In May of 1992, I returned to Australia for a holiday from England, where I’d been living and working for several years. The local literary news at the time was all about the success of Tim Winton and his novel, Cloudstreet. I thought it an omen. Winton was thirty-one-years-old and I was thirty. He had grown up in Western Australia (WA) and so had I. He’d just won his second Miles Franklin Award and I’d just quit a job in England and was about to have a second crack at being a writer! The Shepherd’s Hut.
Among my mementos from this period, is a yellowed newspaper cutting from the Sydney Morning Herald, dated Wednesday, 27th May. Under the headline, “Winton finds selling words the hard part”, Winton, who was on a bookselling tour in America, confides, “Don’t let anyone tell you writing or winning awards is the hard work. This part, the promotion, is the hard work.”
My travel diary from back then also has several entries about Winton and Cloudstreet. On 7th June I went for an evening stroll along Bondi Beach and browsed in a bookshop where I found a copy of the book – though I merely commented, “Bought Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, a WA author.”
On 25th June, with family in Perth, WA, I wrote, “Didn’t sleep well overnight. Mind racing with Cloudstreet, my short story [I wrote short stories almost every day back then], England, the future and past, etc. etc.” On 28th June, my last night in Perth, I wrote, “Finished Cloudstreet. End of the book has a similar mystical feel to Ben Okri’s The Famished Road [the 1991 Man Booker Prize winner I read before Cloudstreet]. Doubt I’ll ever be able to write as well as either author. Still, hope springs eternal.” (Note to latter-day self: must stop using cliches!)
And on 29th June, before heading to the airport for my flight to England, I asked my father to drop me in town and later wrote, “Walked through Mall to bookshops. Found Tim Winton books on shelves, but not the one I wanted [his first Miles Franklin Award winner, Shallows].”
I returned to England, returned to writing, didn’t get published, but did find Winton’s Shallows and went on to build a collection of his books over the years in England and back in Australia.
It may not have been an omen that Winton and Cloudstreet were in the news in 1992. However, I did find the connections between Winton and myself, and between the characters and setting in the book and my background in Perth, mystical. And I enjoyed his fresh, colloquial dialogue and narrative. Cloudstreet inspired me to keep reading Winton’s books and to keep writing.
Update: For my fifty-sixth birthday on 30th March, I’ve was given Winton’s latest novel, The Shepherd’s Hut. An omen or more inspiration? Perhaps both!
© 2018 Robert Fairhead
Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of a middle-aged dad and dog owner. Among other things, Robert is an editor and writer at Tall And True, an online magazine, blog and forum for writers, readers and publishers. Share and showcase your writing -- fiction, nonfiction and reviews -- on TallAndTrue.com.