Today I’m really thrilled to welcome Emily Maguire to my blog.
Emily Maguire is the esteemed Australian author of five novels including An Isolated Incident, which in 2017, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, Stella Prize, ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year and long-listed or commended for another four Australian and International literary awards.
Photo courtesy of Emily Maguire
Her success is staggering and entirely deserved. In August 2018, An Isolated Incident will be released in the United Kingdom.
In addition to writing fiction, Emily is also a prolific writer on feminism and sex. In May 2018, she was awarded the 2018 Charles Perkins Centre Writer in Residence Fellowship, where she will work on a new novel exploring the relationship between social status and health.
And not only is Emily an inspirational author and super star, but she is generous and gracious too. Thank you so much for your kind contribution, Emily.
Review of An Isolated Incident
An Isolated Incident explores the murder of a beautiful young woman, Bella Michaels in the fictitious rural town of Strathdee, a featureless and forgettable blip on the map where the pub is not so much the highlight, but rather the central nervous system of the town. We all know places like Strathdee. It’s not a destination, just a place to pass through, or stop for fuel and bad coffee on the road to somewhere better. Like Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things or Sofie Laguna’s The Choke, the setting is unquestionably Australian, and Maguire paints it with an acuity that can only come from intimately knowing this land.
The story is told through the eyes of Chris, Bella’s grieving sister, and May Norman, an ambitious, unrelenting young journalist.
From the very first page, Chris’ voice hit me like the bitter smell of stale beer and cigarettes. It is raw and sharp, with a rough edge born from hardship and disadvantage. The loss of Bella opens a deep wound in Chris’ already fractured life and exposes a harrowing loneliness.
Despite the unwieldy grief, Chris’ life and the memory of her sister is intruded upon by May, whose persistent pursuit for details bears no regard for Chris’ despair. May’s prodding is like a finger poking into the weeping wound of grief, twisting and turning, gouging the hole even deeper.
As the investigation into Bella’s death unfolds, Chris becomes increasingly fearful and suspicious of everyone around, unable to differentiate between truth and suspicion.
And just like in real life, Bella’s death is of interest only so long as it scintillates the audience and until it is replaced by the next story.
This story is closer to the truth than some may realise or like to accept.
In Australia, one woman dies almost every week at the hands of a current or former partner. These horrors are so frequent that they barely make the nightly news.
And this is exactly why this novel is so important. An Isolated Incident is a confronting and powerful exposition of violence against women, of popular sentiment to this plague in our society and the role of the media. It reminds us that these murders are more than just news stories. There are real lives involved. And these deaths are not isolated incidents.
If you haven’t read An Isolated Incident, add it to your ‘Must read’ list now and keep your eyes open for what Maguire has in store for us next.
I only hope that this outstanding Australian novel graces our screens one day, to spread Maguire’s important messages to the wide, unread corners of this country.
A corner of my mind with Emily Maguire
Q. An Isolated Incident is set in the fictitious rural town of Strathdee. This setting appeals to our preference to think that events like this don’t happen in our backyard. But of course they do. Women are murdered across Australia and violence doesn’t respect the boundaries of suburbs or demographics. How did you decide upon setting this story in a rural town?
A. As you point out, violence like the kind depicted in the book happens everywhere, so I could have set the story in any city, town or community and it would have been, unfortunately, believable. I chose a small rural town, though, because the natural limits of the place in terms of population and geography allows for a clearer display of the dynamics of denial, scapegoating, rumour-spreading and all that. But the pattern of behaviour holds true whether you’re in country, city or suburbia: violence is an everyday event but to admit it’s ‘our’ men committing it, is too horrifying and so we search for monsters from outside.
‘...to admit it’s ‘our’ men is too horrifying and so we search for monsters from outside.’
Q. There have been several high profile cases of domestic violence and violence against women in recent years, that have thrust this issue into the media spotlight.
In 2012, ABC radio staffer Jill Meagher was murdered by Adrian Bayley, while on her way home from a night out. In 2014, Rosie Batty’s son, Luke, was murdered by his father Greg Anderson, while he was at cricket practice. Of course, there have been countless other, unreported cases.
How much did high profile cases like these, inform or influence your story?
A. One of the things this book examines is the way the violent deaths of women are often used as fodder to sell newspapers and books. It was a challenge for me to write about that without doing the very same thing myself. I took that challenge very seriously and didn’t use any details that resembled or coincided with real life cases, as far as I knew. Of course since publication I’ve heard from lots of people who say ‘oh, this bit made me think of this real life case’ or ‘that was just like what happened to this woman’. It’s heartbreaking, actually, how many of us are walking around with details of terrible murders in our heads.
‘…violent deaths of women are often used as fodder to sell newspapers…’
That’s the other way I was influenced by high profile cases, I suppose: just from being a consumer of news I know the most horrific details of how certain women died. I know every detail of their last moments. Yet I know very little about who they were before this was done to them. So in my writing of Bella I wanted to make sure that the reader walks away knowing much more about how she lived than how she died.
Q. In May of this year you were awarded the Charles Perkins Writer in Residence Fellowship, to progress your new work, which I understand will explore the relationship between social disadvantage, health, consumerism and hoarding.
We’ve all seen television programs on extreme hoarding. It is usually treated as a spectacle, but is no doubt a symptom of much deeper health and social issues.
How do you plan to tackle these delicate and yet complex issues? And when starting a new work of fiction, do you set out with a clear writing plan or do you allow the creative process to unfold with time and research?
A. The TV shows about hoarding are, by definition, only about hoarding behaviour. There’s no interest in showing anything else about who the person displaying this behaviour is, what their lives are beyond their compulsion to hoard stuff. My project is the opposite of that, I suppose: to show a real, whole person whose life is as interesting and frustrating and fun and hard and complicated as that of any one else.
The gift of the Charles Perkins Centre fellowship is that I’ll have a year working from this incredible research hub where I’ll have access to some of the best minds working on the nexus of health and lifestyle and social disadvantage. My plan at this point is to listen, read, ask lots of questions and listen some more.
At the same time, and this goes to your second question, I’ll be writing. I’m not much of a planner at the outset. I start with a character and a problem and then write a messy first draft as a way to figure out the whys and hows.
‘I start with a character and a problem and then write a messy first draft…’
I’ll come out of that process with a million questions and as I research or think hard to answer them, yet more questions will arise and I’ll chase their answers down. Then I repeat the whole process. Planning happens in between those cycles, when I step back and look at what I’ve got and what needs to happen to move the mess of words closer to a novel.
It’s encouraging to know that even hugely successful authors like Emily Maguire begin with messy first drafts!
An Isolated Incident was first published in 2016 by Pan MacMillan Australia, and will be released in the United Kingdom in August 2018.
To find out more about Emily and her writing, visit her website here: https://www.emilymaguire.com.au