Walking back to 1978 in Manly’s back lanes

If you look hard enough, lockdown has its upsides. Here in Manly, my daily exercise walk takes me around quaint back streets I’d never normally go to. The glorious beachfront is too crowded for safety, even if the walkers are in singles or pairs as prescribed by the Public Health (COVID-19) Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020.

The other upside of being locked down is the extra time I have for writing. After completing my socially isolated morning schedule (news, balcony exercises, daily deep cleaning project, family and work Zoom sessions, walk) I get to spend a fair chunk of the afternoon working on my next novel.

Now, here’s a nice confluence of things: This novel (working title The Impeccables) is set in Manly in 1978, and when I walk the quiet back streets my town looks pretty much as it did in the late seventies when I first lived here.

I have a habit of ‘prewriting’ a lot of my work while I’m walking, so I stroll around the empty lanes immersed in the story, and recalling fragments of life in 1978 Manly that I can weave into the setting. These are some of the things that came back to me yesterday:

  • water beds
  • rented black and white TVs
  • improvised car aerials made from coat hangers bent into the outline of Australia
  • joss sticks
  • KB beer

Yesterday I discovered this ingenious mural* on the back wall of the Salvation Army premises in Kangaroo Lane, and I returned this afternoon to take more photographs of this forgotten corner of my town. I’ve printed the picture in monochrome in sympathy with the fact there were still plenty of black and white TVs in the late seventies. It’ll feature somewhere in the new novel.

Here’s the draft opening of The Impeccables:

Pierre Farag was woken by a thump and a clatter. He took his hand out of the sheets to touch the wall of the tiny ground-floor flat. Their rented home was in a muddle of walk-up brick apartment buildings and the backs of dry cleaners and TV rental shops, four streets away from Manly Beach. The bedroom wall was still warm. It would be this way until March, when autumn released Sydney from the ravaging summer heat. 

He padded out to the front yard. The Sun Herald – the New Year’s Day 1978 edition – lay on the doormat where it had bounced off the flyscreen. The paper van slewed around to serve the other side of Rialto Close, the driver steering with his left arm and lobbing the rolled-up papers into the front yards with his right.

Just give me a year and you’ll be able to read the whole thing!

Last thing: Thanks for all the wonderful feedback I’ve had for Bury me in Valletta. It makes the labour of writing into a pleasure.

*Update: A closer look at the mural shows that is signed by Manly artist Mark Budd and dated 09.

5 thoughts on “Walking back to 1978 in Manly’s back lanes

  1. Thank you Stuart. Here my walks have a naturalistic bent, my favourite back lanes or parts of the old city being far too populous even with the partial lockdown here in Singapore.

    As in your case I’ve found much more opportunity for writing. Just about to get back into one of the last stories ‘Jakarta Dois’. Here is a little from the very beginning of the story:

    “Directly ahead wildfire leapt up steep gullies towards the towering prominence of Foho Madanaga. Strong winds from Australia’s dry heart drove raging flames now lost in billowing white smoke. Intense combustion, and mere days after the dry season’s onset. An ominous sign for Australia’s coming bushfire season where years of woodland clearing and tragic mismanagement of inland water ways, driven by relentless global warming, had deepened continental aridity. Such fleeting preoccupations dissolved in the immediate drama, as flames raced towards Madanaga’s summit where tilted rocky layers ensured certain extinction. They presented no threat to my journey only a sombre reflection on my own country.

    Sombre was an apposite description of my mood. Weeks earlier I visited Jakarta Dois with colleagues. We went to pay respects to the many people from Ainaro killed in this place during the Indonesian occupation. “

    1. Good to hear from you, Russell, and to get a glimpse of your new work. Ah, finding a quiet spot in Singapore! I love Fort Canning (which you mentioned in a LinkedIn post). But your message reminded me of when Sara and I went to Pulau Ubin for a day trip. I don’t know what it is like these days, but then (late nineties?) it had weeds, superannuated taxis and Boy Scouts on hiking trips.

  2. Hi Stu, Great letter, mate. Interesting opening to The Impeccables but, (and here’s me with my editing hat firmly in place), look out for that growing ‘was’ count, mate. 🙂 And on that note, I’ll scurry away into my rewriting hole to dodge the brickbats.

    Cheers, Kerry

    Kerry J Donovan – Author and Editor #1 Bestselling author of the Ryan Kaine action thrillers, and the DCI Jones Casebook crime novels. http://www.kerryjdonovan.com

    >

    1. Hi Kerry, Yep, I’m having huge fun writing this one (under non-fun circumstances). The great thing about a series is that you have a bag of spare parts on hand. Better watch the was-count! Sometime I need to check my f-word count in my five books . Didn’t you and I do this a few years ago? All the best, Stu

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