Sunday, October 18, 2009

Reading between the lines

Good morning and good week to you all! And thanks again, readers, for your wonderfully supportive response to our launch last week.

This week we'll be talking about WHAT we write. This is your introduction to the fictional worlds in which we each hang out. Needless to say you'll be seeing a lot more of those as time goes by, so if you're curious to know more about what lies behind our stories, then this is the week for you.

And if you know nothing at all about our stories, then read on and discover! We'll also each be posting an excerpt from our works-in-progress this week so you can see what we're all about.

As mentioned in my introduction, I write across a whole range of genres, from crime fiction to Gothic thriller. But the story that has held my attention for more than a decade is BETWEEN THE LINES, which is best described, I think, as a family saga with lashings of literary fiction and war genre.

I talked a little bit about the story in my last post, and I'll be posting an excerpt from the story today. So I won't go through it all again- instead I'll tell you a bit about what lies behind the story; between those lines. There are a lot of inspirations in the story, so for now I'll stick with the biggest one: a family war diary with a tragic love story.

BETWEEN THE LINES is, at the core of it, a story about the redemptive power of love and family. It's not a romance, really, though it begins with one- my main character, Bill, is a young man of 18 when the First World War breaks out, and he's madly in love with his childhood sweetheart Kit at the time. But the war is an irresistible force, and Bill is drawn into it after his best friend is killed. And while he's away, the unthinkable happens- though he survives four years of war, his girl Kit dies.

The very thing that has been keeping him going is now gone. The hope he was coming home to no longer exists.

Or so he thinks. But what he doesn't realise until he gets home is that Kit died in childbirth. His great love is gone, but in her place is another- his son, Jared. The complicating factor is this: Bill's nasty older brother Lionel always had his eye on Kit, too, and after returning home a hero from Gallipoli, Lionel was left alone with Kit while Bill went to war.

Is Jared really Bill's son? Or could he be Lionel's? Bill knows he can trust Kit, but there's no way he can trust Lionel. As he grows up, Jared hears whispered rumours, and turns to letters and diaries to find the truth.

The theme of lost love and family is based on the story of some of my relatives whose lives were changed by the Great War.

In 1917, my great-great aunt Vena was engaged to be married to a local boy, Thomas Lockyer. They were both young and in love, and life was good. Sadly their hope for a long and happy life together was dashed when Tom was killed by shelling at Maricourt Wood in 1917 after only a few months as a soldier.

Tom's diary before the war shows a pretty relaxed way of life. Tom's diary during the war doesn't change much. Every day he wrote what he ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He was a man of few words, mainly because the diary didn't have much space for rambling.

Before signing up: Tom talks about going visiting with a friend, and doing some shooting. Regular teenaged country boy stuff.

During training: Tom talks about marching drills and eating, which seem to be his two main pastimes for a full couple of months.

All I could think when I first read this diary was, what's behind those words? What's between those lines? What's he seeing every day when he writes about getting up, eating bread and butter, then falling in line? What's he feeling? Does he miss his fiance? His home? Or has he really shut himself off to keep the reality of war away?

Just a few months down the track, Tom is in the trenches- and he's still talking drills and food:

Tom's death destroyed my aunt's life. She never married and died a spinster in old age, always pining for her lost love. Despite that, I couldn't help but wonder what life would have been like for them if he *had* made it back from the war. How would his experiences have shaped him? How might they have affected his family?

All of these questions are why I'm writing about Bill and Jared. They're my attempt to understand the impact of war through the generations. When I read Tom's diary, I feel like I know him. He reminds me of guys I went to high school with- and no surprise, because I don't think the Aussie bloke has changed all that much since 1916.

He reminds me of my current family members, too. People in my family still say they've "had a feed" after they've eaten- it's the lingo of country Australia, of families who have lived in the same place for a long time. Communities that hadn't changed much until the war came along. And then with the loss of a generation of men, things began to change.

These days, Red Range, the town where Tom courted Vena, is all but gone. The only thing remaining of my family, beyond the ruins of their house in a farmer's paddock, are their tombstones.

Writing this story connects me to those generations by making me realise that who *I* am has already been shaped by their experiences. They way they felt about life, love and loss informed my grandmother and my mother, and as a consequence me. The effects are subtle and subconscious, but they're there. Through every family runs a thin wire connecting the generations, and their loss is my loss. The nation's experiences in war have been partially responsible for making me who I am today. It's quite a thought.

At this stage I don't plan to follow Bill and Jared's family all the way through the ages, but by following their journey I've at least come to understand a lot more about where I come from, both in a family sense and as an Australian.

And I guess that's the bigger picture in this story- I'm looking at war and what it does not only to those who serve, but also to those who are left behind.


  1. Hi Claire,
    I think many of the reasons you have for writing the story are the same reasons I love to read stories of that type - I don't want to lose the links to the past, and it seems right to trace the whys and wherefores of the changes that come about in families, towns, entire countries.
    You're so lucky to have those diaries! My husband's grandmother THREW AWAY her husband's diaries upon his death. Arg.

  2. Claire,

    Wow -- I definitely wasn't aware of all of the familial ties to your story. How awesome to have a diary -- my family isn't exactly a wordy bunch (g) and if anything like this has survived, I've certainly never found it. I love the personal ties you have, and want to read your story even MORE now. (vbg)


  3. I love this story! It gave my history loving soul little shivers to think of perusing those diaries -and their are your ancestors, how cool! :) This post definitely adds so much more to the story your telling. Thanks for this backstage insight. And to parrot Jen, MORE now!

  4. Claire,

    I knew about the family story and the diary, but I think you've really nailed it with the larger context of war contributing to shaping not just your country but who you are as a person. As a New Zealander, with our shared ANZAC tradition between us, I understand where you're coming from.

    "Through every family runs a thin wire connecting the generations" - I love the way you expressed this. As I'm working to keep the links to my family's past, sometimes that connection seems to send electric shocks down the wire!

    I'm really looking forward to the day when I've got my autographed copy of Between the Lines in my own hands! Keep going!

  5. Deniz- agh indeed! Threw them away? Oh no! I don't have the diaries myself, but I at least got to photograph every page when I visited my grandmother last month.

    Jen- I can't believe I haven't told you about this before! Lol. It definitely brings an extra dimension knowing about the real-life basis.

    Kristen- I think the saddest bit is that the guy who wrote the diary technically is NOT a relative- he never married my great-great aunt, and they obviously never had kids. But we're a family who adopts people the moment someone cares about them, and we'll always hang onto them.

    Helen- ANZAC solidarity! Lol. We definitely share that experience. And I know those electric shocks all too well.

  6. Claire,

    I love that connecting with your own history is one of the reasons you write BTL. It gives such an authenticity to your story, way beyond all the fact-checking we do to create realistic settings for our books (were cars started with push-buttons or keys? Did women wear hats, or gloves, or both, when grocery shopping?) As a writer, being able to read that diary, immersing yourself in an every day world gone by, must be priceless.

    Thanks for sharing your story. :-)