The next wave is a four-part series featuring exciting Western Australian women writers with manuscripts ready for submission or nearly there. I hope you’ll remember their names and watch out for their published work.
My final two guests are Michelle Michau-Crawford and Louise Allan.
Michelle and I share a love of short stories—and Paris. Michelle recently spent a month there, collects French literature and is currently attempting to learn French so she can read her collection. ‘Despite it being the so-called City of Love,’ she says, ‘it is my favourite place to visit alone.’ Her love affair with the city began by accident on a trip in 2008. Having been a huge Leonard Cohen fan all her life, she discovered he was performing in Lyon two weeks after a conference she was attending in Dublin. ‘I extended my trip, bought a scalped ticket and went to Lyon via Paris. I was thinking I was just going to Paris to kill time, but I fell for the city.’
Her current writing focus is short fiction, although she has also written and published poetry, articles, scripts and plays. Her story ‘Leaving Elvis’ won the prestigious ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize in 2013, and ‘Happy Haven Holiday Park’ has just been published in the current issue of Westerly. She has also won the Fortescue Poetry Prize, been commended or shortlisted for fiction and poetry in several national competitions, and been awarded an ASA mentorship.
Michelle’s manuscript—working title Elvis, and Other Losses—is ‘a collection of linked stories exploring, in part, how the the secrets and unspoken experiences that shape the lives of individuals can have intergenerational impact on family members. The stories focus on three generations from the one Australian family. By unpeeling some of the layers of various family secrets, and delving into characters’ memories, in particular, the stories make visible some of that which is often largely hidden, and explore ways in which some people, when faced with adversity, develop the capacity to cope and grow stronger, while others—at least on the surface—are apparently not so successful.’
Here is a brief extract from one story:
‘I said, what do you dream about?’
He’s still thinking of her mother when she asks that. Had him wrapped around her little finger from the outset. He sort of knew back then that he’d always take her side, even though he loved her mum more than life itself.
She shifts from foot to foot. Scraggly yellow hair tumbling free from its ribbons. Hands on bony hips. Chin jutted forwards. Just like her mum used to.
He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say. Feed her a lie? Spin something sugar and spice? Tell her the truth, that something that he thought was fixed has broken again? Confess that he’s as weak as piss?
In the nick of time Evie saves him. Comes to the door and calls the kid out of the bedroom. Looks at him. Disappointment all over her face. Like he’s the one thing standing between her and happiness.
Louise has been working on her first novel for some time, with the kind of commitment she devoted to her former profession—medicine—and continues to devote to her role as the mother of four children. She says that at sixteen ‘if anyone had told me I would be a writer when I grew up, I would have choked on my Pepsi. At that time, I was very Maths/Science orientated, and although I loved reading and enjoyed English, I found it the most difficult of all my subjects.’
She has had two short stories published in the anthology Jukebox (Out of the Asylum Writing Group, 2013), and two short memoir pieces are forthcoming in another anthology. She observes: ‘Part of the reason for my lean pickings on the publishing side is that I don’t send anything out until I’ve sat on it for a couple of years’—which strikes me as a cautious, but wise, approach.
This year she won a Varuna Writing Fellowship—‘a magical two weeks’—to work on her manuscript, working title Ida’s Children, which is in the commercial literary genre and aimed primarily at women readers. ‘The novel is about two sisters growing up in rural Tasmania in the 1920s, and follows them through to the present day. They each have dreams, but life doesn’t give either of them what they yearn for. It’s about unfulfilled dreams and the beauty of children and music, and what happens when beauty is crushed.’
Here is a short sequence from Ida’s Children:
When I first opened the door and saw her standing there, I thought she was from a charity and collecting money. ‘Hold on a minute,’ I said. ‘I’ll get my purse.’
Before I could turn, she stepped closer, under the shade of the verandah, and slipped the sunglasses from her eyes. ‘My name is Penny Archer. I … um …’
I held the doorframe and took a few deep breaths. Settle down, Ida. I looked at her. Those eyes. A warm green. The colour of the bush, they were. So familiar it hurt. A few creases crept from the edges, but the rest of her face was smooth. She held her sunglasses in her hand, tall and elegant in a black dress that tied at the waist and fell loose about her calves.
‘Are you all right?’ she said.
I nodded, let go of the frame and stepped outside, then pulled the door behind me—I didn’t want Grace to hear.