Thursday, September 8, 2016

Ahem ... BWF2016

Hey! I'm at the airport, about to fly with my deep dark Southern Ocean tale The Sound, to the Brisbane Writers Festival.

On Friday I'll be at the Mt Ommaney for BWF in the 'Burbs, a program where the festival goes to libraries in outlying suburbs. And on Sunday I will be In Conversation with writer come mermaid Megan McGrath, and then later on, a panel discussing the can of worms that is historical fiction with writers Kate Forsyth and David Dyer. I've put their books on my sidebar. They are both excellent and it will be a lovely diverse trio of stories we are talking about.
Here is the complete program.

Then next week I'll be at the State Library of Western Australia, helping Emily Paul present the inaugural session of the new and improved Bookcaffe Book Club. That's at five thirty on Thursday and you can book here with this linky thing.

(As you can see Nic Duncan's pictures have come in rather handy. Bless her wet photographer's socks.)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Fuel filters and little black pigs

I would have had my car serviced last Friday but the mechanic's apprentice went down with food poisoning from a local ham and cheese croissant. His boss, my star mechanic, had gone north for the winter. I was driving with a starter motor I had to bash with a hammer, a rather ugly left headlight and a fuel filter full of filthy fuel, and my car was literally staggering the long drives into the city. Before you pedants go postal on the word 'literally', imagine driving at 100km an hour when the car suddenly loses acceleration. It feels like riding a galloper who breaks a tendon, mid stride.

Anyway, when I picked up the car, both the apprentice and the mechanic showed me the fuel and air filters and explained why these filters were entirely unsalvagable.
The air filter? "The summer Broke track."
The fuel filter? "Well, you've been buying some dirty diesel somewhere, kid." That's Stan, star mechanic and back from Quobba. He always calls me Kid.

I thanked them both and drove off and when I put my foot down the car accelerated onto Highway #1 like a motherfucker (even if it is a Ford, it still went like a mother).

By the Broke track the car was so amped with the good stuff  it nearly hit a wild pig that skittered onto my path. It's the first live one I've seen and it looked like such a happy piglet (it was probably quite freaked out) as it scampered in front of my car.
"Get off the track, little black pig,'" I sang as I drove through the karris. The pig careened off into the bush and I planted my foot, before sliding gracefully into the next clay gutter.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

'a great deal of the fictive'

 I found a suitcase full of a young woman's clothes in the gloaming, on the Broke track, yesterday. As I went through the bag later, I thought 'size ten, gorgeous' (the mid riffs, the tiny shorts, the push ups)  and a sense of disaster overcame me. When I got to the bottom of her bag I saw from her payslips that she worked in the next town and today I dropped off her gear to a thankful best mate there. She'd gone to upstate on a girls' weekend and lost her bag off the back of a ute at the Broke Inlet road turnoff. So it was all okay. No disaster.

What to do.

Selkie and Crow

I’m writing a story Crow, I said, the night you loomed out of the dark with a chainsaw as your gift. But I can’t finish it. I don’t know how it ends.

I know not how it ends, you agreed.

Selkie slept until the evening of the next day. She woke bruised in the small of her back, her limbs aching, a bump on her skull. She was wreathed in the smell of wood smoke and sea spray, a pricking knowledge of loss in her body.

It was a simple seduction the first night she came into Crow’s camp. All he had to do was flick open the canvas of his swag and she wriggled in there, boots and all. She nuzzled his ebony pelt and stroked the silken, glistening hairs that lay like feathers at his throat. In the dawn as he shook away the sand and strands of her hair from his bed, he saw her cleaning a fish for them both on the shore.

She wrapped the fish in briny sheaves of paperbark and buried it in coals. When it was cooked she peeled away the skin and inhaled the steam. She sucked clean the bones and then gobbled up its head. He ate the eyes and the tail and some meat between. It was a feast for them; fish and sea lettuce and samphire berries.

They had to steal their time together, a larceny of mere hours, always at night unless it was place where no soul knew them. In the hours before the moon died Crow and Selkie met on cliff tops, inlet shores and caves. He committed every wave in her presence to his memory. They roamed their nights; fugitive lovers who for a few short hours hopped off the edge of the world and all its moralities, strictures, its weight of living.

It would be weeks before she saw him again. Long stretches, swings of time and whole lives went by and they filled the spaces with letters.

I lay back in the passenger seat and closed my eyes most of the way out to the inlet, feeling pulpy and pouty, bruised nipples throbbing a bit, the red black red flash of trees and sky behind my eyelids. Body still in that darkened bed and the red scent of your flesh.”

I have a delicious sense of you there ...

They met on the side of a mountain, by a railway line, in the derelict museum of old and new art. Selkie told Crow to look at the sky and he threw up his head to see the trees frame the emu constellation and by then she was on her knees in the wet winter grass and arum lilies. All that he knew was her hot mouth and the night's chill against his skull. The frogs sang their audience and chorus. He wondered if he could trust her  and he wanted to trust her always when she lay down her coat. The train came across the country, blaring at every crossroad, roaring closer and closer, and then, when her thighs were clamped around Crow proper and she was making noises from deep within her chest, the train barged shrieking close and she spilled over the front of his shirt, so careless and nearly crying. Almost laughing.

But my God, what is to become of me, 

if you have deprived me of my reason? 

This is a monomania which, in the morning, 

terrifies me.

In the morning Selkie could only memory her mercurial nights for Crow had gone and he might have been a delicious dream but for the bramble's scratches and gravel and the muddied clothes that she slept in.

This is not a life. 

I have never before been like that. 

You have devoured everything. 

I whirl round in a delicious dream in which in one instant I live a thousand years.

Crow strapped on his wings and flew home but on his way he found the black cat again. She mewled at him as she cleaned her paws on the sun-warmed stone and so he stayed for a while. Then he went home and placed food carefully on the crook of his family’s roost.

He smoothed his beard and tidied his camp. For two weeks he placed twig after twig on a frugal fire. He listened from his eyrie to the inlet waves ebbing and quickening against the shore. It was like the sound of her emerging from the sea to find him. He called her.

Selkie didn’t know about the black cat but it wouldn’t have mattered to her because she was transfixed. She could do nothing but come when Crow called her and then wait, while he lived and loved somewhere else. She was comfortable in her skin but the deals she’d wrangled to stay that way were unravelling. She pined and wisted and her days became a fugue of waiting. The looming damage began to frighten her; the day when the world’s weighty reality would find them out.

The nature of his secrets was not her responsibility, she reasoned but his own. But it meant an ancient narrative for them both, with its accompanying hurts and potential for carnage. It’s not fair! She railed at him. Why did you ask me to come to you? This will do me in. You will do me in.

When he didn’t answer, she wrapped her legs around him and stroked his big head, because how could she speak to his silence? Like Melville’s scrivener Bartleby, Crow responded by saying nothing.

On the last night they climbed over the brindle bosses of stone on the cliffs, passing scented carnivorous flowers that grew in the clefts of the granite and they leapt the slippery black streaks running down to the sea.

 There is a cave up there, he said. Two caves, one for storing firewood, keep it dry.

The big sea was an inky ultramarine but for the startling, giddying mass of white water surging into the groper holes. They trod the flat faces, stepped carefully over the wet rocks made crunchy with calcified leakage and the odd, nasty surprise of slippery black. He shone the torch behind him for her. Over the reed beds and the zig zag ledges of stone, through the little forest of tea tree, down into the jumble of boulders, alongside another massive striped megalith then up to the next outcrop, eighty metres of sloping granite peppered with blocks of square stone the size of houses. All the time, the boom and the crack of water and a buzzing of oxygen in the air.

She felt the salt spray upon her face. Venus was rising. Shadows made a new dark as the moon moved over the hill.

They crawled into one of the caves and he lit a fire. Then they laid their clothes on the granite floor. Naked in the cave, the fire glowed their bodies and made their skin soft and warm against the stone. Shafts of moonlight streaked through the cracks of the cave.

You are the only person who would take me here, Selkie said.

You are the only one who would come with me, Crow said, wondering at the woman who went with him at night across the cliffs and sat before him now, naked in the cave.

I can’t sneak around like this anymore, said Selkie. I’ll miss you. I can’t do this any more. Will you remember me?

Crow was silent then. They looked out to the moonlit sea. The wind turned to the south and blew into the cave, chilled their backs, gave the fire draw.


I feel like I tumbled off a mountain top for the last few days ... deathly tired, bruised in strange places and weepy, a bed ridden Bronte malcontent, thinking you lost forever. I didn’t find your message til late, they always catch me by surprise & my heart skips a little ... oh hello, there she is.



It can’t end there, here, not like that.

I wrote and thought to you: I don’t know if the story Selkie and Crow is any good or a self indulgent dog of a tale. Perhaps I’m just not being honest. I’ve dressed up an untruth in pretty feathers and fur, presented it as a fairy tale. And fairy tales must always tell the truth.

I invented conflict to give a love affair a narrative structure but it remains an unwieldy beast who defies my best efforts to bully it into a box ... perhaps it is a dandelion head ready to blow – and me, standing around in a northerly with a butterfly net.

As Barthes would have it: “... the lover speaks in bundles of sentences but does not integrate these sentences on a higher level ... no transcendence, no deliverance, no novel (though a great deal of the fictive.)”

And I miss you like sleep.

What to do. Put this story in the drawer for ten years. Send it to someone in another city, someone who does not know me, and ask them what is wrong with it. Roll it up into a scroll, wrap it in paperbark and scented leatherwood leaves, secrete it into the quiet caves, the wild places, its natural home, and leave it there.


Some notes.

On Bartleby, silence and secret stories:

“... and it is only when we try to learn the truth, the source or essence of Bartleby’s ‘I prefer not to’ that we condemn ourselves not to know Bartleby at all. If the meaning of Bartleby’s refrain is to be allowed to stay a secret, then any attempt to unlock that secret would be an act of violence. To preserve the secret (to give the secret its secrecy, as it were) we must resist those readings that would reduce the scrivener to an existential or pathological subject, or which would see Melville’s short story as some kind of historically responsive portrait of a modern subject’s alienation under capitalism. It’s precisely because the story does not represent something other than itself (a historically responsive portrait of the modern subject’s alienation under capitalism, for example) that its secret continues to work its effects, which arise from the work of what is called literature.”

Niall Lucy, The Ballad of Moondyne Joe, p. 13.

Italics: excerpts from Honore' de Balzac letter to Madame Hanska, June, 1835.

“Every amorous episode can be, of course, endowed with a meaning: it is generated, develops, and dies; it follows a path which is always possible to interpret according to a causality or finality – even, if need be, which can be moralised: ... this is the love story, subjugated to the great narrative Other, to that general opinion which disparages any excessive force and wants the subject himself to reduce the great imaginary current, the orderless, endless stream which is passing through him,a painful, morbid crisis of which he must be cured, which he must ‘get over’.

... the love story (the ‘episode’, the ‘adventure’) is the tribute the lover must pay to the world in order to be reconciled with it.”

Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse, p. 7.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The testimony of William Hook

I've been uploading posts of the people and events behind my book The Sound over at my other website. You can click on the book cover for a look. Today though, I thought I'd put up the original statement, the seminal text if you like, of William Hook's testimony to Major Edmund Lockyer, on A WineDark Sea. This one page document is what the whole novel is based upon. Anyone who has read The Sound will see happenings and resonances: the Green Island killing, the Frenchman's compass, the fear and the hierarchies, the stolen child, and William Hook giving this information to the Major, the Major's son looking on with great interest, in a 'stinking golden tent'.

Historical Records of Australia, Series 3, Vol. 1, p. 473.

INFORMATION of William Hook, Native of New Zealand, Mariner and late belonging to the Schooner Brisbane of Hobart Town, touching the murder of a Male Native on Green Island, Oyster Harbour and King George’s Sound, and also forcibly taking away from the Main Land at Oyster Harbour four Male Natives, and landing them on Michaelmas Island in King George’s Sound, and there leaving them to perish, of the truth of which he, William Hook, voluntarily maketh Oath before Edmund Lockyer, Esquire, Major of His Majesty’s 57 Regt. Of Infantry, and Justice of the Peace of His Majesty’s Territory in New South Wales and Commandant of the Settlement at King George’s Sound, this Twelfth day of January, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty Seven.

“That he, William Hook, being with the following persons at Oyster Harbour that composed the crew of a Boat employed sealing, John Randall Steersman, James Kirby, George Magennis and Samuel Bailey, with another Boat belonging to a Mr. Robinson of Hobart Town, and of which one Everitt was Steersman, the names of the crew he does not recollect, whilst there, had frequently been visited by the Natives, who were friendly, accompanying the Sealers fishing in their Boats, though the Native Women were never seen or came to the place where the Sealers were hutted.

That, about Eight Weeks ago, a French Man of War anchored in the sound and remained some time. That, one day after this Ship had left, Five of the Natives came to where their Boats stopped and requested to be taken to Green Island in Oyster Harbour to catch birds, when this Informant and another Man of the Hunter’s Boat, by name Ned, was ordered by John Randall and Everitt, the Boat Steerers, to take the Natives there and land them and come off, leaving them there, which they did; the Natives, perceiving the Boat going away, called out to the Informant to return, making all the signs possible for that purpose; but, having been ordered to leave them, Informant was afraid to act otherwise.

Next day Randall set out, accompanied by Kirby, Magennis and Bailey, armed with Guns and Cutlasses, soon after five OClock in the morning, and returned about Four or Five in the Evening bringing with them Four Native Women; that during their absence Informant was ordered to stay and take care of the Boat; during the night, two of the women made their escape though the Sealers had tied them two together by the Arms; next Morning both Boat’s Crews again went off armed, leaving Informant and another to watch the Boats; in the Evening they returned saying they had not seen any of the Natives or the Two Women that had made their escape, but had found hanging to the Trees at their encampment a Pocket Compass and a knife that had been given to the Natives by the Captain of the French Ship.

That, on the next day, Informant was sent with Ned and four others in the Boat to Green Island with a keg of water for the Natives; and, on the boats approaching the shore, they made a rush to get into it; the people in the boat shoved off to prevent them, and returned to the Party on shore, when four fresh hands got into the Boat, taking with them two Guns and two Swords and again went to the Island, and one Man got out to take a keg of water on shore; the Natives making a rush to get into the Boat, the Europeans resisted by striking them with their Oars and Swords; and, finding that they persisted, a Gun was fired with slugs over their Heads to frighten them, which did not answer; when a second shot was fired the Informant saw one of them fall forwards on his Face in the Water and the Blood spouting out from both his sides.

Kirby, who steered the boat, fired the first shot, but Informant cannot tell who fired the second.; the Boat was then shoved off and went to the Shore, and the next Morning Randall went again to the Island, and at first the Natives hid themselves; but on seeing Randall who was a great favourite with them, they came out and kissed him; he then took the four into his Boat, leaving the dead Body on the Island, and left Oyster Harbour and landed the four Natives on Michaelmas Island, and left them making great lamentations; Randall then went to Breaksea Island where the other Boat joined, bringing with them the Two Female Natives that they had taken away from the Main Land at Oyster Harbour.

One of these Females is now at Eclipse Island with Samuel Bailey, also a native Girl, a child Seven year old; the other Female taken from this is with George Magennis with the Boat to the Eastward; and this Informant further states that these men have other Native Women that they take about with them, Two from Van Diemen’s Land taken in Bass Strait and one from the Main Land opposite Kangaroo Island.

Witness: - E. Lockyer, junr.
Sworn before me: - E. Lockyer, J.P., Major, H.M. 57 Regt.

Image: Louis de Sainson from the French ship Astrolabe painted this picture of the channel at Emu Point, Green Island in the background, possibly within days of the events described above.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Cracking champagne over the bow of a book

On Friday night Kim Scott launched my book at the Entertainment Centre. The whole event was quite snazzy! Here are some photos.

 Simon the minstrel

 Ian from Fremantle Press, Tuaari who gave a Maori blessing, me, John who was a splendid MC, Kim who launched, Kathryn who read from The Sound, and Carol who performed a Welcome to Country.

 Super Bookseller Guy, Lockie from Paperbark Merchants

 That's me, saying something, me not falling apart on stage.

 And this is my Dad, family friend Fiona and winemaker extraordinaire Richard Bunn

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The C Word

Hey, happy Winter Solstice everyone!

This is the first of a series of posts about writing The Sound. In future posts I'll cover writing Indigenous characters as a wadjela yorga (white woman), how it takes a village to write a book, seascapes and landscapes in my books, and my own journey to publication with Fremantle Press. In The C Word, I'll try to nut out how I feel about imposing a work of dark history and creepy characters onto the world.

I'm in preparation to bare my throat (this is nothing new). No, not to the deities on this longest of long nights ... just to anyone who reads my work. And I'm not being flippant here. Frankly, it's terrifying, every time. Thankfully one official review has already landed in my inbox and it's a good one - four stars from an industry booksellers magazine.

"... the gritty descriptions of life in these times make this a fascinating read. Based on a true story and clearly grounded in the author's own experiences at sea, this book is an engaging and thought provoking
read, despite being quite confronting at times." Books + Publishing, National. May 2016.

There it is. The C word. I've had some interesting early comments about my book The Sound. A friend who has just read it said, "Sarah, I loved it! I was there. But if I didn't already know what these people were like, how brutal they were, I would have been shocked with what you've written. I would have thought you were exaggerating the violence and what those women went through. But I already knew the story and I was ready for it."

"Am just so grateful to be moved and confronted by bloody resolute and inspired writers like you," wrote another friend, who had picked up an early copy from Paperbark Merchants and read it while on an island holiday. There's that C word again.

The editor of the state newspaper's books page rang me for an interview and used the C word as well. A book sales rep stopped for a reprieve while reading it. Oh dear.

Reader, you may notice that I'm picking a single word out of what is otherwise praise for The Sound, like an angsty teen searching her beautiful body for blemishes. The thing is, I've been thinking for quite a while about how I'm going to talk about this book, because once you've published a book, you have to appear in public and talk about it, to pique people's interest, contribute to our literary culture, and hopefully sell the product. The Sound, although also inspired by history, seascape and working on boats, is an entirely different beast to Salt Story. Salt Story is described as charming and funny, whereas the only jokes in The Sound are usually made by women in the face of extreme deprivation and violence.

Writing The Sound, as WineDark readers will know, very nearly did me in. (Here is a link to Predator Dreams for those who haven't read it.) I don't know how the Ruth Rendells of this world can regularly produce works of such pathological violence without staggering from their studies profoundly damaged. They must just be better at protecting themselves than I was.

Maybe the confronting aspect of The Sound, apart from the violence, is the depiction of how people behave in a world without law - and that these behaviours haven't changed despite our pretty solid social contracts and legal systems. "Oh my God, that Bailey bloke is so creepy," shuddered my friend. Well, yes he was. Yes, he is.