jessie cole

novelist/writer

Tag: darkness on the edge of town

Unwitting Selfies: Fiction and Self Exposure

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Nowadays, it’s a truism that we live in a culture saturated with self-exposure. The spectrum of possibilities runs from simple Facebook selfies, through blogs and feelpinions, and probably ends somewhere in the murky waters of uploading amateur porn. Never before have we had such access to ways of both communicating and controlling the parts of ourselves that others see. But what strikes me, as a fiction writer, is how much that control unravels once you begin to engage in the process of storytelling, otherwise known as ‘making things up’.

The mysterious workings of the creative mind mean that often (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) what comes to the surface when writing fiction might not be what was initially intended. Ideas or pressing issues can dissolve into nothing while the narrative picks up speed in an entirely new direction. There is something about the process that resists the interference of the rational self, and in this way what is revealed is often quite unexpected. Added to this strange phenomenon—and even more alarming—your fiction seems to say things about you that you didn’t even know, and perhaps can only faintly grasp after writing. It’s discomforting, a little like posting a selfie that unwittingly reveals all your subconscious thoughts.

Memoir—where we actively share what we know about ourselves—seems straightforward in comparison. And in a sense it is. We are picking and choosing the parts of our personal story worth relating, and we know where the story goes. There is still a sense of underbelly—a possible thread of meaning or narrative that might go undetected by the writer—but I suspect that the more aligned the writer is with the subtext, the higher the quality of the work.

I’m not so sure this is true for fiction, which seems to involve—at least in the act of writing—a surrender to the unknown. I like to begin a story with several characters of interest in a difficult or precarious situation and then just watch how things go. These characters seem fully formed, separate from me, and they do their own thing. When I write in the voice of a character I feel they are speaking through me. I am listening to their story and waiting to see where they lead. Often I have an inkling or premonition of what’s to come, but it is similar to the feeling I get when a friend tells me a story and I guess at the ending. Even my best guess could be wrong.

Stories seem to lead to particular places, and then sometimes they take a left turn. What I find most confounding about the process is how to come to terms with all of this being a representation of my inner world. Who are these characters who people my novels? Some of them might have initially been based—at least partially—on people I know, but once inside the narrative they tend to take an authority over themselves. And in any case, characters are not real people, but a collection of words on a page. Since I imagined them and then wrote down their stories, are they—in some disturbing way—all just aspects of me? And if so, what private things am I unknowingly exposing about myself?

It might seem strange that in this age of unprecedented self-exposure writing fiction could feel so risky, but it does. When I got word that my first novel Darkness on the Edge of Town was to be published I was in a car with my family driving home from Brisbane. For the first few minutes I was ecstatic, speechless and beaming, and then a sudden migraine struck and within fifteen minutes we had to pull over in the car park of a highway McDonalds for me to hunch, dry retching, over the gutter. It seemed the reality of publication was something my body wasn’t quite ready for. And, even now, those two opposing feelings seem to rock and swell in my belly. Excitement at the release of a new novel, Deeper Water, and a sickening fear of all the things I could be saying about who I am, of which I’m only half aware.

In this context it doesn’t surprise me that my girl Mema, the protagonist of Deeper Water, should be grappling so bemusedly with all the knowns and unknowns of her world—that her journey should involve an awakening to the secret things she has kept hidden, even from herself. Writing fiction involves a type of awakening, and I think sharing it is an exposure far more strange and discomforting than any other kind.
 

First published on the Wheeler Centre Dailies, 27th October, 2014.

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Ubud Writers’ & Readers’ Festival 2013

Jessie will be appearing at the Ubud Writers’ & Readers’ Festival in 2013, 11th – 15th October.

This October, the Festival will welcome more than 170 brilliant writers, performers, artists, musicians and visionaries to the magical setting of Ubud, to speak across all forms of storytelling – from travel writing to songwriting, plays, poetry, comedy and graphic novels.

Jessie is appearing In

  • It’s All Part of the Process

Process is a very personal thing. What do you do when your words don’t fall out of your head & onto the page? Hear from four writers on their writing process & what works for them.

  • You’re a Character

Is it you, is it me, is it them… & whose story is it anyway? From fact or fiction, characterisation isn’t always easy. Take a look at how these writers approach character development.

  • Sex in Words

50 Shades, blah, blah, blah… women writing on sex isn’t new, but how is it changing? When it comes to the intimate, are women better sex writers than men?

Check the Ubud Festival website for details:

National Young Writers’ Festival 2013

Jessie will be appearing on two panels at the National Young Writers’ Festival in Newcastle this long weekend, the 3rd – 6th of October, 2013.

Why Write?

The written word is being/has been superseded by the visual and the aural. Is this even a bad thing? Or will capital W writing always have its place?

With Sam Cooney, Chris Somerville, and A.H. Cayley

Friday October 4, 2.30pm-3.30pm. Watt Street Church.

An Isolating Endeavour

Writing is often called an isolating business, but what about when you live in a regional or peripheral area? Does space and solitude equal better productivity, or is there something to be said for having easy access to a community of other writers?

With Alysha Herrmann, Summer Land, and Lachlan Brown

See the NYWF website for details.

Friday October 4, 4pm–5pm. Blue Write Disco @ The Kensington

 

Words and Music

When pondering inspiration and where it is found, the cross-pollination that occurs amongst artistic genres always comes to mind. Art works that inspire writers, novels that inspire plays, plays that inspire films … the list goes on. Think of novelist Tracy Chevalier and her meditative take on Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. But one of the least talked about of these artist-muse relationships is the interaction between music and writing.

A couple of years ago I read Paul Kelly’s mongrel memoir How to Make Gravy, and what struck me most forcibly about it was the breadth and depth of Kelly’s reading life. At seventeen Kelly was reading Herman Hesse, Arthur Rimbaud, Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller, by nineteen it was Walt Whitman and Jean Paul Sartre, with a bit of Nietzsche on the side. He spent large chunks of his twenty-fourth year lying on his bed reading Marcel Proust.

The opening line of the memoir alludes to Homer’s Odyssey, and the references to literature just keep coming. Dickens, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Henry James, Sir Walter Scott, Emile Zola, Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf, Saul Bellow, John Updike, Philip Roth, Raymond Carver,as well as more contemporary writers like Nick Hornby, Tim Winton, Jonathan Franzen, Michael Ondantje, Robert Drewe, Peter Carey, Jeffery Euguenides and Gao Xingjian. Don’t even get me started on the poets! It seemed to me that Kelly’s book was, among other things, a meditation on the place of reading in an artist’s life. In this case, a songwriter.

Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly talks about the way songwriters continuously ‘borrow’ from one another – “Ever since Homer’s repeated use of ‘rosy-fingered dawn’, ‘ wine dark sea’, and other formulas in The Odyssey, songwriters have been drawing on the communal pool of phrases and images available to anyone with ears.” He follows this up with – “Some people continue to be surprised by this – those who have notions of the artist as some kind of self-dredger, dragging pieces of originality up from the depths of their soul.” And then the somewhat cheeky – “Self expression is overrated, though. There’s so much of it around these days …”

Reading Kelly’s memoir, it was interesting to imagine the young Paul devouring all those literary classics, and how they must have swirled about in his subconscious, coming to light – sometimes years later – in mysterious ways. He wrote the song ‘Everything’s Turning to White’ – a retelling of the Raymond Carver short story ‘So Much Water So Close to Home’ – five years after reading it. When he got back to checking the story, he was startled by how exactly the details of story and song matched up. Kelly explains how some of the time this borrowing is subconscious – “Writing, though it may involve a lot of thinking, is never entirely under our conscious control.”

As with ‘Everything’s Turning to White,’ sometimes these cross-genre inspirations can bear wonderful fruit. Singer songwriter Gyan’s musical interpretation of the poems of Michael Leunig – Billy the Rabbit – is another tantalising example. In this case, Gyan turned to the work of Michael Leunig as solace when she was feeling burnt out. She spent twelve months putting a host of his poems to music. Eventually a friend who had worked with Leunig encouraged her to send the songs to him. She did, and Leunig loved them. And there began an unusual mixed-media collaboration, with the two of them giving performances involving Gyan singing while Leunig drew.

But what about how songs influence other art forms? A fan of the 1999 film by Paul Thomas Anderson – Magnolia, years ago I bought the movie soundtrack, and discovered within the liner notes a rather unusual dedication. It seems the whole movie was inspired by the songs of Aimee Mann. As Anderson explains – “Like one would adapt a book for the screen, I had the concept of adapting Aimee’s songs into a screenplay.” He gives details of how the process worked – “For instance, in my original motion picture screenplay, Claudia says ‘Now that I’ve met you, would you object to never seeing each other again?’ I must come clean. I did not write that line. Aimee Mann wrote that line as the opening of her song, ‘Deathly,’ and I wrote backwards from that line. It equals the story of Claudia. It equals the heart of Magnolia. All stories from the movie were written branching off from Claudia, so one could do the math and realise that all stories come from Aimee’s brain, not mine.” Thomas ends the CD liner notes with: “So here it is, the perfect memento to remember the movie – or you can look at the movie as the perfect memento to remember the songs that Aimee has made.”

When I first read this dedication I was a few years out of high school, crazy about music but not a musician, interested in writing but managing nothing more than a few occasional scribbles in my diary. It struck me as wondrous that someone could hear one line of a song and a whole movie might spring from the earth like a blossoming tree. I’d never heard of Aimee Mann, but I was dazzled by the potential in this kind of relationship.

Fast forward ten years or so and I was writing. The idea for my novel Darkness on the Edge of Town hit me late at night like a whack to the back of the head. It wasn’t something I pondered; all of a sudden it was just there. I was more than three quarters through writing it before I realised how distinctly (in my mind at least) it echoed the early work of Bruce Springsteen. His song ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ seemed to hold all the nuances of my main character’s voice, even though I’d never consciously thought about the song at all. At that point I began to consider the influence of songs on the work I was doing. Before I started writing Darkness on the Edge of Town I’d come out of a very bewildering love affair and was obsessively listening to the Lucinda William’s album West. It must be said that listening to the raw and heartrending Lucinda Williams after having your heart broken is not the wisest of musical choices, and in an effort to buoy myself I’d turned to Springsteen, who has the knack of imbibing his music with a kind of hard won optimism. It was as though the work of the two musicians had somehow morphed in my brain. Lucinda’s sorrow and pain with Bruce’s tentative redemption. And the result was a novel, a strange hybrid of musical influences, but somehow all my own.

I’m not the only writer who feels awed by the power of music. When asked about the musical references scattered throughout his novels, Jonathan Franzen answered – “I’m more envious of music than of any other art form – the way a song can take your head over and make you feel so intensely and so immediately. It’s like snorting powder, it goes straight to your brain.”

But I’ll leave the last words to Kelly himself. In his memoir he says – “Writing songs is a magpie business. You build your nest and fetch and carry to it the bright shiny things that catch your eye. You don’t care where they come from just so long as they fit just so … New life begins when strange things connect.”

First Published in the Northerly, July-August, 2103

Sydney Writers’ Festival 2013

Jessie will be appearing as part of the Blue Mountains Program of the SWF on Monday the 20th of May in a panel entitled Landscapes of Love and Loss.

“Jessie Cole (Darkness on the Edge of Town), Berndt Sellheim (Beyond the Frame’s Edge) and Yvette Walker (Letters to the End of Love), each in their own fresh and original voices, explore themes of love, loss and redemption. Hear three of Australia’s brightest new literary talents discuss their debut novels, with fellow author Catherine Therese.”

For more information and ticketing click here.

Dobbie Literary Award Longlist 2013

Jessie has been longlisted for the Dobbie Literary Award for her novel Darkness on the Edge of Town.  This award aims to encourage the work of first-time published Australian women writers of both fiction and nonfiction.

Chair of the judging panel, Brigid Rooney, stated: ‘2013 is a particularly strong year for Australian women writers, so much so that we felt it important to recognise the full longlist … and ensure the writers get the recognition they deserve.’

To see a full list of all the longlisted authors click here.

ALS Gold Medal Shortlist

Jessie’s novel Darkness on the Edge of Town has been shortlisted for the ALS Gold Medal.

The ALS Gold Medal is awarded annually for an outstanding literary work in the preceding calendar year. The Medal was inaugurated by the Australian Literature Society, which was founded in Melbourne in 1899 and incorporated into the Association for the Study of Australian Literature in 1982.  The winner receives a gold medal.

Check out the rest of the list here.

Reviews

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Reviews of Deeper Water:

 

Deeper Water is a fine and elegantly written novel from an impressive writer.”

The Weekend Australian

Deeper Water delivers on its title’s promise of immersion, sensuality, and the liminal … a compelling examination of our relationship with nature.”

Australian Book Review

“Cole’s characters are, each one, perfectly drawn examples of flawed and fragile humans, and she evokes the landscape in which she herself grew up and still lives with the tender familiarity of a child for its mother. This is a softly spoken coming-of-age tale that deserves the label tour de force.”

North & South Magazine

“Mema’s narrative voice is quiet and measured, never giving very much away but at the same time revealing the immense depth and intensity of her feelings that sit just below the surface. Her longing is mysterious, and Cole’s descriptive prose imbues it with the gloriously sensual anticipation of a bud about to burst into bloom. A compelling and satisfying read; its sensuality and earthiness give a mythical quality to the regional Australian landscape.”

Readings Magazine

“A fierce momentum tugs the reader by the belt buckle, causing her to flip pages to see when the tension will be finally released. Cole’s talent lies in the depiction of the intangible feelings of a sexual awakening.”

Newtown Review of Books

“In literature, and in film, there are some classic plots almost guaranteed to grab the audience’s attention. The Stranger Comes to Town is one, Coming of Age is another and what in England we might call Something Nasty in the Woodshed (a reference to the wonderful novel Cold Comfort Farm) is another.

Like a practiced chess master, local Burringbar author Cole, who grew up in relative isolation on a country property, has used all these themes to create a novel that is as deep, chilling and sensuous as the title itself. Her first book, Darkness on the Edge of Town, (which also used the stranger in town device) was good, this one is not just better, it’s extraordinary.”

Verandah Magazine

“With its simple yet elegant prose, and quiet yet deeply felt emotion, Deeper Water is a mesmerising story about a young woman’s awakening to the possibilities of love and life.”

Shelleyrae, Book’d Out

“Jessie Cole is an exciting talent, who with Deeper Water proves that she is an Australian writer to watch.”

The Hoopla

“Now and then it’s hard to write a review about a certain book – not because there is nothing to say but rather because I struggle with what to say that will be enough to truly capture the essence of the book and then adequately relay that to readers of my review. Deeper Water is one such book … This story seduces you from the start, drawing you in powerfully by a critical event in the first few pages of the book and then slowly sings itself to you until the song is done. I love Jessie Cole’s writing style – it is calm, quiet, experientially descriptive, truly beautiful. Rich and real … deeply sensual … This is a tantalising book. It is raw, real and emotive.”

Jennie, Daystarz Books, Goodreads

“In the last four years, I’ve reviewed a lot of books. Sometimes the words come easy, sometimes I have to coax them. The reasons for the writers block can be varied but I honestly think this is probably the first time I haven’t really known what to write because the book is so beautifully written and I’m not sure how to convey that accurately … I read Jessie Cole’s first novel, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, and was impressed by it but this novel showcases her evolution and advancement as a writer. It’s the sort of book that you wish went a bit longer, just so you could keep reading it and experiencing it.”

Bree, All The Books I Can Read … 1 Girl 2 Many Books!

 

To order go to Booktopia, Readings, Bookworld, or for an ebook Amazon, Kobo. To find another retailer.

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Reviews of Darkness on the Edge of Town:

 

“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 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.”

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.”

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

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.

 

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