My short story ‘Duets’ features in Every Second Tuesday, the new anthology of work by Elwood Writers.
What inspires one to write a short story? My motivation to write ‘Duets’ was different from usual, when I’ve recalled an episode from my childhood, or been moved by a particular experience, or tried to put myself in the place of someone else. In the case of ‘Duets’, I saw that the Henry Handel Richardson competition was to be judged by my writing hero, Helen Garner, and I wanted her to read my work.
The competition required that the short story have ‘some link to Henry Handel Richardson and/or her work’. I had recently read her first novel, Maurice Guest, much of which is set in the Leipzig Conservatorium – a world that interested me because I was writing a novel set in a musical environment. The story that emerged was: ‘a glimpse into the life of Madeleine from Henry Handel Richardson’s novel Maurice Guest ‘. Madeleine is a sensible and well-organised student, never frivolous, never passionately in love and I imagined how that young woman might have become a school principal’s wife, where she would have an intellectual more than a passionate compatibility with her husband. My own maternal grandmother (only about ten years younger than Henry Handel Richardson) had made a career out of being a school principal’s wife and I drew on my childhood memories as I developed my own older Madeleine.
My grandparents lived in a flat in the grounds of the school where Grandad was principal and I used my memories of this as a setting for ‘Duets’: ‘the scuffling of feet as the boys were summoned to bed’ [page 122], the dingy sitting room in the flat, ‘furnished in deep-red brocade and dark wood, the darkness broken only by cream lace antimacassars on the back of the upholstered chairs’ [page 115].
Helen Garner did get to read my story and I was awarded an honourable mention. The judge’s comment was: ‘A shocking and very touching and strong story about a child’s suffering and despair, and the breath-taking dishonesty of adults.’