This statue, titled “Cobbers” by Melbourne artist Peter Corlett was was installed in the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles, France in 1998.
In the days after the battle rescuers recovered some 300 wounded from no-man’s land.
As one soldier carried a wounded companion from the field he heard a call for help.
Don’t forget me, cobber
The “Cobbers” statue in the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles in France features Sergeant Simon Fraser from Western Victoria carrying a fallen comrade from the field.
Cobbers is a memorial to Australian service and sacrifice at the Battle of Fromelles. Fraser risked his life and a possible court martial when he returned to save a stricken soldier whose identity is unknown.
Veronica Strachan spent most of her childhood lost in a good book. She spent most of her adult life lost in a good job as a nurse, midwife, CEO, coach, and facilitator (amongst other things).
After years of encouraging others to follow their dreams, she remembered what she wanted to be when she grew up. Five years later she has six published books: a memoir, a workbook/journal, and a children’s picture book series illustrated by her daughter, Cassi.
As V.E. Patton, Veronica has written a fantasy and a novelette. She is co-founder of Australian Book Lovers and co-hosts their podcast.
In keeping with my theme of 2021, I asked Veronica about her inspirations.
Veronica: Thank you for the lovely opportunity to contribute to your blog.
What inspires me?
Such succulent bait to my chronically overactive curiosity and imagination. Reel me in!
‘Learning’ in all its forms inspires me. But, let’s keep it to what inspires my writing life…
Age attenuated the urgency of making a living and bringing up children. So, having given myself permission to make writing my next best thing – as it had been my first thing during childhood – inspiration began coming from all points of the compass, the clock, and life.
I see a person frowning into their phone – what’s their backstory? A cat staring superciliously at its human slave – character for a villain. Autumn leaves skittering across chilled black dirt – setting. An anecdote from a friend – plot twist. Heated exchange in a shop queue – dialogue. Flick of a fringe or straightening of a cap – character trait. A quiet walk: still air and sunshine are the soil, imagination is the seed, inspiration bursts forth – a new stand-alone science fiction story about genetic engineering.
No, perhaps a trilogy with a second trilogy to follow!
I jog home to scribble down some notes. Most of all, I’m inspired by people: my husband, children, friends, and clients. Whether I’m coaching an individual, facilitating a room full of clinicians or chatting with a friend over a cuppa, I see potential in everyone, hope for a better future, be it this minute, this month, or this life. All food for putting words on a page.
Breathing While Drowning was inspired by my daughter, Jacqueline Bree, who died at four years old. Twenty-years later as I wanted to creatively write, I had her voice in my head encouraging me to write our story. I transcribed journals I wrote to Jacqui in the short years she was alive and for several years after as I struggled through grief. And I was inspired by myself. Perhaps an odd thing to say, but reading back over what that younger me had done, lived and felt, I was so grateful for how she’d held our life together – not always well, but hold it together she did. And ever so slowly, she opened herself to healing from the life and love around her.
Ochre Dragon was inspired by every science fiction and fantasy book I’d ever read, every utopian or dystopian world I’d ever escaped to and the absolute dearth of female protagonists over fifty! So, inspired by every clever and courageous woman I’d met, I wrote the book I wanted to read. Middle-aged woman battles her own demons, all the villains, and saves the universe – or does she?
My oldest sister, Mary inspired my picture book series: The Adventures of Chickabella. Mary died two years ago from breast cancer, a dearly loved and respected kindergarten teacher, leaving five young grandchildren to miss her reading stories to them. Mary was the oral story-teller in our family, every moment was history, and every moment a memory. She taught as easily and effortlessly as breathing. My eldest daughter Cassi created the beautiful illustrations for her Aunty.
Here we meet middle-aged project manager Ali just after she’s been attacked in her office!
If the assassin stops to kill her, then I can escape. Ali felt sick at being so gutless. Indecision kept her frozen to the spot, expecting a scream at any moment. With her eyes glued to the door, rainbow sparkles began to crowd her vision.
A trilling female voice hooted with laughter in Ali’s head. She clutched her temples. You should SO run. Impossibly, the voice sliced through her brain like a hot knife.
She’s not who you think she is. She’d definitely run if the shoe was on the other foot.
‘Who’s there?’ Ali rasped, fear drying her mouth.
Come on. Did you see what I did there? Shoe on the other foot. You’re only wearing one shoe. SHOE-ON-THE-OTHER-FOOT. Surely that’s worth a groan at least.
‘Who is it? Come out now. This is not funny. We’re in a Code Black,’ Ali couldn’t imagine how the voice was in her head.
You know who I am Ali Morrow. That is who you’re calling yourself in this incarnation, isn’t it Alinta? Invisible, anonymous Proji and Cataloguer Extraordinaire.
The voice continued in a huffy tone. And that was very funny by the way. I’ve been practising my comedy routines while I waited for you to come to your senses.
Ali swivelled, searching the foyer for the owner of the voice.
We don’t have time for theatrics. We’re close to the century congruence. It’s me. Jiemba. I’m through. I’m back. We needed a life-threatening event so I could break through this ridiculous nightmare you call existence.
Ali’s gift flashed a picture of a cranky red dragon in her mind. Dragon. Mammoth body, sinuous neck, enormous frilled head, covered in scales, dragon. Dark red threads charged around her gift like lit fuses, blasting holes and breaking connections in her mind’s tapestry.
The dragon sat on its massive haunches in the chaos and bared a set of sharp, glistening fangs. It tilted and lowered its head so that Ali got a glimpse of one enormous eye peering at her – from inside her head. Apart from the vertical obsidian pupil, the dragon’s eye was like a gigantic opal. The eye drank in light, leaving the smattering of sparkling rainbow flecks a brilliant counterpoint.
Ali shook her head, her heart hammering a ragged tattoo. She must be going mad. The old woman had told her to remember Jiemba. Something about her shadow seemed out of sync and Ali glanced down to see that it had transformed into the shape of an enormous dragon, its head crowned with curled horns.
She dragged her gaze past outstretched wings, taloned forelimbs, and a lashing spiked tail. Its hind legs and enormous feet joined at her very real single shod pair. Her mind threatened to explode.
‘No. Absolutely not. There are no such things as dragons.’ She barely realised she’d spoken aloud and closed her eyes as an offended huff sounded in her head.
There certainly are such things. And you and I are one. So let’s get outta here. The voice turned a little plaintive. I wanna go Home.
Ali squeezed her eyes tighter.
Aren’t you even a little bit glad to see me? I was only kidding about the breakfast thing. I haven’t eaten a human in ages. At least a couple of hours. Kidding. I’m just kidding. I only eat the bad ones. Kidding again, Well, no actually. That bit is true.
Ali put her hands over her ears. ‘Not real. Not real. Not real,’ she chanted.
Jiemba sulked in the background, mumbling about humour and bad gigs. All of which only upped Ali’s panic level. A noise had her whirling as her office door opened and Sophie strolled out, the epitome of composure.
She looks more like a bloody manager than me, all cool and graceful. Ali did not qualify for cool or graceful just now.
‘Nothing there but shadows and an over-active imagination. Come on, come and see.’ Sophie beckoned her closer.
How can she be braver than me? I’ve got at least a quarter-century on her, and she’s just an addi.
I could’ve helped you with that. I have enough courage for both of us. And then some.
Sophie’s not hearing the voice.
Well, she wouldn’t, would she. I’m only in your head.
Ali gulped, swallowing the bile that fear had driven to her throat.
Ugh, that burns. I am so heading to that stress session tonight.
Sophie beckoned again, her lifted eyebrow questioning Ali’s hesitation.
Ali approached, limping in her single high heel, and peeked past Sophie’s smile. Nothing. No one. She stepped into the small room, getting a whiff of Sophie’s citrus perfume and nothing else. She edged past the upended chair, bent and looked under the desk and then over to the floor beside the window.
Nope, no ninja assassin. No silver thingies.
Her body sagged. She ran her fingers through her hair, gathering the soft escapees and tucking them behind her ears.
‘What about the conference room? Did you check in there?’ Ali asked.
Sophie nodded. ‘Nothing.’
‘Jeez, I must look like an idiot.’
Sophie patted her shoulder sympathetically.
Can’t disagree with you there, Jiemba chuckled.
‘Ali, you’ve been working like a fiend to get this report out. You’re exhausted. And you don’t eat well. Is it any wonder you’re jumping at shadows? Go and save your work and I’ll make you a cuppa for the trip home. Time we both left anyway. Federation won’t love us if we file for burn out.’
Sophie marched off and Ali listened to her confident clip, clip, clip across the tiles to the kitchen. The sound of the boiling kettle seemed so prosaic to her overwrought senses.
She realised she was standing forlornly in the middle of her office, adrenaline still churning her gut. She took a long, slow, deep breath, remembering her stress relief classes and glanced around.
‘Right, nothing to see. You’re ridiculously busy, so stressed that even in the daytime you’re imagining wandering wild women and nefarious ninja assassins.’
Seriously, why the hell would ninja assassins want to kill me? It’s not like I’m anyone important. I’m nothing. I know I’m good at my job, but jeez.
You forgot a dragon talking in your head. Jiemba sounded snarky. Ali ignored her.
Wow! All that and DRAGONS! Thank you so much Veronica, for being my guest tioday.
Jody A. Forrester, a writer and former chiropractor, received a MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars (2010), and BA from Antioch LA (2008), in literature and creative writing. Her stories received an honorable mention in the 2009 Anderbo/Open City Competition, and featured in the 6th Annual Emerging Voices Group Show (2010) at the New Short Fiction series in Los Angeles. Jody’s work has also been published in Prime Number, Claudius Speaks, the Furious Gazelle, the Citron Review, Straylight, Two Hawks Quarterly, the WriteRoom, and the Missouri Review blog. Jody has just completed a memoir, Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary, published by Odyssey Books (yes, my favourite publisher!) this year.
Jody is that rare thing, a native Angeleno – for the benefit of non-US readers, that means a born and bred resident of Los Angeles. Jody was raised mostly in Hollywood during the fifties and sixties. She lives with her husband, musician John Schneider, in Venice just six blocks from the Pacific Ocean. They have two adult daughters, a son-in-law, and a mini-Australian shepherd dog named Charley.
Welcome, Jody, thank you for chatting with me today. You’ve had quite a writing career on top of your day job. Do you have a go-to routine for writing? Where do you write?
These two questions are intertwine so I’m answering both. I have a desk where I write in my older daughter’s childhood bedroom. Typically I wake and have a light breakfast, and go upstairs to my office with a strong cup of black tea. Before I sign off for the day, I try to leave my pages in such a way that I know where I’m going to begin the next time I sit down. Otherwise, I start typing randomly, hoping there will be threads to pull out to begin something anew.
That sounds like you go with the flow, but in a structured kind of way. Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?
After twenty-five years in practice as a chiropractor, a wrist injury forced me into early retirement. Terrified of the days and years ahead without something to occupy me, I recalled that I’d always wanted to write. Three days after I sold my practice, I enrolled in the Baccalaureate program in writing and literature at Antioch College (LA), but the realization that I was a writer came several years later when my short stories began to be published.
Publication definitely helps with self-identification as a writer, I agree. How much research is involved in your writing?
My intent is verisimilitude, even for my fiction. As such, I research a lot, visiting websites of locations that may figure in the work, checking historical events that could be relevant, even looking up recipes and clothing in the era I’m writing in.
For my nonfiction essays and memoir, my research goes even deeper to assure myself that the facts are as I remember.
Yes, because memory is a fickle informant. Research is essential, and even then, I find that sometimes something slips through. How do you get feedback about your story, before it’s published?
I have a small network of writers, close friends, as well as my family, who give me feedback along the line. I depend on their responses to be sure I’m on the right track.
A reliable – and truthful – circle is so important. Can we get your book as an audio book?
My forthcoming memoir, Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary, will be released simultaneously as a paperback, e-book, and audiobook.
That’s excellent news. Your book is a memoir – what kind of reader would like your book?
People interested in the sixties and early seventies who either participated in or are curious about the anti-Vietnam War protest movement and the process of political radicalization.
Do you write in more than one genre?
I write creative nonfiction and short fiction.
And very successfully, too. Who helped you most when you were starting out?
I was fortunate to have several excellent teachers who served as mentors, both at Antioch and the Bennington Writing Seminars. They helped me identify the stories that needed to be written, and nurtured the earliest seeds.
I’m quite a fan of writing courses. Good to hear that yours was so great! Thanks for speaking with me today, Jody, and all the best for the success of Guns Under the Bed.
Today we’re speaking with the Melbourne writer Deborah Sheldon.
Some of Deborah’s latest releases, through several publishing houses, include the noir-horror novel Contrition, the dark literary collection 300 Degree Days and Other Stories, the bio-horror novella Thylacines, the dark fantasy and horror collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories (winner of the Australian Shadows Award “Best Collected Work 2017”) and the monster-horror novel Devil Dragon. Deborah’s short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, SQ Mag, and Midnight Echo. Her work has been shortlisted for numerous Aurealis Awards and Australian Shadows Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award, and included in “best of” anthologies. Other credits include TV scripts, feature articles, non-fiction books, stage plays, and award-winning medical writing.
Something to Say: Welcome, Deb! That’s quite a list of achievements. What project are you talking about today?
Deborah: Award-winning press, IFWG Publishing Australia, is releasing my noir-horror novel, Contrition, today – September 3rd. The back-cover blurb reads:
In her late teens, Meredith Berg-Olsen had all the makings of a runway model. Now in her late forties, after everything she had been through – including horrors that John could only guess at – she looked bloodless instead of pale, skeletal instead of slender, more dead than alive…
John Penrose has two secrets. One is the flatmate he keeps hidden from the world: his high-school sweetheart, Meredith. His other secret is the reason he feels compelled to look after her.
Contrition is a horror story with noir undertones and an atmosphere of mounting dread.
STS: Is there one aspect of Contrition that you relate to the most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?
My novel has two timelines: the present day and the 1980s. For the latter, I drew upon my own memories of high school for inspiration. If some of my old chums were to read Contrition, the basis of a few events might seem vaguely familiar. Since I hadn’t thought about my teenage years in a long, long time, it was interesting to sift through the memories, both good and bad. I think doing so gave the novel’s earlier timeline its rawness and pathos.
STS: What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?
My brain is hard-wired to write. I started writing when I was a kid, and I’ve been a professional for 32 years. I’ll write until my dying day. There are two of me: the subjective self who lives this life; and the “observer” who squirrels away occurrences, feelings and thoughts to use in fiction. Every experience is potential fodder. I often reassure myself while going through a rough time, “Deb, elements of this will make good stories.” And it helps!
STS: That’s an interesting way to approach hard times. I like it! Now, many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I see each writing project – whether it be a short story, novella or novel – as a kind of jigsaw puzzle. I know what “picture” I’m trying to create. I just need to find some way to put all the pieces in the correct order. I’m technique-driven. To use another analogy, I build a story like an engineer builds a bridge.
STS: Jigsaw-like, that’s excellent. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Today my dad would have turned 95, if he had survived this long.
Instead, the ghastly, grotesque illness called Motor Neurone Disease (that’s MND in Australia, and ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease in the US) diminished him to death at the age of 67, twenty-eight years ago. Even back then, in 1990, we were hoping for a cure ‘soon’. While some people live for a long (and extremely difficult) time with MND (notably the brilliant Professor Stephen Hawking), many die much sooner. For my dad, the progress of the disease from diagnosis to death was four short years.
While there has been some progress in the treatment and management of MND, we are all still waiting. This was brought home deeply by the recent Australian Story program, ‘The Enemy Within’, detailing the work and illness of the amazing Justin Yerbury.
I still miss my dad. And although I know that he would have completely supported my writing career, and that he always encouraged me, I really, really regret the fact that he doesn’t know about it, and that I haven’t been able to share this stage of my life with him.
There are so many untold stories. I think one day they will appear. What I’m thinking about now is the last time I saw him, in the hospice, on the day he died. Dad explained that a male nurse, all in white, had visited his room in the night and said that it was time to leave. Dad said, ‘I told him I couldn’t walk, but he said it was time to go.’
I checked with the staff – no male nurse had been on duty the night before. Strange.
But a few hours later, after all his visitors had gone, my dad up and left.
This week has been quite a difficult one. We discovered that our mother has a brain tumour. While this explains all of the bizarre and inconsistent and unreliable behaviour that we’ve been noticing recently, it’s a bit of a shock.
Did I tell you how Mum was acting more and more strangely and refusing help? Well, one day a couple of weeks ago she took herself off to the doctor in a taxi (at a time when she should have been home for the cleaner – resulting in multiple phone calls with the next step being the police! – because she didn’t tell anyone she was going – but that’s another story). Mum went to ask if she had dementia, so the doctor ordered a CT scan that afternoon. The first I knew about it was a call from Mum saying I had to take her to the hospital for a brain scan. All the way there, she criticised her children as being too managing, too interfering, too nosy, and for sending too many helpers, and making too many phone calls, and ordering the wrong food to be delivered. She was certain that the brain scan would show no dementia and that after the diagnosis we could all just leave her alone, thank us very much. Very Greta Garbo.
The upshot is, after a lengthy scan and a trip back to the GP, that she has a meningioma which is not malignant in itself, but steadily growing and impacting on her brain function. Off we went to the neurosurgeon next day, who ruled out surgery (her bad health and a long recovery time) and any other treatment (tumour too large for radio). And a palliative care team has been allocated to us.
So it’s been an interesting time, negotiating all of us siblings and our diverse opinions. Mum, on the other hand, is very stoic and quite serene, and says she’s much happier now that she knows. She is calling everyone in her address book to tell them she has a brain tumour!
‘Yes. I can’t face another day of ordinary conversation. I want everyone to know how much I am suffering!’
‘I can’t reverse this process,’ he warned.
‘And I can’t turn back the clock. Just get on with it!’ Marta yelled.
A short while later, she left the god’s garden, looking much the same as usual. Her long hair, pulled back from her face, was the same dull, unwashed brown. Her comely mouth turned down at the corners in the usual way. There was something fierce in her dark eyes, but that was usual too.
Marta tested the god’s work. Deliberately, she walked into the village market place. Her gaze fell upon a young mother, squatting on the cobbles while she helped her toddler with his slice of apple.
Immediately, the god’s will kicked into action. Across every inch of Marta’s skin, multiple fonts burst into words. Blue as veins, stark as cemetery epitaphs, the moving letters came together. Across her forehead, I am crying inside. On one cheek, I will never see her again. On the other, I hate my life. On her neck, Let me die too. Over her shoulders, I hurt too much. Pulsing from her forearm, Don’t talk to me. Down one thigh, Don’t pretend everything will be fine. Down the other, My heart is broken. Across her feet, My tears will never end. From the ends of her hair, No-no-no-no-no…
The words kept rising to the surface, spilling from Marta’s skin onto the cobbles, into the drains, down to the creeks, the rivers, the seas, and up again through the mists and fogs into the weeping clouds.
Back in the day, there were meeting places where you waited for your family or friends to come find you. Under the clock at the railway station, in front of the department store window (yes, ‘window’ singular), at the corner of the school. Eventually, Dad would come to drive you home from the station, or your friends would show up for your shopping expedition, or your little brothers would mooch up to be walked home.
No mobile phones, so no texts or emails or either, to let you know someone was late, or that they weren’t coming. I guess waiting is a bit of a lost art too. No phone to look at while you stood at the meeting place. (Of course, I always had a book at hand. Always.)
Meetings could be the highlight of your day, or your biggest disappointment. Being stood up by that cute guy I met at school dancing class, who promised to meet me at the bus stop the next week. Such an embarrassing and gauche moment!
On the plus side, at least he didn’t text me saying it was him, not me…
Notions like this complicate the writing process. It can be quite difficult to get into that space, that space where your characters don’t know what’s happening elsewhere, and can’t easily find out. Mind you, writing about the twentieth century is Historical Fiction after all. As a writer, having inhabited a previous era is no guarantee of being able to write it convincingly.