Floundering by Romy Ash

Floundering is a quick read but a powerful one. Although this is author Romy Ash’s first novel, it isn’t by any means her first foray into published fiction. She is a regular writer for the Big Issue (both fiction and non fiction pieces) as well as several other publications.

It is difficult to find books that are successfully written in quite a young voice but that are written for adults. Ash’s use of language not only sits perfectly at the age of the book’s young narrator, it gives him a true Australian identity without becoming naff or stereotyped.

Romy Ash is wonderfully understated, every word is worth at least ten more and creates a wonderfully rounded picture. From the title “Floundering” which aptly describes the two young boys cast adrift amidst a foreign outback landscape.

Although Jordy is slightly younger than the young narrator Tom, it is clear that he is out of his depth. Slightly more jaded and suspicious of their flighty mother Loretta from the moment she sweeps back into their lives, a flurry of excitement and promises, his mistrust makes it clear to the reader that her impetuous behaviour and excited offerings mask past betrayal and hurt.

Tom is young enough that he is initially swept up with the idea of a family roadtrip. Again, his language makes the character, he is perfectly natural and his young Australian voice is so evocative. Sunburn, sand, pies and shotgun seating arrangements are some of the few childhood memories that Ash has captured so succinctly.

Floundering is about things unsaid. Ash pushes her story just far enough like a watercolour, the reach of the words extends beyond the immediate images on the page. Jordy’s reaction is indicative of our expectations of Loretta, a mother who has clearly abandoned her children once, before storming back into their lives and rushing them away from the shaky normalcy that they have created with their grandparents. The counterbalance to this is the hope that we see in Tom, and we want along with him for things to turn out ok just this once.

The water image permeates the title deeper into the novel, as Tom and Jordy are pushed further and further out of their depth, as Loretta drifts away. It is in the setting, the seawater edging the beach where they end up, and perhaps most importantly in the thirst they have, both for actual water, and a more spiritual thirst for love, family and a home.

It is unsurprising that only weeks after its release, Floundering is already the recipient of many favourable reviews and publicity. Romy Ash sits comfortably alongside peers Tony Birch and Anna Krien as she writes about the contemporary Australian experience, and our uneasy truce with our landscape and our society.

The Last Supper

Blogland, oh it has been a while. I’m way behind with my blogging and owe you all reviews of the amazing books I’ve been reading lately (among which are “Floundering” – Romy Ash, “Red” – Libby Gleeson and “Preloved” – Shirley Marr. I can only apologise for my slackness and promise that there will be a wealth of new words on here for you to read soon.

In my defence, I’ve been one busy lady – writing (as always), recovering from jetlag (killer), falling in love again with my city now that I see her again with fresh (post holiday) eyes and really, having some much needed discovery time with myself (especially after a rocky 2011) to really feel whole, inspired and confident again.

Tonight was a bittersweet parting of ways at Faber Academy. It feels like only yesterday that I wrote the first post in this series, full of inspiration and wide-eyed excitement. How it has fulfilled and surpassed my expectations.

Three months ago I stepped into a room full of strangers ready to write. It’s quite a personal thing, writing, especially at the first draft stage, and I remember looking around this room, ready to read my first exercise and trusting that the group would be supportive.

They were. And their feedback and support has carried me through these last few months, and pushed me to write more often, more imaginatively, and generally, just better. Our fearless leader, Sally Rippin, guided us through three hours a week, offering advice, wisdom, exercises and encouragement. Tonight we thanked her with cakes and gifts, but really she deserved much more than that for being so so generous with her time and her thoughts. And of course a special thanks to the complete legends at the Onion HQ. Allen & Unwin are so very clearly passionate about nurturing Australian writers and it is inspiring just to be around them. Plus they make delicious cakes for us (and blog about them sometimes here)

Before we cracked open the wine and started stuffing our faces (quite literally), there was one last order of business. The pitch. My new friend, writing buddy and co-conspirator and I had worked on blurbs to pitch over coffee and it was clear that others had put an equal amount of effort into their pitches. The culmination of our work over the months were reduced to a few sentences, packed with promise and read aloud in our enthusiastic (if slightly quivering) voices. The recipient of these pitches was the very lovely Erica Wagner, publisher at A&U and one of the women that Sally had credited as an inspiration in her early years. Even though I’d met Erica a bunch of times before, and knew how warm she was, and even though this was an informal chat about the pieces we were working on, it was with shaky hands that we each raised our papers and read aloud our pitches.

And they were wonderful. To hear all of that work by people who were no longer strangers really marked the moment. I hope to have published copies of them all adorning my shelves very soon.

So that’s it. Well not exactly, as we’ve all got plans to meet and write, plus I’ve just arranged a writers retreat in the Grampians (which will be another blog post for another time my friends). But that’s it for this part at least.

So thanks Sally, for being amazing and thanks to Erica, Elise, Hilary and Faber for having us. It’s been real.