This is the speech I gave in my home town of Scottsdale, just before Christmas. Thanks to all those who came along. I really appreciate your support. Melanie.
“Perhaps you have to leave a place to really appreciate it. But I hope Freycinet, with its emotive, colour-filled and dramatic descriptions, its inherent darkness and gothic allusions, its painterly portrait of Tasmania, sparks some resonance with you.”
“Welcome everyone and thank you to the Scottsdale Library for hosting me today.
It’s lovely and seems fitting to be here today in Victoria Street talking about my book. We lived at 20 Victoria Street for many years, with Paul Farrell next door and Janelle Langley down the road, and directly opposite was Ruth Unwin. I initially chose the name Ruth for one of my characters because of Ruth Unwin. But that was when the character was sweet and innocent and blonde. Later the character became dark and nasty and decidedly witchy, and obviously not at all like Ruth Unwin.
One of the things that I loved in my childhood was the library. I had a special arrangement with Mrs Smith so that I could take out as many books as I liked. I read some ridiculous amount of books for the MS read-a-thon. And I always thought I would write a book.
Ever since I first found out that a person could actually write a book. It wasn’t until Diggity Gresham at school one day asked if I liked The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and I said ‘yes, of course.’ To which he replied that it had been written by his step-grandfather. I was sure that couldn’t be true. But Mum and Dad confirmed it. C.S. Lewis’ family lived in Ringarooma next to my uncle’s pig farm! This was amazing to me because prior to this books came from England. They were written in England, usually by men, and seemingly hundreds of years ago.
Then, when I was a teenager, I came across a book by Tasmanian author Carmel Bird. The book, The Bluebird Café, was set in, of all places, Launceston! Her characters sat and drank milkshakes at Pierre’s much as I was doing at the time while at Matric.
My plan to be an author seemed to be slowly becoming more possible.
So I went to see a student advisor, to see what I needed to study to be an author. “No,” they said, “with your work experience you should do a business degree. You won’t get into Uni otherwise.” “It’s no good doing Literature, it won’t lead to anything. Everyone wants to be a writer, but very few people actually become one.” “You could do Journalism, but you can’t do Journalism in Tasmania.”
But, somewhat amazingly, I did get into Uni, at Deakin University in Victoria, where I studied Literature, Journalism, and Performing Arts. I did an honours degree and then a master’s degree in Literature.
But I still hadn’t written a book.
Then, much as in my novel, my fiancé Brad and I were at Freycinet. We were standing on the balcony, with fairy lights glittering in the trees, when the soundtrack from Twin Peaks began to play. And I said, “This would be a great place to set a novel.”
It was always going to be like Picnic at Hanging Rock, merely because of the mammoth physical presence of Freycinet’s Hazards mountains. And there would be one or more young women who disappeared into the wilderness. The true life mysteries of Nancy Grunwaldt’s disappearance and the murder of Victoria Cafasso only reinforced the idea of the haunting Hazards, the perilous landscape, and labyrinth-like forests.
And so we have Freycinet, the novel, a psychological murder mystery in which the main character, Ginny O’Byrne, finds herself pitted against the eerie, ever-present Hazards, experiencing gory, clairvoyant visions of two missing women, surrounded by a cast of extremely suspicious and untrustworthy men, and all of this in an environment that seems intent on consuming Ginny into itself. Ginny joins the search and rescue mission to try to find the two women, but can she find them without placing her own life in danger?
In the novel, I wrote about things that I have some knowledge of. So there is a policeman because all through my life I have had the presence of a policeman father. There is ballet because when I was 10 my sister Cindy was in the Tasmanian Ballet Company and Mum and I sometimes travelled with the company because Cindy was only 17 at the time. So I was ‘subjected’ to a lot of ballet performances. And my novel has the Tasmanian bush because I’ve spent a lot of time travelling to places like Cradle Mountain, wondering at the Chinese graves at the Moorina cemetery, exploring on lonely farms at Ringarooma, and rolling down sand dunes at Tomahawk. All these places impacted strongly on me, and so it strikes a resonating note in my heart when I see the familiar colour combination of blue and green.
Perhaps you have to leave a place to really appreciate it. But I hope Freycinet, with its emotive, colour-filled and dramatic descriptions, its inherent darkness and gothic allusions, its painterly portrait of Tasmania, sparks some resonance with you. Because my novel Freycinet was born of this town, this landscape, this state, and is in many ways its child and product.
Let me know what you think. I think it’s a bit beautiful.
“It’s a place that devours its inhabitants.” Melanie Calvert on Tasmanian Gothic and her novel Freycinet
“Australia as a whole has been caught up in a narrative of violence and potential treachery, she says: from Azaria Chamberlain to Picnic at Hanging Rock the possibility of the country turning on its human population has been a eerie, constant undercurrent.”
“But I still imagine Victoria’s wet face peering from among the reeds, Nancy’s bike wheel spinning.”
“Freycinet will keep you guessing to the end with its quirky, mysterious characters and stunning poetry narrative of the Tasmanian landscape. If you have visited Tasmania before, you’ll relate to Calvert’s eloquent descriptions, and if you haven’t, you’ll want to, and be enveloped in its mesmerising beauty, as Ginny is throughout the story. Freycinet is a worthy beach holiday – or bush cabin holiday – read, if you dare.”
I have a Pinterest page too if you would like to take a look. Melanie.
“Ten years ago I stood on the balcony of Freycinet Lodge, the fairy lights flickering through the trees, the music from Twin Peaks floating out into the syrupy air, and I turned to my fiancé Brad and said “this would be a great place to set a novel.” Luckily, Brad was more supportive than Ginny’s fiancé Julian in the novel.
I wanted to write a book that I would like to read. So Freycinet contains all the things that I find fascinating about Tasmania; its beauty, its dramatic scenery, its essential, inherent danger. I wanted my novel to be like Picnic at Hanging Rock or Twin Peaks, to create that same sense of atmospheric horror.
So Freycinet became a psychological murder mystery that depicts Tasmania as a place of great beauty, but also one of mystery and murder; an enigmatic living museum with a history of harsh cruelty.
It is essentially an exploration of Tasmania’s strange Gothic potency, referencing Tasmanian cold cases such as the horrific murder of 20-year-old Italian Tourist, Victoria Cafasso, and the still unsolved vanishing of 26-year-old German Tourist Nancy Grunwaldt. It also contains Tasmanian history, Aboriginal myth, European fairy tales, and even ballet plots.
Freycinet was written in dribs and drabs over these last 10 years. When my children were little it was written by single paragraphs late at night, just a single, vivid scene or image. Over the years I’ve missed events and outings and meals out to write (although I should confess I’m actually a hermit who prefers to be home alone anyway, so sometimes this was just a good excuse!) It was been written and re-written and put to one side and written again from scratch. And finally it has been pushed out into the world, leaving me to cringingly await its reception.
Freycinet is intended as a tribute to my home state, a studied collection of many bits and pieces from my life, and it is filled with things that interest and intrigue me. I hope you enjoy it.
Thank you to the fabulous Monica Penders for launching my book today. Thank you to Steve and the staff here at Paperchain, to Kirsten McCulloch, who was one of my early readers, to all the friends and guests who have come here today to celebrate with me, and to all those who have bought my book! Thank you to Brad, Henry and Miranda for putting up with another of my various hare-brained schemes, and to my sister Cindy and my niece Harriet who have travelled from Tasmania to be here today.
Thank you everyone.”
Monica Penders, Film Producer and the Director of ScreenACT, very kindly agreed to launch Freycinet at the Canberra Launch at Paperchain Bookstore, Manuka, 15 Sept 2012. This is a transcript of her great speech!
“As a filmmaker and visual story teller, I can easily imagine this story on the big screen – the vivid colours, the greens of the forest, the blue greys of the stormy sea, the browns of the earth and rotting foliage, the sea green of Vivienne’s dress, the red of stiletto heels and the drying blood.”
Melanie contacted me a few weeks ago and said she needed someone fabulous, famous and female to launch her book. Well I am female! The rest – sorry – I am all she could find. And therefore I am most honoured that Mel asked me to speak today on this special occasion.
As a fellow writer, Mel of books, me mainly of screenplays, I know that the hardest thing about writing is … writing. It’s carving out the time, it’s making that regular concerted effort, it’s ignoring everything else (no – the sock drawer does not need reorganising, or the contents of the fridge need to be put into alphabetic order). This is when the support of the family is vital. And Brad and the kids have obviously helped Mel in every way to get this book written. Everything has to be put aside to satisfy the muse.
One of the hardest things about writing or any artistic endeavour is putting it out there – opening up your hard work and often your heart and soul to an audience – hoping for praise and dreading criticism.
It was with a little trepidation that I started to read Freycinet (thank goodness Mel put a phonetic pronunciation on the back or I would have embarrassed myself talking about Frixenay).
What if I didn’t like it? What would I get up and say here today? That should have been the least of my worries.
I should set the scene a little. I recently moved from a small, modern one bedroom apartment in the middle of Belconnen with about 1000 neighbours in the complex, to a 3 bedroom 1950’s fibro cottage in the middle of 1600 acres near the NSW border.
Two neighbours in near distance and many rabbits, foxes, wombats, spiders and snakes for company. The cottage has an amazing and sometimes imposing view of the Brindabellas, a copse of trees behind the cottage that my lovely partner, incidentally a Tasmanian, refers to as the Blair Witch trees.
I had a night on my own and I thought, I will start reading the book.
The feeling of disquiet, of menace, of impending doom and disaster, of events being out of control and predestined that seeped from the first few pages, coupled with the wind playing havoc with the Blair Witch trees and odd sounds emanating from outside, had me putting the book down fairly quickly and burrowing under the covers.
This happened a few times, each time going a little further into the story and once actually shouting out – for goodness sake Ginny – pack your bloody bags and get the hell out of dodge!
Her characters leapt from the page –
Everything told through the eyes of Ginny the somewhat unreliable narrator, her fears and foibles often giving us the wrong impression. Julian, a man you just wanted to slap! What had happened to him to change him so much and be so emotionally distant on one hand and so pointedly cruel on the other? Why did she stay with him? Run, run, run – straight into the arms of the delicious Tom, who seemed to know her better than anyone even though they had only just met. The ethereally beautiful missing Vivienne, and Ruth who holds the biggest secret of all.
The interweaving of the ballet story line with the indigenous folk takes was ingenious and mesmerising, all intertwined with the wild, untamed Tasmanian landscape.
Mel has managed to paint a masterfully vivid backdrop to the story. This not only comes from her talent as a writer and all of her impressive tertiary study – but as a painter – the backdrop is as visual as if she has physically painted it as a landscape.
As a filmmaker and visual story teller, I can easily imagine this story on the big screen – the vivid colours, the greens of the forest, the blue greys of the stormy sea, the browns of the earth and rotting foliage, the sea green of Vivienne’s dress, the red of stiletto heels and the drying blood.
Ginny’s horrifying visions of the victims that only she can see – great visual motifs mixed through the intoxicating harsh beauty of Freycinet.
As a potential film, I would compare this as to the classic Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Sixth Sense and even a little bit of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca or Mary Stewart’s book Wildfire at Midnight.
If only film had smell – because I could almost detect the aroma of cooked quail, of dried blood, of humus rich soil, of decay … and of fear.
I so didn’t see the twist coming at the end – and for those who haven’t read it, I won’t give the game away. You have to buy a copy and read it for yourself.
A wonderfully well written, evocative and painterly read, a potentially great film. I am going to talk to Mel about collaborating – she should adapt her book into a screenplay and I would love to be involved – and I am going to talk to my colleagues at Screen Tasmania about a co-production at the right time.
Because there is only one place that you could shoot this film and that would be in Freycinet.”
The new novel, Freycinet, by Melanie Calvert, is a startling psychological murder mystery that resonates strongly with the current Tasmanian Gothic movement. In Freycinet, Tasmania is depicted as a place of great beauty, but also one of mystery and murder.
Ginny O’Byrne arrives at Freycinet National Park with her fiancé Julian, only to be haunted by gory, clairvoyant visions of two murdered young women. The next morning two women are missing. Ginny immediately joins the massive Search and Rescue mission, but she is surrounded by people who may be responsible for the murder of the missing women, and embroiled in an eerie atmosphere that is becoming increasingly threatening.
The author, Melanie Calvert, explains: “I wanted it to be like Picnic at Hanging Rock or Twin Peaks, with that same sense of atmospheric horror.” Accordingly, in its exploration of Tasmania’s strange Gothic potency, the novel references Tasmanian cold cases such as those of Victoria Cafasso and Nancy Grunwaldt, Tasmanian history, Aboriginal myth, European fairy tales, and even ballet plots.
The novel itself discusses this cultural potency, likening it to the French term terroir: “Loosely translated it means ‘sense of place,’ the sum of the effects of the surrounding environment … a sense of the land itself; a combination of its weather, its terrain, its history, the things that have happened here, and of people’s shared histories with that place, its particular resonances, the intersection of wilderness and myth and human culture and beliefs.”
But, for the main character of Freycinet, Ginny O’Byrne, this experience of the land is overwhelming and horrifying, and Ginny will eventually encounter a shocking conclusion that will leave the reader reeling.
Freycinet is available from bookshops and online, or as an ebook from Amazon.com.
About the Author
Melanie Calvert was born in Launceston and grew up in Scottsdale in North East Tasmania. She has a Master’s Degree in Literature and a Journalism degree from Deakin University in Victoria. Freycinet is her first novel.