Every month, Writer’s Edit selects one work to feature as our Short Story of the Month. This year we’re going behind the scenes of the writing to discuss inspirations and influences with the authors themselves.
We talked with south coast writer, editor, and event organiser, Linda Godfrey, about her enchanting outback bildungsroman story ‘Aunt Merle‘.
What’s your writing history like, and what are your accomplishments so far?
I love to write, I have to write, in fact if I don’t write for a while, I get flu-like symptoms. Weird but true.
I’ve been writing since 1991 when I took a writing workshop with the poet, Deb Westbury. I wrote poetry and short pieces of prose for a long time, then turned a short story into a novel that has never been published, about a long-term friendship between two women.
I have had an ASA mentorship and a Varuna Longlines residency to finish that work, called A Necklace of Dried Bees, but it has never been accepted anywhere. I also have another novel in the bottom drawer.
My main writing projects are taken up with prose poetry, where I can indulge my passion for imagist lines infused with stories and characters from the Greek myths.
I have a Masters in Professional Writing from UTS and I enjoyed every second of it. I met some fabulous writers who have gone on to be friends and colleagues.
Where did your inspiration for the story come from, and what was the actual writing process like?
I wanted to write a story where a young girl, probably about five years old, was being looked after by her father, reluctantly, one afternoon in the country, and he takes her to see his Aunt Merle, a tough country woman, an ex-drover’s cook. The father and Merle are casually cruel to the child, Harriet.
The inspiration came from my desire to explore women’s relationships with people who shape their character, there are those who shelter their children, those who lead them gently into adulthood and those who think that treating people roughly and uncaringly will toughen them up and make them ‘winners.’
I wanted to show the effects that cruelty can have on children. The writing process was incredible.
I wrote the story over three days, two of which I was away on a weekend with my husband and two friends down the coast at Depot Beach.
I was obsessed with the story and they went off and had adventures and I stayed in the cabin typing away.Then I joined them for wine and BBQ’d kingfish at night under the stars in front of a open fire.
How did the character of Aunt Merle come to you? She’s a classic Aussie woman from the country – formidable and down-to-earth – yet she has a soft side. How is she instrumental to the story?
Aunt Merle is based on a real woman who I met on holidays at my uncle’s place when he lived in Yetman. My uncle Jack and his wife Daphne had a garage and petrol station there, in the middle of nowhere, past Inverell on the way to Texas, Queensland. It was dry and dusty.
Aunt Merle was Daphne’s mother and she did live down a dusty road that balls of dry grass tumbled down. She had been a drover’s cook, raised her kids on the trail.
She had these dogs that lived out the back in sawn- off old water tanks. But she was always happy for a visit. She had a very distinctive way of throwing the tea leaves from her tea pot into the garden, there was a certain swing to her arm.
I met her when she was very old, so I am not sure about the soft side, that moves into fiction. The characters are there for a reason, they get to do what the writer needs.
She has to be instrumental to the story, she has the paddock, the bull and the scratchy fence. She knows that Harriet wont get hurt.
Who are your literary influences? What are your favourite, must-read books?
I read Ernest Hemingway’s Fiesta (also called The Sun Also Rises) when I was thirteen.
The writing, the subject matter, Paris, Pamplona, the tension between Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley, especially their ride in the taxi has left a lasting impression. I have read it many times since.
And I adore Martha Gellhorn’s journalist writing about Spain and Palestine, so clear and tough. Jane Eyre is also a book I revisit many times. The melodrama, the suppressed passion, hmm… seems like there a pattern emerging in my reading.
Anna Kavan’s Ice is one of those books I have on my shelf and I check every so often has not been spirited away. This book has influenced me in my impressionistic writing, supposedly science fiction by a heroine addict, but the language and images have a hallucogenic flavour that I adore.
Also The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller, she builds a story paragraph by impressionistic, disjointed paragraph. These are the classics for me.
Other than that, I read and buy books by Australian contemporary women writers and have since the 1970’s, to support the writers and read their work.
You have to pick a genre and this is mine. My library can attest to this collection, piles of books threatening to topple.
What advice would you give to other writers? What’s the best lesson you’ve learned?
My advice would be to write as you need to, don’t fit into any formula. Don’t get dispirited, keep going.
I know what it is like to sit in your office, your work getting rejected and you may think that it’s all crap and you will never get published, but there is a publisher out there who will take your work.
And, writing to get published may not even be the point of the writing. It’s more of a friend with benefits. And people will appreciate your style.
And there is the usual advice, don’t wait for the muse, write as often as you can.
Get yourself a writing group. They are invaluable. Read lots. Go and listen to writers talk.
This is my advice and they are the best lessons I have learned along the way.