RIVER OF BONES: Life is a Highway

Road trips are a way of life in Australia, so much so Triple J and ABC Open ran the Road Trip Relay last year (if you needed proof of the institutional position of the road trip in Aussie culture!)

My childhood and adolescence are liberally peppered with road trips. No one lived closed to us when we moved out of Melbourne so we were always on the road. At 14 my parents sold up everything and we spent three months traveling up the east coast pulling a 32-foot caravan. Aged 22, I left Cairns to join my boyfriend of the time and travel the wheat harvest trail from Roma in Central West Queensland all the way down to Padthaway in South Australia (I saw lots of the country side at 25km an hour from the passenger seat of a combine harvester). The road trip is something I’m well acquainted with, and for which I have a deep abiding love of (wind in your hair, stereo cranked up, wide open road ahead), but River of Bones didn’t begin as a story about a road trip. It evolved into one.

WRONG WAY, TURN BACK

From the morning I took down my dream I knew the main characters in Elyora were a band. This gave them a reason to be on the highway. Originally I had them pegged as a young, sassy Melbourne outfit making their way north to Sydney. And then I travelled the Hume highway.

Most. Soulless. Road. Ever.

So it was a double take on where they were going and who they actually were.

BRISBANE 475KM

My in-laws are scattered across the New England Tablelands in NSW. The New England highway is the direct route there and cuts straight through the townships of Tenterfield, Glenn Innes, Armidale and a multitude of tiny little places with their own stories lingering by the side of the road. (Deep Water for instance has the great falling down Eclipse Theatre, the exterior a faded, peeling blue).

When the Hume Highway failed to inspire I knew the New England was a perfect fit. There are a plethora of little roads coming off it, unlike the Hume which is all big off ramps. Not to mention I knew the New England highway well and could immediately envisage Faunabate traveling down it.

2013-05-21 12.50.11Armidale was a starting point. It has a Uni, a social melting pot perfect for an emerging indie band but it was too close to where I wanted the band to turn off the highway (all spawned by Jo wanting to devour a meat pie at the Glenn Innes bakery to stick it to vegan Benny in her passive aggressive assault on him, which was cut in subsequent drafts but the location markers remained!)

I took the starting point further west to Tamworth and decided that Hal and Jo would be from one of the tiny towns along there (Jo from Nundle and Hal from Woolomin). In doing so I realised the band was more than just a creative outlet for Jo. It was her escape pass from the country. And I had underpinnings of what was to play out later in the narrative – the irony of claustrophobia in a vast landscape.

IMG_2240The additional benefit of Hal and Jo as country kids was the impact of their reaction to Elyora. They are both well versed with rural economic degradation and isolation, of being in parts of the country where there is no phone service, so their entry into Elyora is not simply city meets country culture shock, but a deep sense of something being intrinsically wrong there.

I KNOW WHERE ELYORA IS

This is what Dave casually said to me on our trip to Gloucester in January and there was an immediate shiver down my back.

Although I see Elyora Road and all the buildings along that decrepit strip of tarmac as clearly as any of the other almost dead country towns I’ve been to… I’ve never believed it’s real. That’s just crazy talk.

“What are you talking about?”

“I know where Elyora is,” he repeated.

“It’s not a real place.”

“I know. But I know where it would be. Want to go there?”

Did I really want to turn off the New England highway in search of a proposed version of Elyora? Surely one learns lessons from their writing? Surely. Especially when one has also watched The Cars That Ate Paris.

Curiosity killed the cat…IMG_2339We stopped in Ben Lomond on the way back to Brisbane, when I’d got my head around tempting fate. I felt more than a faint tremor of filthy anticipation in the pit of my stomach as we drove down Ben Lomond road. The only thing that stopped me from freaking totally was the fact I videoed the whole thing, you know, in case I ever needed a book trailer.

ALMOST BUT…

No town is every going to look exactly like Elyora… it is a mash up of elements from all the tiny country towns I’ve ever been to, but there was one house there that gave me the absolute willies.

IMG_2341The town also has three churches. One of them totally cordoned off so you could only peep at it from the road.

IMG_2356One with weeping angels in the graveyard.

IMG_2361I’m glad we visited without incident but now, every time we drive past I get the icky feeling on the back of my neck that perhaps Elyora does lie down the Ben Lomond Road. Lord forbid I ever hear stray strains of The Andrews Sisters as we drive past.

2013-01-06 13.05.30AND ACROSS THE DITCH

It wasn’t just the aspects of rural NSW that shaped the characters and narrative in River of Bones. Tomorrow I’ll talk about how finding the perfect monster fed and expanded additional locations central to the novella.

We’ve all been to ‘one of those towns’… where the twang of banjos claw at the back of our brains. Where is your Elyora?


Thank you to everyone who has Tweeted, Facebooked, downloaded and talked to others about River of Bones. As this goes to press the novella is #6 on the free US charts under the horror sub-genre of the occult and #9 in the UK free horror charts.

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River of Bones Released

It’s publication day for RIVER of BONES (aka ELYORA). It’s available now on Kindle UK and Kindle USA, published by Endeavour Press in the UK.

It’s October 1974 and all is not well in the town of Elyora. First the clocks stop. And men in shiny suits turn up offering payment for the inconvenience. Then the phone lines stop working. And finally, the power goes out. The trouble is, no one comes to explain that.

River_of_Bones2Fast forward to December 2012. Jo, Benny and Hal, members of the band Faunabate, have no idea what they’re in for when their car suddenly breaks down on the way to their first gig.

Their nearest town? Elyora. Upon arrival it quickly becomes clear that this is not your normal town. Why are all the magazines dated at 1974? Why have all of their clocks stopped? And where exactly have all the people gone?

There are some towns you don’t ever want to visit. And Elyora is one of them.  Because not everyone gets out alive…

Spawned from a dream about a creepy house and river in August 2010 and based in countless road trips along the New England highway, the original novella entitled ELYORA was originally written during the high octane vibe of the June Rabbit Hole, fueled by a Yacht Club DJ’s mix tape and deftly shaped by my crit partner Dan Powell and emerging editor Lesley Halm for publication in a special December edition of Review of Australian Fiction.

RIVER OF BONES has a brand new opening (for old readers – the characters of Mrs Briggs and Mike are revisited) but it remains the twisted road trip that takes the reader beyond the city to the country, beyond mobile service to an isolation that threatens personal autonomy. To a place where we confront the demons we create in order to save ourselves.

Add RIVER OF BONES to your Goodreads shelf.

Elyora: The Novella That Keeps on Giving

…or how I got caught in the best kind of time loop.

I’m sitting at the outside table beside the pool and thinking it’s a fitting place to write this blog post about Elyora. After all, I penned quite a lot of my novella here, escaping out of the cold of the house and into the bearable winter sun outside across June and July of last year.

Elyora’s news is two pronged, but perhaps I need to back track a little given Christmas preparations subsumed much of the original news regarding it.

JUNE – DECEMBER

I wrote Elyora during the Rabbit Hole in June last year. Review of Australia Fiction picked it up for inclusion in their Rabbit Hole special edition. I was thrilled at the time and buckled down, under the auspice of emerging editor Lesley Halm (of Island Magazine), to tidy up the ugly manuscript in a somewhat mad time frame.

In mid December, after more crazy time-framed revisions, including some very badly timed speed vomiting and the worst case of self-doubt ever, Elyora was released via the Booki.sh platform alongside five other short stories.

In her editorial Lesley wrote:

Each of these were stories that came out of Down the Rabbit Hole. One is even as long as the 30,000 word goal they were trying to achieve. Don’t let that daunt you. “Elyora” by Jodi Cleghorn is a thrilling, unashamedly Australian supernatural thriller, which makes Jodi look like the love child of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. You will be amazed that Jodi wrote this story in three days.

When I read this I almost vomited. What the hell was Lesley doing saying stuff like that? She couldn’t put my name in the same sentence as Gaiman and King, much less say it was anything like theirs. It was too much. I think that was part of the reason I stayed so quiet about Elyora when it came out – that people might read the editorial and expect more than they were ever going to get!

JANUARY

Sean Wright interviewed in January and in preparation for the interview I sent him through a bunch of my work, including Elyora. His feedback shocked me and yes, at the time I thought he was ‘just being nice’. After the interview he urged me to send Elyora to a paying market, it was not only good enough but I deserved some recompense.

FEBRUARY

On a whim I contacted a friend who is a commissioning editor at a relatively new digital press in the UK. I worked with Richard several years ago and it seemed to be as good a place to start as any, if I was going to seriously consider sending Elyora beyond the shores of Review of Australian Fiction.

In less than 24 hours I had a please send it through. A day later I was asked for a bio and a synopsis. A day after that I was told the manuscript was definitely a good fit for what they were publishing. I just had to do two things:

  • Think up a new name
  • Include a new beginning that made it easier to sell via the digital platforms it would be for sale on

I had a revised manuscript, with a new name and new 1000 word beginning, back to Richard by Monday. Tuesday it got the nod at acquisitions and I had a contract in my inbox by bedtime. That all happened in six days.

Within a fortnight from first touching base with Richard it was signed, sealed and delivered and I ventured out into the world with the good news Elyora had found a digital home with Endeavour Press* as River of Bones**.

BACK TO ELYORA

http://lisahannett.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/aurealis-awards-finalist-for-web.jpgThursday morning I woke to a congratulatory email from Jo Anderton, saying we were finalist buddies and I WAS going to the awards night, wasn’t I?

The Aurealis Awards and me have a bit of a history of missing each other at vital moments, and it seemed it had happened again. This time because I had gone to bed early.

My hands shook as I sought out the press release and found I was a finalist in the short horror section alongside Rob Hood, Kaaron Warren, Felicity Dowker and Jo Anderton. Several days on and I still can’t believe Elyora is there, listed alongside stories from Rob, Kaaron, Felicity and Jo. Really?

I’m not sure when it will sink in. Or when I’ll feel it is a worthy inclusion. I still feel like a beginner on so many levels. The skin of the editor isn’t quite shucked off yet.

With an award nomination and a publishing contract in hand, all I really can think of is all the hard work, of the weeks of darkness when I opened multiple emails to Lesley to withdraw from the Special Edition because it was all too hard, that my writing sucked, the story was terrible and it had all been some kind of terribly mistake. And how I felt so very alone without my usual group of beta readers (and how it was too long to hassle Dan Powell with again – just to prop up my floundering self belief).

Elyora, regardless of what happens next, will always be the ugly duckling that ran on jet fuel, the story that showed me when push came to shove, I was able to rise to the challenge, even when holding a vomit bucket!

*The fact that I’m being published by a press with the same initials as eMergent’s, has not gone unnoticed!

**Release date and cover art to follow shortly – though I have seen draft artwork and it is  amazing!