Tag Archives: Gail Jones

A note (on connections and why we need them)

Marion May Campbell is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and poets. Erudite, engaged, her prose enchants and enfolds. There is a dark warmth there, the abject jumping to caress. There is also lightness, and breath. A friend told me about her 2008 book Fragments from a Paper Witch, specifically the section titled ‘Spectacular Motherhood’ a few weeks ago.

I was sure I’d find it in the library catalog, but it wasn’t there. Request. One week later it arrived, thanks to document delivery, from the University of Adelaide. On the first page Gail Jones, in her forward, quoted Susan Sontag writing that “a poet’s prose is the autobiography of ardour”. I was already in love. A flick through confirmed it.


Am / am not; am amniotically buoyed between am / am not. Am shutter, am threshold, am revolving door, just pulsing muscle, in-out: I sing my continence through my leakage. I think of my baby, this other within, and I strain the membrane of thought.

Fragments from a Paper Witch, p 28

Writing that is a mirror, but also not. A voice that mine echoes, even though I have never heard it before.

I knew, immediately, that I a copy of Paper Witch needed to live on my shelf. Internet searches yielded nothing. Rare book seller’s websites, Salt Publishing (its printed home), the big guys, I even tried eBay. Nothing. Twitter! And there she was (@Beigesang). But the last time she’d been active was 2009. I sent a forlorn tweet.

Then I remembered this: my Post Grad diploma at Melbourne Uni, hearing Marion speak at a symposium, and knowing that my tutor, Antonia Pont (who wasn’t a doctor yet) knew her.

So I sent this:

From: Karina Quinn

Subject: Fragments from a Paper Witch

Date: 6 September 2012 11:05:41 AEST

To: Antonia Pont

Hey Antonia,

I’ve just fallen deeply for Marion May Campbell’s Fragments From a Paper Witch and can’t bear to give it back to the library. I’ve done a fair bit of online searching but haven’t been able to uncover a single copy.

So I turned to Twitter and discovered Marion has an account, and have sent her a message. She’s sent 4 tweets in her whole life though, and these were in 2009 so I suspect she may not receive my message.

I’m writing this in the hope that you have some contact with her, and that you could forward this email on for me? My other hope is that she has a secret stack of Fragments on a shelf somewhere and that I can pay her a premium for the joy (indeed the jouissance) of having a single copy on my own shelf.



Antonia forwarded my email with a brief introduction, and shortly after I received this:

From: Marion May Campbell

Subject: RE: FW: Fragments from a Paper Witch

Date: 6 September 2012 12:44 PM AEST

To: Karina Quinn

Dear Karina,

You are very welcome to have one of the copies I have left. As I said to Antonia, an appreciative reader is to be cherished. Yes, I’m afraid I am not a twitterer…

What’s your address and surname and I’ll put it in the post for you.

Very best wishes,


The very next day a parcel arrived on my doorstep. A beautiful hard cover edition of Paper Witch. On opening it, this:

Paper Witch is in my hands because I don’t sit at my desk all day, myopic, immersed, to the exclusion of all else (except when I do). Paper Witch is in my hands because I go to symposiums, and make connections with other writers and academics, and take good advice. But mostly, Paper Witch is in my hands because of Marion’s generous spirit, because a writer will always be happy to have been read.

I am reading Paper Witch now with great care, with love. This book with its hand written note feels portentous. There is something about this project, whatever it is, that seems destined. The words literally pour from me. It can’t not be written. And a note like this seems to say keep going, keep going. I feel so very blessed today to be living a writer’s life, amongst other writers. To feel a sense of community, belonging even. I have not-written for most of my life. To be, finally, here, is nothing less than miraculous.

The glue of good fiction (and a sleeping Sparrow)

My pram being used as a laptop tableI type this with Sparrow on my back. My airbook is balanced on the hood of the pram and jiggles as I type. I hear “the intimate space of other people’s relationships” and “reflect our own world back to us” and I sway and type and sway and hope that Sparrow will be lulled by amplified and echoing voices instead of kept awake.

There are four women in armchairs in a semicircle on the stage. Marion Halligan is introduced first. She has an easy slouch, a silver grey bob, and Sparrow is saying “ya ya ya” in the soft, raspy way he has. I zone in and out. I hear and don’t. I see the Yarra beyond the glass back wall of the BMW Edge theatre and a girl child riding her bike, swerving to miss the clichéd joggers and tourists.

Enza Gandolfo is chairing and next she tells us about Jane Smiley and Gail Jones.

This theatre is big and full of light. There is a huge space at the top, at the back of all the seats, and I am relieved because maybe this bringing a baby into sacrosanct adult space will be ok. He blows raspberries into the middle of my back. Sings into my shoulder blades. Can I rock and type and bounce for an hour? People in the back row turn to look, and mostly smile.

The last to be introduced is Elizabeth Stead. I keep bouncing and trying to listen but there’s more “ya ya yaing” and a gang of seven year olds is inspecting the architecture of the glass wall on my left. A child with tracksuit pants that don’t quite cover her ankles traces one of the metal supports and lags behind to peer in at us. A teacher moves her on.

Enza wants to know what kinds of relationships these writers are interested in exploring and Marion says birth, love, marriage, and betrayal. She says she’s tired of hearing this called women’s writing, that Shakespeare wrote about the same thing too. She’s interested in the having and the not having of children. She says that this generation is full of young women pushing forty and desperately trying to get pregnant.

Sparrow still singing. And doing this thing where he pushes his whole body against the ergo and jiggles up and down at the same time with a loud “ah ah ah ah” like that will help him escape.

Gail talks about the collapse of the present into the past. That when people leave the room we don’t stop having relationships with them. She says that there’s the physics of the text, but it’s the metaphysics; time, space, memory, the inner and outer, that interest her.

1.15 and I think Sparrow is asleep. His breathing has taken on a regular, deeper cadence. Can I stop rocking?

I concentrate again and hear Elizabeth say “I write more about people who are lonely.”

It’s not comfortable, standing up here. I walked into a wind tunnel in the city yesterday that nearly pulled the pram from my hands. I wrenched my shoulder in the holding on against that fierce blowing and now the ergo straps have set up an ache. It’s not comfortable, standing up here. I listen but my heart is beating fast. Always this division. I can’t listen with my whole self. Part of me is reserved for “is he waking?” and “will he be hungry when he opens his eyes?” and “I could sit in that chair there to feed him” and “if he makes too much noise we’ll just have to leave” and, and, and.

And suddenly they’re all talking about flat irons, and who remembers them, and the ironing of old wedding dresses in Paris.

Then Jane says “the occasion of the storytelling is displacement” (I am displaced). “You just start writing” (I am writing). “The novel is linear because words are linear… that’s your boon and your bane… you hope that once the words enter the reader’s mind they’ll become three dimensional”. I am entranced. I forget, momentarily, about my children, and I am all there, all words, undivided, inhabiting this talk, breathing it in. Gail is speaking and she says “you don’t need to know where you’re going, you need to see the space of illumination in front of you”. I see the space of illumination in front of me. The way is clear.