Monday, November 21, 2016

Bloodroot Country

Sometimes I don't feel comfortable in this part of the country. Windy, hot days mostly. It is not my home ground: the high primary dunes behind the granite bosses, heath scrub sprinkled with azure scaevolas and pink pimelias. Here I keep waiting to experience 'deep nature' and it eludes me. There is always something to do, or worry at, or obsess over. The country is kept closeted with cathedrals of karri columns, and where there are no tracks, with impenetrable, luminous green karri hazel. It is extraordinarily beautiful but offers no easy congress, with its 1080 baits, blister bush and no clear view for a snake-free footstep.

On the Bloodroot track as the season changes, I see the tiger snakes and dugites, or their subtle serpentine imprints in the soft black sand. The fright sight thrills me to the soles of my feet.

After the bar broke, I walked along to the west along a vast sandy shore, an undersea country only the day before. Past the huts that no longer stood abandoned but crowded with four wheel drives and jetskis on trailers, red plastic drums of fuel lined up on the gravel. I ignored all this action and walked to the shore, looking out to The Cut, where the sand bar had held the inlet away from the sea until yesterday.

The yellow sand I walked upon rippled with water sculpture. Trees previously submerged a metre or so up their trunks now stood high and dry, their gnarled root systems exposed by the worrying wind waves during the winter months. I crossed a creek shining peacock blue with the oil of tea tree and climbed a rocky outcrop. A car coughed into life behind me.

On the other side of the rocks lay a huge golden beach that wasn't there yesterday, studded with short peeling paperbarks. An undersea Port Royal born in the night and revealed again to the sky.

There was a deep stillness, as though the inlet and her entire cohort had woken shocked and sobered by the events of the previous night. Even the birds were quiet. I stepped down the sides of the largest rock worn smooth by water, its higher seams filled with small abalone shells and sticks. I wanted to be on this beach, wondrous with its undersea ripples. There was that human part of me that wanted to be the first to pluck her unblemished cherry but also, I felt like a wild thing, or more, simply a thing at the beginning of something, enmeshed like amoeba in this system.

Behind me the four wheel drive chugged over the rocky outcrop, straight up one side and down the other. Four young men, heedless, elbows out of windows, can of beer in hand. I stared and they hardly acknowledged me but the driver nodded as the Nissan's fat tyres slouched into the golden sand. The driver revved the motor and moved into third gear, spraying sand away from the tyre tracks and then they roared onto the beginning of the new world, carving donuts around the weathered paperbark trees.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"A vision of past savagery that lies maddeningly between truth and fiction."

Here is a link to a really, really great review of The Sound in the Rochford Street Review. There have been plenty of favourable reviews, but this is my favourite because historian James Dunk tackles the basic tenets and problems with historical fiction, researched his way around the themes in The Sound and totally engaged with the book. Wonderful stuff!

Karri moth eyes

‘Probably best ease up on the mullet stories now,’ he said. I’d posted a few stories about catching mullet on my blog but the netting season had officially ended and he is a more cautious soul than me. He has to be.

A few nights later I rowed out the boat. I thought he was coming to visit me. I never really know when he will visit me but he’d mentioned that he might come out. If he is unable to make it, he can’t contact me anyway because I’m out of range. 

 I set some net, feeling bloody-minded with his censure and absence, and stumped up the hill in my fishing boots to make a desultory dinner. When it was past ten o’clock and he still wasn’t here, I rowed back out into the inlet. I rowed and rowed and couldn’t find the net. The torchlight had no reach for the buoy. I clicked it off and waited in the still night for my night vision and the sound of his car. Sat in the boat waiting. The wind came up and blew me west, parallel to the shore and bless that pup if she wasn’t waiting for me where I blew in. Eyebrows like karri moth wings in the dark, stepping into the water to greet me. Not a lover, not a life partner, not a fisheries officer, just a dog watching out for me in the night, waiting for me to come ashore.  

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.