My Writing Life

The first time I remember feeling in awe of history was on a family outing to a homestead out of Melbourne called “Emu Bottom”. The name is forever ingrained in my memory— probably because as a child, the connotations of the homestead’s name seemed amusing. But the building itself held a magical mysteriousness for me. I recall clearly that we wandered throughout the whitewashed rooms and I peppered my mother with a barrage of questions;

Who lived here? What happened to them? Are any of the children still alive? What did it look like when they lived here?

I was completely fascinated by the musty smell of the past— embroidered children’s clothing was draped over brass beds, and yellowed linen covered with a scattering of books and cast iron implements was arranged on tables. I imagined the family’s isolation, how scared I would be living in a homestead set in out in the open— far away from the streets in the suburbs that was all I knew.

 

The homestead was in the long settler style perhaps made of mud bricks but whitewashed and elegant against the landscape. It was set in a haven of ancient gumtrees and bushland; the scent of eucalypts mingled with soil and traces of wildlife in the fresh air. I told my parents that I wished we lived there— it was somewhere special.

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

Looking back I see that I always wanted to write and 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 school sharing and hiding Mills and Boon romances 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 of novels such as Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” and vast collections of Victoria Holt and Susan Howatch that I loved more than anything else. These, I see now are truly the books that helped shape my writing voice.

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

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 never want to finish a book and feel so uncomfortable and that I’m left depressed. While I enjoyed  “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Papillon”— both unusual choices for a romantic at heart, perhaps it was the pain and suffering of the characters— the outrage at the exclusion and insensitivity 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. 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.

When the time came I jumped into courses in design and education, but nothing appealed to me as a career standout. 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 at least one main character in each piece is a Melbourneite. Having said that, the storyline of my last 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. But 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, the craft and the business of writing. I practise my craft to the best of my ability. I still read— voraciously; but sometimes it’s difficult to see where my stories and I fit might in with regard to current trends in publication. 

Ultimately my desire is to tell a story, a story that makes readers feel warm and fuzzy and allows them to escape from reality for a few hours or days. If I can impart a little wisdom about something or somewhere they might never have been or have experienced before, then that will give 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. That’s why storytelling— revealing a tale from the past and its history, is so interesting to me. Once time has passed, all we leave behind is stories, created from the knowledge of history. Stories that may be truth, stories that have been elaborated on—or those invented purely from imagination.

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

x Chrissie 

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© 2019 Chrissie Bellbrae

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