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Rebecca Jessen

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November 2014

Eat Your Words Festival & AMP Tomorrow Maker Grant

This Sunday I will be giving a free talk about my experiences as a debut author and how I went from finishing a creative writing degree to getting my first novel published. I’ll also be doing a short reading and be giving some tips about making the journey from unpublished to published writer. You can check out the full program herethere’s a bunch of fantastic local authors giving free talks throughout the day and I hear there’s even pizza at the end of it all! Details for my session are below.

Eat Your Words Festival @ University of Queensland, St Lucia

Sunday 30 November

Time: 3.00-3.45pm

Session: Filling The Gap

Rebecca Jessen shares the story of how she moved from being a creative writing undergraduate to a published novelist. As 2013’s Best Emerging Author in the Queensland Literary Awards, she definitely has some tips and inspiration for aspiring writers.

In other news, I’m excited to announce that I am one of 47 recipients of the inaugural AMP Tomorrow Maker grants awarded by the AMP Foundation. There were over 3000 applications from people all over Australia and 47 were chosen as AMP’s Tomorrow Makers. I was awarded the grant to help support me while writing my next book. I’m extremely proud to have been chosen as a Tomorrow Maker and humbled to be in such inspiring company with artists, athletes, inventors, researchers, disability advocates, social innovators and many more receiving grants to help fulfill their dreams.

I have a write-up and video talking about my project and what the grant means to me on the website. You can check it out here and while you’re there be sure to read about all the other amazing projects happening all over Australia.

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SEVEN (heaven help my heart)

Mum wakes us up early on Saturday. She tells me she’s going to the hospital with my older brother. That she’ll probably be gone all day. She leaves a twenty dollar note on the kitchen bench, kisses each of us goodbye and leaves.

It is March 2006. I’m fresh out of school and studying at TAFE. My little brother is nine, and my sister only five, a week and a half shy of her sixth birthday. Her birthday will forever be stained with this loss. I feel for her. I feel for them both. Their dad left so soon after my sister’s birth that she’d barely just learned to open her eyes before she noticed he was gone. Truth is, I probably knew their dad better than they ever had the chance to. I am grateful for those years, troubled and turbulent as they were.

They know very little about what has happened. They are both so young, how could they possibly understand. An accident at work. An explosion. A coma he may never emerge from.

There’s no food in the house so I take the twenty dollars and my brother and sister and we walk to the McDonalds close by. I get the kids a happy meal each and we sit in silence near the playground. After a while, my sister asks ‘Is our dad going to die?’

I shake my head and say I’m not sure. This is the truth, at the time, but it feels cruel to not give them any hope. I haven’t heard from Mum since she left. it could already be over. My chips have gone cold and I push them away. In the background I hear ‘Heaven Help My Heart’ playing through the speakers and this is what I will remember for all the years that follow.

SIX (one of these nights)

bogan-gate-24nov2010-15

Mum always tells me I was born during a cyclone and I never know if she’s being metaphorical or not. When I was born, my family lived in the eight block town of Bogan Gate. Dad was in the army, so we got moved around to strange places a lot.

In late January 1988, Bogan Gate was plunged into darkness as Mum went into labour. The local hospital lost power and the next closest was in Orange, over one hundred k‘s away. Mum and Dad’s blue Ford Telstar was broken down at the time, Dad says they had to borrow an army car, fitted out with a CB radio and all.

Dad tells me later, that he had to pull over on the side of the highway halfway through the drive and get Mum to take over because he was too tired to go on. I think about them both, in the car, speeding along the quiet, dark roads out west. They were young, younger than I am now. Were they different people then? Had marriage and children irrevocably altered their sense of self? Their reasons for being? I picture the two of them as best I can. I don’t know if, by that night, the process of change had already begun.

Needless to say, they made it to the hospital in Orange that night, and back home again a few days later. That week, my birth made front page news in the local paper. A clear sign of how little else there was to report on in the tiny town. There was a photo of the four of us, and the headline read ‘Baby sister for little Michael.’ This seemed to indicate how I would spend the rest of my childhood, living in the shadow of my older brother.

FIVE (how about this weather)

It was my family’s first Christmas since my stepfather left. I still remember that day so clearly. Somehow, his absence had impressed upon the family dynamic with such force that nothing would ever be the same after that.

Mum started drinking early that day. Earlier than usual. Maybe it was because she needed a way to deal with the chaos of our lives, or, she finally had a reason to. Extended family came and went throughout the day and in the late afternoon my dad arrived with my older brother. I stood outside with my dad and we ate Mum’s homemade rumballs. The air was heavy with the scent of smoke. There had been bushfires in the area and the sky was tinged an eerie orange.

‘Shit, come look at this,’ I heard Mum call from the lounge room.

I knew straightaway, that she was watching the weather channel.

Dad and I walked inside, my brothers sat on the couch next to Mum, staring at the TV.

‘They reckon it’s gonna get all the way down Cowpasture Road,’ Mum said.

‘That’s still pretty far away,’ I said.

‘Yeah, but fire moves fast, sis,’ my older brother added.

Mum turned up the volume. ‘We should go for a drive and have a look.’

‘Nah, they wouldn’t let you in close,’ my brother said.

I looked outside at the sky darkening and felt the room close in around us. Mum had a way of dramatising the most unsurprising news, especially the weather. She would spend half hour blocks watching the weather channel, trying to find something in the satellite maps and lightning radars to comment on or fuss over. It started with the weather, but as I got older, I realised this was her way with everything.

FOUR (delete everything)

Delete everything.

I’ve loved you since August. For what it’s worth, my intentions have always been friendship. I feel the need to reassure you now. I’ve loved you since August. I should know better. I felt stuck. I still want the night, if possible. I’ve been listening to ‘Little Red Corvette’.

What they don’t tell you at the record store is that every failed relationship ruins at least two good LPs.

Delete everything. I’ve loved you since August. I’m trying to get more control. I felt stuck. Between loving you and not being with you in any meaningful way.  Delete everything. No one can know about us. I’ve been listening to Fleetwood Mac.

What they don’t tell you over Christmas lunch is that your girlfriend is in love with another woman.

Delete everything. I’ve loved you since August. I chose to take the night.

What your girlfriend tells you on a Sunday afternoon is that she’s loved another woman since August. She doesn’t mention the kiss. She insists, her intentions have always been friendship. Or, I love her. But not in the way I love you. I want her but I want you too. I want it both ways. I don’t know what I want but you can’t go.

Delete everything. No one can know about us.

THREE (highway to hell)

It’s the end of December and we’re driving home from the northern beaches. We’ve been to Palm Beach, Mum wanted to see where they film Home & Away. My older brother drives in front of us, along the highway, it’s well into the evening now and we’re all sun-tired and weary. Mum sees an opening in the next lane and swerves over, overtaking my brother and laughing as she does it.

As we get closer to home we drive past a motel on the side of the highway. Out the front a neon sign reads ‘Pets welcome’. This stays with me the rest of the drive. A motel that allows pets; a refuge on the edge of town for the people leaving their lives behind.

Driving through our old suburb we spot a row of houses that have a pathetic offering of Christmas lights sprawled across guttering and letterboxes.

‘Only bogans have Christmas lights,’ my sister says, and seconds later, ‘Mum, can we get Christmas lights for our house?’

Mum speeds up to make it through an orange light. ‘Highway to Hell’ comes on the radio. Mum reaches over, turns it up really loud and starts singing. My little brother pulls a face and covers his ears.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost track of my older brother and his girlfriend. It could’ve been anywhere between the motel and the Christmas lights. His sandy towels are in our car so Mum decides to stop by his house on the way home. Mum drives up the kerb and parks the car. She gets out, stretches her legs and lights a cigarette. We wait for ten minutes, and after calling my brother with no answer, we drive home. It is rare that we leave the house in the morning as a family and return that night still talking to each other

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