Using fiction to negotiate a violent world
Australia has a notably violent culture, fuelled by sport, machismo and alcohol, and although women are often victims of this violence, men, as both perpetrators and common victims, are well placed to generate insightful discussions.
Into the violence itself, and how to negotiate our way through it.
Jock Serong, author of Rules of Backyard Cricket, and Michael Sala, author of The Restorer, explored the nature of violence in their books and within their own lives in a discussion with Anneli Knight.
In Serong’s book, the violence is overt, explored as physical aggression between two competitive brothers, who are also professional cricket players.
‘There is a lot of desensitisation to violence in our culture, so I used a naive narrator who had a certain sweetness. Tenderness is the antidote to violence, and it also accentuates it.’
He is also particularly interested in the process of self-evaluation that occurs when a person knows that they are going to die, and how different types of death will give different time frames for that to happen.
Sala’s technique for writing violent scenes is to ‘find a small, intimate detail that makes it real for the person experiencing it’.
The violence in Sala’s book is more covert and is expressed both in the violent background of the novel, set in Newcastle in 1989 with the earthquake and the rape and murder of Leigh Leigh, and in the brewing violence between a man and his wife.
Sala tapped into the violence present in his own upbringing in Newcastle to inform the mood of his book: ‘I come from a school where, as a boy, if you weren’t clearly derogatory about girls, you were gay, which was the biggest insult imaginable.’
Writing violent scenes had a visceral effect on both writers, with Serong describing surges of adrenalin, sweat and physical queasiness; ‘sometimes violence just oozes out of the landscape’.
Both authors described the need to physically separate themselves from the scene of their writing, and noted the effectiveness of physical exercise in flushing it from their system: ‘Get the hell out of the house, walk the dog, go for a surf, do the shopping,’ Serong tells the audience.
Knight, the chair of the discussion, threw this into the mix: ‘Having a negative image of yourself has a destructive effect on the people around you.’ The she asked Serong and Sala if this quote resonated with their characters.
Serong replied that ‘having an absent sense of self is as destructive to the people around you as having a negative sense of self.’
Serong and Sala, while not violent men themselves, use violence in their writing to explore difficult decisions, complex relationships and as a trigger for self-understanding.
#byronwf2017 I love learning about the creative writing process, writers creating alternate worlds. Fab session Jock Serong & Michael Sala
— Karen Healy (@KarenEHealy) August 6, 2017
Sara Runciman is a Digital Media and Communications student at Southern Cross University.