With Where the Line Breaks out in a few days, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at some of real life inspirations behind the novel, and some of the early drafts and poems I wrote that never made it into the book.
Where the Line Breaks tells the story of The Unknown Digger, a hugely popular but anonymous soldier poet of the First World War; Australia’s very own Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon. One of the main characters, Matt Denton, believes he’s uncovered the truth behind the Unknown Digger’s identity and moves to London to write his thesis and prove it. Matt is convinced that Alan Lewis VC, the famous hero, is the Unknown Digger. While Matt’s thesis unfolds in one narrative, we also follow Alan Lewis himself through the war, to discover the truth about history’s assumptions and the reality of life at war.
I started writing Where the Line Breaks in 2015, and completed the first draft of the novel as part of my Masters degree at City, University of London. As part of that course, I wrote a number of short pieces as a way to experiment with some of the stuctural and stylistic elements I would come to use in the finished novel. In one assignment I used footnotes, to add a layer of personal commentary into an academic argument, and this eventually became Matt’s thesis, with his own story taking place in the footnotes. In another, I added ‘vintage’ sketches from the time, that I had drawn myself, like the one below – this didn’t make it into the finished novel.
Another inspiration was the poetry of C. J. Dennis, the ‘laureate of the larrikin’, a well known poet of the period referred to as the Australian Robbie Burns, who wrote a number of long poems in a way that really captured the ‘beauty’ of the Australian accent. His best known works are ‘The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke‘, and ‘The Moods of Ginger Mick‘, which touch on the war in equally hilarious and touching ways.
While Dennis was famous during his own lifetime, I had never heard of him, so when I first read his poems I fell in love with the humour, the touch of schmaltz, and the way his poems tried to approximate the sound of the Australian accent. When it came time for me to start thinking about what the poems of the ‘Unknown Digger’ might look or sound like, I felt it only right that I attempt my own C. J. Dennis style poem as research and inspiration.
I wrote Digger VE/6136 as part of a university assignment, but enjoyed writing it so much I put it on my website. It doesn’t appear in my novel, and I moved slightly away from the full-on Ockerness of poems like this one when I eventually wrote in a few snippets of Unknown Digger poetry, but this was the starting point. You can read the full poem here.
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