Friday, 23 March 2018

Story of a Novel: The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat

 The Silent Kookaburra began its life as Hosing Venetian Blinds, over ten years before it was finally published. So, why did I write it and why did it take so long to see the light of day?

Basically, it was a nostalgic trip down the Memory Lane of my childhood growing up in 1970s Wollongong, New South Wales.

I wrote Hosing Venetian Blinds, then rewrote it over and over, but for reasons unknown to me, I could not “get it right”. Or as “right” as a novel ever will be. More and more dissatisfied with each draft, on I slogged until one wintery afternoon in 2007, when a phone call interrupted my writing.

It was the Gendarmes of Grenoble informing me that my husband had suffered a nasty heart attack on the ski slopes and wasn’t expected to survive. Well, that was all I needed to completely abandon the novel. Onto a hard disk it went, with the vow that it would never see the light of day.

Luckily my husband made a complete recovery and eventually I began writing again. But still I couldn’t face rewriting Hosing Venetian Blinds; couldn’t stop equating the novel with that awful period of my life.

The Bone Angel Trilogy Boxset
 So for the next few years I plunged into a French historical fiction trilogy: The Bone Angel : Three heart-wrenching adventures of three midwife-healers during the Black Plague (Blood Rose Angel), French Revolution (Spirit of Lost Angels) and Nazi-occupied France (Wolfsangel).

Once the third story was published I began taking peeks at Hosing Venetian Blinds again. Then I reread it closely and voilĂ , immediately saw what I thought was “wrong” with the story. I rewrote, and published it, within a year.

Even though the book tackles some very dark and disturbing topics, it was fun travelling back to my childhood and teen years, seeing my friends, revisiting those familiar places, most notably the beach.

Sulphur-crested cockatoo
 The city has changed a lot since the 70s, but I’m still fond of Wollongong, and love going back there on my yearly pilgrimage home to Australia (I have lived in France for the past 25 years).

Fortunately for me, my childhood wasn’t burdened with the same terrible dramas as my fictional character, Tanya. However, I could readily identify with her, as that was the case for some people I knew.

Wollongong has a large European migrant community, attracted to the area post WW2 with the offer of work at the Port Kembla Steelworks, which, at that time, was the backbone of Wollongong.

One of my very first jobs, at age fourteen, was distributing grocery store pamphlets into letter boxes in this area. Not the long-term career I envisaged, but it earned me enough to buy my first car at age seventeen –– and my independence –– the day I got my licence. So, at five am every weekday, my lovely father would help me distribute these advertising pamphlets into the letterboxes of Cringila, and this cosmopolitan community piqued my interest. I wanted to know more about them; where they came from, what their lives were like. That prompted me to include the Italian migrant aspect of The Silent Kookaburra.

So why this title, when the kookaburra is anything but silent? Well, that’s just it: what might happen if your friendly backyard kookaburra does fall silent?

I’m pleased that The Silent Kookaburra has been well-received by readers and garnered some lovely reviews, and very glad I stuck with it to the bitter end! I’m currently working on the next novel, also set in 1970s Wollongong. And there will hopefully be a third in this new trilogy of standalone novels.

Extract from The Silent Kookaburra...

Chapter 1


Knuckles blanch, distend as my hand curves around the yellowed newspaper pages and my gaze hooks onto the headlines.

HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY. January 26th, 1973. 165-year anniversary of convict ships arriving in Sydney.

Happy? What a cruel joke for that summer. The bleakest, most grievous, of my life.

I can’t believe my grandmother kept such a reminder of the tragedy which flayed the core of our lives; of that harrowing time my cursed memory refuses to entirely banish.

Shaky hands disturb dust motes, billowing as I place the heat-brittled newspaper back into Nanna Purvis’s box.

I try not to look at the headline but my gaze keeps flickering back, bold letters more callous as I remember all I’d yearned for back then, at eleven years old, was the simplest of things: a happy family. How elusive that happiness had proved.

I won’t think about it anymore. I mustn’t, can’t! But as much as I wrench away my mind, it strains back to my childhood.

Of course fragments of those years have always been clear, though much of my past is an uncharted desert –– vast, arid, untamed.

Psychology studies taught me this is how the memory magician works: vivid recall of unimportant details while the consequential parts –– those protective breaches of conscious recollection –– are mined with filmy chasms.

I swipe the sweat from my brow, push the window further open.

Outside, the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean is still a pale glow but already it has baked the ground a crusty brown. Shelley’s gum tree is alive with cackling kookaburras, rainbow lorikeets shrieking and swinging like crazy acrobats, eucalyptus leaves twisted edge-on to avoid the withering rays.

But back in my childhood bedroom, behind Gumtree Cottage’s convict-built walls, the air is even hotter, and foetid with weeks of closure following my parents’ deaths.

Disheartened by the stack of cardboard boxes still to sift through, uneasy about what other memories their contents might unearth, I rest back on a jumble of moth-frayed cushions.

I close my eyes to try and escape the torment, but there is no reprieve. And, along with my grandmother’s newspaper clipping, I swear I hear, in the rise and dump of its swell, the sea pulling me back to that blistering summer of over forty years ago.

Amazon Reviews:

Compelling psychological drama that delves into the dark heart of family secrets. Chris Curran, author of Amazon bestseller, Mindsight.

An amazing domestic thriller with a gripping storyline, vivid dialogue, a palpable sense of place and time, and a compelling cast of characters that I can't get out of my head. Carol Cooper, Contemporary Women's Fiction author.

I have to say this was one of the most compelling reads I have read. Carol Ravensdale, reader.

... nothing better than a good twist or two in a plot, but this was a first for me - one final hammer dropping on the very last page that made my jaw drop! Cindy Taylor, BookBlogger.

... as well-written psychological thrillers often do, it makes you question everything you thinkyou know, culminating in a true twist of an ending that both shocks and makes you ask "Why didn't I figure this out sooner?" Courtney J. Hall, historical fiction, romance and contemporary author.

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