KYD First Book Club: Cherry Beach (with Laura McPhee-Browne)

The Kill Your Darlings Podcast
The Kill Your Darlings Podcast
KYD First Book Club: Cherry Beach (with Laura McPhee-Browne)

Content Warning: This recording contains discussion relating to mental illness and suicide.

‘Most of us have had a chaotic relationship or two…the experience of loving someone is rarely not dramatic.’

Each month we celebrate an Australian debut with the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club. For February that debut is Laura McPhee-Browne’s Cherry Beach, out now from Text Publishing.

Hetty and Ness, best friends since childhood, have left suburban Melbourne for the first time to live in Toronto. Hetty is charming and captivating, the life of the party. Ness is a wallflower, hopelessly in love with her. As winter freezes the lakeside city, the dark undercurrents of Hetty’s character become ever stronger, and Ness may lose the person she loves more than anyone else in the world. Laura discussed the novel with our First Book Club host Ellen Cregan at our event at Bargoonga Nganjin, North Fitzroy Library on 13 February.

This is an edited recording. Thanks to Laura McPhee-Browne, Text and  Yarra Libraries.

Our theme song is Broke for Free’s ‘Something Elated’.

Further reading:

Read Ellen Cregan’s review of Cherry Beach in our February Books Roundup.

Read Laura McPhee-Browne’s Shelf Reflection on her reading habits and the writing that inspires her.


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Meaghan Dew: Welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. I’m Meaghan Dew and we’re back from our summer break, kicking off the year with our February First Book Club event. The first new writer we’re celebrating this year is Laura McPhee-Browne, who spoke about her book Cherry Beach at Bargoonga Nganjin North Fitzroy Library. With First Book Club host Ellen Cregan she discussed Toronto, housemate love, friendship and desire. So stay tuned for that now. This is an edited recording.

Ellen Cregan: Thanks Meaghan. Welcome Laura.

Laura McPhee-Browne: Thank you.

EC: So the format of our talk is going to be we’ll talk for about 30 minutes or so, and then as Meaghan said there’ll be time for questions, and I will give you a heads-up before the time comes for that, and then I’ll ask another question so you have time to sort of prevent that awkward silence that you sometimes have at question time. And just a heads up, there might be a few spoilers in this discussion. As I was saying to Laura before, you can’t really spoil a literary novel, but we might. If you haven’t read the book yet, I apologise in advance, but I think we’ll inspire you to read it. There’s also some pretty heavy subject matter that this book engages with, so I’d just like to give a little content warning for mental illness and suicide primarily. And first things first, I’m going to ask Laura to do a very short reading from her book.

LMB: Okay, thanks Ellen. Bear with me, I haven’t read this section for a while! (LAUGHS).

EC: Ooh! That’s kind of fun.

LMB: Yeah. Okay.

The house thrummed. I’d never lived somewhere where people cared for each other so much, and concentrated earnestly on the best things about being young and alive. Hetty had always been my window into this sort of thing, even though sometimes her eyes clouded over and she couldn’t see anything much at all. Now I was living in a space that was fuelled by an energy I’d never had. I was shy around it, and only started to feel close to comfortable after I had been alone in Marjorie a few times – after I’d had a chance to wander around without worrying who I would bump into and what I would say.

The day after we arrived, Hetty set out and got herself a job at a bar in Kensington Market. It was a dark place with two beers on tap and cheap spirits and house wine from a box, and there was a shop across the street that made hot greasy grilled cheese sandwiches for the drinkers who had started early and needed food. Ronnie’s seemed iconic in that way that meant it would never change. The chairs were odd and broken, the toilets were sticky and smelly, and people came to drink there at lunchtime and stayed until close. I felt intimidated when I walked in, but Hetty suited it. She was angled the right way for something cool, and too dreamy to know it.

Hetty was there a lot those first few weeks and needed to sleep when she wasn’t, so I walked around alone each day trying to find somewhere I thought I could see myself working, looking up at things and counting the weird dogs everyone seemed to have with them on brightly coloured leashes. It was the beginning of May by then, the weather was warming up and on my own I got to know how beautiful spring could be in Toronto, Trinity Bellwoods was bare one day and when I came back the next, flowers had bloomed everywhere. They grew where no one had planted them, like our russet-coloured ones back home, but they were blue and purple and pink, like lollies.

I walked all the way to High Park one morning, huffing along in a parka until I had to take it off and tie it around my waist. I had never been in such a beautiful park – it was impossible not to get lost, because it was so wild and thick, and there were hills and large neat green spaces and thickets where dogs were allowed to jump and run. I wished so much that Hetty was there; it seemed less special on my own, though I was trying hard to be happy and in the moment and free, like everyone around me seemed to be.

I sat down on a bench in the middle of nowhere – tall thin fresh trees standing all around, and a damp forest floor – and had a little cry. I was glad I was there, in High Park, in Toronto. It wasn’t that. It was just hard sometimes to keep smiling, to keep moving and looking and trying, when you sensed you were being left behind.

EC: Thank you. That was really lovely, thank you. (APPLAUSE). For those who haven’t yet read the book, can you kind of summarise it in a bit of an elevator pitch?

LMB: Yeah. Mmm…

EC: Tricky.

LMB: Well, I tried to do this the other day and I wasn’t very good at it. (LAUGHS). Well, it’s about two young women, best friends from Melbourne who go and live in Toronto together, and they’ve been best friends since they were little, in primary school, and one of them, the protagonist is in love with her best friend. And, yeah, they move over there and kind of, their friendship, um, is tested, and they start to learn about themselves and grow apart, I guess in some ways. Yeah.

EC: So Ness is the protagonist and Hetty is the best friend.

LMB: Yeah. That’s it. Yeah.

EC: So my reading of the book is that it kind of has this core theme of love and all its different iterations. Is that something you intended to centre in Cherry Beach when you were thinking it up?

LMB: Yeah, I think so. I wanted to write about yeah, just like the love of a close friend, but also how that can, for some people, be something more and yeah, just how it’s all kind of, I think every love is a little bit different depending on you and that person, so it’s sort of all a bit fluid and yeah, I just kind of wanted to write about that, I think.

EC: And how would you categorise the love between Ness and Hetty, or sort of from Ness to Hetty I suppose.

LMB: Yeah, so I think… Ness is gay, so she’s attracted to Hetty and loves her, I think like wants, you know… would like to be with her intimately, but also knows that they wouldn’t really work together. And I think she’s just so attached to Hetty for those reasons, and because they grew up together she was almost always in Hetty’s shadow, but just adored her, so. But yeah, she does know that it’s really, that she’s probably, or she is writing the book from a few years later as well. So she’s kind of aware that she was idolising that relationship, and that, and the love wasn’t completely real in some ways, I guess. But, yeah.

EC: And one of the other things that comes into play quite often is that Ness sees herself as a very plain person, whereas Hetty is kind of universally beloved, and people sort of fall over trying to get after her.

LMB: Mmm, yeah. Yep. And like, I have a picture of Ness in my head, what she looks like, but she’s not really very plain. She’s…

EC: Yeah. Yeah, she think she’s plain, but she’s not.

LMB: She doesn’t really have that… I don’t know the word but yeah, she’s just kind of not really… kind of always just thinking about other people rather than herself. And yeah, yeah.

EC: One of the things I really enjoyed about the book and the way that you write about love is that it’s not just romantic love that gets the spotlight. There’s familial love, or like the lack of familial love that people might have, love between friends, and other kinds – can you speak to writing about these different kinds of relationships, and they’re a bit more fringe in the book than obviously the main one, but they’re definitely there.

LMB: Yeah, so I guess I’m thinking about Ness falling in love with some of her housemates in little ways. Like she has a housemate called Dill who she really comes to love, and a sort of enamoured love for another housemate, I think Steph, and yeah, just… She loves easily, she also I think grows to love the woman that she works with at the cafe, and obviously she falls in love with a girl there, and… but even towards the end, still her love for Hetty is the deepest, and yeah.

EC: And there’s also some really nice observations about love – so the spoiler is that Hetty does pass away towards the end of the book, and when she goes back and she’s kind of looking at Hetty’s parents…

LMB: Yeah. EC:.. And the love they have for Hetty, and maybe the love they have for each other, or they don’t, and the kind of drawbacks of that.

LMB: Yeah. Yeah, I was interested in – I kind of like that, those two characters because they, I could picture Hetty’s parents really clearly in my mind, and they were so different, but – and actually my editor David was helpful with that because I couldn’t seem to get across what I wanted to say about how different they were, and how Ness would wonder how they could possibly be together. But David said, ‘well, lots of people who are very different are together, like it’s not that amazing’, you know, ‘so try to think, write about it in a slightly less shocked way,’ and that helped because, yeah, you just don’t ever understand, never know what’s happening with people behind closed doors. And yeah.

EC: That would be quite a hard thing to write actually, I feel, because when you look at a lot of literary relationships that aren’t, you know, are fictional, it’s sort of sometimes they are a bit perfect. And that particular relationship, even though it is only in the book quite briefly…

LMB: Yeah.

EC: It’s unusual.

LMB: Yeah. And I guess Hetty’s relationship with her dad as well is unusual.

EC: Yeah, absolutely. Um, just to go back to housemates, there’s a really nice bond between the housemates in Hetty and Ness’s house, which is called Marjorie, is that right?

LMB: Yeah.

EC: Yeah, so I got you to read that part of the book where they’ve just moved in – housemate love is such a special thing that you don’t see in fiction a lot, or in, kind of, culture that often. What made you want to write about those kinds of relationships in particular?

LMB: Well, yeah, I don’t think I did it really deliberately, but I just knew they would have to live in a big share house because they wouldn’t have much money, and I saw lots of, lots of people I knew in Toronto lived in these big rambling share houses, in those, kind of, areas like off Chinatown. And it I guess it just happened because I’ve lived in a few share houses in my life, for quite a few – like, one for five years and another for five years, with lots of people coming in and out and, you know, some of my closest friends now I met through those share – like, living with them there. So we, I’ve just experienced falling deeply in love with people by living with them. And it’s not always perfect, but yeah, I think it can be so special.

EC: So yeah, so it’s sort of writing what you know in a way.

LMB: Yeah, I just didn’t really think about it that much, I sort of just did it, but it ended up, it must have been something about those experiences I had, yeah, that came through.

EC: There was the really lovely image of one housemate cooking curry and just not caring if everybody ate it. I really like that.

LMB: Oh yeah!

EC: That was relatable. I feel like I am that housemate, but I don’t know. (LAUGHS).

LMB: That’s lovely.

EC: I think probably the two biggest loves that Cherry Beach tackles are first love and unrequited love, both of which in this case are quite ill-advised and eventually quite catastrophic as well. Why do you think chaotic romance or love is such a fertile subject for many authors? Because it’s certainly the basis of a lot of, like, beloved books.

LMB: Well, I suppose we’ve most of us have had a chaotic relationship or two! Like, I think maybe just even like for people my age, or a bit older or a bit younger, we’ve had so many years after finishing school where we haven’t been expected to settle down with someone, or just choose one person, so you end up having lots of relationships, I think, a lot of the time, with lots of people that aren’t really right for you, and you’re finding out about what might be right for you. And so I guess it comes from a lot of writers probably having had those experiences, and that’s just the nature of loving someone, I think, is really perfect or not dramatic. I think it’s always a bit dramatic, because it involves the heart. So yeah.

EC: That’s really nice, dramatic love. Maybe not ill-advised, dramatic.

LMB: Yeah, yeah.

EC: And of course, it’s also a book of queer love. So we’ve also, we’ve got Ness and Hetty who we’ve talked about, but then there’s also Ness and Faith, who enter into, like, a real, reciprocal, romantic relationship. Can you tell us about that relationship?

LMB: I guess I wanted to write about someone who just was different from Hetty around Ness, like, more observant maybe, able to just see Ness and make her feel good about herself in a way she hadn’t had before. Because I wanted to see how she would grow within that, which – she grew a little bit, as takes time. But… and I think I just didn’t, there weren’t a lot of books when I was growing up where there was queer love that was explored, even just queer characters. So yeah, just, and also just the idea of, I guess, how yeah, it can take longer if if you’re queer to start to have relationships for some people. It doesn’t happen, you know, Hetty was having relationships from much younger. And yeah, so it was kind of though, even though Ness is about 26 in the book, she really hadn’t really had a relationship before.

EC: And it has that kind of fresh, green, young-love feeling to it when they first get together in the book.

LMB: Yeah, Yeah.

EC: Which is very cute. Um, there was a quote about Ness and Faith that I really loved in the book that I have printed across two pages unfortunately, but I’ll do my best. ‘Faith said goodbye, and I said goodbye, and I pulled myself away from her and walked down the steps to Beverly Street. I felt my heels kicking up slightly as I walked past Grange Park and down toward Shoppers Drug Mart. She was already making me move differently. I was green and lush inside.’ So there’s like, it’s like a really, there’s like a lot of physicality to the crush or to the relationship there. And to sort of counter that, there’s this quote about Ness and Hetty: ‘I wanted Hetty to think I was beautiful. To wonder at my body and how I moved it, to touch me in the way I wanted to touch her.’ It’s much less of a, sort of more mental? It’s not so physical, her desire’s more to be desired when it comes to Hetty. Do you think that one of these is, like, less mature than the other? Or, yeah.

LMB: Yeah, well, I just thought about then… I guess for Ness she never, she never lets herself really imagine what it would be like to be with Hetty, because she just doesn’t believe it would ever happen, and doesn’t even necessarily want it fully to happen. So it’s like she’s kind of, it’s that feeling when you just know that it’s, it’s not full and open and big and full of possibility. So she’s kind of crouched over like this, rather with Faith she’s starting to feel free and yeah, I guess the body does that when you feel more excited and possibility, you loosen up. And yeah, so, I don’t know if that answers the question, it just came to me then.

EC: No, I think it does, I think it does because it’s, yeah, it’s a tricky thing to write, I suppose, those physical reactions you have to having new people in your life.

LMB: Mmm, yeah. I think for me I just often feel like a little skip in your step when you’re…

EC: Totally, yeah. She does have a skip in her step. Yeah. So moving on to setting and place. Why did you choose Toronto to be the setting of the book?

LMB: Well, I lived there for a couple of years a few years ago, and I just loved it there. And I got to know it really well, because I worked in a job where I had to know the whole Greater Toronto area just for services, and then I just walked around a lot and didn’t have a job for like the first five months.

EC: Oh wow.

LMB: So I was just walking around a lot, worrying a lot. And I, yeah, and I left Toronto a bit prematurely because my partner and I broke up and he was Canadian, so I would have stayed a lot longer, like I didn’t really want to leave, and I think… not consciously, I just wanted to write about it because I just wanted to go back there. Yeah.

EC: So sort of like a homesickness.

LMB: Yeah, really big homesickness. Yeah. And when I was like, I would picture streets, like when you’re saying Beverly Street, like I know where that is, and sometimes I’d know the street but I wouldn’t know the street name, so I spent a lot of time looking at the map and… yeah, I really miss it.

EC: Well, the descriptions in the book are so vivid. They’re really like, you feel like you’re really there.

LMB: Yeah.

EC: Like, even the section I got you to read, I tried to choose one that was like, I don’t know, put you very much in that place, with the flowers.

LMB: Yeah. Yeah, beautiful parks there. Now I’m just plugging Toronto. (LAUGHS).

EC: Everyone visit Toronto! There’s a really lovely, magical moment in the book – so Faith, Ness’s girlfriend, is obsessed with going to this particular Korean supermarket because she’s heard somewhere that Margaret Atwood shops there, and then one day they go to the supermarket and Margaret Atwood is actually buying groceries. Why did you put Margaret in?

LMB: Oh, I was always looking out for Margaret.

EC: Oh were you? (LAUGHS).

LMB: So I knew she shopped she lived in – well, she lives in The Annex in Toronto, and that’s right near Koreatown and there were a few times I went into a Korean supermarket because I heard she buys a lot of chilli sauce there, and kimchi. I don’t know where I heard this but… Yeah, so I love a lot of Margaret Atwood’s books. Some of them I don’t like at all, but some of them have just been really important books in my life, and I just find her such an interesting person. She’s like a little pixie.

EC: Yeah, she’s an amazing person, and she’s this kind of author who’s like, you know, is she in her 80s now? And she’s still so up-to-date with her ideas.

LMB: She’s so incredible, yeah. I saw, like, a video of her the other day on Twitter on like a little one of those motorised scooters…

EC: Yeah, I saw that too, on the scooter and she was riding around. It was very cute!

LMB: Yeah! She’s just very funny. So that’s why, I think, I just wanted to put her in there.

EC: To imagine that you had seen her in there…

LMB: Yep, yep. EC:.. One of those times. That’s fair enough. Each chapter in the book is named for a body of water or something related to water. Why did you sort of structure it this way?

LMB: Again, I don’t really know! (LAUGHS) I just love water, and I think Hetty loves water, in the book she’s obsessed with water – I mean, it’s the way, it’s her demise in the end.

EC: Yeah.

LMB: So… also because when I was in Toronto I… I’ve spoken about this before but I just could not believe that Lake Ontario was not the the ocean. Like it’s just, because you can’t see the other side, it’s just so big, and I just couldn’t fathom it. Like, I didn’t understand a Great Lake, like, how can it be that big, and it has an island on it and there’s beaches, and it just didn’t make sense to me. So I just wanted to, yeah – and then I was like, wow, there’s so many beautiful names of things to do with water. And yeah.

EC: Well, they’re all very lovely words, and…

LMB: They are nice words, yeah. Yep. And had quite poetic definitions a lot of the time so, yeah.

EC: Absolutely. Towards the end there are some really nice images and quotes that you have around sort of loss and grief, this is after Hetty’s death, and I thought there was one that brought everything together quite neatly. So it’s Ness talking about Hetty after she’s gone back to Melbourne after he’s died. ‘when I knew I loved her and I didn’t let it out, when I realised we might not want the same things anymore, but I didn’t want to talk to her about it, I was trying to stop the flow. But the flow, the current, was unavoidable.’ So for me, this quote sort of blends those watery images that we have throughout the book with those of Ness and Hetty’s ill-fated relationship, and towards the end ill-fated faded friendship because they do sort of fall out at the end, and implies how Ness might move on after Hetty’s death, which is a hugely defining moment for her. Did everything sort of slot into place around this quite easily, or did you have to work hard for this metaphor?

LMB: It did, yeah.

EC: That’s really nice.

LMB: Funnily enough, because also there’s… a bridge in Toronto in the east side that has a quote written above it, that’s ‘This river I step in is not the river I stand in’, which is like a really old philosophical quote, I think it’s Heraclitus, ‘all is flux’ is another way of saying it.

EC: Yeah.

LMB: And it sort of just came to me that… that that’s what had happened in the book. I don’t know, it’s, I can’t really describe how that came together, but it just did. Yeah, just serendipitous, I guess. Yeah.

EC: I think there’s kind of, there’s almost two kinds of authors – there’s the serendipity authors and then there’s like the Post-it notes on everything authors.

LMB: Yeah, I’m not the Post-it notes person! (LAUGHS). At all.

EC: I don’t think everybody could be. And you’re probably both jealous of each other.

LMB: Yeah, no I would love to be, yeah, no, yep.

EC: So sort of more shop talk now. What was the book’s journey to publication?

LMB: Yes, so I was very lucky because when I was writing, when I started writing the book, I just wrote on my website that I was writing a novel, like, I don’t know why, and then Text contacted me to say ‘we’d love to read what you’ve written, because we’ve read short stories of yours,’ and that was a publicist who no longer is there, Nadja, who, Nadja Poljo who told David and then David wanted to read it. And so then I worked quite hard on it for a while after that, and sort of submitted a bit of it and then submitted the whole first draft a while later. Yeah.

EC: And can you hold the book up so you can show us the beautiful, beautiful, beautiful cover, which everyone has been very taken by – can you tell us about that as well?

LMB: Yeah, that was a really long process. So, So Imogen from Text, she’s not here, but she’s the… she’s the head designer, or..? Yeah, and she designed this, so she started off thinking about wanting to do like a piece of art, and have just kind of…

EC: Because there’s an art connection in the book as well, like they, she goes to the galleries and Faith is very interested in art, have I remembered that right?

LMB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and Ness is, in her own way, and I actually also said to Imogen, I’d love, like, a piece of art on the front and a white background, and then she thought that was a good idea too, and then she had a piece of art that she’d found that was really beautiful, and then, that was a French artist who just said ‘no, I don’t want you to use it,’ and then the same thing happened with a Spanish piece of art, she said no – and we were, this took a long time. And it was hard because I – and then there was another cover I didn’t even see because they were just like, ‘we don’t want to keep disappointing you’, and this took months. And then it got really, really close to, like, needing a cover – like even my Books + Publishing review didn’t have a cover in it. And Imogen just found this artist who’s from Melbourne, Emma Currie, and got her to actually draw something, paint something just for the book, which is so special. So turned out really well, but it was very hard.

EC: It’s just such a gorgeous cover, I think it was worth it, for sure.

LMB: Yeah, it was, I was really, I really was worried, because I just… I was like, ‘she can’t possibly come up with any more beautiful covers!’ and then it was just the perfect one, yeah.

EC: Custom-made as well.

LMB: Yeah.

EC: Um, how have you felt so – I know it’s very fresh, but how have you felt so far about the book’s reception by readers and reviewers? Because they’re sort of, they’d be trickling in now wouldn’t they, the reviews.

LMB: Yeah, yep. Well your review was lovely.

EC: Oh, thank you!

LMB: It’s been really good, really positive. I’ve read something on Goodreads today, someone said ‘I didn’t connect at all with the characters, but I still thought it was good.’ I was like, oh, okay! (LAUGHS). Well, that’s good.

EC: Well, there’s a lot you can take from this book that’s not character-driven as well. Like I was saying, the descriptions are so vivid and lovely and you could, you really could read it for that.

LMB: But you could, yeah, you couldn’t if you found them annoying, the characters though, because, ugh, a bit over the top. Yeah. Yeah, so it’s been really, really good, I can’t believe it. Yeah.

EC: And who were some authors who you were influenced by while you were writing? Maybe Margaret Atwood?

LMB: Yeah, maybe… yeah, well she writes really well about female friendships I think, and relationships, one of her books The Robber Bride, I don’t know if you’ve heard of that?

EC: No.

LMB: It’s amazing. It’s really dark, the relationships are dark in that. But… I’m terrible with these questions! Yeah, I just wrote something for Kill Your Darlings, the Shelf Reflection thing, but I can’t remember what I wrote in it now! Um, I just read all sorts of things and I guess my favourite author is Margaret Drabble, who’s like an older English author, and her books are often – well they’re almost all, I think they’re always women protagonists, and lots of female friendships. And her style I just love, and I think I was just reading a lot of her books while I was writing. And also poetry, I find really just, if I’m feeling a bit like I don’t feel like writing, reading a bit of poetry I love just makes me want to write again. Like, yeah.

EC: And what sort of books, we’ve asked questions for, sorry, I’ve asked questions for those who haven’t read the book yet, but for those who have read the book, what kind of books do you think you’d recommend for someone who really loved Cherry Beach?

LMB: Well, people are saying Sally Rooney, but I actually don’t at all think – like I actually love her books so much, but I can’t, I can’t understand the comparison, like it just doesn’t…

EC: I thought Sally Rooney when I read this.

LMB: Yeah?

EC: Not, not in every way, but there’s like a, there’s an edge to it.

LMB: Yeah, I just feel like I’m, my, it’s so earnest! Like if she read this she’d be like, ‘oh this is so bad’. But yeah, I guess like Sally Rooney, um, and then like Jennifer Down’s novel, not her short stories, that’s quite different, but. And I guess like Anne Tyler, even Carol Shields who’s like a Canadian author I think, who writes women and… yeah, kind of a bit more old-fashioned stuff I guess, but yeah.

EC: But that’s nice, I feel like, you know, you’ve just got to write the book that you want to write, not what you think is going to be good at that particular time.

LMB: Yeah.

EC: Because trends change.

LMB: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. Yep.

EC: So this… no, sorry, I’m going to ask one more question about the structure of the book. So sort of towards the close of the novel we jump back into a summer just around the time Hetty and Ness are finishing school. And then after that we go back forward to when the book’s actually sort of being written from, if that makes sense. And that’s after they’ve spent time, Hetty and Ness lived in Canada, obviously. Even though I devoured this book in about two sittings, the, these jumps in time made me feel like I’d been reading it for a really long time, and it was this nice shimmery memory. Was the structure something that you had from the start or was it a later thing that you were playing around with?

LMB: Well, the structure of going back in time was there from the first draft, but I didn’t have that end, that last back in time section, and David suggested that. So I just wrote it, because he thought that would be a good idea. He didn’t really suggest when, I don’t think, but I thought maybe just at the end of high school, because I hadn’t written about that time. And I grew up in Warrandyte so I spent all my time at the Yarra, and it was just very easy to write that. But then I submitted that, what I’d written to him, and he was like, ‘this isn’t quite right’. So that, that bit took a little bit of time. Yeah, the ending, I wasn’t quite clear on how to end it, after Hetty had passed away, yeah.

EC: The other thing that it sort of made me feel was that that time in Canada then becomes a tangent out of, like, what you might call real life, I guess, for Ness particularly. Would you agree with this?

LMB: Say that again – so she…

EC: So I sort of felt like Canada then becomes a tangent out of Ness’s life. So like, she is in Melbourne, she goes away, and it’s kind of this weird chapter that she closes off and then she comes back. Would you sort of agree with my reading of that?

LMB: I think so, yeah. Yep. I imagine her to just have a nice happy life from then on. Hopefully?

EC: Well, that’s the kind of vibe that you get towards the end. She’s in a grown-up relationship, and it seems a lot healthier even than the one that she had with Faith.

LMB: Yeah. Exactly. Yep. Yeah.

EC: And this is my last question I’m going to ask before all you people are going to ask questions, so have them ready. What impact do you hope your book will have on its readers?

LMB: Hmm, I haven’t… Well it’s nice to know people are reading it quickly, and that they can’t put it down, because I love when I have a book like that, so that’s good…

EC: I’m not the only one as well, I think Alan had the same experience.

LMB: Yeah, I’ve heard that a lot. Just I guess for young women, I just hope that they might read it and think oh, there’s all different types of ways to be, and people, like, types of love, and… that’s probably all, I guess, yeah. Yep.

EC: I think that’s a really nice vision for a book, definitely.

LMB: Thank you.

EC: Now, does anybody have a question? Meaghan’s going to take the microphone around I believe? Oh, here’s one here.

Audience Member 1: Hi, that was great, thank you so much.

LMB: Thanks.

AM1: I was just wondering how the idea for Cherry Beach started. Was it a, what came to you first – was it the relationship, or the character of the protagonist, or the setting, like, what was your starting point?

LMB: Well, I actually wanted to write a book set in Toronto, but when I first wanted to write it, I actually thought it’s going to be completely different, and I wanted to write a book where… Like, there was this feeling I had when I lived there that it almost wasn’t real, like I was on the set of a movie or something – particularly because in Toronto they film a lot of movies there. So, most American movies are filmed in Toronto, it’s really bizarre. They have those basement houses and I just was like, I’ve grown up seeing these places on movies, and I just felt, I wanted to write about like that weird feeling of it being fake but then somehow it actually being fake. So it’s going to be like a magic realist novel, completely different. Yeah, and then I just started writing and it just didn’t turn out like that at all. So yeah, and then I just wanted to write about a girl who was in love with her best friend. I just started, I don’t know why, I just wanted to write about that. So that’s how it started. Yeah.

Meaghan Dew: I have one for the moment. So there’s a brief period where both girls visit a camp of a certain unnamed young adult writer who also runs a school. So I was just curious, did you go on the John Marsden writing camp?

LMB: Yeah, no, not on the writing camp, but I, my ex-partner, my Canadian ex-partner had to do WWOOFing, or he had to do work for his visa, two-year visa when he lived here, and John Marsden’s school, I think he has two now, but it was, he only had one then, and it was, you could do it there. He did work, I didn’t do any work, I just lay around, but we were there for a couple weeks, I think, yeah, so…

Alan Vaarwerk: I’m just curious to know about your experience going from someone who has primarily written and edited short fiction, to then working on, or writing and working on, and then having edited a novel-length work and novel-length manuscript, how that sort of shift was for you, or whether you were doing different things at the same time?

LMB: Yeah, I didn’t really write anything else when I was writing it for the most part. I think I worked a little bit on a few short stories, but I liked, like, because you just have, it’s like, it’s like a slog but you’re in it, and you’re in it for a long time and you don’t get that with a short story. It’s, just… you don’t, you don’t get to know the characters as well, and you just don’t get to immerse yourself in it day after day. So I just really enjoyed that even though it was hard, and a lot of the time I didn’t really feel like writing it, but I just kept riding tiny bits most days for quite a long time. And then I enjoyed the editing process, but I had to learn a lot about how to be patient, because I’m not a patient person. And I would have just put it out like a year ago, ‘oh, it’s fine, just put it out’. But David’s like, no, and you have to just, yeah he said it’s not a sprint, like, it’s a marathon, which was hard but it’s been really good to see that I can do that, and that I’m actually much more pleased with the final result, so.

Alice Cottrell: I just wanted to ask you about writing sex scenes, (LAUGHS), because I thought the sex in the book was incredibly well done. It’s like somewhere that writers can fall down a lot I think, in writing kind of cringey or embarrassing sex scenes. I was just wondering sort of how you approach writing them, if there was any sex writing by other writers that you are inspired by, or sort of why you wanted to include sex in that way I guess.

LMB: Um… Yeah, I… I just kind of, was a bit sort of like, sense… I was just like remember experiences you’ve had and like just remember how it felt, and what it would be like with these two people, with their kinds of bodies and minds, and then I just kind of wrote it. And I really enjoyed writing those bits actually, yeah. And wanted to have it be like quite sexy, but also a bit awkward – just a bit, because Ness is just so shy and, like, learning to be seen as a sexual object – well not an object, but a sexual being, and I was reading quite a lot of poetry and I think like Adrienne Rich, like probably not any way, she writes a lot of queer sex poems – like it’s not, you wouldn’t necessarily know it’s about sex, but yeah, I think I was reading a bit of that and yeah, so… That’s it.

Audience Member 2: I’m just wondering how you went – because you loved Toronto so much and you miss it so much, did you find it really hard like constantly re-immersing yourself? Because there’s experiences where I’ve lived overseas or I’m like, I’d love to write about that but I just know it would hurt a lot, and I want to know how you dealt with that.

LMB: I think if I was writing about my own experience it would have been really hard. Like, I don’t really want to write much about that, because they’re just, yeah, I can’t go there, don’t know if I’ll ever be able to. It’s weird. I don’t, didn’t really, no. I kind of really did feel like I was inhabiting it again, but like not me, but like, kind of remembering it, and in an, in not in a sort of too personal way I guess. Yeah. It’s a good question. Yeah, I’ll be interested to hear what someone thinks who’s actually from Toronto, because no one has read it yet who’s from Toronto that I know of, so it’ll be interesting.

AV: Just bouncing off that last question, do you think that if you were to go back to Toronto now, having written the book, do you think you would look at the city differently, or, or look at your book differently, if you were to sort of take it back there with you?

LMB: Yeah. Well, I’d like to go to all the places that are in it, because they’re all real – like Ronnie’s is a real bar that I spent a lot of time at, and like, Cold Tea where they have their first date, that’s a real bar, and I’d just like to go and see everything again, but I’m sure it would have changed, it’s probably changed a lot. I used to, I had a writing group that I started in Toronto, and we met at a cafe basically every weekend fo, like, a year. It was really special – but that cafe’s gone now, which is really sad. Yeah, so I really want to go back there, but I think it will be really intense, and particularly now because of the book. Yeah. I’m not sure how it’ll be, yeah.

EC: Good questions everyone. I have one more maybe dreaded question for you – what are you working on now? What’s book two? (LAUGHS).

LMB: Well, I’m working on a new novel, but it’s like I’m really 8,000-ish words in, but I know what I want it to be about, so it’s different a bit this time. I’m very clear on what, what hopefully it will be. Yeah.

EC: You’re not becoming a Post-It note person?

LMB: No, not a Post-It note, no… yeah, I’m just not, I’m not very organised but kind of, I do have, I’ve tried to do a bit of a chapter outline, so that’s a new thing.

EC: We just go with the flow. This is a very flowy book, and I think that’s why it’s so easy to kind of lose yourself to it, it’s super flowy.

LMB: Oh that’s good, yeah.

EC: I loved it.

LMB: Oh, thank you.

EC: And if you haven’t read it, you will also love it. You can buy copies over here, Text are selling them, and then there’s also copies of the wonderful KYD short story anthology on the same table. Thank you so much Laura, it was so nice to talk to you, and thank you everyone for coming and asking great questions as well.

LMB: Thank you, thanks Ellen. (APPLAUSE).

MD: That was Lauren McPhee-Browne, discussing her first novel Cherry Beach, with Ellen Cregan at Bargoonga Nganjin, North Fitzroy Library. Thanks to Yarra Libraries, Text Publishing and Laura for joining us for this Kill Your Darlings First Book Club event. If you enjoy writing fiction as well as reading it, you have until 2 March to submit your story for Kill Your DarlingsNew Australian Fiction 2020. Visit our website for more information. Apart from that, we’ll be back shortly with more commentary, criticism and enthusiasm. See you next time! Our theme song is ‘Something Elated’ by Broke For Free.