I have high hopes for this residency and I am impatient to begin this story. A story that found me, a story which quite literally changed the direction of my life. To be perfectly honest, I have a niggling suspicion that I am not up to the task of writing such a story.
24 October 2019, Picking up the key
I am strangely empty the day I collect the key from FAWWA. It’s grief or intrepidation or feeling like my life is on hold while I wait for the outcome of so many things. I am always waiting for something.
The night before, I’d submitted my Honours thesis and the day before that, I’d submitted my research proposal. And now I feel as if I am working on nothing. Nothing substantial that is.
I get lost going to FAWWA, of course I do. I’d been to Mattie Furphy House once before. Another surreal time when I’d attended the awards night for the Stuart Hadow Short Story Prize; a short story competition I had entered on a whim. Except my short story won, and here I am parking my car next to the playing fields, picking my way across the dirt track, looking up at the dark brown weatherboard cottage. I don’t actually know where FAWWA is, but I hazard a guess it is in one of the other cottages sandwiched between the sports ground and a nature reserve. My guess proves correct and I pull open a squeaky screen door to a white cottage. It is dark inside after the bright sunshine. I sign my name neatly in the book and put the key away carefully in my bag. It looks ordinary. And it hangs from a plastic green keyring. I feel a pang. I was hoping for an antique key on a piece of twine with instructions on how to twizzle the lock this way and that.
I am nervous and talk too long and too loudly. I have high hopes for this residency – an outline and character building for a Gothic YA novel I have been thinking about for too long. A story I am now impatient to start, a story that found me, a story which quite literally changed the direction of my life. To be perfectly honest, I have a niggling suspicion that I am not up to the task of writing such a story.
28 October 2019, Ignoring Hansard
I arrive at Mattie Furphy house and lug a bag full of notebooks and a flask of tea inside. After poking my head into every nook and cranny of the cottage, I eventually settle down. It is very quiet and the noises are strange, wind whistles through the trees, birds squawk, dog walkers call as they walk past.
Last night Neville emailed me the Hansard Report from 5 October 1909. It details the desperate last ditch attempt to have Parliament intervene and commute the sentence. I groaned when I saw the email sitting in my inbox.
‘What’s the matter?’ My husband asked. I stomped around getting ready for bed, muttering under my breath.
‘The fuckers just let her die.’
He looks at me quizzically but doesn’t press for more details.
I sit at this new writing table and stare out the windows of the french doors, watch the trees moving in the wind, pretend I don’t have the Hansard Report. I open my notebook and write Chapter One in big letters.
29 October 2019, Hansard makes me cry
Drama at home, nothing major but it is enough to distract me. My mind loses its focus and I am impatient and frustrated. I throw open the french doors, take a chair, my tea and the Hansard Report out onto the balcony. The breeze is cool but the sunshine is deliciously warm. The birds sing in the trees and I try to regain my inner peace as I underline the words spoken by Mr Walker, Member for Kanowna:
Kill her: never mind the law. Kill her! We will vote to kill her because of the law which we do not believe in, which we would alter tomorrow, which is wrong, which is murderous! It is murderous, but we will vote to kill her!
I read and I underline and I cry.
30 October 2019, And the characters speak
It is a dull day in Perth and despite the chill in the air, I throw open the french doors. The atmosphere in the cottage is oppressive. But now that I know how close the beach is, I fancy I hear waves crashing on the shore, although it is probably just wind in the trees. I pour myself tea and break off a square of chocolate. I will be kind to myself today. I breathe out. I won’t berate myself for not knowing where to go after chapter 20. I breathe out again.
Elizabeth George’s writing book is next to my stack of index cards. I reach for it. From Elizabeth’s advice I decide to let each character tell me their story in their own way.
31 October 2019, I abandon the cottage
Hail, wind and rain. It is one of those spring October days which stubbornly reverts back to winter. I work at home instead of the cottage. I fire up my computer and cut and paste from document to document. I discover holes the size of Mt Everest. I work steadily, amalgamating two documents. I don’t have a complete outline but what I do have at the end of the day is a solid structure until the 75% mark.
1 November 2019, Returning the key
It is my last day and I still have so much I want to finish before I leave. I write furiously. It is not the story I was expecting from one of my characters but it feels real. It feels true.
I write and do not stop for lunch. In between gusts of rain, I pack up my notebooks and papers. When I knock at the door of the white cottage, there is no-one there so I slide the key under the door and think an antique key wouldn’t have fitted underneath. I take one last look at the dark brown weatherboard cottage which has been kind to me and head for the carpark.