Work in progress. Rosie and Matt visit Decima's old cottage, a slab construction from the colonial era.
The house is pretty old. Instead of standard horizontal weatherboard panels, it has vertical slabs, wide and thick. Probably made from all the local trees they cut down when they decided to grow crops here.
Rakali Springs suffers a severe dust storm that rips roofs off houses and destroys trees. Rosie and Matt discuss it.
We see a house without a roof. People crawl across it, dragging a tarpaulin to cover the exposed trusses and beams.
“Looks like it followed quite a narrow track,” says Matt. “Like a tornado.”
“We don’t have those, do we?”
“Not like they do in the US, but we have smaller versions.”
“Like what exactly?”
“You know. A whirlwind, kicks up dust. But a small diameter.”
“You mean a dust devil. I hope. I haven’t heard your version before.”
I blush and he laughs.
Rosie finds evidence that her ancestor, Decima, was part of the anti-conscription movement in 1916 and 1917. That would have taken some courage for a war widow.
Local elected councils are at ground zero for the political issues of the day. Not just environmental issues and building development. Waste disposal, water management, social support, energy, and roads all intersect at the local level. Darryl’s sister Tamara regales Rosie with her political views.
“The cities take everything and give nothing back. Not just taxes. They take our best and brightest kids, lure them away to better education and careers. Leave behind the dregs.”
Those dregs, presumably, are her future constituents. What she says is interesting though.
“Sort of like imperial systems have always worked. The British, for example. Took the cream of local talent, sent them away to England for education, turned them into good little imperial servants, and deprived the colonised countries of their leadership. Diabolical.”
In hot, dry windy weather, harvesting dry crops like wheat is a fire hazard. There used to be Harvest Bans. Now warnings go out, and farmers are meant to make their own risk assessment.
“It’s the dust,” says Travis. “Fine particles of grain floating about, lots of oxygen, they’re flammable.”
I imagine a tractor or one of those giant harvesters on fire, setting fire to the crop on every side. The operator would have nowhere to go. Scruff boy, for example, could be trapped. Hurt.
I’m a great fan of Australia’s National Basketball League, leading up to finals as I write this. I decided that Rosie should be a fan too.
I’m watching last year’s grand final. The game is close, and I’m really into it.
“No, no, no! Drive to the basket, don’t just fling up random shots!”
It misses. I groan in frustration. Poddo doesn’t even raise his head.
A foul is called. It’s wrong, naturally.
I jump up from the sofa and shake my fist at the screen.
“You cheats! That was a charge, not a block! Are you blind?”
Rosie takes Poddo for a walk but he goes on strike and refuses to move. Matt comes to the rescue and Poddo rides home in the cab like royalty.
"You don’t think Poddo should go in the tray with the other dogs?”
Scruff boy laughs.
“I wouldn’t dare try it. Let’s just say, he doesn’t look like his sense of balance is very well developed.”
Work in progress (working title Rosie and Scruff Boy)
Matt explains how harvesting works. Rosie is not impressed.
“It sounds like filthy work. Dusty.”
“Yeah. Usually involves a fair bit of maintenance. Dust gets into everything.”
“It sounds lonely, all that time in the tractor by yourself.”
“It can be. Sometimes there’s too much time for thinking.”
Matt gets a job driving a chaser bin for the upcoming harvest. Rosie is, of course, completely clueless.
“You have no idea what a chaser bin is, do you?”
Of course I don’t. I imagine a small cart chasing after a harvester on busy little feet. “Wait!” it cries plaintively.
I want to hook readers into my stories straight away, so the first lines and first paragraphs are mega important. It’s not easy though. I'm still working on the perfect line.
I slam the door and ratchet the security chain into the lock. The taxi loiters under the streetlight. I watch it through the spy-hole until it moves slowly away. Some of the tension in my neck and shoulders goes with it.
What I was aiming for here was a sense of danger, and to establish that the story will be told in the first person (the first time I’d done that.)
Jud Jeffreys, disgraced detective, stepped off the City Loop tram onto the central island platform.
This line introduces the main character and describes him arriving somewhere. It’s a bit low key.
Jud Jeffreys, demoted detective, recognised another exile.
This first line again introduces the main character, but packs more of a punch. We know he’s been demoted and exiled, and he's observant.
Short story editors say that the most common story beginning is someone waking up in the morning. I hope I can do better than that! Another option is to start right in the middle of the story and then go back to show how we got to this point. I took this approach in my short story The Empty Quarter, published in Aurealis magazine in 2018.
The Empty Quarter
I sign the evacuation order. It’s a relief, really. Sand and vines buried our farms and cities, and there’s no place for humans on Vennia any more.
Great story about colonisation and ecological disruption! (also available from ebook sellers).