The deadline for applications for the Overland Master Class is coming up, and I wanted to explain further our thinking behind it:
1) Fiction (and all art) is about taking the world and turning it on a certain angle, so that your reader can see it afresh, and by implication see their own place within the world. It allows a rethinking of the world and where we stand within it.
2) What kind of world, then, is the fiction writer showing? This is an implicitly political question because it asks the writer to examine their own assumptions about the world as well as how they’d like to represent it. So what can we say about the world today? There are obviously a great many things, but if we look at it in its broad sweep, it has some pretty serious issues: the coming disintegration of the ecosphere and the changing climate, the new effects of the GFC (loss of jobs etc), the extraordinary exploitation of the underdeveloped world, the obsession with image (especially body image) that seems to swamp us, (add your own to the list…).
3) Fictions task is often – though not always – to represent these issues on a micro and emotional level: what is the experience of the farmer driven from the land due to lack of rain, the young woman afflicted with anorexia, the immigrant escaping violence in their home country, only to encounter it in the new one, the financial executive newly thrown out of a job and reassessing all their neo-liberal assumptions, the unhappy housewife who wants to leave the marriage, the experience of the activist who now finds themselves alone in the suburbs, their activist days past, and so on?
4) Importantly, through the structures of narrative, it makes us feel these things as well as think about them intellectually. Art is not simply an essay – it has its own laws and rules (narrative ones), which may also be attacked and broken (the avant-garde). In any case, it needs to offer more than purely an opinion. Otherwise why not write non-fiction?
4) What is not clear to us at the moment at Overland, is quite what the appropriate form for this kind of progressive fiction would be. Back at its inception, the Overland tradition was closely associated with Realism, more recently in the 1990s it championed Dirty Realism. We’ve experimented with speculative fiction (Issue 188 and soon again in 196). We don’t really have a set opinion at the moment, but we certainly want to foster discussion about these issues, and develop a group of writers who take part in that debate not just intellectually, but artistically: who say ‘Look what I can do.’
5) We thought we could organise the Master Class for people interested in such issues, which would look not only at the political aspects, but the artistic ones – or more properly, how to encapsulate the political ones in artistically satisfying forms. So we’ve invited the three writers – Cate Kennedy, Lucy Sussex and Tony Birch – to come and help progressive writers learn and discuss the art of fiction.