Good Reading : March 2008
MARCH 2008 ı goodreading 21 you can’t feel your edges any more. I want snow to wrap around me, to keep this hot, glary, busy, noisy, beeping world away. I want to fall into its silence. When I discovered there was a writer’s residency in Alaska, I imagined a month of peace, wrapped in the white of snow and blank pages, plenty of time to finish the first draft of my novel and commune with a different landscape. I left Australia with a mission: to complete my sprawling historical novel. The Queen’s Favourite is about a real ancestor of mine who was executed after being accused of assas- sinating the husband of Mary Queen of Scots. I had nearly finished the first draft, but didn’t know how it would end. I have hold of my characters by a gossamer thread. Can I trust they’re leading me to the conclusion of their stories? I arrived knowing little about Sitka, a friendly coastal town on Baranof Island in southeast Alaska.This island community is flanked by thickly forested mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Brown bears and deer at your back, humpback whales, salmon and sea lions at your front. Most people have hunted the food that appears on their tables. You don’t need to be writing about Alask to be a writer-in-residence there – the Island Institute’s residency offers writers the freedom to do whatever they wish, as long as they contribute to the community through readings, talks or workshops. Carolyn Servid and Dorik Mechau, directors of the Institute, met me at the airport and whisked me to the Back Door Café adjoining Sitka’s lively bookshop for the first of many pieces of blueberry pie.There was not a snow flake to be seen, but autumn in Sitka is the rainy season and my steep-roofed home for the month, tucked into a Tolkien-esque forest, was blanketed by the roar of rain. Is it a common experience for writers to long for the time and solitude we need to complete a major piece of writing – and then find it terrifying? Alone with my massive, handwritten manuscript and my own thought found myself pacing the house, blogging enthu- stically and walking into town for another piece f berry pie. I spent hours looking out at the in falling on the ocean, attempting to slow my ind and come into a good space for writing. Eventually something worked and the story egan to move. My community readings helped people listened to the first few chapters and hen wanted to know what happened next and when they could buy a copy. I started to settle n. I began making friends in the small ommunity of Sitka – other writers, people who had come to my readings. I met a unter in the forest who stopped to say he’d een me on local TV. The gunpowder plot to kill the king is only hours way, but William has received a message that he’s bout to be deceived by his own daughter … y the third week the story was building to a climax. A writer couple I had met offered a few nights in their shack on a nearby small nd. I jumped at the chance to be away m electricity, email and blueberry pie. I was opped off on the island with my backpack, pen and paper. As darkness fell on the first vening and the tide lapped at the footings of he cabin, I sat by the fuel heater and watched he rain turning the surface of the water into ountless moments of impact. At last I felt I’d opped down into my solitude.There was nobody else on the island, just me and a big tory wanting to be told. I picked up my pen. This morning a mysterious casket has come to ght which contains letters that could change the urse of the story. I wonder what they contain? hree days later, back in Sitka, I wrote the al scene of the novel. I first stumbled on idea for the story three years ago, after ting Scotland and finding the ruins of the ient family castle. Somehow Alaska had made impression on my story, half a hemisphere and 0 years away, in this final month of immersion. It was time for champagne with Carolyn and orik. or more information about The Island Institute go to ttp://home.gci.net/~island/. writing life 1 to Alaska The first snows of winter. The first draft nears its (handwritten) completion. View from the cabin window. Jesse spent two nights in a small shack on an island in Sitka Sound. north Journalist and novelist JESSE BLACKADDER, who usually lives in Byron Bay, recently spent a month as a writer-in-residence in Sitka, Alaska. Apart from finding out all the different names for snow, what was the experience like? Jesse Blackadder reads from her work in progress at the Sitka library.