CHRISTINE M. KNIGHT

An Australian author who provides insight into the human condition.

On Writing: Life Song

Years ago, when I finally committed to actually writing fiction rather planning to do it, I envisaged a whole world with a community of characters whose lives intersected and diverged as the issues and concerns of their respective lives and the times brought them in and out of contact. My plan was for each novel to have a different set of characters at the story's heart and to write about their lives in that world. Like Tennyson, I believe that not only are we part of everything that we meet in life, but what we meet becomes part of us for good or for bad. I'm interested in the ripple effect of experiences in life and how that contributes to and shapes our personal stories.

My first set of novels are not sequels one to the other, but rather a series of novels about that constructed world. Secondary characters in one novel are central characters in another and so on. Each novel stands independently and on its own merit. Of course, when read within the context of the series, the readers' knowledge of the characters in that world is enriched. That world is contemporary Australia rather than outback and pastoral Australia so often celebrated in novels and film.

When I wrote 'In and Out of Step', I knew that Mavis Mills was going to be the protagonist in the second novel although I didn't fully know where her story would lead or what the title of the second novel would be. I wanted Australian names for the Mills family, and when I discussed the matter with my mother, she suggested the name of Mabel, a character from one of her favourite radio shows - Dad and Dave from Snake Gully.

Mavis and her family represent Aussie battlers, and I wanted names that echoed that experience. I varied the name from Mabel to Mavis because I discovered Mavis is a variation of Mabel and that mavis is also the name of a songbird. I developed Mavis' back-story in 'In and Out of Step' as a contrasting subplot to Cassie Sleight's story and journey. Cassie is a dancer, and it seemed fitting that Mavis, although from a different walk of life, should share the same strong creative impulse that would bond them somehow. Their lives ran in parallel at times but diverged because of the choices made.

An overheard snatch of dialogue between children at play became the stimulus for Dan's story (Mavis' son) in 'Life Song'. The little boy (the child of a single parent) in response to his playmate's comment that his father was returning home from overseas duty said, "I don't know where my daddy is, but I know he'll come home soon too."  

In developing Dan's story, I was interested in exploring aspects of life when a child grows up without his biological father in the picture. Dan is six when the novel begins. Zoey's story is juxtaposed against Dan's story. At times it runs in parallel to Dan's plot, but it also provides contrast through a different perspective. When I created Zoey, she was originally a minor character needed in the plot action, however, she stepped off the page very quickly and demanded that her story be told too.   

As a writer of women's fiction, I do a huge amount of research into women's issues and stories through discussions with as many women from different walks of life and generations as possible. I spend about a year in research. Despite obvious generational differences, we are all beneficiaries of the second wave of the women's movement. We enjoy the advantages that resulted from that movement while we try to navigate our way through the maze created by unforseen issues.

That research revealed that we share common concerns that arise from plotting a course through life in uncharted territory while trying to have it all. We are interested in the nature of love and worry that we could be deceived by counterfeit love and subsequently hurt. Many of us share a desire to have love of the adult kind - the real version of it and not an imitation. That research also generated common questions.

  1. What does it mean to be a woman in the modern world given the dualities of roles played?
  2. Does a mother's responsibility for her child take priority over her responsibility to self?
  3. What should a mother sacrifice and why versus what should be non-negotiable and why?
  4. How does a woman remain true to herself without short-changing her child and her family?
  5. Can a modern woman have it all?
  6. What does having it all really mean and involve?

Those questions became the starting point for my imaginative explorations of characters in a range of situations and settings. Research into the music industry continued during this time. As I considered the duality of women's roles in western society, I asked myself, What if ...? As a result of that imagining, a story finally emerged.

Given Mavis' back-story in 'In and Out of Step' and her musical ability, the Australian music industry was the obvious vehicle for Mavis' pursuit of a career. The music industry also forms one of the backdrops to Mavis' journey. The other backdrop is life in a coastal town south of Sydney.

'Life Song' is not non-fiction masquerading as fiction. It is Mavis's story first and foremost. It is a quest story about boldly journeying down a path less travelled. It is a tale about the power of believing in self. It is a narrative about rebirth with 'Life Song' beginning at the end of a period of loss and sacrifice.

Before I could actually put fingers to keyboard, I needed to find the organising motif and the central metaphor to shape my writing. When I was considering the story arc, I realised I wanted to write a story where the conflict grew out of conflicting character objectives and desires rather than having an antagonist who was a wolf in sheep's clothing or an outright corrupt person. I realised my motif was the tug-of war a woman goes through when she is pulled in opposing directions by the roles she plays and the people who have a claim on her.

With that motif established, the writing flowed. All I had to do was write what I saw and heard happening to the characters in the imaginary world in which I had immersed myself. The story itself is an uplifting one with endearing characters whose lives took a different course from the journey that I had originally plotted but which was ultimately a better course for all involved in that journey. I hope readers enjoy this story as much as I did writing it.

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GLOSSARY SNIPPET

arvo is Australian slang for afternoon.

Bloke means a man.

Bouffy means big and fluffy; it usually refers to a hairstyle.

Bump in and out refers to the process of moving a band’s equipment in and off stage and in and out of the performance venue.

Crank up in the context used in the story means increase the volume to very loud.

CWA is an abbreviation or The Country Women’s Association. It is a non-profit, non-party political and non-sectarian organisation for country and city women. Members work for the welfare of all women and children through representation to all levels of government, undertaking fundraising events, providing networking opportunities and teaching life skills.

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LATEST BLOG POSTS

    Thursday, March 16, 2017

    An era, a show and a legendary album

    Thursday, March 16, 2017

    John Shortis and Moya Simpson’s playful sense of humour was evident from the moment I entered their Bungendore property. Their next-door neighbour’s gates featured a sign that read 'Ironing done here'. The wall plaque near Shortis and Simpson’s front door read 'Irony done here'.

    Over a steaming mug of coffee, we discussed the inspiration behind their current cabaret show Fifty Years Ago Today.

    Cobargo Folk Festival commissioned the cabaret after Shortis and Simpson’s acclaimed festival performance about Eurovision and the context out of which it evolved.

    John said, ‘That show was really an entertaining look at the history of Europe post World War 2 linked by bad songs.’

    Fifty Years Ago Today
    marks the anniversary of the launch of the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album in June 1967 in the northern hemisphere.

    Apparently, the album’s release date in Australia was delayed until July 1967 because the British producers did not trust Australian printers to faithfully reproduce the elaborate artwork of the Sgt Peppers album cover. The covers were produced and printed in England and shipped here via the Suez Canal. Regrettably, the six-day Arab Israeli war broke out and so the shipment was detoured around the South African cape. The album was launched in Australia at the end of July.

    The cabaret’s story line positions the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album in the context of what was happening globally at the time. It also provides fascinating insights into the backstory of the album’s creation, dating back to the early 1960s when the Beatles were mop tops, in the heyday of swinging London.

    John said, ‘You can’t tell the story of the Sgt Peppers album without showing the Beatles’ evolution from catchy pop rock songs to complex artful experiments in music.’

    Sgt Peppers
    is the first Beatles’ album after they gave up touring.  The album marks The Beatles’ arrival as recording artists instead or touring musicians. For instance, ‘Ringo’s drumming is more orchestral in its approach. McCartney’s bass work transitioned from simple bass lines that filled out the pop rock sound to complex, intricate bass countermelodies that actually featured on the Sgt Peppers album rather than being fill.’

    Shortis and Simpson’s Fifty Years Ago Today incorporates humour and poignant stories as well as songs of different tempos and styles from that Beatles’ milestone album as well as songs by other famous musicians from that era.

    I was fascinated to learn that the Beatles’ celebrated producer, George Martin, used his background in producing Peter Sellers’ Indian characters on comedy records to bring together Indian and orchestral musicians to produce George Harrison’s Within You Without You.

    John said, ‘While the lyrics are hippy trippy, the music is quite extraordinary because it follows the traditional rhythms and scales of Indian music.’ 

    Moya said, ‘It was a nightmare to learn!’

    John admits to scoring the music into a computer software program and practicing to it every day for ages so that he could synchronize his keyboard part with the rhythms.

    Another interesting aside is that, in celebration of the link between the Beatles and Peter Sellers, Moya sings the Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers’ hit Goodness Gracious Me in the cabaret as part of the side story to the Sgt Peppers album.

    Fifty Years Ago Today was not designed as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, although people who lived through that era may relish the show as such. It provides insight into a seminal moment in music and world history when world music influenced the Beatles music not only in composition but also in performance.

    As we talked, it struck me that the show was very much like a great meal: lavish, prepared with great care, nutritious and good for the soul, and an experience not easily forgotten. The cabaret utilises the rich harmonies of a large choir, the vocal skills of its musicians, and the rocking talent of a hot backing band. It has appeal for all ages.  I also realised that Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album prepared audiences for the emergence of another musical phenomenon, Queen, masters of pomp-rock with its diverse rock styles and intricate vocal harmonies.

    This cabaret should not be missed when the show comes to  your part of the country.

    © Christine M Knight



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    Friday, November 25, 2016

    Acknowledging Indigenous Heritage in the Palerang region

    Friday, November 25, 2016

    Recently, I wrote a blog about the restoration of The Carrington Inn. My article about the inn also appears in the District Bulletin's December issue. The District Bulletin reports on country living in the Palerang region. I feel it would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the importance of Indigenous heritage as a side bar to the Carrington article.

    Heritage places are a visible reminder of Australia’s history and identity. If they are neglected or demolished, then part of our history and identity is lost. When they are protected and restored, they add value and dimension to our community. This applies equally to the heritage represented by the traditional owners of the land. It is important to acknowledge that Indigenous heritage when promoting awareness of colonial heritage as it shows respect for Indigenous culture.

    Before European settlement, Indigenous people represented an unbroken culture that was inextricably linked to the land and history of the continent. That relationship and life as Indigenous people knew it changed drastically as a consequence of Dr Charles Throsby and Hamilton Hume's exploration of the region in 1820.

    By the end of 1821, Europeans had settled the region. The provision of a mail service in 1837 formally made the settlement a town while the arrival of train services in 1885 resulted in the town becoming the hub of the region. Cobb and Co coaches transported travellers to far flung settlements. 

    During this period and into the twentieth century, Indigenous people experienced a history of exclusion, denial, and were silenced. Many Indigenous people many died as a result of white settlement (disease and conflict). Indigenous heritage is in the land, in sacred places, lore and values. By contrast, colonial heritage is in buildings and property and its laws.

    To better appreciate the impact of the European arrival in Australia and related issues, click on  The Dispossessed.

     

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    Sunday, November 20, 2016

    The Restoration of the Carrington Inn, Bungendore

    Sunday, November 20, 2016

    Late October, I met Innkeeper, Richard Graham in the motel carpark of The Carrington Inn a few weeks after it had reopened.

    Originally known as The Lord Carrington Hotel, the property was built between 1884-85. It was named after the newly appointed governor of NSW. When the governor retired, the inn became The Carrington Hotel.

    In the 20th century, descendants of the Winters sold the property to Toni Dale who reverted the property to its original function from a domestic residence. It later changed hands until Richard bought it eight years ago.

    As we walked through the half acre of man-made gardens' entrance to the Wintergarden complex, I was struck by their intrinsic naturalness and the patterns of dappled light. Richard said they are ‘one of the largest publicly accessible private gardens in the region.’ He credits the illusion of a much larger space to the use of meandering sinuous paths.

    There are three distinct themed locations within the Wintergarden complex: The Tom Wills Tavern, The Empire Hall and Salons – fine dining, and Myee’s Tearoom. Myee is pronounced my. The tavern’s namesake and a local, Tom Wills was a leading Australian cricketer from 1856 and is said to be the founder of Australian Rules football. Heavy drinking was apparently part of the sport's culture at that time and purportedly played a role in his tragic death in 1880.


     

    Maria Myee Gallagher, 1889-1967, was the granddaughter of the original owner, William Daniel Winter. ‘An educated woman of many talents, Maria Myee never married and lived in the hotel throughout her life.’ She was a skilled pianist and taught the piano as well as the sewing arts and painting to locals. She was also well-known for her charitable work in the town.

    The interview and tour began in Myee’s tearoom. Its décor, like the rest of the complex, ‘pays deference to the 19th century colonial Victorian nature of the Carrington Inn.’ An airy and serene space, the tearoom’s authentic hand-painted stencilled wallpaper, pale green wainscoting, slate floor, furnishings, and hanging baskets suggest a Victorian garden conservatory.

    When I asked about the ideas underpinning the renovation process, Richard explained the choice before him. Restore the inn to look like the property as it had been in 1885 or restore it to reflect the Victorian era from 1885 but have modern restaurant equipment. For commercial reasons, he opted for the latter.

    After much research, Richard and his team distilled the Victorian period to a single restoration intention: ‘allow modern-day patrons to appreciate the aspirational nature of the Victorian era’ and witness a different lifestyle.

    The aspirational mood of the period is clearly visible in the style of ceilings in the tavern and the Empire Hall and Salons. The tavern’s patterned copper ceiling is reminiscent of Tudor ceilings and represents the revival of British styles during the Victorian era. The decorative tin ceiling in one of the salons is another popular architectural element from that period as are the subtly lit, rounded vaulted plaster ceilings in the Empire Hall.


     

    The Victorian theme is evident in the use of decoratively etched glass mirrors, beautiful period-styled drapery, luxurious furnishings, dining settings, and décor accents. Thirty-three hand-painted artwork reproductions tell the colonial story, including artwork by Tom Roberts. In the tradition of the time, a picture of Queen Victoria dominates the Empire Hall.

    The attention to authentic detail is also seen in the use of deeply embossed wall covering (Lincrusta) in  the Empire Hall. Lincrusta was invented in Britain in 1877 by the same man who invented linoleum floor covering some years before.

     

     Having visited many famous historic sites, I found The Carrington Inn as striking as places like Chatsworth House and Hampton Court in UK. Of course, The Carrington's pristine interior décor  and the inn are much smaller in scale than those other historic UK properties.

    As Richard told the stories behind each room’s décor, I realised that he is more than the owner and operator of an enterprise that happens to exist in a heritage property. He is keenly aware of his custodial role in restoring, documenting, and protecting heritage.

    As I left that afternoon, I realised that heritage places not only add dimension to the character of a community and its diversity but to its unique features of streetscapes as well.

     

    Left to right: Mark Summers, General Manager; Edwina Fitzgerald, Accommodation Manager; Me, Innkeeper; Merili Pihlamäe, Venues Manager; and Andrew Stansbie, Executive Chef.

     

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