Lucy Sussex, Sonia Lovecraft, and Women’s Voices in Literature

Literature is a key tool to connect people from all places with other cultures, stories, and histories. Thus, the popularity that American and English writers and stories have had in the last centuries has been undeniably successful in their sales numbers and their popularity worldwide, as well as their quickness of spreading their Anglophone literature around the globe. Therefore, on some level Australian literature has most definitely come a bit short in their representation of print media and both e-books.
Thus, Australian literature did not have the amount of presence in print media until a couple of decades ago. Due to the variety of different literature options such as podcasts, graphic novels, movies and TV shows Australian fiction has been able to spread quicker, particularly throughout the last years.

For some readers, a new story might be in their spectrum of interest but due to the lack of advertisement of Australian literature in media and bookstores, they might never stumble across them. Therefore, short stories are a great possibility to intrigue and draw in new readers and audiences to catch attention of Australian literature.

In a world which is dominated by English and American literature, Australian short stories are a great option for a different approach to the Anglophone literature world. The value of short stories should not be underestimated. Their importance should be acknowledged because they can help readers to get an insight into some topics that can be overseen at times. Examples of these are marginalized voices such as Indigenous, queer, and women narratives which have been drawing a lot of attention.

However, short stories should not be perceived as a transit to lengthier books etc. Short stories can capture just as important themes and motifs that readers are used to from novels for instance. Topics such as and content regarding the Indigenous people of Australia or horror stories with traditional myths and legends can be intriguing for some readers.

There is a wide range of different topics to choose from because if there is one thing that is great about Australian literature and short stories; it is the variety and representation of different groups of people.

Today, I would like to introduce you to a notable Australian author, whose short story is definitely worth taking a look at. The summary and brief introductions will not include spoilers – because to be honest, who likes spoilers anyways? The story will be so much more enjoyable to read first-hand instead of reading about them.

The short story is called “Wife to Mr Lovecraft” and was written by New Zealand-born author Lucy Sussex. Her work has specifically been associated with feminist science fiction, the history of women’s writing and Australian.

As the title of the short story indicates, Sussex wrote a tribute story about H.P. Lovecraft’s wife Sonia Lovecraft. In April 2021, she published a tweet, where she states, ”I had the good fun of writing a Lovecraft tribute story in postcards from Sonia Lovecraft. She was quite a personality.” Although the story was about Lovecraft’s ex-wife Sonia Greene, the postcards and the story take place after their split and during her marriage to Dr. Nathaniel Abraham Davis. The short story also refers to the promise H.P. Lovecraft gave to his wife Sonia regarding their divorce. Due to circumstances and a form that had not been signed by Lovecraft, the marriage was never legally annulled. The story gives the reader a chance to touch upon a perspective, which has formerly only been given to Lovecraft himself.

Now, it is time for Sonia to share her thoughts and feelings – even if only in fiction.

Sussex’s short story gives an interesting, fictional insight to H.P. Lovecraft and his ex-wife Sonia’s postcard exchange. It is an interesting and beautiful diffusion between an Australia-based author, who touches upon the story of one of the most renowned American authors of history and his successful, businesswoman and writer (ex-)wife, Sonia Greene.

Wife to Mr. Lovecraft – Sonia’s postcards, a mirror of their relationship

Short stories are a diverse way of storytelling that can appear in numerous different forms. When taking a look at the story ‘Wife to Mr. Lovecraft’ the reader is immediately introduced to a unique way of storytelling and a form that is not only one-of-a-kind but also very significant when looking at the relationship of Sonia Greene and H.P. Lovecraft.


‘Wife to Mr. Lovecraft’ deals with Sonia writing postcards to her then ex-husband whom she calls How. Quite obviously, these characters in the story are based on writer H.P. Lovecraft and his ex-wife Sonia.

In these postcards Sonia writes to her ex-husband about the things she experiences with her new husband Ned, especially in Australia, and how certain events remind her of their time together. She especially focuses on the time they spent together writing stories and how different events remind her of specific stories. When on a ship, Sonia encounters a weird creature that she describes as monstrous and dark. This seems to scare her not only because the creature is unknown but more because it reminds her so much of a story her and Howard have written in the past, connecting her with a period in her life that she wants to leave behind, yet seemingly can’t. She openly mentions how she never wants to see a creature like that ever again, the creature representing their relationship or alternatively Howard himself. 

In the end she seems to get some kind of closure with their relationship after the encounter. She asks Lovecraft to let her go just like she is letting the creature go; permanently putting an end to their relationship.


With its epistolary form, the story pays tribute to writer H.P. Lovecraft and his wife Sonia Greene/ Lovecraft, who according to Sussex’s Twitter profile was ‘quite a personality’. There have been multiple postcards found by H.P. Lovecraft in which he corresponds with different people.

Based on that the story is divided into 11 postcards, all of them addressed to H.P. Lovecraft, although seemingly never sent. The postcards appear to be in chronological order but seem to jump in settings as the narrator/writer of the postcards (Sonia) seems to be changing location a lot with her new husband, leaving the United States for Australia.

All of the postcards have a heading that seems to describe either what Sonia writes about or what can be seen on the postcard (or both). Only the last postcard mentions the writer and has a proper ending.  

After looking more into the relationship between Lovecraft and Greene, what makes this story so interesting to me is how the form reflects on their relationship. Of course, the narrator openly mentions the relationship and the struggles Sonia and Lovecraft went through, talking about how they were ‘alien to each other’ (p.55).


 In the story Sonia writes that words, and especially the ones they wrote to each other, were the only thing her and Lovecraft had in common. It seems like their letters and postcards were the connection they had (cf. p.51). Now on the one hand, that refers to the stories that they wrote for and with each other, not only in the short story but also in real life. On the other hand, this is alluding to the beginning, growth and change of their relationship. 

Their relationship started after they met at a convention in Boston. From then on letters and postcards played an important part both leading up to and during their short-lived marriage.

Based on that the form of the short story ‘Wife of Mr. Lovecraft’ mirrors one of the most significant aspects of Sonia and Lovecraft’s relationship. Writing letters was what seemingly sparked the romance between these two and connected them. And now in ‘Wife to Mr. Lovecraft’ we get to read about a correspondence that seemingly marks the permanent end to their relationship and breaks their connection.


“Two Somebodies Go Hunting” – Apocalyptic Australia and Disability Representation

by Theodora Charalambous


In this blog post I will be giving you a brief overview of the trope of apocalyptic Australia and then discuss the short apocalyptic story “Two Somebodies Go Hunting” by Rivqa Rafael as well as how it represents individuals with certain disabilities.

Apocalyptic Australia

From nuclear wars, ecological disasters to AI becoming sentient and taking over the world, the apocalypse has always been an enduringly popular trope in human culture. Our need as humans to persevere in a world where the end seems near, as media is saturated with talks about war, deadly viruses and climate change, feeds into the allure of the apocalypse trope. Both in famous films like the Mad Max movies or in some of the most known apocalyptic texts, Australia is often the designated location speculative authors impose this trope upon.

The desert has become one of the primary science fiction settings, especially in narratives about post-apocalyptic futures. This ecosystem serves the purpose of creating a harsh environment, which the remaining members of civilization need to overcome and tame to survive the aftermath of the apocalypse. With a big section of Australia consisting of deserts or semi-arid, it is apparent why speculative authors are tempted into designating their apocalyptic scenes there. Australia is often depicted in literature, media and films as very menacing towards its inhabitants, since it’s often solely associated with its threatening wildlife and extreme summer heatwaves, which result in bushfires, an imagery many would describe as something out of an apocalyptic movie. The notion, however, of viewing Australia as a hostile environment, began even before its colonization. The precolonial European expectations of Australia as a utopian land of potential and promise, were soon overpowered by the reality of the Outback. Europeans envisioned Australia as a land of punishment and dystopia, its desert and bush were considered a part of the savage land and the inhabitants were often depicted as strange and even grotesque. When colonists and explorers got to experience the territories, their discoveries of new flora and fauna, contributed to “the English vision of Australia as a waste land, a place of inhospitable and miserable savages” (Webb and Enstice, Aliens 26), unlike the British homeland. (Weaver, 2007).

The apocalypse has always been an irresistible trope to speculative fiction writers, and their stories often function as a warning towards colonialization and ecological danger. Similarly apocalyptic Australian works focus on topics that represent and respond to the country’s concerns and anxieties, such as the hostile forces both inside and outside the country.

Two Somebodies Go Hunting

In such dystopian settings, are truly only the “fittest” who survive? In apocalyptic fiction, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses are rarely represented, and when they are, they either die early on or serve as a burden to the main protagonist.

“Two Somebodies Go” Hunting by Rivqa Rafael, is part of Defying Doomsday, an anthology which challenges the narrative that only the strong and able-bodied survive and shifts the focus towards disabled and chronically ill characters successfully persevering through the chaos of apocalyptic Australia.

Rivqa’s story follows two siblings Lex, who has chronic leg pain due to a childhood injury, and her younger brother Jeff, who’s autistic. Leaving their mother and little Jackie behind, the two set out to find the Kangaroo, which a drone had spotted. Lex quickly becomes frustrated at her brother as well as her injured leg, which was slowing her down, and the two begin to bicker. They manage to find the Kangaroo, but Lex accidentally startles Jeff, resulting in an outburst and the roo gets away. After a fight, Lex comforts Jeff through a panic attack and the two have a heart-to-heart, where Lex reveals that she damaged her leg trying to save him from a bad fall. The next morning, the siblings cheer as the first rain of the decade falls and they find fish in the creek bed, where Lex had broken her leg. The hunt was successful.

In “Two Somebodies Go Hunting” the author was able to present the different needs and quirks of people with chronic illnesses and pain. Although, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding autism, Rafael manages to show how autism is a spectrum rather than a specific and easily definable condition. In comparison to the extreme symptoms that the media predominantly talks about, Jeff’s signs of autism are quite subtle. For example, his attachment to the GPS, soothing through deep pressure stimulation (171) and the way he fails to recognise what the words were, he said that hurt his sister’s feelings (167). All three are autistic traits that one who’s not knowledgeable enough on the matter wouldn’t recognise them as such. Additionally, the story depicts chronic pain quite accurately. When Jeff notices his sister struggling because of pain, he suggests she takes medicine (167), Lex growls at him knowing that medication isn’t such an easy solution to her problem, since medicine can lessen the pain, but cannot completely alleviate it. Despite her struggles, Lex is strong-willed and despises being pitied or seen as weak (167).

“Two Somebodies Go Hunting” is not only a lovely tale of two siblings that need to work together to survive and understand one another, but furthermore shows how people with disabilities, chronic pain and other impairments are more than capable of getting by on their own and should not be looked down upon.


  1. Rafael, Rivqa. “Two somebodies go hunting”, Defying Doomsday,Planet Press, 2016, pp 176 -157.
  2. Weaver, Roslyn. At the ends of the world: apocalypse and Australian speculative fiction, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, Faculty of Arts, University of Wollongong, 2007.

How Suspense is Created in Grace Chan’s “Of Hunger and Fury” (2020)

by Benedikt von Laufenberg

In this blog post, I want to discuss Grace Chan’s short story “Of Hunger and Fury“ (2020) by focussing on three different aspects. First, it should be illustrated how the village in which the mysterious incidents occur is set apart from the rest of the world. Second, I want to show how verisimilitude is created by mentioning various details and how this verisimilitude increases the mysteriousness of other elements in the story. Third, I want to investigate the relation between dreams and waking life and how this relation highlights the increasing tension of the story.

The story begins with a young couple visiting the wife’s family in Malaysia: “It’s late in the day when we drive east from Kuala Lumpur in our rented Proton. (…) I turn to the passengers window. The shopping malls and housing estates are far behind us now (p.78).“ They leave a metropolitan area behind to drive to a more rural area in which the wife’s family lives: “We drive down the main street of the village under a swollen bruise-purple sky. It’s not even five o’clock, but all the shops have drawn their rollers. Their doors are plastered with talismans: yellow strips of paper, thick with black writing (p.79).“ “Shopping malls and housing estates“ (p.78) become “talismans“ (ibid.), thereby indicating a shift of scene which changes the atmosphere and the tone. This passage is highlighted by an incident: while driving there, the husband hits something on the road but does not bother to stop (cf. p. 78).

Within the story, various details are mentioned that increase the verisimilitude: “She [the mother] smells like imitation Chanel, just as she always did (p. 80) or “Behind a fly screen, the door of my parent’s bedroom is ajar. The smell of unwashed clothes wafts out. A swaddled shape slumps in the rattan armchair, facing the curtained window. It could be my father, it could be a mountain of blankets. I think about pushing the door open, bringing a basin of water, washing his gnarled hands – hands that lashed a bamboo cane, too many times, and drew bloody welts on my little legs. I step back, ashamed (p.83).“ This abundance of details, with special focus on smells, helps to place the reader within the story. One is drawn into the narrative, which is important for every fictional narrative but might be of special importance to narratives which have mysterious elements in it. Once one is drawn into it, one is readier to accept the mysterious elements.

Dreams play an important role in the narrative. While the first dream section (cf. p. 82) is relatively short, compared with the other passages, the dream sections become longer and its contents also has an effect on the waking life, but more about that later. In the first dream section, the wife encounters the girl who has been presumably murdered. At this point it is still possible to read the dream section as what it first appears to be: a dream with no bearing on reality. The second dream section, however, has an effect on reality and is much longer. In it, the narrator has a “amber bracelet“ (p. 87) on her arm which she tries to wash away the next day. Thus, the reader no longer has the option of reading the section as literal dream passages unless the reader is willing to concede that the narrator might be unreliable. In any case, the tension of the narrative increases because the dreams with their mysterious content become more prevalent.

In this blog post, I have shown that the setting of the narrative in the village is set apart from more metropolitan areas. Moreover, I have demonstrated that the focus on details increases the verisimilitude and thus helps to ground the reader in the narrative. Lastly, it was illustrated how dreams contribute to increase the tension.

Works Cited

Chan, Grace. Of Hunger and Fury in „Black Cranes – Tales of Unquiet Women“. ed. Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn. Omnium Gatherum Los Angeles CA: 2020

Dichotomy in “The Fall of the Jade Sword” and the reflection of hybrid identity experiences

Introductory notes

Hybrid identities often live in worlds full of dualities, worlds full of contrasts and opposites. Stephanie Lai’s short story The Fall of the Jade Sword (2017) tells the story of young Mok- Seung who spent her childhood in China but who has moved to a colonial Melbourne with her family. Her aunt and mother teach her at home, but Mok-Seung wants to explore; in the night, she sneaks out onto the rooftops and roams about the city. Meanwhile the tabloids follow the adventures of a new local superhero who they call the Jade Sword and report of the progress of colonization and its side effects. One day, Mok-Seung receives a visit from a family friend who reveals herself as the real Jade Sword and asks Mok-Seung to become her apprentice.

Relevant aspects of dichotomy

One aspect that quickly comes to mind when thinking about dichotomy in the story are the newspaper headlines recited throughout it. The Chinese broadsheets hung all over the teahouses and readers’ homes follow the good deeds of the Jade Sword, proudly claim them as one of their own, and as a master of wushu (for example p.125), while also reporting of the general good and the bad happening in the community. The Times, however, portrays the Jade Sword as a Western magical hero, a tall white man that assists the ‘civilized’ people of Melbourne (p.125). It twists things to paint a bad picture of the Chinese and Indigenous and describes them as wild and dangerous (p.130, 131). Moreover, it actively neglects to report of fates like those of the Chinese settlers attempting to return their loved ones’ bodies to their homeland but are being denied permission for transport (p.130); instead, it focuses on white deaths and white tragedies.

The overall theme of migration in Lai’s story brings more contrasting aspects into play: Mok-Seung sometimes thinks of her memories from “back home” (p.127), already implying that Melbourne does not feel like home in comparison. She also admits that she hopes something good will come out of their stay, since she does not quite understand why they moved in the first place (p.130). At home, she is taught in classical and traditional arts connected to her culture, including cultural knowledge and etiquette (p.132), and her family friends and relatives who moved to Australia as well seem firmly rooted in the culture they left behind (“Can Sin-Man is austere and serious, uninterested in what Australia has to offer […]”, p.127). Melbourne is portrayed as a fast-paced progressive city with flourishing steampunk-esque innovations like augmented bicycles, carriages fueled by steam, and airships (p.125), but it also contradicts its progressive reputation with its regressive thinking: deep-seated racism and discrimination issues. Public establishments are free and normalized to ban who they please from entering (“[…] pokes her head in every restaurant, every sporting club, every place that doesn’t have a sign over the door banning her entry.”, p.130) and Chinese settlers and indigenous people are deliberately blamed for setbacks of the white colonizers (p.125, 126). Still, the young girl is fascinated by the new technologies and wants to utilize them to explore the unknown (p.127).

Connected to that, Australia itself is also described as a dichotomous continent, being a mix of the colonized modern cityscapes that Mok-Seung knows and the ‘wild’ desert that she reads about in the news and wants to see for herself (p.131). This also flows over in Mok-Seung possessing a hybrid identity: she combines two heavily different cultural influences in herself due to having moved in some of her most formative years. Can Sin-Man notices how she not only knows the ‘old styles’, she is also able to adapt to new ones more easily and therefore has an advantage (p.132) since a warrior ought to be adaptable (p.133), which makes Mok-Seung a more than suitable apprentice for the Jade Sword.


Mok-Seung as a young first-generation settler to Australia experiences two contrasting cultures at once and unlike her older relatives, represents a transitional generation, being connected to her heritage while also open to and influenced by her new surroundings. She is not only influenced by her traditional upbringing and childhood in China, but also by the new impressions from Australia. This is clearly reflected in her surroundings in The Fall of the Jade Sword, with Melbourne representing technological progress and regressive way of thinking at the same time, as well as colonial civilization in contrast to the ‘wilderness’ outside the cities. Mok-Seung’s two worlds are mirrored and literally represented in two competing newspapers that respectively focus on mostly their own communities, instead of one newspaper reporting neutrally about Melbourne’s citizens as a whole.

Jewish Australian Speculative Fiction Event

by Sevgi Osman

After reading The Time of The Ghosts by Gillian Polack, I decided to participate in an event organized by my lecturers, where Jewish Australian authors gathered and talked about speculative fiction, specifically Jewish Australian speculative fiction. Since I was very interested in getting to know the author herself and what motivated her to write the book, I decided to listen, take notes, and afterwards write a blog post.

The event started with everyone introducing themselves. Gillian Polack started introducing herself by saying that as an author, she wrote eleven books. Next, Jack Dann introduced himself as someone who wrote over 75 books and won many awards which I found very impressive. Jason Franks introduced himself as an author who was born in South Africa but went to Australia later. Nonetheless, he wrote books that had a considerable number of Australian words in it, which is why he considers himself a Jewish Australian writer. Lastly, Rivqa Rafael, also a Jewish Australian writer, said that she has only written short stories and is an award-winner. She also studied psychology as well. Looking at all authors in one, they’re all very diverse but have one thing in common: writing Jewish Australian speculative fiction!

After the introductions were over, the lecturers of my Blogging Australian Speculative Fiction class asked the first question, which is: Do you, as an Australian speculative writer, see yourself as Jewish-Australian? Polack started by saying that she does see herself as Jewish Australian but had an identity struggle at first. Dann answers by telling us how he can consider himself Jewish Australian even though he is an Atheist. The other two writers, Franks and Rafael, also see themselves as specifically Jewish Australian although Franks didn’t consider himself to be that until he lived there and had also moved around (living, for example, in Japan for a time) and didn’t see himself as Jewish until recently.

Continuing the discussion, the question of how they deal with critique because of being a Jewish writer and what makes being a Jewish writer so different arose. Gillian Polack had to deal with bullying while growing up because of being Jewish. For her, writing speculative fiction means that she can express her feelings through telling stories. She was taught to tell stories, for example, about family history; what happened to her ancestors. They all agree that by writing Jewish speculative fiction one can improve the world a little bit more, because there is always someone out there who is going to relate to the stories and learn from it. Then there is Jack Dann, whose writing is not all Jewish-themed but he sees it as an overall exploration. At first he didn’t start writing about Judaism because he felt like he was in danger for being Jewish. He thought that if people perceived him as a Jew, they were going to point a gun at him. All four of these creative authors explain that they see Jewish speculative fiction as approaching tragedy through the realms of fantasy and science fiction.

Rivqa Rafael mentioned that Polack’s writing is a mirror to her experience, that she writes her stories by remembering her past. Gillian Polack has mentioned that she didn’t have it easy growing up: she was being put on the spot as a Jewish author, people have asked her to deny the Holocaust and bothered her since she was of a very young age. As a medievalist, Polack had to answer quite a lot of weird and antisemitic accusations, for example that she supposedly “drinks babies blood”, or killed Christ. As difficult as it may have been from a young age, Polack does not let others make her feel uncomfortable for being Jewish. She sees her writing as therapeutic and wants to share her life through fiction.

All in all, speculative fiction is now breaking boundaries and awards are being presented, which makes Jewish Australian writers more visible. All four of these Jewish Australian authors share a mutual opinion about their writing: it is the journey to discovery, especially since it is also a part of a Jewish cultural tradition to tell stories and use humour to talk about hurtful things to cope with their past. But all authors are unique and never write in the same forms, they all share their different experiences and put them into little stories for others to read and relate. This was an overall wholesome event and I enjoyed listening to successful authors talk about their work and share their thoughts on Jewish Australian writing. By having read The Time of The Ghosts and seen where these Jewish Australian authors got their motivation to write from, I am looking forward to reading more Australian speculative fiction in the future.

10 Questions with Gillian Polack on The Time of the Ghosts – and one bonus!

Before we move onto the second phase of our student blogging, let’s end our series of blog posts about Gillian Polack’s The Time of the Ghosts with an interview with Gillian herself!

1. Why is the novel entitled The Time of the Ghosts – which ghosts were you thinking of when you named it? And what makes now the time of the Ghosts?

I love making bad jokes. I ought to apologise for this, but I find my own tendency to bad jokes amusing, so I won’t. My working title for the novel was “One Cup of Tea at a Time” because that was pretty much how my heroes saved Canberra. This wasn’t catchy enough to sell the novel, nor did it make me chuckle inside.

The “Time of the Ghosts” is a time when Canberra is haunted, my characters are haunted … and I am haunted. (I was trying to see Canberra from ways that reflected my own culture and mainstream Aussie culture kept rudely haunting me.) I had to ask a friend to give me a ghost tour. This friend is bicultural (Indigenous Australian and European Australian) and was able to help a great deal. Since haunted Canberra gave me the solution to my own haunting, The Time of the Ghosts was perfect. (Not all my titles have this kind of history.)

2. We noticed that there was a lot of ‘mapping’ in the novel – the gardens were mapped, the magic was mapped. Any particular reason for mapping to play such a prominent role?

Well-spotted. I actually have an annotated street directory of Canberra. I can take pictures of it if you want to see it. I superimposed a Ptolemaic universe and all the important Canberra hauntings on the city and I used that as a base for the movement in the novel. Earth in that universe is around Commonwealth Bridge. Every single bit of ghost or haunting or creature that I added, fitted the Ptolemaic universe imposed on Canberra.

I did this because Canberra is a planned city and the people who did the planning were Theosophists. I also did this because I wanted a reason for Sebastian to be able to find Melusine. It gave me a sense of creating a tiny world that was coherent. Other alternate Canberras I’ve written about are not nearly this coherent.

3. In general, a lot of our students felt that the cover we had gave the wrong impression of the text. How do you feel about it? How much say did you have in it?

I had no say in the current cover. It was designed to fit sales paradigms for Amazon. I had some say on earlier covers by other publishers, but not as much as I’d like.

There was a reason for this. Some novels are really hard to do cover designs for, and my novels almost always feel into that category. When I get an exceptional cover that reflects the novel and is lovely in its own right (and I’ve had several of those) I want to throw a party.

I’m better off than some of my friends, having said that. Russian editions of Australian fantasy novels of 20 years ago have particularly bad covers. Three friends of mine who write fantasy trilogies used to show us their covers and, while we envied the translations, we did not envy the unicorns and the palm trees and the totally wrong characters.

4. In The Time of the Ghosts, you have a positive vision of a bushranger playing a big part in assisting our protagonists. We found this super interesting, since bushrangers are looked at more and more critically these days. Why did you make this choice?

There are many bushrangers linked to my region. In the 19th century, it was known as the Monaro, and there were turf wars by bushrangers at various times. Also, Jackey-Jackey’s treasure is actually supposed to be buried on Black Mountain. That’s where I began.

I’ve been interested in bushrangers since I was in primary school. When I was in Grade Six, I did a project on Ben Hall. “The Streets of Forbes” (a song) is still one of my favourites. I was never a fan of Ned Kelly and John Dunn was a mass murderer, so I didn’t depict Jackey-Jackey as a good bloke because of being in love with the notion of bushrangers.

I researched his life (which was fun) and realised that I couldn’t possibly depict the actual person. He was complex and fascinating and doesn’t easily fit in descriptions such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. He was polite to people and didn’t cause as much damage as many and he actually stood up for human rights in some difficult circumstances. There was enough charm in the real person and conscience in the real person to make his character credible. He made a good ghost. The Clarke brothers, on the other hand, have only ever been loved by their family. That family lives around Araluen way (not too far from me, very close to Jackie French). They stopped chatting with me when the novel came out…

5. Lil, at one point, describes that she sees convincing non-Australian ‘myths’ etc. to leave Australia as part of her task – yet Melusine goes to Australia because she perceives it as empty at first. Can you tell us about this development in her character?

When Australia was settled by Europeans, a doctrine known as Terra Nullius was established. It was nasty. It assumed that there were no humans here ie that settlement was just fine. It became the way that Australia was depicted – even if people knew that there have been humans here for tens of thousands of years, they tended to assume that most of the land was empty or that the people were fading or in some way lesser. It’s a pretty horrible doctrine. It was, however, part of what made Melusine feel that Australia was empty at first, and why she discovered she was wrong.

The other part of it came straight from my childhood. I grew up with Holocaust survivors who were friends of my parents and grandparents and who dropped in for a cuppa. Melbourne is one of the places that many survivors came to. More, proportionately, than went to the US. When I was an adult, I finally plucked up the courage to ask them, “Why Melbourne?”

There was no doubt that they had to flee. So much of Jewish history contains other people forcing Jews to flee or die, that I’ve known about that element since I was about six. I didn’t understand why this very British and somewhat racist country was a desirable destination.

The answer was distance. We were as far from the Shoah as it was possible to get. Australia was not well-known to Europeans in the 1940s and 1950s. It’s only recently that Europe has started to see us as a country. That is where some of the emptiness lies: in Melusine’s perception of Australia as a continent. It was free of a lot of the things she knew from Europe and thus… it was empty.

6. One thing we noticed was that each of Melusine’s tales began with a traditional “storytelling” approach or phrase. In one case, Once upon a time… In another, you introduced the date-setting a la 1984. Did you intend for each tale to reflect on a different kind of storytelling, even from their outset?

I did. I wanted to play with the idea that all stories have cultural bias and that every single introduction sets up an expectation for the reader and that part of that expectation is bias. I set up the different atmosphere and mostly retain it, but I’m doing it in order to undermine what readers think they trust.
If you want to compare this to a novel which uses a more standard fairy-tale structure, The Art of Efffective Dreaming uses the Sleeping Beauty story. It’s still subversive, but in a different way.

7. As this interview is published on a blog… Why did you decide to present Kat’s blog posts without distinguishing them much from the rest of the text (unlike Melusine’s tales, for example)?

Let me shamefully admit that I was just messing with readers’ minds. Some readers complain they have to read every word I write and I’m afraid that is entirely intentional on my part and Kat’s blog is an example of how I force long-suffering readers into that terrible hard labour. Where I am most evil in this regard is in The Year of the Fruit Cake.

8. Of course, one aspect we focused on was the novel’s Jewish and Jewish-Australian elements. By making Melusine a (quasi-immortal) Jewish fairy, you create a space for discussing Jewish experiences throughout history. Can you tell us a bit more about this decision?

This historian side of me is faced every day with the erosion of Jewish history. Just yesterday I read a blog post about the history of pasta that claimed that the first mentions of pasta outside China and its region were Arab… but the examples and terms given were from the Talmud. Since I am (by training) an historian of Western European history, I know Western Europe best and it was the obvious place to look. There are a bunch of Medieval family-origin stories (the one about Melusine as a guivre is the Lusignan one) that I looked into and that gave me a path.
There are heaps of Jewish supernatural creatures I could have used, and some of them appear in The Wizardry of Jewish Women, but I thought that a Jewish fairy based on the family ancestor stories would be more fun for readers in the context of the story I wanted to tell in The Time of the Ghosts. I needed the length of life, and I needed that European connection. When Melusine flies in the story, she looks exactly like Melusine does in the illuminated manuscript of the Duc de Berry. That’s a moment when our world touches that of the novel.

9. One thing our students noticed was that Kat’s perception of the older women doesn’t always seem to line up with their behavior. In a way, this caused the characters to ‘blend’ together into a more cohesive unit for many of them. Did you play off of Kat’s reliability in this way mainly for this effect, or more so to represent her teenage voice?

I wanted Kat to be distinctive and showing what she thought of people as a contrast to what those people did was an easy way to do this without undermining the tale itself. It also meant I could show her growing in the way teenagers do, as a contrast to the way the other characters grew, so I guess her teenagerhood was an element.

10. Last but not least, are all the recipes that are described in the book ones that you use?

Yes and no. I’m an ethnohistorian and part of my historical research is often into food and foodways. I’m also a foodie. I can cook (and have cooked) most of the recipes in the book but they reflect the foodways of each character. You can tell a lot about a person by what they cook and how they serve it. Mabel cooks traditional Australian English-origin food, for example, and will make scones in just a few minutes if anyone drops in. She will serve them with cream and with her own jam. Her recipes mostly come from my own childhood, but there will be variants in any CWA (Country Women’s Association) cookbook until the late 1970s, when Australian foodways changed a bit.

I put just one scene in to act as a path in, for anyone who wants to explore this, and that’s the scene where Kat makes the three older women coffee.

And since one of our students wrote to Gillian on her website, we’ve also got her response to his question!

Dear Gillian Polack, my name is Ben Königsfeld and I study English at the Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf. I take part in a course about Australian speculative fiction taught by Lucas Mattila and Tina Burger, who you might remember from the event two weeks ago called ”Jewish Australian Speculative Fiction Writers in Conversation”. We are currently writing blog posts about your book The Time Of The Ghosts and I am focusing on the stories of Melusine. I was wondering if you could tell me if anything particular inspired you to write these stories and how much, if at all, the Melusine of European folklore influenced them. Furthermore, I was wondering what your intention behind the stories were. I hope these questions aren’t an inconvenience. Sincerely, Ben Königsfeld

Dear Ben,

I was going to write you a separate reply, but most of my answer to you overlaps with the answers to the other questions. The important bit that doesn’t is that Melusine stories as I know them (the 15th century one by Jean d’Arras is the one I know best) are more ancestor tales than fairy stories. I dragged her into another genre and she is nothing like the French Melusine except in that she is magic and her non-human form is the same. It wasn’t that Jean D’Arras didn’t influence me. I took that influence and asked “What story would I have liked if I were Kat’s age? What would have grabbed her interest enough for her to read something she really shouldn’t?” The story I wanted was one of survival and of cultural survival. I wanted readers to see what certain aspects of Europe might have looked like through Jewish eyes, but needed to make those eyes privileged. I wanted to change the stories we often hear about our ancestors… that survival is enough. Survival is never enough. This is why I wrote Melusine the way I did.

I don’t know if I succeeded in my goal. I do know that I learned a lot in writing the novel. I’ll keep trying.


Follow Gillian on Twitter!

This interview was carried out via correspondence by Tina Burger and Lucas Mattila.

“The rest of the world is spinning” – Trauma Theory in “Summer Bird Blue”

Summer Bird Blue

Akemi Dawn Bowman’s novel Summer Bird Blue follows the young girl Rumi who deals with the aftermath of a car accident in which she lost her younger sister Lea. Therefore, a large part of the novel deals with trauma and how to move on, which is especially showcased for Rumi’s character. 

Rumi’s Various Traumas

There are different traumas that play a part for Rumi, a childhood trauma, the trauma of losing her sister and her mother’s abandonment. Her memories which she describes throughout the novel, force her to think about her childhood and past issues with her family (cp. 20). I would argue that her childhood trauma is one of the reasons for her behavior after Lea’s death and her mother abandoning her. Rumi and Lea’s father left the family when Lea was still very young, because he did not want to be tied down by a family since he was not sure what he wanted from life (cp. 182). Rumi’s memory of the day her father decided to leave and the conversation between her parents is incredibly detailed considering she was very young herself. She was very upset when her father said that he would have maybe stayed if not for Lea (cp. 183 ff). After their father’s abandonment, Rumi had to be and act more like a parent than a child, since she had to take care of Lea while their mother worked. Rumi is rather unsure about what to do with her life after graduation, while Lea and most of their friends already know what to do. Which is why she is often afraid she will turn out like her father (cp. 276) or is already too similar to him. Therefore, Rumi always thinks her mom liked Lea better because of Lea’s very different personality. While she does not want to die after losing her sister, she repeatedly thinks she should have died instead of Lea, because she was nice, likable, confident and knew what she wanted to do with her life (cp. 106).

The Death of Lea

At the beginning of the novel, Rumi refuses to acknowledge her sister’s death (cp. 12) and describes a feeling of emptiness. She does not cry after the accident but shows other physical reactions, such as throwing up, shaking, panic, a pounding heart and a racing mind. One of her biggest issues, however, is her anger towards the situation. Rumi gets angry very fast, she screams at people, makes ruder comment than usual and destroys things (cp. 79). I would argue that her frustration and the resulting outbursts all stem from the same problem: Rumi prefers to ignore her trauma instead of speaking about it (cp. 116), which is one of the main points in Pederson’s trauma theory. He suggests that a way to overcome and heal after having experienced trauma is to speak about it (cp. Pederson 338). Therefore, Rumi’s constant refusal to talk to anybody is, in my opinion, the source of her behavior and the reason she cannot look forward. In turn her bottled up emotions show themselves in angry outbursts, where she often hurts the people around her, be it with words or actions. She also does not believe in therapy (cp. 122) and is trying to cope by herself (cp. 126) rather than seek out help. 

Rumi lost her ground without her sister and her mother (cp. 13) and she even lost the joy music once brought her. Right before the accident happened Rumi and Lea were working on one of their songs but after the crash Rumi cannot remember the song and their music notebook is gone. She thinks of a situation when they were kids, Rumi promising Lea to fulfill three wishes. After the accident Rumi is thinking about what her sister would have wanted her to do as her last wish and decides to finish the song ‘Summer Bird Blue’. But the music always reminds her of the loss (cp. 31) and she describes it as haunting (cp. 33). She calls herself selfish many times throughout the novel. She thinks she deserves that she has been abandoned by her mom, because she can’t fulfill Lea’s last wish (cp. 108) and thinks she let Lea down for not being able to finish the song (cp. 82). However, when she does start to play music again, she sees her sister’s ghost whenever she tries to play or sing (cp. 133) and Rumi comes to the realization that the music keeps her sister alive (cp. 221). She does not want to let go of Lea, because most of her life revolved around her sister (cp. 141) and she feels like she does not know how to be herself without Lea. 

Rumi’s Road Towards Healing

Eventually, Rumi starts talking about Lea consciously and realizes it helps (cp. 259), prior to this she told people her sister died but without really taking it in. Yet she is still in conflict with herself: she wants to stop feeling so empty but feels selfish for trying to move on (cp. 85, 212) and she is still not ready to say good-bye even after she starts talking (cp. 274). However, after Rumi starts talking about her sister, she admits that she remembers the accident (cp. 282) and is aware of her repression as her coping mechanism (cp. 283). McNally, a renowned trauma theorist himself and also Pederson’s basis for his own theory, says that “traumatic amnesia is a myth, and while victims may choose not to speak of their traumas, there is little evidence that they cannot.” (McNally 334). This is why Pederson also proposes that new trauma theorists should, different to their predecessors, focus on “both the accessibility of traumatic memory and the possibility that victims may construct reliable narrative accounts of it.” (Pederson 338). He continues that “a victim’s understandable desire not to dwell on a painful event” (Pederson 337) should not be mistaken for amnesia (cp. Pederson 337). This fits Rumi’s situation quite well: She does remember but chooses not to in order to protect herself. 

When she finally realizes that her sister is really gone she cries (cp. 347). Her emotions return, she talks about the trauma with her mother and also agrees to therapy. Finally letting go of her repression of the memories surrounding the accident, Rumi realizes that Lea’s last words were actually her mom calling out to her after the car crash (cp. 359). Which is consistent with what both Pederson and McNally suggest in their trauma theories as Pederson talks about McNally’s suggestion that memories of traumatic events can appear distorted or warped (cp. Pederson 339-340). A trauma victim may remember everything but sometimes these memories are muddled. So, in Rumi’s case she remembers someone calling out to her after the crash, but only later when she explores her trauma it becomes apparent to her that it had been her mother and not Lea. 

Ready to Live

In terms of further research, one could take a look at trauma connected to other characters. For example, one could look at the novel’s trauma from the perspective of Rumi’s mother, who was left by her husband to be a single mother and then lost one of her daughters. Similarly, I would say Mr. Watanabe would be an interesting character to look at in terms of trauma as well because he lost his wife and his son. Rumi, in the end, learns that she can cope with her trauma but admits it will take time (cp. 354). “I think I’m ready to live” (cp. 368) is, in my opinion, Rumi’s most important realization and closes the novel well.

Works Cited

McNally, Richard J.: Remembering Trauma. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2003.

Pederson, Joshua. “Speak, Trauma: Toward a Revised Understanding of Literary Trauma Theory.” Narrative 22.3 (2014): 333–353.

Review Pet (2019) by Akwaeke Emezi

When I picked up the novel Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, published in 2019, for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the novel in general – especially the protagonist – since I usually just cannot bring myself to neither sympathize with nor like the protagonist of books, and especially TV shows.

The protagonist of Pet, Jam, is unusually young, but she, and especially the narration, could not have been portrayed more authentically: She is curious, the narration is simple throughout the whole book, and just like I would assume a person so young would narrate events as unusual and horrifying as the ones portrayed in the novel. The easy-to-understand narration Emezi employs is one of the many reasons I immensely enjoyed reading Pet for I didn’t have to read sentences more than once in order to understand their meaning, which can be quite frustrating at times. I find this kind of narration in a book like Pet immensely important as this novel can be categorized as a young adult novel. This means that its intended audience are teenagers, who are more likely interested in, and keep reading, books which are not hard to digest and do not take up too much time.

Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet builds up tension from the very first sentence: “There shouldn’t be any monsters left in Lucille.” (1), which makes it quite clear from the start that there are indeed still monsters left in the city. But the reader cannot possibly know what kind of real-life monster they will encounter at the end of the novel (Spoiler alert!): a man, a family member, who seems quite harmless and, dare I say, unimportant. The monster of the society in Lucille is not the monstrous looking Pet, but someone who does not even remotely look like someone you would consider to be a monster.

Pet shows how dangerous a society that is in denial and refuses to acknowledge what is happening around it can be, and how to proceed in a world where almost everyone but yourself is in denial about the horrors happening in front of their noses. The novel fits eerily well into our “real-life” society’s problems with its own “monsters” since even nowadays, people choose to ignore the horrors they see, instead of trying to fight them. This eerie connection to reality as we know it is even explicitly mentioned on the back of the physical copy of Pet, where it says that the novel “[…] couldn’t be more well timed to our society’s struggles with its own monsters.”

What really struck me as interesting when reading Pet for the first time, are the unusual names of the characters: Jam, Redemption, Moss, Hibiscus, Bitter, Ube, and Aloe. When googling the meaning of these names, I discovered that “Ube” means “little dad” (“Quaranic names”) or “father” (“Quaranic names”). I was very curious about the name “Jam” just because of the instant (and admittedly quite weird) connection I drew to marmalade. But after I finished the book and googled the name “Jam”, I discovered that it is “primarily a gender-neutral name of American origin” (“”), and completely understood why this book was chosen for our course “Queer and Transcultural Young Adult Literature”, and why the protagonist, who is a 15-year-old black trans girl, was given this particular name. And not only Jam’s name is “gender-neutral” (“”); “Aloe”, the name of Jam’s father, is also a name which is not singularly reserved for only one gender (“babycenter”), which further justifies this novel being chosen for the course.

But not only the protagonist of the novel is very likeable – like I mentioned at the very beginning of this blog entry -; almost every character in Pet is pleasant, e.g. her parents (most of the time), Redemption, and even Pet. This only adds to this novel being an easy and enjoyable read since I personally find it very hard and quite annoying reading a book in which I do not like most of the characters.

It really warmed my heart that Jam’s parents are so understanding and accepting of her being who she is, and that they are not trying to change her in any way. Especially the scene at the very beginning of the novel Pet, when Jam is telling her father that “she want[s] surgery” (17) and he does not even question it (17), was quite heartwarming and just the perfect example for how parents should react in a situation like this.

Considering all these mentioned aspects, the novel Pet by Akwaeke Emezi is an immensely recommendable read, which tackles society’s struggles in a completely new and different way than I have ever seen before. The likeable characters and the easy language add to this book being a quite easy and quick read; even though some of the topics of Pet are dark and connect eerily well to society as we know it nowadays.


Primary source

Emezi, Akwaeke. Pet. Faber & Faber Limited, 2019.

Secondary sources

„ The Authority for Name Information Since 1996.” Moss Gathering LLC – Las Vegas, NV – NEW, Jam: Name Meaning, Popularity and Info on Accessed 2 January 2022.

“Quaranic names. Authentic Islamic Baby Names.” Accessed 2 January 2022.

“babycenter.” BabyCenter, LLC. 1997-2022, Accessed 3 January 2022.

Judging a Book By its Covers: The Time of the Ghosts

by Theodora Charalambous

Everyone knows the age-old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, and although most of us try to implement it in our daily lives, when it comes to the book buying experience things seem to be a bit different. If you’ve ever visited a library or a book store you know quite well how tedious the process of finding the “perfect” book can be when there’s an overwhelming amount of literature and more waiting for you on the shelves. You make your way to the aisle of your preferred genre and now what? What’s the deciding factor that makes one choose a book? Let’s be honest, it’s the cover! Whether it’s a beautifully illustrated cover, a hard cover with interesting engravings on it or a very minimalistic one, the one that manages to steal your attention, is the one getting picked up first.

On this blog post, I will be discussing how the three book covers made for the novel The Time of the Ghosts, written by Jewish Australian author Gillian Polack, reflect on its story and whether or not “Don’t judge book by its cover” is bad advice.

Let’s start with the original 2015 cover by Satalyte’s in-house designer, Marieke Ormsby. The design, as the writer described it, is more of a contemporary fiction cover. There is what resembles mist on top of a faded dark green background, with the main focus being four small
white figures of women, each floating on top of a white tea cup. This cover also includes the

Someone has to write this down.
Someone who has seen it all.
Seen the ghosts.
Eaten the food.
Even washed the dishes.

Polack‘s favorite cover edition is the second one, that was designed by Book View Cafe, more specifically by writer and cover designer Maya Bohnhoff. It consists of four photos; the very first, is one of an older woman in a white dress and a straw hat, hugging a bouquet of carrots under a tree. The other three are, a straw hat on top of a small garden table, a tea cup and lastly a picture of a road. The background is a grayish ripped cloth overlapping a deep purple one, which compliments the sepia toned photos perfectly. The cover has the writer’s personal touch, as the images of the teacup, the road and the background cloth are pictures taken by Polack herself.

Lastly the 2021 edition cover art is by NextChapter, and the one I personally own as well as the reason behind the idea of this blog post. The book cover is outlined with a small detailed design reminiscent of a golden picture frame. Two open doors reveal a rundown corridor and its rusty wooden floor, with a single window shining light to reveal the figure of a white woman wearing a wedding dress, or perhaps a gothic Victorian nightgown. Exclusively in the 2021 edition, the phrase “Enchanted Australia Book 1” hovers above the title.

When I first got my hands on this novel, looking at the recent cover, my expectations of what the story would be about definitely did not fit the actual plot. The novel follows the lives of three elderly women and the teenage girl runaway, who they’ve taken in, as well as their adventures chasing away ghosts and other supernatural creatures to protect Canberra. The Time of the Ghosts is so much more than your typical ghost story. It’s about friendship, bonding over tea, protecting the place you call home and overcoming your own inner ghosts. The first two cover art designs, undoubtedly encapsulate the essence of the novel perfectly, the women, the tea and the hidden mysteries of Canberra.

So, should we trust book covers or not? The answer is yes…but maybe not always. Covers are usually very carefully designed and picked to provide just enough information about the book to the potential reader. For example, the cover usually indicates the genre of the book, as certain trends tend to show up more across specific categories. Consequently, some covers can be misleading, as they are designed to reel in a particular demographic that would normally not be interested in the book. In the case of The Time of the Ghosts the 2021 cover art is quite deceiving, as it leads one to suspect that the novel’s genre is horror. Additionally it can create the misconception that the novel is a part of a trilogy called Enchanted Australia. However, the reason behind this design was to sell copies on Amazon, which is why it doesn’t represent the novel’s story as closely in comparison to the first two editions. Even so, my experience reading the book was a good one, making the cover’s deception a minuscule problem, if one at all.

Most of us judge books based on a list of certain criteria and not solely on one factor. Whether that list includes the title, the author, the description and so on, we cannot dismiss the importance of the cover design. Perhaps, next time you’re looking to bring a book home, try choosing it simply by its cover.

Images Used

Ormsby, M. J. (2015). The Time of the Ghosts cover art, 1st edition [Illustration]. The History Girls.

Bohnhoff, M. (2018). The Time of The Ghosts cover art, 2nd edition [Book cover]. Amazon.

NextChapter. (2021). The Time of the Ghosts cover art, 3rd edition [Illustration]. Amazon.