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The Beach Volcano: ready to sell itself for the world.

The Beach Volcano: ready to sell itself for the world.

You know when you start referencing Mariah Carey in conversation that things aren’t quite right. And when you begin yarns with ‘I’m reading a lot about war in Afghanistan at the moment and I can really understand how those men feel’ you know it’s time to take a deep breath. Regrettably, this week I’ve done both those things. Because (a) The Beach Volcano is now officially out in the world and (b) I’m so exhausted that my skill hurts – seriously. Have I told you how Mariah Carey is fighting war in Afghanistan?

I guess the first thing I want to say is THANK YOU to all those who attended the launch at the mighty Electric Shadows Bookshop on 18 September. There was a terrific buzz in the room and I managed to get through my speech without swearing and/or dribbling. Maybe. Better still, Distinguished Professor Jen Webb said great things, as in astute. Also, thanks to everyone who sent through congratulatory messages, vis textie, the Facebook, the Twitter, or via carrier pigeon. Thanks also, of course, to Blemish Books for putting up with me for the past four and a half years – it’s been a fantastically productive relationship, especially considering that literary novellas aren’t exactly an easy proposition these days.

Finally, it’s pleasing to report that there have been some warm critical responses to The Beach Volcano. A few highlights:

‘In this tight, spare novella, Nigel Featherstone takes a well-tried narrative formula, the family union for a big occasion, and gives it a treatment both elegant and original. The wonderful symbol of the beach volcano – a banked fire under a mound of sand that will ‘erupt’ if you pour saltwater into its mouth – gathers import and power as the story progresses’ Sydney Morning Herald

‘Nigel Featherstone’s accomplished third novella, The Beach Volcano, takes as its point of departure Tasmania, as had its predecessors, I’m Ready Now and Fall on Me. There is a good deal to admire in The Beach Volcano, whose title metaphor points to a key element in the plot of the novel, as well as to a lost childhood time that, it seems, can only be destructively revived in the present. Mick Dark’s musical career is imagined in economical and vivid detail, Featherstone even managing the very difficult task of giving us a sense of how key songs were born, and might sound. The family dynamic – of pride, concealment, ambition – is persuasively presented, not least in the unconscionable burdens that each of the Alburys feels obliged to accept. Featherstone has once more exploited to advantage the taut, intense fictional range in which he works best’ Canberra Times

‘The great contradictions and betrayals of family life are the central concerns of Nigel Featherstone’s new novel, The Beach Volcano, and reading it we share some of the rawest emotions that surface in the swings between guilt and sanctimony that characterise relationships between parents, children and siblings. The Beach Volcano is as much a crime thriller as a domestic drama, and Featherstone’s third and final book in a series of what he calls novellas (but which seem so much more substantial and complete than that) stands alone as something quite original. There is a real sense of excitement as the story proceeds, a heightened suspense that is surprising in literary fiction. Featherstone’s skill as a writer seems to increase book by book, and this novel stands out as the absolute crowning achievement. Utterly enthralling’ Newtown Review of Books

‘The thing about Featherstone’s books is that there’s potential for high drama, or, to put it more crudely, for violence and/or death. But Featherstone is not a writer of crime or thrillers. He’s interested in family and human relationships, and so, while dramatic things happen, the drama never takes over the story. We to-and-fro between love and hate, welcome and aggression, as this family tries to keep conflict at bay, while threatened by a secret that they refuse to openly confront. Family secrets, gotta love them. Featherstone’s language is clear and evocative. The ‘beach volcano’ of the title works on both the literal level and as a metaphor for simmering tensions that threaten to erupt. In a way, this is a reworking of the prodigal son story, except that in this version the son returns as a success and is, perhaps, the one who extends the greatest generosity. It is about love and acceptance, but has the added theme of the need to face the past before you can truly progress into your future. In its measured way, quite the page-turner. A fitting conclusion to Featherstone’s novella set’ Whispering Gums

So. The Beach Volcano is out of my hands and off on its own adventures, doing whatever it is that it wants/needs. And this brings to an end the Launceston novellas. It’s been a fantastic ride. I honestly never expected – or even intended – for the entire series to be made public. I wrote these books initially for myself, for my own challenge and entertainment. Then the editing started, and the rewriting, and the polishing, and more of those skull pains. Of course, it’s been wonderful to see the books go on to do good things (and I do feel as though Fall on Me and I’m Ready Now are no longer mine, though I’m still far too close to The Beach Volcano to think about it in any rational way). After a bit of a lie-down – okay, it might end up a very lengthy lie-down, as in I might not surface for years – it’ll be time to turn my attention to new things. Like caring for my chooks for weeks on end. Or walking the Old Lady of the House. Or just sitting on my back step talking to the sparrows.

They’re a lot of fun, sparrows, don’t you reckon?

Directly behind me was a 100,000-person city.  Really.

What was I doing in this place? I had no clue.

Back in April 2010, after I’d landed in Launceston, I walked to the front door of the Kingsbridge Gatekeeper’s in Cataract Gorge Cottage (courtesy of the city council) and thought, ‘I have no friggin’ clue what I am doing.’

The cottage was perched on the edge of a cliff; there were metal bars on the windows to prevent break-ins. The gorge was both beautiful and disturbingly dark, to the point that when the sun wasn’t shining it was grim, if not straight-out depressing. With the small rooms, and being up high with 180-degree views of a surprisingly wild urban-edge environment, it wasn’t hard to imagine that I was about to spend time in a lighthouse.

All I could do was get to work.*

Four weeks later I left Tasmania with the very sketchy drafts of three…what the hell were they? Novellas? Yes, they were novellas. Mainstream publishers will tell you that this ‘in between’ literary form is almost impossible to produce commercially: they cost the same as a novel to edit and print and distribute and market but readers are wary of paying good money for a ‘small’ book; no one knows what novellas really are (meaning, are they inherently ‘difficult’?); and perhaps they’re too long for a single-sitting reading but not long enough for complete immersion.

Which is where Blemish Books came in. Thank Christ.

The mighty ACT-based independent press published Fall on Me in 2011 and I’m Ready Now in 2012 – these books bagged some enthusiastic reviews, a few gongs, and, perhaps most importantly, found their way into the loving arms of readers, a handful of whom have gone on to be very vocal champions of these funny little books. Although ‘funny’ is the wrong word. I don’t consider either Fall on Me or I’m Ready Now to be ‘difficult’, but they do have dark themes: the former is about a father and teenaged son and the long-term ramifications of a cold-blooded murder; the latter concerns a stoic though grieving mother and an almost unreasonably adventurous adult son, both of whom need to make life-changing decisions.

And then there were three.

And then there were three.

The Beach Volcano is a different beast altogether. It focuses on middle-aged man called Canning Albury, although most would know him under another name – because he has been a much-revered Australian rock musician. He is long-estranged from his family, having left home at the age of seventeen under a heavy cloud. Now armed with what he thinks is the secret to his family’s questionable past, Canning travels from his secluded though tantalisingly unfulfilled life in Launceston back to Sydney so he can help celebrate his father’s 80th birthday, which is to be a grand event at the ancestral mansion on the edge of the harbour. Needless to say, things go arse-up pretty quickly.

Perhaps, like the two preceding novellas, The Beach Volcano is about confronting the past in order to have a good, open and honest future, but it’s also, I think, about the power of families to both destroy and heal, and how we must navigate our own way. If there’s anything that binds these three stories, it’s the notion of family being infinitely complex.

But that’s enough from me.

Here’s what I really want to do – give you a heads-up about the launch:

The Beach Volcano will be launched at 6pm on Thursday 18 September at Electric Shadows Bookshop, Mort Street, Braddon, ACT.

Importantly, there will be wine, and a very wonderful launcher (already sorted but not yet made public).

And there will be a ridiculously nervous writer.

It would be brilliant to have your company.

____

* I can now see that the month I spent in Cataract Gorge was one of the most productive times of my life.

Today, this morning, right now, it feels as if I live in a lighthouse.  The howling – almost screaming – of the wind hitting the corrugated iron of the roof and passing through, the clank-clank-clank of the neighbour’s back gate, windows rattling, the Old Lady of the House putting her paws over her ears (she’s not good when the weather’s like this). In the old parlour room that’s now my library there’s an airy rush coming down the chimney as though it’s a connection to a very wild other world.  The day’s overcast, but it’s not raining, though it might rain soon, when the wind has blown itself out.  I can admit to you that, in a perverse kind of way, I like the house on days like this – it’s as if the place is alive, it’s as though the paddocks that begin half a kilometre away have reached in to my back door.

Somehow it seems right for it to be like this, because today, so I’ve been told, Blemish Books sends my second novella, I’m Ready Now, to the printer.  I’m nervous, I’m nerve-wracked, I’m excited, I’m frightened.  What’s there to be frightened about?  Isn’t this a good thing?  Yes, it’s a good thing, a great thing – it is, in fact, quite miraculous.  They say that only 1% of writing in Australia gets published, and that without an agent only one in a thousand manuscripts is turned into a book.  These are horrible statistics, there’s no dancing around that.  So I’m lucky, very lucky.  But still this time I’m both excited and frightened.

There’s something about turning yourself inside out when writing words for others to read, any kind of writing really, even this blog post.  But with fiction it’s different.  All the questions and judgements: does this guy know what he’s doing?  Will readers engage with the work, will they be moved?  I operate within the context of small-press independent publishing, so being a ‘top-seller’ isn’t a consideration (or even a dream), nor is winning the big awards.  One small fish; an endless, endless ocean.  But still you want the words, the characters, the story – the predicament, the end result – to mean something to someone.  Eminent Australian novelist Roger McDonald said not long ago that he dreaded the silence; a novelist works on a story for years, maybe even decades, and then…the silence.  McDonald also said that he loved nothing more than a reader coming up to him and saying, I loved your novel, I immersed myself in the characters and what was happening to them, and I lost myself in that world, so thank you.  That’s what Roger McDonald writes for – that response.  After everything he’s achieved, all the accolades.

Obviously, I’m not in McDonald’s league, but my motivation to write is the same: to tell a story, to be heard, to get a response.  One reader of Fall On Me, the first of the Blemish novellas (2011; yes, two novellas in two years – I could never imagine that this is how it would turn out), said that she cried at the end, that she then visited her parents and found herself re-telling the story and her parents asking, ‘What happened next?’  So a story goes out into the universe and it does its thing, or it doesn’t, and sometimes you hear about it and sometimes you don’t.  In essence, it’s no different to when, over thirty years ago, in primary school in the posh northern suburbs of Sydney, a teacher scolded me for demanding – very loudly and persistently – that I be the one to read my story to class.  My hand’s still up, it appears.

Hobart’s Narryna House: it plays a central role – actually, two central roles – in a little book called ‘I’m Ready Now’

Let me tell you a little about I’m Ready Now.  The first draft of the story was written in the first half of 2010 during a mad month of writing while an artist-in-residence at Cataract Gorge, Launceston.  I found it difficult to engage with the gorge and the city – winter wasn’t far away and there was a palpable sense of darkness and doom.  So I retreated into a story about Lynne Gleeson, a mother who, after the sudden death of her wealthy husband, leaves her grand ancestral home in Hobart to spend a fortnight with her son Gordon who is reaching the peak of what he calls his Year of Living Ridiculously.  I’d had the idea for years: a mother who comes to stay but won’t stop cleaning and a son who is on the verge of losing control.  As had happened with Fall On Me, I thought that the idea was nothing more than a short story.  I was wrong.

Over the past two years I’ve edited and polished and edited some more; it’s been looked at by others – professional others and simply generous and honest others – and I’ve edited and polished some more.  Perhaps like any writer, I’ve gone through stages thinking ‘this is kind of okay’ but then ‘this is absolute rubbish – where’s the delete button?’ before ‘maybe, just maybe, it works, but what would I know’.  Have I put everything I’ve got into I’m Ready Now?  Yes, I have, and perhaps even the title alludes to that.  But I’m not Gordon Gleeson in the book, I know no one like Lynne Gleeson (maybe, at the most, she’s a composite of some people I know, but I’m related to none of them), and I’ve never been in the precarious situation they’re in.  What am I writing about?  The complexities of modern Australian families.  Why is this so fascinating?  Because we all have a family of some sort, and we all know – though not everyone can admit it – that they’re endlessly complex and intriguing and bewildering and destructive and hopeless, and in the end we’re nothing without them.

So, as the wind barges its way over and around and just a bit into my little old house, I think of an idea that became a hand-written first draft that became a manuscript – a series of manuscripts, too many to count – that today, perhaps right in this very minute, is in the process of being turned into a book.  The official launch is still two months away (here’s me claiming the date, as they say: Thursday evening, 22 November 2012 at Electric Shadows Bookshop in Canberra, the capital city of my increasingly infuriating nation), but in many ways I can’t wait to have this thing in my hands.  Is this how first-time parents feel when they hold a new-born baby in their arms: what is it that we’ve done?  The analogy has been done before, because it’s apt.

Maybe it’s fitting that I can report to you that it’s raining now, the sound of the pummelling on the corrugated iron, the thrumming on the window panes, all of it a great big roar as though there’s a wild ocean outside.

I’m finished.  At least I think I’m finished. Not finished as in I’m done with this whole writing thing, from now on I’m going to spend the rest of my days planting daffodils and drinking wine.  But finished as in the manuscript for my second novella is done and dusted.  Well, I think it’s done and dusted; Blemish Books might have different ideas.  And it has a title: I’m Ready Now, yes, it can be italicised, because it’s official.  And I certainly hope the manuscript – the story – is ready now, because by the end of the year it will be out in the world and out of my hands.

How do you know if a manuscript is finished?

I’m Ready Now was first written in a mad storm of writing down in Launceston, Tasmania, two years ago almost to the day.  It came together in a week, except it didn’t really come together in a week, did it, that was just the first draft.  And I loved it; parts of it moved me, which, quite frankly, is rare, because I’m the most self-critical of writers, the most self-critical of human beings.  But in the two years since that shot-blast of writing, I’ve been editing and rewriting and polishing and editing and rewriting and polishing some more.  A lot more.  And it’s been professionally edited, which has resulted in more editing and rewriting – cutting, adding, cutting, adding – until I’ve felt that it’s in a state fit for final submission to Blemish Books.

On the Wednesday of the week just gone, I bit the bullet at last and sent it away.  So it’s in my publisher’s hands now.

Kindly, generously, Blemish Books sent off a tweet into the universe.  Just got the latest draft of Nigel Featherstone’s upcoming novella I’m Ready Now.  Can’t wait to dive back in.  Love watching words evolve.  A few months ago they put out some advance publicity: The second of Featherstone’s ‘Launceston novellas’ is an insightful and daring examination of family, sexuality, loss and moving forward.  How would I describe the book?  Oh don’t ask me; I’m so terrible at this question.  But here’s a stab in the dark: if Fall On Me, the first of my ‘Launceston novellas’, was a father-and-son story, I’m Ready Now is a mother-and-son story, which is always tricky terrain, isn’t it, especially when I’m a son myself, and I have a mother.  But this novella has nothing to do with Launceston: it’s set in Sydney, although the family is from Battery Point, Hobart.  And Ireland.

Do I think the manuscript for I’m Ready Now is finished? Yes, I do.  If my story was a house construction, it’s reached lock-up stage.

What happens now?  Blemish Books will put the manuscript through their own internal editing process, and then they’ll start working on the cover and internal layout, and then a date will be set for the launch, which will most likely be in November this year.  Am I excited?  Yes, I’m excited.  But I’m also exhausted.  This hasn’t been the easiest birth, this book, and it has challenging themes, and a challenging structure, and it’s not something that I’ve tried before, so it’s all a big fat dirty risk.

But what’s writing without risk?

Postscript: it’s not every day that someone writes a poem about a book of mine, certainly not when the book’s still a few months away from being published, but Gabrielle Bryden’s done just that.  Amazing huh?

Cowan Creek, Kuringai Chase National Park, Sydney, 1986

‘Don’t do it,’ she said, ‘they’ll eat you alive, you’ll regret it, you might not write another word.’  We were in a cafe and I’d just told my friend that I’d been invited to attend a Canberra book-club to talk about Fall On Me.  ‘They forget that you’re the writer and it turns feral,’ she explained.  ‘I certainly won’t be attending one ever again.’  So I worried about it, whether I should go or not; I became more and more nervous as the evening drew closer.  I seriously considered cancelling my involvement, or perhaps I could come down with a very rare but completely depilating illness.  Which, thankfully, never had to happen.  Because my evening with a book-club turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done in 18 years of doing this; in fact, it’s in my Top Three Writerly Experiences of All Time.

For a start, the host was an old high-school friend, and we’d not seen each other for 25 years.  I knew this already, which is why I would never have cancelled, because Rosy was wonderful at school, so kind and generous and good natured, and I had no doubt that she wouldn’t have changed, and I was right.  Secondly, how often does a writer have an opportunity to discuss his/her book for three hours with people who’ve read it so closely?  Even to the point that they picked up a mistake: in the book, two characters – Lou Bard, a single father and cafe owner, and his enigmatic housemate Anna – are having a deep and meaningful discussion in the kitchen over a bottle of red: large wine glasses are used, and the wine is poured out three times, which the book-clubbers said was unlikely out of just one bottle.  (I really should know these things, shouldn’t I.)  But how lovingly – have I mentioned that the group comprised only women? – this observation was made.  In fact, it was a great laugh.

Thirdly – and here’s the truly amazing thing – what really clinched it for me was this: each book-club session someone volunteers to bring food inspired by the book.  One of the women made a pizza based on the favourite topping of Lou’s son Luke: potato, fetta and chilli.  With a huge smile on her face she said to me, ‘It must be very yummy for you to put it in the book!’  And I said, ‘I have no idea – I just made it up!’  That’s fiction for you.  Thankfully Luke has excellent taste, and we all woofed the pizza down, and I’m going to make it, too, life imitating art.  She also made caramel slice, because there’s mention in the book of Lou having caramel slice in his cake display at the cafe, but it must have been there for a while because it’s started to get that slightly unsavoury dew on top.  So she put her home-made slice in the fridge for an hour to replicate the effect.

How good is that.

It makes me want to do it all again, which is handy because, as reported earlier, it is all happening again: Blemish Books is publishing another novella from me later this year, another of the Launceston novellas, the stories I wrote while I spent a month in that town as an artist-in-residence at the Cataract Gorge Kings Bridge Gatekeeper’s Cottage courtesy of the City Council.

As a kid I loved writing, telling stories; the highlight of my week was the double creative-writing period.  I’d write and write and write, just made shit up really, but I loved how the pen seemed to get carried away on the page, except it was really me who was getting carried away, wasn’t it.  And I still get carried away, especially when writing by hand, as in handwriting, which is what I did in Launceston during those four weeks.  When school finished all that time ago, however, there was no thought – it simply never occurred to me – that I might go on to do something with this story-telling thing, so I enrolled in landscape architecture, because it seemed interesting enough, and it was.

But the boy in the photo above: though he’s hiding from you, though you can’t see his face, you know what he’s thinking: school is finished, I’m off to university, it’s all a great adventure, but what am I doing, what am I to do with this life?  It’s not until now that he knows.

Because the boy is me.

Here’s a huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone who’s emailed, in-boxed (what a dreadful term that is), rung (so old-fashioned), or even spoken with me face-to-face (yes, sometimes these things happen) about Fall On Me, a humble little novella that has now been out in the world for three and a half months.  By and large, the response to the story – I prefer to see it this way rather than as ‘a book’ – has been warm and positive.  A full list of review quotes can be found over at the Blemish Books website and also at Open To Public.  A refreshingly in-depth review can be found at Whispering Gums – a massive thanks to Sue Terry.

And now what?

Yes, there is something I want to tell you, but first things first: being January I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want 2012 to be in terms of writing.  It’s something I do every year: kind of prepare a map for the next twelve months.  Of course, a map can only ever be a guide, and it’s good to go off into the wilderness once in a while, even get lost, which is something I do a little too frequently to be healthy.  I just looked up lost in my trusty Roget’s Thesaurus – Everyman Edition (1976) to see five primary categories: invisible, non-existing, bewildered, inattentive, and demoralised.  I can certainly be all these things, and more.

But this isn’t a post about being lost; it’s more to do with maps and goals and hopes, yes, hopes, let’s not forget about them.  Almost two years ago I went off to spend a month in Tasmania.  I’ve written about that trip enough, but the plan back then – the goal, the hope, the bloody dream – was to write whatever the hell I wanted to write.  I wrote three novellas, which wasn’t the plan, but what can you do.  Fall On Me was the first to be published.  I don’t wish to suggest that Fall On Me just came out fully formed – the old ‘oh it just wrote itself’ thing.  Far from it.  Once back home there was a shitload of editing, rewriting, editing some more, more rewriting, polishing, feedback, taking the feedback seriously, and yet more editing and rewriting.  But – remarkably, thankfully – I never lost that attitude of ‘I don’t care about what anyone says; I will tell the story I want to tell, and I will write it the way I want to write it’.

Clearly I do care about what people think.  I’ve waited anxiously for reviews to appear.  When the reviews have come down on the side of the book, I’ve been one happy man; perhaps there’s been a bit of a dance in the loungeroom, air-guitar even.  When the reviews have done the opposite, I’ve been gutted, though perhaps filleted is a better word – my bones have been removed and I’m immobilised.  With Fall On Me, it’s been the readers who’ve responded openly, generously – many seemed actually moved by the characters and their predicament: single-dad Lou Bard coping with his provocative (but big-hearted) teenaged son Luke.  One comment in particular has especially resonated: a mother of two teenagers told me after reading the novella how amazing it is that children often teach their parents a thing or two.  I’m not a parent – in fact I’m the least paternal person in the history of the universe – but I’m glad to have Lou and Luke Bard in my life, because through knowing them I’ve learnt more about risk and bravery and love and intimacy and strength and survival.

But all that sounds just a little pious, doesn’t it, in a literary kind of way.

Gay zombies for novellas?

What I want to tell you is this: due to the warm reception to Fall On Me, and the quantum of sales, which in the larger scheme of commercial book publishing is small, but in the small-press context is more than healthy, and for an Australian novella is almost miraculous, Blemish Books has committed to doing a second of the Launceston novellas, which will be due for publication towards the end of this year.  I don’t want to talk about the story here, but I can say that it won’t be as PG as Fall On Me (even though if Fall On Me was ever made into a film it’d probably be R-rated – all that nudity would never wash with our supremely conservative times).  Will this new novella have sex?  Highly likely.  Murder?  Perhaps.  Death?  Oh yes, there’ll be death.  Gay zombies?  You’ll have to wait and see.

So the process starts again: editing and rewriting and polishing, feedback, taking the feedback seriously, and more editing and rewriting and polishing.  And then Blemish Books will work on cover options, and marketing collateral, and launch arrangements, and they’ll send out advance copies to reviewers…

Am I excited?  You better believe it!  Come with me, why don’t you, as another humble little novella comes into being.

Postscript: last year I wrote a feature article for The Canberra Times about the trickiness of novellas, particularly in terms of defining the little buggers and getting the damn things published.  Despite the fact that there have been some very famous and influential novellas down through the literary ages, publishers these days believe that they’re too expensive to produce and readers aren’t fond of them, so in the end they’re just not commercially viable.  But there’s some good news on the horizon: eminent Australian literary journal Griffith Review recently announced that it had established a national novella competition; in 2012 it will publish at least three novellas (it is defining ‘novella’ as a work between 10,000 and 40,000 words) with a total prize pool of $30,000.  The word WOOHOO comes to mind.  Details are here.  Sorry, the competition is for Australian and New Zealand writers only.

This week two stories have formed a backdrop, or more, they’ve been twisting and turning in and around my life, my blood and bones, defining me, in a way, like all good stories do.

The first story:

A week ago, on a Sunday night, I was reading a locally-produced collection of essays when I was reminded about a magazine for young women called Lip, which, if my memory serves me correctly, was established by USA national Rachael Funari when she lived in Canberra some years ago.  Lying in bed I wondered about that magazine because it was a good idea done well.  According to its masthead, Lip is a magazine for girls who ‘think, feel, create, speak out, live’.  It’s a professional publication.

The next morning, via Facebook, I discovered that Rachael had recently gone missing while bushwalking on Bruny Island off the south-east coast of Tasmania.  The Facebook page, called ‘Rachael Funari missing.  Heard from her?’, had been established by a group of people concerned about their friend’s welfare.  Was this true?  Yes, this was true.

Rather inanely, I ‘liked’ the page and for the past seven days have been receiving updates in my ‘news feed’.  Friends have posted their love and worries; maps of the parts of Bruny Island where Rachael is thought to have gone walking have been uploaded; there have been updates from the police about the search, the fact that a dog trained to find bodies has been flown in from the mainland.  It’s been harrowing, even for me who never knew Rachael, in fact I haven’t even read a copy of Lip Magazine, just knew her to be someone who pursued an idea.

A moment ago I checked the Facebook page and the most recent entries tell me that Rachael’s sisters have flown from New York to Tasmania then Bruny Island and have received a briefing from the police.  The chances of finding their sister alive are very slim, the rescue is being scaled back but it remains an active investigation.  It seems that Rachael may have fallen from a cliff while walking, probably tumbling into the ocean.  It might be as simple as that: a misplaced footing.

I’m not sure why I’ve dwelled in Rachael’s story.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been able to follow her disappearance through the prism that is Facebook.  Or it might be because I’ve watched as the story (is it right to call her disappearance a ‘story’?) has gone from hope to despair in the space of a few days?  Would I have been as interested if I’d not known about Rachael and her good idea, the idea she followed all the way through to implementation?  Probably not – people go missing all the time.  The people of Japan would know a thing or two about missing people at the moment, and so would the people of Libya.

Maybe it’s just because no one really knows what’s happened to Rachael.

How devastating that is.

The second story:

This week I’ve been away from my little house for longer than usual.  Cat the Ripper, who is twelve years old now, had to stay home and guard my – correction: our – place, except he does nothing of the sort, he just sleeps and sunbakes and gives the sparrows that share this rickety joint the most deathly of stares, though he does nothing about these tiny nervous birds, because he’s retired from his hunting ways.  It’s a small garden I have these days – it’s not much bigger than two car-park spaces – but there are plenty of shady spots and sunny bits for him to enjoy.

This week, however: would he be alright while I was away?  Would he cope with being alone for those two extra nights?  His feeder is only meant to last forty-eight hours, not the four days required, so I had to over-fill the trays, and include dog food, which he likes but only once he’s knocked off the official cat food.

So it was with trepidation that I came round the corner and pulled into the lane that runs down the side of my house.  Ahead: the driveway gate was open.  This wasn’t good.  The garden gate: this too was ajar.  How could this be?  I secure both gates when leaving, especially the driveway one which has two latches.  This really wasn’t good.

But there he was, Cat the Ripper, my mate (though he can also be a shit, this is true), walking up to me, meowing, curling his body around my ankles.

Together with the Old Lady of the House, we checked all the doors and windows, the computer and printer, the stereo, and the CD and record collections.  All was okay.  Best of all, despite the gates being open, CTR had decided to hang around, and how this humbled me.  Sure he needs the food I give him, but perhaps he also needs me, which almost makes me cry.

Hundreds of kilometres south of here, and in other places around the world, people wonder what on earth it is that’s happened to Rachael Funari.  They miss her, they’re grieving already.

But here, in Goulburn, I listen to my cat purring on my couch.

There’s no sense to this.

In an earlier Under the Flutter post I spoke about a self-imposed rule that I have when on a residency – take one Polaroid photograph per day, no more, no less, and one must be taken, there’s no option of allowing a day to go by without a part of it turning into a piece of Polaroid magic.  It becomes a visual diary of the residency, but also allows me to focus on something external rather than the generally internal nature of writing.  And, quite frankly, it’s a great excuse to get out of the house and see more of whatever place I’m living in for that month.

But can I just say how god-damn hard it is to take a decent Polaroid snap.  All you’ve got is a lens and a shutter, that’s it.  There’s no little inbuilt computer to do all the work for you, no digital trickery to smooth over the edges.  Although that’s also the brilliant part of this technology – its sheer simplicity.

Anyway, the point is I promised I’d post some of the shots I took while on a residency in Launceston, Tasmania, in April/May this year, and so they’re below for your viewing pleasure.  You’ll probably read the (admittedly slightly blurry) caption that comes with each pic and think, Okay, that Nigel Featherstone bloke really has lost the plot this time.  And I may well have lost the plot.  Although the shots actually feature over at my other site, Open to Public, and each caption is taken from a line of a short story.

Yes, that’s a shameless plug for you to check out OTP and see if there’s anything there that takes your fancy.  If there’s nothing there of interest, please don’t let me know because you’ll crush me like a butterfly.  But if there’s a story you like, drop me an email, or send me flowers.  Either will do.

In the meantime, let the Polaroid love begin.

***

While we’re talking plugs, if you’re up for a bit of brain fodder, check out Verity La and a wonderfully succinct interview my VL co-editor Alec Patric has done with Australian writer Tiggy Johnson.

What can be said about endings that hasn’t been said before (and by endings I don’t mean the last sentence of a story, or the final frame of a film, or a person’s back-side, although perhaps I am, we’ll see)?  All good things must come to an end?  One door closes, while another opens?  What starts must finish?  Clichés, the lot of it, except, of course, in every cliché there’s a grain of truth, which in itself is a cliché, but let’s stop there or else we’re going to get stuck in a dreadful brain-porn cycle.

All I really want to say is that a month ago I came to the Gatekeeper’s Cottage at Cataract Gorge, Launceston, Tasmania, to write, as well as give some workshops, which I’ve enjoyed immensely, so thanks so much if you attended one of the sessions and are reading this.

And write I have, though that’s secret scribe’s business.

Now I’m done.  It’s over.

I’m not sure when I’ll come back to Tasmania – there’s one heck of a large world out there, with lots of residency programs to which I might apply.  Eek, the thought of going on another residency in the near future…well, it’s too soon to be talking about going away again to write.  That’s the future, and this post is about endings, going home, being with He Who Stayed At Home, and the Old Lady of The House, and Cat the Ripper.

To get myself and you, dear reader, on our collective way, I’ve channelled some wisdom from people who seem to know about the whole home caper, and I thought I’d share it with you – see below.

We’ll talk again when I’m snug in my own home, in my own bed, in my own study, with my own books and CDs and LPs, in my own good old flawed life.

Home is where you hang your head. Groucho Marx

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. Matsuo Basho

When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticise or attack the government of my own country.  I make up for lost time when I come home. Winston Churchill

I never worry about being driven to drink; I just worry about being driven home. W.C. Fields

Fiction was invented the day Jonas arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale. Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Home is where one starts from. T.S. Eliot

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