As I write this, Australia is on fire. My family had to evacuate from our Blackheath, Blue Mountains home just before Christmas.
In a long string of unfortunate events, we were left without a working car and it was safer for us to leave with the great fire they call The Monster having entered the Grose Valley frighteningly close to our house.
The Fire Captain at the local station said at an information evening we attended that he’s never seen a fire like this in his decades of fighting fires. The size of two trees combined, it crowns in places and it doesn’t obey the ‘normal’ rules of any fire. A fire christened The Monster by locals.
Like countless others we were packed and prepared to go for days. When you live in bushfire country you prepare early with a suitcase by the door. My daughter’s clothes took up half the suitcase. My own packing (somewhat less glamorous than Joan Didion’s famed packing list):
A notebook, pens
Books – The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (review to come), The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Initiated by Amanda Yates Garcia
Photographs of baby Daisy
My mother’s wedding ring
Family documents such as Daisy’s medical folders, passports
Daisy’s diabetic equipment and medication
Bach Flower Essences
Change of clothes for a couple of days
Hanako mist spray
Letters my father wrote to me before he died
The dog’s supplies and lead
The dog carrier
A lock of my father’s hair cut from his head when he died
Christmas plans had to be abandoned. We became addicted checkers of the Fires Near Me app and worried over elderly neighbours and our home.
We felt heartbroken for those who lost their homes. We wept over images of children whose heroic firefighting fathers had died.
We are enraged by a Prime Minister who chose to holiday in Hawaii with his family, and only returned because of public pressure. Then he partied on New Year’s Eve with fireworks in polluted Sydney skies and hosted a garden party with cricketers as people died and Australia was ablaze. The Emergency Minister, David Elliot, also shockingly chose his family holiday during this time of severe crisis. I’ve avoided ever posting anything political before but their actions went beyond political. This country will not forget easily the betrayal of the climate-change denying Liberal Party.
Heartbreakingly, our already fragile Koala population was decimated at the time of writing by thirty per cent. And a HORRENDOUS over a BILLION animals killed. 28 people have died. Over 2000 houses destroyed. An area four times the size of the Amazon Rainforest burnt.
The heavy plume of smoke choking Sydney for weeks caused record spikes in hospital admissions. When I travelled down to Sydney with my daughter, I was shocked by how polluted the air was. Sydneysiders in facemasks. An oppressive feeling in city streets. It felt as if I’d entered a science fiction novel, so terribly wrong and tilted.
Near where we were staying, the beach was packed with thankfully no smoke in the air. We walked the beach twice daily, feeling like aliens in this culture of bronzed people on jet-skis.
Women in hijabs ran on beaches with their small children. Palm trees waved their fronds against an unnatural salmon-coloured sky. We collected bag after bag of plastic and rubbish, hoping it would inspire others to do the same.
At night I listened to hoons in their cars. I constantly checked the Fires Near Me app before falling into a restless sleep. I would wake at 3am and check the app again to see if the flames had reached our street.
It was not the Christmas we had planned but we had a roof over our heads and a beach a short walk away.
I followed images of exhausted RFS service people. Blackened faces, their endurance stretched to the limit. Unforgettable images of wild koalas allowing Firies to give them water. A devastated farmer forced to shoot his scorched stock. A kangaroo found in a swimming pool, desperate for water. A Firie describing koalas screaming as their trees burned. Friends on social media begged for people not to share images of burnt koalas but I couldn’t let those last screams go unheard. I couldn’t look away.
The Firies, who sacrificed employment to fight fires unpaid. Several lost their own home while they fought to save a stranger’s. Some even had to take out loans to cover their mortgages. I marvelled over the goodness and the valiant nobility of these warriors who face fires bigger than two tall trees.
Australia feels tilted, shaking. White ash blazing us into a scorching and volatile dead world. It feels as if a doorway has closed.
Australia has been experiencing a summer of record-breaking heatwaves. As I write this post, my home state of Tasmania is suffering bushfires that firefighters have been battling since before Christmas.
In the Blue Mountains we’ve sweltered under high temperatures combined with dramatic summer thunderstorms with heavy hail, causing widespread damage to cars and technical equipment.
Summer is never my favourite season – more snakes, more spiders. I tend to hibernate under a fan, preferably with an engrossing book.
January passed in a pleasant haze of culling papers in my office, spending time with my daughter and reading. I’d yearned for a summer like the summers of my youth, lounging around the local swimming pool and reading. Vinegar splashed over my body in the hope of burning. Book smeared with coconut suntan oil, droplets from the pool and choc wedge smears.
I went through a big Stephen King stage as a teenager. I’d also read James Herbert but King, with his ballsy storytelling voice, was my favourite.
His quirky but realistic characters with their drawling Maine accents were a world away from my dozy Tasmanian village life, but I believed in them as I believed in the evil they faced.
Somehow his stories made my problems disappear as I fell into darkness filled with rabid dogs, school bullies, rampaging obsessive fans, haunted hotels, dysfunctional families and pet cemeteries. I even cherished a fantasy to become one of the characters in his book – journalist Ben Mears who returns to his small town in Salem’s Lot.
But as I grew older, Stephen King followed other paths with his pseudonym Richard Bachman and his Dark Tower series. I began reading more widely from a range of authors.
His massive doorstopper books with their gaudy vintage covers were given away by my parents decluttering their house, although I later returned to his excellent memoir, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
My thirteen-year-old daughter, obviously inheriting my macabre bent, also became fascinated with horror. This summer I borrowed her copy of Stephen King’s It (1986), which was inspired by a Norwegian fairytale and devoured by millions.
A summer from long ago came flooding back to me as I was pulled into the sewers and nightmare truth of Derry, a normal-enough town on the outside, but with a dark energy permeating it which takes the shape of people’s fears.
I loved It. I enjoyed the weight of the hefty tome and hearing Stephen’s voice again emanating from the pages with his sly unveilings and gutsy storytelling. I cheered for the Losers Club, willing them to take on the town bullies and the monster in the drains they feel morally obliged to destroy, because It kills children.
Every January is going to be reserved for submerging myself in a Stephen King book as I catch up on his backlist. Sometimes in summer’s blazing heat we need to retreat into the darkness.
Further Links connected to this story:
Richard Flanagan article via Guardian: Tasmania is Burning https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/05/tasmania-is-burning-the-climate-disaster-future-has-arrived-while-those-in-power-laugh-at-us
Stephen King It inspiration https://www.stephenking.com/library/novel/it_inspiration.html
images used via Pinterest.
Happy Birthday to Kate Bush and Emily Bronte. Both born on this day, 30th July. Two unique women who made my world more magical, strange and burning bright.
I love the synchronicity of not only both women sharing the same birthdate but also their brothers iconic images: Branwell Bronte painting Emily and John Carder Bush photographing Kate for his beautiful books, Cathy and Inside the Rainbow.
Kate Bush’s poem to Emily inscribed on stone in West Riding.
She stands outside
A book in her hands
“Her name is Cathy”, she says
“I have carried her so far, so far
Along the unmarked road from our graves
I cannot reach this window
Open it, I pray.”
But his window is a door to a lonely world
That longs to play.
Ah Emily. Come in, come in and stay.
2018 has been a year of transformation. Although it has had its
challenges, it has also been a year of stronger focus for me. One of the really
wonderful happenings is that I have just signed with agent/director Oli Munson
at A.M. Heath literary agency in London.I could not have envisaged a better agency to
represent me, with its prestigious pedigree and the fact it is celebrating its
centenary next year. A.M. Heath has been one of the UK’s top agencies since
1919. Its esteemed catalogue of authors include George Orwell, Shirley Jackson,
Joan Aiken and Noel Streatfeild, along with present-day luminaries such as
Hilary Mantel and Maggie O’Farrell. I feel really honoured to be a part of such
an impressive agency. For years UK friends have asked when my books will
be published there. Hopefully that day will be soon!The leaves are turning to golden autumn colours in the upper mountains in
Australia. Because of the delayed summer heat, the trees have been slower to
turn colour this year and aren’t as stunning in their display. The streets
aren’t as choked with the tourists who arrive annually to photograph the trees.
When I’m watching the sulphur-crested cockatoos cracking their seeds among the
golden russet leaves, London seems another world. It has been roughly a year
since we were in the UK and we all miss it. My daughter can’t wait to grow up
and move either to London or New York!Everything changes. Children grow up. Good news turns to bad and bad to
good. The merciless summer yields to transitional, mellow autumn. We make new
connections, but lose treasured friends. One thing that stays consistent in my
life is writing. I am roughly half-way through the first draft of my new crime
novel.In other good news my writer partner David
Levell has just completed his latest non-fiction book. It is gripping,
intelligent and with its original research, a fabulous read (totally unbiased
opinion). I’m always in awe of how David can take really dense historical
material and transform it into a page-turning read. It is his gift.Wishing you peace, resilience and dreams come true.
Because it’s World Poetry Day and the Autumn Equinox, here is one of my favourite poems and a protective, mystical Joshua Yeldham owl. I love this artist’s work, which captures the mysterious power and spiritual energy of the Australian bush.
Honouring International Women’s Day with Agatha Christie. Here she is in 1922 on a global tour where in Africa and Honolulu she became one of the first Britons to learn to surf.
A real achievement for the 20’s when surfing wasn’t considered a sport for ladies and particularly a lady from Agatha’s class. This social more didn’t deter the plucky novelist who wrote in her memoir, ‘Surfing looks perfectly easy. It isn’t. I say no more.’
And later she said despite the physical pain that surfing was one of the most perfect physical pleasures she had known. May we all challenge our own social mores. 📸 via The Christie Archives and The Official Agatha Christie Instagram