Amanda Curtin has always been one of those authors I’ve found slightly intimidating, as well as an aspirational benchmark. It seems like she’s been on the stage at every Perth Writers Festival I’ve ever attended, always speaking with an encyclopaedic understanding of the industry; her name is always attached to every study I see produced about the state of WA writing; she appears to be associated with every literary market in WA I can’t get within kilometres of getting published by…. men stand aside as she walks by, women swoon, horses stamp their hooves nervously……
Having finally met her this year, she is, of course, utterly lovely. She still dresses up as a bat and fights crime at night, but gently, with a soft-spoken voice and an interest in how the criminal is getting on. She’s also published two novels, Elemental and The Sinkings, and a short story collection, Inherited. Elemental was shortlisted for the 2014 WA Premier’s Books Awards (Fiction and People’s Choice categories), and in 2016 it was published in the UK and in a new Australia/NZ edition. She has been a freelance book editor for more than 30 years (accredited with the Institute of Professional Editors) and has a PhD in Writing. She’s got a beautifully-written and welcoming website, and is equally approachable on Facebook or Twitter. And she’s here, as erudite and articulate as ever, to talk about her most precious literary possession.
Precious Things: Amanda Curtin
When Lee asked me to write about some object of a literary nature that is precious to me, what eventually came to mind is something that isn’t precious and isn’t literary.
Many years ago my father hired a metal-detector and went on a camping/prospecting trip to the Eastern Goldfields. He didn’t discover gold, but he came home with lots of stories. And this—a ring unearthed on the site where the gold-rush town of Kanowna once stood.
It’s made of thin brass, with a red ‘stone’ of some manufactured origin—the cheapest kind of trinket. But it fascinated me. Who had bought it, worn it, lost it, abandoned it? Did it mean something to them? How did it find its way into the red dust of the goldfields?
Years later, I went to the site of Kanowna myself—not to prospect for gold but because, by then, I had read a lot about what the town had been like at the height of the gold rush, a thriving place with a population of 12,000, exceeding Kalgoorlie in municipal importance. I was keen to see for myself what was left.
I was shocked to find that the reality of an Eastern Goldfields ghost town is nothing at all like I’d been led to expect by Hollywood westerns. Our ghost towns are bare earth, razed to nothing, everything of value carted away.
But you can’t erase history as easily as that. Stories remain.
My first (and so far only) ghost story, ‘Rush’, came from thinking about these things, and I suspect this modest little ring has many narratives it could tell. But it’s precious to me for what represents. It inspires curiosity. It reminds me to dig. It makes me question absolutes like ‘deserted’ and ‘empty’ and ‘worthless’. It whispers ‘what if?’ What a writerly little thing it is.
Which I guess qualifies it, after all, as precious and literary.