Reading and Rambling

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Stories of the Relics



Two sennights ago, I had the most fantastic opportunity for a Ross writing immersion.  For those who know my story – literally and figuratively - you will appreciate what an amazing experience this proved to be.

As part of the TATE?UTAS Ross Symposium, I was able to spend time in the town, deliver a presentatiion on my passion and pass some precious time exploring the relics.

Here is a version of what I experienced and shared ...

It began with a night's accommodation at the utterly charming property of Somercotes (one I simply must repeat!)  What a delightful setting, and a terrific chance to steep myself in the modern day context of my own 19th century novel. 

A significant highlight was the chance to enjoy some precious time before the day’s literary sessions amidst the relics of Horton College.  Major bucket list TICK!




How authentic and quaint is this ?????


And the surrounds were stunning ....












Writing About Place ... 

Re-inspired by my jaunt to the Melbourne Writers Festival in August, wich offered some amazing inspiration regarding the importance of place in writing - an idea that featured across the entire range of author presentations I attended, with both national and international writers

The idea of place as a character in itself within a story - alive, complex, tangible and unique - was one I explored in my own writing, which began with a place ...  Scenes and chapters in our own local, state and national history - the untold stories - are a terrific source of inspiration!


What stories lay waiting to be uncovered in the relics?











For me as a writer, recreating our past through stories and keeping our history alive before it disappears forever is a particular area of passion and interest, one I was excited to explore when I began my MA with Rohan Wilson …
A childhood spent growing up in Evandale no doubt fuelled my fascination with Tasmania’s past from an early age – especially historic buildings (and even more notably grand ones!). 
My Relationship With Tasmania's Past ...
Fallgrove, Clarendon House, Franklin House and Entally were all so close, along with those lesser, quieter buildings in local streets, all surrounded by the midlands of Tasmania.
Personal ancestry. William Henry Clayton, the second son of Henry and Mary Clayton, was the architect who designed over 300 Tasmanian buildings including The Launceston Hotel, Chalmers Church and Wickford, the family property built at Norfolk Plains in 1838, before he emigrated to New Zealand
There are fascinating stories already existing within these two personal threads. 
What others are as yet untold?

Following my discovery of the initial image that sparked a story I was desperate to learn more. 
Research.
The research process began where I imagined myself in the writerly footsteps of Hannah Kent and Kate Grenville – but in a Tasmanian context
Sources of information - 
  Local LINC library.     TAHO (field trip planned!)
  People -  Archivist Keith Sykes, Historical Society publications 

The Treasure TROVE
(long may it live!)
This led me on a deeper digital trail to a myriad of amazing repositories …
~  Newspaper articles – including scandalous letters to the editor
~  UTAS eprints, Library Open Repository – letters and photographs
~  Victorian Police Gazette – the language of the period, inquests, deserters, crimes
~  University of Melbourne Library – historical map of Richmond, Hawthorn, Yarra

History Revealed Itself ... that crumbling arch was once THIS!!


Horton College
~  Exclusive boys boarding school in the midlands of Tasmania, two and a half miles south of Ross, that operated in the second half of the nineteenth century
~  Established when Captain Samuel Horton, of Somercotes, made a donation of land and a sum of money to the Wesleyan Methodist Church
~  The foundation stone was laid by Captain Horton on January 6, 1852, but the building was not completed for another three years due to a delay caused by the Victorian gold rush
~  The first student. “John Manton aged 11 years admitted 3 October 1855”, one of 770 boys who passed through the College, with an average of 50 students a year, mostly Tasmanian but also a number from Vic and NSW
~  During its 38 years of existence it was home to a succession of boys – many of whom became successful doctors, barristers, merchants, well-known clergymen and various other creditable professions
- Subjects included Latin, Greek, French, Algebra, Trigonometry, History, Geography, Arithmetic, Writing, Grammar, Scripture along with Music, Drawing and Drill
~   Closed 1892 after the retirement of Willam Fox, Head Master of 26 years, financial decline and the establishment of rival schools in Hobart and Launceston
~  Demolished in 1920, most materials sold, the College bell went to Hutchins School in Hobart, while some of the bricks were taken to Launceston, becoming part of the wall of the Mary Fox wing of the Methodist Ladies College in Elphin Road

From the Horton College Journal .. 
Jun 16, 1857     “James J Turnbull ran away from College.”
Dec 21, 1858     “Thomas Melville dismissed from his situation in deep disgrace                             and heavily in debt.  A desperately bad man.”
Sep 23, 1859     “Mr Maxey, the Head Master, left to the great satisfaction of                               the President and Masters who had all been insulted by him.”
Oct 14, 1881     “Two of the boarders, Frederick Walter Dally and George                                     English Herbert Fulton died.  In the former case death was                                 caused by accident, and in the latter it was the result of                                   disease … the moral effect on the boys was most [important].”
The Beginnings of a Story ...
Having gathered together all sorts of articles and pictures, I began to imagine my own version of Horton College.  I created maps and family trees which I collated together with my cuttings and scribblings in a notebook.  I then began to set in motion the ideas that had begun to bubble away in my brain in my process of ‘magpie nesting’.  Finding the right mix – the historical evidence of setting, characters and events scattered within a narrative arc that came from my own imagination.


As the story started to take shape on the page I began to assemble my cast of characters – students, masters, servants … But stepping into the centre stage spotlight appeared 16 year old William Learoyd, bringing with him a large helping of dramatic tension.
On the UTAS eprints repository, I found these wonderful letters which gave voice to the students.


“I received thy letter in due time and am very much obliged to thee for the photograph.”
“I wish Papa would write oftener for I have written two letters to which I have received no answer.”       
                                    (Aha!  William)
“On the 23rd of 9th Mr Robert Crawford aged about 19 who was the head waiter of Horton College died suddenly at about 5 in the afternoon …  I suppose thou hast seen all the particulars in the newspapers …”
“On the 5th of November we had a holiday and we made a large bonfire on the top of a high hill and the wind drove the flames amongst a lot of dead trees and set fire to them. The boys had a great many fireworks and we had a great deal of fun in letting them off.”
Shaping the Narrative ...
Chapters constructed around the snippets I had discovered in my research – the flash flood of the Macquarie, the fire on the hill, the masters behaving badly, a tragic death – but with William’s experience of this new environment providing the perspective, the lens through which all this is narrated.
Having William sent to Horton from Melbourne demanded (of course!) a reconnaissance mission to find where he came from – and details of the dark reason behind his move to Tasmania.
Miriam’s character materialised later in the process (a little bit of me in the story) For me, her emerging role within the narrative became necessary  – but she needed to add something to the story. Her modern day sections alternate with William’s as she goes on her own Tasmanian trail into the past.  It is Miriam who finds closure for them both – laying to rest ghosts of the past.
The End of the Journey ...
Well, I’m yet to get there … although I know where I’m going, along with Miriam, and where William has gone.  Amdist the daily routine - the bread and butter stuff of English teaching that interferes with our dreams of living the fantasy of writing full-time - William whispers to me from time to time, waiting for me to resolve his story.  I have promised him this summer ...
~   All That Remains   ~
"All that remains today of Horton College is a crumbling portico arch evident on the Midlands Highway just south of Ross.  It was once a grand building, established with a donation by Captain Samuel Horton of Somercotes, an exclusive boys boarding school that operated from 1855 to 1892.

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In 1868, William Learoyd was sent to Horton from Melbourne after a terrible murder near his home above the Yarra.  He struggled to adapt to the change, finding himself suddenly alone in the isolation of the Tasmanian midlands, but slowly began to make friends in this distant colonial outpost.  However, a series of traumatic events and conflicts led William to ultimately run away from the college and he was never seen or heard from again."


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Getting back in the zone ...

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Desperately keen to get back in the writing zone, I thought I’d begin with revisiting my research scrapbook – the history that inspired me to write the story to begin with …

Portico



Many local Tasmanians – and former Taswegians, along with visitors to the state – might recognise this image.  It is the remains of a crumbling arch, located on the Midlands Highway just south of Ross.



When I first saw this relic, I was immediately obsessed.  (And yes, I now like to think of myself as the next Hannah Kent ;) ).  Perhaps many were intrigued by the mysterious arch; some even interested in what it represents.  How many people know that it once was this building?



 

This building was, in fact, an elite boys’ boarding school in the mid to late 19th century: Horton College.  Somewhat starstruck by the magic of such a place, I began researching in earnest!  Trove, Launceston LINC and a phone conversation with a former Scotch Oakburn archivist with insightful knowledge of the College led to a gradually accumulated wealth of knowledge and inspiration on the school, its history and its context.



Studying my Master of Arts in Creative Writing  - under the guidance of the brilliant Rohan Wilson and a peer group of inspiring and amazing fellow writers – offered me the opportunity and structure to really immerse myself in this ‘cracker of a setting’ (cheers, Rohan). 



An array of articles, photographs and the Journal of Horton College document have provided me with so much information and so many ideas!  I just LOVE the idea of recreating history through fiction (yes, I am musing on the idea of a future PhD along these lines!)

 


I visualised a student, William Learoyd, of an eminent family, who had been sent (exiled) to Horton from Wesley College in Melbourne after witnessing a terrible crime.  I sought to blend his experience as a traumatised sixteen year old with factual information I had uncovered about the College.  This has been such a challenge and a delight!  Flash floods, fake masters, court cases and questionable student deaths have provided so much material to work with.  What a gem!!!!



On a trip to Melbourne, I spent a transporting afternoon roaming the banks of the Yarra River and elite streets of Hawthorn – Shakespeare Grove, Isabella Grove and Coppin Grove – imagining from where my protagonist, William, had been sent.  This experience also led me to formulate a ‘present story’ – yes, I am now writing what I want to read – in which a contemporary relative of William is uncovering his life story.  Yes, I confess that her voice mirrors my own, and it adds a contemporary and contrasting dimension to William’s story that I love.

I will be back with more :)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

10 Things I Hate About Christmas Shopping


 
1.  The not-so-festive drivers.
You know who they are; they come out of the woodwork at the start of December to clutter and wreak havoc on the roads.  Yes, that’s them, the ones who drive slower than I can crawl backwards, whose indicators have disappeared into Narnia, and randomly cut across lanes with utter oblivion to anyone else … and, oh yes, those who drive the wrong way up one way streets.  And don’t even get me started on the blood-boiling issue of parking – the lack of, the cost of and those people of pure evil who load up their shopping into their car before getting in and … just sitting there!!!  What the hell is with that??  You’ve done your shopping, GO HOME!

2.  Sales ‘Assistants’.
Yep, they’re either there in their millions, in your face every six seconds or – when you actually DO want assistance, they are nowhere to be found.  Useless, really, just useless.  Not worth any more words.

3.  The bank balance plummet.
Why is it that we are forced to return again and again and again to the ATM (where there is always a ridiculous queue of people who have apparently never before seen an ATM in their lives) for more cash to spend on other people???  Every time I make another withdrawal I think longingly of France, or a beach house or various other things I’d much rather be spending my hard-earned cash on.  But no, it’s all for the love of others, so they can get that special present that – if not unappreciated – will no doubt be lost, forgotten or broken within two weeks anyway.  Hmph!

4.  Fellow ‘Shoppers’.
The height of heinousness.  They dawdle in front of you, they bump into you, they get in line ahead of you … I imagine there is some whacked out crazy scientist out there who creates these ‘shoppers’ to send them out into the world simply to piss me off.  Well, one day, man – I’ll find you, and you better be ready!  Or (solution-oriented moment – just briefly) perhaps a roster could be organised?  Only people whose names start with A can shop on Dec 1, B on Dec 2 and so on.  Better idea?  Perhaps.  Oh, and bogans – well bogans spend all year hanging around downtown … surely they can be banned for the month of December?  Just sayin …

5.  Decisions. 
Normally I’m a very decisive person (Ahem! Cough, cough …) Alright, I’m not.  But really, asking me to go out and choose amazing or even mildly appropriate gifts for people at the end of the working year when my brain is completely made of mush … well, you’re just asking for crap, alright.  All the good ideas come mid to late January – yep, too late, too bad.

6.  Shopping with kids.
Well, really it just amps up all the other Christmas shopping grievances, doesn’t it?  If they’re not picking out presents for themselves, they’re disappearing into another galaxy or getting under your feet – or they keep touching stuff that you instantly envisage smashing and then proceeding to break a whole lot more stuff on the way down (further adding to plummeting bank balance when you can’t get out of the store fast enough and you have to pay for it all.  Lose lose situation here – don’t bother.

7.  Buying for others.
Why is it, at this time of the year, you see SO much stuff for yourself?  Yes I might take up snow-skiing, hmm I need some more books (no, don’t have enough already), ooh new clothes!!!!  Really, it’s just plain cruel.  Especially when I finally have some time and feel like I deserve a little pampering after a busy year ….
 
8.  Christmas Music.
No, there is nothing jolly or uplifting about it.  Cheesy carols – no, just no!  It’s crap, it’s irritating and repetitive (hell, they all sound the same to me).  If you want me to be a happy little shopper, can I suggest Pearl Jam – live would be great, thanks ;)


9.  Prams, trolleys and intrusive store displays of useless crap.
Downtown in December is just no place for prams.  At all.  Let alone ones with screaming babies in them – go home! Trolleys should be delisted – if you can’t carry it, you can’t buy it.  Simple as that.  And yes, those special displays of especially festive rubbish that multiply at this time of the year – get rid of them, for the love of God!!! No, I will not be held responsible for any that might ‘accidentally’ topple over while I am in the vicinity.  (There’s an idea – if we all band together and get the trend happening, maybe they’ll get the hint?)


10.  K-Mart.
Nothing to say – let’s face it, the place needs no words …

Well, that’s it, I limited it  to ten.  Next year, I’m going to do all my shopping online, in the month of August … Happy Christmas everyone!!!!