Finding Refuge - A tale of Inspiration
Annabelle McInnes is the author of True Refuge and the Refuge Trilogy. This is the tale of where she derives her inspiration.
It is hard to articulate poverty and desperation without sounding morose. There is a constant cramp in your stomach, a twisting snake that feeds on hunger, anxiety and fear. It reached minus two degrees celsius that first winter I was by myself. I was cold, I was hungry, and I was often very afraid. After three months in limbo without a dollar to my name and not much more than my school uniform to wear, I was offered basic assistance from the government so I could continue my education without having to leave school. The first cheque I received I bought a coat. It was made of wool and viscose and it required all of the money not tied up on essentials to purchase. It reached my knees and had three black buttons down the front. It was grey, and it was warm. I often wore it to bed, not for heat it offered, but for the comfort it brought me, the safety it provided. I could wrap myself in that wool and hide under bedcovers that smelt of stale cigarette smoke and cheap washing powder.
It was there, under those blankets that I dreamed. Entire worlds would rise and fall, dependent upon my will. I would lie with my back to the wall, my headphones on, a tape-player reciting audio books borrowed from the library. I ignored and chaos, the anarchy and the terrors that surrounded me at night while I lived in a youth refuge that housed both boys and girls from 12 to 18. It is not hard to imagine the events that go on there, in the middle of the night, when youth workers are tired, and children have learned to become very adept in evading adults.
From the age of sixteen I lived in that refuge in Canberra. For those first three months, most of my meals came from school, where they offered me sandwiches from the canteen. I would hoard them and, as they grew stale, I would simply remove the mould from the crusts. Why waste the entire meal when only small sections were tainted? I still fight this need today. I’ve read that Youth homelessness effects 11 out of 1000 children in Australia. But I suspect there are many more. You likely won’t see those invisible children on the streets. They’re in hostel, youth refuges, or living in the spare rooms of friends whose parents are brave enough to shelter fugitives from the storms of life.
For two years I lived amongst the poor, the drug addicted, the traumatised and the mentally ill. I navigated a world completely foreign to most, a world that I hope you will never see. A world of destitution, desperation and despair. Where laughter comes with a sardonic edge, and no favour is ever given without consequence.
There is both abundant hope and wretched futility in those places. Girls as young as fourteen, pregnant, destitute, kept me up all night with their coughing and their stories of a better life for their babies. They dreamt of houses, of safety, of simple things like education and shoes. They knew nothing except their own tiny, singular world. There was a fruit bowl in the communal kitchen, laden with exotic offerings. It would often rot without being eaten, not for lack of hunger, but because most didn’t even know that such things were edible.
True Refuge and the Refuge Trilogy draws from these experiences. I work with my memories of boys yet to be moulded into men of muscle and power. Young souls desperate for love and guidance, yearning for a hand to hold, but often too bitter and hurt to reach out. The worlds I create are cruel and cold and barren. A reflection of my memories of that time, but I also write stories of love, of beauty, of people that overcome adversity, that push past their hurt and pain to become champions, heroes for humanity. I write about the wonderful things that men and women can accomplish because I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it, I’ve endured and prevailed.
My experiences colour my writing, they influence both the darkness and the light. I strive to write characters that are more. About men and women who overcome societal constructs, their own histories and demand more from their worlds, more from the people that surround them, more from their leaders and their government. I have learnt that heroes do not ride down from castles on horses that glimmer in moonlight to save maidens with long hair. They come from within. Only a hero born from within yourself can pull you from the mire of poverty. Only heroes that are created by our own bravery, resolve and grit, merged to our hearts, and become intrinsic to our natures can truly guide us to freedom. They drive us, motivate us, and inspire us. They demand that we keep going, get up and try again. Until one day, you are the hero, you are the champion. You are the one shaking your principal’s hand to receive your Year Twelve Certificate, you are walking down the aisle to marry the love of your life, you are holding your beautiful baby boy in your arms. You eat bread without mould and you write stories about love and triumphing over adversity, about men who defy society and women who challenge those men without fear. That is the beauty of this one, wild and precious life. Take it, embrace the hero inside yourself and demand more from everything around you. Then love it, and maybe, when you can, write about it too.
This article first appeared on Escape Publishing's blog.