Treading air

Van Luyn, Ariella (2016) Treading air. Simon and Schuster, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.

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In 1920s Queensland, Lizzie O'Dea wants to get away from her dad and the memories of her mum that haunt her. At the races she meets attractive, war-scarred Joe and sees her chance to escape. But life with Joe isn't what she dreamt it would be.

Finding herself on the fringes of society, Lizzie discovers a new sense of independence and sexuality, love and friendship. It's a precarious life, though, always on the edge of collapse.

Two decades later, Lizzie is sick and worn out. Lying in a Brisbane lock hospital, she thinks about Joe, who's been lost to her for many years. But she's a survivor. There's hope yet.

Set between Brisbane and Townsville, and based on real events that the author uncovered from historical archives, Treading Air is the remarkably vivid tale of a young Australian working-class rebel who clashed with the expectations of her world.

Research Statement

Research Background Women who commit acts of violence disrupt socially ‘accepted’ norms of femininity such as gentleness, nurturing and social conformity (see Seal 2010). Archival representations of women’s violent crimes are thus gendered, yet are often all that remain of many such women’s lives: textual traces of a life largely unrecorded. Feminist historical fiction seeks to return the lives of these forgotten women to ‘cultural memory’ (Rigney 2004), to ‘contest the social order built on their graves’ (Dalley 2014). From a creative writing perspective, how might this imperative be achieved when the archival material available is shaped by a gendered discourse?
Research Contribution Treading Air is a novel based on the life of Lizzie O’Dea (Betty Knight), who lived in Townsville and Brisbane during the inter-war period. Newspaper articles present a contradictory picture of her both as a figure of fun (The Townsville Daily Bulletin) and as an ‘irrepressible’ criminal (The Truth). As an individual divorced from social structures, these depictions suggest O’Dea is not only at fault and irredeemable, but also that the impact of cycles of imprisonment on her life has been trivialised. Treading Air draws on and subverts published articles about O’Dea, and weaves in an imagined subjectivity in a deliberate attempt to highlight the disconnect between how O’Dea’s life has previously been narrated.
Research Significance This work uses fiction to return the narrative of O’Dea to cultural memory, further exploring how power structures have historically shaped women’s lives. It represents an experiment in an act of feminist revisionist historical narrative. Published by Affirm Press in 2016, the novel has been reviewed favorably in Australian media outlets and distributed widely. Further, it sits alongside Ian Townsend’s Affection (2005) as one of only a very few historical fiction novels set in Townsville, thus contributing an original voice to regional writing in Australia.
Item ID: 45278
Item Type: Book (Creative Work)
Media of Output: Print and ebook
ISBN: 978-1-925344-01-1
Keywords: creative writing; historical fiction; practice-led research
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2016 05:12
FoR Codes: 36 CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 3602 Creative and professional writing > 360204 Site-based writing @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9501 Arts and Leisure > 950104 The Creative Arts (incl. Graphics and Craft) @ 100%
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