, that all attempts to write outside the parameters of your own identity will be irretrievably fake and possibly even harmful to others. It can be a harsh position to take, especially given that most authors are compelled in some way by curiosity about the unknown, but it’s one that provides an important first check on the road to answering the question of whether or not the tale you’re writing, and its inherent truths, are somehow yours to tell.
That question is, more succinctly, how fake will your fiction be? If you’ve embarked on a story, say, about a young Jewish woman who survives the Holocaust through prostitution, there is an obvious set of questions to ask yourself straight off in trying to get close to her experience. Am I Jewish? Am I a woman? Have I experienced terrifying, life-threatening oppression? Am I a sex worker? It’s unlikely that any author can answer them all with a yes, and not being able to do so is to admit that this story is not yours.
Coming to this realisation doesn’t mean you have to throw out the idea, but it is a cue for humility and honesty. Admitting that your work will be essentially inauthentic is necessary mental preparation for the very long road of research you’ll need to undertake in order to try to turn the tale into something that will hold some useful and meaningful truths.
Before you hit the books, though, the first homework assignment should probably be an essay to yourself on why you want to tell this particular tale. If your answer includes statements like, ‘because Holocaust stories sell’ or ‘because the scenario is rich in drama’, then your work will be exploitative – even if you’re a passionate anti-fascist who has a PhD in the sex industry and old Yiddish folksongs – and whether or not you should still write that book will be a matter for your own conscience.
There’s no law against cultural or experiential exploitation, just like there’s no law against the tuneless singing of arias in the street, and no one can show you where the lines of harm or offence will be drawn – because those lines will be different for every reader. Arguably, if you have something important or complex to say, you’re going to upset someone. But who you’re going to upset is another important question.
In the storyline example above, a poorly researched, inaccurate portrayal of Jewishness is going to cause offence to some Jewish readers, cause them to roll their eyes and sigh, ‘There’s no business like Shoah business.’ Are the feelings of Jewish people important to you in this work? If not, why not? Same goes for the feelings of sex workers. Have you considered the agency and dignity of this character and avoided stereotyping? If not, why not?
If your portrayal of any character is stereotypical, it’s fundamentally unlikely to carry any enlightening truths simply because we’ve seen it all a million times before. Even if the stereotype is benign, it’ll be banal. If the stereotype perpetuates bigotry and prejudice – for example, your character is a weak victim of her oppressors, or her only redemption lies in becoming a ‘good girl’ – then it’s probably time to think about what part your contribution might play in bringing and keeping others down.
Yes, it’s a minefield, and it should be. Why would you not want to consider the diverse responses of your audience?
Questions of authenticity are as knotty and complicated as your own sense of personal identity. Think about who you are and where you’ve come from. Very few Australians have a neat, straightforward sense of identity or family history. Many of us are mixtures of various inheritances and influences, our hearts pulled in different directions and holding all kinds of sensitivities, some of them traumatic, some of them intergenerational.
I have my own set of sore points, from tiny irks likes poor-taste Irish jokes and Jewish jokes, to more serious concerns, such as storylines that blame women for violence against them. One of the stereotypes that pushes my buttons like no other is the portrayal by middle-class writers of working-class characters as ugly, ignorant or morally depraved. Very few errors of judgement can make me throw an otherwise good book across a room like this one can, and the reason it can is deeply personal.
At the same time, I’m sure that my portrayal of certain characters and the narrative decisions I have made have raised some eyebrows in some shape or form over the ten novels I’ve written. I haven’t yet received any direct criticism for it, but I imagine some readers might have decided that my work is not authentic enough – and they’ll get no argument from me, precisely because this is a very personal issue. Another person’s sense of themselves and their heritage is not up for debate – ever. My authorial intentions are irrelevant and indefensible if I have hurt someone – for any reason.
Some readers will only ever want to read Own Stories novels – fiction written by authors who have personally trodden the road of the narrative, or have profound cultural connections to it. This is the choice of those readers, and likewise should not be up for debate.
Hopefully, in my own writing (very little of which is obviously autobiographical), I’ve done the work to at least avoid reinforcing unjust and factually wrong tropes and types, but one thing research and moral diligence can never do is make you love your own characters. No matter who my characters are, their spirits and quests spring from people I know in real life, they are parts of my heart and history. I care deeply about what happens to them, and where they’re coming from. I love them as friends and family; I respect them as fellow, equal humans. Even the characters whose experiences are vastly different from my own come from lines of love for people whose lives have been inextricably entwined with mine. For me, it’s not enough to respect or admire a character, or like the idea of them; they must be sitting right next to me, whispering into my ear, sometimes telling me things I don’t want to hear.
If you can’t naturally hear your character’s voice, why are you writing that character? Mimicry without connection and understanding is hard to sustain for the length of a novel. If I can’t hear, see and feel the energy and thoughts of a character off the bat, I can’t write the story at all – it drifts away into the land of Great Ideas That Went Nowhere.
Of course, every writer has a different approach to working their way into a story, and there are always a hell of a lot of trees in that forest, but perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is, fake as all our tales will inevitably be, why do you need to tell this one? Why do you need to make it yours? What in your heart is binding you to it? What burning desire for truth is driving you? An authenticity reader can’t correct superficiality or do the work of immersive, emotional research and deep, lifelong thought for you.
There are so very many stories in the world, and I’m of the view that the greater majority of them do need to be told, but what is the point of telling a tale that’s not somehow of your own soul? Can the truths you want to tell be told from a distance, or should you bring them closer to home?
In the end, like all the best, perplexing conundrums, these questions of authenticity are ones that only you, the author, can answer.
It’s Remembrance Day again, a day for reflection on the relationship between loss and human foolishness that seems lost in the wash this year.
There’s a lot of noise filling the wide blue sky right now, belligerent flag-wavers claiming their freedom is at stake unless we allow tyrants to have their way. It all sounds like the same old unhinged, clangouring dissonance that has always led us to war. Boring. Nasty. Terrifying.
And pointless, because there’s no such thing as freedom anyway. None of us lives without obligation or responsibility, without consequences following along after our actions. We might like to think we do, but it’s never true.
This time last year, our skies were beginning to fill with smoke from bushfires that would rage into the new year, bushfires caused by climate change, fuelled by our insatiable want for mountains of stuff we don’t need – fuelled by our freedom to pillage the planet.
Here are two kangaroos I snapped on the way home from the shops last November. They seemed lost in the thick blanket of drought dust rolling in from the west, the eerie prelude to the monstrous firestorms that would follow; and they were trapped in the maze of fences out where I live. That day, I felt just like them as I followed slowly in my car. Not free, but fragile, anxious, shedding hope by the moment.
Yes, things do turn around. Yes, we do find that break in the fence, eventually, and push through to a brighter day. A return to some equilibrium, maybe. An escape from oppression. But not to freedom.
This Remembrance Day, I’m reaffirming my obligations and responsibilities: to live smaller and love larger, and to refuse to lose hope that these things make a difference. They’re the only weapons of peace we’ve ever had.
Like many, I couldn’t sleep last night waiting for Pennsylvania to clock over the requisite number of votes to maybe, hopefully put an end to the era of super-charged, greed-fuelled brutality that’s gripped America and infected the world these past four years – or forty if we’re counting its true origins.
At first light, here in the cool, crisp tranquillity of faraway central New South Wales, I got up and went for a walk, listening to the magpies oodling the first notes of the dawn chorus, watching the dew slip from the long spines of spring grass and into the earth, waiting for the first glimpse of the sun.
It appeared as a slim thread of gold above low cloud hugging the distant hills before it rose with its usual slow majesty, the fire gem of our first worship. It’s Sunday in Australia now and this is my only church.
I pray that righteousness comes wearing robes of humility, barefoot and aware of its own frailties. I pray that compassion, the touch of hands reaching to each other, becomes news to celebrate – hell, let’s make it a competitive sport. I pray that we cease sticking dollar signs on all our blessings. Our families, communities and creative spirits are not for sale. This earth beneath our feet is a miracle to be cherished and cared for as our mother and child combined – as the only material thing of worth we ever truly have.
The long tail of despair is shivering through me and I cry and cry in letting it go. Like so very many, I’ve found the blithe, superior contempt of our political and corporate masters dislocating, gaslighting, a vile and cloying web of silent hatreds that’s made some days hard to bear. I’ve questioned the value of having tried to pour whatever gifts I might have into a world that chucks my efforts onto the trash pile marked ‘sentimental’. I have wondered if the world has moved past hope – that one currency that keeps me alive.
I pray that there is no hollow hollering of self-congratulation from equally superior, sneering, self-described progressives who blame the poor for falling victim to cults that promise deliverance when those who should be tackling the injustices of poverty have quietly betrayed them, calling them ‘deplorable’ as they dial for a driver to bring them food and drink – a driver who works harder than they do and can’t pay his rent. Nothing, nothing whatsoever, to celebrate there.
I pray for the peaceful, sensible dismantling of the monstrous plutocracy that’s thrived like a cancer under our watch – the mega retailers and tech giants and bloated banks and puffed-up publishers and broadcasters – that have brought every one of us low, reducing us to blips within algorithms.
Big prayers, I know.
But I have reason for big hopes, too. Yes, an old white man has just been elected president of the United States. Whoopie-doo. He’s a career politician not renowned for allowing his sweetest angels to shine through to his policy decisions and manoeuvrings, and yet there’s a glimpse of gold in the choice of this man.
He chose a woman – a highly accomplished woman of colour – to be his chief cahooter, his vice president. Her name is Kamala Harris, and she’s no saint, either. The way to achieving something good and decent is paved with compromise and deals with the devil that will follow you for the rest of your days. But, for mine, the most powerful thing this woman has done to date to was to tell this old white man to his face – in front of an audience of billions during the Democratic presidential primaries – that his past enabling of racism was wrong and hurt her personally.
When Harris did this, I thought, well there goes your ticket, honey. But that’s not what happened. The old white man ended up winning the race, sure, but then he picked her as his running mate. He chose her to hold the spare set of keys to the United States of America, to the western world and all its long, barbed tails of bigotry. This is what justice looks like. This, fellers take note, is what a truly powerful man looks like, too: when you hurt someone, even unintentionally, do something restorative, do something to give them back their power. Yes, yes, yes, the choice of Harris was electorally savvy, capturing votes from women and people of colour, blah, blah, blah, but it remains, most significantly, a statement of change – a handing of the reins to someone truly new.
Let’s send her strength. And send out one last prayer: for all those who have lost loved ones and are otherwise suffering from the virus allowed to run rampant by the uncaring, may your sun rise again soon, may you wake into a world wrought into shapes of greater kindness.
And there’s enough sermonising from the little blip that is me. Enjoy the bright, beautiful threads of this day however they might appear for you.
Ta da! I’m a bundle of thrill at being able to share the gorgeous cover for The Truth & Addy Loest with the world, publishing in paperback, ebook and Bolinda audiobook in February 2021. She’s a love song to my misspent youth at Sydney Uni in the 1980s – days of overthinking, too much drinking, live bands, love and literature. If you’d like to read the first chapter, you can right here:
Addy Loest is harbouring a secret – several, in fact. Dedicated overthinker, frockaholic and hard-partyer, she’s been doing all she can to avoid the truth for quite some time.
A working-class girl raised between the Port Kembla Steelworks and the surf of the Illawarra coast, Addy is a fish out of water at the prestigious University of Sydney. She’s also the child of German immigrants, and her broken-hearted widower dad won’t tell her anything about her family’s tragic past.
But it’s 1985, a time of all kinds of excess, from big hair to big misogyny, and distractions are easy. Distractions, indeed, are Addy’s best skill – until one hangover too many leads her to meet a particular frock and a particular man, each of whom will bring all her truths hurtling home.
Told with Kim Kelly’s incomparable warmth and wit, The Truth & Addy Loest is a magical trip through shabby-chic inner-city Sydney, a tale of music and moonlight, literature and love – and of discovering the only story that really matters is the one you write for yourself.
It’s so lovely to welcome wonderful fellow author Pamela Cook onto my blog today for a little Q&A and book giveaway. Pam and I have been cahooting a bit lately on ways that women can stretch their literary wings and write outside the lines too often imposed upon us by the publishing industry. Here, Pam talks about her latest novel, Cross My Heart, and shares her thoughts on what it means for her to write out her authentic self on the page.
Your latest novel, Cross My Heart, is a such a soulful story about friendship. Tell us a little bit about it, and what inspired you to dig into such deep emotional territory?
Thanks so much, Kim. My previous books all focused primarily on family relationships, with any friendship element on the periphery. I’ve always believed that for women, strong friendships can truly be lifelines and I wanted to honour that by putting a friend relationship at the centre of the story. My closest friend passed away four and half years ago after a terrible battle with motor neurone disease. We had been friends for 40 years, travelled the world together, watched our children grow up together and spent many hours sharing the joys of a beautiful friendship. To say I feel her loss deeply does not capture the level of my grief, so writing about the death of a close friend was also a way for me to process some of those emotions.
Relationships between women feature strongly in your work. What’s the most special thing about female connection for you?
Women connect to each other in completely different ways to women and men. Maybe because we share the same biology and hormones, we empathise with the experiences our friends, mothers and sisters are going through. I know in difficult times in my own life, my circle of women has been there for me and pulled me through. I’m so inspired by the strength I see in women around me who have been through heartache and tragedy and yet have survived and become even stronger.
Women writers are the engine-room of the publishing industry – we are phenomenally creative and giving and sparklingly clever. What’s the deepest delight you take in reading books written by women?
You are so right, Kim! I pretty much read books exclusively by women these days, most of them Australian. I love the way these stories focus on women taking the lead in their lives, often taking back control they may have lost or given away, becoming more empowered by challenging the status quo. I’m seeing this as a real feature of writing by Australian women right now, whether they write contemporary or historical, romance or general fiction. It’s inspiring and definitely something to celebrate. Long may it continue!
Your own work is very original, straight from the heart, and it’s not always easy to fit into a genre box. What words of wisdom do you have for others yearning to tread their own path?
I’ve struggled with the whole box thing for a while now. For years my books were marketed as rural romance but I never felt comfortable with the label because they aren’t romances, they’re stories about women coming to terms with their past and with themselves. All of them have rural settings because that’s the environment I love and draw inspiration from. The whole box thing is really for marketing purposes – so publishers know who to target in advertising and on bookstore shelves. My most recent publishing experience, as an indie author, has confirmed my suspicion that it’s okay to write across genres. Cross My Heart is a contemporary or women’s fiction title but it has elements of mystery and suspense. Feedback from readers has been that they are fine with a mixture of elements. If you’re a traditionally published author, what I would say is to be aware of the boxes and be comfortable with where you are placed, but also know it’s possible to break out of those confines.
What kind of heart country are you going to take us into next with your writing?
I have two projects on the go right now. One is a revision and re-packaging of my second novel Essie’s Way. It was written to a very tight deadline and while I’ve always loved the characters and story, I’m relishing the opportunity to tighten the writing and give it more depth. It has a historical thread which I really enjoyed writing, so there’s another genre boundary I’ve crossed! I’m also writing a new contemporary story about a woman who loses her children to a narcissistic ex-husband and resolves to get them back. Both these books have a mother-daughter thread running through them, and also a grandmother thread, and hopefully will tug at readers’ heartstrings in the best possible way.
So many have had a rough time lately, with all the worry, fear and loss COVID-19 has left in its wake. What’s your warmest thought to help carry us through the winter days to come?
It’s certainly been a worrying time, particularly for the more vulnerable in our society – the elderly, those already living on the breadline and women living in situations of abuse. But we have also seen so much kindness, people reaching out to help and support each other, and it’s been a time where we have been forced to stay home and perhaps reflect on the business of our lives. I hope the kindnesses we have witnessed during this time, to ourselves, each other and the planet continue. My mother is 96 and has lived through world war, depression, becoming a widow at the age of 40 with four children to care for, and losing most of her friends and siblings. Watching the way she has come through all this has taught me that we are stronger than we think we are, and that even when we think we can’t go on, we have the strength deep down inside us to survive and even thrive.
Thank you so much for your beautiful words, Pam.
Reading friends, if you’d like to be in the running to win one of two copies of Cross My Heart, please comment on this blog post or on the Facebook post here – we’d especially love to hear your thoughts on the importance of women’s stories. Two lucky winners will be chosen at 5pm, Friday, 3 July 2020 (Australian addressees only, please).
Pamela Cook is the author of five page-turning women’s fiction novels. Her stories feature flawed but strong women, tangled family relationships and deal with the complications of life. Her latest novel, Cross My Heart, is a haunting story of friendship, guilt and redemption set in the beautiful central west of New South Wales.
Pamela’s previous novels are Blackwattle Lake, Essie’s Way, Close To Home, and The Crossroads. She is the co-host of the exciting new podcasts Writes4Women and Writes4Festivals, and is proud to be a Writer Ambassador for Room To Read, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes literacy and gender equality in developing countries. When she’s not writing, reading or podcasting, Pamela wastes as much time as possible riding her handsome quarter horses, Morocco and Rio.
Find out more about Pamela and all her books here:
It’s the most inappropriate time to be even thinking about promoting a new book. There is so much pain and uncertainty throughout the world right now, so much injustice and tragedy that is all too real for too many. Black Americans are pleading for peace after four centuries of exploitation and murder, while their president swaggers, brandishing a bible. The UK is under the charge of a giant, dishevelled toddler up past his bedtime, and Australian leadership, bereft of all imagination, wants to ‘snap back’ to normal with bulk kitchen renovations for the rich and near silence on the black deaths in custody that continue in this country like fresh strikes upon an open wound. And meanwhile, in my sleepy arcadian patch of central New South Wales, the Rural Fire Service is backburning forested hills ahead of the extreme fire conditions expected to return as a result of our collective abuse of the planet.
Yeah, buy my book.
But if books are little lights in the dark, I hope mine is, in its own way, a plea for good things: understanding, kindness, a walk in another’s shoes. I hope all my stories seek these ends, however humble my skill at this business of writing might be. I hope my stories are objects of healing. Some nourishment in the brain space. Some resting of the soul in places near and far. Whispered words that encourage other hearts to fight another day. A soft place to land after a crap day. I hope I use my privilege well, to lift rather than crush. I hope I put helpful thoughts into the world.
So, yeah, this latest one – Her Last Words – is out on audiobook this week, from the lovely people at Bolinda; the paperback and ebook will follow on 7 July. Yayo. Before I say anything else about it, though, if you can’t afford to buy books in any format right now, please ask your local library to order in the books, audios and other reading joys you crave. No-one who needs one should go without a story. Ever.
That’s the philosophy of the heroic bookseller in Her Last Words, Rich O’Driscoll – erstwhile Irish backpacker and loser in love, he’s the quiet, steady heart of my version of a romcom. Because it’s my romcom, it has a murder in it and lots of gags about the publishing industry, too. It also has a few serious things to say about depression, especially the kind of depression brought by grief, and the way the past haunts the present.
In real-life, it all began when a friend from uni days, the incomparable Jennifer Smith, was assaulted and murdered on an inner-city Sydney street one summer night in 1998 – a bag-snatch gone very, very wrong. I can still see where I was and even what I was wearing when I heard the news.
I can still see every moment of Jen’s memorial service, and all that day my heart had wondered: what will become of the novel she was writing? I had little idea of what she was writing about, only that she’d nearly finished it and that I couldn’t wait to read it. I can still see her eyes glittering with excitement and enthusiasm.
But when I asked a mutual friend if we could get hold the manuscript and do something with it, the very idea was waved away, ‘Oh, but it wasn’t any good.’ And oh, but did that quick dismissal of Jen’s excitement and enthusiasm sit in my craw. For all these years, it’s been waiting for its moment to make up story brimming with Jen’s inventiveness, generosity, nuttiness and sparkling intelligence.
My heroine, Thisbe Chisholm, is not Jen, though, and her friends, Penny Katschinski, John Jacobson and Jane Furlow, aren’t Jen’s friends. None of the story in any way explores the real-life crime committed against her, either – because that was never the point. I wanted to write a story about a murder, a missing manuscript and an undying love that would make an old friend laugh. I hope in my heart of hearts, in whatever corner of the universe the wisps of our souls bump subatomic particles, that I’ve succeeded.
Her Last Words is, really, a novel about yearning – be it for fulfillment, love, peace, or the truth. It’s a story that implores all of us who grapple with the dark, including myself: please, don’t give up. It can be hard, so hard, to see how loved and necessary you are when everything has gone to shit. But you are loved and necessary. Let the brightest sparkles in us all have the last laugh.
And believe that justice is coming to those who have caused such trauma and grief. In one way or another, justice is coming to those who commit crimes of violence against women. Hate criminals. Racist criminals. Their time is running out. We have to believe that.
Love must win, and the contribution each of us makes to this victory, however small or frail or faulty, is mightier than kings.
The Bolinda audiobook is available now here and wherever audiobooks are sold, as well as through the Borrowbox library app.
It’s not long now before my ninth novel, Walking, steps out into the world – in February – and I’m letting myself get a bit excited.
This story has been fifteen years in the dreaming and scheming, and as always, she’s a bright, bold piece of my heart – maybe even brighter and bolder for the long wait.
I came across the inspiration for Walking way back when I was researching my first novel, Black Diamonds. That story was set during the First World War and, much to my shock and dismay at the time, about halfway through it I blew my hero up – then had to figure out how I was going to put him back together again. In the process, I learned more than I wanted to know about early orthopaedic medicine. But it was there that I came across the real-life story of German-Australian surgeon, Max Herz.
Max’s exploits and the challenges he faced were so incredible he deserved a novel of his own, but I wasn’t sure how to tell his tale. He was a medical genius, and a complex man; he was also interned and unjustly, insanely persecuted in Australia during the war – only to then emerge as a quietly powerful hero who changed the lives of thousands of Australian children. What a guy.
The more I researched Max himself, though, the more elusive he became – there just wasn’t enough information out there to show what really made him tick. But then, out of the soul-soup of all that reading and wondering, his essence appeared to me in fictional form. He stepped into my imagination as a man called Hugo Winter – and with him came his young protégé, Lucy Brynne.
Hugo and Lucy took off with the story from that moment on, and at such a pace I could hardly keep up.
Each day writing, and even throughout editing, the rhythms of Hugo’s and Lucy’s intertwined narratives drove me on as though the words were charged with music. And in a way, they are. Real-life Max was a musician and performer in his spare time, renowned for partying like a champ – that man had energy to burn. And the mystery man lovely Lucy falls for turns out to be a bit of a musician too – among other surprises.
As the story shifts from scene to scene, so too do the tunes, ranging through jumpin’ jive, tango, jazz crooning, string quartet and big band sounds, such a mix, I thought it might be fun to put together a little playlist of the beats that give Walking her bounce.
And the happiest, toe-tapping-est beats ever in Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing
I hope you enjoy that little sentimental journey. And I hope you enjoy Walking, too.
If you’d like to order the paperback, you can here at Booktopia or Book Depository, or if you’re local, put your hand up for a signed copy at Collins Booksellers Orange or Books Plus Bathurst. The ebook can be found at all the usual places, iBooks, Kobo, etc. Lots of other retailers to come – including the audiobook from Bolinda Publishing. News on all that soon!
So many heartbreaking and frightening things have happened lately, and are continuing to happen, most of us here in Australia are finding it hard to celebrate the new year this time around. But I’m taking a moment to take stock of what I can merrily shout about, to mark the end of the decade.
As we leave the Terrible Teens behind and head into 2020, here are my top ten personal achievements of the past ten years, in no particular order:
I took a gigantic leap of faith and married my muse de bloke Deano, and we’ve made the homiest home I’ve ever known at The Bend.
I’ve delighted in watching my boys grow into men, and acknowledged that I might have had something to do with that, warts and all (and plenty of grey hair to show for it).
Seven of my novels were published, all of them going on into audio, too. Wowzies, that seems a lot in a bunch. A lot of work. A lot of love. A lot of persistence.
One short story of mine shocked me out of the park by actually winning a prize.
I donated a kidney and witnessed a miracle of life.
I’ve learned to (mostly) control my social anxiety, and bit by bit I unleashed my true carny soul at author events all over the place – and even on the radio. Can’t shut me up now.
I’ve made wonderful new friends, especially through books and reading, and strengthened some old bonds as well.
I wrote my way through two quite scary depressions, crying buckets and shamelessly laughing at all my own jokes, and found a new respect for my resilience and tenacity (previously known as resistance and obstinacy).
I began reviewing for The Newtown Review of Books, and discovered that even my sensible, grown-up voice needs to colour outside the lines.
I’ve gradually been living smaller, with less waste, less plastic, less corporate crap, less stuff generally (except for frocks), and I’ve let this aphorism of Nietzsche’s speak to my heart every day: ‘We must remain as close to the flowers, the grass, and the butterflies as the child is who is not yet so much taller than they are … Whoever would partake of all good things must understand how to be small at times.’
May the next decade bring more of the same: love, curiosity, wisdom, growth, togetherness – and for everyone, as we face the challenges ahead. I hope we learn to care larger and more fiercely, for each other and for our world. Let’s try to make these coming years the Terrific Twenties.
Good health and good cheer to all, and if you feel like shouting out your own bunch of good things, please feel free to share them here.