Overland #204: "Reading Coffe"
And a little on the writing process
It’s a thrill to have a story included in a journal close to my heart: Overland. "Reading Coffee" is my third story published this year and also my third story published in my debut year as a writer. Hopefully there will be many more to come (perhaps one without a beverage in the title.). A hearty congrats to all the contributors in 204, especially the other two fiction writers: Jacinda Woodhead and Charlotte Wood.
I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a small part of the process with you.
I’m not somebody who has a fountain of dazzling ideas, they don’t fall for me from the sky like rain and when I do have one I often examine it briefly and then toss it away in realisation that it’s lacking that indescribable factor that could potentially transform good to great. Yes, it’s the x-factor, how droll.
The idea for the Overland story germinated when I was reading about the 1916 Kalgoorlie Riots in Greek Pioneers in Western Australia by Reginald Appleyard and John N. Yiannakis (a great read for anyone interested in early Greek-Australian history). My Pappou, Lucas Pitsikas, was involved in the commissioning of the book and I’d heard stories about the riots from both him and my uncle, Terry Pitsikas, as a youth. The richness of the story was already there, for me the idea had that x-factor, but I needed to capture the essence and finesse it. After some contemplation, I thought it’d be interesting to embellish the event with some Greek folklore.
Having a family girl like Mary as a protagonist really added the required cultural element. Mary’s family meant that I could delve a little into the nature of the Greek diaspora in Australia at the time. Furthermore, Mary’s age allowed for connection and disconnection, as worried children often experience moments of escape and enjoyment even in the most troubling circumstances (possibly a false generalisation from my own personal observations). Her early ‘discovery’ meant that the tension could simmer throughout while the characters and community were developed.
I wrote the first draft as a skeleton, then fleshed it out with specifics, then culled again for pacing and effect, before laboriously, and often nauseatingly, redrafting again and again and again.
Originally the story had two threads, one was purposefully vague. I cut this due to a difficult-to-publish word limit (even now the story is around 5000 words – I’m not a flash fiction fan). I also sacrificed the thread to make it a generally linear narrative, which allowed for greater clarity and reader accessibility. The culling was literally a ‘kill your darlings moment’ that took an aeon to arrive at. I may explore the vanquished thread at a later date. Who knows - it could become the genesis of another tale?
The opening and ending, in essence, belong to both threads, and I was a little nervous about keeping them but Jane Gleeson-White, the Overland fiction editor, was right in encouraging me to retain both.
I hope that the story brings a little awareness to our nation’s racist past (although Overland readers are usually a very socially aware group). It’s sad that even today there are the occasional children and grandchildren and great grandchildren of migrants who claim that the ‘new kind’ of migrants aren’t the same. To those people I’d like to scream banshee-like: ‘lights on and wake up!’ The fact is that during previous eras, their parents, grandparents and great grandparents were thought of in a similar, or frequently far worse, manner. Horror, horror!
My prime aspiration, however, is for readers to enjoy "Reading Coffee". For me the story always takes precedence. Ultimately, I’d prefer the reader to leave thinking that it’s a great narrative – any thematic afterthoughts are a rewarding bonus.
As for the genre: I do enjoy, and write, open-ended short stories, this one though, has an almost-closed ending, a rarity in the modern open-ended short story world.
Feel free to comment on "Reading Coffee" and I hope you like Overland #204. It’s a real honour to play a small, humbling part in it – clichéd as it sounds. You can become a friend of Overland Literary Journal on Facebook too. Yes, this is a tacky plug for a journal that’s published me – but I am a fan and subscriber myself.
I’d like to especially thank Jane Gleeson-White who heroically saved me from a couple of anachronisms. Jane was a consummate professional and a delight to work with, a loukoumi herself, whose enthusiasm invigorated me.
And that’s that. For the Perthites out there, Overland #204 will be sold at New Edition and possibly Planet Bookstore. I’ve been told that it’s ubiquitous in its hometown of Melbourne and other states.
And with a final side note on my current reading: I’ve just finished The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. Lots of fun, easy to sink your lupine canines into; it’s a nicely paced blend of literature and genre, and genre parody. One of my unpolished book reviews about it to come soon.