Archive for November, 2013

I have almost reached the end of my National Novel Writing Month journey, writing every day and shaping my manuscript during November along with hundreds of thousands of writers from across the world. My final novella in the manuscript “Belonging Places”, is the story of Jill Bridges, an elderly woman facing the prospect of a nursing home, who fights to hold onto her independence. It’s a story of love and loss and how freedom can be found in the most vulnerable of circumstances.

Chapter 1:

She placed the delicate posy of lilacs on his coffin before it was lowered into the ground. He had loved to garden and the heady scent of the October bloom had always brought memories of his childhood. She wanted to fill his dark grave with the scents he loved best. She couldn’t look anymore at the disappearing coffin, so she turned away, a lump in her throat, hopeful no family members would approach her when she could barely speak. She wanted a moment alone to control her grief, so she could look up and talk to them all, tell them she would be ok. She turned away to face the hillside and listened to the priest reciting the graveside prayers. Oh yes, he would be accepted into the Lord’s house on angel’s wings. He was, after all, a good man.

They had been married 40 years, though he was slightly older than her by 10 years. Enough time for death to take him first and leave her widowed and alone. She remembered their first date. It had been a picnic at his uncle’s farm. It was spring, she recalled and what a spring it was, coming as it did after three rainy seasons. The ground was jumping with life and she could feel the fertility beneath their picnic blanket. She even remembered their first real meal together – crusty Italian bread and thick wedges of cheese, fresh ham and billy tea. They had been so innocent then. She was shy by nature and those early adult years had not been easy for her. One on one she showed her true self, but within crowds she would clam up, anticipating the end of her ordeal when the evening was at a close, and she could return to the safety of her home. But on that first picnic, she felt strangely at home with him, this man she hardly knew.

Bill Bridges was a man’s man, but he made an exception around her. She knew this; knew that he was putty in her hands, but she never used it against him, never. She wasn’t sure when she fell in love with him, whether it was on that first springtime picnic as they munched on the most wonderfully tasting bread and cheese, sipping the tea so that the flavours mixed together, so typically Australian, or whether the love came later. It had been so long ago. The tears ached at the back of her eyes as she recalled that picnic, surrounded by the wild daisies and the gentle hum of springtime. And now, as the coffin disappeared into the ground, the dull whirring of the mechanical gears, the only sound aside from the silent sobbing of his two children; their two children, she struggled to remember…their special times together.

They married quickly, within six months of that first spring picnic, and were so in love by then. Jill and Bill Bridges. It always had a nice ring to it, like they were meant to be together. And perhaps they were. She had had a good marriage, plenty of passion in the beginning and they had shared the good and the bad, like any strong couple. What affected her certainly affected him and vice versa. That was the way it was in their marriage, a symbiotic partnership. When she was depressed after her first child – postnatal depression they said – life was equally bleak for him. When he was wronged by a business partner, that man who long after remained nameless in their household, was her enemy too. In sickness and in health, was never truer for them. They even suffered the same ailments. Two peas in a pod, her mother had said, and she was grateful she had found love in this lifetime, from the beginning.

Their two children had come quickly, one after another, a boy and a girl, their pigeon pair. Life had been complete. That wasn’t to say they didn’t work hard. They did, for every penny they earned, and saved. They had made their home in a modest three bedroom brick veneer, in a small country town, a couple of hours from Sydney. It was a town where everyone was known to everyone, and they had become fixtures, joining in the various clubs and, in her case, the women’s groups. She knew she was particularly rated for her cooking. It didn’t matter what she cooked, she had that special touch. Her pumpkin scones were well known at the various fundraisers over the years. Jill Bridges pumpkin scones, she thought ruefully. Was that her contribution that would be remembered? She wondered how Bill would be remembered.

He had set up his own mechanics business not long after they had married. They had debated the risks: was it better to work for someone else and play it safe, or take that leap of faith on their own. She supposed being married had given Bill that extra courage because he handed in his notice to the largest mechanic business in their town, where he had worked since leaving high school some 10 years before and rented a small, rundown shed on the edge of town. It had been hard at first, and she had worked extra hours cleaning at the local motel, just so they could get by, but little by little their business grew, and now it was the biggest in town, run by her son Jeff.

Memories. She turned back to the graveside to see the coffin firmly planted in the ground. She was not expected to watch the earth being thrown over it. It was time to go. Her son and daughter Ellen were approaching but she had no desire to leave Bill. The tears came and she let them fall down her face, making no effort to dab them away with her handkerchief.

“Mum?” Elle said, in a particularly soft tone for her. She glanced at her daughter, noticing the grief that weighed her down. Unlike Jeff, she was close to her father.

“I’m ok Elle. Just give me a minute.” Her voice was stiff and formal. She was not as close to her daughter as she was to her son. Funny how that went, she thought, that Elle was the apple of Bill’s eye, while Jeff understood her, and was distant with his father. Family dynamics were at best, fathomable but not fully understood.

She reached out for her daughter’s hand, bonded as they were in that moment, by their grief. Jeff approached with his new wife Narelle, a pretty young girl and clever beyond her years. It was a good partnership.

“Mum, it’s time to go,” Jeff said, placing a firm and supportive hand on her arm. “Everyone else is leaving, and we should be down at the club to greet them.”

She looked at her son, wondering about his grief. He didn’t have the easiest of relationships with his father. They were too similar, both men’s men and as stubborn as each other. Jeff had taken over the business five years ago, when Bill’s hands and knees were crippled with arthritis and the dusk of old age had begun to fall. It hadn’t been an easy transition for Bill. He had built the business from the ground up with the sweat of his youthful years etched into every brick and mortar, every contract they had ever won, and into the all the relationships built over 40 years with workers, clients and the townspeople who supported them. He had resented Jeff’s new ideas at first, distrusted them and rallied against them. They were, after all, not his and he loved his business almost as much as life.

But never as much her, she thought. She had been his one true love, and he would have sacrificed it all for her, had she told him to. She turned back to Jeff, forgetting he and Elle were waiting on her.

“You two go, and be there to greet our guests. I need a moment alone…to say goodbye. I’ll be alright; just leave me be…for a minute.”

They were puzzled and worried by her request, reluctant to go but Narelle stepped forward. “Leave her Jeff…Elle. She needs this time. We can arrange with Father Percy to drive her to the club.”

So they left her alone with her husband. They were starting to shovel the earth over the coffin. She watched as the clods of dirt fell softly onto the red ornate cedar of the coffin. She pictured him in there, sleeping peacefully. He had died without any pain, knowing it was his time, but reluctant to leave her. He had held on, long after the doctors thought he could, and they had tried to make the best of those last few months. She had fitted their home out with rails, and non slip matts in the bathroom, and a special bed. They had oxygen cylinders in the bedroom and the lounge room, and Bill had used a walker until he could no longer manage. Then they had used a wheelchair. She wanted to keep him in his home, as long as she could manage and with palliative care, they had done better than predicted. Bill had only been taken to hospital to lie in his deathbed two weeks before he passed.

“Thud, thud, thud…” She should go now, before they finished, and there was only a mound of newly turned earth to mark his grave…until the headstone came. She reached into her bag and took out an old black and white photo of them taken on the day of their first picnic. The faces of two young lovers stared back at her, hardly recognisable now…except for the eyes. Real joy and a growing love were there in the depth of their expressions, windows to the future. Momentarily, she paused, drinking in the familiarity of his face, and the mischievous humour always at the edge of his expression. She put her lips gently on his photographed face, and kissed him softly. Kneeling down, she placed the photograph in the dirt as a talisman for him, so that he would know he did not need to make his journey alone.

“I’ll always be with you Bill,” she whispered softly.

The grave diggers had paused out of respect to allow her to say her last goodbyes. She got to her feet and nodded stiffly to them, wanting to maintain her dignity. She knew that now people would be watching her, alone, ageing and vulnerable. She knew that without Bill at her side, she would need to struggle to keep her freedom. She felt the pain in her hip. It had been replaced three years ago and she feared the other would need the same. She walked slowly to the priest’s car. Father Percy was waiting patiently for her.

“I know this is hard for you Jill,” he said, gently, “but Bill was a good man, and is resting with the Lord now.”

She nodded, afraid to say anything at all in case she began to cry again, and could not stop. The Lord gave her no comfort today, none at all. Rather, she felt only anger that she had lost her love, and at the prospect of the lonely years to come. She took a deep breath and got into the car, letting Father Percy take over the job of getting her to the wake, where her children would be waiting with the many of the townsfolk who had come also to say goodbye to her husband.

She wondered how she would get through the afternoon, and dug deep for a resolve. But what else was there for her to do. She would go home tonight, to their empty marital home, perhaps switch on the TV to drown out her thoughts. She would not be hungry, and would put the kettle on for a cup of tea, one cup not two, and then when she felt the heaviness and mercy of sleep come, she would go to their bed and lie there in the dark, conscious of the empty space beside her. And that would be how it would be in the long coming months, empty spaces where he should have been, and always her, feeling only half complete as though a part of her was missing. And it was.

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I have managed to file almost 30,000 words so far this month in National Novel Writing Month (#nanowrimo). It’s been a good experience for me because it has taken the seed of a novel and literally forced its germination. Belonging Places will be finished by November’s end. It is three novellas bound together by the common theme of finding your belonging place, and that place is always within. Here is the first chapter from the second novella, about a career woman who seemingly has it all, but does she?

ESTELLE’S STORY

Chapter 1

She flicked the cap machine on as she whizzed through the kitchen, brush in one hand, daycare lunch in the other. A quick, furtive glance at the kitchen clock told her she had exactly 10 minutes to get Corey ready. “Joel, Joel, we’ve got to go, can you hurry…please,” she yelled up the stairwell. By some miracle he would have heard and would miraculously appear down the stairs, on time. She knew he wouldn’t be doing that, so she called again, louder this time. “Joel, Joel. Come on!”

She grabbed a piece of toast out of the toaster and smeared it with vegemite. Corey was getting fidgety in his high chair. She smiled at him, as she reached for his coat and hat from the table. “Coming my little man. Just give mummy one more minute. Joel, I’m not kidding…”

She was about to tell her husband what she really thought about his lateness but he appeared round the corner while she was in mid-sentence. His blonde hair untidy, but in a suite and with his briefcase nevertheless. “In the nick of time, by the looks of things,” he said, planting a quick kiss on her cheek as he walked past, eager to get to the cap machine. Two cappuccinos coming up,” he said, getting the stainless steel flasks out of the cupboard on his way past.

“You are a lifesaver,” she said, unstrapping her young son, the image of his blonde haired, blue eyed dad, out of the high chair. “There you go baby. Mummy’s just about ready.” She kissed his round, still baby cheeks and ran the brush lightly through his hair. “Now, let’s get your coat on. It’s brrrr cold outside and I don’t want you getting brrrr cold.” Her son looked up at her with his big blue eyes, a smile on his face. She could have said anything to him, she thought, and he would still be smiling up at her. A pang of guilt shot through her. Why was she dragging her toddler out the door on such a cold winter’s day? She shook her head. “Now let’s not go through all that again Estelle,” she said, more to herself.

“What darling? What did you say,” her husband said, bringing her coat for her.

“Nothing. Talking to myself. Going mad actually, must be this new job promotion.”

He took Corey from her and pointed to the freshly brewed cappuccinos in their steel flasks. “You take these darling and I’ll go and strap munchkins in his car seat. Oh, and Estelle don’t forget your briefcase like yesterday.”

She looked at him as if to say ‘are you questioning my memory’. “Ok Joel, yes I forgot it yesterday, but we were in such a rush…”

“Like today,” he countered. “And I’m only trying to help.”

She waved him out the door and did a last minute check of the kitchen to make sure everything was off. She picked up a half eaten vegemite toast, the baby bag for Corey and her briefcase. One last hurried look in the mirror, and a mental note to get her long black hair cut on the weekend into a more manageable, shorter style, and she was out the door.

Hopping into the car with her son and husband, she heaved a huge sigh of relief. “Made it.”

He smiled at her and flicked the car into gear. “God the day has only just begun and I’m exhausted,” he said with a grin on his face.

She smiled a half-hearted attempt in agreement and fell silent. Corey dozed in the back. She had been up half the night with him. He had come home from daycare with the snuffles, a head cold picked up from one of the other 50 children there. Another pang of guilt. Stop it, she told herself. Just stop it. She leant her head back on the plush leather headrest of their Audi. Money had not been a problem for them for the past two years. Before, she was struggling to make it up the ladder in the editorial room, and he hadn’t been promoted to senior architect. Since then, they both had received promotions, she to Editor of the Woman’s Post and he to senior partner in Bladwell & Sons Architects. They had upgraded their home to a posh part of the city, and along with the move, bought the Audi. To anyone who noticed these things, they were a highly successful couple, with a beautiful baby boy. They had, quite simply, everything…and nothing she thought. She craved a day at home and reasoned that must be why she couldn’t lift herself out of her downer. She was just tired and nearing the end of her patience with the breakneck pace of her life, and its impacts on her family.

She gazed at the blur of suburban Sydney as it whirred past the tinted glass of the Audi’s windows. They lived on the North Shore now and it was a longer drive into the City. She had found a good daycare a few suburbs along and they were approaching it. She called softly to her son. “Honey, we’re nearly at daycare. Nearly time to see Benny and Matilda. Corey, wake up.”

Her blonde haired son stirred in his seat as the car came to a stop at the daycare. “I’ll take him,” Joel said to her, unstrapping his seatbelt.

“No. I’ll do this. You know how he hates you doing it.” She unbuckled her seatbelt, got out and opened the back door. Her son, bleary eyed was beginning to look around eagerly for his two friends. “Benny,” he murmured.

“That’s right petal,” she said carrying him through the front doors. “Let’s go and find Benny.” She put him down and he ran toward the main playing room. A daycare worker was there to greet him. “Let’s go find your friends Corey, shall we?” she said brightly, and the little man grinned at her. Estelle could only look as his tiny, tiny legs disappeared through the door. She turned away. It didn’t matter how many times they did this, every time sent a shiver of anxiety through her. She just didn’t like being separated for a whole day from her baby.

Deep in thought, she returned to the car. Joel had his usual worried frown to greet her. “Ok, he got off ok?”

“Yep,” she said, glancing at her watch. “We’ll need to hurry now to beat the bridge traffic.”

They were mostly silent during the remainder of their journey into the City. Luckily they worked close by each other, and Joel had access to free parking in his building. From Joe’s building, she only needed to walk the two remaining blocks to the Woman’s Post head office, the magazine she had started on as a cadet journalist more than a decade ago. Now she was editor. She pulled out her I-pad and checked her schedule for the day. There was a meeting with the advertising manager scheduled for 8.30am, a mere 25 minutes away. She hoped she was on time. And then was an editorial meeting with the heads of department at 10.30am. Next, lunch with the Editor in Chief, and there was an afternoon brief with legal on the Bannister story they putting on the front cover – a story about a young woman who had been raped. It was a brave call to put her on the cover, but it was national rape victim’s week and the Bannister woman was topical at the moment, because she had fought back against her attackers and had escaped certain death. Her bravery was inspiring. It also helped that she was young and beautiful, and someone people could relate to – everyone’s daughter, she thought ironically.

“Umm, busy day honey,” she said, without looking at her husband.

“Me too,” he said without taking his eyes of the looming traffic. They would just make it into the City before the worst of the peak hour rush. It wasn’t long before he was manoeuvring the Audi into the spot that was reserved for him. He leant over and began kissing her goodbye.

“This weekend promise me no more bringing home work from the office,” he said.

“I won’t if you won’t,” she answered, playfully.

“Seriously,” he said, looking directly into her eyes, “we need some long overdue family time.”

She kissed him back then, a lingering kiss. “I know. I know. And we will. As soon as the Bannister story is done…but this weekend, I promise no work on Saturday. No I-pad, no mobile, just you, me and Corey.”

He smiled warmly and all was forgiven, and she was reminded yet again just how much she was still in love with her childhood sweetheart, even after a decade of marriage. She grabbed her briefcase and headed for the street exit.

“Later,” she said winking at him, as he too disappeared through the building’s carpark lift.

He blew a kiss to her, as the lift doors closed on him. She quickened her pace, to try and make the seven minute walk in five. Damn, she thought to herself, she should have brought her flats. The new heels crunched the front of her feet up, and irritated the bunion that was beginning to form on her right foot. She compensated and put most of her weight onto her left foot. Arriving at her building with exactly two minutes to spare before the meeting with Miranda Bonnington, she flew past her personal assistant.

“Mail, coffee and hold the calls. Thanks Suzie.”

Suzie gave her an understanding smile. “Sure Estelle, copy that.”

She smiled, shut her door and made herself comfortable behind the huge oak desk that had been at the Post for almost a century. She settled into the leather chair and kicked off her shoes under the desk. Firing up her computer, she took note of the messages already on her desk and began prioritising them. She grabbed her notebook and pen, a legacy of being a journalist. She took them into every single meeting she attended, whether it was with the Prime Minister or to lunch with the Chair of the Board. Pen in hand, and sifting through her emails, she was ready for Miranda when she walked through the door.

She liked Miranda, but they rarely agreed. Miranda was, after all, the enemy. She was concerned primarily with making her bonus, and ensuring that sales revenues were met. On the other hand, Estelle was always concerned with preserving the editorial quality of the magazine. They often fought, always over a request for advertorial, the kind of content dressed up to look like a story, but designed to ‘sell’ the advertiser’s products. More and more, the commercial realities intruded for Estelle and she knew that sometimes she had to give into Miranda, but not always.

Today’s meeting was over a big pharmaceutical account Miranda had landed, and she wanted editorial support for a four page advertorial feature she planning for them. They were supposed to be talking about what stories might populate the feature and Estelle had made up her mind to be hard arsed about it. It might be an advertorial feature, but it was also going to contain meaningful and helpful content, in keeping with the ethos of Woman’s Post. Estelle could have done without the meeting today with Miranda; she didn’t really feel like a fight, but she was also conscious of the Board’s expectations of her, and that was to deliver a product that brought in revenue. Content was one thing, sales were another and the two were supposed to work seamlessly together to produce the revenue. She sighed heavily, wondering what was wrong with her today. From the very start, she had been dragging her heels. Her PA phoned. Miranda was outside her office. “Send her in Suzie, thanks.”

Miranda flung the door open with such confidence and strode in, in her nine inch heels. Estelle wondered how she walked in them, when she could only manage ‘sensible’ stilettos with her bunion. She got up and extended her hand.

“Miranda Bonnington. How are you, sit down.”

Miranda fired back. “Estelle Wainwright. Long time between meetings.”

“Yeah. Sales must be going well,” she said, immediately regretting her sarcasm.

Miranda sat down in her impossible straight, short skirt, and gave her long, honey coloured hair a flick, pretending to ignore Estelle’s comment.

“Well, let’s get down to business, shall we. You might have heard that I’ve got the Raine account and we want to do a four page feature. I was wondering if I could have Steph Jones to work on it?”

Estelle closed her eyes and forced back the cynical smile that had begun to form. So typical of Miranda to want control, and taking a backdoor approach to get it.

“You and I both know that Steph is one of our lead writers and is actually working on the Bannister story at the moment. What I can give you is Dianna Greenway, but under my direction not yours. You and I both know my journalists do not answer to you Miranda. In any case, you have your sales feature writer, why not use him?”

It was Miranda’s turn to smile cynically. “You and I both know that he’s not up to the job. The Raine account needs a quality writer…”

“Which is why you can have Dianna under my supervision. You’ll get your quality.”

Miranda sensed she did not have the power in the conversation. “Ok, I can work with that, but I want to suggest the story leads.”

Estelle nodded. “Sure, send me your suggestions and I’ll consider them.”

Miranda was not going to be rolled that easily. “Well I was talking with one of the Board yesterday and they are also on the Raine Board as well. Turns out he wants the best possible stories done, and I suggested something on their leading market position…written non-commercially of course.”

“Alright Miranda, you’ve made your point. We’ll include that story in our mix. But I really need to cut this meeting short – got to get to the editorial meeting later this morning and I’ve a million and one things to do before then.”

Miranda got up, stretching her legs and smoothing her skirt like a panther arising for her morning walk. There was definitely something feline about her, Estelle thought.

“Well, I’ll be in touch, via email. Saves time.”

Estelle smiled at her. “Yes, that’d be the shot. Email.” As she watched Miranda slink her way out of her office, in her nine centimetre heels, she knew she had won the battle but Miranda had also made her point too. She needed to watch that one more closely, she thought. She yawned, and sipped her coffee which was cold. Swinging around in her chair she took in the view of the city’s skyline. What a view, she thought. Immediately Corey came into her mind, and she knew he’d be having little lunch by now.

No safe exit

Posted: November 10, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Tonight’s offering of poetry.

Along the dusty track she wound her car

round the bends, at breakneck speeds.

Young and full of confidence, MP3 player

at full bore.

What was playing that day, as the wind whipped

through the open window, elbow hanging out

like some action-packed hero, invincible and full

of confidence?

Sally had told her that afternoon, about the

schoolyard plot to gang up on her; she didn’t

mean to be so good at English and use ‘them

big words’.

No she didn’t mean to inspire such hate and was

shocked when it came, and hit her like a stomach

punch. She pretended she didn’t care but the air was

gone from her lungs.

Round the bends she wound her car, a little second

hand Lancer her mother had bought for her.  It gave

her the speed that blurred the fear she felt and the

weight of the hate.

That last bend, they say, she took at 100 miles an hour.

The little Lancer went head on, into the tree. The force

threw her out the door and she was DOA on arrival.

They pronounced.

The next day at school, the mean girls stopped for a

moment in fear; what if someone found out they had

slipped her a note the day before, just to say they would

kill her?

But no-one followed up and they were off the hook,

and because no-one did, they thought it was alright

to tease and taunt and hate, and drive the next girl

and the next,

over the edge.

By Maryann Weston

Here is the first chapter of my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) manuscript. Of course unedited at this stage, but nevertheless here.

LILIANA’S STORY

Chapter One:

Liliana brushed her long brown hair off her face and gazed dreamily out the window. Behind the thick pane of glass, the countryside whirred by – green trees and order was giving way to the yellow straw colour of wheat crops that had just been harvested. The sheep were already beginning to eat at the stubble. Everything in the country was about use and reuse. Everything was valued, accounted for and had a place. Unlike her.

It hadn’t taken much to get her to leave her home in Sydney. She hardly ever saw her mum anymore and the reality was they just didn’t connect. If they ever had, it was long, long ago, when Liliana was a child. She liked to think that her mum would have given her those giant cuddles and plant copious kisses on her baby cheeks…but she knew that probably wasn’t the truth. Liliana did have one fond memory – the day she had been beaten up at school. When she brought her bloodied lip home to show her mum what ‘they’ had done to her, her mum had responded with an uncharacteristic tenderness. Sitting down so she was at eye level, she had held Liliana’s head between her hands and had said: “Girl, don’t you ever let those bastards win. Alright. You fight back, you hear?” And then she had started sobbing in Liliana’s ear, deflated and defeated, the black circles under her eyes deepening to a purple colour before Liliana’s child eyes.

As Liliana grew up and didn’t need caring for, her mum came home less and less. It wasn’t unusual for her mum – everyone called her Mrs Smith – to do a runner with some man. When Liliana was 16, her mum stopped coming back at all. And that was a relief.

Of course the neighbours in her dingy block of units in Blacktown all tried to help, but she invented an aunt and pretended to speak to her ‘aunt’ loudly at night, while shutting them all out. With enough invention and cold shouldering they left her alone, probably reasoning that she was, after all, 16 years of age and eligible to leave school and go to TAFE or get a job. Well that’s what Liliana did. She went to TAFE, but not to do a typing course like the 90 percent of girls in her school year, she went there to get her Higher School Certificate. With the help of a few caring teachers, Liliana finished school and enrolled in the University of Western Sydney. Of course it wasn’t as prestigious as getting accepted by Sydney Uni with a tremendously high score, but her pass enabled her to get into a Bachelor of Librarianship. And for that she was happy. You see books were Liliana’s life. For as long as she could remember, she had immersed herself in other people’s words, and worlds. The grimy yellow walls of her flat, and the mildew growing on her bathroom ceiling, couldn’t contain her fiery imagination. She left her life behind in bounds when she travelled with the characters that inhabited those pages. At first she learned all about England through the eyes of a 12 year-old heroine who had magical powers and lots of friends. Bethany Flint became Liliana’s ideal and she began styling her hair like her – braiding the front so it didn’t hang limply around her oval face. Unbeknown to her, pulling her hair back away from her face showed her eyes – almond shaped and golden, and was a distinct improvement on the Emo look she had been cultivating, well not trying to cultivate. It was around that time she added Flint to her name in memory of her heroine, the beautiful, rich and popular Bethany Flint.

She marked her serious stage with an ode to Hemingway, again reading copiously and learning about cosmopolitan Paris that was a friend to the eclectic artists that roamed its streets and through Hemingway’s experiences as a writer. She took on the same je veux  vivre as Hemingway after that – at once distant and detached, and passionate and life affirming at the same time.

So as Liliana Flint-Smith, she had progressed through her three years at university, barely there in the back of the classroom but soaking up her lectures and the knowledge of her generous tutors. Although her reports always said she needed to find her voice, Liliana let the books do the talking for her. Between her books and letting everyone else speak, she really didn’t have to make much of an effort, seeing as all the people she knew, the writers in her books and the real people in the streets and at uni, loved to speak…a lot. It really didn’t much matter that she had little to say each day.

They got used to seeing her turn up to class, her black tights under a straight jersey skirt and large flapping black jumper. The old doc martins she found in the opp shop, complemented the multi-coloured woollen cap she pulled over her long, at times straggly hair. Oh Liliana, she often thought to herself as she stared back at her reflection before catching the 301 bus to Campelltown before uni each morning, who are you? She would never spend long on this question, instead pulling her woollen cap lower, almost over her eyes, and tramping hard in her doc martins out the door…with enough attitude to warn off the would be bullies who were always looking for easy prey on her street corner.

She loved to make up little games in her mind. Sometimes she would put on a posh voice when she got on the 301. Other times, she put her hair in a bun and changed her usual black, sombre Emo clothes, instead donning a colourful skirt and heels and wearing her mum’s tight fitting blue cardigan. Looking feminine and a bit stand offish, the cool students in the canteen would smile at her, thinking perhaps she was redeemable after all. And some well-toned, good looking boy with his blue eyes and swept back hair would give her a look which distinctly said, ‘maybe you would be worth taking to bed’. But she never kept this pretence up for long. Pretty soon she was back in black, invisible, and blending into the grey winter skies that so inspired her sense of style.

Learning about cataloguing, databases and references during her Bachelor of Librarianship was pretty routine for Liliana and tested her maths ability which was surprisingly strong. What she really loved was the literature major that was part of her degree. In another lifetime, she would have been a writer and studied books, but the cataloguing mattered to her too, and she felt safe in the routineness of being a librarian. After all, everything had a place and books needed to be in their place when they weren’t in the hands of the readers. To keep them safe and preserve them for the next reader – for all the Liliana’s whose world was made tolerable through the encouraging voice of the writer casting their eyes over the promise of an unknown landscape. That expansiveness had given Liliana hope during her short life, that there was a place in this world for her too…beyond the yellow, grimy walls of her Blacktown flat.

While other uni students generally left her alone, her teachers were far more generous with their time. One particular teacher, Haricula Theodori, had taken a particular interest in Liliana. A greek immigrant who also knew what it was like to sit at the back of the class and be largely ignored by the world, she made a special effort to draw Liliana out whenever she could.

Liliana, of course, had a giant girl crush on her. Hari – the shortened name she liked the class to use in her tute’s – asked Liliana what she thought the novelists were trying to say. Liliana rarely ventured a long dissertation in those tutorials, but was comforted when a few in the class would start nodding. That meant they agreed with her and that was something. When people agree with you, she thought, then they have listened to what you say, and Liliana was not used to people listening to her. She was a realist. She knew that shy people rarely make the impact above the egos in the crowd.

“Liliana can I speak to you,” Hari said, one overcast, morning after class. “Are you free for a coffee?”

Liliana didn’t stop for a minute because she wasn’t sure whether Hari was speaking directly to her or not but when Hari raised her voice: “Liliana, do you have a minute?”, she knew her favourite teacher was talking to her directly. So turning around, and brushing her long hair out of her face, she said: “Yes, Ms Theodori.”

“Hari, Liliana, call me Hari.”

Hari’s brown, round Greek eyes were full of welcome Liliana noticed and she took a few steps toward her, deciding that she would interrupt her solitary journey to the canteen to buy a baked bean sandwich for morning tea, to talk with Hari.

Hari moved toward her and touched her arm in a gesture of closeness, Liliana thought.

“I’m free for coffee, Hari,” Liliana said.

“Great, then let’s head over to the quiet coffee shop on the other side of campus – not the canteen, it’s too crowded. I want to talk to you about your studies.”

Liliana raised one barely visible eyebrow. “Nothing’s wrong is there?” she said, starting to worry. She really needed to get through this degree. The money her grandmother had left her was starting to run out, and Mr Liazzorini from the pizza bar could only give her two shifts a week. She was tired of the endless baked bean sandwiches, eggs and mince, supplemented by loads of vegetables…because they were cheaper than meat, with the exception of mince. As she approached her final semester at uni, she wanted out, and to begin her search for her place, she thought wryly as she fingered the corner of the books in her hands.

“Nothing’s wrong at all, in fact everything is fine Liliana. I just wanted to talk with you about an honours year next year…in English. But more of that when we’ve got that much needed coffee in our hands. I’ve only had one this morning and it’s nearly 11am.”

She linked arms with Liliana and half propelled her off in the direction of the coffee shop. Once they were seated, she took out a piece of paper which resembled Liliana’s academic transcript.

“I hope you don’t mind Liliana, but I was able to access your marks in this English major and I have to say they are impressive.”

Liliana’s eyes widened, and she waited for the joke to come next. When it didn’t, her expression became one of puzzlement. “Ah…I’m not sure I know what you mean. I’ve not done that well in my English major.”

Hari smiled as she took a long sip of the soy latte she had ordered. Liliana was waiting for hers to cool, a little bit nervous of testing the heat against her lips in case it spilt.

“I’m telling you Liliana, your marks are better than good and I think you have the right attitude to take on honours…you seem to understand what the writer is actually saying…the guts of it, if you know what I mean and not what academia wants you to think. You’re a complete natural and I think with a little bit of mentoring, you can make a place for yourself here.”

Liliana finally took a sip of her coffee and noticed with disappointment it had gone slightly cold. “Here? Oh I don’t think so…I mean I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I don’t want to stay here.”

Hari looked slightly puzzled, and a little bit hurt, Liliana thought.

“I’m not sure I know what you mean Liliana. What I’m offering you is a career path to perhaps one day lecture at this university. Perhaps write yourself. I really think you’re capable of all this,” she said, waving her arm in an expansive gesture in the general direction of the university.

Liliana couldn’t help smile but she quickly forced it back.

“Thank you. I really mean that but I can’t stay here. I’ve got to find my place and this is not it,” she said. She reached into her purse and took out $3 in silver coins. She placed them on the table and bit at her lip. She really was quite nervous at having to disappoint Hari Theodori.

Hari touched her arm again. “I understand Liliana, but promise me you will think it over.”

Liliana nodded before hurrying out of the coffee shop. She could still make the 301 back to Blacktown. Luckily the term was nearly over and if she arrived and departed Hari Theordori’s classes on time for the next week, she wouldn’t have to talk about the prospect of studying honours. If she didn’t say much at all, it would all fade into the background, and she could slip comfortably back into herself. Besides. Liliana had another plan, one that would take her away from everything she had known in her short life. Towards another place.

I have taken the plunge. I have registered for National Novel Writing Month which means I will write a 50,000 novel in one month. Have got approx 2450 words down so far. Here’s the synopsis:

Belonging Place

Three women, three stories – on life, lessons and love. Three journeys towards the belonging place.

Liliana Flint-Smith is starting out on her own. Leaving a dysfunctional family behind her, and with nothing but a uni degree in librarianship, Liliana moves to a remote village in regional Australia. Different from everyone else in the country town, she must find her place in a society that doesn’t take kindly to strangers. With the help of an embittered, but kindly old woman who lives in the flat next to her, Liliana begins to find herself and discovers it was never about her changing, but about learning to be herself; about learning about her belonging place.

Estelle Wainwright appears to have it all. She’s burning up the career ladder and has just made editor at a national woman’s magazine. Her husband Joel is also carving out his niche as an architect and together with their two children, are the picture of success. Or are they? Journey with Estelle as she fights the tension within herself: work and home, career and husband, businesswoman and mother. Estelle’s journey is one every mother might make towards a place that is right for her, towards her belonging place.

Jill Baker is struggling to stay afloat. With her husband passed and her children scattered across the country hundreds of kilometres away, she’s facing the prospect of living in a nursing home. But it’s her independence that makes her life worth living and she’ll be damned if she’ll bow to society’s plans for her. With a fierce will, Jill must find a way to triumph over old age and emerge into a life that still holds meaning. She must find her belonging place before it’s too late.