When I review individual stories, I tend to choose ones that are available on-line. Is that fair, I wonder? It means the author receives no payment for the story I review, but it does mean readers can enjoy a story that they may not otherwise easily access and, I suppose, that the author receives some exposure. Does that make sense? Whatever! This is what I do!
So, to Julie Twohig. She came to my attention when she commented on one of my posts. As most of us do when people who have blogs themselves comment on our blogs, I checked out her blog. It turned out that Twohig is a short story writer, and has had some success, winning or being shortlisted for various awards/competitions, and being included in a few published anthologies. She’s a good example – I hope she doesn’t mind being held up as an example – of the hard work short story writers put into getting their stories known and published.
She provides the text for a few of her stories on her blog, but I chose to read “Full circle” because it is, she writes, her “first winning story and first short fiction to be published”. It won the Leader (Leader being a newspaper group) Darebin (being a community in Victoria) Short Story Competition and was also Commended by The Society of Women Writers Victoria Inc. I enjoyed the story. It’s not one of those tricky short stories that leaves you wondering at the end, but it’s a story from the heart about a middle-aged woman, Jean, returning to the Luang Prabang area of Laos, alone, thirty-two years after her previous visit with Peter, the man who was to become her husband. Peter isn’t with her because, we soon realise, he has died (not because of divorce). Early in the story Jean remembers him saying “I’ll rest when I’m dead”. The tone, here, is sad, nostalgic, not angry or bitter.
The story starts like a typical travel story. Our protagonist is on a bus in an unfamiliar environment, trying to work out how to navigate a different culture. It’s nicely done:
After freeing her backpack from an overhead rack Jean tries to dodge the spillage while scrambling past passengers packed tightly along the aisle. ‘Sorry, sorry … excuse me.’ She had thought it might be rude to thump her fist on the ceiling the way the locals do to make the driver stop. She wishes now she had.
All travellers are, I’m sure, familiar with this uncertainty about how to act. Anyhow, we are not sure what Jean is doing except that it is something she feels she must do – “this trip is for her. For Peter. Full circle”. Aha, there it is, the title, half way through the story.
I’d love to discuss what she is doing because it rang true to me – not that I have experienced exactly the same thing (my spouse is still alive), but I’ve experienced enough for it to have that lovely sense of “ah yes, this makes sense”. The story is well structured. There are a few flashbacks to give us a sense of where Jean is in her life, but only as is needed to convey who Jean is and why she might be doing this trip. The imagery isn’t particularly original, but it is effective, and not overdone, which suggests that Twohig has taken care to hone her story.
At the end of the story on her website, Twohig tells us that poor handling of the publication of the anthology resulted in a furore, which led to the competition not being repeated. Interestingly, the very same Leader newspaper group ran an article in February last year announcing the inaugural Mayor’s Writing Awards in Darebin, with two prizes – for Adult and Children’s short fiction. The winners of these prizes were announced in June on the Darebin Arts website. The winning and highly commended stories earned a cash prize and the “option to be published in n-SCRIBE issue 9″, the City of Darwin’s community arts magazine, which is published annually. It remains to be seen whether this competition will be run again in 2015. Full circle?
“Full circle” in Around the block: Our Darebin Community
Greensborough, Vic: Flat Chat Press, 2007
Available online at the author’s website