I don’t usually celebrate Halloween. It’s my own little rebellion against northern hemisphere-centrism (yeah, I know that isn’t actually a term). Halloween, pumpkins – the tradition grew out of northern hemisphere paganism when people were celebrating the autumn harvest and getting ready for the long dark nights of high latitude winter. Down here it’s spring goddamnit! If we’re going to party harking back to Euro-pagan roots, then at this time of year we should be dancing around maypoles, celebrating fertility and madly bonking each other Beltane-style.
Anyway. I concede that Halloween is a pretty cool tradition even if we do celebrate it out of season. Also, to come clean about my sudden change of heart, I was asked to participate in a Halloween literary event and since I jumped at the chance I can’t honestly maintain my self-righteousness. In my defence, the chief reason for my sudden enthusiasm for Halloween was that the venue for the gig turned out to be the West Terrace cemetery in Adelaide.
I love cemeteries. They are interesting, quiet and when you wander slowly through them, reading tombstones and just soaking up the peaceful yet gravid atmosphere, you find they are full of fascinating stories. And plants. Many of Australia’s old cemeteries are sanctuaries for rare plant species since they are patches of land that were fenced off soon after the area was colonised and so have been protected from grazing and other land use practices that saw the surrounding vegetation cleared and over-run with new, invasive plant species. Plus, I really love the whole decomposition, being recycled back into the ecosystem aspect of human burial. The gothic iconography is pretty cool too. There are just so many reasons to love cemeteries and the West Terrace cemetery is hands-down my favourite.
Getting back to the point of this post… the SA Writers’ Centre hold these literary events each month called The Quick & Dirty Readings where writers are selected to read about 15 minutes worth of new work on a particular theme. Halloween, the West terrace cemetery, short stories on the theme “Grave Matters”… I hope the title of this post is finally starting to make sense.
Well, it turns out that I’d just had one of my paramedic short stories published in a new anthology, so I sent it in and was pretty bloody excited when they chose it as one of the stories for the night. The anthology is hot off the press and jam-packed with stories from some of the best short story writers around. The book is called Breaking Beauty and it’s a collection of work by past and present creative writing students from the University of Adelaide. Edited by Lynette Washington and published by Anna Solding’s Midnight Sun Publishing, this book is gorgeous inside and out. When you see the calibre of the writers in this book I feel tremendously lucky to have my story sneak in among such talented company.
Sean Williams is in there, Heather Taylor Johnson, Corrie Hosking, Stefan Laszczuk, Amy T. Matthews, Bryan Whalen, Gillian Britton, just to drop a few names. Plus, you’ll also have the pleasure of discovering the work of Rebekah Clarkson, who I predict will one day have her name added to the canon of short story superstars alongside the likes of Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor and Lorrie Moore. I’d put money on it.
This anthology is so new it hasn’t even been launched yet. That’s a party I’d love to go to but can’t – I’ll be in Tasmania – but if you are interested in hanging out with South Australia’s hottest practitioners of the art of the short story then you should head to the SA Writers’ Centre on Friday November the 7th from 6.30pm. Wine and wild dancing guaranteed.
So, have I covered everything? – Beauty, death and short stories – check. So all that remains to be said now is that the gig was fantastic. I read “Pissing blood for Lucy Liu” which I reckon has the best title of anything I’ve ever written. Sean Williams was there too and he also read his story from Breaking Beauty along with two other fabulously dark sci-fi pieces.
It was a fantastic night with a wonderful crowd, all of us nestled in among the gothic tombstones in the heart of graveyard as the light turned rose-gold then seeped away. My three favourite paramedics came along to listen and if they picked up on any professional inaccuracies in my story they were the souls of discretion and resisted the urge to heckle. And on a personal note, I got to wear my beautiful funeral dress without anyone having to die.