Furious Fiction 26 – March 2022

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From Monthly to Quarterly

Last month I reported that the Australian Writers Centre’s Furious Fiction competition had been changed from monthly to quarterly. It would seem Furious Fiction has been a victim of its own success and although I’m disappointed I don’t have my monthly dose of fiction writing, I’m not surprised. Given there was no entry fee it would have been an unsustainable process. With so many entries and a tight turn around on results they must have had a veritable army of readers. That and the $500 prize money would have had the bean counters sweating!

Frankie is revived!

Over the course of 2020-21, I entered a number of stories based on my character Frankie the Flamboyant Dresser. I decided that rather than making a new story arc every month I would try to use the given prompts to progress Frankie’s story. Sometimes it was easy and sometimes it wasn’t! Although the entries jump around Frankie’s timeline, the story began to gel and I had a sketchy plot scribbled in my journal. Sometimes I had to go forward, and other times backward to make use of the prompts. If you read them in chronological order the continuity suffers terribly but if you reorder them the plot certainly thickens. Set in a post-Covid dystopia where coloured clothing is banned and the Ultra Conservative Party is led by corrupt and despotic hypocrites, Frankie defies the ban by wearing sequins and fur. He eventually teams up with a group of judges and lawyers who are planning to overthrow the government.

While it tipped into dark themes in some episodes it was generally meant to be light-hearted and hopefully humourous. Each story might not make sense as a stand alone piece, as I was trying to get to the end of Frankie’s journey. I lost interest in Frankie and went off on a different tangent for most of 2021 but this year, he’s back!

Prompts for March

The prompts for this quarter were:

  1. Your story must include a character that commits a crime.
  2. Your story must include some kind of DOOR being opened.
  3. Your story must include the words CHALK, TALK and FORK.

These prompts seem to be created especially for me! The two last lines of my most recent Frankie story were:

In that nanosecond,  O’Mallory had to choose between going over the bonnet or under the wheels; either way, it wouldn’t end well for him.  

As he soared over the bonnet, he looked back to see the door open and saw …

Furious Fiction Jan 2021

It’s a sign!! Did the competition judges want to know what happened to Frankie and his co-conspirators? I think they did, so I obliged! For context, Tom is an investigative journalist helping O’Mallory, who is one of the judges.

Long Live the Judge!

In that nanosecond, O’Mallory had to choose between going over the bonnet or under the wheels; either way, it wouldn’t end well for him. As he soared over the bonnet he looked back to see the car door open and a flash of a long elegant leg with red patent stilettos.

The impact of his skull against the bitumen prevented him from seeing the owner of the shoes but, he would not have been surprised.  As the Honourable Karen Brooks stood up, she motioned to her companion;

 “Clean that up will you Tom?” 

She stepped gingerly around the mangled frame of the bicycle. The red of O’Mallory’s blood was a full tone deeper than her shoes. “She’d like a pair that colour,” she thought. 

“Come along, Tom. Don’t let a little blood put you off. Or are you all talk and no action? Chop-chop! Bundle him up and put him in the boot! ” 

Tom faltered. He had never seen a dead body before. Or more pertinently the body of a friend whose death could be fairly pegged on him.

O’Mallory was his partner in sedition. Their plan to overthrow a corrupt government had bonded them together in a dangerous game. Now, here was his judge, in a tangled oozing pile of brains and metal.

“Oh come on Tom!  Chalk it up to experience. One dead judge? Who cares? We won’t need any of his kind soon.”

This was a fork in the road for Tom. Should he blow his cover or dig himself in deeper? 

He already had enough evidence to derail the Ultra Conservative Party and the festering sleazy politicians who ran it. Their post-Pandemic restructure had taken the country down some very dark alleys, quite literally. Brooks herself was responsible for the drafting of the Fashion Laws. The laws which made coloured clothing illegal. The same laws which put all clothing sales in the hands of the Party and filled its Ministers’ private purses. 

As he watched Brooks circling the body still wearing her finery from the night before, Tom made up his mind. 

“Give me your coat,” he asked, “and the keys.”

She hesitated.  “Do you want blood in the boot? I’ll wrap up his head.” he said, “and grab his feet, he’s bloody heavy”. 

She hesitated, but the curtains had begun to flitter in the windows as curious eyes watched. 

With O’Mallory safely in the boot, Tom lept in behind the wheel and sped off, leaving Brooks behind. He kept his eyes on the mirror and laughed as he saw her face contorting with rage and fear. He could only imagine what story she was spinning to the people in their dull regulation grey flannel pyjamas as they stared at her blood-soaked silver lamé. As he turned the corner he thought he saw a red shoe fly through the air, but he couldn’t be certain. 

“We got her, O’Mallory. We got her!” he chortled. 

Frankie’s Furious Fiction story so far

If you are interested in reading about Frankie’s story so far you can follow this sequence. There are no smooth transitions from one episode to another and there is considerable repetition of plot points to make each story make some contextual sense in a stand alone form. Don’t be a continuity judge – the plot is full of holes but heh, maybe one day I will spruce it up and turn it into a novella! (Although I think it would better as a screenplay.)

  1. Furious Fiction 10 April 2020 – Frankie leaves home and meets George
  2. Furious Fiction 14 – August 2020 – Frankie and George get drunk in the desert
  3. Short Fiction – Frankie and George get to Broome. This one was not actually entered into the competition but I wrote it in September 2020.
  4. Furious Fiction 9 – March 2020 – Frankie gets arrested
  5. Furious Fiction 8 – February 2020 – Frankie on remand
  6. Furious Fiction 11 – May 2020 – Frankie gets sentenced by O’Mallory. Andrea doubts her commitment to the UCP
  7. Furious Fiction 12 – June 2020 – The UCP
  8. Furious Fiction 16 – October 2020 – The plot for revolution unfolds
  9. Furious Fiction 17 – November 2020 – Frankie meets O’Mallory
  10. Furious Fiction 18 – December 2020 – Frankie spills the beans
  11. Furious Fiction 19 – January 2021 – O’Mallory meets the politician.
  12. Furious Fiction 26 – This post. March 2022

Floods and fires

The eastern coast of Australia has been on the wrong side of nature’s umbrella since the beginning of the year. The drought that had given us the tinder box which ignited into devastating bushfires in the Black Summer of 2019-20 was replaced by floods of near biblical proportions in March 2022.

Communities in the very south of Queensland and the far north coast of NSW (Big River Country) have been inundated by record breaking floods. Further south, areas around Sydney and Wollongong were also lashed by the East Coast Low – a quaint term for a cyclone-like event that occurs south of the areas cyclones are supposed to stick to.

Waiting to be rescued

My new town of Armidale was not affected by flood. The thirsty paddocks around here soaked up the welcome rain. It got a bit boggy but given nearly everywhere is downhill from Armidale, there is no risk of widespread flooding. Not so for the residents of towns like Lismore and Woodburn. The news was filled with heartbreaking images of families huddled on the roof of their two story homes with water lapping at the gutters waiting their turn to be rescued. Some of them waited for days. The demand for rescues exceeded the capacity of the emergency services and everyone with a “tinny” (a small aluminium boat) joined the effort to deposit soggy, hungry people on drier land.

The rains continue

A month later when recovery efforts were well underway, and widespread tidying up in full swing, another East Coast Low dumped more rain. Less than the previous event but because the ground was already sodden it did not take much to over top the levee again and people were evacuated for a second time. This time there were few rooftop rescues, mainly because those families were yet to return to their homes and because of swift enforcement of evacuation orders. 

Lismore’s future

Flood is a frequent visitor to Lismore. There is a levee around the town which is meant to protect them but this year the flood was a full 2 metres past previous records. Climate change? Probably.

I listened to an interview many years ago, when another bad flooding event had submerged the town. When the ABC reporter asked the hydrologist what could be done to protect the town, she drew a sharp breath and said “Move it”.

Move the whole darn town. Sounds crazy but not that crazy. With the the millions of dollars that are spent in fixing things after flood every couple of years, it seems like a good long term strategy. When you add in the personal cost, the trauma; the loss of household “stuff” and the fatalities, it seems like an even better idea.

Will it happen? Probably not.

I wouldn’t like to be trying to insure my home there though.

Here to help.

I am here in the disaster zone, helping out as an SES volunteer. My role is a small one. Working in the “back room” logistical side of things at an airbase. The helicopters are busy dropping food and supplies to people and animals. Today I helped load a chopper with sleeping bags and air mattresses for people still stuck in an evacuation centre.

I’m not getting wet and I’m not getting dirty, but I’m here and doing my bit. Just like hundreds of others of my orange colleagues and those from other agencies like the Rural Fire Service, the Police, the Defence Force and NSW Fire and Rescue. Some get paid, but for others (like the SES and RFS) this is a labour of love. For me it’s all part of my personal strategy to improve my life. Volunteering is one of the things that contribute to your own positive mental health and happiness.

Remember this!

To get here, I drove through the towns worst hit by this 1 in 1000 year flood. The scene was horrific. I found it hard to keep driving. I wanted to leap from the car and help the family I saw sweeping mud from their home. I wanted to hold the hose for the firies (fire fighters) who were sluicing out the shops. I wanted to take photos of the mud on the roofs, the caravans tipped sideways; the cars randomly wedged against trees; the bits of furniture stuck in the branches 10 metres above the ground. The piles of books and furniture stacked outside on the street waiting for collection. I wanted to record and share it all. But that seemed disrespectful. Disaster tourism. It didn’t seem right.

Or is it a chance to share an historic moment in time when Australians once again pulled together to help a community in trouble. A time when we decided climate change was here, and now.

Fellow Australians, It’s only a few weeks out from an election. Remember this. Which party has our long term interests at heart? The planet’s?

Remember that handshake during the fires? Where is he now?

There are no photos for this post. Maybe I’ll take some on the way home.

Saumarez Homestead – Snapshots of Armidale.

Saumarez Homestead is easy to find. Turn right at the Armidale regional airport drive until you get to the end of the runway; take another right-hand bend, rattle over the cattle grid before you go down a dirt road, pass the unfenced fat cattle, over another cattle grid, go past the National Trust welcome sign and then sweep into the car park.  Mind the mud.

The surrounding paddocks are resplendently green after  6 months of La Nina. The coast might be under 14 m of floodwater but here in the New England district the parched earth is lapping up the rain and storing it deep in its artesian wells.

The backside of the dark brick two-story homestead butts up to some smaller service buildings which house the bookshop and offices of the National Trust. A small courtyard with pots of succulents serves as a waiting room for the guided tour. Masks are donned and off we go. The view from the front entrance is very different indeed.

Art noveau features are a delight.

The Rise of the Gentleman Farmer.

Saumarez Homestead is a heritage-listed historical building owned by the National Trust of Australia . The imposing two-storey home is a popular tourist attraction for those visiting Armidale. It has a rich history which you can read on Wikipedia or at the National Trust site.

Its rooms are not as grand as those you may find in country homes of England or Scotland, but by Australian standards, they are grand indeed. High ornate ceilings, call bells and fireplaces aplenty demonstrate the rise and fall of the wool industry in this country.  

In the New England district, the pastoral leases of the early 1800s  grew valuable sheep that produced high-quality wool.  These lucrative pursuits made white settlers rich while the indigenous landowners and the soil became poorer.

Tap ware and bathrooms are from the early 20th C.

The life of the earliest settlers was grim. The pioneers forged the way for the gentleman farmers who conglomerated huge tracts of land that stretched into Queensland. They built bigger and bigger homes to accommodate their growing families. The township of Armidale prospered along with the farmers, eventually becoming a city. 

The farmers’ progeny were able to live comfortable lives playing tennis, golf and politics. Some had a pivotal role in the establishment of local social enterprises like Mary Whites’ contributions to the founding of the University of New England. Her dream of New England becoming a separate state, however, was never realised. 

Rising from neglect

Over time, living off the sheeps’ back became less profitable. The White family who had owned the homestead since 1874 had dwindled to a pair of “spinstered” sisters. (Mary and Elsie). The sisters, along with their friend Maggie, lived an independent life enjoying et alia photography, art and woodwork.  As they grew old, the house became rundown and the gardens overrun by blackberries. Elsie died in 1981 in an Armidale nursing home and the neglected home passed into the hands of the Trust. 

Upstairs hallway

This neglect may have been the house’s saviour. During the reign of the spinsters*, the furniture and fittings remained more or less intact. The surviving curios, artwork and fabrics are originals. The worn upholstery, carpet and lino have not been updated since the 1930s and modern-day visitors are able to feast on an authentic historical treasure.

My grandparents – revisited.

So many of the items in the house are ones I saw in my grandparent’s home. The meat safe, the icebox, the copper and the fuel stove were all things I had encountered in working order but seeing them here in this house, in context, made me appreciate my own heritage. My mum who was with me, also appreciated the items and was able to add interesting tidbits along the way.

“Aunty Maisy had one of those and we did this with it” she’d add as we walked through the rooms with the guide.

While not to modern minimalist tastes the overstuffed rooms are cosy and welcoming. The saggy beds, the stained walls, and speckled lounges speak of simpler days. Days when living was slow by necessity not by choice. 

I strive for a slow life and I like the simplicity, but I’ll keep the internet and electricity!

The out buildings

The Details.

You can buy tickets for the homestead tour at the National Trust website or at the onsite shop.  The tickets are around $15 (cheaper for concessions and kids) You can use your NSW Dine and Discover vouchers if you pay at the door. The tours are about an hour (ours ran to 1’20”) and start with a short video presentation. The guides were very friendly and knowledgeable. Non-flash photography is allowed. The site hosts weddings and other functions.  There are extensive gardens surrounding the house but due to the aforementioned La Nina weather conditions, we didn’t get to see much of them.

*I use this pejorative term advisedly. It is the term used in books and Wikipedia articles about the Saumarez Homestead. I wonder if these independent feisty sisters were in fact, same-sex attracted women who had no other permitted outlet for their desires.