gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

WHM- Karen Simpson Nikakis

In my view, two of the best women writers in Australia today are Sonya Hartnett and Margo Lanagan but these two haven’t influenced me (at least not consciously). The writers who have really influenced me haven’t in fact been Australian, and a lot haven’t even been women, but the woman whose works hit me in the guts like a punch, and whose writing showed me for the first time, the full possibilities of narrative was Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy. Note I’m talking books here, not just a writer because I can read a novel by an author and adore it, and be left completely cold by their other works.

 I might have been predisposed to love these works because at the time I was interested in pre-Roman Britain but the impact was a lot more than that. Stewart (who is English, born 1916 and who is now 95) evokes the era by creating a full sensory experience. We smell the sweat steaming from horses; see the hoar frost glittering under an empty sky; hear the cry of the hawk as it wheels away; feel the coarseness of sackcloth and taste the tart juice in berries picked wild.

Reading Stewart’s works made the concept of setting being as potent and as active as character (as opposed to being window dressing) real to me, and it stayed with me when I started to write years later (I read these books in 1976 as a 21 year old and didn’t start writing until I was 38). The other thing I found revelatory in her writing was her use of metaphor. There is a wonderful scene towards the end of The crystal cave where the physical act of Arthur’s conception is paralleled by a description of Merlin standing on the windswept balcony of Tintagel castle watching the increasingly urgent then softly dwindling pulsing of a star.

The other writer who’s had a lasting influence (alas also not Australian) is Natalie Babbitt (a US writer born 1932), or more precisely her novel Tuck Everlasting. For those unfamiliar with the story (which Google has just informed me has twice been made into a film), it is about a family who inadvertently drink from a stream that bequeaths immortality, and the profound consequences of it. I was probably in my early twenties when I read this too, and what impressed me was the understated poignancy of the tale. It taught me that the greatest power lies in the simplest prose.

Brief bio

 I work full time as Foundation Head of Program of NMIT’s Bachelor of Writing and Publishing in Melbourne, but previously delivered programs in Secondary Schools, AMEC’s, TAFEs (both in Australia and China) and Universities. I began writing in my late 30’s after attending some lectures on Carl Jung. It seemed to open a door in my mind and my first novel poured out (The song of the Silvercades - the second in the Kira Chronicles). This is not an uncommon effect of engaging with Jung. At the time I was completing a Masters on the purposes of dragons, and then went on to a Ph.D on the role of the female hero in Campbell’s universal hero myth. I wrote the other two books in the Kira Chronicles trilogy (The whisper of leaves and The cry of the marwing) and was the first author to be picked up by Allen and Unwin’s Friday Pitch.

My other works include: Dragon tales: the role of the dragon in selected narratives (Heidelberg Press); Hunter (presently being assessed for publication); Avatara (probably to be my first ebook). I am presently working on an angel trilogy. 


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