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I feel good to be writing after a bit of a drought. The Regency Romance I’m drafting is continuing a pace. I’m past the half way mark. It’s a great feeling when a project gets its legs and you know it is going to work out. I thought this story would be 90 000 to 100 000 words. It might end up being in that range as there is still a bit of story to go and there has been a major blow up and I’m still writing all of the fall out from that.

I have quite a bit of tidy up to do but at this stage I’m just focussing on getting the draft down and being in the mental space where the story is sitting in my head and new ideas are floating to the surface.

I am hoping that this new found energy will last me into the revisions of other MSs I have stacked and waiting for attention. Revision can be hard work, but drafting something you really, really enjoy is fun, hard work but fun hard work. Revisions can seem to take longer and they do if you have structural issues. The trick is to get the structure right beforehand.

Anyway, I’m waiting for some workmen to finish up so I can get to my day job. But we have a writing date planned tonight so I’m so looking forward to writing some more.

PS. If you don’t know what I mean about a writing date. It’s where I get together with my partner and a couple of writing friends and we join together to write for a few hours. When life is busy, sometimes the only time I get to write is on a writing date, and I do that because I’ve committed to the time and made an appointment with others. We meet at each other’s houses, but sometimes  I’ve just had dates with Matthew in a cafe in town.

A while ago, we formed the idea, Nicole Murphy and I, to go to the South Coast (Bateman’s Bay) to write with two CSFG pals, Cat Sheely and Marisol Durham. We had to find a weekend that everyone was free and then I counted down the says.  Nicole dropped out at the last minute but I made my way down here last night from Canberra.

We are sitting here right now in cosy armchairs writing away. We erupt into conversations occasionally. Cat talking time dilation and space travel. There were a few hiccups with a power outage and that took a while to sort out. It explained my cold shower (which I managed quite well as the weather here is divine). Toasting my sandwich for breakfast was a little harder but we did manage to melt the cheese.

I’m working on a Regency romance, one that I started on the Australia Day weekend. It’s going well. I’ve outlined it briefly on a piece of paper in pencil. I found that important bit of paper on the floor in the games room the other day with granddaughter scrawl on it. I knew I should have typed it out…sigh.

Anyway, I’m going for roughing the story out first. I know how long I want the story to be, but I need to know if the event are sufficient for that before I make the next decision. I’m quite nervous about writing this kind of story. I’m a fan of Regency romance but I’ve not tried writing it before. I have written a paranormal Victorian (more like steampunk, Victorian gothic romance/horror) but this story has no paranormal elements. A challenge you might say.

Cat is working on a science fiction short story featuring a female space freighter captain. Marisol is working on novel on a spy retelling.

We may even get into the pool later! Cat’s house is lovely and spacious and modern.

I’ve pasted below a short story I wrote a while ago. It was runner up in a competition and was published in the ACT Writers Centre Magazine.

This story is a combination of my paternal grandmother’s personal history combined with fiction, mostly to do with the setting. The key events are as Nana related them to me. Nana, nee Florence Dockerty was born in County Durham 1908, in a place called Washington. The suburb still exists but her street isn’t there anymore. She died in Sydney 1998. She was a strong woman, tough and sometimes unforgiving. This story helped me gain insight into how she was.

It’s not speculative, but my friend Kaaron Warren called it domestic horror.

Flo’s Laundry

By Donna Maree Hanson

 

A wisp of smoke from the fire made Flo’s eyes sting. Ray, her barely two-year-old son, played with the tent pegs, his nappy smeared with mud and grass stains. ‘Leave that pet,’ she called to him. His chubby, dimpled thighs wobbled as he walked in her direction.

Flo grated the shirt against the scrubbing board. She drew it up and forced it down the rough ridges, feeling her knuckles smart and watching the thick, grey water dribble down back into the basin. Thwump, twump. Thwump, thwump!

‘Mama,’ Ray called, followed by baby coos and gurgles. ‘Toy,’ he said and sunk it into the dirt, delving out muddy clods and a stringy worm, which he held up and eyed.

A gust of a breeze sent the dozen or so tent walls in the camp flapping like the beat of many drums. A few miners lay about, sprawled in the shade, still dressed in their coal-stained clothes. The smell of the coal pits was thick in the air. She was born with the taste of coal dust in her mouth. Flo bent her head and rubbed the shirt harder against the washboard. All her life she had smelt that same soot smell, that dank, black stuff that stained everything from: clothes, hands and smiles. She spat into the grass.

‘Papa!’ Ray called.

Flo sent her gaze in the direction of her tent. He was home. The smell of stale beer and sweat wafted in her direction. Flo let the shirt slide back into the grey-black water and checked that the copper boiler had enough wood to keep it hot.

Ray leant nearer, traces of worm around his mouth and on his singlet, and chucked a twig into the flames.

‘Thank you, pet. You’re Mummy’s good boy.’ She wiped his face with her apron, while he struggled.

‘Flo!’ He grunted out her name from inside their tent. The tent flap lifted as she neared. ‘Aren’t you going to feed me?’

‘Yes…Are you going to wash yourself first?’

He looked away, his red face deepening in colour. A few miners walked past, and he nodded to them before dropping the tent flap.

Flo put Ray on the floor and went to get the metal plates and cutlery.

He was undressing, replacing his stained work shirt for a cleaner one. His hands, though, were black as soot, swollen and gnarled. ‘I hope ya got bread today. Man can’t have a meal without bread.’

‘Yes, I have half a loaf and stew.’ She heaped a large portion onto his plate and placed it on the box they used for a table.

He sat down on a crate. ‘They’ve sacked twenty more men today.’ He shuffled the stew into his mouth and wolfed down the bread.

Flo frowned. Hadn’t she left the North of England to get away from this story? She’d left one Newcastle to live in another—same name, same troubles. The poverty, the mines and the miners still filled her life. ‘You still have work, don’t you?’

He waved a hand at her. ‘Don’t start your whinging now, stupid cow.’ He gulped down the last of the stew and stood up. ‘I’m going out.’

The spoon clinked as Flo placed stew onto her chipped grey plate. She kept her gaze downcast, sat down on the bed and began to eat.

In two steps he was standing in front of her. ‘Give me a few shillings will ya?’

‘Don’t have any…’ she said quietly, concentrating on her plate.

‘Ah that’s bull. How did ya buy this?’ He waved at the remains of bread.

Flo looked up. ‘I got paid for a load of washing, but I’ve spent it all.’

She saw his skin darken. ‘I might have a loose coin,’ she said, searching her apron pocket hurriedly. She felt a few coins fall into her palm. He stepped closer, loomed over her, fist clenched.

‘Here,’ she said quickly. ‘I’ve found a few pennies.’

The fist unclenched. She dropped them into the calloused, dirty palm.

‘Give me your apron.’

Once her gain, her body grew rigid. ‘No!’ she said, voice firm and low.

He reached around her large, pregnant belly to grab for the ties. She tried to dodge away. Next, she was laid out on the bed, her face stinging from the backhander he’d dealt her. Ray was wailing and clinging to her foot. Using her elbows, she groggily edged herself into a sitting position. The tent was darkening as the sun set. He was gone. Her torn apron lay in shreds, slowly engulfed by the growing shadows.

She reached for the lantern and shook it to see if there was kerosene in it. It swished in the metal tank. Shakily, she lit it. ‘There now, Ray. Don’t you be crying.’ Her hand touched lightly on her son’s blonde hair. ‘There be worst things in life.’

            She straightened her clothes and prepared a small portion of stew and a crust of bread to take to her friend Meg. Rumour had it Meg felt poorly, but Flo knew better. She supposed she should mind her own business but she couldn’t help herself.

Outside Meg’s tent, with Ray clinging to her skirts, she called out. ‘Are you home, Meg?’

A rustling and a faint, ‘Yes.’

Flo didn’t wait to be invited in. She drew back the tent flap and went inside. Meg hung back in the darkest part of the tent, partially hidden by boxes. ‘Oh it’s you.’

‘I’ve bought you a little something. Not much.’

Meg was pale, wrung out, her eyes darkened hollows. Flo put the meal on a crate and stood back. ‘Did he hurt you bad?’

Meg drew on a robe and came to take the dish of food. Her movements were jerky, frightened. Her thin fingers clung to the plate. ‘Not so bad this time. I’m a terrible wife.’

Flo cast her gaze around the shabby tent. All of Meg’s belongings were tumbled together. ‘You try your best. I’ve got some work to do,’ she said, trying to smile.

‘Yes…’ Meg said, smiling and showing her missing tooth. ‘Thanks for the food. I’ll drop the plate back later.’

Flo stepped back, bringing Ray with her through the tent flap. She went back to work, re-filling the boiler with water from the creek with small bucketfuls. She had an hour or so before the sun set. At the woodpile, Ray straddled a log while she chopped kindling. By the time the water was boiling, she had cleaned the muck from Mrs Jenkins’ nappies and they were ready for the wash. By morning they would be boiled and ready to rinse.

‘Flo,’ called Boyo from a few tents down. ‘I’ve left a pile for you. The widower asks if you would starch his shirt.’ The young miner smiled, a white flash in a darkened face.

‘Ta luv,’ she said and waved back, watching his lean and dark body.

The nappies bubbled, sending the smell of soda over her while she stirred them with a long stick. Satisfied that they were cleaning well, she went over to her basin perched on tree stump. It was cooler now. The sun had set. She scrubbed the shirts, grinding them down the washboard, twisting the grey water from them till her the muscles in her arms burned and her jaw clenched. All her life she’d been perfecting her twist. Her hands were accustomed to washing, so thick now, but agile.

In the morning, she gazed at the white shirts and sheets, drying in the sun. The sight filled her with a sense of completion, of satisfaction. And she would be paid.

After lunch, she headed to town to Mrs Jenkins’ house. Ray clutched her skirts and plodded along beside her. He tottered now and then and Flo had to stop and steady him, wiping gravel from his knees. She balanced the laundry basket on her hip. It was a long walk past fields with rotting fences, twisted wire and thin cows. The sun was bright and hot. It filled her vision with a red haze, colouring everything. She squinted and drew down her scarf to shield her eyes.

Ray was dressed in his best clothes; knee breeches, tough shoes and a small white shirt Flo had sewed herself. She touched her own rouged lips, hoping she looked presentable.

Up ahead were houses. ‘Come on, Ray, let’s look at our place.’

The old weatherboard bungalow needed painting. Its faded, red, tin roof nearly a dirty brown colour. The veranda had a few rotten planks and others were missing. The yard was overgrown but generous. There was plenty of room for vegetables, carrots, turnips, beetroot and rhubarb. One day she would grow them.

The tenants were out so Flo let herself linger. She imagined what it would be like to live in it. The place she’d scrimped and saved for. They couldn’t afford the mortgage that’s why they lived in a tent. But her laundry money was what had made the deposit, that and what she’d managed to save from the housekeeping allowance.

Sadly, Flo shut the gate and kept walking to where the houses were larger, better kept and lived in by their owners. She knocked. The dark green painted door with squares of coloured glass opened.

Mrs Jenkins looked like a film star with her neatly, curled hair and smooth blue gown. She stood in the doorway and said, ‘Thanks, Flo,’ while Flo handed over the basked of clean nappies. Mrs Jenkins dropped some coins into Flo’s hand.

Flo, sweaty and wind swept, stared at her with admiration. Flo felt faded, used and dried up and at the same time she envied Mrs Jenkins her life, her looks, her home…

‘Nurse!’ Mrs Jenkins called over her shoulder. A few moments later, the old nurse appeared with another basket of nappies and handed them over. ‘Can you do those by tomorrow, Flo?’

‘Yes, Mrs Jenkins.’

Mrs Jenkins smiled at her. Flo balancing the old wicker basket on her hip, grabbed Ray by the collar and stepped back, returning Mrs Jenkins’ smile. She forgot there was a step.

Next, a pain enveloped her. Ray crying in her ears and Mrs Jenkins’ light perfume intermingled in her red haze. Oddly, she felt the sun. It seemed to burn through her. Wetness between her legs. Voices.

‘Can you stand, Flo? Old Jock here has the coal cart. He can take you home. But you best get the doctor to come to you.’

Flo stood, dignity in shreds as she hoisted herself onto the cart. Ray was still crying beside her and the basket of washing was perched on her other side. Lumps of coal dug into her back. ‘Thank you, Mrs Jenkins,’ she said, through watery eyes.

By the time the cart bucked and weaved down the road to the miner’s settlement, Flo’s contractions were strong and sharp. Old Jock handed her out of the cart and put Ray in with the dirty nappies and lifted the basket to his hip. ‘Hold onto me shoulder, lass, and I’ll help you get home.’

Carrying Ray and walking slowly, Jock guided her to her tent. Soot smeared, she turned to Old Jock and waited for the contraction to ease. ‘Can you fetch him?’ she asked through her pain.

Old Jock patted Ray on the head. ‘Yep. I’ll drop by the pub and send him home.’

Flo smiled best she could. She felt blood or her waters trickle down her leg as he left. When the flap dropped she sagged and fumbled for the bed. ‘Lie down with Mama, pet.’

Ray looked around bewildered, his breaches sagging by his knees. His wet and soiled nappy hung down below his buttock and snot drooled past his chin.

‘Come on…’ The next contraction seized her. She couldn’t speak and could only lie down and bear it, fearing what it meant. It was too early for her baby and it hurt.

A half hour went by. Flo had vomited into the chamber pot and it lay stinking next to her bed. Ray was asleep in his dirty nappy but she couldn’t do anything about it. The walls of the tent seemed to inhale with the next contraction.

A snap of the tent flap and he walked in and grunted. ‘What do you want you lazy cow?’

She struggled onto her elbows, the buttons of her dress half undone. ‘Doctor. Please get the doctor. Baby’s coming early.’

‘That all. You’ll live.’ He turned back to the tent opening.

‘Please, the doctor! Can you get the doctor?’ Flo hated to ask him for anything.

He faced her again, his mouth curved in a half sneer or smile. ‘Oh aye. I’ll go get him. Need to pay him though.’

She remembered her pay, felt in her pocket for the coins. ‘Here. I just got paid.’

The coins clinked as they fell into his dirty palm.

‘Please hurry.’

The tent flap dropped as another contraction came.

With the darkness came her second son. Alone in her tent she squeezed him out. She struggled to wrap him in a sheet. Small thing, little fingers, closed eyes. She woke with the afterbirth. Nothing for her to do, but dirty the blanket, no matter what shame it would bring.

She waited, listening for the doctor, eyes glued to the wee and barely moving arms of the babe beside her.

Meg called out from the front of the tent, ‘Flo? Are you well? Just heard from my husband when he got back from the pub that there’s trouble.’

A sob broke from Flo’s throat. Meg flung open the tent flap and came in. ‘Oh, my lord, Flo. You’ve given birth!’ She dashed over bundled up the soiled blanket. Her outburst woke Ray who cried. ‘It’s too early—where’s the doctor?’

Tears leaked from Flo’s eyes. ‘I’m waiting for him. He went for the doctor but the doctor’s not come yet.’

Meg sat down, eyes wide. She hugged Ray to her as she rocked back and forth. A huge sob broke out of her. ‘My god, Flo,’ she said brokenly. ‘He’s been playing cards all night. He never went to fetch the doctor.’

Just then he walked in. ‘You out,’ he growled at Meg. With a nervous pat on Ray’s head, Meg stood up and backed out of the tent.

He turned to Flo, his eyes red and puffy, the smell of cigarette smoke and drink wafting around him like a skunk’s scent. ‘Told you you’d live. Don’t need no doctor.’

Her eyes never strayed from her child. The little arm was still now. She touched the still warm cheek.

He poured himself some cold tea and dunked a crust in it. ‘Suppose I’ll get my own breakfast then.’ The cup clinked against the tin plate.

Flo stared into space, not daring to utter neither curse nor pray.

‘Mrs Flo?’ called a familiar voice, from outside the tent. Doctor O’Malley lifted the flap and shrugged his way in. He grunted at the doctor and left, elbowing his way out.

The doctor made way for him and moved closer to Flo, sliding his glasses up the bridge of his nose. ‘What’s this I hear about you having a fall?’ the doctor said gently. Moving near to the bed, he peered at the bundled sheet and paused. ‘Are you well, Flo? Not bleeding too much?’

She shook her head.

‘Ah well, if you are sure I’ll look at your babe first.’ He reached for the little one, loosening the sheet, and touched him. His grey eyebrows drew together. ‘Mmm…well I’m sorry. If you’d sent for me earlier I could have done something to save him. Died this last half hour I think.’

Flo could bear it no longer. She barked out a wail, certain they could hear her deep in the coal pits. Then she stopped, gulped it down and held it in the pit of her stomach. Ray began to whimper. The doctor calmed him and then tended to her.

***

The gravediggers lowered the little coffin into the ground. Flo stood, holding Ray’s chubby hand and stared. It was sunny and hot. The gravediggers leaked sweat. Flo’s hat kept out the suns rays but her hands burnt beneath the brittle light.

To feel was to give in, to acknowledge this life and what it dealt her, would admit defeat. That she couldn’t do. She lifted her eyes from the grave and stared at a twisted gum tree leaning over the cemetery. She’d told him it was a charity funeral, but she’d used her secret cache, a buried Bushells’ tin.

Ray’s hand was warm in hers when she headed back home. More laundry waited and the copper would have boiled by now.

With a thunk, she swung  Mrs Jenkins’ nappy against a rock. Another swing and it came down hard with a splat. For an hour, she beat them against the rock, wiping the sweat from her eyes, as muddy creek water pooled around her ankles. After piling the damp cloths up, she lugged them to the copper and dropped them in one by one. They sank below the bubbles and steam, disappearing into the grey.

As always, Ray was nearby. He picked up a twig and threw it into the fire. ‘Hot,’ he said and giggled.

‘Thanks Pet,’ she said softly, then turned back to her washbasin and plunged her hands into the soapy water.

The black, coal-stained trousers ground against the scrubbing board. Flo’s knuckles rubbed. He walked out of the tent. Without a glance in her direction, he shrugged and walked off. Every part of him, his red face, his fat stomach and his thinning hair, was writ upon her memory. She squeezed the trousers, wrung them like a chook’s neck as she watched him leave. Thwack! She flung them into the basket and grabbed another soot stained shirt. She dipped it in the water and then wrung it. Twisted it.

The End

I lost my mother in January this year and it’s sent me into a bit of spin on many levels.

Through just thinking about my mother and her family I discovered a half cousin in England. Waves to Christine! But it hasn’t stopped there.

I keep saying to myself I should be writing, but staring into space is quite a bit of fun. Or watching your entire collection of historical DVDs, including multiple copies of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and North and South, is not bad either. You might wonder why I’m not quite crazy. That does beg the question because I’m not entirely sure I’m not.

Work has been traveling on-some days hard and stress and others not. That might put my off writing but no more than usual. I can’t even pinpoint what my issue is. I tend to stay away from the laptop and just do the bare minimum like answering emails, responding to edits queries. How much time are we talking here since mum died. A month. What? It seems like ages that I’ve been doing nothing much at all. Maybe I should calm down and stop fretting.

So pondering the past the topic of my post. As I mentioned I found Christine, my half-cousin. Inspired by that I ordered a whole swag of certificates from the UK.  (In the past I dabbled with family history and stopped). They arrived this week.

My paternal side of the family hale from the North of England, around Newcastle-on-Tyne and Durham. Quite accidentally because Nana met Pop in Australia, but originated from quite near each other. Apparently my grandfather John Hanson was a Geordie and my Nana, who had a strong accent of her own, said he was hard to understand. So it was this side, which I didn’t know much about, that I concentrated on. Not to bore you too much, but the great, great grandfather who we thought was Norwegian is listed as Prussian on the Census 1881 and 1891. How can this be? Apparently Prussia encompassed parts of Denmark in the 1840s. Still not Norwegian, but maybe… I will never know. What was also interesting that Great, great grandfather John Hanson was a stevedore, master rigger and he died in an accident on the barque Pomona in 1894, of which there is a service history and painting as well as a coroner’s inquest and some newspaper articles. So I became fascinated by this family this past week. I had had the census listing for ten years but wasn’t certain it was the right family but now I know it is.

Now what’s wrong with all this? Researching family history for me is addictive. I’m up till late. I can’t sleep. I want to keep searching and searching. If I’m not crazy, I’m definitely obsessive. This is why I stopped family research before…because I can’t stop and I can’t write and sometimes I don’t sleep. Family history is my drug of choice! Oh dear.

So after doing a bit of digging, I start thinking about their lives in late Victorian Times in South Shields, with lots of babies, children dying in infancy, women dying in childbirth because there was lots of that. My Great, great grandmother Elizabeth was still having babies at 46!

I wonder how the family got on when great, great grandfather died because he still had fairly young children at home. I wonder if I met him would he be proud of where I am in my life and my achievements. I tell myself, yes, because this is all fanciful and typically writerish I believe. I imagine myself in that house on Long Row along the Tyne River, with the tall ships, cargo and seamen from all over the world. The streets would have been full of languages. Great, great Grandfather had Swedish sailors boarding with him and I’ve read there were many cultures mixing in that part of England at the time.

My partner, Matthew, said to me after mum died that it is duty to do better with our lives, to have a better life than our parents. I believe that is true. I come from a long line of peasants who had to survive a lot to get me here. I am one of the lucky ones.

I will be toning down the family history searches but I haven’t quite got it out of my system or my mind. I feel inspired to look into that time and place now, maybe with a story in mind I don’t know. I can definitely understand why looking into your family tree is so fascinating. And it looks to me that I’m going to head back to the UK one day, not too far away, and do some serious family research in South Shields. By the way, Nana’s family were in Washington (Harraton), sort of between Durham and Newcastle-on-Tyne, although her grandparents on the Dockerty side were apparently from Ireland.

Until next brainwave.

PS I did write over 20,000 words at the retreat over the Australia Day weekend so all is not lost.

 

This Australia Day weekend Russell and Kylie hosted a writing retreat. We usually  head off in January for a couple of weeks for a long writing retreat but events (work, $ and availability) conspired against us this year. I managed to get a day off so we could have a four day weekend.

Since my mother passed away on January 5 I have been flat emotionally and haven’t engaged in my usual activities. I’ve not cleaned Dweebehiem in a while and I’ve not really written anything either. I was able to put a few revisions through on book 3 of the Dragon Wine series as I had already marked them up on hard copy. So it was with delight that I headed to Double K ranch (Russell and Kylie’s house) to write.

At the last minute I decided to work on a dream project, something that had been at the back of my mind for more than ten years. It is a Regency Romance tentatively titled Tainted Lady. There is a lot of Regency Romance out there so I wanted to come at it with my own angle.

The heroine of this story, Matilda is a respectable widow, who has some issues in her past. She’s been a recluse since giving birth to her daughter at aged sixteen. Her daughter Sophia is now sixteen and ready for the marriage mart. Although her lovely sister-in-law is going to chaperone Sophia, Matilda must socialise as well at her brother’s home. Enter the hero, Sir Richard, who is a widower and a man who likes passionate women, particularly French ones. Now they get to make the sparks fly, as the nieces and the daughter are all angling for the eligible widower.

The issues I want to look at in this novel are to do with the results and issues left behind from indiscretions, particularly where the girl is not at fault and how a traumatic event can shape a life and deprive someone of their liberty, even if it is only socially. So Matilda has a history that she wants to keep private, whereas Sir Richard wants to discover it. Somewhere along that ends up in a love story.

I had hoped to get 20,000 words done. I could have aimed higher than that but I do have issues with RSI and I have a busy week at work from tomorrow. I’m set to meet my goal! I’m so excited about that. I have a scene to do that will take me past that so as it is still early in the day I may exceed my goal.

The rest of the year will be focusing on finishing the Dragon Wine Series but I think I’ll be able to tinker with Tainted lady in my spare, spare time. I have no idea if I can pull of the Regency Romance novel and I know I have a bit of research gaps in there, but I am going to try it anyway.

Now that Shatterwing and Skywatcher are out there, I was thinking that there are things that I’ve written in the Margra setting that will never see the light of day. Maybe they were never meant to, but  I thought I’d share with you a scene from Salinda’s past. This was how she found Plu, the dragon as a hatching. You will also meet Mez, who had already passed on by the time of Shatterwing. It’s unedited and I wrote it about 2009, so six years ago.

Deleted scene, Salida finds Plu

Salinda ran, her bare feet throwing up dust as she left the curved perimeter of the prison vineyard. The lure of freedom beyond the dragon hatcheries compelled her forward. No guard would dare to follow her, fearing death on the plains or in the treacherous geothermal wastelands. Salinda knew that there was a way through for her. Had to be.

Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Mez, her elderly helpmate, dart out of a vine row and begin loping after her. Salinda groaned and increased her pace. Why did the old man follow her? What business was it of his whether she went or stayed?

Ahead rose the pockmarked ridge where the dragons laid their eggs in crevices, seeking the warm, sulphurous mineral deposits to nurture their young. If she made it past that, then there was a chance.

Putting her head down, she strove for a burst of speed, until the shadow of the ridge fell on her. Then she lifted her head to assess the rock face, choosing the best way to ascend. Veering to the left, she leapt onto a large boulder, gripping it with her toes. She made it up over the top and then scrambled up a section of red-brown dirt, grasping at protruding roots and clumps of vegetation to assist her climb. Dirt rained down on her head and shoulders, with some landing in her mouth. She spat out the grit and continued upwards, using a rock as a foothold to push her up to another level.

Mez called out. Looking down she saw that he had stumbled at the base of the boulder, his chest heaving. Maybe now he would cease dogging her steps but she doubted he would. Concentrating on each hand and foot hold, she continued to climb. Above her head, she felt a long flat stone. Hopefully it was a ledge where she could take a breather.

Then Salinda felt it, a disturbance in the air behind her. She stilled. Over her raspy breathing, she heard the sound of wing beat.

Her gaze slid to the right and then to the left. She was careful not to make any sudden movements. In her peripheral vision, she caught sight of the dragon. Exposed on the ridge face, Salinda assessed her options. To escape she could drop to the ground, risking possible death and certain disablement as the fall would snap bones and crush internal organs. The dragon was likely to devour her in one swallow but there was a chance she could avoid the encounter. A very slim one.

With her hands over her head, she further assessed the lip of the ledge. The dragon screeched as she heaved her body onto it. Frozen for a moment, she dangled there. The dragon did not strike so she moved, leaping to her feet and swinging round to face the dragon in a crouch, in time to see the dragon pull up, exposing the smooth scales of its under belly. A small reprieve. The rock face narrowed above her forming a cleft, making it difficult for the dragon, a female, to snatch her easily. It was clear though that on the next pass she would gain footing and take her.

The dragon’s approach mesmerised her as it swooped back, dark green and purple head slanting towards her, grey claws outstretched to grasp the rock face. Salinda took a step back, hoping for the comfort of the wall behind her. Her feet dislodged fist-sized rocks, which she nudged out of the way. The beast came at her—pointed snout, lower jaw ratcheting wide, preparing to rend. Instinctively, Salinda raised her arms over her head and stepped back again. The hot, rank breath of the dragon made her recoil. She stepped into nothing—a hole and slipped down, loose scree and stones assisting her slide.

Salinda landed hard, the impact forcing the air out of her lungs and leaving her with arms and legs splayed. She had fallen into some sort of fissure or cave. The dragon’s frustrated cry vibrated the air around her as it clawed at the rocks and soil around the opening.

Salinda dragged in a painful breath, fearing she had broken a rib. Foul dragon’s breath poured from the snout hammering at the opening, as it moved closer and closer. Helpless, Salinda lay there watching the entrance enlarge, as chunks of rock tumbled to the ground and sand hissed into piles. Then she heard another sound, muffled and faint—a man’s voice calling out a chant of some kind. A wave of dizziness hit her and she lost consciousness.

When she came to it was silent in the cave and her hair was crusty with dust. After spitting blood, she realised that she had bitten her tongue and wiped her lips with the back of her hand. Her limbs were stiff and sore but the pain in her side had eased somewhat. She could move. Light pierced through various cracks overhead and she could see it was a short climb to the opening of the shallow cave. Wiping sweat and dust from her forehead, she froze. There was a sound in the cave—a scratching, pecking sound.

Crawling on all fours, Salinda scouted around the nooks and crannies, searching for the source. She found the shell first, broken bits of grey, speckled with green and purple. Tumbling about was a newly-hatched dragon, shell still sticking to its head. It was an ugly thing, thin wings adhering to its gooey hide, knobbly, dark-purple head, surrounding an over sized snout.

Her first thought was to find a rock and smash its brains out. It would save the world from another human-eating dragon. She watched as it fumbled about helplessly, then it gazed at her with black, glossy eyes and mewed. A dragon had almost taken her. Her life had been spared and, to repay in kind, she would spare this creature’s life. Instead of greeting it with violence, she stroked the hatchling, removing the fragment of shell at the same time. It made a sound in its throat plu, plu, plu. Salinda grinned.

A rock tumbled down to the cave floor. Salinda looked up to see Mez struggling through the opening. “Salinda?”

Salinda frowned, then let her anger melt away. She knew the old man cared for her in his odd way, but couldn’t help resenting his interference. “Down here. I’m safe.” Her voice carried a tone of resignation that she could not disguise.

Mez gathered his dirty robe around his skinny legs as he made his way to her. Sweat made his face shine amidst the patches of dirt. “Well, my girl. That was a close call. Ready to come back now?”

Salinda tried to stare him down, but after a moment, she looked away and nestled the hatchling in her dress. Sitting cross-legged on the ground, she rubbed a thumb over the scar on her ankle. The scar caused by a year in chains.

“I’m leaving this place. And before you begin lecturing me…I don’t care if I die trying.”

Mez looked around him and sat down on a rock, resting his arms on his knees he assumed his lecturing pose. “Then you will die for certain and sixteen years is too early to die for nothing.”

“It’s not for nothing and I said I don’t care. Anything is better than internment here. You may choose to end your days here fermenting wine, but I have better things to do.”

Mez looked around the cave. “Say you made it across the plains and back to Sartell or wherever you wish to go. Say you win your revolution. It means nothing.”

“Nothing?”

Mez chuckled in that horrible knowing way. “Your revolution is pointless and I’ll tell you why.”

Salinda continued to stroke the hatchling, which apparently Mez had not yet noticed.

His eyebrows cinched together. “I hope you know me well enough to hear the truth in what I say. We are a dying people, so it matters little which government is in power or which rebel group wins through.”

Salinda clenched her right hand. In her left hand, she held the hatchling, who chose that moment to mew. Mez lifted a fluffy white eyebrow, but did not comment on the noise. “You would say anything to keep me here.”

Mez chuckled. “Not anything.” Then he shrugged. “Well…perhaps everything and nothing.”

“You say we are dying?”

Mez’s brown eyes hinted at sadness. “Yes, all of us. We have always been dying. When Ruel moon split and fell to Margra, all should have perished. Yet some survived. Whether this is by accident or design I am not sure.”

Salinda did not like what she was hearing. “You speak in contradictions. I feel perfectly alive.”

Mez leaned closer. “Of course you do. What did I give you for breakfast this morning, mmm? The first of the new season’s Dragon Wine.”

Salinda rubbed her forehead, dislodging dust. “So I drank wine. So what, all the prisoners got some. Even the lowliest person in the poorest village receives some dregs of wine.”

“That’s it exactly. Everyone everywhere drinks Dragon Wine.”

Salinda’s head was pounding. All this talk of wine was making her thirsty. “You’re not going to tell me that by growing grapes we keep everyone alive are you?”

“Yes. I am. We live through the grace of dragons, through the medium of Dragon Wine. By tending these grapes and making wine you, me, we make a real difference. The wine keeps us alive by virtue of the power of the dragons. That I know.”

Salinda screwed up her face. “No. No. That’s not possible. That’s not even logical. Dragons kill humans. Humans kill dragons. Why would they help us survive? It makes no sense.”

Again Mez smiled. “I did not say they do it willingly. It is a by-product of their existence. A secret known to a few. A dangerous secret, too. For he who controls Dragon Wine has the power of life and death over everyone.”

The hatchling was growing restless. Salinda pulled it out, stroking its head softly.

“A hatchling?” Mez whistled softly as he leaned in for a closer inspection. “You are full of surprises today.”

“It must have fallen through one of the cracks.”

Mez chuckled. “Newly hatched I’d say. Risky keeping it alive, but it appears to have imprinted itself on you. Perhaps, you have found a friend for life, one that may come in handy in future. Mmm…I suppose we could tend it for a little while and then reintegrate it into the nest. Any longer than that and we could not conceal it.”

He felt in his pockets and pulled out some old bread. The hatchling caught it deftly and swallowed it in one bite. Salinda smiled at it. Holding it calmed her.

“So this is not a creature of death but of life?” she asked holding the hatching out as it squirmed in her hands.
Mez nodded. “You did right to let it live.”

Salinda let a breath out slowly and looked at the aftermath of the dragon’s attack on the cave opening.

“That was you I heard before, wasn’t it?”

Mez raised an eyebrow and feigned innocence. “Me? What do you mean?”

“You spoke to the dragon, made it go away.”

“Now you are being fanciful.” He stood up and turned around as if to make his way out of the cave, but there was something there in Mez’s eyes, something that made her breath catch.

“No, I’m not. It makes sense. That she dragon almost had me. One more moment and I was dead. It had almost breached the entrance.”

“Salinda.” With his back to her, he shrugged his shoulders.

“No. I want the truth, old man.”

“Yes, it was me.” He turned back to her. “I speak dragon tongue. Though they are not words as such, they are sounds that shape images the dragons understand.”

Salinda had been reasonably well-educated and had never heard of anyone speaking to dragons. With her gaze locked with Mez’s, she stroked the hatchling again and lifted it high. “I’m going to call him Plu.”

Mez hesitated. “Yes, why not? Te Pluan Nuresh, which equates to Plu that fell from the nest.”

Plu nuzzled her palm, seeking more food. She liked the sound the hatchling made when she stroked it.

“All right then,” she said. “What do baby dragons eat?”

Mez smiled. “Meat mostly. You’ll have to sacrifice your ration for a while. You are coming back with me?”

“Yes, for a little while. I’m not slaving here until I drop and I’m not giving up my ideas about revolution…but there is more to you than I thought, old man.”

Shatterwing and Dragon Wine available in ebook and print.

DragonwineLinks from the publisher’s website here.  Book depository have them both in print too.

My mother passed away on the 5th of January 2015. We had the funeral on Monday 12th and I thought I’d share the eulogy I did for my mum. This is a close up of my mum when she was 19 on her wedding day. She’s looking at my dad.

MUM AND DAD WEDDING 19540001

Eulogy for Cynthia Zaman

By Donna Maree Hanson

My mother was born Cynthia Eileen Cora McCrudden.

Cynthia was the youngest of six children. She was born late in her mother’s life and her father died when she was two.

She told me she used to say that he had ‘gone to the moon’.

Her mother Ada struggled as a war widow to bring up my mother and her brother John. The Great Depression gave way to World War 11, both times of change and hardship.

Cynthia was the baby of the family. Her nickname was ‘Miss Fluffy’ and she was doted on and spoiled. My mother was very close to Ada. Despite being poor my mother learned the piano at St Anne’s in Rose Bay. She grew up near Bondi and always loved the sea.

Sadly, Ada died when mum was 15 years old. They were on their way to visit relatives when Ada collapsed with a stroke. Cynthia never really recovered from the loss. Because of her age, she wasn’t permitted to go to the funeral. She never got to say goodbye.

After the death of her mother, she lived with her sister, Lucy, and her family for a short time. Then she moved out with some cousins. She was introduced to her first husband, Raymond Hanson, my dad, through her brother John. They were in the army together. My parents were planning to get married, but I understand they eloped and caused a bit of a stir. They were married in Maroubra in 1954. She was 19 and dad was 22.

Mum was a Catholic; from a long line of Catholics. While they loved each other at first, the marriage was not a happy one. Unfortunately, Dad’s drinking habit and abusive nature made the marriage hell for her and for us children.

This was during an age where the police did not take away the abusive husband or the drunken father. There was limited support available for a woman to leave her husband, other than her family taking her in. My mother often left and went to stay with her brother Reg but came back to try again. Over and over this happened.

As she was Catholic could not divorce easily. Around 1971, there were changes in society and government policy. Bill Hayden introduced a pension for women who left their husbands, which assisted women and later the government also introduced the no fault divorce. It’s only in more recent times that responses to domestic violence have been more pro-active. With police taking action and the press taking notice.

After the divorce, Cynthia went out into the world but was divided from her religion. She became devoted to the study of comparative religion, being a member of the Theosophical Society for a very long time. She read widely she was a very early ‘ new ager’. She was cooking pumpkin soup and doing foot massage well before it was trendy to do so.

Throughout her life she is had to deal with a number of things. In 1970, before the divorce, she had six children, two jobs, an abusive husband, and then our house was burnt down. After the divorce I think she went a little bit off the rails for a while, wanting to be with her family but finding it hard at times. She was quirky and sometimes weird, but she was never boring.

Cynthia suffered migraines throughout her life and with the menopause the migraines finally lessened and she was looking forward to an improved quality of life. When she was around 60 and staying with me, she experienced a migraine. But this was not an ordinary migraine.

She had bleeding on the brain form arteriovenous malformation, sort of like an aneurysm where the blood vessels were tangled together and bleeding. One blood vessel had grown very large and was leaking.

We were seeking treatment for this when she had a massive haemorrhage. We managed to get a hospital but that was a precursor to another major bleed. During emergency surgery, she had further complications but she had an amazing constitution. The surgeon told me that the damage to her brain was so bad that if she survived she’d be a vegetable and never walk again. If her heart had stopped he wouldn’t have tried to revive her. Everything after that time was a gift to us. To everyone’s surprise she did walk again and she did pull itself back from that abyss. She wasn’t the same, but she was still Cynthia. This was where we started losing our mother in bits and pieces.

She was in a nursing home for a while and then ‘broke out ‘ managing to secure a housing commission place in Canberra. She lived independently for around 10 years and that was an amazing achievement. I was awed and surprised by her determination. I believe that working hard to achieve independent living gave her good quality of life. She battled her disabilities; sometimes single-mindedly.

As she was stroke affected on the left side, and being left handed, she had to learn write again with her right hand.

It was only in last four years that she wasn’t able to live at home with confidence. She started having some falls and moved to Queanbeyan Nursing Home. She wasn’t exactly happy to be in a nursing home. She complained a lot about the food both the quality and the quantity. She used to tell me they were starving her but she put on weight. The staff there took very good care of her. She used to tell me about them and was very interested in their lives.

One day her blood chemistry went out of sync and she fell and struck her head. Further serious brain damage occurred. This was a pivotal point in her life as it robbed her of her mobility, took away a lot of her personality, and left her bedridden.

Although the doctors predicted she would die within a week of being discharged from hospital, she lived another three years. Those were sad days for her, where she lingered and her quality of life declined. There were other incidents where she would have a stroke and would be unconscious, like at Easter last year, where she was out for four days. A bit like Lazarus mum came fourth and said ‘hello beanie’ to my daughter and sat up and started eating and drinking and talking and again.

It was hard to see my mother fade over the years. She didn’t complain about the lack of quality of life. She was grateful to be alive. I thought it was unfair for her to suffer so, after the life she had had. Her life had never been easy, but she would just shoulder on. It was hard to see fade, harder for her to bear.

On Monday I came to see her a little bit earlier than I expected to. Just as I arrived, she suffered a massive stroke. I was there to say goodbye and am grateful for this because she wasn’t alone. I was there holding her hand, being with her. She was at peace finally. Her suffering had ended.

I wonder at the legacy she left behind. My mother gave me a love of discovery of things unknown and a desire to experience things beyond my normal life. She made me curious about other cultures and other people’s beliefs. She was interested in many things during her life. I believe she also instilled in me a love of food and cooking and for that I’m grateful.

I will miss her. I will think of her daily.

I would like to thank the staff at Queanbeyan Nursing Home who are here today to wish my mother a goodbye. Thank you for the care of our mother. The photo below is Cynthia in her late 50s before her health issues.

mum6This is a photo of mum after her first massive brain bleed.

mum1And this is mum just before she went into the nursing home aged around 72.

mum2And this last photo was the Christmas before her the fall that left her bedridden aged around 75.

mum 21

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