by Ruth Morgan
Please welcome Ruth Morgan to the Writers Journey Blog. (For those of us unfamiliar with some of the Aussie terms she uses, see the footnotes for a bit of fun!)
The Australian bush, red sandy soil covered by blue saltbush*, purple flowering pigface* and multi coloured parrots.* Laughing kookaburras,* the smell of rain on dry dirt, the awe produced by a dust storm - all these things form the fabric of my life and are the reservoir from which stories emerge.
I was an only child who arrived two weeks before my mother’s 44th birthday. Six weeks later, we moved to Wilkurra Station in outback New South Wales. No phone. No running water, a long drop toilet, diesel generator or Tilley lamps* at night and a Coolgardie safe* to keep perishables cool.
My father was a station hand, a fencing contractor, a rabbit shooter - someone who could turn his hand to anything which needed to be done. He taught me to read the tracks on the soft red soil, taught me the names of the trees and flowers and how to see and really listen.
At night there would be memories of his own childhood on the banks of the Murray River, tales about the stars he used at night to navigate, and myths and legends he’d learned.
Books were always important. My mother would read to me until I was able to read for myself and was always there to help with unfamiliar words. She loved stories with a happy ending, and I was bought up reading Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, and Swiss Family Robinson.
Her favorite chook (Chicken) Blackie
My father preferred adventures and in my early teens he put me onto Alistair Maclean, Desmond Bagley, and Arthur Upfield. Although Upfield was born in the UK, he spent most of his life working in outback Australia. The attitudes he expresses are of their time, but his descriptions of the bush characters and the landscape are as evocative of the people and the landscape then as they are now. A favourite story is Death of a Swagman, set in country close to where I grew up.
I love the way the landscape is another character in Upfield’s stories. The tough Australian landscape is another character that can push people to the edge and over. It’s vast expanses can make you feel very small.
I learned very early not to venture beyond the chicken wire fence surrounding the caravan. Outside was danger. A small child getting lost in the bush could die before a search party was organised. Looking after me was Hinnie’s job - a mismatched bitsa of a dog, my guide, guardian and best friend.
At three years old with Hinnie, her best friend.
When I was old enough to go to school, mum and I moved into town and my world changed. There were people, everywhere. For someone used to the company of two adults, it was a huge shock. I’ve never been comfortable in crowds; these are the skills learned in early childhood which escaped me totally. I’d take long bike rides around town, and always end up on the banks of the Murray River admiring the tortured beauty of river red gums.*
I’ve always felt like an outsider, even in small communities, and for a writer perhaps this isn’t surprising. I’m a passionate people watcher who speculates on motives, interactions, who eavesdrops on conversations in cafes, I’ve always wondered why people do what they do. What are the underlying thoughts - known or unknown which drive them?
How aware are we of the impact of traumatic experiences? How powerful are secrets in motivating someone to react in a particular way? Are we driven by conscious thoughts or are we driven by memories and experiences buried deep within? I guess my search for understanding the darkness inevitably led me to write crime fiction as a way of exploring and making sense of observations and events.
Crime fiction is my preference, but I also write in other genres, everything except fantasy which I enjoy reading. A writing project - regardless of the size is and has always been an escape when everything is difficult or uncertain. Disappearing into words gives me a momentary respite to find my feet, collect my senses and return to the ‘real world’ refocused.
My first item ever published appeared in the school magazine when I was 15 - a poem about the Murray River. No surprises there.
In 2018 I entered a short story in a competition and to my surprise it won highly commended. Then I thought it was the best thing I’d ever written.
Then in 2020, when I was looking for short stories for The Whitworth Mysteries, I revisited this story, it had some good ideas, but the writing was terrible! I pulled it apart, changed the order events unfolded and I’m almost happy with it.
Every short story in this collection is the product of reworking over a number of attempts and often years. The stories are inspired by an overheard conversation, an obituary, a newspaper article or item on the news. Eventually, the story unfolds the way it wants to, says what it needs to and we are both happy with the outcome.
I used to believe you weren’t a proper writer until you’d had something published. To anyone who has been told that - it’s nonsense.
If you write, you are a writer.
If you want to write, write. Tell the stories within you that demand to be heard, and then worry about publication. Write the stories that move you, inspire you, make you cry or laugh. Don’t over think the direction of the story, listen to that gut instinct, your intuition, and get the words out of your head onto paper first. Then you can edit and polish until it shines.
Having a book published is one of those odd but fun experiences. If you believe publication will iron out any self-doubts you have about yourself as a writer, that suddenly all those ‘is it any good’ questions will vanish, you’re in for a shock. While external validation is pleasant, it’s fleeting.
Believe in the stories within you that have to be told, you’re the only one who can tell them. Accept there will be rejections - piles of them - and never, never quit.
Click the cover to Explore.
Ruth Morgan loves telling stories of the characters and outback country she knows and loves. Her preference is crime fiction with a twist, her stories set in rural and regional Australia. The harsh landscape with its vast open spaces, floods, trees, and isolation are essential elements in her stories. Ruth’s first collection of short stories - The Whitworth Mysteries was released in last year. Writing since childhood, Ruth has stories published on a variety of sites. Find her at: https://ruthmorgan.com.au/
blue saltbush* Saltbush is a multi-branched plant growing in a bush-like habitat, growing up to 3 meters tall and 5 meters wide. Each branch is covered with tooth-edged grey-blue leaves that are either spear or diamond-shaped, measuring 4 to 5 centimeters wide or narrower, depending on the species and growing conditions. Some species have wider leaves that have the appearance of a goosefoot. During the summer, the plant produces large bracts of flowers which will produce small, red seeds. The thick, semi-succulent Saltbush leaves offer an herbaceous and salty flavor.
Carpobrotus, commonly known as pigface, ice plant, sour fig, Hottentot fig, and clawberry is a genus of ground-creeping plants with succulent leaves and large daisy-like flowers. The name comes from the Ancient Greek karpos "fruit" and brotos "edible", referring to its edible fruits. The genus includes some 12 to 20 accepted species. Most are endemic to South Africa, but there are at least four Australian species and one South American.
multi coloured parrots* There are 56 species of the parrot found in Australia, which includes cockatoos, lorikeets, rosellas, ringnecks and budgerigars. Cockatoos are famed for their beautiful crests which are used in courtship.
Kookaburras* can be friendly and seem to tolerate humans well. Why do kookaburras laugh? The kookaburra's “laugh” is actually a territorial call. It warns others to keep out of their territory. Kookaburras are terrestrial tree kingfishers of the genus Dacelo native to Australia and New Guinea, which grow to between 28 and 47 cm in length and weigh around 300 g. The name is a loanword from Wiradjuri guuguubarra, onomatopoeic of its call.
Eucalyptus camaldulensis, commonly known as the river red gum*, is a tree that is endemic to Australia. It has smooth white or cream-coloured bark, lance-shaped or curved adult leaves, flower buds in groups of seven or nine, white flowers and hemispherical fruit with the valves extending beyond the rim. A familiar and iconic tree, it is seen along many watercourses across inland Australia, providing shade in the extreme temperatures of central Australia.
The Tilley lamp derives from John Tilley’s invention of the hydro-pneumatic blowpipe in 1813 in England. W. H. Tilley started to work with paraffin (kerosene) as a fuel for the lamps.During World War I Tilley lamps were used by the British armed forces, and became so popular that Tilley became used as a generic name for a kerosene lamp in many parts of the world
The Coolgardie safe* is a low-tech food storage unit, using evaporative cooling to prolong the life of whatever edibles are kept in it. It applies the basic principle of heat transfer which occurs during evaporation of water and was named after the place where it was invented – the small mining town of Coolgardie, Western Australia, near Kalgoorlie-Boulder. Coolgardie was the site of a gold rush in the early 1890s. For the prospectors who had rushed here to find their fortune, one challenge was to extend the life of their perishable foods – hence the invention of the Coolgardie safe.