This blog is named after a book I began around the time I started writing it (the blog) and only completed (the book) recently. It will be published next February by UWAP. Details here. Although its parts were written relatively quickly, Isinglass as a whole took more than ten years to finish. Unusually for me. I thought I might say a little bit about why. Or rather how.
I was still working as a cab driver then; had been thinking about doing an asylum seeker book for a while; but had not found a suitable point of entry. Until, one day, sitting idly at the wheel of a vacant taxi at the bottom of Oxford Street, near Hyde Park, looking out the window, I seemed to see an unknown man coming ashore at a deserted beach; and wondered what might happen to him next. I’d visited that beach, in the lee of Dark Point, aka Little Gibber, with my sons not long before.
The first two parts (short; long) were written over the summer of 2009-10; the love affair remembered in part two really happened and Charis (not her real name) has read and (slightly) amended my version. The third part (long), was mostly drafted in Auckland, where I had a two month residency at the Michael King Centre in the autumn of 2010; but I ran out of time a few pages before the end and didn’t complete it during that stay. Another three years passed before I did: after I finished my doctorate in 2013.
I had lost or mislaid the voice in which part three is written and couldn’t find it again; stalled at the moment when Anabi is cast adrift in a boat upon the waves of the sea. It was distressing; until I realised that I might kick-start the process by attempting a free adaptation of Rimbaud’s Le Bateau Ivre. This is how I did resume; which accounts for the baroque prose-style of the final part of that section: Comme je descendais des fleuves impassibles.
The fourth part (short) came unbidden in a hotel room in the deco city of Napier where I had gone in the winter of 2014 to give a talk about the Philip Clairmont painting Erotic Couch. Peter Wells, one of my hosts on that trip, wrote to me later: Anna Kavan’s hotel. This must have been where she stayed for a period during her twenty-two month sojourn in New Zealand during World War Two. I had no idea; but do remember how the compulsion to write descended upon me there.
There was one more section to go and I didn’t know how to do it: mainly because I had convinced myself that it was to be a travel piece, based upon a long anticipated visit to the Tanimbar Islands in Maluku; and I have not (yet) made that trip. Then, one October day in 2017, for no real reason, I opened up what I thought was a blank document and found I had written, and forgotten I had written, the opening paragraph of the fifth and final section (short).
It was about coral reefs and had a doomed feeling to it. I thought something more optimistic would read better; but what? A few nights later, when I couldn’t sleep, the rest came into my mind: a vision not a dream. I remembered a beach I visited in Fiji in 1987 and the children, selling bead necklaces and seashells, I met there; a village I saw on an island during a boat trip out of Labuanbajo into the Flores Sea in 2004. I wrote it all down next morning, exactly as it now appears.
Isinglass was meant to be a sequel to my 2006 book Luca Antara. Both contain imaginary, or imagined, journeys. In the first case it was that of an unremembered Portuguese adventurer to Australian shores; in the second, the voyage this way of someone much more remote in time; so remote, indeed, that it is hard to work out when the action is happening. For this reason, perhaps, Isinglass is the more contemporary work.
image : Untitled (1989); by Dean Buchanan; oil on cavas; 53 x 30 mm