Jennifer Collin opens her eyes to her backyard, finding that writing about her hometown made her fall in love with it again.
I live in a small city of just over two million people, although we are spread out in predominantly detached housing across an immense expanse of land (5950 spare kilometres). The summers are long and hot, and the winters are short and sharp. The sky is the most brilliant shade of blue and days where it’s clouded by pollution are few and far between.
There are birds in our backyards – in mine, which is only 5 kilometres from the CBD, I see kookaburras, currawongs, rainbow lorikeets, scrub turkeys and those pesky myna birds every day. Now and then, a sulphur-crested cockatoo will fly by overhead. My neighbour has chickens and a vegetable patch, as would I, if I had the time to take care of them. Instead, my husband has a skateboard ramp. My kids have a trampoline and a swing set. It’s all very outdoorsy and beautiful. But culturally, my hometown has a history of being over-looked, under-rated and sometimes mocked.
To the southern Australian States, we’ve been the rednecks up north, dismissed, rather unkindly, as bumpkins living in a big country town. Although we’ve long let loose gifted and influential writers upon the world, most often they only achieved success when they moved away. In the 1990s this changed. Suddenly, writing the ‘Brisbane’ experience became not only legitimate, but popular and author after author emerged, like defiant weeds, from our ‘cultural wasteland’. It was wonderful. For the writers and for the readers, who for the first time, could see their lives reflected back at them from the page.
Suddenly we were celebrating what made us different, in ways that were sometimes funny and sometimes confronting. We devoured these books and the publishers cried out for more. But sadly, over time, like all things in modern culture, the readership reached a saturation point and writing the Brisbane experience became trite. Once again, we began to disappear from the pages of mainstream novels. In this environment, I didn’t want to set my books in Brisbane because I doubted my ability to reflect the city in a way that didn’t seem parochial. But in the end, I had no choice.
I started the first book in the Evans Trilogy, Set Me Free, in 2005, at a time when I was working with planners, studying sustainable development and, being child-free, frequenting art gallery exhibitions in my free time. The characters of Charlotte, an art-gallery owner, and Craig, a property developer, came alive for me then. Their story swirled around my head for seven years, the seven years it took me to adjust to becoming a working-mother.
When my kids became more independent, and started to need less of my time, I found I had more time for Charlotte and Craig, and their story began to pour out of me. Set Me Free is about a woman’s determination to protect her neighbourhood from over-bearing and inappropriate development. In writing her story, it was important to me that the reader would have a sense of why the neighbourhood meant so much to her.
In order to show why Charlotte wanted to defend it, I needed to feel that sense of protectiveness myself and it wasn’t something I could transpose on just anywhere. I needed to apply the age-old adage of ‘write what you know’, and having lived in Brisbane for half my life, I know it better than anywhere else. And so I found myself writing my hometown. Open My Eyes, the second book in the Evan’s Trilogy, is also set in Brisbane, although the city has less of a role as a character than it does in Set Me Free. Still, in writing Open My Eyes, I found Brisbane wanted to be included.
Crossing the river in a train on the way home from work one day, I looked over at city buildings and found them alight in the orange glow of the most glorious sunset. That light made its way into Open My Eyes. As did the smell of the over-chlorinated public pool that is the man-made beach in the middle of the city parklands. As did the birdsong of the birds in my backyard. Writing my hometown has made me fall in love with it all over again. It’s made me pay more attention as I move through the city. It’s made me explore nooks and crannies I’ve overlooked, and revisits places I’d forgotten about.
It’s a beautiful piece of the world, my hometown. You should come and see it for yourself.
Everything happens for a reason, they say. And sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and make bad decisions. Sleeping with her sister’s best friend is one of the dumbest things soon-to-be divorcee Emily Evans has ever done. But she’s determined to put it behind her and move on. She’s walked away from her cheating husband, managed to make a new friend, and found herself a real job and somewhere to live so she doesn’t have to couch-surf any more. Everything should be falling into place but for one problem – there are some mistakes from which you can’t move on.
Meanwhile, Ben Cameron is getting on with his life. After all, it’s the only thing to do once your heart has been stomped on by the woman of your dreams. Expanding his business and getting cosy with the girl next door are proving welcome distractions. He’s even happy to babysit his nephew, as long as he can to hand him back when he’s done! And thankfully, Emily Evans, the woman with the heavy boots, is avoiding him like the plague. But Emily can’t avoid him forever, and when she drops a bombshell that turns Ben’s world upside-down, suddenly, getting on with his life takes on a whole new meaning.
Jennifer Collin writes quirky, and sometimes gritty, love stories about ordinary people dealing with the things life throws at them. She lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband, two noisy children and a cantankerous cat. She used to party, but now she’s way too close to forty. These days her idea of a good time is an uninterrupted sleep. She thinks maybe when she’s fifty, she’ll get back to partying again.