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Josephine Rowe


Josephine Rowe lives in Melbourne, where she regularly performs both spoken word and music. Her poetry and short-fiction have been widely published in Australia and read on national radio.

Short Story Collections

East of Here, Close to Water 
Cherry Fox Press, 2007

Reviewed by Annie Clarkson

 Interview with Josephine Rowe

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Josephine Rowe: All told, about three years, although the vast majority – eight out of the eleven – were written in that last year, despite my working three jobs at the time. I did nearly manage to get myself fired from one of those jobs for writing behind the counter, so I guess that explains a lot. Being time-poor tends to make one creatively opportunistic.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

JR: Not with those earlier stories – I don’t think I’d even had anything published when the first couple were written – but towards the end, yes. I did think that I was writing towards a much larger manuscript, as at the time I didn’t figure anyone would be interested in reading such a short collection. I guess East of Here was something of a premature birth.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

JR: With some difficulty, as I had many more stories which didn’t end up in the collection. Sometimes it’s obvious one way or another, which stories belong and which don’t. Others exist in that vast grey area between. There is one story in particular in East of Here, Close to Water which still looks very grey from where I’m standing. Not that it’s dull or badly-written, I’m just not sure what it’s doing there. Instead of being in conversation with the other stories, it’s more or less keeping to itself. If East was a party, The Dancer would probably be chain-smoking and looking through my old photograph albums or re-alphabetising my bookshelves.
    In terms of ordering, it pretty much always comes down to me, and perhaps a patient friend, standing over a lounge room floor carpeted with loose pages, shuffling things around and saying, Hmmm. Hmmm. We’re probably going to need more gin after all…

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

JR:  Anything that’s worth the telling. And anything can be worth the telling. Anything can be analogised or allegorised – there is so much profundity to be found in small or ordinary things: the story of the small change on the bedside table or the waterlogged harmonica or the misspelled engraving on a hipflask. The histories of transistor radios and suitcases and scars. I’m not so much concerned with conventional structure. The notion of clear beginnings and tidy endings seems a little absurd to me – they don’t exist. My narratives are rarely linear. I don’t believe that time is linear. The actual process of writing has never been linear for me – more often than not a story just sort of accumulates around an idea or an image.

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

JR:  No, I’ve never written with a particular demographic or age bracket in mind – to be honest I think I’d find it a little bit crippling. I definitely don’t write with a market in mind. Otherwise I suppose I’d probably be writing novels. In any case, I see all art as a means of communication, and who am I to assume who will and who won’t understand what I’m getting at?

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

JR: How do you feel about Leonard Cohen? Janet Frame? Michel Gondry? Okkervil River? Do you ever go to the theatre alone are you eating properly are you sleeping okay? How much sky is in your window what’s your sister’s name are all your light bulbs working what was the last good thing that happened have you been to Barcelona?

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

JR: Humbling. Lovely. Mildly terrifying. A few months ago I was standing in a queue at a bookstore, and the couple next to me were buying a copy of my poetry collection. I didn’t know either of them. They didn’t recognise me. My writing was probably the only thing these people knew about me. Possibly not even my writing, at the stage, just the cover of the book. Part of me wanted to know why they were buying it, whether they’d read my work before, what they’d thought of it. But the rest of me blushed ridiculously, walked to a different register, bought a collection of Carver short stories and left feeling humbled, lovely and mildly terrified.

TSR: What are you working on now?

JR: Another collection of (very) short stories, all with four letter titles. It started out as one of those not-entirely-sound 3am ideas (Yes. I think I’d like a contents page which reads like a word-association game…) that I’ve somehow spent the last twelve months working on. Sometimes it’s better not to question these things…

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

JRFlannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Fast Lanes by Jayne Anne Phillips, whose books I go back to again and again. In this case it was for a story called Counting. Julian Barnes’ The Lemon Table. Although that was read to me.