I have a friend who is a dancer. I remember her talking about what it was like to go back to dancing after having a child. It felt completely different, she said. Being in her body felt different, physically and emotionally. I don’t know if there is any similarity between that and what I am experiencing now, but since writing my first novel my reading life has changed. I am finding myself trying to remember how I used to read. I birthed a book and now reading feels different.
A while ago I found a couple of plastic crates in my mother’s carport that were full of my old kids’ books. I took them away with me and sat down and went through them. Holding those books, I re-experienced the sense of awe and magic and absolute wonder they gave me as a kid. Books like The Humpback Whale, Blinky Bill and the Bull Ants, and Ten Apples up on Top, then Pippi Longstocking, and the Chronicles of Narnia. How incredible writers were! They could make worlds! They could take me to them! As a teenager I read fantasy, romance, and any book about horses and ponies. I gobbled International Velvet in one day, off from school sick, I was elated. School lead me to literature, to poetry, and that elation grew.
But now! What has happened? I find myself reading from a distance. I read watchfully, resisting getting all the way into the water, or going for the ride. And then, when I do read something I love, I only manage a few pages before I put it down. I put it down to turn on my computer and I open a file and start typing, or I pick up a pen and notebook and start writing. Those few pages cause something inside me to sit bolt upright: ‘My God! That is right!’ What had I been doing? Oh, of course, I had been: cooking, feeding the cats, putting the bins out, doing the shopping, being a partner, making money. I was distracted. I had forgot how my heart pumps words. So I am grateful to whomever it is that has reminded me, awoken me.
Eva Hornung’s The Lost Garden did this, remind me. I read Hiam, (written then as Eva Sallis) some years ago now and loved its beauty and its rawness. A woman was driving. Had I ever been so taken in by a woman driving? No, I hadn’t. When I had Judith Lukin-Amundsen as a mentor during an Australian Society of Authors mentorship Judith mentioned Hornung’s Dog Boy to me. I am interested in boundaries, in what lies ‘outside’. And I explore this in my work. Perhaps what I like about Eva Hornung’s stories is her own exploration of what is ‘beyond’. Dog Boy is an incredible feat of imagination. She took me inside the den of a pack of wild dogs. In The Lost Garden the protagonist is a teenage boy who retreats into a stable, with the horses and the chickens. He hunts and gathers his food. Hornung seems interested in the feral, the state of nature.
I remember someone telling me about some ‘dangerous performer’ they liked, meaning that the performer was exciting because you never knew what they were going to do; what they might do next, so you watched them to find out. These performers have a presence, a quality that is electric. I felt a bit like that reading The Lost Garden—I was on edge, not knowing where Hornung was taking me, but wanting to be there.
I just listened to the audiobook of Jimmy Barnes’ Working Class Boy read by Jimmy Barnes. I’m a Cold Chisel fan and grew up in working-class Tasmania, so I was interested to hear Jimmy’s story. Recently I was speaking to Adriano Cortese, the artistic director of Ranters Theatre Company, about class in Australia. I said people don’t talk about class. He said, yes, they do. Maybe not directly, but they talk about it all the time. Days later on RN’s Big Ideas podcast I found a four-part series called Class Act about class in Australia, the fourth part is about ‘why we don’t talk about class.’ I thought about emailing the link to Adriano with a note: ‘Look, see.’ I didn’t. But when I was searching through Bolinda Audiobooks and saw Working Class Boy, I borrowed it. It’s an important insight into growing up in a working-class family in Adelaide in the 1960s. What he describes is sometimes, in some ways, more feral than Eva Hornung’s characters.
My father grew up up in a working-class Hobart around that time and I’d not long ago heard my aunty talking about her childhood. Because of this I found Barnes’ memoir particularly interesting. I thought about how different a story of growing up in the abusive culture Barnes describes would likely be from a female perspective.
I listen almost as much as I read now. Like many, I follow This American Life, am enamoured by it, and Mondays (when a new episode pops up on my phone) are always a little bit exciting. I put my trust in Ira Glass to take me somewhere good.
But right now, I have Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain waiting on my bedside table. Her other works The Orchard and Poppy sit on my bookshelf, treasured.
Rachel is a writer and performer who grew up under kunanyi/Mount Wellington. From 2012-2016 her one-woman show Everything Must Go toured over 100 regional Australian venues. Her debut novel Bridget Crack was published in 2017.