Saturday, March 10, 2012

Noah and the Dove in the Year of Reading

Did you know that this year is the Year of the Farmer and The Year of Reading? Got us here at Onemilebridge covered, coming and going.

In the midst of all the excitement about Wombat Ben I just found out that my short story, 'By Night I Swim', took out second prize in the Fellowship of Australian Writers National Short Story Award. How great is that!

Am I allowed to say that I really like that story? Well I do. I've been tinkering with it ever since I began it on a visit to Daughter Number Four in San Francisco four years ago.

I won first prize in this competition in 2004 with a story called 'Signs I Don't Understand' that took me only a few months to write - quick for me. That story is set in Melbourne and starts when my narrator - coincidentally called Vivienne - throws an overcoat on over her pyjamas and sets off on a midnight dash to the corner store to buy a chocolate bar. She is picked up by twin clowns who insist that she accompany them to get a drink or two. Before she finally returns to bed there's a scuffle in a lane involving a gun and she's arrested.

The judges thought that story contained passion and joy and even a little chaos.

This current  story is totally different. It's about a girl, Rosie, whose mother has dumped her at the family farm while she heads back to the city. The farm, run by Rosie's uncle, is a sad place. The grandparents are dead, as is the uncle's baby son, and the aunt has left.
No ghosts or poltergeists inhabit the house. The opposite: when you put something down, it stays there forever, like the rusty tractor cobwebbed in the barn, my grandmother’s jam-making pot pushed to the back of the kitchen range, my grandfather’s felt hat, tide-marked with sweat and shaped to the fit of his head, left on the nail on the porch, above his gaping gumboots. One by one the people of my life have slipped away, leaving behind only their impressions in photographs, and possessions they no longer need.
It will be interesting to read the judges' comments on 'By Night I Swim'. The story was inspired in part by a small farm across the road from us here in Mole Creek. Ian, a nice elderly man, lived alone there in the farm house he'd grown up in. I began to imagine what the rooms of that cottage, inhabited only by that bachelor, would contain. I sent Rosie and her wild mother to find out for me.

Ian moved into a nursing home and the farm was sold, the house renovated. It looks adorable now but I'm glad I saw it before, so I could feed my imagination with it.

I used to consider myself a short story writer, but over the last eight years I've written and rewritten and rewritten three book-length projects. There've been several articles too, but it's been mainly those books: my memoir, a young adult novel and an adult novel.

Writing a novel can feel endless, and very isolating. There's no real way to check your progress. You're there alone, adrift in a frail craft on a choppy sea. I'm finally nearing the end of work on my adult novel, By the Book, now. I sent out  'By Night I Swim' like Noah's dove  — to see if there was anyone out there.

Turns out there was, and my dove has flown back to me not with a twig, but a prize of a different and very welcome kind.


  1. I am not surprised Vivienne, you write beautifully.
    My warm congratulations to you. x

  2. Thank you, thank you, Judith. That's so lovely of you. I appreciate it very much.

  3. I am not surprised either Vivi. You are leading the way. Congratulations and best wishes. x Belinda

  4. Thanks, Belinda. Much appreciated. Hope you are still writing too! x