Openings: Hooks and Hope

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Next week, an excerpt of the manuscript I’ve been writing will be sent to a number of agents and Australian publishers. I’m aware that I am very privileged to have this opportunity.

This draft novel,Where The Fruit Falls, has already opened up opportunities for me. It was short-listed in the 2017 Richell Prize. And selected into the 2018 Hardcopy professional development program for writers, which I was awarded a scholarship to attend.

And I am thankful that it (and I) have now been accepted to participate in the Hardcopy Going Public weekend in November. During this weekend, publishers and agents will provide the ten selected writers with confidential 1:1 feedback on the extracts of their manuscripts.

Which means I need to polish up mine. And ensure my opening has the type of hook that captures a reader’s attention from the very first sentence.

So I thought about openings of books I’ve read and liked. Currently on a 4-week writer in regional residence, my personal library is far away. But these books’ openings are embedded in my memory:

No living thing flew over the village of Gibbeah, neither fowl, not dove, nor crow. Yet few looked above, terrified should an omen come in a shriek or flutter.
John Crow’s Devil by Marlon James

My great-khalto Mariam collected colours and sorted them. Two generations later, I was named after her imaginary friend.
The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I always left my window open at night, despite the warnings I’d been given. I rarely did as I was told.
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from the grave after being dead for twenty-one years.
Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

124 was spiteful. Full of baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children.
Beloved by Toni Morrison

And I noticed that they had similarities. These hooks not only lured me in, to keep reading to the last page, but to re-read them. Some, many times.

An avid reader, I know if I want to read a book from the first few sentances, if not the first. And I want readers to pick up my book (if it gets published) and not be able to put it down. Can I write an enticing opening? Can I hook readers with my first sentence?

I can try!

This is my revised first sentence:

That distinctive aroma of apples evoked many memories, but it was the beloved that lay on the bottom of a distant ocean that she now recalled.

Does it work? Do you need more?

Ok, this is the first paragraph:

That distinctive aroma of apples evoked many memories, but it was the beloved that lay on the bottom of a distant ocean that she now recalled. This particular aroma had been carried on a wisp of a wind that had travelled through the orchard outside her door, teasing ripe apples until they had dropped to the ground. That heady perfume of apples and first love was not the only thing that had arrived on her doorstep that afternoon.

It pales in the presence of the great openings I’ve shared here, but it is better than the original opening I had. I think. Hope. Maybe. Ugh!

Openings are frightening to write. Which is why, when we come across good openings, they often become firmly fixed in our memories.

Do you have any treasured openings to novels?

Such as it was…..

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Here is another snippet of what I’m currently editing. Its some years past the previous piece I shared. Its from a work-in-progress, which will hopefully become my second novel, called Where The Fruit Falls. Its a rough draft, but I hope you enjoy the read.

As the last plutonium-loaded cloud settled over the red sands in the south-west, many miles away three strangers emerged from a sister-desert; seeking rest from a road seldom travelled. Even though they had entered town cloaked in dawn’s light, news of their arrival had spread before the last rooster finished crowing. This flurry of curiosity was not because it was unusual on the gibber plains for people to suddenly emerge from out of nowhere; others have arrived in such a manner. Nor was it unusual to see strangers, even though the town was in the middle of nowhere; as the train, in passing, often spewed out adventurers, government officials, wayfarers, those of a missionary-bend, and other lost souls. And it was not the shock of seeing a young woman unaccompanied by a man; for strong, independent women were a familiar sight in the desert terrain. No, the inquisitive stares behind curtains and the gossip that raced at the speed of wild-fire was fuelled by the peculiar guise of the two girls that walked alongside the woman. For even in this era of fast-tracked social change, it was still unheard of for one of her kind, for the woman’s bloodline was unmistakable, to be travelling unaccompanied with a white girl.
And such a pretty little girl, a precious rose – many would add to their recounting of the tale. Obviously cared for, loved dearly, despite the marks of a long trek clinging to her clothes – others would remark to their neighbours later that day. Such flawless, milky skin – sighed many behind sun-withered hands. And what eyes, they pronounced, like precious opals – they all pronounced. Even though, in all reality, her eyes were more akin to a less precious but equally enchanting gemstone: malachite.
Once they could tear their attention from this child, they took in the other girl; reluctantly at first. They openly appraised this child, and not with kindness in their eyes or truth in their hearts. This other one, wearing the trials of the road so well, brazenly strode into town; or so they thought. With the steadied gaze of a sun-browned cameleer from days long gone, this girl kept her bright blue eyes focused on the road, ignoring the crescendo of disapproval. Clearly she hasn’t been taught her place in the world – some muttered. She needs to be knocked down a peg or two – grumbled others. Such arrogance, but what can we expect from the likes of them – verbalised a few. Giving them the vote will ruin this country, mark my words – others predicted.

That last comment drifted down the street, carried by the wind, towards the town’s edge, where it floated over the unseen boundary and fluttered around a gathering of makeshift homes. Those still trying to catch a few moments more of sleep tried to shoo the words away with the flick of a hand, not at all concerned about being bitten in exposed places. Others took a broom to the nonsensical declaration, sweeping the air until that unwanted opinion was encouraged to move on. As smiles of redemption began to brighten sun-toughened faces, they soon realised that there was now an unpleasant smell in the air. One by one, the fringe dwellers gathered outside, trying to locate the source of such a rank odour. An old man caught the eye of another, and then another, and another, Until soon they were walking away from the town, carrying only the essentials. They hadn’t needed a second whiff, for they had smelt this unpleasant odour many times before. Younger kin, refusing to follow, instead walked closer to the main part of town, allowing curiosity to be their guide.
Standing unseen, in the shadows cast by the rising sun, they saw the town-dwellers staring at a trio of travellers. The new spectators were also taken aback by what they saw, even if their comments were vastly different than those already dying in the dust or floating off on the air. For rather than seeing what was different, they had immediately noticed the similarities. Eventually, everyone began to see. It’s something in the bone structure, some thought – such high cheeks. No, it was the way they both moved, the way they hold themselves, certain aura. They could see that those girls had shared secrets, for they speak in a clandestine language only known by twins. Those young ones were the mirror images of polar opposites.
Never before had the townsfolk seen such non-identical twins; one white and the other brown. Only the fringe dwellers could see the truth of the matter, even though it was so very obvious: both girls were in fact black.

While all this was unfolding, the woman kept moving, oblivious and quite accustomed to the astonished stares and whispers of strangers. As she walked down the main street, such as it was, the woman took no notice of fingers clasping at almost-closed curtains, nor did she acknowledge the slack-jawed affliction that her progenies left in their wake. Steadfastly she walked up to the veranda of the general store, such as it was, dropped her bags and shook the red dirt from her skirt. Leaving the uncanny twins sitting on a pile of road-worn bags, she walked into the store, with her head held high enough for trouble to find her.
A short time later, the three of them turned a rusty key in a dusty lock, entered a pre-loved shack and set to turning it into a home; such as it was.

Work In Progress: chapter one

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This is an extract from a manuscript I’m currently re-working. Its just a rough draft, so don’t expect too much. And formatting is even rougher. Despite its many flaws, I hope you enjoy reading it.
(I found the above image on Pinterest, I don’t know the original source)

 

As the door closed, pushing back spring’s last attempt to invade the eventide cottage, Maeve heard a fluttering of tiny wings. Instinctively the corner of her lip rose slightly, just enough momentum to displace wrinkled skin. That sound took Maeve back to a forgotten moment, when she had intimately known such wings beating against her own chest. Back to a time when the younger Maeve had not yet discovered corporeal yearnings. However, that was then, this is now. Maeve Cliona Devlin had slowly and surely shed all sense of innocence but, as life tends to be cyclic, carnal matters had long since been replaced by a more ascetic view. Nestled in a wrought-iron bed that had seen better days, Maeve did not have a sense of nostalgia for the distant undulations of a life lived well, as she was more than content with the uncomplicatedness that ageing granted.
Brigid entered the room quietly, not wanting to disturb her grandmother. She was obviously unaware of the fluttering wings that had caught the attention of her grandmother. It could perhaps be said that the young woman was generally oblivious to many nuances, both the everyday kind and the extraordinary. Still, Brigid shuddered unconsciously as the coldness of her grandmother’s house hit her. Brigid didn’t notice that shudder squeeze through just a sliver of a gap, as she shut the door closed. Her grandmother did but took no offence, as she was had the good sense to know that not even a shudder would willingly spend time in a space where light was fading.

Maeve patted a space beside her, ‘Birdie sit down. Tell me about your day.’
Brigid walked towards the small kitchen table, placing upon it a well-laden basket, ‘Let me catch my breath first, Mamó. And I should open a window, let some fresh air in.’
The older woman nodded, as a few moments more of waiting were of no consequence. It was enough that someone had arrived, fleetingly bringing sunshine to the gloomy space Maeve had entombed herself within. She felt no animosity towards family, not really, but sometimes it felt as if they had already executed their final good-byes. Only the granddaughter willingly remembered the old woman at the bottom of the garden. Numerous times a day, Brigid brought her Mamó distractions from the outside world; to dilute the endless hours of waiting. The others, when they remembered, came out of a habitual sense of duty. Those strapping children on the brink of manhood, that physically reminded Maeve of beloved male kin left behind on a distant shore, rarely stepped over her threshold.
In the bluntness of age, Maeve no longer felt any attachment to the sons of her daughter. Unlike the familiarity she had for the oldest grandchild, Brigid: her Birdie. The grandsons didn’t know of Maeve’s sense of disconnect. Even Margaret, her daughter, was unaware. Perhaps those bonnie boys reminded Maeve too much of home; of love lost, and lands never to be seen again. Or perhaps the way they filled a room simply reminded Maeve that she was shrinking.

Opening the window, Brigid caught sight of a small black and white bird. Maeve raised her head seconds before the bird broke out in song. It was a cheeky tune, alluding to promised embraces and stolen hearts. At least it was to Maeve’s well-travelled ears. Birdie didn’t hear the same tune. She heard spring blossoms and warm afternoons. And had a sudden longing to hide in the long grass, to watch wispy clouds make patterns in the blue.  Maeve smiled, as the bird-song had brought back cherished memories. In cahoots with an old woman’s fancy, the wind floated through the open window to kiss Maeve’s paper-thin skin; bringing lost whispers of forever and ever, and then some. It had been decades since her husband had passed, but some things are never forgotten. Kisses on yesterday’s skin last forever.
If her eyes had not grown milky, Maeve might have cast them over the room she now lay in. Not much more than that one room, Maeve had practically built this cottage with her own hands. The room she now lay in served as lounge, kitchen and bedroom. Later a small bathroom had been added by her son-in-law. Not an inside laundry though, as Maeve had insisted on using the tarnished copper tub in the detached laundry out the back; right up until her sight had completely gone. If she had the ability to look around the room now, she would have found more than a few shadowy memories lurking in corners, but none of her husband. He had never set foot on this land that Maeve had built a home on.

Setting sail as a young bride, Maeve had disembarked as a widow. The grief of leaving behind her family, knowing she would never again see the emerald island of her childhood, was overshadowed by the loss of her first and only love. His body had been sent to the bottom of the sea mere days before land was sighted. Having recently returned from war, he had been far from robust. He was certainly no match for La Grippe’s frenzied tango; this unwanted dance partner had barely raised a flamed hue on the other passengers’ cheeks, before dancing him to the end of time. Stepping away from the rail, having witnessed their shared dreams become entangled in the shroud that floated from sight, Maeve turned her thoughts to staying afloat.
Fortuitously, before his fated journey, Maeve’s husband had the foresight to secure a modest slice of land in the country they had chosen to sow their marital future. When Maeve arrived alone, heavy of heart and womb, she took comfort in the realisation that her love’s legacy was a patch of good earth. Using coins that had weighed down her hem during the ocean-crossing, Maeve purchased timber and set to work. Ignoring strangers that scoffed at her determination, she welcomed extra hands when offered. Unable to pay for their labour, Maeve acknowledged her new neighbours’ kindness with lovingly prepared food, resulting in full bellies and warm laughter. This did not gain her any friends among the women in the small town by the coast. Not to begin with. Once word had spread that Maeve was not only recently widowed but expecting, primly downturned mouths became welcoming smiles. Maeve soon had a one-roomed home and caring neighbours to shelter her for decades to come.
With her bridal trousseau finally unpacked, Maeve made her acquaintance with the land. Removing a sea of stones, she put them aside for a future wall. She imagined a simple wooden gate sitting between low stone walls, opening to a path that led to her front door. On either side of the path would grow an abundance of fragrant herbs and flowers; familiar plants from her homeland. These pleasant images made time pass quickly as she tilled the land, building callouses on her long-fingered hands.
First Maeve planted the sprouting potato eyes that she had kept damp all through the ocean crossing. Unbeknownst to her husband, who had sworn that his bride would never have to eat another potato for as long as she lived, Maeve had hidden precious peelings in her luggage. She had listened attentively at the feet of her elders, and knew that there are times when the most humble of vegetables makes the tastiest meal. Reassured that a good future-crop of potatoes nestled in the Spring-warmed earth, it was time to prepare her modest home for the little stranger’s arrival. Having been so intent on grieving, building and planting, Maeve had put off pondering the child she was growing. Until mild pains in her lower back reminded her that time could not be controlled.

At first sight, her daughter’s resemblance was confronting – dead man’s eyes on a healthy cherub. Later Maeve fond comfort in these bluest of blue eyes. The midwife, and female visitors, had laughed at the inexperienced mother, before kindly informing her that all newborns have blue eyes. Maeve knew her daughter’s eyes would never change.
Maeve named the child Margaret, a moniker an expectant-father had chosen. And even though she knew it to be foolish, she conferred her with Boudica as a middle name; as she felt her daughter might one day need strength from the homeland. There was no saint’s name given, for grief had caused Maeve to question, and then abandon, her once ingrained faith. Shortly after her milk was flowing, Maeve had returned to the field. And with help from her neighbours, she brought in the first crop of potatoes.

‘Mamó, are you alright?’
The old woman startled. Dragged from days past. It took her a few moments to recognise the voice.
Maeve coughed, ‘I’m fine. Quit your fussing.’
Brigid moved away from the open window, and perched on the edge of her grandmother’s bed.
Maeve reached for her granddaughter’s hand, ‘How are the apple trees?’
‘Father managed to get rid of those woolly aphids. He made up something smelly, to wash them away.’
‘That man was born with a green thumb. You mother did right finding him.’

The apple trees, and other fruit trees in the orchard that surrounded the cottage, were important to Maeve. They connected her to many people, and the home of her childhood. Maeve and her husband had brought cuttings of fruit trees from home, wrapped carefully in dampened moss and cloth. With careful coaxing, Maeve had got those trees to adapt to a new climate, and to bear fruit for generations of offspring.
In addition to creating this orchard, Maeve had made preserves, pies and other treats. She sold the excess to neighbours, and then later at the local market; where she had been selling potatoes and other vegetables for years. This had enabled her to live modestly, and to support a child.
Those earlier years were tough. At first she was lonely, far from family and widowed so young. Although devoted to her daughter, Maeve was never without affection of a different type. There would only ever be one true-love for her, but that did not stop her from taking a lover here and there. In her cottage on the outskirts of town, Maeve was able to be discreet.
As Margaret grew taller, it became apparent that she had not inherited her mother’s green-thumb. Instead she had her father’s wanderlust. She left home too soon, travelling north-west to follow a young man. A few years later she returned, causing quite a stir.  Having children out of wedlock was considered wicked, but not uncommon. Still, the colonialists could not fathom what Margaret had done. Maeve did not see things the same way as her neighbours. Instead, she was instantly besotted with her grand-daughter. She marvelled at her curly dark-brown hair, so like her own, and eyes of deepest brown. The first time someone had dared call her little Birdie a piccaninny, Maeve had flashed them such a look of contempt that no one ever said that word again. At least, not when Maeve was in ear-shot.
Not everyone had ostracised Margaret. It wasn’t long before she had fell in love again. And soon, perhaps too soon, she was expecting another child. This time as a married woman. Maeve accepted Frank into her home and family, even before she had discovered he was skilled in horticulture. Frank’s presence in the home also provided Brigid protection from the Protector.
With the cottage now overcrowded, Frank built his wife a house of her own just before their son was born. Three years later, Brigid had three blue-eyed brothers. Although it was a nice home, and her brothers were nice enough, Brigid spent most of her spare time at her grandmother’s cottage.
Maeve and Brigid shared many things. Like those soft curls of the deepest brown. And they both had wide-awake eyes, although Maeve’s were hazel and Brigid’s brown. They also shared a love of birds, believing that birds talked to them. Which is why Maeve called her granddaughter Birdie.

‘How peculiar,’ remarked Brigid.
‘What is it child?’
‘That bird that was singing just now has perched on the window sill.’
Maeve shifted in the bed, ‘What does it look like?’
‘Small. White on black.’
Nodding sagely, Maeve replied, ‘Ah. It’s already that time.’

 

Before the tale of the little white on black bird can be told, other birds must be heralded.  Three, to be precise. For a conspiracy of ravens was taking place just outside the small cottage at the bottom of the garden. The first one had settled in the tree out the front of the cottage. Then two. Maeve knew it was only time before the third would appear, but she was ready.

These large black birds did not frighten away the smaller bird. A willie wagtail goes where it will, does what it wants. And what it wanted was Brigid’s attention. It had first appeared at her bedroom window, on an unmemorable morning a few weeks past. It took a few days before Brigid noticed it; first by its cheeky song and later by its persistence. That bird sang at her window every morning, greeting her as she woke to a new day. The novelty soon wore off for Brigid. She’d open the window, to swoosh it away, but that cheeky bird just hopped around a bit, before recommencing its song.
Her brothers also tried to get it to go away, rushing at it with flailing arms, but still the bird sang. On the third morning of the third week, that willy wagtail was at the door, waiting for Brigid. When she walked to the washing line, it followed, chirping away. When she went to the shop, it hopped down the road in front of her. She couldn’t go anywhere without that bird.
In the fifth week, sick of its carrying on, Brigid’s stepfather chased it away with a shovel. Not with malice, just frustration. It made the family laugh to see a tall man yelling at a tiny bird. By the time Frank had shut the door, that bird was already out there again, singing even louder than before.
That bird was beginning to annoy the whole family, so it was time her grandmother told Maeve what that little bird was saying.

Maeve knew the secret language of birds. She had learnt it from her grandmother, who had learnt it from her grandmother. Surprisingly, these local birds weren’t that much different from those in her homeland. For example, Maeve knew that those ravens were waiting for the third to arrive. And once it had, it was time for her to leave. Although she’d miss her Birdie, Maeve knew that her granddaughter had a journey of her own to go on. Who would be leaving first was still undecided.
Maeve told her that small bird had a message for her. A message that needs to be heard in a faraway place. So that willy wagtail would not be going away anytime soon. Instead Brigid must follow it. Brigid had no plans on going anywhere, ever. She laughed at her grandmother, and laughed even harder when she was told about birds and destinies.
There are two types of birds: those that lead you to good fortune, and those that lead to trouble. And it’s often too hard to tell the two apart, until it’s too late. Maeve had a feeling that this bird was the type that would escort a young woman to find love, but she had no idea if that would end up as being fortunate or trouble.

The day the third Raven appeared Maeve didn’t need to be told. She had already felt its presence.
‘There’s now three of them,’ Brigid said, as she closed the door.
Placing a warm plate on the bedside table, Brigid removed the cloth that covered her grandmother’s dinner. A pungent but pleasant aroma hit Maeve.
‘Leave it,’ she said.
‘It will go cold, Mamó.’
Maeve shifted slightly, letting out a pale sigh. Brigid helped her to sit up, fluffed the pillow, before re-settling her grandmother. With sightless eyes, Maeve looked towards the window.
Brigid lifted the fork, ‘Have just a little. Its roast lamb, peas, and mashed potatoes with gravy. I made it for you. Please Mamó.’
‘Just the mash, then.’
Brigid carefully lifted the fork, and placed it on her grandmother’s tongue. Maeve thought of potatoes and ships. And a husband resting on an ocean floor. Suddenly, she longed for his embrace. The memory of his strong arms around her shoulders was still vivid as if it was only yesterday.
Yes, it was time.

Dragon’s Breath

Little Patch of Scrub (July 23, 2009) by Dave Clarke, Bush Philosopher

Little Patch of Scrub (July 23, 2009) by Dave Clarke, Bush Philosopher (taken near Clare, South Australia)

As the day drew closer, I found myself having those moments, where I asked myself: What have I done? 

Like all things done on a whim, signing up to participate in a magic realism blog-hop seemed harmless at the time, but the closer I got to 22 of July, the more nervous I became.

I will admit upfront, I am not an expert on magic realism, or any other genre. I do enjoy writing and reading magic realism literature. Although I am slightly choosy with what works I deem fit within this distinctly unique style of writing. I have previously expressed my thoughts on the core elements of magic realism in a previous blog post, which resulted in some interesting discussion (http://wp.me/p37mgG-cf). 

However, for the next few days I will strive to put aside my narrow view of magic realism. Instead, I am entering the magic realism blog-hop with an open-mind, eager to learn more and keen to enter into discussions with fellow readers, writers and bloggers.

 Why Magic Realism?

 It would be fair to say that my writing is erratic. None of my short stories or novels-in-progress are consistent in style, technique or genre. As I am still finding my voice, I think that its ok to experiment. Enjoying life as a creative person, I hope that I never lose the desire to experiment, to push the boundaries, to express and bring to life what is not easily seen. Which is probably why I find magic realism appealing: it creatively pushes boundaries.

As someone who has a strong political streak, especially in regards to rights for indigenous peoples, magic realism is a perfect way for me to explore inequity and injustice in a manner that is more digestible for mainstream readers. I am not alone in this, as writers such as Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, Ben Okri, Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison have used magic realism to depict sweeping social change, political unrest and unsavoury moments in history.

As an Australian writer of Aboriginal descent, magic realism feels like a comfortable fit. And I am really pleased to be joining this blog-hop, even if I am still nervous. I intend to contribute a couple of posts over the next few days; what I will contribute is still undetermined.

To start off, I offer a snippet of a work-in-progress, which I feel has strong magic realism elements. Please note that this manuscript is still in first draft stage, so the below is still a bit on the rough side.

In the tradition of magic realism, where the fruit falls weaves a big tale, interjected with whimsical asides and musings on a nation’s history; while using ordinary lives to explore vital themes of identity, place and belonging.

This novel (expected release early 2014) sets ordinary people against Australia’s beautifully wild terrain, amidst a backdrop of post-colonisation and social transformation. There are strong themes of identity, belonging, place and family within where the fruit falls; told through the eyes of a young Aboriginal woman and her daughters.

Magic realism melds respectfully to indigenous models of storytelling; where the arcane is often accepted as natural, and time has a different meaning. Magic realism is reminiscent of songlines: cautionary tales with transcendent qualities, inspired by the many unseen and seen beings found within earth, waters and heavens.

In the below scene, ‘magic’ and reality is blended to:

  • create a rapid transition out of childhood
  • connect the generations; explore family legacies
  • describe the relationship of trust between the sisters
  • make reference to a well-known world event; one symbolises social-technological change

Characters in this extract are:

  • Victoria and Gracie – identical twins
  • Kathleen – young Aboriginal woman; mother of Victoria and Gracie
  • Iris – frail woman who Kathleen has been employed to care for (in exchange for food and use of the workers cottage)
  • The Man – Iris’ husband, a renown artist

I have titled this post Dragon’s Breath because that is what I have always called mists. Growing up on a farm, watching the fog fill dips in paddocks and small gullies, to then roll up the hill towards the house, I could never just watch. I had to enter the Dragon’s Breath, even if it was cold and moist, even if I was slightly scared. I’m not sure where the term came from, I have a feeling that it was either said or inspired by my paternal great-grandfather. Migrating from Ireland as a young man, and having had many wild adventures, in his later years my great-grandfather instilled in me the value of a good story-told well. As you will see when reading this extract, I have drawn slightly on these memories.

Extract from where the fruit falls

The afternoon sun peeked out from between the heavy clouds and penetrated the half-drawn bedroom curtains. Cocooned under a bright patchwork quilt, Iris could feel the sun’s warmth as it crept across her bed.  Despite the spreading warmth, this light from afar, Iris was tired of winter. Tired of the way that it got into her bones, made them feel like screaming. She called out for Kathleen, needing help to sit awhile on the veranda. Even though Iris had shrunk even more the last few months, as if she was retracting from the winter’s wind, Kathleen still needed Victoria’s help to lift the old woman. Together, they gently carried her outside, trying not to cause too much more pain. After placing Iris in the worn rocking chair, Kathleen sat down, a pile of clothes to be darned in a basket at her feet.

As Kathleen mended a small hole in the toe of a sock, Iris’ fingers twitched slightly at the sound of the needle. Her fingers remembered the motion, in and out, in and out; the rhythm of metal piercing cloth. Iris thought back, seeing in her mind all those patchwork quilts that she had created over the years; many of which were now scattered around the globe, being cherished by others. For her husband was not the only artist in the house. Iris was renowned for her quilts, which were works of art, not mere bed-linen. Now, all that she had of those works were her memories, and a fading quilt in her bedroom. Which was used to conceal her sometimes unsightly sick-bed, and to cover the ever-shrinking Iris.

With great effort, Iris pulled a thin rug up past her knees and studied the scene before her: thick mist concealing the paddocks, closing her in.  She felt uncomfortable, as if something was not quite right.  Fog always made her feel uneasy but today there was something more.  Wickedness lay in wait, concealed in the mist; that she was sure of.  Although she was not sure who it waited for.

Victoria had also noticed the mist but not the foreboding presence.

Without any hesitation, she ran inside, ‘Gracie, come and see this.’

Kathleen frowned as the front door slammed shut, having more than once instructed her daughters not to be too unruly when up at the house, out of respect for Iris.  However Iris rejoiced in secrecy, barely concealing a smile. For Victoria’s wildness always reminded Iris of her own girlhood. And as memories were all that Iris had left to enjoy, prompts were always welcomed.

Victoria soon rushed back outside, dragging a reluctant sister. Kathleen looked up, wondering when Victoria would mature a bit, stop all this rushing around.

Straightening the sleeve of her jumper, Grace said, ‘What is it? Come on, show me, it’s too cold to be outside.’

Her reluctance quickly vanished when she looked up, out past the veranda. At the mist that crept towards the house, after having already swallowed their small shack.

Victoria took her sister’s hand, ‘Let’s go.’

Gracie pulled her hand free, ‘No. I can see it from here.’

Victoria looked disappointed, but not defeated.  She knew that she could talk her sister around, Gracie always followed her sister, no matter the risks.

Iris caught Victoria’s eye, ‘Don’t be going out there, girl.  It’s not safe.’

Victoria paused, considering the old woman, thinking on her words. She then turned to her mother, torn between her need for adventure and, out of respect for Iris, the good sense to follow a word of caution.

‘It’s ok.  Go and play,’ said Kathleen with a smile.

Iris sat up, eyes widened, ‘It’s not safe out there. She should be content with watching it from here.’

Kathleen put down her darning, and considered the mist for a moment. Victoria waited, prepared to defy them both. Whilst Gracie stood in the doorway, hoping that her sister would change her mind.

Turning to Iris, Kathleen said, ‘It will be alright. My grandmother taught me about this type of mist, about the breath of dragons. They were common in the land of my grandmother’s people. These girls have the blood of those ancestors running through their veins, nothing in that mist can harm them.’

Victoria glanced at Gracie, eyes shining with excitement at that one word: dragons. Gracie refused to meet her eyes, she was well aware of her sister’s attraction to adventure. All those years on the road had not taught Victoria the folly of seeking the unknown. Gracie thought back to that time when she, herself, had acted against her better judgement. And remembered the chain of events that her decision had created, the loss that others will continue to bear because of her. She reached her arm out, and rubbed her left leg; the moist air seemed to aggravate the soreness that Gracie always carried, a physical reminder of that best-forgotten escapade. Now, Gracie appreciated the quieter life, the one that they had so recently found. She was not interested in any of Victoria’s wild ideas.

‘Real live dragons?’ Victoria asked.

Kathleen said, ‘You will have to find out for yourself.’

Victoria looked at Gracie, who shook her head.

‘Come on, there is nothing to be afraid of. Mother wouldn’t let us go in there if it was dangerous. Anyway, you know I will always protect you,’ pleaded Victoria

Gracie stepped backwards, letting the screen door close; placing a barrier between herself and the moment that she would give in.

Victoria walked over to the door and leaned her face on the mesh. Gracie could feel warm breath on her face. The sisters stood, face to face, neither willing to cave in, neither willing to say yes to the other’s needs.

‘That’s a good girl,’ said Iris. ‘Don’t go listening to your foolish sister. Stay here, where it is safe.’

Gracie blinked, just once and Victoria knew who had won this particular standoff. Despite the fear of what may lay beyond, in the mist, Gracie was not going to let someone get away with calling her sister foolish. Victoria opened the door, and took Gracie by the hand. With a wary glance at their mother, Gracie allowed herself to be led towards the mist.

Kathleen smiled lovingly at her shy, little mouse. Soon replaced by feelings of pride for Victoria, who always evoked memories of Kathleen’s own childhood. This adventurous streak had missed one generation, for Kathleen’s own mother was a home-body, just like Gracie was. Kathleen’s grandmother, she was different, much more like Victoria. Picking up the holey sock, Kathleen was soon lost in recollections of her grandmother’s stories; colourful tales from a faraway place, from another time.

As they ventured into the mist, Gracie was determined to not let go of Victoria’s hand. Droplets of water clung to Gracie’s skin and hair, but they didn’t make her feel cold. On the outside, beyond the veil, sounds had stopped. It was as if they had stepped over a threshold, in to a different place.  The girls walked cautiously, unable to see too far ahead.  Gracie concentrated on where she placed each foot, looking intently at the ground for obstacles that might trip her.  While Veronica looked brazenly around her, not wanting to miss anything that lurked, obscured within the thick fog.

Victoria stopped suddenly, squeezing Gracie’s hand, ‘Can you see it?’

Gracie lifted her head, her heart beating faster, little puffs of smoke accumulating in front of her. ‘Look. My breathing makes smoke, just like a dragon.’

‘There’s the real thing,’ said Victoria, pointing to her right.

Gracie looked, fearful of what she would see. She saw nothing.

‘Can’t you see it?’

She shook her head, glad for once that she didn’t see the same as her sister.

Veronica explained, ‘It’s more like a snake than a dragon. I can see how people would get confused, though. She’s so large, frightening even. Also beautiful.’

Gracie pulled her sister’s hand, ‘Let’s go, I don’t like it in here.’

‘Ok, come on then.’

As they wandered through the thickening fog, taking each step with care, far away a man was taking leaps of abandonment. As hundreds of thousands gathered around small boxed-screens, the man in the bubble-suit jumped over craters, unaware that the world held its collective breath in astonishment. It would be many years later that the sisters would hear of that first lunar adventure. Or saw their first small screen. In the meantime, they would have to emerge from the mist.

The first thing they noticed when they approached the veranda was the man, dressed in black. He sat in a straight-backed chair, shoulders hunched, bottle in hand. They had never seen him there before. Behind him stood their mother, who held a finger to her lips. Quietly they stepped up onto the veranda, knowing something was wrong.

Hearing a noise, the sisters looked over at the empty rocking chair, just in time to see it make one last movement. Silently, Kathleen led them to the workers shack, where she helped them to select more fitting clothes. Soon clad in black, they were told to stay away from the house, to play quietly; out of respect.

Want more?

A few months ago, I posted another extract from where the fruit falls (  https://karenwyld.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/the-unseen-ocean ) that also contain a touch of magic realism. In this prologue, I use elements of magic realism to assist the reader to slip into the right frame of thinking, before the story starts. Much like the act of sitting around a fire/kitchen table, where many stories of old were told.

Without reading the rest of the book, it would be easy to mistake this extract for fantasy, but it’s not. It’s very much set in this world, a long-time ago, in a time remembered by fewer and fewer people. The prologue describes this time, and reminds the reader that First Nations peoples have been around for a very long time, they have witnessed many changes, have had to endure much hardships; and they have survived, as they will continue to survive.

The Other Hoppers

I encourage you all to check out the post from the other writers/bloggers participating in this week’s magic realism blog-hop. You can find their links on Zoe Brooks’ blog (http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.com.au/) or at the bottom of this post.
Zoe has been reading and reviewing magic realism books for the past year, and is hosting the blog-hop.

http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.com/2013/07/what-is-magic-realism.html

http://kirstyfoxbooks.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/night-logic/

https://karenwyld.wordpress.com/sporadic-musings/ 

http://zoebrooks.blogspot.com/2013/07/magic-realism-or-fantasy.html

http://leighpod.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/flying-high-with-magic-realism-2/

http://www.tadcrawford.com/blog-2/

http://hearth-myth.blogspot.com/2013/07/urban-fantasy-and-magic-realism-matter.html

http://muriellerites.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/serendipity-down-the-rabbit-hole-by-rebecca-davies/

http://joelseath.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/real-magic-and-the-mythkeepers-of-the-world/

http://allonymbooks.com/2013/07/22/facts-and-fiction-historical-magical-realism-evie-woolmores-blog-for-the-magic-realism-blog-hop/

http://edieramer.com/2013/07/22/magical-realism-blog-hop-giveaways/

http://curatedbookshelves.blogspot.com/2013/07/white-is-for-witching.html

http://christinelockebooks.blogspot.com/2013/07/magic-realism-by-christine-locke.html

http://susanbishopcrispell.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/every-little-thing-i-read-is-magic/

http://jordanrosenfeld.net/everyday-magical-realism/

The Unseen Ocean

freeimage-4715345 (1)

© Klorklor | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Extract from ‘Where the Fruit Falls’

This is the second extract that I have posted from a work in progress (WIP) called Where the Fruit FallsI have been working on it since early 2012, and I had hoped to have it finished by mid-2013. However, as I choose to first finish and publish When Rosa Came Home, it will take a bit longer to complete than expected. Also, over 70,000 words into the first draft and I have decided to do a large rewrite; the point of view (POV) was not quite right. 

While I tap away at this novel, I will continue to post the occasional extract. Hope you enjoy it.

Opening section of Where the Fruit Falls

An ancient ocean roars under the red dirt. If you are quiet, if you can be still for just a moment, then you might feel a gentle rocking, hear the thundering waves crashing on unseen shores. This vast ocean was there in the beginnings, as it will be in days not yet begun. Massive creatures once tumbled in its depth, jaws chasing tails; until prey became the victors. With budding legs, they crawled up on to land and spawned. These mega-beasts lived alongside the ancestors for many eons. Then, when their bones had turned to dust, other creatures came to walk the earth.

Beasts of many sizes have lived alongside us, playing witness to both extraordinary and commonplace moments throughout time. Together, we have watched mountains being born, oceans recede and whole species return to the earth from whence they had sprung. Compared to all this, these changes that have been sweeping over the country, triggered by the arrival of this new beast, they are nothing but small gusts of wind.

That now unseen ocean isn’t trapped underground, confined to the interior basin. For it is an eternal source of moisture; comprised of the same drops that dinosaurs once drank, the same flow that shaped the land, the same life-saving essence that our great-great-great-grandparents relied on. Its waters can be found in many places. This ocean lives in sun-warmed rock pools, shallow puddles in the dirt, snaking rivers and far away seas; carried there by clouds.

For thirsty wisps of clouds travel far and wide, growing fatter and fatter, until ready to give birth; raining over land and waters, where liquid is quickly absorbed. People have soaked up this ocean too, catching it as it fell from the skies. Little droplets live on within all of us, connecting us to each and every other drop; which are found within the people, plants, animals, land, skies and seas. We are all one, kin to that ancient ocean.

‘Listen and you will hear the waves,’ said the old woman.

She then placed a sun-hardened black hand on a sun-kissed brown cheek. The little girl squinted, trying with all her might to hear this ocean that flowed under her feet. Disappointed, she shook her head. The old lady put her other hand up against the girl’s other cheek, gently cupping her face.

‘Open your mind, listen.’

The girl tried, but the earth’s secret waters still lay hidden to her.

‘Dig your toes into the dirt, feel it’s warmth,’ said the woman.

The girl wiggled her toes, letting them burrow like grubs into the sun-warmed, red sand. It felt good, and she let her body relax; and her mind began to wander. Suddenly she gasped and opened her eyes wide; youthful blue eyes catching ancient brown eyes.

The girl said, ‘I heard it, I heard those waves.’

‘Good, good. Now close your eyes again, let the sight come to you.’

She shut her eyes again, exhaled and dived in.

The words came from far away, ‘First you must learn to swim, girl, before you can soar.’

Copyright 2012 by Karen Wyld
All rights reserved. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, no part may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.
 
Photograph downloaded 12/4/13 from Stock Free Images
© Klorklor | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

A good start but will it grow to be a novel?

Photography by Karen Wyld 2011 – taken near Roxby Downs, South Australia

Extract from draft novel Where the Fruit Falls (April 2013)

The April Camp NaNoWriMo has just started and my goal this time around is somewhat complex. I aim to complete a first draft of the novel that I worked on in November 2012: by adding 20,000 words to what I have already written of Where the Fruit Falls plus edit for 25 hours. Also, because I like a challenge, I will write and post 5,000 words on my blog during April.
This target will need to be completed despite frequent interstate trips for work, and without a laptop. 

Tonight, I am being extremely brave by sharing an extract of my very rough, incomplete first draft. Below is the opening scene of Chapter Two, it takes place in a small town in remote South Australia. The time is early 1960’s, just after the British tested the last nuclear bomb in Maralinga, South Australia.

Chapter Two

As the last plutonium-loaded cloud settled over the red sands to the west, three strangers emerged from a sister-desert; seeking rest from a road seldom traveled   Even though they entered town cloaked in dawn’s light, news of their arrival spread before the last rooster had finished crowing.  This flurry of curiosity was not because it was unusual for people to suddenly emerge from out of nowhere; for out on the gibber plains others have arrived in such a manner.  Nor was it unusual to see strangers, even in the centre of nowhere, for passing trains often spewed out dusty adventurers, black-coated officials, wayfarers, those of a missionary-bend and other lost souls.  And it was not the shock of seeing a young woman unaccompanied by a man, for strong women were a familiar sight in the desert terrain.  No, the inquisitive stares from behind curtains and the gossip that raced at the speed of wild-fire were fueled by the peculiar guise of the two girls that walked alongside the woman.  For even in this era of fast-tracked change, it was still unheard of for one of her kind, for the woman’s bloodline was unmistakable, to be travelling unaccompanied with a daughter of the empire.

And such a pretty little girl, a precious rose; many would add to their recounting of the tale.  Obviously cared for, loved dearly, despite the marks of a long trek clinging to her clothes; others would remark to their neighbours later that day.  Such flawless, milky skin; came the sighs behind sun-withered hands.  What eyes, they pronounced, like precious opals; said those of a poetic bend.  Even though, in all reality, her eyes were more akin to a less precious but equally enchanting gemstone: malachite.

Once they could tear their attentions from this child, they took in the other girl; reluctantly at first.  They openly appraised this child, and not with kindness in their eyes or truth in their hearts.  This other one, wearing the trials of the road so well, brazenly strode into town; or so they thought.  With the steadied gaze of a sun-browned cameleer from days long gone, this girl kept her bright blue eyes focused on the road; ignoring the crescendo of disapproval.  Clearly she hasn’t been taught her place in the world; some muttered.  She needs to be knocked down a peg or two; grumbled others.  Such arrogance, but what can one expect from the likes of them; uttered a few.  Giving them the vote will ruin this country, mark my words; others predicted.

That last comment drifted down the street, carried by the wind, towards the town’s edge, where it floated over the unseen boundaries and fluttered around a gathering of makeshift homes.  Those still trying to catch a few moments more of sleep tried to shoo the words away with the flick of a hand, not at all concerned about being bitten in exposed places.  Others took a branch to the nonsensical declaration, sweeping the air until that unsolicited opinion was encouraged to move on.  As smiles of redemption began to brighten sun-toughened faces, they soon sensed an unpleasant smell in the air, creeping over the town.  One by one, the fringe dwellers gathered under the sun, trying to locate the source of such a rank odour.  An old man caught the eye of another, and then another, and another; and soon they were walking away from the town, carrying only the essentials.  They hadn’t needed a second whiff, for they had experienced this unpleasant odour many times before.  Younger kin, refusing to listen to wisdom, not knowing when its best to follow, moved closer to the main part of town; allowing curiosity to be their guide.

Standing unseen, in the shadows cast by the rising sun, they saw the town-dwellers staring at a trio of travelers.  The new spectators were also taken by what they saw, even if their comments were vastly different than the words that lay dying in the dust.  For rather than seeing what was different, they had immediately noticed the similarities.  Eventually everyone began to see.  It’s something in the bone structure, some thought; such high cheeks.  No, it was the way they both moved, the way they stood, a certain aura; mused one or two.  Those girls have shared secrets, the type known only by those who had shared a womb; thought others.  The girls were the mirror images of polar opposites.  Never before had the townsfolk seen such identical twins: one white and the other brown.  Only the fringe dwellers could see the truth of the matter, for it was so very obvious: both girls were in fact black.

While all this was unfolding, the woman kept moving, oblivious and quite accustomed to the astonished stares and whispers.  As she walked down the main street, such as it was, the woman took no notice of fingers clasping at almost-closed curtains, nor did she acknowledge the slack-jawed affliction that her progenies left in their wake.  Steadfastly, she walked up to the veranda of the general store, such as it was, dropped her bags and shook the red dirt from her skirt.  Leaving the uncanny twins sitting on the pile of road-worn bags, she walked into the store; with her head held high enough for trouble to find her.

A short time later, the three of them turned a rusty key in a dusty lock, entered a pre-loved shack and set to turning it into a home; such as it was.

Copyright 2012 by Karen Wyld
All rights reserved. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, no part may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.