The Snow Laundry by Mette Jakobsen
Mette Jakobsen is an excellent writer of literary fiction (The Wingmaker is a standout and I am keen to read her earlier novels) and now has branched into YA with The Snow Laundry, the first in her Tower series (published HarperCollins Australia).
Mette begins her guest author post at PaperbarkWords with a quote from The Snow Laundry:
‘He’s chatting with the other guards as if he’s one of them. He’s even wearing the same dark uniform. His sleeves are rolled up, his hair slicked back.
I keep my eyes on him as we file into the laundry hall: a grey sea of girls in itchy work-coats, moving sleepily to our workstations. Washing machines, hand basins, steam-presses, dryers, folding benches.
Everything is grey here, but outside the large windows the world is white with snow.
He laughs at something one of them says. And I remember why Bon and I used to call him Teeth. He’s got a perfect smile, perfect teeth. He throws his head back and laughs again and for a moment he’s illuminated by the light from the windows; for a moment he looks like some kind of hero.
But he’s not a hero. And he should have been dead.’
The Snow Laundry, my recently published YA novel, centres around seventeen-year-old Ally. She is one of 400 homeless young people who have been promised new and better lives in exchange for their votes. But instead of receiving freedom, Ally and her friends are forced to work for the new administration. When Ally’s boyfriend Bon vanishes into thin air, her search for him leads her to discovering that the homeless kids are really lab rats intended for scientific testing. And as Ally delves deeper into her search for Bon, she learns the frightening truth behind his disappearance.
I was musing over my creative process as I wrote The Snow Laundry. The fast-paced, action-packed YA story is unalike my previous novels in almost every way, but the writing process remained the same.
I don’t outline when I write. I don’t plan ahead.
But oh, how I envy those who do.
I often spend time gazing at writers’ posts on Instagram.
Images of post-it-notes on walls – red, yellow, blue – and charts outlining story structures with the precision of a Michelin-star pastry recipe.
But my writing process is different.
I get impressions.
I see/hear/feel story-moments in my imagination.
They come unexpectedly. They come when I stare absentmindedly at the patterns on my bathroom titles, or catch the sun flicker across the bronze-coloured cutlery I bought with my last money. The impressions come, hazy and shimmering, like the brief moment between night and dawn when things regain their colour, but only just.
That’s how The Snow Laundry began.
I ‘saw’ a large group of young girls enter a large concrete laundry. They were wearing grey uniforms. Outside the tall windows, it was snowing.
And I felt the moment. I felt the space. I felt it in my body. And I felt that these girls weren’t loved, never had been.
So, I walked through the door of that impression, and I started to write. Or, I should say, dictate. I always dictate my first draft.
I use a software program called Dragon that transcribes my recordings to text.
In the beginning, I found dictating difficult. I was so used to typing; to having a direct link between my thoughts and my fingers on the keyboard.
But I got used to the change. I even got used to speaking the grammar commands. I became so familiar with dictating that I had to remind myself to drop the punctuation when I was speaking with friends. A few times I almost added a ‘full stop’ at the end of my sentences, especially during the stages when I was deep in the writing process.
I dictate in my apartment or when walking in the streets after dark. I choose quiet streets, where no one can hear me mutter scary storylines into my recording device.
I experience the story as I go. Every step is a surprise. And when dictating The Snow Laundry, I was right there beside my protagonist Ally, with bated breath, heartbeat racing, as she desperately searched for her missing boyfriend.
At the time I was writing the book, I was sharing a flat with a friend. Her cat, a feisty Russian Blue, had a habit of pushing my door open with a violent headbutt. This happened while I was in the middle of dictating one of the scariest scenes in the novel, and now I know what the expression ‘jumping out of your skin’ means.
But besides the risk of injury and a severely elevated heartrate, there are great surprises and pleasures to be found in creating this way; it’s an adventuring of epic proportions.
Despite these pleasures, it’s taken me years to own that this is the way I create. In a world that values logic, telling someone that you enter a story through an impression and that everything from that moment on is unknown, is like explaining that you’re planning to climb Everest in your underwear. It just doesn’t sound right. And the part of me that longs to be accepted and liked continues to desire the charts and post-it-notes, convinced that I would fit in much better if I was able to explain my creative journey in more rational terms.
I have tried to do things differently, several times.
But I always return to this way of writing. It’s the only way I know.
And so, I venture, again and again, through the door of an impression. With an open heart, experiencing the world and the characters as they sweep me along, into their stories, into their worlds.
Adventuring and planting flags as I go.
I was here, and then here. I saw this and I reported back.
A gift. A moment. My offering.
Originally from Denmark, Mette Jakobsen now resides in Sydney. She is an adventurer, author and playwright. Mette has a PhD in Creative Writing and has graduated from NIDA’s Playwright Studio. Her novels have been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize, topped the Indie Book List, and mentioned on Oprah’s Booklist. Mette has taught creative writing at universities and several of her plays have been broadcast on ABC Radio National. The Tower Series is her first YA title.