July 1st, 2013
Friends who have read What Was Left have commented on some of the parallels between the novel and my life. There are a few. However, while I might have fantasised about it in darker moments, I’ve never abandoned my children. When I knew the topic which I wanted to write about (a mother who does abandon her infant) I needed to understand this character better in order to get into her head, and one of the ways I did this was by making her an American transplanted to Australia, making her a person who moved here – as I did – for love.
Her story is different from mine, very different, and you’ll have to read the novel if you want to know how. But here’s a fragment of my own story:
In February 2001 I was backpacking in Southern Europe with my friend Jenna. We began in Albania and moved south from there. What a fine time it was. We had no strict plans to stick to, just the money we’d earned waitressing over the previous six months, a shared sense of humour, optimism and love of adventure. After several weeks in Greece we booked a ferry passage to Italy. Thinking we’d better spend the last of our drachmas (this was all pre-euro) before leaving Greece, we then bought a bottle of Johnny Walker and a large block of chocolate and boarded the ferry for the 20-hour trip.
Several hours in we grew tired of whiskey and chocolate and went looking for some food and water. There was a little cafeteria on board the boat, but guess what one currency they accepted? Drachmas, you guess? Correct. Chocolate and whiskey are wonderful things, but not as your sole source of nutrition for 20 hours.
After disembarking in Brindisi – dehydrated and hung over – we headed straight for Naples and found the local youth hostel in our Lonely Planet. The next evening, doing laundry in the basement there, a friend we’d made named Sebastian introduced us to an Australian with a head of blonde curls and a smile that was impossible not to return. His name was Simon. Jenna and I decided then and there when we had boy children we would name them Simon and Sebastian. What gorgeous names. Simon was a runner, like my friend Jenna, and we planned a run together for one of the following days. (What was I doing running? Well I wasn’t going to leave them alone together, was I?)
We then went out to eat and drink together, and returned to the hostel, already quite inebriated, to share the last dregs of our Johnny Walker with him. Bottle emptied, we thought handstands would be the next sensible diversion. Jenna managed to stay up but I fell flat on my head. I’m pretty certain that this was the moment for Simon. He took one look at me, rubbing my bruised head, hardly able to stand upright much less upside down, and said:
‘That’s her. The woman I’m going to marry.’
Within twelve months I had moved from Virginia to Sydney so we could be together. If it wasn’t for moving here, the intense loneliness I felt in the beginning and the way it pushed me outside of my comfort zone, I don’t think I would have found the silence and perseverance necessary to write. Luckily, Jenna forgave me for leaving, and she is still one of my dearest friends – a true kindred spirit.
As for Simon: we’ve been married ten years this June. He’s still got the irresistible smile, but I’ve quit trying to do handstands.