There is an ancient marri in front of the house that leans on a precarious forty-five degree angle. I found it one day when I got lost (again) wandering in the bush. Part of the trunk is darkened from old bush fires and the bark on the northern side is rough and protrudes unevenly, ready to tear at skin. The other side is smoother and maybe one day I will climb high into the tree along the leaning trunk.
I wonder about the tree. What has it witnessed over its life? How many animals have passed under it or rested in its branches? The tree is old, older than Albany, the first colony in Western Australia. Its girth is about one hundred and fifty centimetres and DFES gives an age estimate of between three hundred and four hundred years old.
Imagine the stories it could tell if it could talk.
The tree communicates in its own way. It has survived a bush fire sometime in its past, there are scratches along the trunk where some animal has been looking for bugs, perhaps the red-railed phascogale that runs riot in the house. Maybe the marks are from a possum that lives high in the branches. Chewed honky nuts lie beneath it, discarded by the white-tailed black cockatoos that fly over daily, their raucous call filling the air. The base of the tree is littered with leaves and bark. On the ground beneath it lies a pool of red gum sap and the nearby leaves are splashed with drops that look like blood.
If you look closely you will see that everything has a story to tell.
Writers delve into other worlds and create new life out of nothing but thoughts and observations. But how does an idea turn into a story?
I still don’t know.
Sometimes they appear almost fully formed, a gift begging to be put on paper, other times it’s a struggle and the story hits a stumbling block. I’ve found if the idea is left alone, to ferment and mature it will eventually answer all the questions. You just need to be patient. It is best not to try and force a story, it never ends well (for me anyway).
I once had the title for a short story long before I had the story. It mulled around in my mind for months before the title found a narrative to go with it. I’m not sure where the story came from. It was a strange combination of a conversation with a neighbour about a great white shark towing a fishing boat, and the wreck of the Mandalay that sank off Walpole in 1911. Not long after I’d finished writing, the shipwreck in the story became visible for the first time in fourteen years. I took the trip south to Mandalay Beach with my daughters. Normally the beach is empty, but that day there were locals checking out the wreck.
A metal frame stuck out of the sand like a rib cage, the last remnant of the Mandalay. I thought of the sailors surviving the wild Southern Ocean only to arrive in such an isolated place.
Then I returned home and rewrote the story.
Rachel McEleney’s short fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Seizure, Ghostly StringyBark Anthology, Aeternum: The Journal of Contemporary Gothic Studies and An Alphabetical Amulet Anthology. Her poetry has appeared on the UWA Poets’ Corner in Perth. Rachel lived in several countries before settling in the south-west of Western Australia. The south-west landscape has inspired her writing and she likes to spend a lot of time in the bush, particularly in spring so she can search for orchids. She is a PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University’s South West Campus.