Your story, ‘Amelia Is Gone’, published in The Trouble With Flying and other stories seems strangely haunting, and almost dreamlike in its depictions of presence and belonging. Do you see memory and identity as inextricably intertwined, or is the relationship between the two more complex than that?
Yes I do: so much of what we are is the stories that we tell about ourselves, from the memories that we choose to recall. And conversely, who we are dictates what we choose to remember.
Memory is so subjective; it’s impossible to be objective when it’s a memory of ourselves. We’re guided by what we remember and so what we remember shapes us as much as what we experience in the now. We are always admonished by guru types for not living enough in the now, but I love memories for the stories they make us.
In Amelia is Gone I wanted to capture a moment in time where my character, Amelia, makes an important decision. At such moments the mundanities of our immediate surrounds often attain a significance that is extrinsic to them, that is entirely attached to the moment and our decision. So, I motel bedroom on the outskirts of a mining town will always be attached to Amelia’s decision to either stay with or leave her husband.
I wrote Amelia is Gone as an exercise in backstory, researching the protagonist for my next novel The Patchwork Man (she is his mother). However, she – Amelia – had such life in her that I have gone on to write the full story of her life in the novel I’m working on now. A prequel! How fashionable!
Your debut novel The Lifeboat is similarly invested in notions of belonging and identity. What about these themes interest or intrigue you, and how does one move away from self-examination into a subtler, more nuanced fictional space?
I conceived The Lifeboat after a huge road trip through Mexico: six weeks in a VW Polo with friend, talking about everything. As we drove I realised that the trip was going to be an important ‘moment’ for me. That started me thinking about memory and then, with a death and a ferry trip thrown in, The Lifeboat fell into my head. The central question of that book is: are we born the person we are always going to be or are we the sum of our life’s memories?
My next book is another take on belonging and identity, so I guess they are themes that fascinate me. But subconsciously: I don’t wander about in real time questioning who I am and where I belong – that would be really tedious for my friends and family.
We take belonging for granted but I don’t think belonging anywhere is a given, which may explain my somewhat peripatetic existence. However, identity is bound up in belonging – we belong to the people that we recognise at a deep level and that can be unexpected when it filters up to our consciousness.
Moving away from self-examination? Well, I think I start all my writing well away from self-examination, trying to be on the outside looking in, observing – that old Somerset Maugham thing. It’s only later, when I’m done with the story, that I see glimpses of myself – or others near to me see glimpses of me, they tell me. I just love the ‘what if’ of writing stories and that’s where I always begin.
How important to you are notions of the fantastic or imaginative in your own work? Do such notions originate from a love of certain authors, or is it more the capacity of the fantastic to better address real world concerns?
Recognising the possibility of the fantastic within the real is important to me. Drawing peoples’ attention to what could happen, with just one tiny step beyond.
I love writers who play with magical realism: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, early Jeannette Winterson, Rose Tremaine, Haruki Murakami, Flann O’Brien, Umberto Eco, David Mitchell. Somerset Maugham was the master at weaving magic into reality, or rather accentuating the magical within the real. But I have also found in my own life that the line between the pedestrian and the fantastic is often blurred – I try to keep open to a sense of wonder in the everyday. Reality can be pretty fantastical, good and bad. I listen to the news and sometimes think that if I’d written what I just heard, no one would believe me.
In my next novel The Patchwork Man I use futurism to examine the world now: possible futures that ring true always look back at the now. Futurism is a very important genre as a way of commenting on our cultures.
I also believe that writers create our expectations of the world: we write it and people enact it. Our creations are extrapolations from what we observe, so maybe the world was going that way anyway, or maybe our writing planted a seed. Or maybe both.
How do you effectively balance your writing life with those more ephemeral aspects of being a writer, such as public speaking, workshops and writers’ festivals. Is there a formula for success in this area, do you think?
I don’t think that they are ephemeral aspects – they are just another aspect and a fun one at that. I enjoy public speaking: it’s like catching an unexpected sight of yourself in a shop window – it reveals something new. I’ve done very few workshops as a student, but conducting creative writing workshops always teaches me something. Writers are always seem to be so generous and keen to share in the thrill of creation.
I don’t know of any formula for success, except ‘don’t be boring’.
Actually, I think it’s kinda dangerous to chase after any ‘formula’ – that is the domain of advertising and marketing. I know I appreciate listening to someone who is genuine…I think ‘authentic’ is the buzz-word. Art of any sort is like a mirror: people like to see themselves reflected in some way. Give me a Hall of Mirrors any day!
What’s your biggest challenge as a writer, and in what ways do you work to overcome it?
Time! Always time! I have about six books in my head ready to go: I just need time to write them.
Like most writers in Australia I do other work to support myself. It makes me quite cross, actually. Where would the beloved Australian identity, that the pollies spout on about, be without the writers who created that Australian identity? (Whatever it may be.) And yet arts budgets are cut and writers work for nothing, vying for scant remuneration from literary awards, hoping for a best-seller or a mini-series, or Hollywood!
I see how much money is spent on sport, how much money is wasted on political jockeying, how much money is spent on corporate bail-outs and I wonder that no one can spare just a tiny percentage of that money to pay writers for the pleasure they give to the readers of Australia. I am not asking for hand-outs: we need more writers-in-residence in the corporate world, in the schools and universities and in the town councils. Fair pay for a fair days work – that would be a start.
Zacharey Jane has been a painter, singer, hansom cab driver, waitress, airbrush artist, production manager, graphic artist, bar attendant, body-double, horse rider, prop maker, producer, advertising executive, nanny, scenic artist, teacher, travel consultant, stylist, swimming pool attendant, set dresser, prop master, location scout, window cleaner, illustrator, go-go dancer, tour manager and world traveller. Now she is a writer, illustrator and teacher, and lives with her family by the sea.
Zacharey has written The Lifeboat, a novel, and the children’s picture book Tobias Blow, both published by UQP. She has contributed to The Northerly, Perilous Adventures and the QWC magazine. Her short story Amelia Will Go is published in the Margaret River Press compilation The Trouble with Flying.