This is the third of a four-part series featuring Western Australian women writers who have a manuscript either ready, or almost ready, to submit. I’m sure you’re going to be hearing more from them in the future.
In this post, I welcome Karen Overman and Kim Coull.
Karen has published a collection of short stories, Night Flight from Marabar (1999), and her 2009 novel, The Avenue of Eternal Tranquillity (a favourite of mine), won a Nautilus Award for Visionary Fiction, announced at the New York Book Fair in 2010. As a short story writer, she has won the Irish Famine Literary Award and the Australian-Irish Heritage Association Award, and as a playwright, the SWY Theatre Company Young Playwrights Award. Her plays have been performed at the Festival of Perth and the Octagon Theatre.
Karen’s manuscript—working title The Blue Moment—is a work of literary fiction in the crime/mystery pocket of that genre. The synopsis reads: ‘A murderer is on the loose in a fast food restaurant. But, given the fact she is a middle-aged cleaner, she is almost invisible as she goes about her deadly tidying. Kate is descending into the deeper darkness of her troubled world. Will she grasp the life-buoy thrown by Detective Inspector Knight? Or will they go under together—the killer and the sleuth made deadweight by the coils of an unlikely friendship?’
I asked Karen about the inspiration for this manuscript: ‘For years I’ve had the character Kate lurking in my mind. A middle-aged person, mentally fragile, working in a “service industry” position, a cleaner or waitress perhaps—all the markers that often represent unwarranted invisibility. But I wanted this individual to have a remarkable mind—not necessarily good or bad, but certainly remarkable. I wanted her to go about her terrible business unnoticed, unremarked-upon. I wanted all the behaviours that usually render someone in a lower paid job, and no longer young, invisible (or perhaps, more accurately, seen to be beneath notice) to be a force. I wanted this character to be able to use the way in which they are smudged or blurred out of view to their advantage. I also wanted the darkness that could have consumed this character to be shot through with some sort of redemptive light.’
Here is a taste:
I stand taut and alive in the empty car park, letting this moment wash over me, a moment that will never be repeated again in this format, in the entire history of time. I stand, a small figure looking up at the heavens. These stars, these planets, these constellations and clouds will never again assume this particular configuration. And, for one brief moment, I am epicentre. It is me that acknowledges this scene, my mind that records this series of patterns in the sky. My will, my longing, my effort that keeps these constellations nailed to these fragments of space. I’m keeping the trees about me at full stretch, the clouds in this state of buoyancy, the breeze at this gentle speed. My will is throwing out comets and asteroids and petals from the very flowers that surround me.
For one brief, aching moment I fly out and disappear in it all. A moment, held. Then, immediate contraction, it is done. I am spent.
And, once again, I am a figure standing solitary in a suburban car park, alone with my vastness tightly packed into a small frame, cloaked in a fast food uniform.
I am now feeling calmer, and I return to the dining area, to clean tables.
Kim is an artist, poet, and Late Discovery Adoptee and lives in the foothills of Perth. She teaches a self-development course that involves facilitating the formation of therapeutic personal narratives from Jungian archetypal and pictorial symbology, and also records oral histories as a consultant for SpillingtheBeans Pty Ltd. She used to busk for a living ‘a long time ago, in another city, in another life, pre-children, pre-discovery, and sometimes, in the quiet of my own space, I still sing some of the old songs, only in earshot of the birds, the constantly wind-worried trees, and the chirruping crickets…’
Kim’s poetry has been published in Blue Dog, Poetrix and Famous Reporter, and in 2005 she won the Talus Prize for Poetry and was runner-up in the prose section. She has a BA in Psychology and has just completed a PhD in Writing.
Her manuscript, a literary novel (fictionalised memoir) with the working title The Womb Artist, explores the psychological aftermath of relinquishment in the closed record adoption system. The synopsis reads: ‘Weena is a strange and anxious child. As she stumbles into adulthood, she doesn’t understand why the world constantly snakes up inside her head and heart to forever keep her sense of self distorted and disabled. Why she speaks in inconsolable tongues after love making and paints strange and disturbing pictures of vaginas and umbilicals. When she finally finds out, at the age of 42, that she was declared dead at birth and subsequently adopted, she must try to make sense of a life lived incarcerated in silence, grief and lies. The novel, set in Australia, India and New Zealand, paints Weena’s life-long struggle with the unconscious reverberations of her lost mother and the sublimated, ever-present “dead baby” within; how her life and art unknowingly record her haunting pre-verbal memories; how she eventually finds out and survives the truth.’
Here is a brief sample:
Mani and Weena take a taxi from Jagraon. The road is straight and the land flat and green in every direction. Soon she sees low walls and flat roofed houses the colour of dirt and sand, the colour of pale mud, faded and caked in the sun, hand hewn and rubbed smooth, as if the earth created the village itself, pushing it up from its loamy womb to sit low and still, almost camouflaged by the irregular line of trees around the outskirts. Black and grey house crows sit in ownership on roofs and walls. Later she learns that these birds are really spirits who are lost, who wander from house to house in pursuit of a soul. Guru Nanak, she learns, prefers swans and bids them gone…
I remember them packing the sky at dusk or sitting on the roof tops, cocking their heads arrogant and unafraid. Of course, they are invisible now as I look at the satellite picture. I can’t make out the buildings in Mani’s village either or the new room built for us back then. The satellite resolution does not permit such a fine perspective. I wonder what else has changed, how many times the Sutlej has flooded, how many rains came early and ruined the spring crops in these intervening years…Manjit’s house is one of only three labelled with the name of their owners, the father’s name, and rank—Subaltern. The focus is shot now. The blur increasingly watery. There is a river rising somewhere—perhaps I feel the start of the rains—the draught to be drunk…