Reading through the submissions for this issue of Overland – my first as fiction editor – was enlightening. As always, there is not the space to publish every good story. Some stories dealt with important issues but were too obvious; they were flat stateåments rather than taking the reader through an experience. There needs to be a capaciousness, room for the reader, seeds for the imagination to grow but not so obscure there’s no thread to follow. A story doesn’t just move us from A to B along a broad, straight road. It should entice us down a path that curves in ways we don’t expect, opens out into odd little clearings and miniature worlds and then sometimes leads you to the edge of a cliff. I’m not talking about plot twists but about a sense of discovery. Oh, this is where we’re going!
There’s usually a sense of a ‘turn’ at some point, when the real subject of the story coalesces in the reader’s mind. The reader puts it together, not the writer. The real subject of a story is not the obvious one, except that it is, but in unexpected ways.
When putting together the stories for this edition I was intrigued by the way they spoke to each other, the way they chart changes in our consciousness from the pressures shaping us. These stories explore personal griefs and fears while tracking the shifting boundaries between self and world, between self and perception. Through varying ‘weird’ attachments and relations to the natural world, all is rendered strange and haunted. These pressures range from fears around the precariousness of self and identity – and just what constitutes success – in Ben Walter’s ‘The Economist’ and Elizabeth Flux’s ‘Hook. Line. Sinker.’ to manifestations of personal grief and alienation shading to grief for the natural world in Kate Ree’s ‘Of water’, Jem Tyley-Miller’s ‘The island’ and Laura Elvery’s ‘The garden Bridge’. Even from the titles it’s clear most of the stories have something to do with water – the perfect image for both the physical world and our subjective states. Its ebb and flow, its clarity or obscurity, images the unconscious, traces the unstable frontiers of our inner and outer worlds.
These stories seem to me to bear the feeling of a new reality for fiction writers; it is not possible to attend only to our inner worlds, if that ever was possible in fiction, because the pressure from our natural and social environments is so urgent that our consciousnesses cannot help but be shaped by it. Fiction is a demanding taskmaster and a story still has to work on all levels; as an aesthetic, emotional and intellectual experience. All of these stories are marked by attention to language, by risk-taking with language. This risk-taking can be at the level of metaphor, as in the leatherjacket leaping from the sea and attaching itself to a coat, or a man fishing in the swirling dirt. The attention can work at the level of image, as in the surreal description of Walter’s narrator ‘sitting in my Moonah flat with its tyres stolen and the windscreen cracked, ironing my one good shirt’ or sensual detail in the seductive smells of hot plastic luring Tyley-Miller’s narrator to the island, or ‘the sky fox-burnished’ over Elvery’s London.
A good short story often makes me think of a half-remembered song – I know the whole thing is there, just on the edge of consciousness, but it’s also just out of reach. Written partly from the dream state, sometimes there are levels that can only be grasped from a similar state of mind.
Many thanks to Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk for their care and thoughtfulness in making sure good stories weren’t overlooked.
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