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How 'The Clothesline' was born

In March this year (2020; the year no one will soon forget) I wrote a short story, that I called 'The Clothesline'. It was a dark chapter about family violence that turns deadly during a world-wide pandemic, and it was inspired by the dreadful news reports that emerged during the first months of Covid-19.


I listened to a news report as I finished my coffee one Sunday morning and as I pottered in my large, still establishing garden, I mulled over what I had heard. I could only imagine how being in lockdown with an unstable tormentor would feel, and - in my mind anyway - I felt my developing character would have only a few options open to her.


The story marinated for the day, as I pulled weeds and dug over garden beds and to my surprise, the story took any an hour or so to get down on paper, once I sat at my desk.

I published it on this blog and was quite proud of how it turned out. I had hoped to convey that sense of dread and hopelessness that often engulfs those dealing with violence as the main part of their lives, and I like to think that desperation lifts from the page.


I shared a link to the blog and my short story and was wonderfully overwhelmed by the response. Family, friends and people I didn't know that well all sent encouraging messages and when I arrived at work the next day my colleagues were keen to talk about the story.


All this was very new to me. I have been an avid reader since childhood, and enjoyed selecting books for my Dad at our local library, and using his feedback to choose the next round of Wilbur Smith or military biography hardbacks. My love of stories and reading grew into a yearning to write. I dabbled in high school, but as I think back they're were very much the angst driven stereotypical teenager tragedies and none survived my route to adulthood.


Covid-19 has been a time of change for many people and I am no different. Lockdown and the stress that come from the threat this virus poses to my family meant I became less worried about what people thought of my writing. I clumsily started this website and entered the monthly writing challenges posed by the Australian Writers Centre, as a way to practise getting words and thoughts to align in a way that painted the picture I was trying to paint.


In the meantime, the response to the short story version of The Clothesline continued to grow, and continued to surprise me. People spoke to me about the characters as real people, which filled me with the most amazing warm 'n fuzzy feeling imaginable. It was (and is) incredible to hear others talk about my characters as real people, which led to chapter two 'Fairy'.


As I wrote about Fairy from next door I started to think about how we are perceived is often so very different to how we feel about ourselves, and how our own struggles and trauma can be seen by others as unkindness, weakness or rudeness. Someone lacking in confidence due to an over-bearing or cruel family may stay quiet, but in turn to reluctance to get to know workmates may be perceived as unfriendliness or snobbishness.


I published 'Fairy' on this blog, as a small idea began to form. The response by readers to Fairy's story, and comments about how perceptions of her changed once the backstory was revealed cemented the idea of a novel in my mind.


I plotted a series of characters, each with their own failings and personal issues, but that linked one to the next, and a real sense of excitement built. I did get fairly testy (that's probably polite, if I'm honest) when writing was interrupted by life and I really had to slow myself down many times to ensure I didn't race to the ending I could already see.


I think I can credit two friends and workmates at the time for pushing firstly Fairy into life, and then helping me build the ideas to the end. At this stage I stopped releasing chapters on this blog and I did worry that perhaps when I reached the end it would be too contrived or the storyline to obvious and I very nervously released the first draft to my beta readers.


Beta readers are a small group who read the first rough-ish draft of a manuscript and provide feedback. I had three; my two workmates and my mum, so each was very well known to me and were also very supportive of what I was doing. Regardless of all this support, handing over those pages was absolutely terrifying. I felt a complex mix of emotions; a weird embarrassment, pride, excitement, a knee-knocking concern and everything else in between. I thought what I had written was ok; ok enough to be excited about the journey, but releasing that out into the world (albeit via three people very close to me) made me feel incredibly vulnerable and somehow exposed.


I waited an eternity (approximately three weeks) until I self-consciously asked for the feedback. I sat at the big table on the sunny verandah at my parents house as my mum and I laughed over some parts of the book and more seriously discussed the damage each character carried. It was incredible; I was discussing people I had created and as such, they came alive. My friends sent text messages as they finished a particular chapter or came across a fork in the road. They were at times outraged at what a character had done and in turns didn't like them, but then felt empathy in the next chapter. It was quiety exhilarating to experience the stories through their reactions.


Fast forward to today, at the end of August, and with many self-publishing lesson learned, The Clothesline is due for release next week. It is on pre-sale online, beside the authors I have read and admired and I admit to googling myself on Amazon and Barnes & Noble a couple of times, just for the thrill of seeing my cover lined up beside real writers.


It's been a whirlwind few months, and my mind is bubbling over with ideas for future stories, or even a Clotheline series, so, for me, 2020 has taught me that life is too short, and the future way too uncertain not to take a leap and do what excites you. The Clothesline may not sell more than a handful of copies, but that's ok because the achievement of doing it anyway is where the magic lays.


I am a different person, and I think that is because of Fairy.


BLURB

What is it about sorrow and grief that brings people together?


On Wednesday - or is it Thursday? - there is a tap at her back door and there stands Tasmin, looking calm but tired, with faded yellow bruises still visible on her chin and one cheekbone. As she welcomes her up the back step and into the kitchen, Fairy is momentarily distracted by the rush of uncomplicated joy of realisation and optimism, that floods her body and makes her limbs feel light.

Tasmin is a young woman facing her own demise, urged into unspeakable action by a kindly neighbour, and from her pain rises the personal stories of an eclectic cast of unlikely characters.


Perhaps it is because the world has gone mad. Perhaps it is because Tasmin feels this will all end soon, one way or another, but she and the others are drawn together in a way none of them could have foreseen.


The Clothesline is the debut novel of Australian writer Krista Schade, exploring the fractured dynamics of family life, the dear friends who become family, and the search for hope.



"The Clothesline" is available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Nile and Booktopia, in paperback and ebook.

Chapter 1 and 2 can be read on this blog.


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