Two pages, 2000 words
Laura Elizabeth Wollett is an author from Melbourne, Australia. Her debut novel was The Wood of Suicides (The Permanent Press, 2014) and her latest is Beautiful Revolutionary (Scribe, 2018). In 2017, her short story collection The Love of a Bad Man (Scribe, 2016) was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction. She published her first fiction in Contrary.
Frances Badgett: You write so beautifully about women. Your characters carry the burden of infamy and history so well, working against the grain of the men who have—and continue—to dominate the narratives of history. Tell me about your stories, about the story of Jonestown or the girlish desires of Eva Braun and what draws you to their stories, their voices.
Laura Elizabeth Wollett: Many of the women I write about occupy a gray area between ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’. I’m fascinated by this territory, especially when it’s paired with history – those stories that we think we know already. The role of women in these stories often gets overlooked, or oversimplified. For instance, nobody really talks about the fact that the most powerful people in Jonestown after Jim Jones himself were young women, though it’s worth talking about. I’m interested in power and the ways that women navigate it, align themselves with it, carve out spaces for themselves that aren’t necessarily desirable, but do lend some sense of power. I think all the women I write about do this, even those who appear quite passive.
Frances: Your first fiction publication was “Vaucluse” in Contrary. I’ll never forget the experience of reading that story for the first time. How do you know when a story is complete, is ready for that effect on the reader, and how is that different from that moment in a novel?
Laura: It’s rare, but sometimes things come to you fully formed. “Vaucluse” was one of those stories – I wrote it between midnight and early morning one weekday when I was still in university. I remember birds were singing outside my window by the time I was done.
Those sleepless bursts of inspiration are the best, but a lot of the time it’s
more of a slog – especially with a novel, which needs so much more structural
work. I can’t say there’s always a ‘moment’ when I know something is complete.
It’s more of a general feeling when I’m onto something, that I know where it’s
going and that this direction feels somehow inevitable. This doesn’t always mean the work will resonate with readers, though; that’s much harder to predict.
Frances: One of the great aspects of your work is that you unearth untold and unexamined perspectives in your storytelling of historical events. Is this something you’ll continue to develop? And in what ways?
Laura: I think I’ll always be fascinated by unexamined perspectives of history, so I expect I’ll keep writing about these subjects. That said, there is a lot of
baggage that comes with writing about historical events, in that people sometimes have fixed ideas about the story you should be telling. I’ve found this recently with some of the responses to “Beautiful Revolutionary” (my novel about Jonestown/ Peoples Temple), and it’s a bit off-putting. I definitely think my next book will push in a more fictional direction, even if it does take inspiration from history.
Frances: What’s next for you?
Laura: Bouncing back from a long-haul project is hard. After finishing Beautiful
Revolutionary over a year ago, I’ve had a lot of false starts and rejections, and
have lost the habit of writing everyday. I’m beginning to feel myself becoming
more and more preoccupied with a new subject, though; the outlines of new
characters. It’s another novel, also true-crimey, with a female character at the