‘Permission to write’: Emilie Collyer Interviews Marion May Campbell

By and | 31 October 2021

I return to the interview, the record of the day:

MMC: and then, after a period of depression, I took [the manuscript] up again

after a period of depression, I took [the manuscript] up again and I dreamt of [a] scene [seemingly from the novel] and [in the dream], it was called Ramshackle. It was a ramshackle jetty-like structure, which […] kind of grew rhizomatically

It was a ramshackle jetty-like structure, which […] kind of grew rhizomatically.

‘After a period of depression.’ I note this, repeat it, re-write it.

My attention keeps returning this phrase. Just five words. Not the focus of the interview or even of this section about Marion’s early work. The under-statedness of it. As if it is worth mentioning but not worth dwelling on. Placed between a period of intense work, being rejected from a system (the academy) and the picking up of writing again.

Is there a cause and effect? Was Marion able to start writing again because she was not so busy working? Did the period of depression provoke or necessitate an engagement with the writing, with creativity?

I’m over-writing. It’s the elegance of the statement. How gently it is placed.

I seek out the parts that speak to my research. I realise I am not a good interviewer. I haven’t elicited. I strayed from the questions. I didn’t even start with the questions. What does this mean ethically?

MMC: And with the second book, Not Being Miriam [published 1988], perhaps rather [00:08:00] too, um, [too] boldly in a way, I wanted to do a kind of serial [from one character to the next], um, it was like a relay, um, between these women characters,

[00:08:15] and I needed some sort of event that brought these very distinct characters within [their] distinct […] spheres of activity, their cultural repertoires, their ethnic background, all together. And […] so, I worked sort of metonymically with […] you know, this-touches-that-touches-that.


on the table
when I arrive
a stack of books

several are gifts
for me to take

plus print-outs
some new

an essay
the new book

I try to find
the right word
without sounding – 

that is
I am touched
it is touching

this gesture:
here: my works
I cared that you were coming

I wanted to show
not show off
but show

is it evidence
a neat pile
the body

what has 
been made

				this happens again
				with another writer
				the archive presented

				or bits of
				at least
				and food again too

				gestures of
				welcome, let me

									and briefly
									my anxious heart
									what would I have to show?

									if anyone
									were to ask

MMC: And to the degree that it was fragmented [a critic like] Helen Elliot reviewed it as […] a collection of short stories. It didn’t have a generic affiliation, you know, ascription, on the front: Not Being Miriam, a novel, um, but Elliot read it as a collection of short stories and she said it was ‘high literary junk’.

EC: Was that a compliment, or …

MMC: It wasn’t meant to be a compliment, oh she said, ‘she can write like an angel’ but it’s ‘high literary junk’. Anyway. Um, and, but somebody else who, in the West Australian, you know, um, wrote ‘We’ll call it a masterpiece’.

It’s neither.

Another Helen (Daniel)
			will come up
			again too

			with the other writer
			as someone
			who always gave her work

							and me
							Helen Daniel gave me 
							a prize for a review I wrote

							said there would be
							more work
							she was kind

								then she died
								and there was
no more work (with that journal)

MMC: what I’m inclined to call the metonymic, or that relay [from one character to the next], um, was [a mode of] assemblage, showing how a community through, you know, feminist empathy, whatever can be formed by default with these improbable encounters or, and, and they do finally [find a degree of solidarity].

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