Author bio: Joshua Kemp is an author of Australian Gothic fiction. His short stories have been published by Overland, Kill Your Darlings, Seizure, Tincture and Breach. He’s been shortlisted for the Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award and longlisted for the Fogarty Literary Award. Banjawarn is his first novel.
Welcome to my blog Josh. Josh is a Western Australian author and recent winner of the Dorothy Hewett prize. Let’s chat books, writing and travel.
RWR: When you started writing this novel Banjawarn, did you have it in mind to enter the Dorothy Hewitt prize? Congratulations on the fabulous outcome.
J: Thank you so much! No, I really wasn’t planning on entering it into the Dorothy Hewett Award at all. In fact, when I finished the first draft for Banjawarn, I realised it was sitting at around 125,000 words long, and most literary competitions are open for novels between 30,000 and 100,000, so it was way over the limit. It was just pure luck that I saw the Dorothy Hewett was open to manuscripts which were a bit longer than most other competitions. I thought why not just send it off and see what happens? But no way would I have expected to become a joint winner alongside Kgshak Akec. Still can’t believe it if I’m honest.
RWR: How long did it take you to write?
J: The novel was written in three and a half months. I know that sounds like a short amount of time but I really can’t stress how much I lived and breathed Banjawarn for that period. I’d start early in the morning, write until midday, take a two-hour break, then keep writing through the afternoon, and go off to work at night. The bucket loads of caffeine helped too.
RWR: How did you research this novel?
J: The research was predominantly conducted over Trove. The novel deals with the colonial history of the Kalgoorlie and Northern Goldfields region so Trove allowed me to access newspaper articles and police journals from that time. I also found an amazing book called 110 Degrees in the Waterbag by Criena Fitzgerald and Lenore Layman which was really well researched and helped me understand so much about the area I was writing about. The rest of the inspiration came from spending time in Kalgoorlie, Leonora and The Terraces, mostly just from the experience of bushwalking.
RWR: Where is the novel set?
J: The novel covers a 600 km stretch of road through Western Australia, starting at Peak Charles National Park, moving to the town of Kalgoorlie, then to Leonora and Gwalia in the Northern Goldfields, and ultimately ends up at a very remote outback station called Banjawarn. This moving around allowed me to write about these places I love so much and really cram a bunch of local detail into the novel.
RWR: How would you describe this book?
J: Banjawarn fits very nicely into the Australian Gothic mode, a form of fiction which has always interrogated the darker side of our society and history. But I’ve also had many readers tell me the story works really well as a Western. I hadn’t considered that at all while writing, but it makes sense as the novel is preoccupied with how frontier history has had such a grave impact on Aboriginal Australians and the natural landscape. There’s also a little bit of Psychological Horror in there too, reminiscent of Gerald’s Game or The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. I’m a big horror buff so that influence was always going to sneak its way into the work.
RWR: What prompted you to base the writing in this location?
J: I’m obsessed with bushwalking, and one of my favourite places to hike is in breakaway country. Breakaway is a mesmeric landscape in which the laterite and granite has weathered into misshapen cliffs, and there’s this amazing juxtaposition of colours in the rocks, from the brightest tangerine to deathly pale white. Back in 2020, I was researching where I could go hiking next, and discovered there was a massive area of breakaway country near Leonora, called The Terraces. If, or when, you read Banjawarn, you’ll see The Terraces play a large and very important role in the novel.
RWR: What type of car do you own? How did it survive the outback trip?
J: I go on a lot of outback trips so I was well-prepared, haha. I did live out my white Prado (the same car Hoyle drives in the novel) for three weeks but it’s really not as bad as it sounds. It’s actually quite comfy. When I’m putting a novel together in my head, I need peace and quiet, solitude and the bush, so it wasn’t a trial at all. Sometimes I wish I could live like that all the time, strange as that may sound to some. The car did just fine, I was the one who got injured when I took a fall in The Terraces and sliced my pinkie finger open on a piece of sharp granite. But it all turned out fine; the lovely people at the Leonora hospital had me patched-up in no time.
RWR: What’s next for you?
J: I’m already planning my next creative work. Considering Banjawarn turned out to be 125,000 words long, I’d like to write something a bit shorter. Possibly a novella? I really admire novellas as I think it requires more discipline as an author to get them right. Apart from that, I’m just looking forward to Banjawarn going out into the world.
RWR: Where can readers purchase your book from?
J: The novel will be available from all good bookstores when it’s released on February the 7th, but if you don’t feel like wandering down to your local store, you can also purchase it from the University of Western Australia Publishing website, https://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/banjawarn
RWR: Are you doing any author talks? If so can you share the details?
J: I’m so excited to be talking at the Perth Festival’s Literature and Ideas Weekend. I’ll be discussing the writing of Banjawarn with fellow Gothic-fanatic Catherine Noske, author of the brilliant The Salt Madonna. Our talk goes for 45 mins and will take place on the Upper Lawn at the Fremantle Arts Centre on the 26th of February.
RWR: Thanks so much for spending time with us today Josh and talking about your adventures writing this amazing book. The landscapes here really do speak to me and I am sure they will to many others.