Today, my friend Nicole McAlinden steps into the attic. I’ve known Nicole for a number of years through a writing group of which we are both members. I can vouch not only for her writing, but that she is, in person, a strong voice spoken quietly.
‘I will keep on writing for the love and challenge of it, because there are injustices I’m not willing to simply accept, and because writing is a strong voice spoken quietly.‘
Nicole McAlinden is a writer and environmental professional. She grew up in suburban Perth and spent her teen years ballroom dancing and summer holidays in the searing heat of the north-west. As a teenager, when Nicole learnt about the plight of endangered species she decided to study environmental science. She now works as a consultant and is a Board Member of Perth Zoo.
Nicole began writing about seven years ago. She has been mentored by Kathryn Heyman and is currently working on her third fiction manuscript. When she’s not working or writing, she is Mum to two energetic sons, running at the beach, or wandering around the zoo.
A Strong Voice Spoken Quietly
As a child, I always thought that life should be fair. Someone once explained to me that it was because I’m a Libra. Others told me I just needed to accept that life isn’t fair. I disagreed with both, but brought up in a home with a volatile father, I learnt early on to channel my convictions quietly.
At the age of thirty-one, while pregnant with my second child, I received a phone call I will never forget. I picked up the phone and looked out at the bright sky. It was another yellow spring day. My sister was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer. She said the word ‘chemo’ but I still had to ask, ‘So it’s cancer then?’ The news settled in me like a bomb and the following three years were marked by infinite suffering and determination.
After many failed treatments, we received the prognosis. Six weeks. That was all she had left in this world to watch her two children grow, laugh, cry or misbehave. Six more weeks for me to look at her thinned pale face, hear her pained voice and watch her breathe. Six more weeks until goodbye.
So, I stopped working and became her carer. In the quiet, dark coldness of my sister’s house, I watched and waited, clinging onto time, hoping to keep her with us, hoping for her suffering to end. But the weight of it was too much. I couldn’t hold it in. Day after day in the silence, the front gate of my sister’s house creaked and clanged, again and again, teased by the wind but never able to close. I hated that sound, marking time too loudly, but it was the trigger that set me writing.
‘At home, in the quiet of my study, I found my voice and spilled my emotions on to the page.’
At home, in the quiet of my study, I found my voice and spilled my emotions on to the page. My grief and anger at the injustice of it. Why her? Why at 33? Why with two young children? Maybe they were right, after all. Maybe I should simply accept that life isn’t fair.
From my despair, I wrote 80,000 words about my sister’s incredible survival, and found a love and need to write as a way of communicating all the things I couldn’t say.
Time ticked on, as did my mind. I finished my story and felt lost without words to write.
Then, one morning in the aftermath of the Lindt Café Siege and the Charlie Hebdo attacks of 2014-2015, I woke from an abstract dream about a government driven by fear, zero tolerance and control of women’s bodies. It was a future I didn’t want to see. And so I began writing another story, the injustice my fuel. Little did I know, two and a half years after commencing this manuscript, a Trump presidency would bring about renewed attacks on human rights, and women’s and reproductive rights, inching my story one step closer to reality.
I don’t know where my writing will take me, or where my words will end up, but I will keep on writing for the love and challenge of it, because there are injustices I’m not willing to simply accept, and because writing is a strong voice spoken quietly.
Nicole is a scientist and doesn’t believe in horoscopes, and her sister is still cancer free.
If you’d like to write for Writers in the Attic, consider this an invitation. The topic is anything to do with writing—your writing life, what writing means to you, or what has influenced your writing.
600-1000 words is a good length, and I acknowledge the time and effort involved in writing these pieces by sending a small gift as a thank you.
I enjoy reading every essay I receive, so don’t be frightened to take the plunge! If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact me here.