Dragon’s Breath

Little Patch of Scrub (July 23, 2009) by Dave Clarke, Bush Philosopher

Little Patch of Scrub (July 23, 2009) by Dave Clarke, Bush Philosopher (taken near Clare, South Australia)

As the day drew closer, I found myself having those moments, where I asked myself: What have I done? 

Like all things done on a whim, signing up to participate in a magic realism blog-hop seemed harmless at the time, but the closer I got to 22 of July, the more nervous I became.

I will admit upfront, I am not an expert on magic realism, or any other genre. I do enjoy writing and reading magic realism literature. Although I am slightly choosy with what works I deem fit within this distinctly unique style of writing. I have previously expressed my thoughts on the core elements of magic realism in a previous blog post, which resulted in some interesting discussion (http://wp.me/p37mgG-cf). 

However, for the next few days I will strive to put aside my narrow view of magic realism. Instead, I am entering the magic realism blog-hop with an open-mind, eager to learn more and keen to enter into discussions with fellow readers, writers and bloggers.

 Why Magic Realism?

 It would be fair to say that my writing is erratic. None of my short stories or novels-in-progress are consistent in style, technique or genre. As I am still finding my voice, I think that its ok to experiment. Enjoying life as a creative person, I hope that I never lose the desire to experiment, to push the boundaries, to express and bring to life what is not easily seen. Which is probably why I find magic realism appealing: it creatively pushes boundaries.

As someone who has a strong political streak, especially in regards to rights for indigenous peoples, magic realism is a perfect way for me to explore inequity and injustice in a manner that is more digestible for mainstream readers. I am not alone in this, as writers such as Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, Ben Okri, Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison have used magic realism to depict sweeping social change, political unrest and unsavoury moments in history.

As an Australian writer of Aboriginal descent, magic realism feels like a comfortable fit. And I am really pleased to be joining this blog-hop, even if I am still nervous. I intend to contribute a couple of posts over the next few days; what I will contribute is still undetermined.

To start off, I offer a snippet of a work-in-progress, which I feel has strong magic realism elements. Please note that this manuscript is still in first draft stage, so the below is still a bit on the rough side.

In the tradition of magic realism, where the fruit falls weaves a big tale, interjected with whimsical asides and musings on a nation’s history; while using ordinary lives to explore vital themes of identity, place and belonging.

This novel (expected release early 2014) sets ordinary people against Australia’s beautifully wild terrain, amidst a backdrop of post-colonisation and social transformation. There are strong themes of identity, belonging, place and family within where the fruit falls; told through the eyes of a young Aboriginal woman and her daughters.

Magic realism melds respectfully to indigenous models of storytelling; where the arcane is often accepted as natural, and time has a different meaning. Magic realism is reminiscent of songlines: cautionary tales with transcendent qualities, inspired by the many unseen and seen beings found within earth, waters and heavens.

In the below scene, ‘magic’ and reality is blended to:

  • create a rapid transition out of childhood
  • connect the generations; explore family legacies
  • describe the relationship of trust between the sisters
  • make reference to a well-known world event; one symbolises social-technological change

Characters in this extract are:

  • Victoria and Gracie – identical twins
  • Kathleen – young Aboriginal woman; mother of Victoria and Gracie
  • Iris – frail woman who Kathleen has been employed to care for (in exchange for food and use of the workers cottage)
  • The Man – Iris’ husband, a renown artist

I have titled this post Dragon’s Breath because that is what I have always called mists. Growing up on a farm, watching the fog fill dips in paddocks and small gullies, to then roll up the hill towards the house, I could never just watch. I had to enter the Dragon’s Breath, even if it was cold and moist, even if I was slightly scared. I’m not sure where the term came from, I have a feeling that it was either said or inspired by my paternal great-grandfather. Migrating from Ireland as a young man, and having had many wild adventures, in his later years my great-grandfather instilled in me the value of a good story-told well. As you will see when reading this extract, I have drawn slightly on these memories.

Extract from where the fruit falls

The afternoon sun peeked out from between the heavy clouds and penetrated the half-drawn bedroom curtains. Cocooned under a bright patchwork quilt, Iris could feel the sun’s warmth as it crept across her bed.  Despite the spreading warmth, this light from afar, Iris was tired of winter. Tired of the way that it got into her bones, made them feel like screaming. She called out for Kathleen, needing help to sit awhile on the veranda. Even though Iris had shrunk even more the last few months, as if she was retracting from the winter’s wind, Kathleen still needed Victoria’s help to lift the old woman. Together, they gently carried her outside, trying not to cause too much more pain. After placing Iris in the worn rocking chair, Kathleen sat down, a pile of clothes to be darned in a basket at her feet.

As Kathleen mended a small hole in the toe of a sock, Iris’ fingers twitched slightly at the sound of the needle. Her fingers remembered the motion, in and out, in and out; the rhythm of metal piercing cloth. Iris thought back, seeing in her mind all those patchwork quilts that she had created over the years; many of which were now scattered around the globe, being cherished by others. For her husband was not the only artist in the house. Iris was renowned for her quilts, which were works of art, not mere bed-linen. Now, all that she had of those works were her memories, and a fading quilt in her bedroom. Which was used to conceal her sometimes unsightly sick-bed, and to cover the ever-shrinking Iris.

With great effort, Iris pulled a thin rug up past her knees and studied the scene before her: thick mist concealing the paddocks, closing her in.  She felt uncomfortable, as if something was not quite right.  Fog always made her feel uneasy but today there was something more.  Wickedness lay in wait, concealed in the mist; that she was sure of.  Although she was not sure who it waited for.

Victoria had also noticed the mist but not the foreboding presence.

Without any hesitation, she ran inside, ‘Gracie, come and see this.’

Kathleen frowned as the front door slammed shut, having more than once instructed her daughters not to be too unruly when up at the house, out of respect for Iris.  However Iris rejoiced in secrecy, barely concealing a smile. For Victoria’s wildness always reminded Iris of her own girlhood. And as memories were all that Iris had left to enjoy, prompts were always welcomed.

Victoria soon rushed back outside, dragging a reluctant sister. Kathleen looked up, wondering when Victoria would mature a bit, stop all this rushing around.

Straightening the sleeve of her jumper, Grace said, ‘What is it? Come on, show me, it’s too cold to be outside.’

Her reluctance quickly vanished when she looked up, out past the veranda. At the mist that crept towards the house, after having already swallowed their small shack.

Victoria took her sister’s hand, ‘Let’s go.’

Gracie pulled her hand free, ‘No. I can see it from here.’

Victoria looked disappointed, but not defeated.  She knew that she could talk her sister around, Gracie always followed her sister, no matter the risks.

Iris caught Victoria’s eye, ‘Don’t be going out there, girl.  It’s not safe.’

Victoria paused, considering the old woman, thinking on her words. She then turned to her mother, torn between her need for adventure and, out of respect for Iris, the good sense to follow a word of caution.

‘It’s ok.  Go and play,’ said Kathleen with a smile.

Iris sat up, eyes widened, ‘It’s not safe out there. She should be content with watching it from here.’

Kathleen put down her darning, and considered the mist for a moment. Victoria waited, prepared to defy them both. Whilst Gracie stood in the doorway, hoping that her sister would change her mind.

Turning to Iris, Kathleen said, ‘It will be alright. My grandmother taught me about this type of mist, about the breath of dragons. They were common in the land of my grandmother’s people. These girls have the blood of those ancestors running through their veins, nothing in that mist can harm them.’

Victoria glanced at Gracie, eyes shining with excitement at that one word: dragons. Gracie refused to meet her eyes, she was well aware of her sister’s attraction to adventure. All those years on the road had not taught Victoria the folly of seeking the unknown. Gracie thought back to that time when she, herself, had acted against her better judgement. And remembered the chain of events that her decision had created, the loss that others will continue to bear because of her. She reached her arm out, and rubbed her left leg; the moist air seemed to aggravate the soreness that Gracie always carried, a physical reminder of that best-forgotten escapade. Now, Gracie appreciated the quieter life, the one that they had so recently found. She was not interested in any of Victoria’s wild ideas.

‘Real live dragons?’ Victoria asked.

Kathleen said, ‘You will have to find out for yourself.’

Victoria looked at Gracie, who shook her head.

‘Come on, there is nothing to be afraid of. Mother wouldn’t let us go in there if it was dangerous. Anyway, you know I will always protect you,’ pleaded Victoria

Gracie stepped backwards, letting the screen door close; placing a barrier between herself and the moment that she would give in.

Victoria walked over to the door and leaned her face on the mesh. Gracie could feel warm breath on her face. The sisters stood, face to face, neither willing to cave in, neither willing to say yes to the other’s needs.

‘That’s a good girl,’ said Iris. ‘Don’t go listening to your foolish sister. Stay here, where it is safe.’

Gracie blinked, just once and Victoria knew who had won this particular standoff. Despite the fear of what may lay beyond, in the mist, Gracie was not going to let someone get away with calling her sister foolish. Victoria opened the door, and took Gracie by the hand. With a wary glance at their mother, Gracie allowed herself to be led towards the mist.

Kathleen smiled lovingly at her shy, little mouse. Soon replaced by feelings of pride for Victoria, who always evoked memories of Kathleen’s own childhood. This adventurous streak had missed one generation, for Kathleen’s own mother was a home-body, just like Gracie was. Kathleen’s grandmother, she was different, much more like Victoria. Picking up the holey sock, Kathleen was soon lost in recollections of her grandmother’s stories; colourful tales from a faraway place, from another time.

As they ventured into the mist, Gracie was determined to not let go of Victoria’s hand. Droplets of water clung to Gracie’s skin and hair, but they didn’t make her feel cold. On the outside, beyond the veil, sounds had stopped. It was as if they had stepped over a threshold, in to a different place.  The girls walked cautiously, unable to see too far ahead.  Gracie concentrated on where she placed each foot, looking intently at the ground for obstacles that might trip her.  While Veronica looked brazenly around her, not wanting to miss anything that lurked, obscured within the thick fog.

Victoria stopped suddenly, squeezing Gracie’s hand, ‘Can you see it?’

Gracie lifted her head, her heart beating faster, little puffs of smoke accumulating in front of her. ‘Look. My breathing makes smoke, just like a dragon.’

‘There’s the real thing,’ said Victoria, pointing to her right.

Gracie looked, fearful of what she would see. She saw nothing.

‘Can’t you see it?’

She shook her head, glad for once that she didn’t see the same as her sister.

Veronica explained, ‘It’s more like a snake than a dragon. I can see how people would get confused, though. She’s so large, frightening even. Also beautiful.’

Gracie pulled her sister’s hand, ‘Let’s go, I don’t like it in here.’

‘Ok, come on then.’

As they wandered through the thickening fog, taking each step with care, far away a man was taking leaps of abandonment. As hundreds of thousands gathered around small boxed-screens, the man in the bubble-suit jumped over craters, unaware that the world held its collective breath in astonishment. It would be many years later that the sisters would hear of that first lunar adventure. Or saw their first small screen. In the meantime, they would have to emerge from the mist.

The first thing they noticed when they approached the veranda was the man, dressed in black. He sat in a straight-backed chair, shoulders hunched, bottle in hand. They had never seen him there before. Behind him stood their mother, who held a finger to her lips. Quietly they stepped up onto the veranda, knowing something was wrong.

Hearing a noise, the sisters looked over at the empty rocking chair, just in time to see it make one last movement. Silently, Kathleen led them to the workers shack, where she helped them to select more fitting clothes. Soon clad in black, they were told to stay away from the house, to play quietly; out of respect.

Want more?

A few months ago, I posted another extract from where the fruit falls (  https://karenwyld.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/the-unseen-ocean ) that also contain a touch of magic realism. In this prologue, I use elements of magic realism to assist the reader to slip into the right frame of thinking, before the story starts. Much like the act of sitting around a fire/kitchen table, where many stories of old were told.

Without reading the rest of the book, it would be easy to mistake this extract for fantasy, but it’s not. It’s very much set in this world, a long-time ago, in a time remembered by fewer and fewer people. The prologue describes this time, and reminds the reader that First Nations peoples have been around for a very long time, they have witnessed many changes, have had to endure much hardships; and they have survived, as they will continue to survive.

The Other Hoppers

I encourage you all to check out the post from the other writers/bloggers participating in this week’s magic realism blog-hop. You can find their links on Zoe Brooks’ blog (http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.com.au/) or at the bottom of this post.
Zoe has been reading and reviewing magic realism books for the past year, and is hosting the blog-hop.

http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.com/2013/07/what-is-magic-realism.html

http://kirstyfoxbooks.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/night-logic/

https://karenwyld.wordpress.com/sporadic-musings/ 

http://zoebrooks.blogspot.com/2013/07/magic-realism-or-fantasy.html

http://leighpod.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/flying-high-with-magic-realism-2/

http://www.tadcrawford.com/blog-2/

http://hearth-myth.blogspot.com/2013/07/urban-fantasy-and-magic-realism-matter.html

http://muriellerites.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/serendipity-down-the-rabbit-hole-by-rebecca-davies/

http://joelseath.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/real-magic-and-the-mythkeepers-of-the-world/

http://allonymbooks.com/2013/07/22/facts-and-fiction-historical-magical-realism-evie-woolmores-blog-for-the-magic-realism-blog-hop/

http://edieramer.com/2013/07/22/magical-realism-blog-hop-giveaways/

http://curatedbookshelves.blogspot.com/2013/07/white-is-for-witching.html

http://christinelockebooks.blogspot.com/2013/07/magic-realism-by-christine-locke.html

http://susanbishopcrispell.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/every-little-thing-i-read-is-magic/

http://jordanrosenfeld.net/everyday-magical-realism/

8 thoughts on “Dragon’s Breath

  1. How wonderful of you to include an extract of your own lovely fiction in this blog hop. What better way to explore the ideas you write about in your introduction. You have inspired me to find a piece from one of my own books to include as well!

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    • Well, it was partly as I had not done any preparation for the blog-hop (I am the eternal ‘pantser’) and partly because I thought I should put my own work/self on the line (after having previously been vocal about what is/isn’t magic realism).
      Can’t wait to read an extract from one of your books!

      Like

    • Sorry for the delay in replying, Lynne. I realised last night that it was the 44th anniversary of that landing.

      For me, that historical moment signified a change in how families shared stories. TV was still new for many Australian households, so sitting in the lounge room listening to radio shows was still common. As was sharing stories with family and friends – around the kitchen table, by camp-fires.
      All that slowly changed when images of the world (and moon) became available, on a small screen, in every home. Now we sit around screens of many sizes, mostly solo; and world events are instant.

      I often ponder: What impacts have these social/cultural changes had on storytelling?

      Now, more than ever, we need more stories; we need more magic (realism) in our lives.

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