“This is an account of six months in the life of Snip Freeman, a woman who turned her back on a man who was drowning.
“…there’s a storm cloud ahead, a steel-grey shower curtain is drawn almost the length of the sky before them and they slow with the flint smell strong upon them and the plummeting chill. They come to a stop and step out of the car, gulping the smell and the sight of the dropping sky. Dave looks at Snip, she wants to kiss him, she’s wet, she can’t read him and they drive on and there are the first angry spots and then they’re into it furious and Snip yanks down the window and puts out her head like a dog, she holds her face to the sting and the hurt.”
Cleave is Nikki Gemmell’s second book. Known as Alice Springs in the United States.
“The story begins with a cheque. The envelope that carried it was bruised with grubbiness and worn thin from too many hands. The envelope took two months to find her. The amount of the cheque was substantial and the typewritten instructions were blunt: hunt him down.”
With her grandmother’s note in her hand, Snip Freeman embarks on a journey into the vast and fierce landscape of the Australian interior, to find her father and unravel the terrifying silence of her childhood. As she drives, sitting beside her in the hot, dusty truck is Dave, a man who longs to share his life with hers, but cannot find the words to pin her down.
When Snip reaches her father, Bud, it is in the communal land of the Aborigines and perhaps Snip has finally come home. But suddenly the shadow of past mistakes looms darkly over the forbidding territory and Bud must flee. With faith in the stranger, Dave, slowly dissolving, and in desperation for her father’s love, she follows. And it is here, on the journey they take together, as they face the cruel expanse of the Australian desert, that Snip must discover the most horrifying truth of all.
Inspiration for the novel
I have a relentless gypsy that pushes me from place to place, mainly in search of fuel for my fiction. My novels begin not with character or plot – but with place. Cleave began with the Central Australian desert. I lived there for several years, working as a journalist. All the time I had my fiction notebooks alongside reporting notebooks. I’ve kept journals since I was fourteen, and these are what I refer to constantly as I’m writing. They record conversation scraps, observations, story ideas, the map of my life in a way.
The Central Australian desert is under my skin and won’t let me go. I love no other place on earth as fiercely as it. Cleave (or Alice Springs, as it’s known in the US) is my hymn to the land. I also wanted to write a sexy book, a love story about a woman who’s a serial sleeper.
“A man told her once she’s the type of woman men never leave. They don’t. She leaves them. She gives them the feeling that any minute she’ll be off, so while they’re with her they’re obsessed.”
But on a road trip to Alice Springs the protaganist, Snip, is brought up abruptly – by love.
You can’t write about central Australia without writing about the Aboriginal people. Few Australian novels have looked at life within a remote Aboriginal community. I was facinated, and wanted to write about what I’d experienced after four years of living in Australia’s Northern Territory. I’d befriended many Aboriginal people during that time and had been given a skin name, Napaljarri. I wanted to write about some of the wonderful and not so wonderful experiences I’d had.
Many people have remarked on the language of Cleave. I guess I wanted to capture something of the economy with words of the region’s Aboriginal people – and the humour.
Some of my favourite expressions are “waterbeds” for the Alice Springs police, because the go up and down, up and down the local mall. “Headcrack” for hangover. “Heartcrack” for grief.
Cleave is the second novel in a trilogy about women in tough places. I wanted, in a way, to subvert the Boys Own Adventure genre. To write about the sensual, sexual, feminine experiences of traditionally masculine environments like the central Australian desert and Antarctica.
What do you think?