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Darkness On The Edge Of Town – Jessie Cole and Author Q&A

on October 19, 2012

Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Jessie Cole
4th Estate
2012, 325p
Copy courtesy Harper Collins AU

Vincent collects broken things. Living up on a remote hill with his teenage stepdaughter Gemma, he trawls tips for furniture and appliances for his house, collecting far more than he could ever need, cluttering up the small house. They don’t have much, but together they get by.

Vince doesn’t just collect broken things, he seems drawn to broken people as well. Wherever he goes, drama tends to follow and he doesn’t know quite how he ended up in these situations. He married Gemma’s mother when she was just 2 and when she took off years later, Gemma stayed with Vince. Since then Vince has drifted in and out of relationships with broken women.

He arrives home one night and finds Rachel on his property, distressed and cradling a baby. She has crashed her car on a dangerous bend in the road just near his house and she’s in a state. He looks after her, patching her up best he can, calling the ambulance for the baby. When they arrive and take them both away, Vince thinks that’s probably the last of it. He’s done his good deed.

But then Rachel turns up at his house, having escaped from the hospital and walked all the way out there. She’s brittle and grieving and for some reason she seems to have chosen Vince as a shelter, a place where she feels safe. Gently, Vince is able to tease Rachel’s story out in small increments, a tragic tale that stirs within him a protectiveness. Despite his best efforts of getting Rachel the treatment she needs for her injuries, getting her the help she needs for her situation, Rachel always seems to find her way back to Vince.

Darkness On The Edge Of Town starts with a bang, Vincent, an almost-40 country sort of bloke arriving home and finding a car has gone off the road and crashed near his isolated property. He finds Rachel, cradling her 9wk old baby and it’s clear to Vincent from first glance that things aren’t at all okay with the baby. Rachel is in a state of shock but it isn’t until later that it becomes apparent that Rachel is in shock from much more than just her accident and subsequent loss.

I was hooked on this story from the first few words – the narrative is split between Vince and his young stepdaughter (who is really more than that), a 16yo girl wise and mature beyond her years. Vince is the only father she has ever known and she chose to stay with him when he and her mother split up and the two of them have a close and somewhat unusual relationship. Gemma accepts her father’s ways of finding and trying to fix broken things, perhaps she even shares it. But she knows that Rachel, when she reappears in their lives, is going to change things. You can see her apprehension, her hesitance. She’s torn between feeling sorry for Rachel, wanting to help her, wanting to help fix her as well, and perhaps trying to protect herself and her father from what Rachel will bring into their lives, a type of chaos from which there will be consequences.

This is a book strongly driven by character and relationships. Vince is rough around the edges but also gentle. I couldn’t help but sympathise with him because he had such good intentions but he was really quite ill equipped emotionally to care for Rachel after what she had been through. That’s no slight on Vince – as Rachel’s tragic story unfolds, it’s clear that she’s quite scarred and damaged by where her life has led her and Vince’s best attempts are not going to be enough to help her. As a mother I also felt deeply for Rachel, the way in which she had this child did not change the depth of her grief for him when he was then lost to her and some of the scenes where Rachel finally has to accept that little Frankie is gone are utterly heartbreaking in their honest simplicity.

The character of Gemma is so beautifully written – a 16yo girl living only with her father. Her mother has very little to do with her now and you can tell from her brief appearance in this book that even though Gemma has come to realise exactly what her mother is, her visits cause her pain because they force her to re-confront this every single time. She’s at a stage where she probably desperately needs a mother to talk to about the things she’s going with at school, with boys, but all she has is Vince and although the two of them do have a lovely bond, it’s not the same. I felt for Gemma so much, she seemed very lost at times in this novel and at others she was such an amazing tower of strength.

Darkness On The Edge Of Town is a very promising debut from a truly talented young Australian woman writer and I very much look forward to what Jessie Cole has in store for readers.

8/10

Book #190 of 2012

Darkness On The Edge Of Town is the 62nd book read and reviewed by an Australian female writer for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

Jessie was also kind enough to answer some questions for me about herself and her writing.

1). Hi Jessie and welcome to my blog! Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions for me. To start us off could you maybe tell us how the story of Vince, Rachel and Gemma came to you.

Hi Bree, it’s very nice to be here!

The story of how Vince, Rachel and Gemma came to be is a strange one. From talking to other writers I have gathered that many stories evolve – characters and scenes appearing slowly and in their own time – but with these particular characters it wasn’t like that at all. Their voices were so strong for me from the outset, as though the whole thing was fully formed already inside me, and it hit me with quite a bang. All in one go. I felt in some ways – overtaken.

In terms of who the characters are and why I would write their stories – I suppose in some ways they’re simply a reflection of the place and time and people I have known throughout my life. They feel real to me, and I still feel very close to them, even though I wrote the book more than four years ago.

2). The road to publication can be a long and difficult one. How did you get from getting these ideas down on paper to holding a finished copy of your novel in your hands?

Yes, for me it seemed a very long process.

I had written an MS before Darkness on the Edge of Town, a kind of fictionalised autobiography, finished in about 2006. I won a HarperCollins Varuna Award for Manuscript Development for this first MS in 2009, but by that time I had already moved on and completed Darkness too.

Part of this award entails going to Varuna in the Blue Mountains to work with an editor from HarperCollins for ten days. Then HarperCollins consider the polished manuscript for publication. With mine, they decided against the first manuscript, but asked to have a look at Darkness on the Edge of Town. But it wasn’t until half way through 2010 that I signed a contract with them for
Darkness, and then for a number of reasons I ended up with a two year pre-publication period. So, it was a long road.

Having said this, the long build up undoubtedly gave me some extra time to become acclimatised to having a book published, which is actually quite a daunting process.

Aspiring writers get told so often that they will never be published, that the odds are so low, that they shouldn’t get their hopes up … and for me, the belief that it would never happen gave me a kind of privacy in the way I wrote. I truly believed – no-one will ever read it so what does it matter? So adjusting to the idea of publication was trickier than you might expect.

But when I opened that first box of author copies in my local post office and held my book in my hands it truly was like holding a baby for the first time. I could barely believe my eyes.

3). Do you write whenever the mood takes you and the story is flowing or do you try and write each day to a routine? Is there anywhere in particular you like to write, such as a study, local coffee shop, maybe outside? Do you need anything to keep you going such as a certain drink or snack?

Hmmm … I write when the mood takes me, but I would like to be more disciplined. I suppose it is taking that step from writing as a secret hobby or personal passion to writing as a career. All I can say is – I’m trying.

I like to write in total privacy, so definitely not in a café. My bedroom is upstairs in amongst the canopy (I live in a kind of rainforest) and I have taken lately to writing in bed on my laptop. I guess I need to feel immersed, and it is easier to feel like that if I can keep the real world at bay.

I drink lots of tea, and I like to have quite frequent breaks and wander around a little. I think movement is important; that it stimulates ideas. I have had times where I wander from spot to spot daydreaming, clearly seeming to anyone who might be watching like I was doing nothing at all, but it is all part of it.

I read a quote by Martin Amis that said something along the lines of – ‘It is hard to explain to your wife that you are working when she comes in and finds you asleep on the couch.’ And I had to laugh. So much of ‘the work’ that goes into writing is actually a kind of dreaming.

4). What do you like to do during your downtime when you’re not writing?

I read a lot. Listen to music. I go on long walks with the dog. I hang out with old friends. I do silly things with my boys. Basically, I live a fairly quiet life.

5). Who/what are some of your favourite authors/books?

I live in the home my parents built and it is still filled with their books. Bookshelves lining many of the walls, overflowing onto all the surfaces. Everywhere. Sometimes in this environment I find it a bit difficult to work out what it is I actually love, separate from the chronic-book-chaos that surrounds me.

But I’m thinking … I love Jeanette Winterson, Tim Winton, Jane Austen, Michael Ondaatje, Tara June Winch. I read Elliot Perlman’s Three Dollars the other day and was pretty blown away. I also read quite a bit of YA fiction because I have teenage boys. I really loved Patrick Ness’s trilogy Chaos Walking and one of my all time favourites is Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-
Time Indian. It’s a gem.

6). Lastly, what’s next for you?

I’m working on a new novel at the moment and it is always so exciting to be in the midst of that (extended) moment of creation. I am really close to the end of the first draft and I’ve started to stall a bit because I know from experience that there is stretch of deep loneliness when a project comes to an end. Like the end of a relationship, in a way. So I’m prolonging the moment! But hopefully I’ll be finished soon.

Thank you so much Jessie!

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5 responses to “Darkness On The Edge Of Town – Jessie Cole and Author Q&A

  1. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    I loved ‘darkness on the edge of town’ it just resonated with me in some inexplicable manner. I enjoyed learning a little more about the author in this interview. Thanks 🙂

  2. brendat59 says:

    Wonderful review, and interview with the author Bree! I am now moving it up further on my TBR list:)

  3. Great review Bree and really interesting interview. I really enjoyed reading about how the story evolved as the author continued to work on it. I’ve added this book to my wishlist!

  4. […] the latest reviews in Overland, The Australian, ANZ Lit Lovers, book’d out, 1 Girl 2 Many Books, and […]

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