Dear anonymous

Thank you, whoever you are, for renewing my Writers Vic membership for the next two years. What an incredibly generous gesture.

Since, it seems, you are interested in my work, let me reveal where the manuscript I’ve just begun is partly set, via Brian Cox:

Which is close to:

In the realm of the estate of:

South of:

And I conducted research while staying in:

Hopefully one day we can share a dram. Thank you again, it means so much x

Vertigo

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Yesterday I climbed the mountain Beinn Eighe, and it was breathtaking. I get a bit of vertigo; when there’s a drop by the path I have to lean away from it and not look down or else my legs crumble and my head spins. As I laid in bed last night, my muscles humming with tiredness and pleasure, sleep came upon me as a drop, my head spun and I kicked out.

We’re staying on a small island, accessed by a footbridge. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Like, ridiculously stunning. Photographs can’t capture it. Today, G and I were digging out a campsite in the rocky earth of a smaller island that joins this one, and we paused to watch a pod of seals swim by. But I’ve also felt uneasy since we’ve been here, with all those annoying physical symptoms I experience—from hardcore heartburn to a twitching eye—and I’ve been trying to analyse why.

island

It’s because I’m feeling a little unmoored, and it’s a difficult feeling for me to embrace, though I’m aware that’s partly the point of (long term) travel. I feel very ‘in-between’ things, despite the fact that I do have projects on the go, being at the point of editing one, and spreading the word about another. I’ve also started researching a novel over here, but the idea is large and only slowly taking shape (the plot, the characters, what it’s ‘about’), and I’m incredibly impatient. I want to start writing it properly, but there’s a period coming up where we’ll be staying with relatives and I know I can’t be at the beginning stages of a novel then. I want to spend quality time with my relatives and thinking about the novel even more than I already am might impede that.

What we’re trying to make happen is a month after November where both G and I can just write. But we don’t really have the dough. We’re only able to travel for so long because we’ve been working, and working for board, and staying with very kind rellos, and we’ll have to continue in that vein. Of course, that has been amazing, and I am not underestimating the wealth of knowledge we’ve gained, not just the places and characters and gestures that writers can’t help collecting, but identifying birds, digging holes and making paths, ironing sheets (!), how to run a B&B, what to wear on long walks in the rain, what pleases a seven-year-old, how to make Banoffee, the best Speyside whiskies, the geology of a mountain, fables and histories, how to pronounce ‘Eilean’, and many other items.

I guess my problem is staying present, and trusting that I haven’t gone ‘off the path’. I was fine in Speyside, on our last Workaway assignment, probably because I had a firm routine. And this makes me laugh at myself. Because when I’m ‘stuck’ in a routine, at home, all I want to do is bust out of it. Writing this out is helping, though.

An added layer is that my 29th birthday has just passed. There was so much I thought I’d do before 30, and now that’s only a year away. I’ve been mentally readjusting my goals for a while now, taking in reality and everything that crops up, but… it’s pretty ingrained. Mostly ambition is pretty positive—the dreaming drives me—but the flip side (focusing on ‘failures’, disappointment, whatever) makes you see everything through a fog.

It’d be great to just feel ecstatic about everything I have going on right now: a long working holiday, two forthcoming books with my name on them, an incredible relationship… Yes. Let’s stop there.

I climbed a mountain yesterday. Sometimes I got dizzy. Occasionally I wandered off the path. Sometimes I struggled to see the next marker. But I always found my way back.

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Carmel Bird Award shortlist

The shortlist for the 2013 Carmel Bird Short Fiction Award has just been announced on the Spineless Wonders website. These are all excellent, imaginative stories, and I’m so excited that they will be joining those by the invited writers published in The Great Unknown (including Carmel Bird herself). They range from an existential story from the POV of a pet bird (‘Bluey & Myrtle’ by Mark O’Flynn), to two touching stories about women reconnecting with their families after strange happenings (‘Navigating’ by Helen Richardson and ‘Significance’ by Susan Yardley), to two very sharp speculative stories (‘A Cure’ by Alex Cothren and ‘A Void’ by Guy Salvidge) and one very spooky outback tale (‘The Koala Motel’ by Rhys Tate).

Congratulations to the shortlisted authors! The winner of the $500 Carmel Bird Short Fiction Award will be announced soon.

100 Story Building is about to open!

You may remember last year when I wrote about a new centre for young writers opening in Melbourne called 100 Story Building? Well, the doors are about to officially open!

Located in the heart of Footscray, 100 Story Building will support young writers (6-17 years) from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and marginalised communities ‘to discover and share their creative voices through storytelling projects’, as they put it.

100 Story Building will be open for workshops, programs and one-on-one support from September onwards, and will work closely with the local writing and publishing community. It’s a very worthy project to get behind! Here’s a flyer for the opening:

100SB EDM invite_ST

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2013

interestingsI’ll be brief as I’m on the road and very busy, but hopefully will write soon to tell you about going to the V&A in London to see the Bowie exhibition, and visiting Stratford-upon-Avon—Shakespeare’s birthplace and grave!

I just wanted to put up the panels/interviews I’m hosting at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year, for which I’m busy preparing and am very excited about. I love Edinburgh but haven’t yet been to the festival. It’s wonderful to be involved. If you happen to be going to the book festival, I hope to see you there. To my friends in Melbourne, I hope you enjoy the MWF this year. I’m sure it will be amazing, given Lisa Dempster is at the helm. The two literary cities, and the two festivals, have a great relationship. And I’ll be trying to report back as much as I can around my festival duties and other work.

Here are the panels/interviews I’m hosting and their official blurbs:

Meg Wolitzer
13 August, 10:15, The Guardian Spiegeltent

Meg Wolitzer is one of America’s foremost contemporary novelists; she has been writing for 30 years and is often compared to the likes of Franzen and Eugenides. Her new book, The Interestings, documents the lives of six friends from Nixon’s America to the age of Obama. An astute and perceptive novel, it asks what happens to ambition, creativity and desire as time passes and times change.

Doug Johnstone & Laura Lippman

15 August, 18:45, Peppers Theatre

Two cracking thrillers from either side of the Atlantic provide the material for this event in which parents look after their young children while dealing with some nasty goings-on. Doug Johnstone discusses his heart-stopping novel Gone Again, about missing Portobello mum Lauren, while New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman presents And When She Was Good, about a suburban American mother with a secret life.

Sam Byers & Angela Jackson

16 August, 19:00, Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre

With his debut, Sam Byers has become one of the most talked-about young writers in Britain, garnering a place on this year’s Waterstones 11 list of promising novelists with his first novel Idiopathy. Also today, Edinburgh-based Angela Jackson presents her debut novel The Emergence of Judy Taylor. Both books tell hilarious and heartbreaking stories of characters living through a kind of social Armageddon.

Robert Newman

18 August, 21:30, Baillie Gifford Main Theatre

Did you know that the Mayflower was once an Ottoman slave ship? Or that there was an occupation of St Paul’s Cathedral in the early reign of King James? These are historical nuggets unearthed by Robert Newman, author of The Trade Secret. Formerly a comedy partner of David Baddiel, Newman’s alternative career as a novelist continues in this story set in the early days of capitalism.

See the website for the (massive) full program. More soon…

Fear, failure and fraudulence at the Wheeler Centre blog

I was very happy to be asked to springboard off my recent post Stella, and a digression on envy, work, inadequacy for the Wheeler Centre blog. Authors Krissy Kneen, Alan Baxter, Max Barry and Mel Campbell kindly and honestly responded to my probing questions about writerly anxieties and feelings of inadequacy, and some of their responses are included in the piece. I thank them very much.

It begins:

A writer’s life is fraught with fear, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. These feelings cluster around desires and ambitions, arise at the desk itself, hover about at festivals and events, attach themselves to advances, grants and prizes, lurk in one’s inbox and on social media, and pop up in one’s daily life. Even Sylvia Plath wondered about whether both her and Ted Hughes’ writing was ‘good enough’: ‘We get rejections. Isn’t this the world’s telling us we shouldn’t bother to be writers?’

Read the rest here.

SWF 2013: writing & philosophy

Brooks_Conversation_webCross-posted on the Stoffers blog.

At the Sydney Writers’ Festival last week I went along to a session on writing and philosophy, and I thought a summary of the insights (and work of the panellists) might be of interest to some of you.

The moderator was Joe Gelonesi from ABC Radio National’s The Philosopher’s Zone and the panellists were Damon Young (Philosophy in the Garden), Scarlett Thomas (Our Tragic Universe) and David Brooks (The Conversation).

Thomas’ books are fiction, but based on philosophical questions. In her latest, Our Tragic Universe, she asks whether it’s better to put ‘a neat narrative framework’ around ‘big questions’, or whether it is better to leave them open. She described herself as being oriented toward both the iPhone and the cave (simultaneously social, current, and reclusive). Her latest book ‘asks about philosophy without the characters sitting down and talking about philosophy’.

Brooks’ The Conversation is a discussion of love and life with philosophical underpinnings. It follows one five-hour meal, but took about nine years to write (!).

philosophy-in-the-gardenYoung’s nonfiction book is a more direct look at how writers are affected by philosophy. Why does Proust have a bonsai beside his bed? He says Proust is a Kantian. In Proust’s world, objects are a gateway to Kant’s noumenal realm, to the past, and to childhood.

For Thomas, fiction is indeed built out of small details, the material concrete moments upon which we can build up big concepts, such as ‘time’. Brooks said these small details have also made up his life as a poet. Small details have a double function: they anchor the world, but also, because they are chosen and focused upon (by the author/poet), they have an aura, a ‘poetic dimension’. He said, however, that you’re not completely in control of the writing, of choosing these details, and that is part of the magic of writing. Thomas mentioned TS Eliot’s ‘objective correlative’ regarding these details: if the artist renders them properly, the reader gets to feel it too. Young mentioned Whitehead’s idea of philosophy being a flight, taking off and landing, taking off and landing. The palpable details are what you take off from, and come back to.

9781847670892Good fiction, with its small details, can provide this point of take-off and return, and can also dramatise ethical questions for readers who may not indulge in more explicit philosophical reading. Thomas said that drama is a central element: ‘Nobody is happy with what they’ve got. And therefore fiction happens’. Questions about life and how to live are always going to be there. She also mentioned Aristotle’s idea that fiction should be both predictable and astonishing. Young continued the idea that something that is ‘interesting’ (in fiction, but also generally in art, science, philosophy) is both novel and plausible; there’s a sweet spot between novelty and the familiar.

Other aspects discussed included the idea that ‘the animal’ (including the human animal) is where philosophy is currently most deeply challenged. All three panellists are or have been vegans. They also said that all of their relationships are informed by their writing. A favourite philosopher on the panel was Nietzsche.

Did you get along to any sessions at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this year? If not, you’ll find a good deal of audio and video at the Radio National website.

Stella, and a digression on envy, work, inadequacy

The Stella Prize 2013, the inaugural prize, was awarded last week to Carrie Tiffany, for Mateship with Birds, which you know I enjoyed very much (here’s my Big Issue interview with Carrie from last year). She very generously donated $10,000 of the prize money back to the shortlist, noting that it was a selfish act because it gave the authors time and she was looking forward to their next books! Very sweet.

Helen Garner was invited to speak, prior to the prize-giving. She spoke honestly and personally about how prizes can be tricky, if you don’t win or aren’t nominated at all. You have to remember, she said, that prizes are judged by people, driven by unconscious urges. It’s also true that even the most intelligent, studied, insightful and well-read critic is a person. There is always a factor of subjectivity.

Slowly shedding the naive shell I carried when I moved to Melbourne five years ago, I’m starting to realise that the industry isn’t quite so humble. (Yeah duh, you’re saying.) I’ve been privy to conversations lately, at festivals and events, where people are wearing envy on their sleeves, often around writers who have received big advances or won multiple prizes. I’ve heard words like ‘prize-bait’, and ‘flashing their advance’. Among all the good and positive stuff, mind you, of which there is a lot. Sometimes it just slips out.

But it’s healthy to (privately) express such things, because the industry is tough and getting tougher. Honestly, many authors whom you would think of as famous and respected are getting such tiny advances, like $4000. These are authors who have published several books. So it’s natural, don’t you think, that hopes become higher, maybe a little desperation creeps in?

Since I consider that I’m at the beginning of my career, I’m realising that it is a smart idea to have other work—a day job, freelance work, or whatever—that is regular, enjoyable (or bearable) and can be relied upon for an income. It’s a challenge in itself to find this, because ‘artists’ are not always easygoing. ‘Regular work’ can be a big deal, especially if you’re nervy, neurotic or prone to anxiety or depression (as many creative people are—no, I don’t think it’s a myth, they need to be because they need to see the inner workings of things, even if they misinterpret them):

‘All writers—all beings—are exiles as a matter of course. The certainty about living is that it is a succession of expulsions of whatever carries the life force… All writers are exiles wherever they live and their work is a lifelong journey towards the lost land…’—Janet Frame, The Envoy From Mirror City.

My own envy swells up when confronted with artists who seem free to be artists. My biggest obstacle to that is not money (though of course that’s an obstacle), it is myself. My unfortunate absorption of others’ opinions of what I should be doing, and the distraction of other genuine but smaller goals, means that I often put my biggest, shiniest ambition last. It gets blocked. And then there’s all the life stuff.

And I’m not brilliant, anyway. I need to work on something a lot to make it any good. An author I very much like suggested the other night that publishing a book might actually hinder my career. But most Australian critics that I respect have published books, fiction and/or nonfiction; and secondly, I obviously don’t see my career in the same light as she does. And that’s kind of depressing. It effects me, and makes me think my ambition is lofty. And it’s hard to shake those words when I sit down to write. Who do I think I am? All the while I watch the musician on the cello, moving his head like a mad person, being pure music; passion, and I envy that.

There’s a reason, then, that I’m drawn to characters in both my reading and writing who feel inadequate (would that effect my critical bias? Maybe). But also, adversely, characters who are supremely confident. Or eccentric, or glamorous; even arrogantly so. Not hard to figure that one out. Characters and figures to relate to, to make you feel less alone, and characters and figures who possess traits you aspire to. Both types are outward expressions of one own ‘truths’ and desires, though how confused it often all becomes. Always Kafka and always glam rock.

Kafka

2012: cut, print, that’s a wrap & see you in February

IMG_20121202_2019102012 has been a crap year in some respects; a year of rejections, near misses and setbacks. There has been injury and some sickness. There has been grief. At times it has been hard to stay optimistic. I’ve also, at times, found it very hard to have faith in myself and my work. There’s been a cumulative effect of small difficulties, a sensation of rawness.

However, I have not been without a home, without friends, without love, without work, without money. I am incredibly grateful for all that I have, and have done, and I know that every year cannot be as wildly incredible as the previous few years. In fact, I think I was a little spoiled by them.

I do feel that 2013 will be a year where many things will change. With my writing, I need to both become more serious, and more patient. In terms of nonfiction/reviewing work, I’d like to write longer pieces, and for a range of media. I have to admit that writing regularly for LiteraryMinded is now holding me back in this regard. I need to read wider and deeper around the pieces I write, and when I’m keeping up one or two blog posts a week, this just can’t happen. So, after a complete break in January from social media (to break the habit) I think I will blog with less frequency. This is the first time in 5.5 years—the blog’s entire history—that I’ve come to a decision like this. I will still link to my reviews, interviews and articles in other places from here, and will still occasionally write original pieces/reviews/updates for the blog, ie. when at festivals. So it may not even seem that different. I’m just removing the mental priority status on the blog because now (unlike when I was starting out) I have to admit that it is hindering my practice and my progress.

Fiction-wise, I have the novel, one smaller project, and a planned project on the go. I want to dedicate more time to fiction. Through closer reading and analysis, as outlined above, I want to continue to develop as a fiction writer. Become more sophisticated in style, and bolder in ideas. I don’t want to be afraid to experiment, as an artist, nor do I want to be afraid to entertain.

That’s just some of the lit-related stuff. In 2013 I’ll also be finishing a doctorate, looking for work, editing an anthology (more on that soon), running the monthly Dog’s Bar St Kilda storytelling nights (first one is 4 Feb), attending festivals, and hopefully travelling. Travel is important to my writing as well as my personal well-being and growth. I also hope to learn more, be humble, be charitable, always honest, and if I can’t overcome my weaknesses I hope I at least don’t beat myself up too much over them.

So I usually end the year, on LiteraryMinded, with a list of achievements, events and random facts. As a summary for my readers, and for myself. It’s become a bit of a ritual. And this year the process will help me, I believe, to see that despite some difficulties, I have still achieved much!

In 2012, I…

interviewed Alan HollinghurstRamona Koval, Irma Gold, Jessie ColeAS Patrić, Annabel Smith, Jenna Williams of 100 Story Building, Courtney Collins, Emily Maguire, Belinda Castles, Sean M Whelan, Paul D Carter, a.rawlings, Simon Callow, Emily Perkins, The Rag and Bone Man Press, Deborah Robertson, Carrie Tiffany; and Kent MacCarter interviewed Johan Harstad

contributed to Varuna’s writer-a-day project 

continued to read classic books I’d always meant to

completed the Australian Women Writers Reading & Reviewing Challenge

still yearned for a four-legged friend

supported the Queensland Literary Awards, because: Newman

wished I were as cool as Ron Charles

learnt about some fascinating characters in my family history

went to a conference in Georgia and took a side trip to New York (after Sandy, during the US election)

was invited to one writers’ festival and then the director never replied to my emails, meaning that I also missed out on another one that I turned down because I thought I was going to the first one

was jealous of G when Nick Cave said hello to him

tried to focus on the good things at Sydney Film Festival

was Highly Commended in the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards in the Written Word category

seemed to drop off the list for a few events to which I’m normally invited. But was invited to some different ones

published an essay on Ghostbusters in the Geek Mook; wrote about New York for Killings

hosted guest reviews by Dallas Angguish, Troy Martin, Gabriel Ng, and Andrew Wrathall

pretty much abandoned my ereader

began a literary show called ‘A Drink with…’ and interviewed Lisa Lang, Omar Musa and Chris Flynn. The fourth interview still hasn’t been edited as my crew are getting a lot of work. I don’t know if it ever will be, to be honest

was very happy to meet my friends’ gorgeous bub

reviewed books for LiteraryMindedCordite Poetry Review, the AustralianSydney Morning Herald, and Bookseller+Publisher; shared a ‘month of reading’ in the Victorian Writerand started writing features semi-regularly for The Big Issue (links in the interview section above)

came close a few times but I’m still waiting for my cigar

started wearing lipstick

really got into writing flash fiction, and was published in Seizure‘s Flashers series, and by the London Literary Project

started learning German

held a ‘spectacular’ for LiteraryMinded‘s fifth birthday where y’all asked me questions (parts one, two, three, four and five). You guysss

exercised three times per week

was a judge in the Meanjin tournament of books and the Best Australian Blogs competition

ate a crap-load of cheese

did my best to support some people close to me dealing with mental illnesses and disorders

presented at Offset Festival, chaired panels at Sydney Writers’ Festival (and this is probably one of my best, if most self-indulgent, blog posts of the year), chaired and appeared on panels at Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival, hosted a Late Night Book Club event on short stories at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, taught a blogging course at the NSW Writers’ Centre (to be repeated this April, see their website!)

was interviewed by The Signal Express, Embedded Literati, and Killings

was an official blogger and panel host at the Melbourne Writers Festival

stayed on track with my thesis

shared my favourite books on Marilyn Monroe

once again failed to read the winners of most of the major literary awards

lost my beautiful Nanna

was trolled by an Oxfordian

was Maid of Honour at my best friend’s gorgeous Fremantle wedding

remained madly in love

OK, this is it. A month off social media from January 1… I’ll be on email: literaryminded (at) gmail (dot) com. And on my mobile. And checking my PO Box (PO Box 6266, St Kilda Road Central, Vic 8008) if you want to send me a postcard. If you hear of any great jobs in Melbourne, preferably part-time at this stage (four days is ideal), do get in touch. I’m already applying for them.

See also: 2011, 2010, 2009.

Happy New Year everyone. You’re wonderful. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Trauma, kindness & starting with a bang: Jessie Cole on Darkness on the Edge of Town

Jessie Cole

Fourth Estate, 2012
9780732293192

(buy paperbackebook)

A woman crashes her car outside Vincent’s house. Vincent attempts to help the woman, and the baby in her arms, which may not have survived the crash. Rachel is her name and her arrival will have repercussions for Vincent and his daughter Gemma, and will draw attention (and judgment) in town. Darkness on the Edge of Town is Jessie Cole’s gripping and emotionally intelligent debut novel. Jessie and I have been getting to know each other for a little while now, sending missives from my urban jungle to her forest and back again, about animals, books, children, place, and more. I finally sent through a few questions to Jessie in order to introduce her, and Darkness, to you:

Darkness on the Edge of Town has ‘thrilling’ aspects, it moves along, it’s compelling, but I’d say it’s a character-driven novel. Could you tell us a bit about setting up the situation, and then letting it unfold? About pacing the story? How much of the whole story did you have when you began writing?

Good question! Firstly, the MS I’d written before Darkness was a very personal ‘family saga’ kind-of-story, set across several generations, and I decided after I finished writing it that I really enjoyed reading books that were more just a snippet of time. Stories that simply picked up in a certain part of someone’s life and stayed with them for a bit. I liked the immediacy of those stories, and the way they almost felt like they were told in real-time. And I suppose, I liked the smallness of them. And that was about as far as I’d gotten in terms of thinking consciously about what I wanted to write next. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was ‘a writer.’ Only that sometimes I wrote.

darkness on the edge of townThen, the whole of Darkness came to me in a one big blast late at night. Beginning to end. Hit me like a whack across the back of the head. I have no real explanation for why or how that happened, but it was a very powerful moment and I knew from the outset that it was something special, something whole. It’s difficult to explain how a fully-formed story could come all-at-once, how it could even fit inside a mind in one instant, but it did. I didn’t think at all about setting up the situation, I just sat down and let Vincent talk. I imagined myself as a stranger in a pub who struck up a conversation with him. Him telling me his story— among all the noise and cacophony—and the story being just so hard and so strong he had to get it off his chest. The intimacy of it thrilled me. I wrote the first 20,000 words in a week.

In my mind Vincent and Gemma and Rachel were all compelling characters in traumatic but oddly intimate circumstances, and I was enthralled by them. Part way through the book I realised that I was writing something with some elements of a thriller. This was not purposeful, it was just how it came out. I’m not much of a deliberate writer. I don’t like to plan or over-think things. I do know that when I write I am looking to be thrilled—to feel a kind of wave or nervous tremor of emotion or sensation—and I do use this as a guide to know I’m on the right track. I didn’t think about pacing, the story had its own momentum. I trusted it. At some stage I saw Sonya Hartnett speak at the Byron Bay Writers’ Fest, and she said something along the lines of: ‘I like to start with a bang and end with a bang and have lots of bangs in between’. And I realised that this was what I was doing with Darkness.

Although Sonya Hartnett does plot out her novels, with different coloured sticky notes for different characters or something like that, I’ve been told! That’s what works for her. It fascinates me how each writer approaches a book or a story so differently (and it can be different for each book, too).

Yes, everyone works very differently. Sonya Hartnett has written so many novels, she must have it absolutely down-pat! I guess I just meant that last comment about the bangs in terms of pacing. When I heard Sonya say that, I realised that’s what I was aiming for in the pacing of Darkness, even though I hadn’t really known it. And yes, I think each book is different. I like what Jonathon Franzen says about how you have to become the person who can write the book you want to write, and how with each book you probably have to become a new person.

The connection that forms between the two young women in Darkness, Rach and Gemma, adds a layer to the story. They each come alive a little bit, and maybe grow and make some sense of what is happening to them (separately and together) through their conversations. Could you comment on this aspect of the novel?

I’m very interested in the power inherent in the kindness of strangers. I think in some ways Gemma’s generosity towards Rachel is a bit of a surprise. Teens are notoriously self-centred and maybe—in the circumstances—it would be natural for Gemma to be quite hostile and territorial. But she isn’t. I think that’s because she’s got this wonderful mix of knowingness and openness; she’s also hungry for adult wisdom and it’s in short supply. People who’ve been deprived can start to bloom with the smallest smatterings of attention, and I think Rachel and Gemma give this to each other in as much as they are able. To be truly heard is a powerful thing, and a lot of the time we don’t give each other that gift. I suppose I wanted to show how a kind of openness to connection can build something worthwhile and healing between people, even in the least likely of situations. I’m also interested in the idea of family. In Darkness none of the three main characters are related by blood, but the bonds that they form are, in many ways, familial. In our culture ideas about family can be so narrow. So nuclear. I guess I wanted to question that a little. What makes a family? How do they form?

I want to ask about the small town Australian setting. It’s really as rich as a setting can be, with its history and tensions, and its rituals (thinking about Gem drinking Jim Beam and Coke from a bottle, fumbling in her friend’s bedroom). How is the setting integral to the story?

This small-town-question always leaves me a little stumped. I know that sounds ridiculous because Darkness is so completely a small town story, but it’s really hard for me to have a lot of perspective on that. I’ve lived in the same small town almost all of my life. It’s funny, when people come to visit who haven’t been to my place before, they always say something along the lines of: ‘Wow, you really live in the middle of nowhere!’ And I always reply: ‘What do you mean? This is the centre of the universe!’ Which is, of course, a joke. But in a sense it’s also true, in that it is the centre of my universe. It’s the only way of living that I really understand with any depth.

In terms of how the setting of Darkness is integral to the story, I suppose for the characters of Vincent and Gemma it is that ambivalent mixture of security and claustrophobia. That sense that they are ‘known’ by the people around them, which is in some ways affirming, but that they are also judged or pigeonholed by who they once were, or how their lives have played out thus far. In a small town the past is not a foreign country. It’s a tangible presence that everyone remembers. And on top of that is the way that the private can be translated in small communities. I mean, once you drive up your driveway in the country no-one knows what goes on inside your house. You have no close neighbours to listen to the rhythms of the household, so I think people make up stories about each other based on whatever facts are at hand, but often these stories lack subtlety, or even truth. Maybe the difference in the city is that people don’t assume they know anything much about the people around them, whereas in a small town more assumptions are made. In Darkness, Vincent struggled to communicate what was happening between him and Rachel. He knew that he’d never be able to explain, but that all sorts of judgments would be made. The friction between what is really happening in the private sphere and what the town at large assumes—and how these assumptions play out—creates a lot of tension in the story.

Just as an aside, I think our culture favours the ‘escape’ narrative. The story where we escape our past and start our lives anew. Makeover. Transformation. Alteration. Just look at how many films turn on that fantasy. Especially now, when moving is so accessible. In some ways it is seen as a type of failure not to leave your past behind. And it is almost a given that anyone with any prospects should leave a small town and make something better of their lives. But I don’t think it’s as simple as that. And I’m interested in stories about people who decide to stay. I’m not sure how apparent it is in Darkness, but I feel there is a different kind of bravery required to live with your past, and it isn’t something that is celebrated all that much.

Check out Jessie Cole’s website.