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Inner City Residency: Luisa Mitchell

Luisa is a writer, editor and filmmaker from the Kimberley. Although often far-fetched and fantastical, the stories she wrote while growing up took from the people and real-life experiences she had as a barefooted, pindan-coated kid from a working-class family, dreaming of bigger things.

During her residency, Luisa worked on her novel, The Dreaming. Read on to find out more about her residency experience, then further to read the excerpt.

Tell us about your residency venues. What did you enjoy about writing in this space?
I loved writing at the Centre for Stories, for so many reasons. Not only did it provide me the chance to get out of my house and give my writing a sense of purpose, but it is also just a beautiful space to work in – it’s an old building, with lots of light and plants, and the people that run the residency are just wonderful. I felt at ease and supported in the venue, and felt so happy whenever I was there because it didn’t feel like work at all.

What did you work on during the residency?
I worked on the beginning of a novel that is half-autobiography, half-adventure fantasy. The chapters jump between my own upbringing in Broome and the Kimberley, and the story of a young Aboriginal girl called Mikayla, who gets lost in another reality called the Dreaming, where good and bad spirits collide. So, half of my writing reflects on my working-class family; the lessons learnt from growing up in a harsh, remote, beautiful and deeply spiritual place; and a life that continues to challenge me to understand my own Indigenous heritage, find strength in the journey of being a woman, and just laugh at myself. Simultaneously, my own story interweaves with the coming-of-age epic narrative of Mikayla, who must find the courage within her to save her family in a world she doesn’t understand.

Did you find it challenging to write for extended blocks of time, multiple times per week?
To be completely honest I did find it quite challenging. I am a procrastinator at the best of times, and it can be quite draining writing about yourself in particular, as I was. However, having regular days and blocks to write also motivated me to keep writing, where I might have normally given up.

Why was participating in a residency valuable for your writing practice?
I found having a dedicated and consistent schedule to allow for my writing ensured that I couldn’t procrastinate as much as I usually would, and just generally get more work done. I also found it helpful being around other writers and editors constantly who could give feedback on your work – it was the perfect place to learn and grow in the craft.

And finally, what was your residency drink of choice? Black coffee? Peppermint tea? Chai latte?
Coffee with a splash of milk all the way – I loved discovering the French patisserie café around the corner from the Centre for Stories, but it got so addictive that I managed to get a hold of my bad spending habits and bring my own coffee bags in half-way through my residency. Apart from the daily coffees, I loved when someone would offer to make us a cup of tea in the afternoons.


Excerpt from The Dreaming
By Luisa Mitchell

I

In the beginning, and also somewhere at the end, when the very essence of being was dark and still, and nothing could be felt but a bated breath waiting to let go, a great, writhing tail spun out and hit the universe, sending ripples through the cosmos.

The tail recoiled and coiled out again, each time revealing more of the giant creature it belonged to. From beneath peeling cobweb skin, which fell away and became translucent, distant stars, rippling scales of blinding beauty were revealed. Each scale was a different colour—red, blue, purple, orange, yellow, but also many more unimagined, unnamed colours: the colour of a soft tangerine sunset; the colour of velvet midnight found at the corner of the milky way; the colour of moonlight hitting untamed ocean waves.

Then, a great breath. First out – ahh, here I am, it said. I am. And then, a breath in. I am. I am. I go. I go. Here I am. I am here.

Deep breaths, perfectly in sync with the ebb and flow of the pools of light emanating from its underbelly. The great snake raised its horned head out of the darkness, tongue flicking. Its eyes were so bright that they burned eternally. Its two curved horns that stretch down toward its back pricked whole planets into existence where they turned, and its great tail swept black holes and gas clouds from its path.

So it was that the Rainbow Serpent came to be, and from the empty void, came light and shadow. With each breath, the Serpent grew and shrunk with ease, becoming what it needed to be in that moment, coiling itself around time and seeing the past, present and future with burning eyes. Then, with that constant, even breath, it slid in no particular direction at all – just beyond – to create the Universe.

1 Cox Street

My earliest memories are of a cool but forever dirty, red-stained floor in a small house on Cox Street. We lived in the Bronx, or the hood—slang words taken from a North American lingo that felt right when the words rolled off the tongue, and when you looked around at the graffiti-stained cement curbs and broken windows. Yet, our town, Broome, was so far away from all of that—a world away from our nearest city Perth, over 2000kms away—let alone from the rest of the world.

Broome—a small town in the North-West of the Kimberley region, Western Australia. Woop-woop. “Butt-fuck no-where”, some crass-lipped Aussie fella might say.

This was the land where the Dreaming was and is still strong. Mudflats, white sand beaches, tall gum trees, scrubby bush, and red pindan dirt; as hard and as dusty as some of the locals around there. Forgotten people; people who had run away from the city, or people who had been there for as long as time itself, because that’s what it meant to be a part of the Dreaming.

We lived on Cox Street, and everything I remember was from below and looking up. My earliest memories were those spent crawling around on the cool tiled floor, beneath an exhausted yet determined fan, whir-whir-whir-whirring. The red dirt inside was met by even more red dirt outside—was it because we couldn’t afford grass? Or because none would grow?

But that was fine, because Mum would water the dirt with her hose until the red turned brown and wet and we would gain some sweet relief from the sticky sweat in our pits and we would roll around in that lovely stuff and laugh and grin through it all. My older sister Eva, already so determined to be above all of this—the dirt and the heat and even us—jumped on the trampoline, blonde curls bouncing, dreaming.

My little brother Ryland came next—a surprise to my parents, who at this stage were at the ripe old ages of 36 and 46—unplanned, but welcomed with an abundance of love. Ryland, the big ‘doofah’—Mum said all she remembers from his birth was how big his head was. Red-haired like his mother; blue-eyed; big-footed. His name literally means ‘land of rye’, but Mum named him after the American musician Ry Cooder. I still see open fields of golden grass when I think of him.

Not all was hard and tough in our little cul-de-sac home on Cox Street. Life managed to grow and peek up around us, biting at our feet like the stray puppies that roamed the neighbourhood. There were bamboo shoots in the corner of the back yard, and chickens that pecked. A big white gum tree grew solidly out front, and I climbed it often; or I would walk along the side of the house and smell the fruit that grew there—the sweet scent of guava and that bitter bite once they stung in your teeth remaining there hours after you ate them.

There was a cubby-house where Eva and I would play with our dolls (though few of them we had) and pretend we were mothers. We pushed them around in a stubborn, three-wheeled iron pram that looked like one our grandmother might have used in the fifties—maybe she had.

There were children outside we could run with, and we did. Our playground was the bitumen street and the gum trees, and the hard pindan bindis that we pelted at each other in ‘bindi wars’.

The kids and their families that lived alongside us were tough and poor, and predominantly Aboriginal. The only other white person on Cox Street was the old man in the house opposite us, and he was both terrifying and pitiful. He had a gaping hole in his neck—just below his thinning white beard—and out of this little hole came a voice like that of a robot’s, and we sensed somehow that this skinny old man who smelt of dirty cigarettes and car grease might soon be dead.

Memories of guava and dirt and skinny, flea-ridden dogs though there were, my life and my mind in those first years of existence were consumed with the inside of our house and who those strange people were that called themselves my family.

 

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