Joshua Kemp is longlisted for the Fogarty Literary Award for his novel In the Shadow of Burringurrah, an Australian gothic story. Here, he talks about what inspired him to write it, male and female relationships, and why novel writing is his true love.
Describe your manuscript in your own words:
In the Shadow of Burringurrah is a novel about trauma, and how trauma can be inherited. It follows Jarran, a young guy dealing with a recent relationship break-up and mental health issues, who goes to see his grandmother on her deathbed. Just before she passes away, Jarran’s grandmother tells him she murdered two of her students when she was working as a teacher back in the 1940s, and that she buried their bodies at the foot of Burringurrah, a remote mountain inland from Meekatharra. Jarran doesn’t really know what to do with this information, so he decides to drive up to the mountain and find out if his grandmother was telling the truth. His journey north eventually brings him into conflict with Dusty Craddon, the father of the two murdered girls, who’s still haunted by disappearance of his daughters.
What inspired you to write it?
I’m a big fan of Australian Gothic fiction so I wanted to write a really unsettling, classic Aussie Gothic novel like The White Earth by Andrew McGahan and In the Winter Dark by Tim Winton, while also tackling some subject matter a bit closer to home in my personal life. Something that had started to fester in my mind in the lead up to writing the novel was the complexity of male power, especially in relationships between men and women, how corrosive and destructive that power can be, and how often it’s women that have to live with the trauma of men’s caustic behaviour. It’s also about the trauma of colonial history in Western Australia and how that plays on the psyches of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in everyday life.
How long have you been working on it?
I’d only had the idea for about twelve months before I started writing the novel and then I finished the first draft within three months. I hadn’t written much for a long time leading up to starting In the Shadow of Burringurrah so I think there was this incredible build-up, an emotional need, to write and so it just vomited out onto the page. I think that’s why the novel has such an intense, fast-moving pace.
What does it mean to you to make the longlist of the 2019 Fogarty Literary Awards?
I’ve had some success with publishing my short fiction but my true love is writing novel-length and novella-length stories, so it means a tremendous amount to be shortlisted for the Fogarty. The Fogarty in particular means so much to me just because this is an award for Western Australian writers. I believe it’s so important for us to continue to tell stories about ourselves, our history and our present, in this astonishing State that we live in.
Read an extract
They cross an open spread of mulga where the green trees are shorter, and the granite cliffs crouch in the pale distance. The old man can see why they call it breakaway country from here. The way the white shelf of land falls away suddenly, creating the rock-littered slopes below. He trudges on and watches the boy leading him in his shorts and hoodie, swinging a stick from one hand now, whipping it at the hot air and muttering to himself. They traipse across stiff white loams, a constant shimmer of broken grog glass under them. They’ll be back in the Granites soon enough.
‘How’s ya head, Dust?’ the boy calls back at him without looking.
Dusty reaches up and dabs the cut just above his brow with his index finger. Can feel where it’s scabbed-over. No blood on his fingertip when he checks. ‘All good now,’ he says.
‘What ghosts you seen out here, Dust?’
‘Keep walkin’, you.’
‘Who’s this fella ya said ya saw out here?’ the boy asks.
‘Some little fucker I gotta catch up with.’ Dusty hears himself and clears his throat. ‘S’cuse me language.’
The boy gives a dismissive wave.
They finally hit the foot of an orange cliff, and the sand under them, once beach-white, changes ochre being this close to the outcrop. The mulga still open but shaped differently. Some even look like Christmas trees.
The old man can feel his weakling body already starting to give out but won’t show the boy any hint of his struggle. He snarls to himself silently, peering down at this baked earth indurated after a millennia under the scorching sun. Clotting branches of blistered red flare in the sclera of one of his slowly dulling eyes. He would become like what the boy calls him; Dust. And all this will go on without him. There’s a place not far from here, he recalls out of nowhere. A place called the Jack Hills. Some geologists found the oldest known rocks on earth out there.
The loamy ridge is green with wildflowers, and when Dusty stumbles over it, he starts to find the boy frozen. His eyes even more scared now than when he saw the tomahawk in Dusty’s hand. ‘What is it?’ the old man barks.
He looks. A massive overhang of tangerine granite, a black smear down its heavy brow from where the water used to run course. Dusty only catches a glimpse of it, the scaly black tail like a scimitar. It scuffs against the smaller granites and then it’s gone into a rift in the outcrop.
Dusty wipes at his sweat. ‘Just a goanna.’ He looks at the boy’s scared face. ‘Bungarra.’
But he knows the boy beholds this place in a different way, sees it through a dimensional prism completely beyond the old man’s understanding. It might not even be fear on the boy’s face, but veneration. Dusty can’t tell.
‘Carn,’ the boy says all of a sudden and then stomps off.
Joshua Kemp is an author of Australian Gothic and crime fiction. His short work has appeared in literary journals such as Overland, Seizure, Tincture and Breach. He has a story published in the anthology ACE: Arresting Contemporary Stories from Emerging Writers, as well as stories appearing in upcoming anthologies published by Kill Your Darlings and Forty South Publishing. In 2017, he won the Australasian Association Writing Program’s Chapter One Prize for his novella Boneyard, and is currently nearly finished his PhD at Edith Cowan University in Bunbury.