When Australian author Eliza Henry Jones hit the shelves in 2015 with her debut novel In the Quiet, it was anything but quiet – earning the then-25-year-old a clutch of awards, kudos and positive press. Now back for her ‘tricky follow-up album’ second book, Eliza is drawing on recent studies in which she explored bush fire trauma. Eliza lives in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria. The book is Ache and we’ve just spotted her walking in. Don’t turn around, she’s coming this way…
Hi Eliza, let’s get straight into it. For those readers who haven’t read your book yet, can you tell us what it’s about?
“Ache is about a family dealing with the aftermath of a devastating bushfire. It’s an exploration of four generations of women and the different ways they cope and relate to each other. It’s also about their relationship to the landscape – which was influenced strongly by my home.”
Now that’s a succinct elevator pitch right there – the doors would have only just closed! Tell us – how did the idea for this book form?
“I grew up hearing stories about bushfires from my family and friends, who had been through some of the worst bushfires in living memory. So, although bushfires are something I’ve always spent a lot of time considering and wondering about and fretting over, the light bulb moment came when I was attending a conference presentation on transgenerational bushfire trauma – that is, how the trauma of a bushfire manifests throughout the different generations of a family. And it was like this story had been brewing in the back of my mind for years and during this wonderful presentation, I’d suddenly recognised it.”
Okay, so you’ve drawn upon your experience in psychology and trauma counselling when writing this story. What are some common issues/mistakes that you see writers making when writing about trauma?
“I think sometimes people focus on the way trauma affects people in very broad ways – for instance, they may suffer emotional outbursts, they become isolated, they lose their jobs. And these are very real things that can occur when someone is dealing with trauma. But I think sometimes if you focus a story too much around the broad strokes, you can miss the smaller fractures that can appear in someone’s life after trauma. Maybe they sleep with earplugs now. Maybe they let their calls run to voicemail. Maybe they sleep with all their clothes on, in case of an emergency. I think these tiny and seemingly inconsequential parts of someone’s life can really stack up and have a huge impact. And I think they are most often what’s missing in the fiction I’ve encountered about trauma.”
Great point. So what drew you to writing about a bushfire as a traumatic event?
Is there something unique about them?
“I’ve grown up with bushfire stories. And I suppose I am fascinated by this interplay between fires and landscape within the concept of home. I’m preoccupied with the landscape of my home, constantly looking for evidence of the bushfires I know tore through here 20, 30 years ago. I see these sorts of things through a trauma lens after working for years in community services where every day I was working with people who had experienced trauma – reading articles and books and having endless conversations, trying my very hardest to understand people’s stories.”
Do Australians deal with bushfires differently from other cultures because it is such an imposing event in our national psyche?
“I’ve seen the ways the people around me have responded to being caught in fires on the road or trying to defend their burning houses. I am fascinated by the relationship people have with bushfires. How bushfires are this huge part of the Australian landscape, yet people are also quite often removed from them – even people who live in extremely bushfire prone areas.”
What’s next for you? What are you working on?
“I am currently working on another novel – due out in 2020 – and another, separate project in another genre which I can’t say too much about yet, but I’m delighted it’s getting published and it will hopefully be out next year!”