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Writers' week

Collected stories

I'm Laura Kroetsch, Director of Adelaide Writers' Week. Come and journey with me through the marvellous world of literature. If you feel inspired, get involved and leave a comment at the bottom of the stories!

The end is nigh

7 June 2017

It’s officially winter and I’m sitting in my little house blowing a heater and thinking about President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement; Australia’s ongoing affection for ‘clean’ coal and my own flawed abilities when it comes to recycling – thank you ABC. It feels a bit grim, and if you look to contemporary fiction you’ll see that it’s been grim for a while now. In fact, it is post-apocalyptic.

So if you want to glimpse the future now I can recommend the following titles, books that tell great stories and make you think. I’ll start here in Australia with James Bradley’s Clade, a novel that tells the story of three generations of a family set in the near future and reaching until the end of the century.

The novel opens with Adam, a scientist in Antarctica thinking about his artist wife in Sydney negotiating IVF on her own. They eventually have a daughter, Summer and with each chapter the novel jumps ahead into a future and across the globe as Summer and her son Noah disappear into an English countryside suffering a mysterious plague.

Clade is about our relationship to science, to biology and to belief. It is a finely wrought novel, one that reads both easily and uncomfortably and you too easily see what may befall this planet and us in the not too distant future.

READ – The Dying Sea

If you fancy something darker I recommend Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan. Yuknavitch is an American novelist who you don’t really see here, which is a pity as she is brilliant. If you want something more realist, seek out her novel The Small Back of Children: a fierce novel about war, sex and art – set here on earth.

The Book of Joan is a different beast altogether, set on a satellite orbiting a war-torn earth. Its narrator is a 49 year-old woman called Christine Pizan, and if you get the reference to the Book of the City of Ladies, well done. Christine’s age is important as on this little world everyone is euthanized at 50.

The population – the survivors really – are hairless, sexless mutant humans who express themselves by decorating themselves with skin graffs, a skill at which Christine is a skilled artist, and the story she tells upon her skin is that of Joan of the Dirt, a rebel believed to be alive on earth but whom Jean de Men, the station’s leader, says was martyred, like her namesake.

The story of the novel is in part the story Christine etches into her skin, which is a story about the earth. The novel is also the story of life in the colony and of Christine’s friendship with Trinculo, a defiantly charming character who refuses to conform, which eventually sets him against the charismatic but dangerous Jean de Men. And what ensues is a rebellion.

What I most admire about Yuknavitch as a writer is her fearlessness – she will take you to difficult places, but hers is a vision that feels necessary, as it is one that considers the fluidity of sex gender, the consequences of war and rebellion and the violence we wreak upon each other. And while I’m sure that seems an unlikely reason to read a book, remember that there is plenty of sex, violence and cross-dressing in Shakespeare too.

A woodcut from a 1669 pamphlet called ‘The Flying Serpent or Strange News Out of Essex’.

Then again, maybe you just want a book to enjoy by the fireside as winter sets in. Fair enough. Grab a copy of The Essex Serpent and a steaming cup of tea and be transported to the 19th century, where a young widow with a passion for fossils abandons London for a muddy coastal village complete with handsome pastor, a local legend, and some mysterious goings on – perfect reading for anyone who enjoyed The Signature of All Things.

Happy winter…