Wednesday, July 21, 2010


As mentioned last week, I was out bush for work for the first time in a while. Six days away from family and obligations and distractions. Great for writing, right?

Erm- make that six days spent working my butt off from sun up to sun down, gathering fire wood, cooking and cleaning for 12 people, and otherwise, you know. Working, day and night. Also possibly the longest time I've spent without my computer in a couple of years. Which is very good in some ways- hey, no Facebook to distract me!- but also frustrating, because I'm in the middle of a very big roll here when it comes to writing.

So, what's a girl to do when life gets in the way of writing?

First, I had a lot of good time for thinking. Thinking is always good.

But second, it made me sit up and take extra notice of the world around me, and that's where it's important to grab hold of the serendipity that comes your way.

I was out on a former sheep station on the edge of Western Australia's desert region. It's about 400km to the north-east of the area where Bill's story is set- but it's still a lot closer to that area than I usually am. As such, I came across dozens upon dozens of helpful little moments and places that I could see through my characters' eyes, and I had a whole bundle of revelations as a result.

The great outdoors

He stood for a long while kicking divots in the rusty dirt with his borrowed black shoe. Battalions of black ants scattered under his assault, fleeing this way and that across the miniature valleys and plains of the drive. The rutted road stretched ahead of him up the hill to the old farmhouse, flanked on each side by an honour guard of stiff ghost gums. It was all just as he remembered, from the golden sweep of the wheatfields, to the brush of wattle-scented sea air on his cheek, to the weathered grey wood of the fencepost that was holding him up.

From emus bobbing past our camp in the morning to the palest violet sky as the sun rose and sank, being outdoors and in the bush put me so much closer to my characters' world than I usually am that it couldn't help but inspire me. Bill and co have a nice homestead on the farm, but they spend a lot of their time outdoors. There's something about the Australian landscape that seems alive. It's as much a character in the story as the people.

Shearing shed

It was an unseasonably warm winter afternoon in the valley, and Bill was down to his shirtsleeves as he rounded up the ewes. He pulled off his hat and swiped an arm across his forehead to clear the sweat, pausing for a moment to catch his breath as the last of the woolly grey buggers bounded bleating into the pens. He watched as Tom Barnes swung the gate shut behind them, whipping off his cap and waving it in the air with a hoot that made Bill grin.

It wasn’t a job for two blokes, reining in a flock this size. It was supposed to be a team of half a dozen or more. But they’d done it anyway, bugger Len and his lazy mates, got it all finished, and not before time if the black clouds boiling on the horizon were any sign.

As I mentioned, the station we were staying on was formerly used for sheep, and as such there was a large shearing shed which hadn't been used for a long while. We drove past it a few times before I was coming back past it alone, and thought to stop and have a closer look.

Good move, me! Grab hold of these opportunities with both hands, I say, especially if you're writing historical fiction- never miss a chance to connect with history.

This place looked like everyone had just taken their lunch break in about 1930, and never came back. It was still in such amazing condition- though the floor was falling in all over the place- that you could almost smell the sheep, hear the whole mob of them milling and bleating in the holding pen, and imagine all the men in there with their sleeves rolled up, shearing away and gathering the wool.

Relevant because Bill's family farm, Edenvale, is a sheep-and-wheat farm, and I have a couple of shearing scenes. They've mostly been based on a school trip I took to a farm in the Wheatbelt when I was 13, where we watched a shearing demonstration. Seeing this place was a brilliant way to connect with the past.

Outdoor church

He didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the words. He said what he was supposed to when he was supposed to, but none of that mattered. They stood there holding onto each other’s hands, and they didn’t need words to swear they’d be together for all eternity.

At the last, though, the priest read out the words. “I promise to love you, until the end of my days.”

And when he opened his mouth to repeat it, the words wouldn’t come out. He was struck suddenly with the fear that the end of his days might be soon. He wanted to tell her he’d love her beyond that, forever. But in the end he had to say it after the priest just as it was, and hope she knew.

At last, the priest asked for the rings. His father came forward and placed the a single little circle on the cushion, while Kit watched him. “With this ring, I thee wed…”

As he slid the smooth metal over her finger, she looked up at him with quizzical eyes. “I thought you said…” she whispered.

“It’s your grandmother’s,” he whispered back. “Tom… Tom kept it for you, all these years. He wanted to surprise you.”

Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at the ring on her finger, speechless.

So, in Between the Lines, Bill's best mate Tom (who also happens to be his brother-in-law) is the son of a pastor, and he's training to be one himself. His intended path is derailed after his sister is assaulted, and he follows her assailant into the war and is killed at Gallipoli.

I haven't done a lot of work on Tom, but I've been thinking about him a bit more lately- what makes him tick; what makes him want to be a minister at such a young age; what makes him give it all up to join the Army.

And while I was out bush, I came across this rather remarkable outdoor church which the station owners set up more than half a century ago for the people who lived there. It immediately struck me as amazing inspiration, and I could just see Tom standing there at an improvised pulpit, delivering sermons to Bill and Kit, when they're all young enough to make a good game of it.

And in remembrance Bill and Kit, after Tom's death, getting married at that place- or at least exchanging a significant part of their personal commitment, required actual church ceremony notwithstanding.

Gave me the shivers just thinking about it- I've already written Bill and Kit's wedding scene, and I like it as it is, but I think this could add a big bit of punch to the story, to acknowledge Tom's absence like that. This church will definitely be appearing in my story in one form or another.

Menzies cemetery

He gathered her up one last time, and took her to her rest. Out past the room where her son lay sleeping. Out of the house she’d come home to as his brother’s bride. Out past the room where he’d ruined her, and himself. Only himself still ruined, now. Ruined forever by how stupid he was.

He took her out into the blinding day, where the undertaker’s cart sat waiting, plain wood coffin sitting in the bed. His dad and old Smithson shuffled the box down together and opened it up. Lined with white satin, like he’d asked.

He went down on his knees and laid her down.
With her head on the pillow, wrapped up like that, she looked comfortable. Safe. Asleep.

When they slid the cover over her, he turned away. He stood there staring at her beloved rosebushes as he listened to them hammer in tack after tack. And when he turned back, she was gone, and there was only a closed-up coffin.

I stopped off at an old Goldfields cemetery on my way home, just to break up the 800km drive a little. And there I unexpectedly ran into a whole slew of headstones that came from the time period I need- 1916, when Kit dies in childbirth.

Until that moment, I hadn't thought hard about her burial. I'd already written her death scene, and I already have a scene in which Bill visits her grave for the first time when he comes back from the war (which comes from a few drafts back and now needs major updating). Until now, all I've had on her tombstone is her name.

But looking through the wide range of tombstones in the graveyard, the cogs began to turn in a major way. Very, very few of the tombstones have just a name and a date. Almost all of them have a little poetry, or a few words about how loved that person was. The thing is, Bill's not there to put up Kit's tombstone.

Len is, though.

That one whacked me right between the eyes- here's Len, who two years earlier assaulted Kit. He went to war, lost his leg, and came home a changed man. He and Kit eventually made an awkward kind of peace, and by the time he died he had to admit to himself that part of his original actions and everything since has been motivated by one thing- he's always loved her, but could never have her, because she's always loved his brother.

And now Len has to put up her tombstone. He has to get it just right for the son Kit's left behind, and for her husband. But at the same time he's driven by his own feelings for her. If he puts a verse on there, he's going to have to say he did it for Bill. But it's going to have a double meaning.

It's just a conundrum and a craziness and I *love* it. And I've written most of the scene now, but I still don't quite have the right words. I have dozens of very helpful suggestions from Facebook and the Forum, though, so I'll get there. But when I write the scene in which Bill sees the tombstone for the first time, I know it's going to be an absolute corker- and all because I saw the little sign on the side of the road, and decided to follow it out to Menzies cemetery.

So! Keep your eyes open and find ways in which the world around you can inspire your writing. I always find inspiration in such unexpected places that I hardly ever see it coming until it hits me between the eyes. But I've written more than 10000 words in the five days since I came home, so it just goes to show that it pays good dividends to keep that eye out.


  1. Wonderful pictures, Claire; and the scenes they inspired you to write, all I can say is "wow", especially the burial scene ... so beautifully wrenching.

    Now, if only I could find some way to wangle a trip to Paris, for some inspiration of my own!

  2. Gorgeous photos Claire! I'm already tearing up thinking about Tom and the church, and Len and the writing on the tombstone. Lucky you having such an exciting conundrum to work through in your story!
    Can't wait to meet Len the human at the house party and finally decide whether I empathise with him or, you know...

  3. Wow. Just read through this, and with your lovely photos to illustrate, it gave me goosebumps! Inspiration can strike anywhere, but how lucky you are to be so near the "home ground" so to speak. If Rachel can find a way to Paris, maybe I can find a way to the Napa Valley... :)

  4. We could start a fund! A we-need-to-travel-to-our-novel-locations fund :-) Then I'd finally get to see Spain, except if we really did start such a fund, I'd probably start a new novel set in Wales, just for the sake of returning there :-)