Dymocks Reading Challenge – 04

Dymocks Reading Challenge – 04

I wanted to publish this post yesterday, 26 January – Australia Day Invasion Day, Change The Date Day. But honestly, I couldn’t find the words to finish it. So this post sat in my drafts, adrift, wanting conclusion. If that isn’t a metaphor for the racism in Australia, I don’t know what is.

I first heard about this book during Mr Grant’s interview with Osher Günsberg on his podcast in 2019. Here’s a screen grab of the episode from my phone, you can find the full conversation here. * Edited to add an article published by Stan Grant yesterday on the ABC; On Australia Day, how do we define national identity? Or is the exercise too dangerous?

Stan Grant, Better Than Yesterday episode 285

I’ve finished reading Stan Grant’s Australia Day, a follow-up to Taking to My Country. When I emigrated to Melbourne in 2008, I was horrified at the endemic racism shown in Australia – but the vitriol and bile specifically reserved for Indigenous Australians is on a whole other level. One of the most gifted players of his generation of AFL(M) players, Adam Goodes, was hounded out the game he loved playing. He called out being called an ape by a supporter at a game in 2013, she was removed from the ground. However, the most rampant of media decried him for doing it, as it was a 13 year old who yelled the racist slur at him. Her ‘future is at stake’, she ‘was just a child’, bayed the right wing, white, insufferable old male commentators. Never mind that in his last playing season, Mr Goodes had probably had a gut full of racism by then. What about his future when he was 13?

I sit here on Wadawurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung land. My husband and I are white, we are privileged as we both work, we have access to health care, we have a house, car, food in the cupboard, we’re saving up to build a house. We want to name it, but what do you call a house on stolen land? Even if the white laws mean that we ‘own’ that stolen land.

Using whiteness as our charger, we rode roughshod over indigenous areas worldwide, not just across Australia, but America, Canada, India. Not only the British, but that’s where my heritage lines are, so what I hold accountable. As Eddie Izzard said in her stand-up, Dressed to Kill, “We have a flag.”

We all used to live in harmony with the land, until someone long ago decided that owning the land was great, and the more land they had was even better. Because that meant wealth, as the price of land will only ever go up; which flows quickly into greed. Before that decision, now lost to the mists of time; we all only needed to work and live on the land as a community. There’s even a name for it in Britain, landed gentry; on the rung below peers, but still demanding of people to work for them, pay rent to them, on the land they had lived on, but was now bought and sold from underneath them. Sound familiar?

Yes that is a very simplistic view of the world, but it does explain how the Duke of Devonshire was able to own half of Eastbourne.

People in Australia are often furious that Chinese investors are buying up cattle stations, or investment apartments off the plan, that then sit empty with a national housing shortage, pricing locals out the market. *coughs in WASP*

One of our ‘honours’ this year went to Gina Rinehart, for services to ‘mining, culture and sport’. She pledged lots of money to the Olympic fund, so apparently that cancels out everything else her company has lobbied for. Including, but not limited to the installation of roadblocks to stall any ecological progress in attempts to restore the annihilated land, or to reduce carbon emissions. Only in Australia would you be given the highest honour for mining.

So here I am, incandescent with rage and fury at another bevvie of right wing, white, insufferable old men. Determined to carry on regardless, gerrymandering voting districts in a desperate bid to keep their tenuous hold on power and land. [Although, Grace Tame‘s face during the photos with Scott Morrison was a sight to behold. Ms Tame was our outgoing Australian of the Year, and a fierce warrior she is too.]

Land that was stolen, never ceded. Land that sustained life in harmony for over 40,000 years. The Indigenous Australia map is beautiful. The boundaries are not fixed, it is a representation of the cultural groups, nations and languages from different areas of the country. It’s a record of what has been stolen.

Stan Grant asks in this book, “Can we heal the wounds of the past? … After the struggle can we find a peace that all can share?” I don’t know, but while right-wing politics is in power, it’s unlikely. However, along with the great resignation, the past few years have awakened something.

I sit in shame at the actions of the past. I will continue to learn from elders how to repair the future, working with elders emerging to support the present. None of us can change what has happened, but all of us have a responsibility to take better care and make amends. Please don’t take my word for it, read Australia Day yourself. Learn and understand about why January the 26 should not be celebrated. Change the date.

the story behind the story

the story behind the story

I first started writing One Last Hundred Chances around 2004 or 2005, I’d just left my hometown of Eastbourne and the characters pretty much wandered into my head unannounced.

Hazel, Freya, Chris, Abigail; the four school friends who formed the core narrative have all had different tangents and storylines. Because of this, I can actually see them as four fully-rounded people, foibles and all, which I hope comes through in the story. Stella and her husband Steve, Chris’ partner Jono, Abigail and her husband Scott, with their two children, Amelie and Scarlett, have also all been loafing around in various guises for a while too.

I guess there is a bit of me in all of them, although when I go to the beach, I will never look as good or as put together as Stella. In one version, Stella originally worked part-time as a dominatrix; a few chapters was the four of them and Steve fitting out her studio. I had fun with that one, but as they lived in Brighton, I shelved it as too much of a cliché.

Also removed was the scene I wrote about Chris coming out to his parents. Last year’s pandemic meant (like many others) I inhaled Schitt’s Creek. I loved the world that Dan and Eugene Levy created, particularly the complete lack of homophobia. I do feel the more that occurs, the bigotry and asshat-ness will be shown up for the revolting behaviour that it is.

One of the first scenes I wrote was the shopping trip around The Lanes, although it had a mercy mission with Hazel and Stella rescuing Freya from buying up half of Lush. Another early scene was one in Lewes, where I had all the girls meeting for lunch. I talked about ‘starting out at the base-camp of Boots and walking up School Hill’, for those of you who’ve walked up it, you’ll know how steep it is.

Then The Duchess appeared. Freya’s mum, who is a truly awful person, avid social climber and will not stop until she’s driven her family to their expected status in life. The car trip from Brighton to Eastbourne, hospital visit and Freya’s family history fell out of me. I particularly like Freya’s sister Victoria saying that even though she lives in New Zealand “It’s still not far enough away.” When you read that section, neither I nor Wendi, my wonderful editor, needed to change much in it. Except for my tenses, as I get them all arse about face, and think I always will do.

But for the next few years, not much happened. I’d add bits in, rewrite other bits, tinker, fiddle. However, nothing much came from it. I had probably 20-30,000 words (about a third of a novel), but other than ‘school friends, keep it small’ I didn’t really know what to do the four of them, or with it.

So the four of them would linger in my imagination, I’d make occasional notes in my phone or on emails to myself. My writing process is odd, insofar that I will hear a sentence in my head and whoosh, off I go and out it comes. And amazingly, if I make a note of that sentence, even months later, I can still riff off it.

Then, our house got broken into. The bastards took so much; jewellery, watches, small electrical stuff, even packed things into our bags to cart it out the house. They also took our Mac, which had baby photos on, and everything that we’d had on USB sticks, because the memory was so big, why wouldn’t we put it on the Mac?

As an aside, despite having individual serial numbers, apparently you can’t trace a stolen Mac with them. Which is maddening.

We went through everything we could find to try and find the files we’d lost. We had some files in the cloud, but not everything. We had some files on external hard-drives, but not everything. Friends started emailing and texting photos of our son as a baby, but the book, other than what was in my head was gone.

I gave it up as a lost cause and forgot about it. In the interim, I was having problems with my lady bits, after backwards and forwards for seven years and thirty-odd years of horrendous periods, I was finally scheduled to have a hysterectomy in April 2019. Hurrah! I hired a hospital table to go over the bed, as until the surgeon started, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to perform the surgery via key-hole. Reader, he did. However, just in case I was opened up stem to stern, I wanted something I could read / colour-in and rest my laptop on to watch movies if not.

I bounced back really well, I had six weeks off work to recuperate. I pulled out my laptop and started writing. I cleared two or three 10,000 word days in the first week re-writing what I’d lost and found that the plot had changed. Domestic violence and coercive control was coming through thick and fast in the behaviour towards Hazel from Ronnie. I got more of the book down, let my imagination run riot on plotting and settled in to do some research.

Going online and following breadcrumbs, I found my way into a couple of Reddit forums and a closed Facebook group. I lurked for a bit, then started sharing things that had happened to me, encouraged other people to report and then I posted this:

I am writing a novel about coercive control and DV, do any of you want to share your stories with me? If you’re happy for me to include them, I will ensure nothing will identify you. Is there something that happened to you that you would use as a red flag? Is there a story you want to tell so you can let it go?

I set up a seperate email address, and slowly stories and messages started to come in. My research continued and then I listened to a BBC Woman’s Hour article on the eight escalation steps abusers follow, more information from the BBC here: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-49481998

This was my framework, I had a clear pattern of behaviour I could make Ronnie follow. Using different memories and dialogue from the people who emailed me their stories, the book started coming together.

Then the pandemic hit in March 2020. The whole world was upended, DV incidents started to spike and I knew, I just knew I had to get the book finished and out into the world.

I looked at the ‘normal’ publishing route, and was horrified at the length of time it would take. People didn’t have that long! So I investigated self-publishing and put feelers out for an editor on Upworthy. Enter Wendi from https://www.cuttingecopy.com/ I gave her and another editor the dream sequence, followed by the shopping trip in Brighton and the hospital visit to read for a trial run. The other editor put it all into Hemingway and sent it back to me, Wendi went through with a fine toothed comb, made some great suggestions and off we went.

I printed out a calendar of each year from 1996 to 2006, plotting everything in from TV events and movie releases, FA Cup Finals, to concerts at Wembley, Bank Holidays, anything and everything I could think of to remind me. I listened to music from that period all the time, memories came flooding back about what it was like to live then. It pays to be a pop-culture nerd at times.

I set myself publication date of 1 October 2020. I gave Wendi everything I’d written to edit and tidy up, while I carried on with what I needed to write. We would spend ages on video conferences chatting about the story, working it out, talking things through until one call when Wendi said, “You’re going to have to show Ronnie hitting Hazel. Everything is about her being worried about it, or she’s in the aftermath, we need a scene where he does it.” We made that the middle of the book as it’s the fulcrum point.

I am so proud of it. Even if I got the formatting and pagination a bit skewiff in the first version and only realised when my author copies arrived. I’ve also added more resources at the back. The book took fifteen years to be finished, but is all the better for the delay. While I’m hard at work on book two, when I put that last full-stop down on One Last Hundred Chances will always be one of my proudest moments.