Author Christine Eyres shares her book The While Apron and her love for painting and the arts.
RL: Tell me about your latest book and why you wrote it?
CE: My Grandmother was born in a poorhouse. Stumbling across this fact I wondered what shame had kept this secret hidden in a family rich with stories? What circumstance led her mother, My Great- Grandmother, Agnes, to the poorhouse outside Edinburgh, to give birth to the last of her seven children? As I delved into her story, Agnes took hold of me. I felt she demanded that her story be told.
It was a long process. For three months, after the initial research, I wandered around Scotland following Agnes’s footsteps. I delved into the libraries of Edinburgh and Glasgow and tapped into the wealth of information from that terrible time in history. I wrote a very long account of Agnes’s life and times, leaving nothing out for future generations. On the advice of an agent, I shortened the grim story and left room for some joy and some black Scottish humour.
The resulting book, The White Apron, is a fictional account of a working-class woman who survived the unspeakable conditions of the industrial revolution. The friendship of women gave her the strength to rise above that which sent others under.
RL: How did the title of The White Apron come about?
CE: One grey dress of homespun linen was all you owned unless you were lucky enough to have a Sunday dress for church. Your apron kept that grey dress clean. As you cooked and washed and fetched the coal it became encrusted with the grime of poverty. Should someone unexpectedly knock on the door, or should you need to go out on the street to buy some turnips for the soup, you quickly exchanged it for the clean white apron that always hung behind the door. You donned the mantle of respectability. You hid the shame of poverty. On the street in your uniform of grey dress and white apron, you were invisible.
RL: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
CE: The most surprising thing I have learned is that my characters choose me. I don’t choose them. They just arrive.
Even before the very successful launch of The White Apron, another woman had grabbed me with her untold story. This was the story of a baby stolen at birth from a pregnant teenager, a story never told to her husband and subsequent children, a shameful secret kept hidden from the world. Again, a story where shame plays a detestable role. As I researched, it turned out to be not one woman’s story but that of thousands of women, black and white who had babies forcibly removed from them, right up until the 1970s in Western Australia. The grief of this separation from children never goes away but for the most part, it has remained hidden.
Often the pregnant teenagers were spirited far away from their community to give birth in secret. I combined this story with my love of the outback and my experience as a volunteer teacher of isolated children.
Dark Enough for Stars is in the hands of an editor, in its final stages. Again, I have painted the illustration for the cover.
RL: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
CE: A writer sits long hours at the computer compromising posture and fitness. Luckily, my dog nudges me into long walks on the beach or along our beautiful Swan River. Now that I’m an urban dweller, my small fruit and vegetable garden, as well as yoga and kayaking also stop my body from seizing up.
One of the joys of being a writer is meeting other writers. We have a Fellowship of Western Australian Writers whose headquarters are in two delightful historic cottages Tom Collins House and Mattie Furphy House endowed to us by authors. Editing in Paradise is a writers’ retreat run by Shelley Kinigsberg in Bali. A great place to go to work, learn and have fun. I have just returned from a jaunt in Sardinia with the New York Writers Workshop where, along with forty other writers from all around the world, I soaked up the culture and exchanged ideas.
In this shrinking world, when one often need to travel to keep in touch with family in far-flung places, writing has the advantage of being wonderfully portable.
RL: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
CE: At a recent gathering of The New York Writers Workshop in Sardinia, a panel of well-respected writers including Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, Forrest Gander discussed how hard it was to become published. All of them spoke of handling rejection after rejection. Professor Tim Tomlinson pointed out, that as writers we often gasp at the cost of editing or marketing, but we forget that mostly our writing comes at the mere cost of a pen and paper. We do not have the cost of expensive paints, brushes, canvases and framing of the painter. We do not have the costs associated with sculpting or the expensive equipment of the photographer. Of course, in our defence, in this crazy world that undervalues art, we also do not often have an income. However, if at all possible, at least invest in an editor. You will be glad you did.
RL: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
CE: I am just about to embark on the research for my third book, and I must admit the thought of this exhausts me. Besides copious amounts of writing left by my subject here are five boxes of personal papers and cuttings in the archives of the Wellcome Collection in London. None of this material is digitalised and may not be photocopied or photographed.
But once again, an amazing woman with an untold story has me by the hand and I will endeavour to tell her story. Frustrated by not getting far with my research from Australia, I wrote letters (Dear Letitia) to this dead woman on my website: christine-eyres.com.au
I have the blessing of her family to embark on this project and I know from experience I can push past this moment of doubt.
On the whole, I find writing energising. I write the story as quickly as possible not stopping to worry over places that don’t work. The next part, the part when I go back and move things around and cut whole chunks out is the exciting part. Just like a painting, the whole composition has to come together with colour, contrast and form. Superfluous parts need to be ruthlessly culled.
About the Author:
Christine Eyres is a writer and artist living in Fremantle, Western Australia. Born in Scotland, Christine grew up in the southwest coastal town of Albany before being educated in Perth. She qualified as a teacher and completed a BA of fine art followed by a graduate diploma of English at Curtin University. You can read more about Christine and her work by visiting her website.