As she walked down the stairs to her waiting car, Judith looked up at the house one more time.
‘You know,’ she said, ‘this house has only ever been owned by women.’ She smiled at me, her eyes crinkling against the winter sun, and then she got into her car and drove to her new home. I turned and surveyed the house my husband and I had just bought. It was a rambling late 1920s (or so I thought) interwar cottage. Built solidly of limestone and bricks, and wood and tile it had the traditional wooden floors and high ceilings in the original, front part of the house, and a large sunlit modern extension in the back. Judith had bought the smaller original house in the 1980s, and raised a family within its walls, extending it with her architect husband, Greg, in the early 1990s. Then in 2005, my husband and I bought the house.
At the time I considered her comment curious, thinking it would be unusual that a house of that vintage would be owned solely by women in such a traditional male-centred society as 20th century Western Australia, but I didn’t investigate the claim further until almost a decade later.
In 2014, I was three quarters of the way through a post-graduate professional writing degree at Curtin University. I had enrolled in a unit called Writing the Past, and I knew before term even started what my major project was going to be. I was going to research Judith’s claim – and discover the women who had previously owned my house. I even knew what I was going to call it: The House of Women.
I had ordered a copy of the house title the year before, but not spent much time pouring over its spidery copperplate writing. When I pulled it out of the yellow envelope, my eye quickly fell upon a name that immediately disproved Judith’s claim that only women had owned the house. A husband and wife had owned the house in the 1970s. I was surprisingly disappointed, but not enough to stop me from persisting in my research when I saw all the other owners had been women, all the way back to the 1920s. I pulled a notebook from my shelf and began taking notes.
It is from within these notes and the stories I discovered along the way, that my novel has originated. While in 2014 my research was strictly for personal interest (and the university assignment), the notion that I could turn any part of it into a novel was not seeded until much later. A throwaway comment in 2005 started a journey that now in 2018, I am still pursuing. And the story of a woman who lived in my house over fifty years ago, has formed the basis of my novel.
Since the novel is based on real people in a real time and place, historical accuracy is very important to me. I’m also a complete research nerd, and will happily spend hours pouring over photographs and old books to determine how things really looked, what things cost, how people travelled and what they ate.
But while my novel is fiction, it is based on a number of individuals who are very real. They are modest people, every day people that you would not know about unless they were a distant relative, (or unless a random writer one day stumbled upon their stories). But while I type my novel, I will also be sharing real stories here, the real lives on which my novel is based. Because they deserve to be written as well.
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