Interview: Josephine Rowe

The Stella Interview: Josephine Rowe on Here Until August

Josephine Rowe

What was your first thought when you heard you’d been selected for the Stella shortlist?

What company! To be considered within a lineage of such incredible writers is an honour. Also, I do not envy the judges having to whittle it down to six—or to twelve, for that matter. It’s been a tremendous year for Australian literature, across forms.

Can you share with us your favourite line or quote from your book?

“The city so recently known as Home had become a facsimile of Home. Which was far more unsettling than being elsewhere.”  (Chavez)

Here Until August features deft tonal shifts – can you share your process on crafting a collection of short stories?

I had the idea of following the progression of a year, back and forth across hemispheres, between contrasting seasons—roughly half the stories are set here in Australia, while the others take place in the northern hemisphere. That’s still the general shape of the arrangement. It always seemed obvious that Glisk would be the first story, opening at the height of an Australian summer with a coastal family crossing a sandbar to reach an island. And it seemed right to have the (very short) story What Passes for Fun as the final, distant echo of that, set around the same time of year but in a cold climate; the conundrum of a frozen pond that has somehow drained away from underneath the solid, “levitating” surface, which is being held up by stands of cattails (bullrushes)—a weird phenomenon I passed by with friends and my then-husband, years ago in Upstate New York.

Weather and seasonally-altered landscapes and the way these conditions influence us—our inner worlds, as well as the practical aspects of our lives— figure strongly throughout the book.

The epigraph for Here Until August is borrowed from a Louise Glück poem, “October”—

I know what I see; sun that could be

the August sun, returning

everything that was taken away.

Glück is writing about the North American August; and the light of a North American August and that of an Australian August make different promises, but I think either can conjure up a longing for return, a reach towards plenty. In the north, there’s the winding down of summer, that long Sunday-afternoon feeling about it, but it’s also approaching harvest time. Here, the magnolias start blooming. In either case it seems a potently transitional month, a decisive time of year.

How long did this book take you to write from concept to completion?

Seven years, alongside other writing projects, including a novel (A Loving, Faithful Animal) that started out as a story for this collection, then went feral.

“There’s a lot of longhand, in notebooks as well as rogue passages scrawled on the backs of envelopes and stray hotel stationary.”

How do you write? (Where, when, on what?)

I would not recommend my writing process to anyone. It’s not exactly lawless, but it’s very tangential, not at all efficient as far as time is concerned. There’s a lot of longhand, in notebooks as well as rogue passages scrawled on the backs of envelopes and stray hotel stationary. Of course these notes sometimes go missing and resurface later, as cryptic non-sequiturs: Sick raccoon; where is start?? I tend to trail different threads around, room to room. Different piles of research materials congregate in different corners. I can’t look at a computer screen for very long before a headache sets in, so I use the laptop as little as possible, mostly in hope of imposing some order on the chaos. But things remain chaotic until very late in the piece, cluttered with either/ors that are probably true enough to greater, overarching indecisiveness (which August to be at home in, for instance.)

Over time I’ve become very protective of my mornings—which I appreciate is made easier by living alone, but can still be difficult as writing is so infrequently treated as legitimate, time-dependant work, even by those we love. And a good (well-defended) morning can feel boundless, oceanic… though I often think of the opening lines of a Jane Hirshfield poem:

“A day is vast.

Until noon.

Then it’s over.”

From then on it’s like trying to call back the precise details, the logic, the landscape of a dream, once you’ve woken. There’s only so much you can recover before the day—the outside world—starts to press in. By about three or four the writing day is as good as dead, for me. I’ll usually run, then, to get some sky overhead, go down to the water and see what it’s doing, gain a little distance on whatever I’ve written.

“Step away and wait for the weather to change the landscape” as a good friend puts it.

What are some other Australian women and non-binary writers that you’ve recently enjoyed?

Aside from works featured on the Stella lists, I’ve loved Anna MacDonald’s essay collection, Between the Word and the World, about writing and walking (and reading and rivers and art and on). Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island is a masterclass in attention to place. I’ve also been revisiting Delia Falconer’s essays up at the Sydney Review of Books, and have just started Ruby Hamad’s White Tears/Brown Scars.

For the past few months I’ve mostly been reading for research, so my TBR pile is becoming a bit precarious. But I’m eagerly eyeing off Laura Jean McKay’s The Animals In That Country, Meg Mundell’s The Trespassers, and Alison Whittaker’s Blakwork.

What are you working on next?


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