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My Writing Life

The first time I recall being drawn to history was on a family outing to a homestead in outer Melbourne called “Emu Bottom”. It is forever ingrained in my memory— probably because as a child, the connotations of the homestead’s name was amusing. But the building itself held a magical mysteriousness for me. I have vivid memories of wandering throughout the whitewashed rooms and peppering my mother with a barrage of questions;

Who lived here? What happened to them? Why did they leave?

What did it look like when they lived here?

I was fascinated by the musty scent of the past— the pieces of embroidered children’s clothing, draped over brass beds, and yellowed linen covered with a scattering of books— the cast iron implements that were arranged on the tables.

I imagined the family’s isolation, how scared I would be living in a homestead out in the open bush— far away from the streets in the suburbs that was all I knew.

 

The homestead was in the long settler style, possibly made of local hand made mud bricks, but whitewashed and elegant shining bright against the landscape. It was set in a haven of ancient gumtrees and bushland; the scent of eucalypts mingled with dampened soil and traces of wildlife in the fresh air.

I told my parents that I wished we lived there— it was somewhere special. I think my love of old homes began that day.

Image by Mzimasi Ndzombane

I knew straight away that I wanted to learn more about the past. But it has taken a lifetime for me to write it.

On reflection, I see that I always wanted to write. It’s what I loved most. I wrote stories as soon as I was able, sticking and stapling pages together with crudely drawn illustrations; bold titles and headings prepared using lettering books or font templates. My stories were usually about families, about children and their friends— but I was also interested in the allure of magic—tales of superstitions and folk stories and far away places. They were far more exciting and interesting to me than my cloistered suburban life. 

As a teenager, a friend and I spent hours in the classroom, sharing Mills and Boon romances and hiding them to read inside our textbooks. Barbara Cartland was a firm favourite, interspersed with a few Agatha Christie’s that we judged slightly more respectable if we were caught by a teacher. For pure joy and escapism, it was the romantic suspense novels such as Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” and vast collections of Victoria Holt and Susan Howatch that I was drawn to. These, I see now are truly the books that helped shape my early writing voice. 

I realised early on that it was the romance of a story that I preferred.

Image by Chris Lawton

I consider them the basis for my insistence that despite a character’s journey of pain and suffering— my stories will always finish on a high. I might cry as I turn a last page and close the cover, but I prefer not to finish a book and feel depressed. While I enjoyed  “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Papillon”— both unusual choices for a romantic at heart, perhaps it was the growth of the characters that appealed— or the sense of outrage at the exclusion that resonated with me? The thread of hope for the future.

Famous titles such as “Animal Farm” and “1984” and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” left a lasting impression on me, while “Portrait of a Lady” and “The Go-Between” were the highlights of my early education. Soon the world of make believe romances and handsome men sweeping me off my feet was placed aside, and the books read specifically for my education packed away.

My life as an adult began. The writing dreams that once inspired me were doused by doubting teachers and quickly forgotten as I found love myself and embarked on my own journey. But I continued to read. Beginning with “Kane and Abel” I read anything by Jeffrey Archer and all the wildly sensational Jackie Collins sagas, followed by those by Barbara Taylor Bradford.

Irish authors have always inspired my reading choice. As a young mum with little time to invest in leisure, the escapism and easy flow and humour found in the works of Maeve Binchy and Rosamunde Pilcher were good for the soul and books I quickly devoured. They led me to the more contemporary voices of Cathy Kelly and Marian Keyes. More recently, Maggie O’Farrell and Lucinda Riley, I also adore.

Over the years, I took courses in design and education, and worked in banking, retail and the charity sector.

It was the return to creative writing and then to a course in writing procrastination that connected me to the wider writing community. The channels of inspiration opened wide. Writing once again quenched my soul, and returned me back to the beginning.

 

So what is it I write? I have three completed manuscripts— a family saga, and two historical fiction pieces —the last, a multi-generational narrative. I am a passionate Australian and my stories are set in and around Melbourne. But just like me my characters like to travel. The storyline of my recent manuscript took me to Europe—with settings in Florence, Sicily, London and Cornwall.

 (Imagine the pain—all that travel just to research!)

As I write this piece I reflect on my past and see my reading history’s relationship with my choice of career. It’s in the locations, the romance, the drama and the mystery. I love the flow of words. Perhaps I should be writing gothic romance — or romantic suspense? Whatever I decide, there is freedom as a writer to write what you love. I plan to continue on with the process until the well is dry.

I read— voraciously. There are so many great books, and so little time. I've learned it takes much longer to write them! 

Ultimately my desire is to tell a story, a story that creates a world that readers want to visit more often— one that introduces them to characters they become invested in, and who tease them away from reality for a few hours or days. If I can impart a little wisdom or entice a reader with tales of a place or event or experience, then that's what gives me the greatest pleasure.

I’d like to take readers on a journey— to a different time and a more magical place than the one they live in. Another era, another world. That’s why storytelling— creating a tale from a seed in history, is so interesting to me.

Once time has passed, it's the stories that are left behind. Stories based on truth, stories that have been elaborated on or show a different point of view—or stories that are created from dreams and wishes, and invented entirely from the depths of imagination.

I want to tell you a story. Would you care to read it?

x Chrissie 

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