About the author:
Trevor Shearston is the author of Something in the Blood, Sticks That Kill, White Lies, Concertinas, A Straight Young Back, Tinder, and Dead Birds. His novel Game, about the bushranger Ben Hall, was short-listed for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Christina Stead Prize for Fiction 2014, long-listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2014, and short-listed for the Colin Roderick Award 2013. He lives in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains.
Hare’s Fur is an exquisite story of grief, kindness, art, and the transformation that can grow from the seeds of trust. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?
Russell Bass is a professional potter, living and working on the edge of Katoomba, in a house and workshop overlooking the upper Megalong Valley. The valley itself is a source of the materials he uses in his glazes, and once a month he hikes down into the valley to collect rock, which he crushes and mixes with ash to make glaze, into which he dips his pots for firing. After she retired, his wife would accompany him. But when the novel opens she has been dead for eleven months. He is still dealing with the grief, and has very much retreated into himself.
The small creekbed where he collects rock is hard to access, and he has never seen another bootprint there. But one autumn morning he finds a lolly wrapper on the path, then, further on, two young children playing in a pool. Curiosity leads him to ask himself what they’re doing in such a remote place. The attempt to answer that question becomes the basis for the novel’s storyline.
Your novel features detailed descriptions of The Blue Mountains, namely Katoomba. How did the beauty of the mountains inspire and inform your writing in Hare’s Fur?
The question of how landscape influences your writing is a deeply interesting one. Most of my novels have begun with place. And what better place than the place you live in? It’s all around you, and, if you have been there long enough, it’s in you.
There is a word in French, ‘terroir’, meaning ‘earth’ or ‘soil’, which, when applied to wine and food, means that both are sourced from the locality in which they are consumed.
The same concept finds expression in pottery. My potter, Russell, digs clay from an abandoned orchard dam a few miles from Katoomba. He collects rock for his glazes in the valley below his house. The wood he burns to fire his pots comes from trees felled locally by tree loppers. Putting all these elements together not only reflects the landscape in which he lives but incorporates the landscape itself in the very body of the pots he makes.
Russell is fictional. But real potters up here in the Blue Mountains are doing the same, reflecting the landscape in their pots. One makes sculptural work inspired by the cliffs surrounding Blackheath and uses on them a glaze called shino which fires to the ochre colour of warm sandstone. Another friend, now dead, made beautiful white pots to reflect snow. He also made pots with a crazed black glaze which resembles the bark of gum trees after bush fire. Another potter, a woman, has produced a wonderful set of slim cylindrical vases with a black glaze that draws on the sight of rows of scorched tree trunks.
In my writing I’m trying to do something similar to these potters. The characters in Hare’s Fur hike down through the rainforest gullies that I have hiked down, they walk along the same creekbeds, sit beside the same pools. I watch and they watch the rosellas feeding on blossom, the cliffs catch fire at sunset. We breathe the same crisp air.
In your novel, the protagonist is a potter. Why did you choose to give him this vocation?
Why choose a potter for my central character? There’s a history, obviously. My first partner was a potter, and I lived with her on the NSW south coast for over a decade. In that time I wrote three books. But I also learned to do every job there is in a pottery except for actually throwing pots. I met many other potters, I handled many lovely pots. And it’s that love of pots which gave birth to Hare’s Fur. You stay with an idea when it’s about something you love, and to which you can bring a depth of learning and experience, in my case some forty years’ worth.
When I moved to the Blue Mountains in the mid-nineties – no longer with a potter – I found that there were potters here too. I offered my services as a kiln-firer, and my long acquaintance with pots and firings continued. And that led to my thinking that it was time I used all this accumulated knowledge to write a novel which had as its central character a potter.