Monday, 18 November 2019

5 things that inspired Well-Behaved Women

The writing of Well-Behaved Women did not start out as the writing of a collection. Rather, the book pulls together stories written over the span of ten years of work. That they all seem to reflect on the theme of contemporary womanhood, and the way that women exist in society, was a coincidence born out of the fact that a consideration of what it means to be female in today's world is something that takes up a lot of my thinking time and has done for some years.

Inspiration is a funny thing. If you're actively looking for it, most of the time it is nowhere to be found. The things that set you off can be completely random-- a news article, a piece of rubbish on a verge collection, the refrain in a song on the radio. This is how it has been for me, for the most part.

So then, today's post is something a little different-- a list of things, people, songs and books that have served in some way as inspiration for the book.


Reading from Well-Behaved Women at the official launch on November 13th, 2019.

1. Margaret Atwood

I first discovered Margaret Atwood as an undergraduate. In the library at Murdoch Uni one day, I discovered that as well as musty smelling books on literary criticism from the 1970s, our humanities collection also housed a rather spectacular selection of novels. Among these was a big beautiful book with a vintage, 1940s style illustration of a woman on the front cover. The book was The Blind Assassin, and I spent the remainder of my weekend in bed reading the book from cover to cover.

Since then, I've read many more of Atwood's novels, short stories and poems, and I am constantly amazed by her prowess at telling women's stories. Of course you all know my thoughts on The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments, but I think that it is The Blind Assassin that has had the most influence on my style as a writer. That book is the one book I wish I had written, and I aspire to one day write a book of its calibre.

Also it is Margaret Atwood's 80th birthday today, so if by some chance she is reading this, Happy Birthday, Margaret!

2. David Bowie

I've written about this in one of my posts as Guest Blogger over at the Margaret River Press blog, but in case you haven't read that, I like to write with Bowie hits playing. Bowie was more than just a musician-- the fact that his artistry was elevated to the level of having characters, of his albums telling stories, completely captures my imagination. I remember an occasion listening to 'Space Oddity' in my Dad's car as we drove through the city on the Freeway, the music turned up loud (as it usually is in Dad's car), I felt isolated and frightened by both the melody and the lyrics. That a song which includes 'Here am I sitting in my tin-can' can do that... that's the magic of Bowie. My favourite Bowie song though would have to be 'Modern Love.'

3. The disappearance of Natalia Molchanova

In 2015, I read an article (it may well have been this one) about the disappearance of the world's greatest free diver, a woman named Natalia Molchanova. Something about it hooked me. First of all, I have always had a deep reverence for the power of the ocean. Yes, it is beautiful, but it's also vast and dangerous and completely unknowable. You have to respect the ocean because it can embrace you but it can also steal you away. This is what I tried to capture in my story, 'The Sea Also Waits' which was the first piece I ever had published in Australia and the second thing I had published in print. I was fascinated by the idea that a person who has essentially 'mastered' the ocean by being able to hold her breath for so long and dive to the depths without an oxygen tank could disappear on a routine, casual swim, not even out to break a world record. The other thing about the article that struck me was that free diving seemed to be in their blood, as Natalia's son Alexey is also a champion free diver-- and so my story became one about mothers and sons and passion and the danger of the ocean. That story has always felt magical to me and I am so happy that it's the opening piece in my book.

4. Picnic at Hanging Rock

One of the greatest Australian novels of all time. When I was doing my Honours year back in 2012, I was thinking a lot about girls in white dresses versus the mysteries in the Australian bush, though I was looking at it through the lens of the death of Laura Wishart in Jasper Jones by WA writer, Craig Silvey. This led me to the artwork of Frederick McCubbin and to the classic Australian novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock, which I learned at the time does have a final chapter which explains what happened to the girls and their teacher.  Having read that lost final chapter I can safely say that the book is better because it is never fully resolved, and for anyone who has read my stories, you'll see that this kind of wilful authorial intervention in denying my readers neatly tied up endings has entered my own personal style-- sorry, Felicity, I know you wanted a more satisfying ending to 'The Settlement!' My story 'Picnic at Greens Pool' is a direct response to Joan Lindsay's novel but I flipped the image on it's head and made it very West Australian. Instead of girls in white dresses going missing on a mountain, I have a young woman in black bikini who goes missing on a beach. Any other similarities? You'll just have to read it and find out.

5. My own jealousy!

The final story in the collection is called 'The Woman in the Writers Festival'. It's about a writer named Peggy who hasn't had much success with her own career, and instead of getting on with things, she's slowly ruining her own life by projecting this onto another writer who is enjoying her fifteen minutes of fame. I used the story as an opportunity to poke a bit of fun at the green-eyed monster, and I hope other readers will enjoy Peggy as much as I enjoy her... she's completely un-self aware and a bit ridiculous, but she's also razor sharp in some of her observations. My favourite analogy about writing is this:  Writing is not like a pie-- if someone else is enjoying success, that doesn't mean there will be less left for you. I had to learn this, and I think Peggy needs to as well! It was a fun story to write and I like that it rounds out the collection. At an event recently I was asked whether it was inspired by a particular person that I have felt jealous of, and the answer is no, it's not!  I have felt jealous of so many people over my years of going to literary events... it would be impossible to single any one person out!

It's about two weeks to go now until Well-Behaved Women appears in stores!  If you can't wait to get your hands on a copy, you can order it now from Margaret River Press or your favourite indie bookshop. 

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