Eugen Bacon’s work is cheeky with a fierce intelligence, in prose that’s resplendent, delicious, dark and evocative. NPR called her novel Claiming T-Mo ‘a confounding mysterious tour de force’. The Road to Woop Woop and Other Stories imbues the same lushness in a writerly language that is Bacon’s own. This peculiar hybrid of the untraditional, the extraordinary within, without and along the borders of normalcy will hypnotise and absorb the reader with tales that refuse to be labelled. The stories in this collection are dirges that cross genres in astounding ways. Over 20 provocative tales, with seven original to this collection, by an award-winning African Australian author.
As a guest writer for Meerkat Press‘ latest offering, Tomes and Tales has collaborated with the publishing house to feature the award-winning writer and her brilliant book on its worldwide blog tour. Here’s my interview with author Eugen Bacon as part of the release and promotional tour of her latest book.
1) With a range of themes and genres, the book does not fit into a specific category of writing style. Was this a deliberate decision of being genre defying or genre defining?
My writing is experimental, a curiosity. My cross genre stories are a natural birth of my multiplicities as an artist, a scholar, a short story writer, a novelist, a poet. I have always been enchanted with theorist and critic Roland Barthes who found pleasure in the text, for whom text is a multi-dimensional space where things are made or unmade. I am drawn to deconstruction, margins of philosophy, meaning of text. My defying the boundaries of genre is a natural occurrence, a child of wonder and play.
2) The writing features a lot of Australian slang (including the title itself). What was your target reader audience while writing this book?
Streuth, Aussie drawl is not vernacular! Crikey. I write for a global audience, and the writing is accessible in textual context, placement, narrative and flow—as any good writer will see to. Not all stories have an Aussie drawl, just the ones featuring distinct characters, like Bluey in “Dying” (golly gum), the toad in “Beatitudes” (I’m just a bloody toad) and Calder in “He Refused To Name It” (who could have said, “I haven’t seen M in yonks,” but didn’t).
Woop Woop was once a real place for harvesting jarrah timber northwest of Wilga in New South Wales, Australia. It faded from history and today refers to a place remote or without facilities in ordinary speak (“I live out Woop Woop—my internet is down again.”) The slang I use is both a natural aspect of my self and other—I am true blue, as one would say, even as a blend of cultures (African Australian)—and a deliberate playfulness, where writing is an extension of art and play.
3) African stories in Australian fiction – Was this cultural blend something you set out for, or the stories just happened to perfectly sync together?
I am African and Australian—the one is not exclusive from the other. I am a sum of parts. I am many, betwixt, a fusion of cultures. My stories and their characters chart what happens. Perhaps they steal from my everyday in a perfect sync of that self and other. There is no tension when I write, but rather a release.
4) The writing style can be an acquired taste of sorts. Any tips/suggestions for upcoming or newbie writers on honing their skills beyond set narratives?
Find your voice. I talk about voice as integral to a writer’s identity in my book Writing Speculative Fiction (2019) by Macmillan. Voice is your unique way of telling. In a review of my collection by award-winning author Keith Rosson, he wrote: “The Road to Woop Woop pushes boundaries, blurs genres and folklores, and reminds us once again of her dazzling, unique voice. No one writes like her.” When you tell it in your own way of looking at things, this is your voice.
5) Any literary influences or personal favorite authors/books you would recommend that readers pick up?
Fiction by Toni Morrison,celebrated for her beauty in language in personal text that shouts its meaning. Anything by Anthony Doerr (his text is like: “fields enwombed with hedges”)—clove pink carnations, ivory white lilies and crimson rich roses sprout in each sentence. Peter Temple is an Australian crime fiction writer—I wrote a tribute to his writing in the Literary Hub, it will tell you how this author is a favorite: “The New Seduction of an Old Literary Crime Classic”. The novel Truth is his most memorable work.
I am currently reading Nalo Hopkinson’s Skin Folk (2001), was besotted with NamwaliSerpell’sThe Old Drift (2019) and adore Sheree Renée Thomas’s Nine Bar Blues (2019). Andrew Hook is a British author of the literary strange who has really captivated me. I nearly fell when he agreed to collaborate with me in a short story.
6) The stories are often lyrical. Any upcoming poetry collections?
Yes, thanks for asking! I find a certain attraction in text that makes colour in my mind, that patterns a rainbow in the ideas I find voice to. In 2020 I wrote two prose poetry collections, Her Bitch Dress and It’sFolking Political through Ginninderra Press. They are a response to politics, to the pandemic and much more. What’s more, Speculate, my collaborative collection (with Dominique Hecq) of illustrated prose poetry is out in January 2021 by Meerkat Press. Trust me—this illustrated collection is a provocation. You’ll want to read it.
7) What’s the story behind the cover?
Meerkat Press would be thrilled to give you an answer. I just said, I want something African and Aussie, and it’s kinda dark. The publisher sent me draft art with a croc and galahs, eyes and skulls, and I said, too right.
(Did you know she also did the inner illustrations? My word.)
THE ROAD TO WOOP WOOP by Eugen Bacon
RELEASE DATE: DEC 1, 2020
GENRE: Collection / Speculative Fiction / Dark Fantasy
BOOK PAGE: https://www.meerkatpress.com/books/the-road/
GIVEAWAY LINK: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/7f291bd824/?
An excerpt from the titular story:
THE ROAD TO WOOP WOOP
Tumbling down the stretch, a confident glide, the 4WD is a beaut, over nineteen years old.
The argument is brand-new. Maps are convolutions, complicated like relationships. You scrunch the sheet, push it in the glovebox. You feel River’s displeasure, but you hate navigating, and right now you don’t care.
The wiper swishes to and fro, braves unseasonal rain. You and River maintain your silence.
Rain. More rain.
“When’s the next stop?” River tries. Sidewise glance, cautious smile. He is muscled, dark. Dreadlocks fall down high cheekbones to square shoulders. Eyes like black gold give him the rugged look of a mechanic.
“Does it matter?” you say.
You don’t respond. Turn your head, stare at a thin scratch on your window. The crack runs level with rolling landscape racing away with rain. Up in the sky, a billow of cloud like a white ghoul, dark-eyed and yawning into a scream.
A shoot of spray through River’s window brushes your cheek.
A glide of eye. “Hell’s the matter?” you say.
“You ask me-e. Something bothering you?”
He gives you a look.
Classic,you think. But you know that if you listen long enough, every argument is an empty road that attracts unfinished business. It’s an iceberg full of whimsy about fumaroles and geysers. It’s a corpse that spends eternity reliving apparitions of itself in the throes of death. Your fights are puffed-up trivia, championed to crusades. You fill up teabags with animus that pours into kettles of disarray, scalding as missiles. They leave you ashy and scattered—that’s what’s left of your lovemaking, or the paranoia of it, you wonder about that.
More silence, the cloud of your argument hangs above it. He shrugs. Rolls up his window. Still air swells in the car.
“Air con working?” you say.
He flexes long corduroyed legs that end in moccasins. Flicks on the air button—and the radio. The bars of a soulful number, a remix by some new artist, give way to an even darker track titled ‘Nameless.’ It’s about a high priest who wears skinny black jeans and thrums heavy metal to bring space demons into a church that’s dressed as a concert. And the torments join in evensong, chanting psalms and canticles until daybreak when the demons wisp back into thin air, fading with them thirteen souls of the faithful, an annual pact with the priest.
Rain pelts the roof and windows like a drum.
He hums. Your face is distant. You might well be strangers, tossed into a tight drive from Broome to Kununurra.
The lilt of his voice merges with the somber melody.
You turn your face upward. A drift of darkness, even with full day, is approaching from the skies. Now it’s half-light. You flip the sun visor down. Not for compulsion or vanity, nothing like an urge to peer at yourself in the mirror. Perhaps it’s to busy your hands, to distract yourself, keep from bedevilment—the kind that pulls out a quarrel. You steal a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Deep, deep eyes. They gleam like a cat’s. The soft curtain of your fringe is softening, despite thickset brows like a man’s. You feel disconnected with yourself, with the trip, with River. You flip the sun visor up.
Now the world is all grim. River turns on the headlights, but visibility is still bad. A bolt of lightning. You both see the arms of a reaching tree that has appeared on the road, right there in your path. You squeal, throw your arms out. River swerves. A slam of brakes. A screech of tires. Boom!
The world stops in a swallowing blackness. Inside the hollow, your ears are ringing. The car, fully intact, is shooting out of the dark cloud in slow motion, picking up speed. It’s soaring along the road washed in a new aurora of lavender, turquoise and silver, then it’s all clear. A gentle sun breaks through fluffs of cloud no more engulfed in blackness. You level yourself with a hand on the dashboard, uncertain what exactly happened.
You look at River. His hands . . . wrist up . . . he has no hands. Nothing bloody as you’d expect from a man with severed wrists. Just empty space where the arms end.
But River’s unperturbed, his arms positioned as if he’s driving, even while nothing is touching the steering that’s moving itself, turning and leveling.
“Brought my shades?” he asks.
“Your hands,” you say.
“What about them?”
“Can’t you see?”
His glance is full of impatience.
You sink back to your seat, unable to understand it, unclear to tell him, as the driverless car races along in silence down the lone road.