Novel tinged with a writer’s tears

WITH the death of her father and breakdown of her family, writing a fictional novel exploring grief and loss was a “cathartic” time for author Felicity Volk.

The part-time public servant and mother of two’s first novel, “Lightning”, centres around the relationship of two characters, Persia and refugee Ahmed, who are both dealing with grief in very different ways.

Author Felicity Volk

Author Felicity Volk at home.

“I was writing this novel at quite a tough period in my life… my father had been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer and passed away within nine months, and my partner and I separated, splitting my family apart,” Felicity says.

“There were different levels at which I was experiencing intense grief and loss, and these ended up bleeding into the novel. When I wrote about Persia and her journey to rise above her grief and move forward with her life, I remember I had tears streaming down my face, because of the sense of my personal engagement of that journey. As a writer, you do become very attached to your characters.”

“Lightning’s” first chapter is set amid the sweeping chaos of bushfires in Canberra, a theme inspired by Felicity’s memories of the ACT bushfires in 2003.

“My family was living in Kambah at the time, and I remember we could see the glowing embers from our window,” she says.

“The fires never reached us, but the elements of fire and wind became very emblematic in the story, and also the notion of an event not having a particular point at which it starts… in Canberra we experienced the fires as fires, but if you step back from where they hit Canberra, they were ignited by lightning, and so lightning became the novel’s starting point and ending point, and an important part of my story.”

Felicity, who studied English literature and law at the University of Queensland, moved to Canberra in 1989 for a position with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and now works as the department’s adviser to Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women.

She says an “insistent voice” called her back to her own blank page after diplomatic postings in Bangladesh and Laos, and following the birth of her two daughters.

With support from the Eleanor Dark Foundation (Varuna – the Writers’ Centre) in the form of two residential fellowships and a grant from artsACT, Felicity spent three years writing “Lightning”, which was published by Picador this year.

The 48-year-old says she is already working on her next novel, drawing motivation from the streets of her home suburb, Garran.

“All the streets there are named after Australian writers, and mine is named for a prolific female writer, so I think of it as a sign in a way,” she laughs.

Lightning, $29.99, sold at most bookstores and online. More information at  panmacmillan.com.au

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