Writing & News

Authors write letters to readers!

Since I started Upswell I have asked all authors to write an introductory letter to our subscribers with some illumination or detail about the finished book. I left the brief wide open, and the authors have tackled it in a range of ways, as you’d imagine: where the initial spark came from; influences, quirky stories about the book. Now that it is the end of the years, we are sharing some of these letters. I’ll keep adding to these as we go. Enjoy!

Simon Tedeschi and Fugitive

When people find out that I have written a book, their first question is most often ‘what is it about?’ I usually stammer out something in response about a prose poem using Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives as a narrative thread. But in my gut this has always felt like a cop-out. Jeanette Winterson once wrote the following: “’What is your book about?’ has always puzzled me. It is about itself and if I could condense it into other words I should not have taken such care to choose the words I did.” This rings true for me. Fugitive is about is what Fugitive is about; it bears witness to itself and draws attention to its own making. What I wrote is inseparable from the form in which I wrote it. When writing Fugitive, I aspired for the work to adhere to what Emerson said about “a circle, outside of which we cannot understand, (that) continues to get larger and larger; there is no ‘outside looking in.’

However, what I can tell you about is the writing process. For such a small book, Fugitive was a long time coming. It went through many iterations; initially a series of small poems in free verse, then a larger poem and then, somehow and suddenly, I found my way into the book. Clearly my mind had done its grappling in the shadows, quite apart from any ability of mine to control or speed it up.

I can also tell you that when writing Fugitive, I was concerned, (read: obsessed) with the texture and colour of the individual sentence. If you have subscribed to Upswell, chances are you share Terri-ann’s (and my) view that what makes a piece of writing stand out is the power of the sentence. Like a musical motif or a brushstroke on a painting, the sentence is a fission of energy.

Finally, I’d like to thank you for supporting my work and Upswell. Writing Fugitive has been the greatest creative undertaking of my entire life.

I invite you, the reader, to occupy the white space around my text and in doing so, complete the circle I have started.

Simon Tedeschi, Author

Bronwyn Rennex and Life with Birds: a suburban lyric

Life with Birds started out as a collection of stories, documents, pictures and ideas. A commonplace book where I stored my thinking about suburbs and families and birds and war. The process of working on it was intuitive, performed (as one early reader described it) with “a funny, curious, branch hopping, sideways looking, trinket collecting spirit.”

I deliberately set out not knowing where my writing would take me. I wanted to consider the impacts war on families, but I also wanted to write about lots of other things. I wasn’t aiming to find a sense of closure. I didn’t see myself as a victim. I simply wanted to find out more. It’s really hard to write about war, though, without it having a centripetal force on any other subject matter around it. The challenge I faced was writing a book that was both political and personal: a testimony and a lament, that didn’t get swallowed up in genre or ambushed by war. Life with Birds is my refusal to be summarised or to stick to conventions.

I grew up watch Hogan’s Heroes on TV and learning about WWI at school. That was war to me. I didn’t think that military history played out in my house or in my suburb. Our family’s experience wasn’t represented anywhere. The details were too small, too difficult to express or too everyday. What I understood of my father’s war service (or anything about our family for that matter) I had cobbled together out of atmosphere, disparate details, silence and dad’s cigarette smoke. So, Life with Birds needed to reflect that – a collation of family stories, official documents, photos and guesswork.

The challenge was in weaving them together so they added up to something larger than their parts.

When I was finished, I felt more like amidwife than a mother. As if Life with Birds had known all along what it needed to be and I just had to help it into the world and not smother it with too many words, burden it with too much despair or tidy it up with too much story. It was helpful to think of it as embracing the logic of poetry rather than of narrative prose. I didn’t feel the need to make connections between the elements explicit. What these fragments, objects and moments meant was not always clear to me. I wanted to engage the reader in piecing them together, just like I had to.

If there is a through-line in Life with Birds, it is of trying to recreate or reimagine my father, using these disparate traces. Researching and writing it encouraged me to unearth some of the silences in my life. Were it not for working on it, I doubt whether I would have spoken to my sisters about my father’s death (for the first time in over 30 years!) or discovered my mother’s letters or my father’s last words.

What about the birds?

I didn’t try to understand the role of birds in the book. They were there before most anything else. I didn’t know how the advertisements to sell parrots made sense, for instance, but I collected them anyway, feeling that they did. As I wrote, I came to see that birds provided an effective mirror to people. Through them, I could speak about loneliness, about horniness, about suffering, birth and death – the big topics. We were all in captivity in the suburbs, yet there was also wildness within us, and around us if we cared to look for it.

The birds opened me up to nuances of language and hope and survival. Through them, I could think about being invisible, yet in plain sight – much like the wives and families of veterans. In the suburbs we lived among birds, but we hardly acknowledged them.

I think, ultimately, what I was trying to do was to write about the space between stories: a space you don’t notice if you don’t go looking for it (much like birds). It’s what’s happening in the bird ads, where between the lines describing each bird, there’s another story being told, of another life going badly, or going well, or just going on.

Bronwyn Rennex, Author