Author Talks: Christie Nieman on Using Place to Find Your Stories

Place is where I find my stories. Start with a place, I recommend to young writers, and you will find stories, from the journeys of a tiny beetle to the machinations of an elderly patriarch. I forgot about all that though, when soon after my first novel As Stars Fall was released I had children – my first children, two at once in fact, gorgeous twins. Making stories took a back seat as I quickly discovered what all parents who had gone before me already knew: that having to deal with any number of newborn babies does tend to put the kibosh on creativity.

Next to the gently-undulating open woodland landscape where I live is a wide, high, treeless plain that sits close to the clouds that slide above it. Driving across it one day, heading for the bigger supermarket in the bigger town across the other side, with my two now eighteen-month olds strapped in their car seats in the back, blowing raspberries at each other as they liked to do on car trips, my mind was jammed on tasks and little-people-management and fatigue and mush and love, and darkness too, as the minds of parents of small children often are, and not at all on writing.

‘Writing’. It is a small and unassuming word for something that in my life means thinking deeply, feeling keenly, a deep and life-affirming compulsion to connect with others by expressing things in words and story. It is an integral part of me that had been put into an induced coma for eighteen months. Even now, writing that publicly, it feels a dangerous thing for a woman to say: that being a parent, while amazing, can be not-enough.

That day, after the blowing of raspberries in the back of the car grew old, the grumbling kiddies required that I perform a one-handed Five Little Ducks to keep them content enough to make it to the supermarket in one go; so I was driving, one hand on the wheel, the other hovering in the air next to me performing the convoluted gyrations that go along with my singing voice to represent ducks and the overing of hills and the going-to of faraway places, when the place we were actually in asserted itself. We were moving through a very singular landscape – remnant vegetation hanging on at the edges of bare paddocks, the low slung sky, the scattered ruins of colonial-era buildings, the newer cheap-and-quick fibro houses – and place was making its way in again, waking me up. We passed a building I had passed many times before, a two-storey bluestone colonial-era mansion, abandoned and empty. I remembered a friend of mine recently ranting about how the Australian landscape is littered with such abandonment, comparing it to Europe, particularly France, where such real estate would be snapped up, possibly even ending up on Grand Designs with love and money being poured into it. I wondered at the complicatedness of these Australian ruins, the different history of them, before and after, to their European counterparts. And then suddenly, driving with my first babies across that plateau and witnessing the disturbed landscape and that particular super-imposed ruin, I found the story that would go on to become Where We Begin. I dropped my Five Little Ducks hand to press record on my voice-transcribed notes on my phone and spoke into it quickly, hurrying before the discontent from the back seat bubbled over and I would have to give my hand and my voice and my mind back to being ducks. I recorded the note that still sits there on my phone today, four years later, marking the exact date I got ‘writing’ back, and with it an important piece of myself. It reads:

Young woman in distress comes to stay in an 80s fibro house, you know, like those ones on outskirts of town, and which has a view of that wonderful old blue stone gothic house up on the high plains stretching out with the cloud so low they nearly touch it

She sees lights at night there


Where We Begin

WHERE WE BEGIN - Christie Nieman.jpg

Seventeen-year-old Anna is running into the night. Fleeing her boyfriend, her mother, and everything she has known.

She is travelling into the country, to the land and the grandparents she has never met, looking for answers to questions that have never been asked.

For every family has secrets.

But some secrets – once laid bare – can never be forgiven.

A dark, deeply compelling, coming-of-age YA novel from the author of As Stars Fall.

Published by Pan Macmillan Australia

Released 25th August 2020


About the Author:

Christie Nieman is best known for her work as an author, as an essayist, and as one of the editors in the feminist collective responsible for the anthologies Just Between Us, Mothers and Others, and #MeToo: Stories from the Australian Movement.

Her debut novel, As Stars Fall, a CBCA Notable Book, was described by one reviewer as ‘Australian Gothic for young adults’. She has taught creative writing at universities and to the public, and early in her career she won an Asialink residency to be a Research Fellow at Nanzan University in Japan, where she immersed herself in Kaidan stories, traditional Japanese folk tales of the strange and supernatural.

Christie’s essays concern themselves with women, storytelling, evolution, the environment, and the way that human exceptionalism plays out in fiction and in our lives, and the impact it makes on our planet. She has minor qualifications in environmental science and major qualifications in literature and ecocriticism. Find out more about Christie’s books, essays, and short fiction at christienieman.com.

Christie is a parent and a librarian, and she lives and works on Dja Dja Wurrung country. Where We Begin, published by Pan Macmillan in September, is her second novel.

4 thoughts on “Author Talks: Christie Nieman on Using Place to Find Your Stories

  1. I could really relate to this. As a reader, if place is also given a heartbeat in a story, then everyone and everything that lives or depends upon it are so much richer to me. Can’t wait to read Christie’s next book, having loved her debut novel, As Stars Fall.

    Liked by 1 person

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