Please welcome today’s guest poster: Natalie Kelda!
Natalie is a Scandinavian native but has called a variety of countries ‘home’ for the past five years. Although she has been creating stories since before she could read or write, she only recently decided to pursue the life-long dream of becoming a part-time author. When not working on her fantasy and historical fiction novels, Natalie studies wildlife biology in hopes of filling that other half of the part-time occupation with science, nature and animals.
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How the Outback led the way back
“Sometimes I wish I could write down the beauty of my surroundings. Like now, where I’m sitting outside, on the back porch – feeling the rough concrete under my bare feet – on a bench with a loose board which pops out of its place whenever I get up…”
Those were the very first words I wrote after a 4-year writer’s block had seen me struggle to write anything but a simple text message or journal entry. I’ll admit they aren’t words that will make peace – or make anybody cry from their beauty – but they were words that healed something inside me.
To understand the importance of the moment when my creativity finally returned, let’s go back to early 2012. I was halfway through my 1st year on an archaeology undergrad. and had found it too stressful to both get straight A’s (yes, I’m that sort of perfectionist) and write novels simultaneously. Although I never planned to become an archaeologist – but we all need a university degree, right? – I had decided education came first and 20 pages into my 5th Danish language novel I decided to shelve it. That novel had been my everything. The story was all planned out, I’d done all the preliminary research and even picked a real location near my “second home” in southern Sweden. But still, I gave it up.
The intention had been to resume working on it during the university summer break. Obviously, that never happened. About a year after I first put Ravens Game on hold I realised I had run head-first into a depression. I wasn’t a whole person when I couldn’t write. That’s when I found out about the working holiday visas in Australia. My favourite book growing up was The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell so I’m sure you can guess what quick decisions were made when I discovered I was eligible for a visa.
By August 2013 I’d quit archaeology, left my native Denmark and settled into the first job I had been offered on a cattle station in Queensland, Australia. Now, if you’ve never been on a farm – or even if you have, but never on an Australian station in the Outback – here’s a hint: it get’s rather hot in the summer. I did see brumbys (no silver ones though) as well as kangaroos, hundreds of bird species and of course we had freshies aka. freshwater crocodiles in the lake in the backyard.
I’ve always been fascinated with wildlife and nature was where I gathered my thoughts, collected ideas and felt the urge to create. And Australia? Well, its nature proved to be more foreign than anything I could’ve imagined. Naturally, that meant I had to spend all my spare time scouring the habitats around my work because heat or no, I wanted to know everything that lived there. These endeavours – from my failed attempts at catching a baby croc to tracking the feral pigs that stole my orphaned calves’ food – were the first step back towards regaining my creative skills. That first Christmas away from home, I hand drew and painted twelve Christmas cards for my family and friends. It was more creative output than I’d had for nearly two years.
I didn’t have the urge to write – or rather I didn’t feel like I could write anything worthwhile, so it would be a waste of time – during my first year in Australia. Nor did it appear while I volunteered in a wildlife sanctuary in British Columbia, Canada after my Australian adventure had finished. I did slowly begin to take notes again. On my 2-week trip down the west coast of USA I had fun writing little details of strange landscapes and eccentric people, but nothing substantial came of it.
Nearly two years after I left Denmark for Australia and beyond, I found myself back home in what was supposed to be permanent settlement and continuation of my studies. I was miserable. I still couldn’t write, the one thing I’d always said was second only to breathing, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. On a whim I’d applied for a study in the UK, I had always dreamt of becoming a Wildlife Biologist, but I knew I wasn’t ready to resume studying. Before I received any replies from the universities, I applied for a 2nd working holiday visa for Australia. I’d told everyone I’d come back and see the west coast and drive across the Nullarbor Plain, and by gods I was going to do that!
By some otherworldly luck, I got the 2nd year visa and also an unconditional offer from Manchester Metropolitan University for a deferred entry on their undergraduate course in Wildlife Biology. No more than seven weeks after I’d returned ‘permanently’ to Denmark, I was on the plane to Perth, Australia. I had next to no money (don’t tell the border control) and had a proper panic attack for all of three days until I was offered a job sowing grain in a big old tractor just east of Perth. It was during this job I had the first inkling of wanting to write again and here I must come clean: those words at the top?
They’re weren’t the first the first I wrote after my hiatus began. I tried to set up a travel blog while working the sowing job. In case you’re wondering, yes, it’s very difficult to run a blog when there’s no phone signal, spotty/no internet and your external hard drive crashed and took all your travel pictures with it. Needless to say, I gave up soon but I’m pretty sure even my mum was glad she didn’t have to keep reading those blog posts.
So, when did I start writing?
After eighteen months in Australia I’d seen it all (not really, because Australia is big!) I’d driven across the Nullarbor, slept in a tent for more than two months and seen all the major animals – apart from the elusive platypus – in the wild. That’s when it happened. One day, when I’d finished a hot day on my New South Wales farm job, I was sitting on the back porch. The sun was about to set and I was listening to the magpie larks shrieking and watching the pink and grey galahs playing in the gum trees (eucalyptus is too long a word for the lazy Aussies so they’re just called gum trees) and I suddenly had the itch. I had to write. I didn’t know what, just something. That’s how ‘A Note From the Back Porch’ – the piece which opens with the first lines of this blog post – came to be written.
The very next evening – while the kookaburras laughed the sun to sleep in their characteristic cacophony – I opened the document called Ravens Game and resumed writing the novel. I don’t want to brag, but I somehow finished the first draft of that novel in just over two months. My writer’s block had vanished and although I’m studying again, I’ve refused to put my studies before my writing this time. Instead, I spend equal amounts of time on science and creative arts these days. If I ever struggle to write, I put on some Australian music and go for a walk somewhere in nature and reminisce the days when I worked in the Outback.
I’ll leave you all with the final line of ‘A Note From the Back Porch’: “The beauty of the Australian Outback will always be with me. It’s like a lovely dream you wish you wouldn’t wake up from, but when you do, you can’t forget.”
Thanks for joining us today, Natalie! Stay tuned for more posts on the Great Outdoors later this month.