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meet the winners of the 2018 rachel funari prize for fiction: 1st place, “our voices, fierce” by liz allan

Liz Allan's story, 'Our Voices, Fierce', won the 2018 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction. (Image: Supplied)

Liz Allan’s story, ‘Our Voices, Fierce’, won the 2018 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction. (Image: Supplied)

Liz Allan’s story, ‘Our Voices, Fierce’, won the 2018 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction. Here’s a Q&A with Liz, plus her award-winning story!

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Congratulations on winning this year’s RFP for Fiction, Liz! Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you?
Thank you so much for awarding me this prize and this fantastic opportunity. I can’t wait to read “Post” by Emily Clements and “Quiquiriqui” by Kristin Hannaford.

I am currently completing a PhD in creative writing at the University of Adelaide and I teach in English and creative writing. I also work full time as a personal assistant to my daughter Maddy. Unfortunately, this is an unpaid position.

What do you think makes a great story?
It’s difficult to pin down a particular list of ingredients but I think great stories happen when writers who are disciplined about their craft are being honest and pushing boundaries.

What’s your writing process?
I write best in the morning and I generate most of my ideas when I’m running. I think writing and running are very similar in that they are a slog, but if you just breathe and keep on going they can also take you to a really peaceful place.

How do you know when a story is ready to be sent out into the world?
I workshop stories in my writers group and then edit them based on the feedback I receive. I don’t know what I would do without the group members because they always point out problems that I suspect but can’t quite articulate. Shout out Adelaide Writers’ Group!

What (or who) inspires your work? Particularly, what inspired you to write Our Voices, Fierce?
Most of what I write is based on real life experience. I grew up in Victor Harbor and I wanted to write something about being a teenage girl in a small town, and the sensation of always being watched and feeling as if your body is somehow betraying you and making you unsafe.

Let’s talk books. What’s the last book you read? What are you currently reading? And what’s on your TBR pile?
The last book I read that I would really recommend was Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado: the best book of 2018 for me so far. I’m currently re-reading Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin with my detective hat on, trying to understand her techniques, but I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out what she’s up to. Next on the list is My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh because Eileen was so dark and brilliant.

Why did you enter this year’s Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction?
I read the winning entries last year and I was really impressed by the writing. I had a feeling that this particular story might be a good fit but even then I had absolutely no expectation of being shortlisted. It was a huge shock and I’m so glad I didn’t scream or fall over when I won.

What does ‘metamorphosis’ mean to you?
Kafka!! But I did look up the exact meaning when I saw the theme and it is a biological process involving a dramatic change to an animal after birth or hatching. My story is about adolescence, and puberty feels like a very abrupt and almost violent change, so I thought it suited the theme.

Where do you hope to see yourself, and your writing, in 10 years’ time? What’s your ‘dream goal’?
My dream is to be a novelist and travel writer but I’m also aware that the likeliness of me making a living from that is about the same as becoming an astronaut. I will keep writing, and hopefully the time I spend working will decrease over the years and the time I spend writing will increase. A vague but lofty goal.

Where can people follow your work?
I don’t have a blog or website or anything yet. I should probably sort that out.

 

Our Voices, Fierce

— There’s been talk of a white van.
— Isn’t there always talk of a white van?

The sea breeze quickens, and we rest our Coke cans on the edge of the paper to prevent our hot chips from scattering. A baby seagull hops forward on one leg, flapping its fluffy grey feathers.

— Someone caught him hiding in the woman’s toilets, but he ran away.
— Audrey saw him at her lounge room window, and he laughed at her when she screamed.

We shiver, picturing the Peeping Tom at our window. We use clothes pegs now to keep our curtains closed at night. We jump each time the telephone rings. When we take the bins out we are frightened of the darkness, and the rattle of the wheels against the bitumen.

— Daisy Draw reckons he groped her on her way home from school, but his face was hidden by a scarf.

We go quiet, thinking about Daisy Draw. The wind picks up again, whipping sand into our eyes and mouths. The chips are soft and gritty, and we throw them to the gulls. As we ride home the headwind pushes against us, shoving us back down the hill. We pedal harder, screaming into the wind like we did when we were kids. But we’re not kids anymore.

When Sunny Baker passes we all go drippy and warm. Sunny has black, curly hair and eyes the colour of denim. His guitar case bangs against his back as he rushes past, calling hello to another boy before yanking open the door. He doesn’t notice us because he’s in Year 11, and another species.

We’re so busy swooning we don’t see her at first, leaning against the music room window. Her winged eyeliner is extra thick today. She slouches, picking at her nail polish. Daisy-don’t-give-a-shit. Only Year 10 like us, but you wouldn’t know it. She pulls a pack of Holidays from her pocket and puts one in her mouth, tilting her head to light it. We wait for her to say something, but Daisy just slouches and smokes, her long white legs stretched out in front of her like matchsticks. Daisy has asthma, and smokes a pack a day. That’s how don’t-give-a-shit Daisy is.

As we pedal home there’s no wind at all. The dusk is electric pink, making every house in town blush. We talk about Sunny and our pure love for him: the lengths that we could go.

Who would
drink his sweat?
torch the school?
sell their firstborn?
What would you do, to get Sunny Baker?

Later, after everything had happened, this is what we heard:

That Sunny took Daisy with him to his after-school job, and she broke up with him on the way. He didn’t understand what she was saying. He had to brake, hard, for the words to connect.

That Daisy waited in the car while Sunny did his job, spraying liquid insulation over the walls and ceiling of a new warehouse. The layer dried unevenly because his hands were trembling as he applied it.

That when the job was finished Sunny sank down to his knees, pulling off his facemask to cry.

There’s been talk of a white van, and a man wearing a green fishing hat. He lurks in dark, moist places, like public toilets, gym saunas and pool changing rooms.

Our mothers warn us to be careful. Our long hair and maturing breasts have made us moving targets, and our vulnerability trails us like a shadow. We don’t understand what we’re turning into. We sense a growing power in our bodies, yet the boys look at us with hate and bewilderment. But they want us too, don’t they?

Daisy and Sunny are fighting in the quad. We stroll over to a nearby bench and open our lunchboxes quietly so we can eavesdrop.

— Am I still taking you to formal?
Sunny touches her hair, his blue eyes big and round.
— Maybe, Daisy says, and Sunny’s shoulders drop.

Maybe! We exchange looks of rage as we eat our sandwiches. Daisy’s hip is cocked beneath her short black mini and she crosses her arms over her chest. What is this advantage she holds over him, this asthmatic blonde with a sulky face? He deserves better. He deserves to be adored.

Sunny’s hands are trembling, his beautiful big hands with all the tendons arched and straining. We want him to see us in our formal dresses, with our make-up and hair all perfect. We want to watch Sunny Baker cross the gym under lights and streamers, and imagine he’s coming straight for us.

This is what we heard:

That Daisy came into the warehouse, knocking the wedge that held the door open. That Sunny jumped to his feet as the door swung shut behind her.

— Are you nearly finished? Daisy pouted, sick of waiting. She saw that he’d been crying but she didn’t care.
— Did you bring the keys? Sunny asked, but Daisy did not understand.
— The keys that were on the front seat.

Both of them turned to look at the closed warehouse door, the door that could only be unlocked from the outside. And all of the colour drained from Daisy’s face.

On formal day we drink orange juice from champagne glasses while Sephora curls our hair. Our waves come up bouffy and tight, not loose and sexy like Daisy’s. But Sephora says the curls will soften during the afternoon, and by evening they will be perfect. Hairspray mixes with vanilla roll-on and lily perfume and raspberry lip gloss. Even our sweat smells sweet. Hours pass in a blur of excited preparation and then we are in the back of the Holden, our piled-up curls crackling with static.

The gym is themed around a starry night and the lights are all blue and silver. Cut out constellations flutter from the ceiling and Mazzy Star drifts from the speakers. Deep down we know Sunny isn’t coming. But we look for him all the same.

This is what we heard:
That as the liquid insulation on the walls and ceiling of the warehouse hardened, the fibres began to crackle and expand. Tiny particles drifted through the air like snow and while Sunny searched the warehouse for something to break down the door, Daisy started to cough.
That Sunny took off his mask and fitted it over her face, but it was already too late.
That the sound of Daisy’s coughing echoed around the cavernous warehouse, a dry cough that soon became a wheeze as the particles sank into the tissue of her lungs.
That Daisy’s airways started to swell, the muscles tightening as she struggled harder and harder to draw breath.

We dance to Smashing Pumpkins with boys who leave hand prints on our dresses. We smell their stale breath and turn our faces away. We close our eyes and lay our heads on their shoulders and dream of Sunny Baker, even though this one is not so tall or strong, this one makes us feel clumsy and giant like a praying mantis dancing with a flea. We smoke spliffs in the toilets and when we emerge the starry sky spins gently over our heads. We catch each other’s eyes across the dance floor and exchange grave looks because we are ascending, and beautiful.

This is what we heard:

That Daisy’s father unlocked the warehouse door.
That he found his daughter, lying still in Sunny’s arms.
That the keys were in the back of the ute, hidden from sight under a blanket.
That Daisy’s asthma inhaler had been in Sunny’s pocket the whole time.

We pedal along the causeway as the seagulls swoop and cry. We weave in and around each other, missing our spokes by inches. We are supposed to be home by dark because the Peeping Tom is still on the loose. Instead, we drop our bikes and hold vigil on the beach, our heads bowed over a flickering candle. We pray for Daisy’s soul in heaven and we pray for Sunny’s proven innocence and release. We join hands and close ranks, united in our refusal and our belief.

The sunset fades from bubblegum, to ballet slipper, to pearl.

When the light goes out altogether, our voices sound fierce in the darkness.

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