UWAP interviewed Josh Kemp, author of Banjawarn and joint winner of the 2021 Dorothy Hewett Award, ahead of the announcement of the 2022 Dorothy Hewett Award winner.
Josh Kemp is a writer of Australian gothic fiction. Banjawarn, joint winner of the 2021 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, is his stunning debut novel. His short stories have been published by Kill Your Darlings, Overland, Seizure, Tincture and Breach. He's previously been shortlisted for the Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award and longlisted for the Fogarty Literary Award.
What first motivated you to write Banjawarn?
Banjawarn was inspired by the mesmeric landscapes of the Northern Goldfields in Western Australia. After spending a great deal of time hiking in this area, the novel was largely an attempt at capturing my personal sense of wonder with these places. It is an attempt to honour both this region and the people who live there.
And, where did you find the inspiration for your characters?
I have always been fascinated by characters who are forced to the fringes of our society. In particular, I was interested in what frightens society to such an extent that it would reject these people – particularly the characters Hoyle, Kerryn and Jordy – and force them to the fringes.
Can you tell us what it was like to win the 2021 Dorothy Hewett Award?
Being the co-winner of the 2021 Dorothy Hewett Award was a bewildering honour. I felt very privileged to receive such a prestigious Western Australian literary award, particularly for a novel with such a strong West Australian setting. Also, I’m a big fan of Dorothy Hewett’s work, especially her novels The Toucher and Neap Tide, so to receive an award named after her was wonderful.
Which writers have inspired you throughout your life?
I’ve always been a big reader of Gothic fiction, both local and further afield. I’m a big fan of American authors such as Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx. These writers explore the dark side of the human experience while juxtaposing it against the wonders and beauty of the natural world. From Australia, I find inspiration in select works rather than particular authors, such as The White Earth by Andrew McGahan, All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, Bereft by Chris Womersley and Wintering by Krissy Kneen – but I’ll cap it here as this list could go on for three pages.
Have you always been a writer?
I started writing at a very young age. I remember stealing five A4 sheets of paper out of my mum’s old printer when I was about seven or eight years old, folding these in half and stapling the spine to create a blank little book of sorts. I remember the excitement of having all that space I could fill with words or images and telling whatever story I could think of. I’ve never really stopped telling stories – in one form or another – since then.
What is your hope for the future?
I would love to continue writing and broaden my focus to shorter works. I am a big fan of the novella as a form. I believe to write a really good novella the author must utilise a great deal of discipline and restraint. So over the next couple of years, I’d like to work on more novellas.
What are you currently working on?
My novella Jasper Cliff was highly commended in this year’s Viva La Novella Prize, so I’m currently trying to get the manuscript in better shape. It’s a Gothic story about missing persons in the East Pilbara – a region of WA so vast and isolated, it’s all too easy to simply disappear without a trace.
What do you like to do in your down-time from being an award-winning author?
Bushwalking. I love nothing better than to pack up the car and head north for a couple of weeks, visiting an area I’ve never seen before, and just go walking through the bush. Being surrounded by Australian nature is revitalising, sustaining and an enormous privilege. And I often have a story in my head by the time I get home again.