I started writing Raw Blue when I was in the middle of writing Saltwater Vampires. I was stuck and decided I was going to take a two month time-out and explore something else. Like a holiday. Except it turned out to be a serious holiday. That was in May 2006.
More than anything else, Raw Blue is a love story. The main character, Carly, falls in love with someone who helps her heal. This wasn’t planned. I started the book in a completely different place. I wanted to explore anger. Anger is a natural consequence of any situation where your vulnerability has been abused – and I mean that in the widest sense, whether it’s sexual, emotional or physical abuse, the fallout from a divorce, bullying … Anything which isn’t fair and has left you wounded. Quite often people who’ve been through any of the above are painted as grieving, or shocked, or in denial – all genuine emotional responses – but rarely are they allowed to be pissed off.
At the time I started writing there had been a series of high profile sexual assault cases in the media and it seemed like all people were interested in was trawling through the details. There was little dialogue about the impact something like that might have on a person’s life, and very little empathy and compassion for those involved. The big problem I faced though was that if I wanted to write about something like that, how could I do it without doing the same, without focusing on the shocking aspects of the act itself?
The answer was to move the story forward two years; show the ongoing effects on Carly, how her life had been impacted, her relationships, and the way she now viewed the world; show the aftermath not the event.
Carly’s not a victim. She’s quiet, funny, determined and wary. She’s moved away from her family and quit uni to live on Sydney’s northern beaches. She loves to surf. She’s holding down a job. And she’s angry about what happened to her. But like most of us, she isn’t going to get the big Hollywood showdown.
I think a lot of people, male or female, can relate to that. You can be angry about things that have happened to you and there’s not necessarily a remedy; you’ve just got to live with it. I think being brave, being courageous, is often a very quiet thing. It’s when you make a decision to keep living in the light, to keep pushing forward, and refuse to let yourself, your life, become only that. As Ryan, one of the characters in the book says, everyone’s got something, it’s what you do with it that counts.
Carly hasn’t felt able to share what happened with her family. I wanted to look at this, too. What do you do if you haven’t got the support you need from the people who are supposed to help you? I guess I have a hopeful view of the world, but I believe you’ll get it from other sources if you’re brave enough to be open. Carly surprises herself by making two new friends: Hannah, her persistently friendly neighbour; and Danny, a fifteen-year-old who surfs at her break. Danny’s unlike anyone Carly has ever met before. He has synaesthesia, and his variation of the condition means that people give him a strong sense of colour. He’s also so open and honest that somehow Carly isn’t able to just dismiss him like she’s been able to do with other people.
And then there’s Ryan. Ryan is older than Carly, and has his own history. He wants to get to know her, and he’s prepared to stick around through some of the hard stuff to do it – if she’ll let him.
The other thing that came out in the story is how important it is in life to do the things you love, the things that make you feel alive. In Carly’s case it’s surfing. Surfing helps her deal with the anger she feels. It’s a time-out, a physical release, a way of spending her anger before it spends her. At the time, I was doing a lot of surfing at a place that has always fascinated me: in terms of the natural environment, the people, its history, reputation, and, of course, the break. That leaked into the story. I also found out afterwards that I was pregnant with my first child, and I like to think that some of that energy is in the story, too.
The process of writing Raw Blue was completely different to the way I’d written before. I did what I thought of as freefalling: writing one to two thousand words a day on anything I felt like, letting the characters evolve. I didn’t try to solve the story in any way. After a couple of weeks, I got bored with this, and decided to pull those pieces together in a narrative. Sort of like quilting. I didn’t care about making my sentences sharp, all I really wanted was for them to be true. So if I described something, I wanted to describe the way it really was, not the way I thought it should be, or had been told it should be.
I let the story rest for a while and came back to it from time to time to work on it more. Each draft was about cutting things away rather than adding. In the beginning I tried to push the story in a direction it didn’t want to go, but every time I worked on it, I had the distinct sense that I was listening, and ultimately I learned to trust that. It was never about me, it was always about Carly. I felt like I was holding my breath, hoping it would turn out all right for her, hoping she would be able to save herself.