Story Comes From Place – a reflection by Grace McCarter

Story Comes From Place – a reflection by Grace McCarter

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Story comes from place. A cluster of properties lie just outside of Nanango, off the Burnett Highway. They are farms belonging to my aunts and uncles on my mother’s side, where I used to stay sometimes on school holidays. The farms grew stories better than they ever grew anything else. I’d spend a lot of time by myself, my subconscious harvesting it all without my help. The first thing I remember was a muddy little dam that was more reeds and grass than water. When I wrote it, it grew: flooding across the land into a lake, a reservoir of water so big I’d never touch the bottom with my feet again. The second was Clancy. A dog. The quickest stick-getter I’d ever seen. But when I wrote her over ten years later she looked like a timid foal with big teeth and flapping pink lips; an animal I’d imagined when listening to an unrelated story an adult friend told me about her brother and his new rifle.

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It was Annie Proulx who said, in her Art of Fiction interview with the Paris Review, that ‘story comes from place’. It’s a sentence that has echoed through my life and fiction ever since I read it aloud to myself as a first year writing student. I was sitting on a grassy knoll at QUT Kelvin Grove that has since turned into four blocks of bland highrise flats, and as a residential developer’s pin dropped where I was sitting, another one dropped in my head. University, from what I could figure, was nothing more than a signposted area for extended and supported self-driven learning. I entered into it without enough faith in myself to foster any concrete aspirations about what it would do for me, or who I could be when I graduated. I wanted a degree to become a writer, but I never had a sure feeling that would happen… or what it even meant. “Becoming a writer.” The sense of place that drives my writing didn’t come from university – it came from home.

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Story comes from place. Wooden floors to lie on and feel the cool of on my cheek. A patchwork quilt. Glass trinkets that dangle and catch the sun. I can’t picture my childhood bedroom any more but I remember what was in it, which sometimes is what makes a place. I remember the safety I felt when I was in my room alone. The feelings changed when a friend or cousin came in and poked around, a different set of eyes exposing my irrational, meticulously arranged adolescent nest (me) to be a little foolish, maybe. A little too quaint, in the clear light of day. I wrote this feeling down over and over again in diaries, which I burned in a fireplace a few years later. It took moving out of home, another shift in place, for the stories in my mind to start steeping and pickling into stories I could bear to write without burning afterwards. I imagined my farmer uncles did the same with their farmland before Spring for the same reason: making room for new growth. A sound post-rationalisation, and possibly a fictional one dairy farmers don’t have too many crops.

In a practical sense, I didn’t quite get the hang of how I could and should draw from places in my life to aid my fiction until years after I graduated. I wish I knew while I was studying to stop searching for the material, and focus on the craft of writing. The material was there: we all have places tumbling around and around in our minds like sheets in a dryer, glowing with their warm and powerful static.

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Story comes from place. I watched my cousin make jam drops with my mother in the kitchen. The wooden floor around them was so shiny it reflected and held the light like a still lake. I felt jealous of them, sharing the intimate experience of cooking something so sweet and perfect. I can’t even remember which of my cousins it was that day. When I wrote it down, though, it was her mother making jam drops with me, in another kitchen. When I wrote the biscuits, they were as imperfect as my fallible, fanciful memory burned around the edges and crumbling completely at the slightest touch. The jam I tried to spread on them in my mind had far too many seeds. But it wasn’t me although I could feel the lumpy red conserve dripping off my spoon onto the bench, I had also changed myself into someone else.

Words: Grace McCarter is a Brisbane-based freelance writer, QUT Creative and Professional Writing graduate, and recipient of the SLQ Young Writer’s award. She works with words by night, and by day enables other creatives to do what they do best as an operations and content assistant at a design studio. You can find her at @GraceMcCarter and grace-mccarter.com.

Images: Analogue photography by Alana Potts. Alana’s current exhibition, Salty, is on now in Brisbane until October 21. Details can be found here.

2 Responses

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and wholeheartedly agree…thank you

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