The Spirit of Varuna

Yesterday evening saw me ensconsed on the couch of the Varuna loungeroom, quilt on my knee and fire in the grate. Peter (the) Bishop, Gabrielle Stroud and I spent one of the best hours of my writing life discussing our projects, the universe and everything.

Picture of Varuna - the Writer's House
Ensconsed at Varuna

Peter observed that when writing a project, we are  in conversation with an eclectic assortment of people. These people are a non-corporeal yet tangible presence who influence and inspire our writing. They are not our intended readers nor our inner critic; they are sometimes no longer living or based only in memory. Yet they are those who are invoked by and crucial for the developing story.

Those present to my work-in-progress Evangel include girls from my (heavily religious) high school, my long-gone and much-loved grandfather, and Margot, a friend who struggled with mental illness and met a tragic end. I am haunted, not by memories but by deeply embossed impressions of injustice, trauma, courage, and beauty.

As Gabi says (attributing it to Noni Hazelhurst), we need a touchpoint to evoke the emotion of a scene. My touchpoints for Evangel are tender. It’s hard  to  delve in, press, and explore. Yet, the fascination to converse with the unburied souls around this project keeps me showing up to the page each day.

Peter’s insight and encouragement gives me the audacity necessary to just. keep. writing. The extraordinary mentorship and companionship of Peter, Gabi Stroud, Gabi Wang, Meg Mundell, and Avril Carruthers has carried the spirit of Eleanor Dark to me over these past two incredible weeks. Thank you, all. I can’t wait to read your Varuna projects when they hit the shelves.

Limitless Varuna sky

And I am once again astounded, humbled and filled with gratitude by where following this passion for writing takes me.

‘Provocation’ and gratitude.

I have wanted to write since before I could read. And for six years now, I have been writing regularly. I’ve studied creative writing at uni and my local writers centre, joined a wonderful writing group, and convened another. I’ve written two long-form manuscripts, won some development grants, and had the opportunity to show my work to agents and publishers. I have enjoyed guidance and encouragement from so many generous and talented writers, as well as endless support from family and friends. But I have never been published.

Until now.

My story ‘Provocation’ was published last week in The Review of Australian Fiction. That is my name there in Volume 1, next to amazing authors like Kim Wilkins and Christos Tsiolkas and PM Newton. Pinch me!

‘Provocation’ is a psychological thriller. A young woman recovering from anorexia is covertly stalked by an inappropriately devoted security guard at her dream job. This middle-aged man has access to her every move, and an array of rationalisations to justify his increasing surveillance. Her uniquely disordered thinking becomes her best defence. But the stress triggers deepening psychosis, leading to an endgame where meaning and motive are as murky as the depths of a river in flood.

‘Provocation’ grew from a couple of ideas that kept haunting me. If you haven’t read ‘Provocation’ and think you might be interested, I would encourage you to head on over and do so before reading on here – there are no actual spoilers, but themes explored in this post may influence the way you experience the story…

Firstly, the story is dedicated in loving memory of a real-life young woman who was killed by covert violence. Her stalker had been court-ordered to keep his distance from her, her house, and her workplace. But she was dependent on medication for a chronic illness, and he put two and two together, loitering around her neighbourhood chemist. She spied him, ran home, and died there alone, literally gasping for relief.

Her death was not recorded as murder. As far as I can find out, no charges were laid,  and no action taken. (I’ve blogged about this incident, and the cathartic power of the crime narrative, in my Reading Girlhood post over at Sisters of the Pen).

The other major idea arose after the 2011 Brisbane floods. During the clean-up, I learned the library and gallery at South Bank are connected by subterranean loading docks that formed a massive underground whirlpool when the river broke its banks. The security cameras kept rolling as industrial bins were swept away like tin cans, ramming into those huge portable walls used in galleries. Fish, furniture, trash and rubble were carried from the basement of one building and deposited in far reaches of the next. I made several unauthorised tours of those docks, and there are some spooky places and machines down there, let me tell you!

Library in FloodQueensland State Library during 2011 floods
*image courtesy QPS

‘Provocation’ has no flood event, but is set in a building that was recently inundated. Those giant, interconnecting docks play an important role both as labyrinth and metaphor.

Inspired by these ideas, I formed a story premise, deciding to challenge and extend my craft – after two manuscripts in first person point of view, I wanted to write in third person with multiple viewpoint characters. I also wanted to experiment with tense, changing from past to present for the climax. And I needed a break from long-form fiction and humorous crime, so was drawn to the thriller novelette: ten thousand words to develop and deliver a lyrical story? Heaven!

As I tell my students, writing is a valid and worthwhile pursuit in and of itself. I don’t write with the expectation of being published. But it feels great to have developed a career as far as this significant milestone.

I love writing so much, in so many ways. I am profoundly grateful to all the people who have supported me to get this far, and just so thankful that I get to write.