The third Dorothy Hewett Award will be announced at Perth Writers Week on Saturday 24 February. We hope you can join us to share a glass of sparkling wine and celebrate new Australian writing. Full event details are available here.
In the lead up to the ceremony we will be giving you a sneak peek into the five shortlisted manuscripts...
Louise Helfgott is a writer of plays, poems and books. She completed her PhD in Creative Writing at Edith Cowan University in 2013. She has had many plays and musicals produced, including Frames; The Bridge, and A Closer Sky, which was nominated for an AWGIE award in 2005. Her poems and short stories have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.
Image credit: Jon Hewson
'Thistledown Seed' is an ambitious manuscript, containing both fiction and memoir in multiple threads, which follows the displacement and violence of the Holocaust for a Polish family that subsequently settles in Western Australia.
I wake in a clammy sweat to the regular beat of the train ... kerlunk ... kerlunk ... kerlunk. Sleeper after sleeper, but I cannot sleep. I am on a mission. A mission to the past. But I have no map, no guide, no signposts, only those that flash by like mythical names: Vac, Veroce, Szob, Nove Zamky, Oswiecim. I know that we have crossed the border to Poland by the train stations that we pass through but apart from these signs, there are no other indicators. Pine forests that could be anywhere in Europe, conceal a history that remains hidden, even mysterious. This is the land of Gutka, Childa, Aunt/Grandmother Brandl, my mother, my father ... but not me.
Mel and Aaron are still asleep in their bunk beds stacked upon mine. I cannot sit comfortably so I swing my legs over to make contact with the grainy floor. I sit, hunched, writing my diary, studying the landscape, searching for clues. Did my father take shelter in this forest when he first ran away from home? What acts of tyranny took place here, carefully shielded by thick wood? Would anyone even know or remember? Stories from my childhood slip through the spaces between the sleepers, inviting me to join them.
Mel stirs and opens an eye. "What time is it?" he asks. My husband is not an early riser so I know he is only half-awake and with no intention to get up. I know that he only asks for the comfort of finding out that he still has hours left to sleep.
"Four-thirty," I reply.
"What time do we arrive?"
"I need a bit more sleep. Wake me at six."
He rolls over and I slip back to the sleepers .... clickety clack, clickety clack ....
It has been raining outside. I know that by the sounds of the cars on the wet roads as they spray water on the pavement. My exercise book open, I am writing a story. It is a fantasy about a kitten called Ariba, a name that I made up but which seems to suit the kitten in my story. Ariba is a truly curious cat who wants to explore new lands and whose mother cajoles him to return home.
In the next room, my father instructs my brother's bowing technique.
"Hold the violin higher and turn the bow this way."
"I prefer it like this."
"But you won't get the full sound."
"It's more comfortable."
"It's not meant to be comfortable. Do you want to be a musician or not?"
"I'm not going to give concerts like David. I do it for fun. It's not going to be my career."
"How do you know? If you practise more, you could do anything with it."
"I know what I want, Dad ..." He breaks off, realising that Dad’s thoughts have taken a different trajectory.
"You don't know how lucky you are. I would have done anything to have the opportunity that you have, but we were so poor and my family were … very orthodox."
Ariba is looking outside his home to a forest grove in the distance which seems inviting. Les scrapes the bow over the strings. It sounds like a cat screaming in pain.
"One day, I brought home a violin. I had saved every spare zloty I could get my hands on to buy that violin and I was so proud. You know what my father did?"
Les is obviously feeling uncomfortable because the violin emits another disturbed meul.
"My father picked up the violin and smashed it against the wall."
That forest grove is looking very appealing and Ariba begins to gingerly paw his way past his mother.
"That was the day I decided it was time to leave."
"How old were you?"
"Thirteen. But I knew there was nothing for me if I stayed in Poland. I could never be a rabbi, which was my father's dream, and they would never let me be a musician."
I listen, almost guiltily, wondering whether he would want me to hear. But if I don't listen, will he tell me the story one day? Or will he die before that opportunity arises? He's already had a few serious heart attacks. What happens if the next one is fatal? I no longer feel guilty, only keen to hear more.
"What did you do then?"
"I ran away. What else was there to do?"
The question does seem a bit pointless. I look at the page before me. Ariba scans from side to side, waits for the moment that his mother has turned away and then he makes his final dash. He is free and I feel a sense of pride. I gave him the strength, or did he give it to me?