kim westwood – writing the poetic apocalyptic
I’ve coined my own term in response to questions of where does my work fit in relation to literary and genre fiction. I call it ‘poetic apocalyptic’. This is true for my first novel, The Daughters of Moab, which I see as a poetic work stretching over a long narrative arc.
It began with a single image that sat in my mind a long time unexplored: a railway line spearing through a desolate expanse—the sort you get out west, where land dissolves into sky at a 360-degree horizon—and two figures working on it, padded against the elements. In it I saw danger, and hopelessness, and camaraderie. The two became Easter and Yukiko in the novel, and the thread of their illicit love got woven through a dystopian landscape as I wrote beyond the snapshot to find out who they were and why they were there.
The second image was of a very handsome woman indeed, dressed like a stockman of the apocalypse and standing in a lighthouse. How could I not explore what she was doing? She became the enigmatic Assumpta Viali: the ‘hero’ of the novel, if you like.
From then on the story unfolded in bright, perplexing pieces thrown like lures, my subconscious asking me to bite (Eustace Crane, for instance, was sitting morosely in his wingless aeroplane long before I knew who he was). Bite I did, writing each image into a vignette, not knowing how it might relate to the rest, but trusting I would find out. Then the Eureka! moment would arrive, and the threads which had always connected underneath surfaced as a pathway through the narrative.
The act of writing is beguiling; it can become all-consuming. The world of my first novel filling gradually with its own life made the process intensely addictive. Just as events and experiences from the ‘outside’ worked their way into the fabric of the story, the ever-developing lives of those inside it bled through to superimpose themselves on external reality, leaving me with a sense of floating perpetually between the two. So when finally the end of the process loomed, it was a terrible wrench to send the daughters off to the printer, me waving goodbye with a hanky and them promising they’d be home again soon.
Well, home they came (some of them) delivered to my door in a HarperCollins box. The rest of them, those maverick teenagers, and all the other partly lost partly found characters of the novel, went out into the world—this world—to eventually claim their place in it.