I have been a fiction editorial assistant at Overland for two years now, and it’s an honour to be the first online guest fiction editor and present the three stories I’ve selected here.
Gathering these stories – even searching through our fiction archives for one I’d read back in December that made me catch my breath – I am at a loss to tell you if there’s any common thread that connects them. The three works are by female writers, but that was unintentional: on Submittable the fiction submissions are, like love, blind. What I could say is that all three pieces are set in contemporary Australia.
As one of Overland’s fiction readers, I’ve been lucky to read through a vast collection of pieces sent in over the past few years. The submissions themselves were always a perfect showcase for the diversity of Australian writers and styles being produced at that point in time, much more so than the definitions of Australian fiction presented in anthologies or university courses might have led me to believe. And contemporary Australia took a myriad of definitions and forms in every one of those pieces.
Of course, the notion of ‘contemporary Australia’ itself can be a conundrum. Many writers use the chance to write fiction as a commentary or to attempt to define modern Australia through fiction. Modern politics in fiction – especially short stories – has always been tricky to invoke, and I’ve frequently agreed with the opinions expressed, but not the way they were delivered. Often, references to topical issues, current events and badly disguised public figures kept the thematic resonance to a superficial level. Sometimes there were characters – addicts, sex workers, the unemployed, migrants – made up of practical conflicts and limited vocabularies as if that was all those people were. And occasionally, outside of satire, conservative or ignorant people were written as venomous stereotypes rather than fully realised characters who were just plain wrong. These mistakes were always rare, but as a writer myself, it forced me to think about my own flaws and errors in judgement. The more reading I’ve done, the more I’ve thought about what qualities I want to see in fiction.
One of the commonly touted benefits of good fiction is its ability to produce or encourage empathy. Readers can relate to or understand circumstances that are not their own, and respect decisions and choices that they themselves would not make. This, I feel, can be a political dialogue in and of itself.
The stories we’re publishing here have all of these qualities. There’s a strange and strong determination in Donna, of Debbie Lustig’s ‘Five’; it prompts her to do things which leave her haunted and disgusted at herself, but for which the reader may be left with a grudging respect. There’s a kind of demented yet perfect determinism in Tara Goedjen’s ‘Arthur’s Bath’. Set amid the gentle prose there’s a darkness that reminded me of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but also of Mary Shelley herself, as the protagonist devotes herself to the process of regaining her lost infant.
Finally, what makes Jane Jervis-Read’s ‘Little People’ so remarkable is how her main character is constructed. Maddy takes everything with an inquiring mind tempered by a sort of practicality as she arranges her life around the mysterious appearance of a rather uncanny baby. All of these stories give us a chance to see what happens when people are pushed beyond their personal boundaries, past social expectations, self-doubt and even logic.
It’s my great pleasure to share these unusual stories.