Tag Archives: Donna Mazza

2, 2 and 2: Donna Mazza talks about Fauna

Donna Mazza
Fauna
(Allen & Unwin)
Literary fiction (novel)

author photo with chook 3

I’m so excited to be introducing this novel, this writer, for the first 2, 2 and 2 post of 2020. I have loved Donna Mazza’s work for years—her early short stories, her Hungerford Award–winning novel The Albanian, and, more recently, award-winning short fiction that has evolved into new and edgier areas. Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to her second novel, Fauna, for a long time.

Donna’s author blurb neatly condenses her impressive career:

Donna Mazza is an award-winning author of poetry, short fiction and novels. Her debut novel, The Albanian (2007), won the TAG Hungerford Award and she was the Mick Dark Flagship Fellow for Environmental Writing at Varuna, the National Writers House, for her short fiction. Donna teaches literature and writing at Edith Cowan University and lives in a small country town in the South West with her family, including many chickens.

To that I would add that she is a much loved and respected member of the Western Australian writing community, particularly in the South West. I learned a great deal from her when I had the amazing good fortune to be part of an early writing group with Donna and three other brilliant women writers, and I can only imagine how many students, emerging writers and peers have benefited from her sure and generous guidance.

And so to Fauna. Here is the blurb…

How far would you go to save your daughter?

Set seventeen years into a very recognisable future, Fauna is an astonishing psychological drama with an incredible twist: What if the child you are carrying is not entirely human?

Using DNA technology, scientists have started to reverse the extinction of creatures like the mammoth and the Tasmanian Tiger. The benefits of this radical approach could be far-reaching. But how far will they go?

Longing for another child, Stacey is recruited by LifeBLOOD®, a company that offers massive incentives for her to join an experimental genetics program. As part of the agreement, Stacey and her husband’s embryo will be blended with edited cells. Just how edited, Stacey doesn’t really know. Nor does she have any idea how much her longed-for new daughter will change her life and that of her family. Or how hard she will have to fight to protect her.

Fauna is a transformative, lyrical and moving novel about love and motherhood, home and family—and what it means to be human.

Over to Donna…

Fauna_FCR

2 things that inspired Fauna

The first time I saw Ljuba, the baby mammoth, was in the May 2009 edition of National Geographic. She was the best preserved Ice Age baby found in Siberia and I had the privilege of seeing her in the Australian Museum in Sydney in 2018. Ljuba planted a seed for me, but Fauna is not about the mammoth. In April 2013 National Geographic ran another article, ‘Bringing them back to life’, which considers the ethics of using genetic technology to revive extinct species. Thylacines, passenger pigeons, bucardo and mammoths were all up for consideration, but I took this in a different direction and applied it to humans. Fauna isn’t just about the ‘what if’ question but digs deeply into what this would really be like for a human mother.

There is a narrative in the novel connected to a story my grandfather told. When he was a young man in Southern Italy, he said they were digging the foundation for a house and unearthed a grave. In there, they found a bronze bowl and some human bones. In his story, the bones are very long and they wondered if they were from a real giant. I love the mystery of this, it’s so evocative. In my story I have taken inspiration from it and dreamed up something different for the Italian relics. In Fauna, the bones which Stacey inherits from her stepfather are inspired by this story my grandfather told but they connect to her own story.

2 places connected with the book

I have always really loved the landscape where I grew up around the Leschenault Estuary and for me it is a place where I feel my own roots are planted. The family in Fauna move to the South West and live on a fictional property near the water there. I spent lots of time walking and observing in this landscape, to give the work a really authentic feel of that place and to try and celebrate that beautiful landscape and its wildlife. I watched the birds and walked in the water and on the beach, taking notes. I tried to imagine what the place would look like in the near future, looking at clues in the trees and at the edges of the water.

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Several years ago my family went down to Hamelin Bay for a short holiday and stayed in a chalet at the caravan park there. We were woken by the awful, meaty sound of two drunken men punching each other. It was a windy night and the long branches of the peppermint trees were blowing around. A frayed length of old rope swung about too, giving the whole place a very haunting feel. During the day, this place is quite lovely and doesn’t feel at all gothic, but that night made quite an impression. Naturally, it’s the perfect stop for a rare family holiday in Fauna; they even make a pit-stop at Simmo’s Ice Creamery and visit the emus there, as I have with my own family.

2 favourite secondary characters in Fauna

Stacey is the narrator of Fauna and as I worked on the novel, and her back story developed, she was in need of a mother. I had a lot of fun creating her mother, Sandra, and I feel like we might be friends if she were real. She is a colourful and alternative woman who is very honest and has lived a bit of a crazy life. I don’t really know where she came from but I feel like I know her and sometimes she made me laugh out loud as I was writing her.

One of my favourite characters in Fauna is Tayto, the little dog Stacey gets for the family. My own dog, Louis, slept beside me every day when I was writing the novel and he is Tayto. The part of the novel where Stacey gets the puppy was great fun to write and nothing like the very clean pet shop where we got Louis. The house where Tayto comes from is one of my favourite parts of the novel.

Fauna is released tomorrow, 4 February 2020
Find out more at Allen & Unwin
Follow Donna on Instagram and Facebook

Donna Landscape 2

Photo credits: author photos by Sarah Mills; cormorant at Leschenault Estuary by Donna Mazza

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In fine company…

Image-for-ECU-SW-student-news-Aug-2013The Mt Lawley campus of Edith Cowan University, in Perth, is currently holding an exhibition called ‘Celebration of the Book’, which showcases the published creative work of graduates of the university’s higher degree program in writing (PhD, Masters and Honours), as well as some of the academic staff involved in the program.

Candidates graduating from these programs undertake a major creative work plus an accompanying exegesis; my PhD thesis, for example, consisted of a novel (submitted under the title ‘Ellipsis’ and subsequently published as The Sinkings) and an exegesis comprising two substantial essays, one on the subject of ambiguous genre and the other on ambiguous gender.

Many of the graduates of ECU’s higher degree writing program have gone on to achieve publication; outstanding novels that spring to mind—products of that program—include The Alphabet of Light and Dark (Danielle Wood), A New Map of the Universe (Annabel Smith), The Nature of Ice (Robyn Mundy), Finding Jasper (Lynne Leonhardt) and The Albanian (Donna Mazza). Even that abbreviated list includes one Vogel Award winner and one T.A.G. Hungerford Award winner, as well as four short- or long-listings for other major awards. To quote from the exhibition catalogue:

From 1999 to the start of 2013, twenty-one writing students have graduated with a Higher Degree from Edith Cowan University. More than half of their projects have resulted in significant publications. Many of our alumni have carved careers as professional authors and academics, mentoring a new generation of writing students. From a small base comes an impressive collection of printed works. As part of our 2013 Celebration of the Book Exhibition, Edith Cowan University is proud to showcase a selection of creative writing publications, with supporting comments from the authors.

I feel proud to be included among the writers featured in the catalogue (you can download a copy via the link here)—writers whose work I admire, many of them friends, and/or colleagues in various capacities.

So congratulations to ECU, to exhibition curator Robyn Mundy, to all the writers exhibited (full list below), and to one supervisor, in particular, who has been thanked so often that there is talk of a fan club (he would hate that!)—Dr Richard Rossiter.

And what fine company it is!
Dr Suzanne Covich
Dr Fran Cusworth
Dr Maureen Helen
Dr Simone Lazaroo
Dr Julia Lawrinson
Dr Lynne Leonhardt
Dr Donna Mazza
Dr Vahri McKenzie
Dr Anne Morgan
Dr Robyn Mundy
Dr Ffion Murphy
Professor Glen Phillips
Dr Marcella Polain
Associate Professor Richard Rossiter
Dr John Charles Ryan
Dr Annabel Smith
Professor Andrew Taylor
Dr Terry Whitebeach
Dr Danielle Wood

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Reasons to love a novel: sense of place

I love being taken somewhere else, somewhere unknown, when I read a novel—whether that journey is geographical or, in the case of historical fiction, temporal (often it’s both). I also love reliving, through a novel, the experience of a somewhere-else I do know, comparing notes with the characters—their impressions, their interactions. And there is a special thrill in finding your own place in the world you are reading about.

The following extracts give us the perceptions of characters who are strangers to a new place, and it occurs to me that the well-used expression sense of place is particularly apt in thinking about how these writers succeed in taking us there: sight, smell, sound, touch, taste.

Although I’ve not yet made it to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia—a rare cool-climate pocket of South-East Asia—or Dubrovnik or Moscow, all three are on my list of places to visit, and it’s partly thanks to these beautiful novels. I can’t help feeling that when I do, I will be unconsciously searching the streets, the clouds, for a glimpse of the Eurasian Ghislaine de Sequeira looking for herself in the space between Tudor guesthouses and her uncle’s house, or the wide-eyed traveller Rosa, or Hannah showered in ice crystals.

6509137The house clung to the curve of a hill that overlooked a valley about halfway up the highlands, between the kampongs in the dust of the foothills and the clouds. Above the clouds were the rose gardens and the tennis courts, strawberry farms and mock-Tudor guesthouses where the English expatriates spent their holidays. Ghislaine strained her eyes looking for a gap in the clouds. There, in the very spine of Malaya, on the other side of the cloud, were so many ideas of England. Standing on the verandah of Journey’s End, Ghislaine was struck by the distance between herself and these ideas. She sat and felt another wave of cold sweat wash over her. She smelled the white flowers stiff as wax and fragrant as coconut rice that grew in the bed against the verandah, but did not know their name.

—Simone Lazaroo, The Travel Writer

crewAlong by the sea is a city of stone with columns and statues and marble stairs and salt in the air. It is a walled city and the road winds around the perimeter and sugary parcels fall from the fig trees. They rot sweetly all around the limestone walls and on pink-veined marble. It is silent and a salty breeze blows.

I am facing the great white walls of Dubrovnik, a fortress-city that clings to the floor of the sea. I walk across the drawbridge, under a pale guardian saint that stands over the Gate of Pilê and into a portal of steps. This is an ancient city. I stand in a dip worn into the marble step. The stone is almost conscious, exhales its history into the soles of my feet. My breath is distinct, this is just the beginning, I will stand upon history all over Europe. I can hardly wait, the thrill of it shakes inside me.

—Donna Mazza, The Albanian

9780646496610_frontcover.jpeg.jpgGorky Park in winter, under snow. She tried to take a picture with her camera, but it was so cold the mechanism refused to work—as did the hand she had exposed for some minutes. They sat on a wooden bench in the park. It was so beautiful, so cold, that for some minutes they were wordless.

Their eyes traced the rise and fall of snow mounds in the park. Here a splash of colour thrown off by the carousel, there the stark black spindles of a tree. Two figures flashed past them, arm-in-arm, cut across the ice, then were gone in a spray of ice crystals.

K. Overman-Edmiston, The Avenue of Eternal Tranquillity

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