Month: September 2020

A Treasure Trove in Lockdown

By Nicole Kelly

Living in rural Victoria can be blissful, with summer sunsets and birds chattering in the bush, but as a writer it can sometimes feel a little lonely. This is why groups like Ballarat Writers are so important. The newsletter that arrives regularly in my inbox reminds me that I’m not the only one out here, scribbling away on my next work in progress.

Usually, each year I make the quick trip to ‘the big smoke’ to refill my creative engine – perhaps with a course from Writers Victoria or to visit the State Library of Victoria to research or just breathe in the books! If you haven’t stood under the dome at the State Library, it has to be put onto your to-do list—it’s spectacular. Sadly, though, 2020 has not been the year for travelling, which has made the isolation feel even greater.

In a stroke of luck though, many hours of my lockdown this year have been spent putting the finishing touches on my debut novel, Lament, due to be released with Hawkeye Publishing in October 2020. It is a historical fiction novel, set in 1880s Australia, and reimagines what would have become of Ned Kelly and his gang if the doomed plot to take down a police train had been a success. The story of Lament is woven around real events that occurred in our local area – Ballarat and Burrumbeet at the end of 1880.

Lament by Nicole Kelly

Late last year I entered my manuscript in the Hawkeye Books Manuscript Development Prize and was thrilled to be shortlisted. While disappointed not to win, I was later offered a publishing contract and have worked closely with Carolyn Martinez to polish my words into a book. An incredible thrill for someone who has had a life-long passion for words! 2020 sees Hawkeye Books running its Manuscript Development Prize again (closing 18 December), so it might be worthwhile checking it out if you have a manuscript gem sitting in the bottom drawer!

Lament has taken a little over six years to research and write. Being a historical fiction novel, woven around real events, the research took up a large part of this time. Finding resources on the internet can be problematic. Are they useful? Are they reliable?

Without doubt, the research I have enjoyed most has been the many, many hours exploring the Trove website. If you are unfamiliar with Trove, it’s an online database of books, pictures, gazettes, photographs, interviews and newspapers run by the National Library of Australia. If you want to read a primary source about the hanging of Ned Kelly, Trove is the place to go. Aptly named, it really is a treasure trove for writers, historians and the plain curious. Much like the State Library of Victoria, heading to the Trove website is a must-do for writers.

It is the perfect place to hunt around when you are stuck for inspiration. Choose a date and a paper and settle in for a read. Ideas are sure to abound, because truth really is stranger than fiction! During my own research, I was able to read the words that came from the mouth of Ned Kelly and Judge Barry at his trial, and the words of Aaron Sherritt’s wife after the murder of her husband, from 140 years ago. Having a resource like this at my fingertips made me feel connected even in this year of distance and helps we writers living in rural and regional Victoria from being further disadvantaged.

I’ve always felt putting words out into the world can be intimidating as a writer, revealing yourself to friends, family and people you’ve never even met. It turns out that releasing a novel is no different! However, what I do realise is what an incredible privilege it is to send my book into the ‘wild’, knowing it is a story that I have loved writing and crafting.

Lament is released in October 2020. Visit www.hawkeyebooks.com.au/lament/ to pre-order your copy or you can visit www.hawkeyebooks.com.au/nicole-kelly to contact me. Otherwise follow me on Twitter @ruralvicwriter

Book review – No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani

Title: No Friend But The Mountains – Writing from Manus Prison

Author: Behrouz Boochani; translated by Omid Tofighian

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018


Journalist, writer, filmmaker with a Masters degree in political science,
Behrouz Boochani fled Iran, came to Australia as a refugee and spent six years on
Manus Island. He chronicled prison life with only a hidden mobile phone.

A forward by Richard Flanagan ranks his work with world prison literature.

After a horrific sea crossing, Behrouz arrives at Christmas Island on 23 July
2013 – four days after the ruling against boat arrivals. He and his companions are
confronted with wire fences and CCTV cameras. They are stripped, body-searched, handcuffed, paraded before the press and transferred to Manus prison.

The men no longer have names but numbers. Games are prohibited. Soccer
balls are forbidden but cigarettes are supplied – cigarettes that can be withdrawn. They must stand in queues for the phone, toilet, cigarettes and long queues of
paracetamol dependency. They must queue for meals. Often no food is left. A
mango tree outside the fence tantalises starving men.

In small rebellions, the men sing and dance, infuriating the Australian guards.

Many guards are ex-military. They wear black gloves with little metal spikes
and terrorise the prisoners.

A naked prisoner escapes the terrifying solitary confinement cell. Guards pin him down, crushing his face to the ground. His back is bloody. He is cuffed. They beat him with a stick and laugh. They leave him lying there, wounded.

The Immigration Minister visits and issues terrifying threats: stay here forever
or return to danger.

Some have coping mechanisms, many do not. Fear, torture and neglect lead to suicides and the terrible riot of 2014. After the riot, the men are paraded to witness the dead and injured bodies of fellow prisoners.

Behrouz Boochani granted asylum in New Zealand

Behrouz unflinchingly describes the worst of humanity and one of the darkest
chapters of Australian history, a regime designed to break its victims, yet his account is a triumph of the human spirit. Producing such a masterpiece with only a
contraband mobile phone was an extraordinary achievement, the skill involved
breathtaking.

Barbaric cruelty is exposed through exquisite writing, haunting poetic
passages and even moments of merriment.

The effort to do justice to such an epic has been daunting. Many times I felt
an over-whelming sense of national shame but I could not turn away.

Reviewed by: Maureen Riches, August 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. book review group

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