THE EARLIEST DAYS
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 remote 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 as 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.
While 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.