jessie cole

novelist/writer

Tag: Books

Making Sense of the Darkness

Writing fiction is the most mysterious process. It is easy to believe when you read a story in a book – the finished product – that the writer has constructed everything in a kind of conscious clever way. (If the book is working!). But it has never been like that for me.

I wrote Darkness on the Edge of Town four years ago, and when I read it now I am staggered by how it seems to run so smoothly – as though it was plotted and conceived – as though I had planned all those things I wanted to say. In fact, the process was nothing like that.

I had written a manuscript before Darkness on the Edge, a piece of fictionalised autobiography reflecting on what had been a particularly traumatic adolescence. During that time I had come to use writing to digest the parts of my experience that were difficult or unmanageable. It had become a tool for me, a way I’d developed to communicate with myself. In a sense, it had become a habit. I didn’t think of myself as a writer, and I didn’t think of the writing as a product. I saw it largely as some kind of outward, graspable expression of my inner self, as though I could hand over that first MS to a stranger and say – ‘This is where I’ve been. This is who I am.’

After I’d written that autobiographical story I was very peaceful. I had spoken the unspeakable and – metaphorically, at least – breached that gap between myself and the outside world. I wondered about publication, and made a few attempts to share my writing beyond my family, but deep down I felt the work was completed, even without a wider audience. It was out of me, and that was enough. I was free and light; unencumbered by the past. My story was on the page and not hanging heavily about my neck. I don’t think I believed I had another story in me.

But life isn’t like that, is it? A couple of years later I experienced a constellation of events that left me reeling. A short relationship with a man that was so dazzlingly confusing I was floored, and at the same time, a close friend’s baby slowly died. The two events combined seemed to break something open inside me, revealing a world of potential suffering I had stealthily kept out of view. While my friend nursed her dying baby with a warrior courage, I crumbled, as though the very ground I was standing on was suddenly giving way. And in that time Darkness on the Edge of Town was born.

The story came to me in one powerful strike. It hit me like a whack on the back of the head, the voices so strong and clear all I had to do was find the time to write them down. I didn’t think at all about what I was saying – about the deeper thematic meaning of the text – I was simply compelled by the characters and the situation they found themselves in. Four years on I can look at my work and see that I was grappling with the transience of life. That I was wondering about power relations and love, about kindness and abuse – and about how these things entwine. That I was trying to understand what responsibility we have for each other as fellow human beings, and perhaps especially what responsibility we have for those who are most fragile amongst us. But at the time I had very little awareness of these things, they sat somewhere in the periphery of my vision, always just out of reach.

On the shelves!!

Trying to make sense of how Darkness could come to light in such an intuitive way still leaves me a little confounded. And on top of that it is now a book! Something that others can read. Something that you might read. And I would like to be able to sit here and say – ‘yes, well, I had been thinking about things deeply and decided to construct a tale in which to share my thoughts …’ but this simply was not so. In truth, I was blindsided by a story that sprung with unexpected force from some invisible place inside me and now I’m sharing it with you.

And I hope – if you read it – you enjoy it. I hope that you will see that even though sometimes the terrain of Darkness on the Edge of Town is tough, at its heart there is a tenderness. There is love and there is kindness. There is the intimacy that is created when one person holds out their hand to another.

And sometimes, this is enough.

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Extract: Darkness on the Edge of Town

COV_DarknessOnEdgeOfTown.indd

1.

The steering in the old girl lunges a little to the left, so on that night I was holding tight around the corners, swinging into them the way Marie says she hates. She can just see herself plummeting down the drop on the side of this mountain, but I’ve lived here for years and I know the road pretty good. It’s real green and bushy out here, and in the night it can look like there is nothing, no houses, just this winding precarious stretch of road. It was late, and I’d dropped Gemma off earlier at her girlfriend’s house. She’s sixteen, my girl, and she’s only just reached that girly stage. Nail polish and makeup. She came home from school the other day all dolled up. It was photo day and her friends had taken her aside and done her make up. I reckon she expected me to hit the roof, to tell her to ‘get that shit off’, but I just looked and didn’t say nothing. She washed it off anyway, soon as she got home.

That night, I was on my way home from the pub. I don’t drink much, just a couple of beers, but I like to see the boys now and then. It was coming into winter and the air inside the truck was cold. I lit a cigarette, banged around the final bend before my house, and right there, right out front, was the upturned car, engine still running. The lights of the car were shining down into the bush, lighting up the dark. I pulled up on the grass out front of my house and ran over to the car, peering in the window, but there was no-one inside. The smell of exhaust fumes lingered in the air, and reaching in I turned the engine off. There was a flicker of movement on the edge of the road. She was squatting there, swaying slightly, the bank dropping away steeply behind her. Humming – she was humming. In the moonlight she looked kind of crumpled and broken, her long dark hair falling forward over her body.

“Shit honey, you right?” I said, but she didn’t move, as though she didn’t hear, and so I crept up a bit closer, “Mate, you okay?”

She looked up then, and her hair fell away, and I could see in the shadow of her arm she held a baby. Its body was limp, its eyes closed.

“We got to get you some help,” I said, and she whimpered. I crouched in front of her, reaching out a hand. “Sweetheart, you need some help, come on off the road”.

I wondered how long she’d been there, perched like that on the edge of the drop. I needed to call an ambulance, but I didn’t know if I should leave her. Reaching out two fingers, I tried to feel the baby’s pulse. The baby was cold and I couldn’t feel anything. I didn’t know CPR anyway. Up close I could see her. She had eyes like an animal caught in a trap, large and sort of misted, dark. The side of her face was bruised. She was youngish, I reckoned, early twenties. Didn’t look like she was from round here. Looked foreign, sort of. She held the baby tightly with one arm, the other hung dangling from her shoulder. Her shirt was lifted and her pale breast sat exposed above the baby’s head, dripping milk. Watery white drops that plonked slowly on the baby’s slack face.

“Oh honey, come on, come on off the road,” I said, starting to panic.

A line of blood crossed her face and fell in a sticky blob on the baby’s foot. She shuddered and toppled backwards, landing with a jolting thump, the baby’s head flopping sideways. Dusty pebbles rained down the slope behind her.

“Love. See that house there? That’s my house, and I’m going to pick you up and bring you inside so I can call an ambulance okay?”

I didn’t know if I should move her, but I figured, if I run inside and call an ambulance and she goes over the edge, that’s worse, and I wanted to check out her head, see if I could stop the bleeding.

She didn’t try to move away, but I guess she was pinned, holding the baby in one arm, and her other hanging loose like that. I came alongside her, close up to her baby’s head. It looked a strange kind of blue in the moonlight, and I felt suddenly sick. Slipping my arm beneath her legs, I scooped her up. She clung to the baby and sort of curled up around it, her loose arm swinging out and falling back against her. If it hurt her, she didn’t make a sound.

To purchase Darkness on the Edge of Town in Australia: Readings, Fishpond, Booktopia, QBD, Bookworld,

To buy in ebook format: Amazon, Kobo, Sony Reader Store, Booktopia, itunes, Google Play

For International Shipping: Fishpond, Booktopia.

 

Darkness on the Edge of Town

Jessie Cole’s first novel Darkness on the Edge of Town was published by 4th Estate in July 2012.

‘My dad, he collects broken things … Where other people see junk he sees potential … My dad collects broken people too.’

Vincent is nearly forty years old, with little to show for his life except his precious sixteen-year-old daughter, Gemma: sensitive, insightful and wise beyond her years.

When a stranger crashes her car outside Vincent and Gemma’s bush home, their lives take a drastic turn. In an effort  to help the stranded woman, father and daughter are drawn into a world of unexpected and life-changing consequences.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is a haunting tale that beguiles the reader with its deceptively simple prose, its gripping and unrelenting tensions, and its disturbing yet tender observations.

To read a short extract from Jessie Cole’s debut novel Darkness on the Edge of Town click here.

To hear Jessie read, click here.

To purchase Darkness on the Edge of Town: Readings, Fishpond, Booktopia, QBD, Bookworld

To buy in ebook format: Amazon, Kobo, Sony Reader Store, Booktopia, itunes, Google Play

For International Shipping: Fishpond, Booktopia

Darkness on the Edge of Town is also published by Actes Sud in France under the title Borderline

borderline

Actes Sud French Edition: Borderline

Reviews:

“One of the stand-out debuts of 2012.”

Katharine England, The Adelaide Advertiser

“Jessie Cole’s spellbinding first novel is the kind of book that you can describe with words such as ‘beautiful’, ‘touching’ and ‘tender’ as easily as you can with words like ‘uncomfortable’, ‘painful’ and ‘disturbing’ … I read it in nearly one sitting, and I found that hitting the last page was like popping out of a dream; I wondered what might happen to the characters beyond the bounds of the story. I can’t wait to see where this talented new voice takes us next.” 4 and 1/2 stars.

Meredith Lewin, Good Reading Magazine

“Jessie Cole’s debut novel Darkness on the Edge of Town is on another level of storytelling altogether … It’s exquisite writing. Graceful, revealing, pitch perfect. Cole is an author who pays sharp attention to the world around her. And she deserves to have the world pay her some attention in return.” To read this review click here.

Ed Wright, The Australian

“A sad and tender tale of the extraordinary events which make up the everyday lives of ordinary people, Darkness on the Edge of Town elegantly expresses the simplicity of emotions that we often find so hard to handle. Unflinching in her capacity to scrape at the raw nerves of our desperation for love, Jessie Cole has written a distinctly Australian story about hope, desire, sexuality, violence and our failure to communicate.”

Rob Minshull, ABC Radio Brisbane

“Jessie Cole writes with the most deceptively simple language. She pulls you into the story and along its threads until bam! She hits you right between the eyes. This is great storytelling. It’s tense, mean, compassionate and very real … The characters are so real it’s as if Cole sat in the pub and copied down everything everyone said. Every minute of reading this book was a joy.”

Meredith Jaffe, The Hoopla

“Cole is one of a number of younger female writers drawing our attention to lives lived on the margins … She focuses the writer’s eye on an Australia both familiar and hidden, creating stories that make some readers feel uncomfortable. But these are stories essential to our understanding of the Australian landscape and those who inhabit it, where tenderness and violence accompany each other in an eerie pact of necessity. While there is a necessary debate occurring in Australia around the value of literary prizes and who they go to, Jessie Cole has rewarded us instead with a novel that leaves us with much to think about.” To view this review click here.

Tony Birch, Overland Blog

“Cole’s writing is evocative in its simplicity, the characters’ dialogue – sometimes grimy – as honest and real as Australia can be … A gripping and heartbreaking read.”

Fiona Hardy, Readings

“An engaging and thoughtful novel.”

Eloise Keating, Bookseller & Publisher

“A gripping debut novel by NSW writer Cole about the reverberating effects of domestic violence, love, loss and the kindness of strangers, Darkness on the Edge of Town proves difficult to put down as it hurtles towards it confronting conclusion.” 4 stars.

Who Weekly

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