Debut author Welton B. Marsland’s book, By The Currawong’s Call, is eagerly awaited. Described by Escape Publishing’s Kate Cuthbert as Australian history meets Brokeback Mountain, this book will make you want more by this delightful wordsmith.
Welton B. Marsland & Spartapus
Your new book, By The Currawong’s Call comes out November 20. What was the inspiration for the story?
In one sense, I wanted to write a love letter to the Australian bush – particularly the beautiful countryside of my home state, Victoria, as well as a love letter to my beloved city of Melbourne, Victoria’s capital. I also wanted to write a passionate love story about two good men – dutiful, compassionate, kind men – finding each other in a time when their love rendered them criminals. I liked the idea of describing a love that could be something of a refuge for the men involved in it, at the same time as being the very thing that threatened ruination upon them.
Although my personal favourite time period is the Edward era, I ended up setting it in late Victorian times because Melbourne and Victoria experienced a horrible Depression in the 1890s. On the back of the Gold Rush, Melbourne had been one of the most prosperous and cosmopolitan cities in the world, but when the gold flow ran slower her boom busted spectacularly. The early 1890s, then, became a time of great upheaval and reevaluation for the city and the state, which seemed a good backdrop against which Matthew and Jonah’s own personal upheavals and reevaluations could play out.
The initial hook, for me, was the image of my two main characters fighting back a bushfire and then sharing their first kiss in its aftermath. Everything else grew from there.
Give an insight into your main character. What does he do that is so special?
My two main characters Matthew, an Anglican priest, and Jonah a police sergeant, are pillars of their community. Both of them, in their own ways, are sacrificing their own happiness in some form or another in order to fulfil their duties and serve their community. When a chance at happiness present itself to them, they do the brave and remarkable thing of deciding to go for it. Given the time period they’re living in, “deciding to go for it” is no easy move – doubly so, given their personal natures, i.e. their dedication to caring for others and their habits of putting the welfare of the town before their own.
When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?
I don’t remember when I started writing. Very young though. I know that at age eight I already fancied being a poet when I grew up. The urge has never really subsided and I’ve chiselled away at it ever since. There were some other things I entertained the idea of doing too, creative arts all of them, but the fact of the matter is that I have bugger-all talent for anything else, so it seems that this is it!
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was seven, my elder sister got married and I remember a moment in the lead up to the wedding when I sulkily demanded to know why her family name was going to be different to mine afterward. My sister and my soon to be brother-in-law carefully explained to me how they were actually going to compromise and take only the first syllable of his two-syllable family name and fuse it with the last syllable of our two-syllable family name to create a whole new name. This seemed to make good sense and it appeased me just long enough for me to recall that our family name and brother-in-law’s family name both shared the exact same last syllable – meaning the “compromise” would result in a name identical to his anyhow. You might think a sulky seven-year-old would lose their shit over working this out and realising two adults had just tried to dupe them, but I remember it to this day purely because I was so impressed with how the letters worked together and how my sister and brother-in-law had so quickly and wittily tried to sell me this donkey. It was an early lesson in how words could be used for gentle humour, and how the same set of letters just had to be looked at from a different angle sometimes.
What is your favourite love story of all time, either book or movie?
My favourite love story of all time is both a book and a movie. It’s Maurice by E.M. Forster, which was adapted by the Merchant-Ivory team in 1987. I was fourteen when I first read it. I borrowed it from my high school library. According to the stamps within it, the school had procured it in 1976 and I was only the second person to have loaned it out since. I borrowed it several more times during my school years and by the time I matriculated, the stamps in the back showed I was the only person who’d been borrowing it. I still read it every few years and it’s always like spending time with an old flame. The scene in By The Currawong’s Call where Matthew and Jonah play cricket is a direct homage to Maurice and Alec in Maurice and to Forster, who is the only writer who could ever make me give a care about cricket.
I’m drawn to love stories in which the protagonists have legitimate stumbling blocks in their way. Maybe I don’t want things to be “too easy” for love (which makes me a little cruel, when I think about it). The love stories that really punch me in the gut are the ones where the lovers have to be brave for their love. For Maurice and Alec, just like for Matthew and Jonah in my story, merely kissing could land them in prison and threaten their lives – imagine that for your reality, imagine living with that threat hanging over your love and your happiness every moment of every day and night. It breaks my heart!
One of the most amazing things about Maurice, of course, is that it has a happy ending (Forster said that he wouldn’t have bothered with writing it if there couldn’t be one). A queer love story written pre-WWI with a happy ending! It’s quite the milestone in queer popular culture. For me, there’s something of a punk element to that and while that may seem like a rather weird thing to say about a great Edwardian novel, it really does press the same “Fuck authority!” buttons in my psyche as listening to The Clash or watching footage of The Damned.