Ana: Pam, an excerpt from your novel “Red Moon Rising” was submitted in the ABNA 2011 contest. Your excerpt introduced us to young Andrea, a girl growing up in the 60’s who had recently and unexpectedly lost her father and was additionally dealing with a pregnancy scare. Your writing was remarkably evocative and I was particularly touched by meaningful details like Andrea’s sudden return to playing with dolls in the aftermath of her father’s death, as though she were wishing she could return to a simpler time. Can you tell us more about your novel and where it goes from the end of the excerpt? What sorts of themes do you explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience?
Pam: From the excerpt, Andrea vacillates between horses and dolls to thinking about how she can get Brendan James and lose her virginity. The pillars of opposites, including good and bad, are mirrored by one white and one more blackened industrial furnaces on the horizon, which Andrea can from her classroom window. I explore early teenage character challenges, coupled with grief, as Andrea strives to cope, and ultimately, to surface and see light at the end of the tunnel. Red Moon is symbolic of the woman’s period, and how, eventually, everything comes into balance. I hope readers who have lost a parent, spouse, other family member, animal, and/or best friend, will take heart from my book. What seems the darkest pit can eventually lead to new beginnings, that, in a different way, make you feel happy again – and grateful for the memories you had.
Ana: Wow, I really love that symbolism: menstruation, balance, life-cycles. What was your inspiration when writing your novel? Were you influenced by a specific author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre?
Pam: This novel started as an industry project in Creative Writing at university where I was a mature age student! Prior to that, I had been trying for category romance and was often asked for my work by HM&B based on that first three chapters; I even came second in RWNZ Meet the Editor competition judged by Cindy Hwang of Berkeley, but never got the full m/s accepted. So, I reverted to the YA because if just flowed. It’s based on my life at that time and I was urged by an inner voice to write it. In the editing stages, I read ‘The Earth Hums in B flat’ by Mari Strachan. It was set in the fifties whereas mine is set in the sixties, but I so loved it, and reading this helped me deepen my scenes. Mari was a Text Publishing prize winner and I have just submitted my book to TEXT. I wonder if they will like mine as much?!
Ana: It’s perhaps an odd detail for me to gravitate towards, but it’s so pleasing to me whenever I see tarot use and “maiden, mother, crone” references in a novel. Not only is it a very personal touch for many readers, and a very interesting way to flesh out a character, but it also reminds me so very strongly of the feelings that Joanne Harris’ novels usually evoke - warmth and safety and a little mysticism. If you could compare your novel to any other existing work, which one would it be and why?
Pam: Now I’m going to find and read Joanne Harris! I guess I do try and evoke warmth, safety and a thread of mysticism. In this book, Andrea does know some things before they happen – like the voice in her head in chapter one, about her dad’s death, before she got the news. Then there is a ‘stranger in the mist’ who might not be a person at all. I mention somewhere that her mother is the same – when she meets a man and ‘knew’ to miss a train because he was on his way to find her, and so-on. I don’t really make this a feature, but it’s just there; it’s real. In her daydreams she ‘sees’ her father the other side of a hedge. Grandma is a very spiritual being in a more religious sense and has an impact on Andrea and her deeds and thoughts. I don’t have another mystical book to compare it to – although "The Earth Hums in B flat" does have a very special mystical element that many people experience. I like to use the mystical and strange that really happen to people, as Mari did.
Ana: Is this your first or only finished work, or have you written other novels? If you have written other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?
Pam: My finished category romance novels are below par, compared to this one. I have a general fiction love story on the drawing board which has a mystical element – psychic dreams where the couple meet. However it’s not fantastical, it’s grounded in the drudge of a love triangle, children, positive thinking – versus – listening to dreams. There could be a sequel to this one. Also, I have a prequel to the Young Adult which I intend to make a bit strange! Again – dreams and seeing people: a condition which fades as she gets older, but returns in times of stress.
Ana: Interesting! I can see that dreams and mysticism are very important recurring themes; you really would like Harris, I think. ;) I was first introduced to your novel through the Amazon Breakthrough Award contest of 2011. What prompted you to enter the contest, and what were your overall feelings towards the contest in general?
Pam: In July 2010 I was one of four winners of the Olvar Woods Fellowship Award with this work. After our week with two mentors, one of the other winners emailed the Amazon details through. I thought, w-e-l-l – I could give it a go. I thought it was very organised and exciting though impersonal, I suppose because they are so big. Even though I didn’t make it from 50 to the top three, I thought I just MIGHT get a letter from Penguin – but that was just a pipe dream!
Ana: Are you currently published or self-published? Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? If you’re not currently published, how can readers “sign up” to be notified when your novel does become available?
Pam: I’m not published as yet and I’m in the process of finding out about blogs, which is all a bit hi tech for me but I’m going to be doing Blogging for Writers on Monday next week and can let you know as soon as I have a Blog. In the meantime anyone can email me via my yoga ‘business’ which is: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.caloundrayoga.com.au as an interim thing.
Ana: Pam, thank you so very much for being willing to participate in this guest blog interview. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Pam: I hope when I am published that my books will uplift and open psychological doorways for people to explore themselves, the world, relationships and so on – as well as offer a good read!
Ana's Note: The Amazon 2011 ABNA entries have already been removed from the Amazon website, so Pam has graciously allowed me to reproduce her ABNA excerpt here.
CHAPTER ONE: LONG DARK NIGHT
I suppose I could slash my wrists right now. A tarot card stares face up from the bathroom floor. The hangman.
I sink further down into the bath water. Jackie will find me, limp, in red water. Then Aunty Mary will have to tell Mum. I imagine Mum’s white face. She’ll have to sit down before she falls. She’ll feel that kick in the stomach we’ve both felt before, the kick that constricts your lungs, grabs you by the throat and makes your face crumple.
I wipe my face with the flannel. Suddenly, I miss Mum. It’s the first time I’ve been away. I put the razor down by the hangman. I can’t do it.
“You’re not going to drink all the miniatures, are you?” My cousin Jackie calls through the door of the shower block. She’s talking about the gin she managed to buy from the Off Licence. She says it should help bring on my period.
“Two today and the same tomorrow.” My voice wobbles. I bet she knows I’m crying.
“It’ll be all right,” she says in that soothing older person way. “I’m going back to the caravan. I’ll tell my mum you’re having a long soak. If it doesn’t work, don’t worry, you’ll only be twenty-eight when she or he is fourteen. You’ll be able to go down the Tiles together.”
Very bloody funny. Her footsteps echo out of the stone building. The Tiles is a club in Carnaby Street and lots of sixties pop stars go there. I’ll be able to go when I’m older now that we live near London. If I’m not pregnant, that is.
I sit up and take the little gin bottle out of my pink sponge bag, unscrew it and swig. I make a noise like a balloon going down and spit some out. How do people drink this stuff? It tastes like perfume. I swig again and screw up my nose. Saliva comes in my mouth like I’m going to vomit, but I don’t.
Please God let me come on.
If you do, I promise I won’t do it again until I’m sixteen – honestly.
And with protection next time.
I don’t even mind if you make it happen when I’m wearing my white trousers, and I’m on stage in the Young Teens Talent Quest competition in front of everyone. Even though it’ll be embarrassing, I won’t swear, God. Just please let me come on.
“Please.” My whisper echoes through the steam to the white walls. I drink the rest of the miniature bottle and put the empty in my sponge bag.
The water laps around my throat and shoulders as I sink into the heat. As if God will listen. Besides, I said I wasn’t talking to him anymore after what he’s done to mum and me. Especially me. He even took my best friend away, right when I needed her.
I rest my neck against the enamel and fold my arms across my chest. The glassy surface of the water gently rocks back and forth with my breath. It makes me remember things. I try and push the thoughts away but Mandy springs into my mind – the day she gave me the bad news.
She was coming to tea that Monday night after school. But at afternoon break she was very quiet when we met outside her classroom.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I don’t know how to say this, Andrea.” She looked down at her shoes so that her long fair hair fell forward and hid her face. “The thing is I went out with June the other day. I’m fed up because you don’t want to do stuff on the weekends.”
Was she daft, or what? “I can’t at the moment.”
She meant that I’d stopped going for walks with her on the ‘Crags’ – the edge of the moors. It was where the boys went. And I’d stopped going to the youth club too, right when we’d just got friendly with a couple of lads. Now I didn’t want to go. Well, I didn’t. Not for the time being. I wanted to stay home with my mum, make paper cut outs, draw, and even, dared I admit it, talk to my dolls. I wouldn’t tell Mandy that of course. We were pretty mature for twelve year-olds.
She lifted her rosy face. “So I can’t be your best friend anymore.”
Surely she wasn’t going to desert me? “I don’t understand. We’ve been best friends since we were five when you lived in Baker Street and me in Roma Road.”
“June’s persuaded me to be best friends with her.”
My stomach curdled. June was always trying to get Mandy to herself. She was supposed to be best friends with Sandra. “What about Sandra?”
Mandy’s blue eyes went from me to her shoes again. “June decided you and Sandra can be best friends.”
June was a little cow. She thought she knew it all just because she had an older sister who went to work and ‘did it’ with her boyfriend. “But…” It was like drowning, water stuffing up my sinuses as I tried to hang on and keep my head above water. “What about tonight?”
“Apologise to your mum for me.” She looked up again. “I’m sorry.”
So Mandy didn’t come to tea.
And I lost my best friend.
I wonder how she would have flaming well felt if it’d been her dad that got run over and killed a few weeks ago. Yeah.
No one could prepare you for that stuff. No one.
I was coming home with an apple crumble in my bag – in a dish that is. Proudly made in domestic science it was. Couldn’t wait to deliver it to my mum and dad. Especially Dad – he liked apple crumble. It was his favourite dessert.
When I got off the bus I walked up our road and ran my hand along the edge of our cold stone wall, you know, sauntering along looking at our pretty front garden. As I did that, a voice in my head said, “Daddy’s dead.” It wasn’t a female or male voice. Just a voice. I thought, why did I think that? It was weird. Really weird.
Something else was weird too – the lounge curtains were drawn.
I walked slowly up our driveway and in the back door. Grandma’s back disappeared into her room. I didn’t even get a chance to say hello. Mum said, “Take your things straight in the lounge, darling.”
Normally I would have argued and thought of a million things I wanted to do rather than what I was told, but for some reason I did as Mum asked.
We sat together and she held my hands. “Something awful has happened to Daddy.” Her eyes became glassy pools. “A car hit him and he died.”
He’d been there in the morning – how could he just not be there at tea-time?
The air was thick and still. The dark wooden clock ticked on the mantelpiece and distant chirping of late-to-bed thrushes faded away. There was a shove at our front door and then the newspaper met the hall carpet with a thud.
Dad’s evening newspaper.
The letterbox clanked back into place and stilled.
There had to be some mistake. “He can’t be,” I whispered.
Mum’s face crumpled and her soft brown curls bobbed as she gasped out some strange breaths. Oh, no. I was falling into something dark and bottomless. My mouth dropped. “But, I made him an apple crumble.”
The dam burst and silver tears ran over Mum’s cheeks. She drew me into her waterfall, clinging as if I were a life raft after the liner had sunk. A terrible longing knotted in my chest then darts of fire and ice speared through cells to skin. My dad.
A slither of tears wet my face, yet, the news was hard to believe.
And that was the beginning of my long dark night.
CHAPTER TWO: GOD AND BILLY.
I didn’t want to go to school after the weekend. I shouldn’t have had to go. But they thought I should go.
Mum and I kissed goodbye. “It would be easier if the Headmaster told everyone in assembly, you know,” she said.
Panic punched me in the stomach. “No! Only my teacher and the Head. You agreed. I don’t want people to know.” Especially Brendan James. I frowned. “I don’t want to be different.” Not everyone was going to read Friday’s stop press, City Man killed, or Saturday’s longer version. I curled my fingers in my pockets. I hoped.
Mum gave me a bright smile. It’d fade from her lips the minute I was out of sight. I kissed my Grandma. She lived with us all the time, back then.
“Go nicely,” she said, whatever that meant.
We were three little women: the maiden, the mother and the crone all going through our daily ritual, but it felt different now.
“God bless,” Grandma added.
God bless. Like he had already? I turned towards the street. Autumn’s carpet of gold and russet had blown away to be replaced by blustery weather hurling crisp, dead brown leaves through the air to spiral away in the foggy sky. I looked back at our driveway as I reached the bus stop. It was hard to believe what had happened. I turned back and tucked my chin into the collar of my coat, head lowered against the onslaught of the north-midland winds.
How would it be when I walked through the school gates? It was just a normal school day for everybody else. Not for me. Nothing would ever be the same again for me. A sensation began in my chest and crept outwards, pushing against my skin as it rose to my neck.
Two glowing orbs shone through the morning fog. The bus. I rolled my tongue behind my lower lip, dipped my head further into my neck, paid the driver and conformed to the grey ritual of life.
Mr. Fillmore, taught science. He was lovely; tall, olive-skinned, blue-eyed and handsome. I was doing my best to pay attention but it wandered out of the classroom window towards the horizon.
The classroom was on the first floor and the school itself was high on a ridge above the city like our house. Beyond the houses and towards the far hills you could see some blast furnaces. Two of the largest industrial chimneys were slightly curved being a little bigger at the top and a lot bigger at the bottom and slightly narrower around the middle to upper part. One was lighter brick so appeared white and newer, whereas the other one was blackened with age and smoke.
There were thin, red brick straight up-and-down chimney columns behind the blackened one.
These towering furnaces, Blake’s satanic mills, bellowed smoke into the distance, yet even that veil of charcoal was lighter than how I felt inside. It spiralled round and round and beckoned me out, into the sky and beyond the grey to mingle with the higher clouds.
I saw my dad, smiling, looking down. We were in a garden – he on one side of a hedge and I the other.
Suddenly there was a big noise and the classroom door flew open. My stomach jumped as if I’d been asked to read. We all turned and looked. Miss Hubbard burst into the classroom with a really mad face.
“Could I have a minute, Mr. Fillmore?”
He nodded and put his chalk down, but frowned.
Miss Hubbard faced the class and her thin, letter-box red lips moved. “Who was sitting one row from the back, second desk from the window, in Art this morning?”
She spoke as if she were in an auditorium without a microphone.
Oh, hell. My arm sort of half went up as I slid further under the desk. I could see Mr. Fillmore thought, ‘Oh, hell’ as well. He wouldn’t have wanted it to be me. Anyone but me, at the moment.
Miss Hubbard leant forward and rested her knuckles on the front desks. Her skin didn’t fit her body but was stretched over her cheekbones and hung from her jowls. Her albino eyelashes stood out like a demonic curse on her hawk-like face.
“How dare you walk away from such a disaster, Andrea Hampton?”
“You spilled paint on the desk this morning and didn’t clean it up properly,” She bellowed, her face getting pinker. “That paint seeped through the lid into a girl’s desk.” She said each word really slowly as if she was talking to a two year old.
“You thoughtless girl. Another student’s exercise book got wet. You should have reported the incident and should’ve damn well cleaned it up properly.”
I bet they could hear her three classrooms away.
I rolled my tongue behind my lower lip. My hair shielded much of my face when I lowered my head. Only my nose poked through the curtain. Okay. I knew I’d done it. It oozed through the crack by the hinges. I had other things on my mind, didn’t I?
“Look at me when I speak to you. I’ll see that you’re punished for the terrible act you’ve committed. You’ll be writing 100 lines every lunch time on how to treat other people’s desks. DO. YOU. UNDERSTAND?”
I wanted to pick a bogey out of my nose and flick the pale green, hardened mass between her paper-thin lips.
My eyes burned behind the lids and I could feel the skin under them crease ever so slightly as I lifted my chin sideways. It wasn’t the end of the blooming world, was it? My top lip moved upwards at one corner.
I couldn’t help it.
I looked at her as if she were an unusual breed of insect that I might study in the science lab. It was only sodding water paint. Anyone would think I’d oil painted obscenities over the whole school, or on her new car.
She turned from pink to crimson so that her albino lashes and ginger-white hair were luminous.
“Don’t give me that look! Consider yourself in detention for dumb insolence, as well.”
She didn’t understand and I didn’t give a toss.
Mr Fillmore had had his fill. “When you’ve finished wasting my teaching time,” he said.
Miss Hubbard’s one minute bollocking had taken at least five.
~ Pam Mariko