Saturday, January 15, 2011
When Home is left... then returned to. An Interview with Author Kylie Ladd
Australian author Kylie Ladd published her first novel, After The Fall, two years ago. Focussed on the impact of an affair for two couples, her novel explores much of what ‘home’ means in the context of a marriage and how ‘homeless’ these characters feel once they are all, in their own way, betrayed.
When I approached Kylie to discuss her thoughts about home and relationships, she and her family had only just returned to Melbourne after being away for a year. For now, thoughts about home are closely tied to her personal experience of travel and very soon our conversation moved completely away from her fiction.
With her second novel out in June, we will have another opportunity to return to the world of make believe. For now, Kylie is firmly grounded in reality...
Having lived in her home, located in the inner north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, for the last 17 years, both Kylie and her husband Craig loved the house as soon as they saw it; ‘It’s an Edwardian/Federation mix, with lots of lovely Edwardian detail (eighteen foot ceilings, fretwork, leadlight) but also the odd quirky Federation touch, such as the art deco ceiling roses. I loved it at first sight.’
‘My then-boyfriend Craig and I had only been house hunting for six days when I saw it. Though it was out of our prescribed area and a whopping $40,000 over our price range - an enormous sum in 1994 - he agreed to look at it, did so without me, made a lower offer to the agent half in jest, and an hour later we owned it.’
I remember us lying in bed that night, unable to sleep – he hadn’t checked the stumps and I had no idea how I was going to cope with a laundry situated in the old stables at the rear (the trough was the one the horses used to drink from). But to our great relief the house was in fact sound, and has been a big part of our life together... Craig proposed to me on the day we moved in.’
Today it is also home to their two children, a son aged 11 and a daughter aged eight. Apart from a five year stint overseas when their children were babies, the family have happily lived in and loved this house. Until last year. With a desire to see more of Australia with his children before it got too difficult to pull them out of school, Craig suggested a move to Broome for a year.
As Kylie explains, ‘We’d been to Broome on holidays in 2006 as a couple and loved it, plus I knew he was restless... nonetheless it was a bit of a surprise in November 2009 when Craig emailed me from work to ask me if wanted to go live there for a stint, then two days later, after my tentative yes, sent me the link to the house he’d just bought in the town.’
Having already experienced leaving their home and Melbourne once before, Kylie wasn’t concerned about the move, ‘We love our home city, but we both knew that nothing much would change in our absence. I’m sure that earlier, longer stint made it easy to pack up and go. Lots of people couldn’t believe that we decided and left so relatively quickly, but the timing was right with work and school, and it just seemed a great opportunity for a little adventure.’
Their home in Broome was completely different to the one they had left behind. ‘It was an apartment/townhouse at a small resort in old Broome, near the famous Cable House (now the town’s courthouse). 'There were a lot of advantages to buying in a resort: our 2.5 bedroom apartment came fully furnished and well maintained (lucky, really, given we didn’t lay eyes on it until the day we moved in), and with access to a beautiful pool and gorgeous tropical gardens.’
At first it didn’t feel like home, but a long holiday. ‘It was so HOT for a start and we ate all our meals out of doors, under the fan on the balcony.’
‘The kids shared a room, which they’d never done, and took a while to adjust to this rather than just regarding it as a slumber party every night; Craig and I kept banging into each other in the kitchen (tiny compared to our one at home, which is built around a central Aga - an influence of our Edinburgh days) until we agreed he should just do all the cooking.’
For Kylie, once she started writing again, Broome finally felt like home, ‘I remember sitting down at my desk the first morning the kids had started at Broome Primary, hearing the birds and the geckos and the wind in the palm trees, feeling the sweat already on the back of my neck at 8am and wondering if I would ever be able to write in such a bright, busy environment. But I could, and once I knew that, Broome wasn’t just a holiday – it was where I lived.’
It was still hard being away from their Melbourne home, which Kylie describes as ‘a fifth member of the family’ but ironically, the novel she was working on meant she was never that far away, ‘I missed my books; we have a floor to ceiling wall of bookshelves in the study, and I never tire of feeling these watching over me as I write. In a strange way though, I still felt very connected to Melbourne as the novel I was working on is set there, around my home, and thus the area was always in my mind’s eye.’
When it came time to say goodbye, leaving was difficult for the whole family, ‘We always knew we’d return, and we do love Melbourne, but it was hard to leave the fabulous lifestyle and a year that had seen us enjoying lots of travel and the beach most days after school, which finishes at 2:10pm up there. My son in particular absolutely hated leaving all the wildlife and his pet geckos, my daughter hated leaving the surf club, where she’d had a great time at Nippers, and my husband just hated the idea of leaving and going back to work full stop.’
It wasn’t so much leaving the house behind but the relationships they had discovered and created during this year away, ‘We made some great friends in Broome, and we’d also become much closer as a family, having to rely on each other far more initially, and spending lots more time together. All that was as hard to leave behind as the place itself.’
Arriving home on an overcast summer’s evening was felt with mixed emotions, ‘The house had had someone else living in it, and while nothing was wrong it simply didn’t smell right to me; didn‘t smell like us. I couldn’t find anything in the kitchen, and the garden – after months of drought-breaking rain – was almost unrecognisable.’
‘I think my daughter summed it up best of all; after an hour, Cameron came to me in tears. “I’m glad to be home, but it all feels strange,” she wailed. “I can’t tell if I’m happy or sad.” I knew exactly how she felt: happy, sad and disoriented.’
The best aspects of returning to their long term home include ‘seeing friends and family, seeing Melbourne, being back in our beautiful house... being reunited with our toys, books, pictures and clothes is still a novelty- I’d completely forgotten I owned six pairs of boots. I only wore thongs in Broome.’
But, as Kylie says, ‘The hardest is harder to quantify – an ongoing sense of loss and dislocation, I guess. Craig and I have been through this before, and we know it passes, but while it lasts it’s a form of mourning. I wake up and am surprised to see roses through the window, not frangipani: I reach for the paper towel and suddenly realise no, that’s where it would be in my other kitchen. Every little jolt is a reminder that you have moved, that your head and your heart haven’t quite yet aligned.’
The experience of moving from one home and returning to it after a period of time away has changed what ‘home’ means to Kylie; ‘Years ago my sister was an exchange student to the USA. During her time there, the organisation who had arranged her stay put on a month-long tour of the country for all their current students. While they were away, she later told me, they devised nomenclature to refer to where they were staying: “home” was the hotel, motel or inn they were at that evening; “homehome” was where their host family was located, and “homehomehome” was where they had come from originally.’
‘I still think about that idea. Melbourne is homehomehome to me, but Broome and Edinburgh (where my son was born) are homehome; places in my heart, places that have been home and hearth to me for a significant time too, in terms of both months and experiences.’
‘Home is my family, of course. No matter how magnificent, nothing would be home without them. But home, I’ve found, is also my writing, that place inside my head where I am most myself, that I just can’t live without. And home, physically, is now mostly Melbourne, but we’ve kept our house in Broome and I know we’ll return there.’
‘Home is splintered for me at the moment, but that’s OK. It hurts a bit, but I’m much richer because of it.’
For more information about Kylie and her books, visit her website here or on Twitter here.
All photos © Kylie Ladd