Click on the arrow above to listen (In emails: click on the title above)
“Hi I’m Megan Jennaway and I’m reading from my novel The Water Jar.
Long before their arrival in our village I knew that strangers were approaching. There had been portents all week, with eels jumping out of streams to lie dehydrating on the banks, and stormclouds building up in September, the month of flawless skies. My father was expecting the visitors, because he was an educated man, a country administrator for the Portuguese, and his superiors in the government had tipped him off.
They came in boats at a time of year when the male sea that lies to the south is relatively placid. There was little outward sign of commotion, just a quiet absorption into various houses around the hamlet, a flicker of lamps within as tea and rice were prepared for the hungry strangers.
To us they looked peculiar. Oversized, with creased pink or brown freckled skin and eyes like clear glass. The two hiding in our house were the leaders, tall rangy fellows in waterproofed leather boots and heavy khaki uniforms that stank of brine. My mother gave them pitchers of warmed water to wash with, and thick tais to wrap around their lean bodies. My father gave them reviving sago-palm wine and clandestine letters from government officials in Baucau and Dili.
I knew none of this at the time, though, peeping through cracks in the wall of the uma lolon in which my sisters and I slept. All I knew was that my father had decided to break a time-honoured taboo by receiving these men in the middle room of our house, in what is otherwise a secret chamber dedicated to our ancestors. It struck me that they might be mythological beasts, these creatures that the sea had dredged up for us. They were unshaven, heavy of limb and in the low light of our kerosene lamps I saw that their chests were sleek with hair. When they spoke it was in a strange tongue the music of which was foreign to us.
As though by magic, the men-creatures plucked papers and maps out of their oilskin bags and tiny instruments for measuring things, writing implements and even a couple of pistols. The objects they’d brought made words unnecessary, for soon my father was poring over the maps and charts, pointing and clarifying, grunting his assent or making his objections clear. There was no conflict between them. My father and the strangers were in perfect accord. But that was only because my father didn’t know, at the time, the menace these men would unleash. He knew only the menace they were helping him repel: the Japanese gunships that had just appeared in Dili Harbour.”
ABOUT MEGAN JENNAWAY:
“I’m a mother who writes in the interstices of life’s daily beams and lintels. Thus far I’ve managed to write three novel manuscripts, and have several published short stories. My preferred genre is ethnographic fiction; I’m still trying to define for myself what exactly that is. I’ve had a few awards, including two Arts QLD Major Grants, a postdoctoral fellowship in creative writing at Queensland University of Technology, and a Varuna Writers Retreat Fellowship. A taste of my most recent work can be found in “The Blue Poppy Sea: Reflections on writing from the leaky boat of an ethnographic novel”, unpublished MPhil thesis, UQ.
In late 2008 I was awarded a Varuna Writers’ Retreat Fellowship, fulfilling a long-held dream. I took this Retreat over a three week period in March-April 2009, during which time I met several wonderful writers and illustrators. Sadly, Peter Bishop, the then Director, was mostly away, but I was privileged to have one private session with him, which was of course, inspirational. Varuna for me constellates all my dreams of writing – the romantic writers’ house, in a village where I spent some of my earliest years (my father was posted there as Pastor for the Baptist Church – the one on the hill opposite Coles in the early 1960s). My mother was sent to a Communist Party evacuation hostel for children in Katoomba during WWII and my first novel manuscript, One Eye on Utopia, deals with part of this history. I sometimes fantasize about moving in to Varuna and being immersed in the literary ambience of Eric and Eleanor Dark (a friend of my grandfather’s, Ray Wenban) forever – don’t we all!” Megan Jennaway
•2004: “Turf”, Silverfish New Writing 4 (Malaysia).
•2003: “Juet”, I Won’t Be Long, Anthology of Creative Writing, QUT, November.
•2001: “City of Sharks”, Social Alternatives 20(1).
•1999: “India is One”, Imago: New Writing 11(3).
•1997: “George Negus and the Drowning”, Redoubt 26.
•1997: “The Schoolteacher”, Social Alternatives 16(4), October.
•1997: “The Gentle Art of Persuasion”, Imago 9(2), Winter.
•1997: “Channa Dhal on the Sabbath”, Australian Multicultural Book Review 5(2).
(mob.) 0458 588820
Varuna has been funded by the Australia Council to produce a Varuna Writer-a-Day “app”. When we have recorded 365 writers the app will be made available via the iTunes store. In the meantime, if you subscribe to this free blog, you can receive a daily reading delivered to your email inbox which can also be directed to your mobile phone.
To find out more about Varuna’s programs, residencies, events and support services for writers click here.