I did promise myself that I’d be a more frequent blogger this year, but now into the third month of the year, and with only one post to my credit, it seems that I was misleading myself. I have, however, finished the novel I have been writing for the past three years.
It’s called Anything Worth Keeping. What’s it about? The short answer is; Oh, the usual thing, a dysfunctional family. A slightly longer answer is a little story. Four or five years ago, a friend told me about her stepmother. Not long after he was widowed, her father met an Englishwoman on board a ship. They married. The stepmother was a difficult person; the children, still grieving for their mother, resented her; it was not Happy Families when they settled back in Melbourne. My friend’s father died first, and when the stepmother died, she was intestate, which meant that her father’s money went to the stepmother’s nephew. The family contested this settlement, and won. There was a small detail that fascinated me. The family knew practically nothing about the stepmother except this one thing – she had been the mistress of a high-ranking British diplomat or politician.
So. I hatched a story. It was about the children and how their lives had been all but ruined by this Evil Stepmother. But something happened as I began to write this story – the stepmother took over and I fell in love with her. Her name was Bliss. She hijacked the story and at times I felt she was almost it. Her story – and why she never told it – form the centre of the novel.
So, for three and a bit years I’ve been living for a lot of the time with Bliss. And with the children Paula, Anne, Tom and the ghost of Caroline, with Alec, her last husband and a few husbands and lovers in between, and with Rob and Judith, her good friends who…but that would be giving the whole thing away. I have been living in London in the early 1950’s – it was still Austerity Britain then, with the city slowly being re-built after the ravages of the Blitz, and some items of food still on the ration, but nevertheless London was a magnet for young Australian artists and writers eager to expand their horizons, to explore art and culture and history, and of course to take off into Europe, to France and Italy and beyond. I’ve been mentally dressing in New Look suits and frocks with their wide skirts, tiny waists and strenuous corsetry; I’ve been eating reconstituted eggs and drooling over Elizabeth David’s inspirational cookery books; I’ve been dreaming on the top of double-decker buses and stuck in the smelly Tube. I’ve been living in 1950’s Australian suburbia, too, and incidentally re-living some of my own personal history, my growing-up days in one of Melbourne’s beach-side suburbs. But that’s all over now Time to call it a day because I can’t go on revising forever. Time to call it quits, write The End. Time to say goodbye.
Ah. (That’s a big sigh) A relieved sigh, a sad sigh, a somewhat exhausted sigh… Yesterday afternoon I went into my workroom and tidied my desk. I put all the books about 1950’s art, fashion, politics, social history and literature up onto a high shelf. Printouts of the various drafts I stacked up neatly to recycle. The sheaves of handwritten notes to myself went into the bin, and a few photocopied references about odd subjects (the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works being one) I filed away just in case I need to verify some date or fact… The decks are cleared, ready to start the next book, which is a sequel to The Truth About Verity Sparks. I’m keen to get going on it, I’ve got lots ideas and Verity is a feisty girl who just about writes her own lines. And she may need to, since my deadline is 1st August.
But still. And yet. Not really ready to let go. One door closes and another – Yes, I know all of that. If I didn’t have Verity to get on with, I’d probably spend a lot of time moping and moving commas around, so it’s probably just as well. It feels a lot like moving house. You know – emptying it of furniture, cleaning up, closing the windows and doors on the echoing and empty rooms for one last time, and finally, knowing you can never really go back again, saying goodbye.