Vox: SJ Finn

Posted on August 24, 2011 by in Verity La Forum


Quite possibly we are seeing the beginning of something that will inexorably alter the way in which we absorb the written word. Quite possibly we will see less and less text based forms of the narrative type as the century matures. Quite possibly we have reached the upper most curve, the crest of the wave of the novel as we know it. Who can predict such things as these?

If there is, however, to be something of the old, something of the recognisable left in 100 years then it will be because of the power of stories.

I’ve just purchased my first ebook devise. Books appear on it with less fuss and certainly no colour, but still the ease of the novel, the dopamine a narrative sets off in my frontal lobe, is undeniable no matter the form in which it is delivered. Crafted, honed, developed and woven together, fiction brings absorption with very little effort.

The blog, of course, has other attributes: the throbbing pulse of an interactive style, the menace and elucidation of the immediate and current, the sharpness of its opinion.

A new archaeology? Perhaps! Certainly an artefact no matter the inevitable forward march we’re a part of in the literary world.

But before we’re too hasty, central to our connection with one another is not the ‘day to day’ – an odd thing given that’s how we experience life – but resides more in the exposition of the morals and values by which we live and die, by which we survive and interact and it is these we will want to see reflected in our art and in our discourse.


PASSING THROUGH TRUTH: an interview with SJ Finn

Posted on March 3, 2011 by in The Melbourne Review Interviews


Writers like James Frey have caused controversy by selling fiction as non-fiction. He lost agents and publishers — and millions had to be spent repairing reputations. David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs similarly publish only biographical work, though they use the apparatus of fiction and it’s doubtful that what they’re writing are ‘biographies’, strictly speaking. Other writers like Bukowski, Proust and Sebald again blur the boundaries between the biographical and fictional, yet their books are considered ‘novels’. The extremely brief bio at the start of your novel This Too Shall Pass and comparisons a reader might make with the blurb make this seem deliberate. I’m wondering how you feel about using fiction in our lives and our lives in our fiction.


The interconnectedness between truth and fiction is, for me, like the oil that keeps an engine lubricated while it runs. That oil may not be needed for ignition or the perpetuation of the running of the machine, but without it all working parts will seize. That is, of course, a very easy way to answer a very complex question, a question that goes to the heart of why we tell stories, to the fact that telling a story can create a better picture for its recipient than a factual manifesto of events. If you take a book like Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’, there’s absolutely no one who would dare to say that the changing of a young man into a bug overnight isn’t fictional, but the book is absolutely saturated in truth about the young man’s relationship to his workplace, his family and the world beyond; quite similar, one might say, to the reality of Kafka’s life. As for myself I’m very prepared to say the whole deal is meshed together. I’ve found myself paraphrasing stories to make a point about life in conversations as if they’ve been the truth. I’ve also found autobiographical novels such as Elizabeth Jolley’s ‘My Father’s Moon’ and ‘The Georges’ Wife’ to be compelling reading because they are based on truth. We are intrigued by truth, we want it, but we like it more when it’s delivered in the digestible form that is fiction.


A ‘digestible form’ sounds brilliant, yet it makes me think about the way birds feed their chicks — digesting it for them and then regurgitating it into their mouths. Raw truth is everywhere we look but as soon as someone points a camera at it or sketches some of its details to paper, there’s already a process of ingestion and a preparation for expulsion. In between, there’s the experience of truth, which is the most valuable aspect of what we do in writing. To stretch that initial metaphor, it’s as though the bird does not simply nourish, but delivers maps of where she flew to find the food and how she felt flying there and back, where she paused along the way, what she saw and what it meant to her. So a whole sensibility comes along with the nourishment we get in literary truth. I know one of the vital elements of this for you is the political. Could you talk about the part this has played in your experience of the world and how crucial it has been in the composition of your novel, This Too Shall Pass.


I’m so alert to the political aspects of life it’s hard for me to leave them out of a story, especially one that’s written so directly on the page such as This Too Shall Pass. When, at her core, the central character of this novel alters, so too is she forced to see that the world around her isn’t the place she’d always imagined it to be. Sometimes finding it dumbfounding, sometimes hurtful, the action in the novel is pared down to drill home the inconsistencies of what’s in front of her. Like Alice in Alice In Wonderland – despite the hallucinogenic quality of what Alice sees down the rabbit hole – Jen Montgomery has to complete a journey through a myriad of experiences she would not have otherwise encountered had she remained in the mainstream so to speak. Most of us, if we happen to fit within the cushioned margins, don’t believe there is such a thing as discrimination. Even when we hear it, unless we’ve got the map to read it with – the language, the experience of a similar thing – we often can’t decipher it. When people fit into norms, and for the most part they grow up not knowing they are the privileged who do, they are reticent to accept the experience of the outsider, which is a sad indictment on the individual and how our systems are organised to reflect that view. It is also an indictment we should rage against.

As for my own experience, being a gay woman and a social worker has meant that I see discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis. There’s a certain sneer directed to those considered, for whatever reason, lower on the scale that’s extremely ugly to see on the faces of people who view themselves as superior. I want to raise a finger to them but I’m sorely aware that that urge comes from anger which carries the tide of sadness and humiliation, sometimes for myself and sometimes for others. To raise a finger, while it might be fitting and while I might have done it from time to time, is not going to change the cultural landscape of our still narrow paradigms, paradigms on which our so-called progressive societies run, and, which, more importantly, feed back into our knowledge of who we are. Writing about those things fills some of those gaps.


Your idea of ‘filling gaps’ refers to that world we live in but there are ‘gaps’ within ourselves as well. We’re fragments of families, society, culture and history. All of us are incomplete and the writing of a novel is a way of putting some of those pieces together. So I’m wondering what effect the writing of This Too Shall Pass has had on you. You write of Monty’s transition from one state to another. Did you find a transition within yourself as well? Is that process now complete as you stand poised to release your first novel?


Transitions are never fully realised, I don’t think, until we’re in another state of transition about something else. Often we can only see then that something is over, that we’re not the person who was grappling with the concerns that took up our time back then. When I’d finished writing the first draft of This Too Shall Pass, which had occurred not over the course of a day, as told in the book, but over a very short period of about six weeks, I felt stronger as if for all the roller coaster upheaval a character can go through, upheaval driven often by the unconscious, there’s a calm that finally arrives. Not a perfect rounding off and tied up kind of feeling, but a spot to gather breath and look back, a spot to walk forward from. Because that’s essentially what transition is about, getting to a spot from which one can walk forward.


After the Fire (SJ Finn)

Posted on February 24, 2011 by in Lies To Live By

The hut sat untouched, a strange, defiant object against the black landscape. The grass under her feet also. Yes, it was a little parched from the summer sun, but not incinerated like everything else.

Marion looked up, surveyed the flattened buckled roof, the twisted charcoal posts and bricks, the crumpled outdoor furniture. The contrast made her dizzy. She wanted to look away – back at the grass, back at the hut – but she forced herself to stare, instructed herself to remember. Human noises, cooking smells, pot-plants and birdcalls, the feelings the house had held. She conjured them until they formed a painful lump in her chest, until she could sense them thrumming in her: all the years, all the people, all the long hours when she’d been in the house on her own – lonely hours, restless ones – and she wondered why it seemed that the fire had taken those things, things she’d thought had belonged to her, that’d be hers – without having to think – forever.

‘Here Gran.’

Nicholas came out of the hut and stood next to her. He put a cup of tea on the little side-table that folded out from the canvas camp-chair he’d set down for her when they’d arrived.

‘Thank you,’ she said.

He lowered himself into the second chair. ‘Are you alright?’

‘I didn’t think it’d be so … still.’

The words felt like a heavy parcel on her lips, a parcel she was handing him.

He frowned quizzically.

‘The fire has taken everything,’ she attempted to explain.

‘Not you, Gran.’ His voice rose in hopeful candescence. ‘We still have you.’

She wanted to tell him how sweet he was but could only manage a pale grin, a small nod and Nicholas didn’t ask for more. He turned back to the crumpled house, looking into the desiccated hillock of refuse with a beleaguered, somewhat unsure expression.

‘I don’t want to miss it,’ she said. ‘And I didn’t think I would. Human lacking, I guess. Stupid sentimentality.’

‘Your hut’s here … exactly as it was when you bought the place.’ Nicholas’s arm shifted in a measured aquiline arc as he swiped at an insect on his shin. ‘And that fly is a sign of life, which I shouldn’t kill!’ He raised his eyebrows, mocking himself.

She turned, considering the hut, her eyes stinging. Was it incomprehension burning at their edges as she took in its narrow hardwood boards, the little shuttered windows, its peaked roof?

‘I bet there are cobwebs in there.’ She turned back to him, to his vivid eyes. He nodded slowly that there were. Then they both turned to watch her son’s vehicle appear over the lip of the driveway.

Nicholas stood, his hand shielding his eyes as he stared intently across the monochrome of the charred remains of her property, the counterpoint of pale translucent sky that held a weak, perhaps even contrite sun not far above the horizon. He was taking his moment as he needed, watching his father with a seriousness that nearly overwhelmed her. When he turned back he bent down, pushing her hair away from her forehead to kiss her there. The care he took, the concentrated way he attended to this, penetrated through the bone of her skull. With her eyes closed, it spread like a tonic into her blood. And when she opened her eyes to follow his large strides across the moonscape of ash and burnt earth, the kiss drilled further and deeper into her.

–> SJ Finn’s novel ‘This Too Shall Pass’ is about to be released by Sleepers Publishing. It will be officially launched by Sophie Cunningham on March 3 at The St Kilda Bowling Club.

–> Aerial shot, February 8, 2009, of burnt out trees outisde Kinglake by William West/AFP/Getty Images.