In October 2020 I received an email telling me that I had been awarded a fellowship for 2021 at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in Perth. This was the biggest and most exciting award for my writing that I had ever received. Dates were set and changed and held in limbo while the WA lockdown dragged on. I put my excitement, like the dates, on hold. But eventually, unbelievably, I was packing my bag, getting in a taxi, and going to the airport.
This is the report I wrote about my time as a fellow at KSP, June 6 to 19, 2022.
I’d forgotten the tedium of airports and boarding planes, the extreme act of faith involved in packing yourself into a tin can to fly across the country. I’d forgotten the exhilaration of take-off, of watching the earth glide by below, reduced to patterns and hints of life.
My tin can took me to Perth, and a taxi took me to Greenmount. I found my keys and my cabin, opened the door onto a cosy room with a giant desk. I breathed it in, dropped my bags, and went out for provisions. I did battle with tardy taxis and dreary supermarkets but finally I was back with bags of food, coffee and lactose-free yogurt. There was a knock on the door. It was Chris, from the top cabin. She and Ashley, from the bottom cabin, had been worried about me and were glad I was there. I was glad I was there too.
That night, making our first dinner together in the kitchen, we each made a simple meal and talked about the joy of being at the beginning of two weeks of writing. Ashley and Chris had plans for each day. I had a manuscript of 65,000 words and a bag of notes.
The next morning I sat at the enormous desk, stared out the window at the bees buzzing around the tree trunk, and spread out the notes that I had been accumulating for the last six months. Little bits of paper on which I’d scribbled snippets of conversations, explanations for actions, my characters’ characteristics. To incorporate them into my manuscript took minutes for some, hours for others. I crossed out each one as I used it and threw it away. At some stage I ate lunch. At some stage I went for a walk, tramping up Old York Road to admire enormous gumtrees with massive gumnuts, twenty-eights singing on their branches, galahs flying overhead. Coming back I saw little furry figures, low to the ground, dashing through the grass and behind my cabin, and I realised I’d been lucky enough to see the quendas.
And that became my life. Wildlife, desk, manuscript. Walking, shopping, dinner. I compiled the remaining notes into two documents: One-offs (something that just had to happen in one place) and More than one-off (something that was a feeling or a general idea). I worked through them, striking through each one, and then they were done too. I listed issues I wanted to consider for continuity of actions and characters and checked through them. I drew up a sort of map with a range of pretty colours showing how my two main characters felt in each chapter, then used that to make changes that gave their actions and interactions psychological continuity.
On day 9 I wrote in my diary, ‘Want to stay here forever.’
On day 11 I knew I needed to make sure my manuscript wasn’t just a patchwork of notes and ideas. I printed it out in Katharine’s room and walked back to my cabin, holding the pages like a newborn baby. I read through it and made more revisions.
On day 13 I put my novel aside. A UK organisation had decreed it was National Flash Fiction Day [see my previous post] and was putting up one prompt per hour, all with a theme of ‘eleven’ for their eleventh anniversary. The first prompt was to write a flash of eleven words. Apart from the one I sent them, I wrote four more.
Lizard eats snail. Magpie sings fluidly. Parrot gnaws branch. I’m leaving.
Rain pours down. Bees are sheltering. Quendas stay hidden. I’m leaving.
Writing went well. Book took shape. Words still missing. I’m leaving.
New friends made. Good advice given. Keep in touch. We’re leaving.
Extra note: I started this novel some years back and very quickly gave it the title ‘The Dogs’. When John Hughes’s novel of the same name was published in 2021 I cursed, and started thinking of a new title. When ‘The Dogs’ became embroiled in plagiarism charges I cursed even more. What a waste of a good title.