Black Glass

Black Glass

by Meg Mundell


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781921640933
Publisher: Scribe Publications Pty Ltd
Publication date: 09/26/2012
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 15 Years

About the Author

Born in New Zealand and based in Melbourne, Meg Mundell has been published widely in Australian newspapers, journals and magazines. Her debut novel, Black Glass , was highly commended in the 2012 Barbara Jefferis Award and the 2012 Norma K. Hemming Award; and was shortlisted for the 2011 Aurealis Awards (in two categories) and the 2012 Chronos Awards. Meg has worked as a journalist, university lecturer, magazine editor, researcher and government advisor.

Read an Excerpt

Black Glass

By Meg Mundell

Scribe Publications Pty Ltd

Copyright © 2011 Meg Mundell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-921753-69-5




Right before bad stuff happens, there's always a little warning, you just have to pay attention. I seen them before: one black glove dropped by a river, a playing card lying face down in the street all by itself. One time I saw this black kitty cat with one of its eyes gone carrying a white bird in its mouth. That bird wasn't moving and bang that one-eyed cat looked straight at me — next thing you know there's a funeral to go to. Other things too, like old flowers left in a vase or living in a dead-end street when the street sign's broken and the street name's gone so you don't even know where you are, yeah Grace and me both knew that was a real bad idea, but did Max ever listen, nope. Stuff like that you can't let it run your life but you want to stay away from it, you want to knock on some wood or just walk away real fast and don't look back.


Tally had known something was about to go wrong. There had been clues: for one, their father Max had chosen a black dot in the far right-hand corner of the map, a dot that was the furthest north they'd ever been, barely on the map at all: Belton, it said in tiny letters. A railway line veered past it and disappeared off the page.

And the broken glass. Whenever they moved house, there were always certain boxes the girls knew not to touch: Max would mark these by scrawling workshop across them in thick black pen. But late that night, when the fat moths were tapping against the windows, and Tally and Grace were mechanically stowing cutlery and wrapping plates in newspaper, their father had walked into the kitchen carrying one of these boxes, which someone — someone other than himself — had already dumped carelessly into the trailer. He set it down on the table with calculated force, so they could all hear that something expensive lay broken inside. Since that tinkling sound, he had barely said a word.

Thirdly, there was the cop — not that cops were anything unusual, but this one just appeared out of nowhere, the way a spider or an omen does.

They'd left quietly before dawn and had been driving all day, the tarpaulin flapping out a hot, random rhythm against the trailer. Every so often, one of them would glance back to check that nothing had worked itself free and spilled across the road.

They crossed long stretches of brown emptiness broken by short flashes of bleached-out colour: a pinkish truck stop, a clump of pastel houses, a lone dog wagging its tail and grinning into the wind. The whole landscape was heat-blasted, and the air carried a thin haze of dust. Now and again they passed a line of blackened stumps, the remnants of another bushfire.

Max and Grace were barely speaking that day. Both were wearing cheap new sunglasses, purchased in silence from the same service-station stand: Grace's were elegant hexagons (Paparazzi, said the swing-tag); Max chose fly-like wraparounds that let in no light at the sides.

Their father drove steadily with a can of raspberry vodka tucked between his thighs, ferrying small sips. Grace stretched across the back seat, long red hair flickering at the open window, sometimes humming a harmony against the radio.

Leaning out the passenger window, Tally scooted her arm through the hot air. In her lap was a small silver camera. Now and then she held it up and framed a dead tree against the sky, the low shape of a barn, a woman trotting a horse in small circles.

This had been pure luck. The night before, as she was carrying home a parcel of hot chips for their dinner, the old man who lived near the takeaway shop had hung over his porch and waved urgently. 'Young lady, come here. I got something for you.' A silver shape glinted in his hand. She looked like a clever girl, he'd said. Had she ever used a camera? Hot day. He had some Pepsi in the fridge. He also had a photography book inside. Or maybe she'd like to have a loan of the camera? Just a loan.

Breath like fish bait, eyes pale and empty, he waited. Tally stayed put on the porch steps, but tucked her package under one arm and let him lower the camera into her palm. It was lighter than it looked. She lifted it to her eye, swung it over the school, the soccer oval, the gold-singed grass and steep shadows between buildings.

'Dad's hungry, these'll go cold,' she said abruptly. The camera was a perfect fit in her hand; she cupped it, did not offer it back. 'Can I have a play with this? I'll bring it back after dinner.'

'Your dad, eh,' said the old man coolly. 'And what does your dad do with himself?'

Next morning they'd abandoned their rented house and driven out into the semi-dark, car squeaking under the trailer's weight. The town was silent, the old man's porch empty. Neither Max nor Grace bothered to ask Tally where she got the camera. Once it got light enough she turned around in her seat, framed Grace staring out the window, and clicked the button: pale skin, red hair, dark glasses hiding her eyes, a profile blurred by motion and the burned ochre of dead grass stretching to the horizon.

Tally was looking at the camera screen when the third sign appeared. They had stopped at a railway crossing: clamouring bells, a train roaring through her rectangle of light, dust shining in the split-second beams between carriages.

All at once the train was gone, and there, facing them across the barrier, was a police car. The bells died out, the barrier lurched up, and the two vehicles dragged their bodies over the hump of the railway line, passing in unison like two dolphins leaping through a hoop. It was a smooth operation but it seemed to take forever.

They passed close. The cop was wearing mirrored sunglasses and his lenses flashed across them once, blankly. Reflected in their surface Tally saw a sliding image: their old car, the trailer, Max's stiff profile, the red flutter of Grace's hair and a pale shape that might have been her own face. She turned around and watched until the vehicle melted into the vanishing lines of the distance.


Me and Grace just went for a walk. Like I thought, real small place. Air all soupy and most of the shops closed down, windows on the houses jammed shut to keep the heat out. Some old lady on her porch squinting at us, skinny kid spitting globs into a rubbish bin outside the takeaway shop, that's about it for action. Grace was looking up at this plane flying past way overhead, leaving one of those white marks in the sky, and she goes great, just fucking great.

So we checked out the school and boy it looks even worse than the last one, bunch of them prefab buildings same colour as bread mould, bent-up basketball hoop and the court all cracked to bits. Yeah we stood there at the fence for a bit imagining the first day, how you walk in the classroom real tough, try to grab a seat up the back, with everyone looking at you out the side of their eyes, measuring you up. We stared that place down for a while, me and Grace. You can't let it get on top of you.

Found us a good lookout where you can see the whole town, up this overgrown bank near the rail tracks, where the highway cuts across. Railyard down below, big mess of tangled lines, you can watch the freight trains coming through. Can even see our place from up there, house looks like an old face, porch all saggy like a grumpy mouth. Grain silos, main street, petrol station, all them old houses then just dried-out fields with a few skinny cows off in the distance. Nothing to see really. Like Grace says, just another nowhere no-hope town.


The girls left the house in that sliver of time between late afternoon and evening. That afternoon Max had retreated into the back room, lugging a plastic container filled with pale blue liquid. 'Don't draw attention to yourselves,' he'd warned over his shoulder, before locking the door of the room behind him. His hair stuck out in clumps, and he was getting kind of bristly: never a good sign.

They'd been in town a week. Belton didn't seem to be paying them any attention, but Tally knew they were strangers, and strangers are always watched from afar. This time their surname was Blackwell, but so far nobody had asked.

The sun was sinking when they cut through a vacant lot and entered the dark huddle of pine trees leading down to the train tracks. They stopped, checked for silence, then crossed the tracks quickly and climbed the steep bank opposite. Tally scrambled up first; Grace, carrying the drinks, followed more carefully.

Morning-glory vines hung from above, their green loops strung with flabby purple bells, and the sparse traffic below threw splashes of sound and light up into the darkening air. All towns have hidden places where private plans are made — gaps under bridges, an overgrown roadside, the sunny fire-escape of an abandoned building. Tally had a knack for discovering these intimate places. She knew the signs: a certain alignment of colours, smells, distances; a certain view.

Up here on the bank, buried in the vines, was a small backpack containing a silver pencil and a notebook with the timetables of passing freight trains recorded in Tally's neat hand, under her sister's strict instructions: when they'd stopped, and for how long. The next page carried a scratchy trail of calculations and crossings-out, which corresponded to a thin wedge of bills in an envelope. It wasn't enough.

They had a mobile phone too: an old cheap model, prepaid and charged, ready to go. The number was committed to memory, and the phone itself lived in Tally's pocket or under her pillow, a promise of reconnection should things unravel — not that they'd really have anyone to call, besides each other. Grace hardly ever wore clothes with pockets, Tally had argued, and you couldn't leave a phone outside in the damp: the dew would wreck it. Grace suspected her sister just liked having the gadget close to hand, but she didn't disagree. Now and again they recited the number back and forth to each other, just to check it had not given them the slip.

Tally pulled out her camera and peered through the viewfinder, but it was getting too dark to see much; beyond the black trees wavered a yellow square of light, their kitchen window.

Sitting on the bank, listening to Grace mixing their drinks, Tally knew their plans were being laid, as they were re-laid every time, in every town. But this time something seemed different; she felt a little sick, but could not tell if it was hope or nerves. The gin bottle clinked, and Grace handed her a full glass.

'Drink it slowly,' she instructed, the older sister. 'Just sip.'

Tally let the bitter taste of tonic sit on her tongue before swallowing. 'You jus' sip yer darn self, ya doggone whippersnapper,' she replied, and made a gargling sound in her throat.

They sat for a long time, observing in private how night sounded when it fell in this particular location.

'Look, a satellite.' Grace pointed, one finger dark against a purpling sky.

Tally glanced up. 'They stay in space forever,' she said. 'People just leave them up there till they conk out. They just circle round and round.'

'You sure?' Grace knew her sister often exaggerated her knowledge of things technical or remote.

'Yep. Satellites never come down. Saw it online. Max left the box on when he went to see that Birdsville lady, the one with the big boobs.'

The Birdsville woman: one of many tightly dressed, quick-to-smile women, a brunette whose pupils had soon blown out to the same telltale circumference as all the rest. Things heated up, money got tight, there was shouting — then she was gone. In the interim, they'd called her Lucy and used her melon shampoo in discreet quantities. She was sweet, the girls agreed, but not too sharp. Max never went for the sharp ones.

'Aww,' Grace moaned, shaking her cigarette packet. Tobacco crumbs skittered in their cardboard trap. 'Empty.'

'No way,' said Tally. 'I'm not going back. I'm not the smoker here.' Her sister had a habit of roping her into these little errands, flattering her for being fast on her feet. 'You go get them yourself. I'll look after the drinks. See you in five.'

'Aw, Tallyho ...' Grace was pulling her funny face in the dark, doing that wistful thing. 'Pleeease?'

'But I'm comfy.' Tally wriggled deeper into the grass. 'Anyway, you'll get cancer and your teeth will go yellow.'

Grace didn't respond to health warnings, but Tally knew the part about her teeth would bother her: there were no film stars with yellow teeth. Still, tonight she seemed set on smoking.

'You're quicker than me,' Grace reasoned. 'You'll be back here before I even get halfway down the bank.'

Tally thought a moment. Her sister was persuasive, and she usually gave in, but she always tried to exact a price, however small, to remind them both that she wasn't a pushover. She hadn't tried this one for a while. She jammed her camera deep into her jeans pocket and turned to the dark, beloved shape beside her.

'Okay. I'll go get your stinky cigarettes. But here's the deal: we got to set a date.'

The sound of insects filled the night. Grace was always reluctant to put a timeframe on anything. She was good with calculations, numbers, making plans, scraping money together from here and there. She was good at dreaming up their next life. But when it came to settling on a date to leave, she always stalled; said they should wait until the envelope was fatter, the timing was right, the opportunity rolled out of its hiding place and showed itself.

But Tally was less patient. When her sister finally spoke, she almost missed what she said.

'Fine,' Grace said quietly. 'Deal.'

As Tally scampered down the bank and back to the house, her blood leaping in her chest, she fought the urge to yell something huge and wordless into the night sky.

Later, she remembered her sister's voice calling after her, just two words: 'Hurry back.'


Max always kept his cigarettes in the kitchen drawer. The back door to this new house creaked, so Tally opened it just wide enough to squeeze her body through sideways. The door to his spare room, just off the kitchen, was closed tight. Tally moved across the linoleum like a cat, barely breathing, then paused to listen: a gritty scraping, the plink of glass on glass, a sniff — her father's sounds. She reached the kitchen drawer and pulled it gently, praying it would not squeak; a string of unanswered calls to his mobile had put Max in a foul mood all day, a mood worth avoiding.

The carton of cigarettes was already cracked open; it was easy to slide out a new packet. The drawer made a tiny chirp as she pushed it shut. She padded breathless across the floor and edged outside.

Then it hit her: Tally was halfway across the lawn when the blast cracked the air and tossed her body up into the sky. A dragon screamed inside her head; the air burned up in searing flashes — white, orange, red.

Soaring high above everything, drifting slow as an astronaut, she thought with calm wonder: so, this is flying.

Then something dark sped towards her face; she felt a smash right in her very core, and a moment later her limbs slammed down too. Then a hole opened up in the world, and there was nothing.


'Hey. You still there?'


'Je-sus. Where you at right now exactly?'

'Just coming up past that, what's it, past the aqueduct.'

'Slow right down through Belton, mate, go slow. You know the abattoir, then that bridge over the creek?'

'... Yeah.'

'Just past that bloody creek, stream, whatever, to your left.'

'... Yeah?'


'Come again?'

'Bang. Whole fucken house on fire, roof blown off. Flames and smoke everywhere, two fire trucks, the whole deal.'

'Wh —?'

'Whole roof gone, flames shooting up.'

'Hang on. Coming up the hill now.'

'Go slow. Have a look. You can smell the burning.'


'... Whoa ...'

'Nasty, hey.'

'What happened there?'

'Who knows, mate. Nothing'd survive that, not with the fucken roof gone.'

'Mmmm. Looks pretty suss.'

'Everyone just standing round, staring?'

'Yeah. Ah, cop car too. Got that plastic tape up. I heard — '

[krkrk — krkkk]

'You're breaking up.'

'Said I heard some certain cooks get the recipe wrong, there's a big bang blows the whole place to smithereens.'


'That's what I heard.'

'Right, got ya. So. You sleepy at all?'

'Not a bit, mate. Not at all. Batteries fully charged.'

'And me. Bing! You going the whole way through tonight, mate, straight run?'

'Yep. Rent to pay, cream load, no point stopping. How about that. What a bloody sight.'

'Tell me 'bout it. Keep your eyes on the road, eh. Catch ya.'

'Not if I catch you first.'


When the first flash of the truck appeared in the heat-blurred distance, she knew it would stop.

It began as a silver dot but soon became something shuddering and huge. Tally steadied herself, felt the gravel shift minutely beneath her bare feet, her head still fuzzy. The drone of the engine sounded familiar, almost comforting, but she knew this was a foolish thought to have on the side of an empty road.


Excerpted from Black Glass by Meg Mundell. Copyright © 2011 Meg Mundell. Excerpted by permission of Scribe Publications Pty Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Black Glass 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Tsana on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Black Glass, debut novel by Meg Mundell, caught my eye because it was shortlisted for Aurealis Awards in both the SF and YA categories. (And being written by a woman, hence counting towards my SF Aussie Women Writers Challenge also helped.)The narrative style and presentation of the story and characters is exactly the sort I usually dislike. The scenes, as well as presenting the two most central characters in a reasonably conventional narrative, alternate scenic mood scenes (sometimes with a temporary character as a focus), often (always?) in present tense, and dialogue without any framing.I¿ve stopped reading books written like this in the past because they annoyed me. But you know what? Mundell pulls it off really well. I was captivated from the start, never bored and the ending packed an unexpected punch.The setting is Melbourne, a depressing near future. A dystopia but a plausible one, scarily close to our world now. Just a little bit more technology, regulation and surveillance than today. Unlike certain other YA dystopias I could mention like The Hunger Games, Uglies or Divergent, there is no bizarre disconnect between our world and the world of Black Glass. (Infinitely so when you compare with Divergent ¿ good book, but I found the back story mind-bogglingly implausible. You¿re unsatisfied with the world so you sort yourselves into factions resembling Hogwarts houses? REALLY?) Also, it¿s set in Australia, so it gets bonus setting points for not being doomed-US.The most science fictiony element, and my second favourite part of the world building (my favourite being that it was set in Melbourne and I enjoy visiting home vicariously), was the side story of Milk the mood engineer. He uses scents and subtle changes in lighting to evoke moods and emotions in whoever is in range of his devices. His mission is to artistically make the spaces he works with more harmonious and the people in them happier. I thought it was a fascinating concept and explored with surprising depth in the relatively short novel.The central-most characters, Tally 13 and Grace 16, are sisters who, up until the first chapter or so, have spent their lives following their deadbeat father around small Australian towns, often leaving town at a moment¿s notice. The story starts when an accident kills their father and separates the sisters. They had been planning to run away to the city (Melbourne) ¿soon¿ but now they are forced to make their way there separately.We follow the girls, the city and a few miscellaneous characters, sometimes obliquely, as they make ends meet, get by and wonder where their lives are going. By the time I was reading the climax, I was sceptical of a satisfactory ending but by golly, I was not disappointed. On the other hand, without spoilers, I can understand other people not feeling the same way.I¿m not sure I¿d call Black Glass YA. The other characters are mostly adults and a lot of the concepts explored are things you don¿t necessarily want kids to have to worry about. Of course, the reality is that many kids today do worry about similar things to Tally and Grace. I wouldn¿t stop a twelve year old from reading it, but I would also encourage them to wait a few years. I could see it as the sort of book that might be studied in year 11 or 12, though.In any case, it¿s an excellent piece of writing. I highly recommend Back Glass to not only science fiction fans but everyone. Even if you think you don¿t like science fiction, science fictional element in Black Glass is so minor you¿ll barely notice.4.5 / 5 stars
bruceandceals on LibraryThing 7 months ago
In "Black Glass", a near future Melbourne is subtly differentiated from present day Melbourne. A sense of paranoia and the looming threat of constant surveillance permeates the landscape, a threat not so far from the world of today. It is however, an unsettling shift of reality, Melbourne morphing into a dark and threatening realm, its suburbs and city populated by two different classes "Undocs" and "Docs". There is little explanation of how this division has come into being, it simply is.Mundell focuses upon the lives of two Undoc sisters, Tally and Grace, who are separated by tragedy, both head into Melbourne, the dream city they have spent their childhood hoping will one day provide their escape and salvation.Despairing that they will ever be reunited, Grace fears her younger sister has been killed but finds work as a Magician's assistance, while Tally spends her days as a homeless child in the company of her friend Blue, compiling clues to her sister's location and slowly being pulled into petty crime in order to survive.Underneath the bleakness and despair of their everyday existence, ultimately each has a glimmer of hope that they will find each other.The other thread to this tale is the work of "Moodie" Milk, who uses a combination of scent, lighting, and sound to influence the emotion and behaviour of crowds in a variety of situations. Once he begins working with the government, will this become yet another level of government control of the populace?Mundell plays well within her near future dystopia, and I found myself contemplating how close our current reality was to hers. However, the novel ends abruptly and unexpectedly, but after a momentary dissatisfaction, I found myself approving of the way the tale ended.Ultimately, this novel explores the nature of "hope" its necessity and whether it can be manipulated and used against us. A vision of Melbourne, through a glass, darkly.