Our good friend and very talented and prolific writer Lisa de Nikolits is working on a new book. She dropped into the Open Mic recently to tell me about it and – best of all – to share a little sneak preview. So as a special bonus to all of you, here she is talking about “The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution!”
Open Mic: I hear you have a new book on the way. Tell me a bit about it
LD: Thank you very much for your interest in The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution! It might have been handier to simply title it Anarchy or something less wordy but the titles are pretty insistent on what they want to be! And, much like all my novels, this book is a standalone.
About the book:
The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution is a serio-comedic thriller about a post-retirement couple who embark on an unintentionally life-changing around-the-world adventure.
The husband isn’t coping too well with retirement. So he steals a cat (well, he steals an expensive SUV that happens to have a cat onboard) and he flees Sydney, ending up in Apollo Bay, a few hours south-west of Melbourne.
He falls in with a group of anarchists and punk rockers in a tattoo parlour, planning revolution. They are led by an ex-Brit and ardent Sid Vicious fan.
Meanwhile, the wife sits tight in Sydney with no idea of where her husband might be or what happened. She moves into the red-light Kings Cross area, befriending the owner of the hostel, a seventy-year-old ex-cop drag queen from Saint John, New Brunswick and waits to hear from her husband.
The husband loves Apollo Bay and decides to stay there but circumstances change when he gets caught up in an international anarchy protest.
Back in Sydney, the wife learns that her husband is fine and, consumed by vicious wrath, she invokes the angry spirit of an evil nurse, a key player in the terrible Chelmsworth sleep therapy in which many patients died (historical fact).
The punk protest is integral to the plot, as is the exorcism but the main thrust of the story is multi-fold: adult child/parent relationships are explored as well as the loss of a career and how one’s ideals get buried while dealing with the practicalities of raising a family.
The novel also explores sexuality, mental health, the meaning of life, healing from old wounds, and romantic love at all ages.
And the book explores anarchy and capitalism (with quotes by Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed – permission in hand) and how capitalism is the occult bruise on the body of the earth but with love and passion, we can make a difference, at any age.
How I came to write the book:
The idea for this book came when I thought my husband fell off a ferry and plunged into black waters of the Sydney Harbour. In fact, I had missed the ferry stop but I truly thought he was gone and in that moment, a hundred horrible scenarios flashed across my mind. None of them made it into the book but the seed was sown and I reaped it with all my might!
On that same trip, we visited an abandoned asylum for the criminally insane, (which is now, ironically, home to the Sydney International Festival of Authors, among other things), and it was there that I first felt the presence of the evil Nurse Nancy.
Research into the asylum led to the discovery of the Chelmsford Sleep Therapy which tied in perfectly to the book.
Add to that the fact that I’ve always loved Sid Vicious (who doesn’t?!) and I’ve always wanted to write about him. I also studied tarot, focusing on Liz Worth’s book (with her permission), Going Beyond the Little White Book: A Contemporary Guide to Tarot.
I lived in Sydney for two years and I wanted to use the city as a backdrop for quite some time.
Open Mic: An occult theme – this worries me. It feels like you’re poking the bear. Are you worried you might be stirring up some spiritual retribution?
LD: You are so right! I am worried about the title! Will readers think the book is about evil and thus be deterred? I hope not! The title does refer to the esoteric aspects of the book but I got the idea from watching Forensic Files (my guilty pleasure!). The coroner referred to ‘an occult bruise’ on the victim’s neck and I immediately shot up in my seat! An occult bruise? What did that mean? I realized, without understanding what it mean, that I had to use this idea in a book! Then I looked it up and found this:
(of a disease or process) not accompanied by readily discernible signs or symptoms.
So that was amazing! The word ‘occult’ had all kinds of meanings and I had to use them all!
And yes, I was worried about spiritual retribution, not least of which, my own! And, (and I swear this is true!), when I was writing the final exorcism scene with the evil Nurse Nancy, a pattern of strange dots appeared on the inside of my wrist… I was filled with fear but I had to continue – the ghost had to be banished! The dots spread and the scene evolved and by the end, I had shingles!
Perhaps it was just the stress of writing the scene? Or was it Nurse Nancy not wanting to be banished forever? I hoped the shingles would leave a scar, a memento of the book but sadly, the marks faded!
Open Mic: Do you have a sneak peak we could tempt readers with?
LD: Oh yes, I’d love to share this bit.
Game day arrives. May, tenth. Sid Vicious’ birthday, long live Sid. We’re in Wollongong with half of the U-Hauls while the others, along with the porta potties and bottled water and snacks are on the other side of the city in Frenchs Forest.
3.30 a.m. We’re ready. We roll slowly towards the city, moving in the darkness. We’re jumpy, no one knows what to expect. We don’t want to fall flat on our faces, we want this go off the way we planned, the t-shirts, the silence, the toilet paper. We practiced unfurling toilet rolls off the roof of Jason’s building and some had worked better than others.
Jason had issued instructions on his website, following our sessions.
“In order to unfurl the roll neatly, you have to make sure the first sheet is free and loose. Then, with the roll on top and the sheet underneath, you throw the roll away from you. It does not have the same effect if the sheet is on top and the roll faces you, the roll must face away from you for a smooth and fluid movement. Then it goes like a streamer. You wouldn’t unfurl a streamer towards yourself, it’s the same with the toilet roll.”
We had also driven a few hours north and practiced the siren call, measuring the distance the sound carried, on both windy and still days.
We tried to think of everything. By 5 a.m. the trucks were in position and the bridge was full of cars. People moved silently about. The porta potties were in place, the vans were open for business and people were gliding about, finding a place to settle.
Jason had two other signs made, PEACEFUL PROTEST IN PROGRESS UNTIL 7.30 AM. and We will not move until 7.30a.m. Silent protest in action and these were fixed at both ends of the bridge.
He had a stack of printouts with this message along with an explanation of what we were doing and exactly when the protest would end. As soon as traffic enforcement got word that cars were stopped on the bridge, they arrive en masse. Jason and a bunch of volunteers hand out the explanation leaflets but the officers were confused and upset and they shout at us to leave, and they flicking on blue and red flashing lights and each end of the bridge lights up like a carnival and the sounds of the officers’ anger carries across the bridge like an echo.
This in turn attracts a crowd down at the Rocks and over on the Kirribilli side and before long, the slopes on the north side are filled to the maximum with spectators. Sean tells me afterwards that there were more people watching than those who came out for the New Year’s Eve bridge fireworks.
Mark opened the gates to the bridge climb and people scamper up the arch. It looks fairly easy and I wondered if I could have tried it but my place is next to Jason.
The police are next to arrive and they add to the noise and mayhem. Dogs are barking at full volume. The ABC News helicopter arrives, accompanied by three other helicopters and I am glad Jason insisted we all remain silent and contained or things would have been overwhelming.
Regardless of all the preparations and safety measures, I am unsure I will be able to see this thing through the end. I’m having a panic attack. My heart pounds and I can’t breathe and I am dizzy. The world warps and my vision comes and goes like some kind of melting mirage, and I am going to let Jason down. I am one of his right-hand men and I am going to fail him. Sweat pours down my scalp and my back and my belly is drenched, my underpants are soaked. I close my eyes, and I am about to humiliate myself by falling down and lying on the ground, weeping, when I felt a hand on my shoulder, a reassuring hand on my soaking wet shoulder.
I open my eyes and the frizzy-haired lady who couldn’t afford toilet paper is rubbing my shoulder and pointing from my eyes to hers, I am to look at her, just look at her and then she mimes breathing, moving her hand from her belly to her mouth, slowly moving. She pulls something out of her pocket – ear plugs! I jam them into my ears and the world immediately slows down and the picture rightens itself and the camera lens of my mind find its focus. She stands with me for a bit longer and she hands me a bottle of water and I glug half of it in one go. And then, I am back to being me.
I mime thank you, thank you, with a Buddhist bow, hands in prayer, she really did save me, and she nods and grins, showing me those yellow brick teeth and then she disappears into the crowd.
Ear plugs. I finish the water and put the bottle in my backpack. I have been saved by ear plugs and the frizzy hair lady about whom I had only harboured ungracious thoughts.
I look at my watch. It’s 6.25. I am late. I push my way to the centre of the bridge, reminding myself I can’t run and I arrive seconds before our scheduled start and Jason gives me a filthy look, like where have I been and he has no idea how relieved I am that I made it after all.
At 6.36, Jason sounds the siren and the big banner unfurls.
It does not catch and it does not fumble, it rolls out perfectly. I know, because I watched it later on television. It was perfect. And the sign can be read from miles away – STOP SHITTING ON OUR WORLD with an anarchy sign on each end.
We let that message soak in for a while. I look around. There must be at least eight thousand people and we have swarmed the bridge like angry ants, people have climbed to places I hadn’t even imagined they could.
Sirens are flash and helicopters whir and duck and I looked at the crowds below and on the shoreline. The opera house pavilion is packed, wall to wall, The Rocks, Central Quay, Kirribilli – as far as the eye can see, people have gathered in their thousands to watch the protest, our protest. Boats and yachts fill the harbour and the ferries stop running because they can’t squeeze through the unruly waterway. I can’t help but smile at how annoyed the Australian authorities must be, at this incredible disruption.
Open Mic: You’ve been doing your YouTube series “Writer for a Year.” How is it going and how can readers find it?
LD: Thank you for asking! It’s being a weird experience in that my views spike inexplicably and then fall off horribly! It’s very hard not to be crushed when you do what you think is a good post and there are so few views! Perhaps I spiked momentarily and the series won’t trend in the way I had hoped. But more than the series trending, I hoped that the posts would be helpful to other writers or aspiring writers. I try to capture moments of process or behind-the-scenes posts and I’m going to keep going with it. Readers can find the channel here and I’d love it they’d take a look and all comments are greatly appreciated!