I’ve just emerged from an avalanche of deadlines, and found we’re in mid-May already! How did we get here so fast? Sometimes I wonder if, as an adult, you ever again find that expansive time of childhood summers of heat and boredom.
Most of my time was soaked up by an essay for Southerly on climate change fiction, in which I analysed Alexis Wright’s The Swan Bookand Lisa Jacobson’s The Sunlit Zone. This was a new field for me, but as my third novel is about climate change, I wanted to explore what other writers have been doing. The short answer is that not much has been produced in this area, particularly in comparison to American and British nuclear fiction. James Bradley argues this is on account of the difficulty of representing climate change in the form of the novel, which tries to impose order on a hugely complex problem. Macfarlane contends that it’s because climate change is too slow-moving to create the fear engendered by an apocalypse, which typically grabs readers and pushes them towards solutions. However, change is afoot, with a new term – cli-fi – engineered by Dan Bloom to contextualise emerging climate change fiction.
I also put together an essay on 19th Century Queensland-born novelist Rosa Praed’s relationship to voice and sound, and how this impacted on her relationship with her deaf daughter Maud. Rosa had a longstanding interest in spiritualism, which was behind her initial introduction, and subsequent attraction, to her partner Nancy Harward. Nancy had the capacity to go into a trance and ‘become’ a German slave princess in ancient Rome. As she narrated her story from this trancelike state, Rosa wrote it down and turned it into a novel, Nyria, published in 1904. When Nancy died in 1928, Rosa continued to communicate with with her through a medium, Hester Dowden, who purported to have had conversations with the spirit of Oscar Wilde. However, despite her receptiveness to unorthodox means of communication, Rosa forced her deaf daughter Maud to learn to speak, rather than learn sign language. Rosa was obsessed with class and breeding – I haven’t read all of her novels yet but I’m getting there, and so far each one has mentioned a character’s breeding. The impetus behind oralism, or forcing the deaf to speak, was so that deaf people would marry hearing people, and reduce the risk of having deaf babies. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, was also behind this eugenics-inspired push.
I looked too at how Praed uses sound in her novels, and the few occasions on which she refers to a fictional, deaf daughter. This research is for a book I’m writing on Praed, for which I received a grant from Arts Queensland. I love going to the Queensland State Library, which holds Praed’s archives – and indeed the library’s architecture features in my book – but it’s always like Antarctica in there, and makes me worry about global warming.
Then I wrote an essay proposal for a forthcoming edition of Griffith Review, and my tenth application for funding from the Australia Council. As always, I’m reminded how much of one’s personality and persistence is involved in being a writer. I submitted my short story ‘A Mercurial Man’ to litmags or competitions on six occasions before, on the seventh, it was selected by Geordie Williamson to be published in Island magazine.
And now, unsurprisingly, I am sick again with the flu, and have slept for something like thirty hours over the last three days. I’m looking forward to being well again, and getting back into the pool. The one thing that can be said for Brisbane is that it’s never truly winter here.