kim westwood – articles
writing the poetic apocalyptic
In response to questions of where does my work fit in relation to literary and genre fiction, I’ve coined my own term—poetic apocalyptic—because many of my stories have a preoccupation with humanity’s capacity for destruction and equal instinct for survival, while the rhythms and nuances draw inspiration from the language of poetry. The characters often inhabit an Australia where something has been turned on its head. I think this is because my imagination has a kind of chemical reaction to living on Terra Australis, and responds strongly to its properties.
The Daughters of Moab, for instance, began with an image that sat in my mind a long time unexplored: a desolate expanse—the sort you get out west, where the land dissolves into sky at a 360-degree horizon—with a railway line spearing through it, and two figures padded against the elements. In it, I knew, was danger, and an intense relationship. The two became Easter and Yukiko in the novel, and the thread of their illicit love got woven through the dystopian landscape as I wrote beyond the snapshot to find out who they were and why they were there.
The second image was of a very handsome woman dressed like a stockman of the apocalypse, and standing in a lighthouse. Her challenge to me, thrown like a lure, was to come find her. I did, and she grew into the enigmatic Assumpta Viali, the reticent hero of the novel.
From there the story unfolded in bright, perplexing pieces (Eustace Crane, for instance, was sitting morosely in his wingless aeroplane long before I knew why), so I wrote each image as a vignette first, not knowing how it related to the rest, but trusting I’d find out. Then, suddenly, the Eureka! moment would arrive, and the threads (which had always connected underneath) surfaced as a pathway through the narrative.
The act of writing is both beguiling and addictive. As the imagined world fills gradually with its own life, events and experiences from the outside world work their way into the fabric of the story. Meanwhile, the ever-developing lives of those inside it bleed through to superimpose themselves on external reality in a kind of two-way osmosis, leaving me with a feeling of floating perpetually between.
When, finally, the end of the tale looms and the writing ends, it’s a terrible wrench. But it’s time for the characters of the novel to go forth into the world—this world—and claim their place in it.