Guest blogger: Lisa Walker
The quest for emotional connection or intimacy is the very heart of romance. Or so it seems to me. For two people to trust, understand and gain acceptance from each other takes a leap of faith. This is the main theme I explore in my second novel, Sex, Lies and Bonsai.
With this story, I started with the idea that I wanted to write about a young woman who felt like an outsider in her own town. My writing desk has a view of the sea. From here, at any time of day, I can see surfers skimming across the waves. What would it be like, I thought to, to live in this town and be scared of the water? To have skin that burns in the sun? To have a rich and imaginative inner life but be so shy that no-one ever gets to know that part of you?
The outsider character is a common one in fiction. They see things that are unremarkable to others. And we can relate to them—because don’t we all feel like outsiders sometimes?
Darling Head, where the novel is set, is a serious surf town—one where ‘The wetsuit is the look on the street and the clothes shops stock only surf wear’. It is, in fact, very like my own home town.
Into this town I threw Edie—a shy redhead whose father is the former Australian Surf Champion, a girl who hasn’t been in the water since she was twelve. Edie’s father is the total insider, the town celebrity, but Edie has spent her whole life feeling like she doesn’t belong. While she ‘escaped’ to the city for a few years, a failed relationship finds her washed up back in her childhood home.
Darling Head has its own lingo and while Edie can ‘surf chat for Australia’ she fears exposure as an impostor—a non-surfer. This sense of being a fraud carries over into other parts of her life. When she is dumped by her ‘perfect’ boyfriend, she is not surprised—she always knew that he would find her out one day.
In search of a way to pay her bills, Edie takes up erotic writing. And of course, there is something much worse than being the water shy daughter of a surf champion, and that is being outed as an erotic writer in a small coastal town. In Darling Head, no one is anonymous.
Edie’s sense of herself as an outsider is reinforced by the people around her. Her best friend Sally changes her hairstyle as often as she changes her lovers, but neither hairstyles nor love have ever come easily to Edie. Which brings me to Jay…
Someone as quirky and individual as Edie could only fall in love with a man as original as herself. Jay is a musician and initially seems cool and confident, but Edie senses that he has hidden depths. And hidden depths are her favourite, favourite things.
The relationship between Edie and Jay grows slowly and is rife with miscommunication. Rather than an instant and smouldering passion, I wanted it to feel real. Both of them are cautious and scared of being hurt — they feel their way tentatively towards each other. In this extract Edie ponders what it is that draws her to Jay:
It is pleasant looking at the sea and hearing Jay play. I’d like to go down and listen to him more closely, but we haven’t spoken since the awkward bedroom incident and I have no idea how to overcome the social chasm which has opened up between us. He draws me like light to a moth but I don’t know how to talk to him.
When I think about it, we have had several moments that felt intimate. There was the corridor-floor, the surf-club verandah, the waking up in bed together and probably the getting into bed together part, which I don’t remember. One would expect these moments to add up to something. But yet they don’t. Every time I see him, we have to start again. He is still a stranger. But then most people feel like that to me.
This intimacy thing is so elusive, so divinely inviting, but it seems to recede as I approach. I wonder what it means to really know someone? I think it means you can let them see all of you—even the embarrassing bits you’ve never shown anyone else. And when they’ve seen all those scary, messy and just wrong parts they still accept you, even like you.
Because Edie is so shy and over-thinks everything so much, when she eventually plucks up the courage to make a move, it is fraught with anxiety…
Jay and I are sitting closer than house-mates but further than lovers. Our leaning towers are now angled towards each other. He puts his beer down on the floor and our shoulders brush, as if by accident. We catch each other’s eyes, pause and look away. And I sense we have been leading to this moment for a long time, possibly a lifetime.
‘What happened to you last night, Edie?’
I like the way he says my name, as if it is something to be cherished.
He rests his head on the back of the couch, inclined towards me.
I do the same. We are two heads on pillows with not much distance between us. It is like being in bed. I can tell by the languorous look in his eyes he is thinking this too. ‘I came. But then I saw you. With Tanya.’
Jay and I glance towards Gary and Tanya. They seem to have forgotten we are here. Gary’s hand has disappeared up her skirt and there isn’t a lot of space up there.
Jay rolls his eyes. ‘Let’s go outside.’
We sit on the couch outside. Now, we are much, much, closer than house-mates, but still not as close as lovers. I feel like we are oppositely charged magnets, held apart by sheer force of will. If I stretched out my hand I could touch … I look away at the sea then back down at his hand. It is resting at his side. I don’t think I have ever found a hand quite so fascinating. Jay’s hand is pale, but not as pale as mine. His nails are cut short, except for his thumbnail, which is longer. I imagine this has a guitar playing function. I think it would be quite easy to slip my hand inside his. I think it would fit quite well.
‘What are you thinking about?’ says Jay.
Our eyes meet and a pulse passes through me, pulling at my stomach. ‘Nothing much.’ I don’t look away. ‘How about you?’
‘Same.’ Jay half-smiles.
Silence falls. The tension is almost unbearable. No, it is unbearable. My hand reaches out, touches his. I am astonished at my daring, but it is easier to touch him than not touch him.
He takes my hand, winds his fingers through mine, rubs my palm with his thumb, runs his hand up my wrist. A warm, languid feeling spreads through me. I could purr. Jay is very good at holding hands. I think he has done this before.
‘So,’ he says.
While Sex, Lies and Bonsai is a comedy, it is a tender one. It is about Edie finding that special someone who makes her feel like it’s okay to be the crazy mixed up person that she is. Because that’s what the quest for intimacy means.
Leave a comment for chance to win one of two signed copies of Lisa’s first novel, Liar Bird. The giveaway will close on 29 September 2013. (The giveaway is now closed. The winners were Rosalie and Aimee.)