Contemporary women’s fiction
“Seeking asylum from the wreckage of her life, Yvette Grimm arrives in Australia on a holiday visa. She applies for permanent residency with no hope of success. Resisting advice that she marry to stay in the country, Yvette invests her hopes in a palm-reader’s prophecy that she would meet the father of her children before she’s thirty. She’s twenty-nine.
Set in the excoriating heat of an endless Perth summer, Nine Months of Summer is a gripping tale of one woman’s struggle to stay in Australia. Dark, absurd and hilarious by turns.”
“Nine Months of Summer is a rewarding read, rather like a meal when you savour every mouthful instead of gulping it down” – Ann Creber, book critic
What others are saying about Nine Months of Summer:
“Blackthorn made me want something, as a reader, that a book has never made me want before…” Ness Mercieca (first appeared in The Tertangala, Oct 15)
”Nine Months of Summer has all my favourite elements: politics, social justice, and strong women characters. Impeccably written in clear, succinct, yet sophisticated prose, Nine Months of Summer is a thoroughly enjoyable read.” Jasmina Brankovich, writer (Perth)
”I am totally hooked and need more. I love it that you give us an English perspective to a subject matter that is so often associated with non-English speaking peoples.” Jasmin Ately (Canberra)
“I couldn’t put it down! You’re a very good writer, not that I’m an expert but I judge by whether a book grips me or I can take it or leave it. Yours gripped tight!” Margo Shaw (Scotland)
“Nine Months of Summer by Isobel Blackthorn was a pleasure to read. Within pages of starting the book I was drawn into the story of Yvette and her relationships with the permanent women and transient men in her life. Capturing the inconsistencies in policy and disgust many feel about current politics around who is welcomed to Australia, the story travels across Australia. I have never been to Perth or Fremantle but I felt myself transported.” – Katherine Webber QLD
Why I wrote Nine Months of Summer
Nine Months of Summer, started life in 2012 and is semi-autobiographical in that the protagonist, Yvette Grimm is a British-born visa overstayer seeking refuge in Australia and so was I. Although that is where the similarities end.
Migration stories are often painful and fraught, and Yvette’s is typical of what migrants go through when they try to sidestep the rules. Yvette’s story is juxtaposed with the conditions asylum seekers arriving by boat face in offshore camps. The story is ironic, Yvette’s suffering of her own making and really rather trivial in the wider scheme of things.
At the time of writing I was involved in helping asylum seekers, especially those who had made it to Australia on bridging visas. It was a gnawing sense of injustice that caused me to keep working on Asylum, motivated by a wish to make a contribution in raising awareness of the issue. Although it is not a book about asylum seekers. It is a story of belonging and alienation, a coming of age story.
It is my sincerest wish that the story both entertains and contributes to the larger dialogue on the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia.
Nine Months of Summer – a taste
Dents in the loop-pile carpet marked the legs of once-present furniture. The walls, bare, rendered an insipid peach. There was a faint smell of acrylic paint. Shutting herself in, she closed the bedroom door behind her, the slap-back echoes jeering, a clamour of recriminating voices.
She would never be enamoured with shoulds.
It was a shrine in here. A room for storing the past. A box of a room, smaller then with all the clutter. When Yvette was last here, a teak-veneer wardrobe and a white melamine chest of drawers took up one wall. A single bed occupied the full length of the other. Hanging above the bed was a whimsical print of a young girl in a shabby brown dress, standing in a cobbled street beneath an industrial-grey sky, walled in to either side by flat-faced Victorian terraced houses receding to a point behind her. That print hung in all of her childhood bedrooms. The chest of drawers was crowded with artefacts. The gaudy vase she bought for her mother’s birthday one year. The pink jewellery box with the plastic ballerina that still twirled shakily to Fur Elise when she opened the lid. A contended Snoopy lying atop his money-box kennel. The generous-faced alarm clock her mother gave her when she was ten and she wound so tightly it never ticked again and has stayed stuck between eight and nine ever since. Yvette had been too ashamed to tell her.
A blade of sunlight slicing through the window’s beige fabric bars reflected in the mirror on the opposite wall and stung her eyes. She hefted herself out of bed and swished the blind aside.
The window faced northeast, protected from the intense sun of summer by the foliage of a silver birch. Yvette was in no doubt her mother had lined up the angles to make sure. The crisp light of early morning shone through the branches, now wintry bare, making a filigree pattern on the frost-burnt grass. Two parrots, bright and keen, preened on one of the lower limbs. The birch was set in a neat garden of clipped lawn and rose beds. Dotted here and there were grevilleas and bottle brushes, all neat and trim. Her mother had a fondness for reds, stately reds, traditional and rich. There ought to be topiary. Box hedges and cascades of wisteria. And white picket fences. Instead the garden was hemmed by barbed wire strung between red-gum posts, electrified to keep out the cattle. Beyond, there was a backdrop of undulating paddocks peppered with majestic red gums. The entire valley embraced by an armchair of forested mountains. Bucolic paradise, worthy of the brushstrokes of Alfred Sisley.
The air was calm. Dew glistened on a spider web hanging under the veranda. A kookaburra’s cackling crescendo burst into the silence.
Forcing herself into the day, she pulled a baggy red jumper over her head and slipped on the size-eight jeans she used to wear as a teenager. She could scarcely believe her mother had kept her old clothes. But she was grateful. She owned nothing but the handful of sarongs and summer dresses she’d squashed into her cobalt-blue travelling bag when she left Malta, rugged and dry, for the moist and fecund Bali. The same cobalt-blue travelling bag she used to move her things into Carlos’ house. Her beloved Carlos. She couldn’t bear to look at the bag. She’d shoved it behind some shoe boxes in the bottom of the wardrobe the moment she arrived.
Where was he now? Still in Bali? Heading back to Malta? – No doubt coveting the backside of every stewardess on the flight.
She sat down on the edge of the bed without feeling the grip of her jeans against her belly. Weren’t these the pair she used to zip up with the hook of a coat hanger? She was thin, a waif, sure to wander hither and yon, pulling her heart behind her like a clobbered plastic duck on squeaky wooden wheels.
Hearing a clatter of plates, she closed the door on her discontents and headed to the kitchen.
Her mother’s presence permeated the whole of this open-plan Hardiplank kit-home. She was in the three-piece suite, the hearth rug and the pine dining table, so highly polished the reflection of the morning sun dazzled as Yvette walked by. She was in every framed print hanging on the walls, in every ornament and knick-knack, from the Spode plates, Wedgewood saucers and porcelain figurines right down to the glass rolling pin she kept in a kitchen drawer. Even the door mat had her footprint on it. In this house Yvette could only be her daughter, the prodigal returned after a ten year absence.
Her mother, Leah, was bending down to reach into the cupboard under the sink. Her buttocks bulged like buns in the seat of the dull-blue track pants she wore around the house. Hearing Yvette enter the kitchen, she turned and raised herself up to her full height, much shorter than Yvette recalled, and smiled before her gaze slid away. Leah had aged. Short curly hair, ten years earlier a mop of nutty brown, now thin and white. The freckles on her face had joined together, giving her fair skin a sandy patina. Her hazel eyes were still vigilant, yet softer, more resigned. There was a slight downturn to the mouth. Her face had lines, wrinkles and creases where once there were none. Yvette found it hard to accustom herself to the changes. And there was a sluggishness in the way her mother moved. Yvette remembered her energy, always darting about, not exactly agile, but deft. She felt remote. And was saddened by it. Too many years living intensely while her mother grew vegetables. Yvette was a stranger to her but she didn’t seem to know it.
Yvette grabbed a cereal bowl from the cupboard beside the cooker and opened the pantry door.
Yvette turned to see her mother pouring boiling water into a second cup. ‘We’ll fill out the immigration forms after breakfast,’ Leah said, heading out through the back door carrying an ice-cream container filled with vegetable scraps. Her mother was the most practical woman Yvette had ever known. She’d sent off for the permanent residency forms the moment Yvette told her she was coming.
She had to get out of Bali. She was too distressed to stay. So distressed that the travel agent in Kuta, a small and wizened man with a permanent and insanely broad grin, had driven her all over Denpasar on his scooter to help secure the holiday visa and the one-way ticket to Sydney.
Yvette went to the dining table with her breakfast, sitting with her back to the sun. She flicked through the form. She wanted to gain residency through the deadlocked back door. She thought she might be eligible under the family reunion category. She read through the instructions and found she wasn’t. Her father was still in England. She hadn’t seen him for years and had no intention of ever doing so, but he was a blood parent.
Her mother came back inside and joined her. Yvette passed her the form and watched her leaf through the pages, scrutinising the instructions, lips tightening. ‘Perhaps there’s a loophole,’ she murmured.
A loophole that benefits a refugee? In the Department of Immigration’s draconian rule system? Impossible. Besides, she could hardly claim that were she to return to Malta her life would be in danger. That when Carlos reached across that restaurant table in Bali and pulled her hair, his fit of frustration constituted an act of persecution or torture. Yvette was seeking refuge from the wreckage of her life.