Whenever I sit down to write fiction I find myself drifting back towards times
and places that were inhabited only briefly. My childhood – spent in
parts of Australia, where people mended and made do and everything from trucks
to washing machines was held together with handy pieces of fencing wire –
remains vivid, despite the passage of years. Rough and ready comforts were
all we had and for the most part there was no entertainment beyond what we
could make for ourselves, so if the first seven years of a life becomes a
template for the rest, then this is the material my life was cut from. It is
the material I write from.
Recently I discovered a bundle of childhood photographs, and the first
thing that struck me was the emptiness of the landscape. We lived spare lives,
without clutter. We had limitless space. We had each other. I was fortunate to
be nurtured at the centre of a young and vigorous family in which my parents
were the first to marry. My early years were passed among adults, befriended
by aunts and uncles who believed – from the evidence of their own
childhoods – that children were clever, capable, responsible beings.
Thanks to their
philosophy, and that of my easy-going parents, my introduction to the world was
different from the muffled, toy-strewn, child-care experience of present day
children as it is possible to get.
Whenever I conjure up those early years, and the loved ones who shared
them, I feel a surge of strength, as if I am plugged into a powerful secret
current. This then is the legacy of childhood, the sense I have always had that
I can do anything, if I want or need to. It is the force that enabled me to
write a novel, to persist until I wrote one that was good enough.
Nights In The Asylum
is not an autobiographical novel, it is
intensely personal. Its landscape draws on early memories of place and reaches
back to a time before I was born, to overheard conversations in which aunts,
uncles, and grandparents spoke of lives eked out in foreign languages, of
uneasy relationships with the land in a harsh new country where home could be a
distant, unseen, elusive city which they would never see again.
Over the coming weeks I will be working on an updated version of the
website to include images of the very earliest days of this writing life.
Other musings on the Writing Life ...