sat rusted and warped
the only connection
after the dark hole
a film set
Or as a rough draft!
sat rusted and warped
the only connection
after the dark hole
a film set
Or as a rough draft!
For those who follow me on Twitter and Instagram, you will have seen a flutter of mentions late last year, but thanks to some health bumps, it’s taken until now to get it all to come together the way I want it to.
As some of you know, the novella was first published in Review of Australian Fiction’s Rabbit Hole special edition on the 23rd of December 2012, under the editorial stewardship of the very awesome Lesley Halm. Sean Wright encouraged me to to find a paid home for Elyora, which I did. But when I sold the manuscript in early 2013, the publisher insisted on a title change to make it less parochial and the addition of a new opening section to ensure it would hook the thriller readers it was slated to be marketed to. To compound it all, I signed the contract for River of Bones the day before Elyora was announced as an Aurealis short-listed work. And as a final nail in the coffin, the ebook was only ever available via Kindle.
To able to use my paperback rights to return the manuscript to its original narrative form, to joyfully and proudly market it as ‘Australian gothic horror’ and to have it in a medium accessible by everyone, well it makes me a very happy author.
A BIT OF GOTHIC HORROR FOR VALENTINES DAY
I’m launching the paperback on the 14th February.
The book will be available here (and for those that buy here, there will be something in your copies that I was unable to print in a mass market copy!) or via the usual online bookstores.
The novella is $11.99 (including postage anywhere in the world) and can be purchased by clicking here.
As special thank you, I’ll ship an original Elyora-based poem square with the first five books pre-ordered.
When Jo, Hal and Benny arrive in Elyora the absence of takeaway coffee is the least of their problems. At each other’s throats and without transportation, phone service or somewhere to stay, they accept the hospitality of the enigmatic Lazarus at the original Elyora homestead.
As day turns to night, the sanctuary of the rambling house becomes a terrifying alternate reality of memories peeling back onto themselves to expose secrets and paranoia dating back to 1942.
To escape Elyora and return to 2012, Jo must remember who she is and find Benny and Hal before they succumb to the same fate as those who came before them.
A time-traveling serial killer is impossible to trace – until one of his victims survives.
In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. He stalks them through their lives across different eras, leaving anachronistic clues on their bodies, until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.
The Shining Girls by award-winning South African author, Lauren Beukes, is part dark supernatural thriller, part crime novel, part coming-of-age story, part time travel story, part historical fiction and part social commentary with a feminist bent. With so many angles to the narrative it could easily have become a tangled mess, yet Beukes pulls it off with class and style.
Set in Chicago, each of the historic periods reads authentically (though I am no expert) and it was refreshing to read the nuances in the voices of each of the POV characters (and there are a lot of them) based not just on personality but on the decade in question. Beukes has definitely not taken the easy way out.
The time travel (I’m calling it time shifting) rules are set early and as far as I can determine, the narrative abides by the rules (bending them slightly in terms of allowing Kirby and Mal entry to the house when they break in, by virtue of them possessing something from the house). The non-linear narrative of the time shifting stories occur between the linear stories of Harper in 1931/2 and Kirby in 1992. Like all the best time bending stories, you learn pieces of the plot out of time and without context allowing a slow piecing together of the larger narrative and those delicious a-ha moments when those non-context bits finally fall into place.
Kirby (the only of Harper’s girls to survive) is a protagonist with sass and you are with her each step of the way, desperately wanting her to find Harper so she’ll have vengeance and closure for her attack. It looks impossible, but slowly (partly through her own tenacity and partly through tightly-wound Harper coming apart at the seams) it looks achievable. I know there are others who have not enjoyed her bad-arse, punk attitude, but if the world spits in your face, you can either hide or go it head on. Kirby opts for the latter. Her hard-shelled, rebellious early 20’s self is consistent with the slightly detached, non-nonsense child we are introduced to early in the novel.
Dan (a burned out and jaded homicide journo-turned sportscaster) has the right amount of initial ambivalence toward Kirby as his intern and then pathos as her true mission is revealed. I have to agree with others that the romantic subplot woven into Dan’s character and the hapless knight in shining armour didn’t add anything. Beukes almost laughs at herself when Kirby re-asserts at the show down with Harper that Dan is Robin to her Batman. And while Dan might be in love with Kirby, there is a definite feel throughout that Kirby enjoys the off-beat companionship and perhaps a little flirtation but it’s an amorous relationship is not where she wants it to head. She is focused on the end goal and he is initially her meal ticket, then confidente and later partner-in-crime. Even the hardest and most determined protagonist needs someone to have their back in the 11th hour.
And then there is Harper, the time-shifting serial killer, terrifying in his cold-calculated stalking, the charismatic grooming of the young girls and sadistic dispatching of their older selves. His initial confusion in his changed circumstances helps to ground the reader in the weirdness of the house he happens upon while escaping from Hooverville vigilantes. The later awe, then fear of the plan laid out for him, gives us a sense of the inevitability of where he finds himself, both as a passive recipient ‘of the plan’ and as the active participant of ‘of murderer’. He’s the best type of antagonist because Beukes gives the reader a sense of Harper’s humanity as he attempts to court Nurse Etta. Despite his sociopathic drive, he still has a need for human understanding and contact, echoed again in his short-lived desire for Alice.
Being drawn into the worlds of each of the victims and their slaughter is perhaps the most horrific element of the book. We know from the list of names on the back cover who the girls are. At the first point of contact with each of them we know none of them will walk away with their lives as we are drawn into their worlds: their relationships, careers, hopes, pain and dreams. This makes each shining girl a well rounded character and amplifies the senseless violence of their deaths. (Beukes doesn’t hold back on the grisly details either.)
Each of the shining girls dies in their own time, but there is a sickening anticipation in the reader as Beukes kills some off in the chapter where we first meet them and others chapters later. The chaos of the reveal echoing Harper’s killing spree.
The story of Alice is perhaps the most disturbing of all, as the only one of Harper’s girls who waits with passionate intensity for his return. Harper, the man who kissed her with wild abandon when she was sacked from her job as a dancing girl in the carnival and then disappeared telling her he would be back. Alice waits for him to swan back into her life and save her. As the only girl with any agency in her death, she is perhaps the most closely aligned with Kirby and why she resonated with me beyond her death in a way the other women didn’t.
While ‘the shining’ is never articulated by Beukes (and this seems to have upset some readers–though it appears as ‘potential’ on some edition’s blurb and not on others?) it is there, woven intimately in the lives of each of women. They are all living outside the acceptable boundaries of society as dictated by the decade they’re in. They contain an inner fire that allows them to thumb their noses at societal expectations; to confront with verve and determination the discrimination and hurdles thrown up by their gender and complicated by race, career, sexual and political preferences. In some cases it is a personal choice, other times it is by luck (good and bad) of circumstances. It’s not just a knife blade that can extinguish the shining. It is not a certainty for the future as we see when Harper’s arrogance leads him to tamper with Catherine’s understanding of her life. While Catherine expires as the other shining girls do, it would seem she has been dead for years and Harper disappointed by this, becomes disillusioned and looses confidence in himself; he has undermined himself with the ego of his God complex.
The outstanding ensemble of characters is topped off by well-rounded secondary characters from Indian-goth Chet, one of the newspaper’s librarians to Rachel, the barely present mother surrounded by her own ineptitude and broken dreams as a woman, mother and artist. Then there is Kirby’s high school love, Fred Turner, who is so off the mark when they meet up again, that the car scene is beyond cringe-worthy. All are absolutely believable and add to the overall tapestry.
The only character I wondered about was Mal, the homeless addict, whose interest is piqued by the odd comings and goings of Harper from the condemned building in Mel’s neighbourhood. While Mal ramps up Harper’s sense of paranoia by stealing from the house, the number of pages devoted to Mal seem superfluous to the overall narrative in what was such a strong collection of characters who all had something real to add to the momentum of the story.
And the house. (It appears I have a penchant for creepy houses.) The house is character, tech and paradox. The true nature of its existence revealed beautifully at the conclusion (it had me thinking of the Elyora Homestead). The paradox is circular, and is thus self-serving, but Beukes does a brilliant job of justifying it, filling in all the holes as she goes. The post script ties up the narrative perfectly, allowing the ends of the circle to fuse together in a truly satisfying manner.
The Shining Girls is a complex, gruesome, slow burn of a novel that achieves what it set out to do without taking the easy way out.
Four and a half radium-glow butterfly wings
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.
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.
Armidale 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.
The 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…We 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.
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.
I’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.
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.
RIVER OF BONES, my supernatural thriller, is free for the rest of the week. You can pick up your copy at Amazon UK or Amazon USA (best for Aussie readers). To coincide with the giveaway I’ve lined up a series of blog posts to take the reader behind the creepy exterior.
…in 2011, in a chalet in the middle of nowhere–a place four hours west of Brisbane called the Bunya Mountains. Amid the towering ancient Bunya Pines, and cold, howling winds, I tried to reconnect with my writing via Natalie Goldberg’s WILD MIND. While my Mr Ds were off exploring I’d spend an hour reading and work my way through the writing prompt for the day, scribbling with mad abandon in a tattered red exercise book.
In the earliest pages are two dreams: the first about an overburdened lint filter (looking back it’s the perfect metaphor for how I was feeling at the time!); the second, an epic dream in technicolour, twisted and distorted as all good dreams are. I remember waking from it knowing there was more than a kernel of a story idea.
TO DREAM, TO WRITE
21st of August, 2011
Last night I dreamed about a place–with dilapidated houses. The fist one had a grand driveway and stone pillars which would have once held an impressive gate. When you looked up the hill there was nothing. You expected to see a grand old house–in good repair or falling apart–but there was nothing of the sort. At the top a neat chalet with the lights on.
Further on there were tumble down houses, over grown yards. One house was three storeys high at one end, two at the other, white weatherboard, ugly, ostentatious in the fact someone felt the need to build a third level to an extremely ordinary and ugly house.
There were men living in the town and a ramshackle service station–the old sort with a shed like store and two pumps out the front. In the drive way there was a hippie stand of food, festive flights festooning the drab surrounding giving it all a surreal look.
Walking up to the hippie food stand there were large goodie-balls rolled in coconut. I wanted to buy one but the stall holder told me they were specifically for the IT people who were coming (a hang over from finishing Snow Crash yesterday?)
In the forest there was a water hole fed by a creek and in the water hole were mermaids who lured men it to swim with them. When they did they were caught forever to live in the tiny town. There was one woman and one child–a merchild. She was forced to give up her tail to raise her child on land.
(Realised my people travelling through are musos–in an old town that breaks down. My MC is the only other woman in the town–the male band members lured there. The town of Elyora is not even on the map. The woman with the child had the name Elyora–decided it made a funky, weird sounding name. The sort you’d find in the middle of nowhere–travelling between two towns).
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
I unearthed the old exercise book several weeks ago. I was amazed at how much of the dream I recorded and how much of the original dream made it into RIVER OF BONES/ELYORA (anyone who has read it, will pick up the crossovers immediately). What I had forgotten were the strings of festive lights, the hippies, the goodie balls and the IT folk. Though I’m certain the wait for the IT people to arrive is probably the foundation for the Government facility on the other side of the river. Ironically anything that may have had a hint of lightness/happiness was exorcised. Well, I did set out specifically to write horror!
I’d also somehow forgotten, in the search for the perfect monster, that I’d started off with mermaids and a female mermaid forced from the river to care for her baby on land. That shocked me (how fragile the memory is!) The boy child laid unconscious foundations for Gus and the mother’s ‘enslavement’ (being forced from the river to raise the boy) the forerunner of what waited for Jo on the other side of her fever in the Elyora homestead. Funny how things lurk even if they’ve been jettisoned from the conscious part of the brain.
It’s so rare for me to keep any kind of record of what I’m writing. I’m so grateful for the hand scrawled dream and the record of the earliest word counts on the original draft. Writing on the original draft ended on 1st September with 5953 words.
With the birthpunk novellas I’m mindful of keeping some kind of recollections of the journey. Whether they’ll inform anything in the future other than my own keepsake, remains to be seen.
Do you keep a record of what you are writing? What inspired/shaped it? Do dreams inspire or inform your writing?
Download your free copy of the Aurealis shortlisted RIVER OF BONES (Elyora) now at Amazon UK or Amazon USA. For those who read the novella in it’s first incarnation as ELYORA, the new opening expands the characters of Mrs Briggs and Stanley Blessing in a stand alone piece of flash fiction.
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.
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.
…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!
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.
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:
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
Thursday 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!