Courtney Collins discusses The Burial

0-collins-courtney-284I suppose I was waiting for it, the beginnings of a book, as if it would just happen upon me as elegantly as a bird landing in a tree.

And one day it did happen, but not how I expected it. I was lying on the grass in a park with a friend. He was studying Classics at the time and along with a desire to wear hand-forged medallions around his neck, it grew in him a desire to read great passages aloud. So on that sunny day he began reading a story about a man who put his ear to the ground for what he might hear.

I don't know what happened next. I was off - still planted to that same patch of ground, but my mind was given over to all of the untold stories trammelled beneath our bodies, and further down, those trapped in the strata of the earth.

This is Australia. The dirt is a morgue. And for all of our great open spaces, I've grown convinced that at some time someone or something must have walked, run or bled across every ancient inch of it.

I remember the feeling of getting up from the grass that day. It was like being drunk. I lurched home overwhelmed at the thought of what I was stepping over, stories that had not found a voice or stories that I had failed to hear.

In hindsight, I was right to be overwhelmed. Counting from that day, it took me about ten years of beginning stories, jettisoning some and finishing others before I found a way to tell the story I wanted to tell.

Jessie Hickman is an extraordinary character. She lived and roamed, so in ways, she came to me fully formed. I even had tangible evidence of her existence - her prison mugshot that I framed and hung above my desk. She arrived in my life muscular and brave and riding slipshod and, if I had not found her I might still be floundering, with my ear to the ground.

Of course, writing, like any heartfelt pursuit, is full of perils and for me they only increased with the responsibility that this woman actually lived. And yet, I was infected by what I took as her disregard for authority and her audacity. Day after day, I imagined myself riding beside her, heist after heist, for the delight of it.

In that way, I related to the character of Jack Brown, an Aboriginal Irish stockman, in his desire to want to possess Jessie but want freedom for her at the same time.

It may sound melodramatic, but my personal achievement in writing The Burial was to write as if I was already dead. By that I mean embracing my fears, shaking off self-consciousness and not caring too much if I might dissolve in the process.

I know writers and readers looking for insight into process read these posts, so if there were things I would do differently it would be to not waste time and energy on being ambitious for the work or expect every day to be a good day. But rather, I would just get down to that earthy work and accept I was probably only really doing my job when my muscles, especially my heart muscle, was truly aching.

Books by Courtney Collins

The Burial

Published: June 2014

A breathtakingly brilliant debut novel in the tradition of Cormac McCarthy - inspired by Australia's last bushranger, young woman Jessie Hickman.