One of the writers on my Varuna residency, Jennifer Scoullar, has just made her debut with the novel Wasp Season, which (la de da) was recently launched at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. This was cause for much jubilation and excitement among the rest of us: we had a real writer in our midst. Someone with a published work that was available in – wait for it – actual bookstores. Jenny’s work existed, it was out there in the world, spreading its wings.
Wings perhaps aren’t the only thing being spread in Wasp Season… Jenny’s got quite the saucy grasp of what other living species get up to once Spring has sprung, and in fact, openly confesses to finding writing about the thoughts and deeds of European wasps much more natural than writing about people. Both the human and natural world feature heavily in Jenny’s debut, as well as in her next book, and in her entire world view. Jenny’s a changeling, in my mind, someone who’s not really human at all, or at least not in the conventional sense. She’s too alive to the possibilities and voices of other living things for that. Human beings have such a gross habit of shouting everything else down – even each other (question time at Parliament House, anyone? More like feeding time at the zoo) – but Jenny isn’t shouty. She’s elsewhere, communing with nature even as we’re all blasting diesel fumes and spraying toxic chemical waste into the air. You should have seen her face when several of us admitted to being arachnophobes – she was so bewildered. How could we fail to appreciate the beauty of spiders? Well, I don’t know, I’ve always run from the room a little too fast to even try. I think I’ve come a long way: I used to kill them, I used to delight in killing them. I thought I was definitely doing the world and at the very least my personal hygiene (why did they always have to lurk in the shower recess like that??) a favour. Now I’ve accepted the all creatures great and small wisdom, so I don’t kill them anymore. I make Llew put them outside, preferably across the road. I like to think they’ll get too disoriented to make it back across the street. Go forth, Spidey, just please don’t come back to me! But Jenny honestly cannot fathom my discomfort. Spiders are beautiful. So too are European wasps. And actually, having read the opening page of Wasp Season, which is a very sultry description of a pretty foxy Queen, I can see Jenny might be right. But with what eyes does she see? How does she so convincingly inhabit the wasps? I think it’s because she’s somehow emerged with her childlike wonder intact. Remember foraging around at the bottom of every garden or wood or forest or glen you came across as a child? How fantastic it seemed, how secretive? How full of drama and exquisite beauty? I remember it really clearly, and when I think of Jenny’s eye on the natural world I imagine that I just might be able to reach that magic garden again.
Back in the human world, Wasp Season has just been very favourably reviewed in this month’s Australian Book Review, and of course we are all terribly chuffed for Jenny, our own beloved changeling (and yes, of course we forced her into an impromptu book signing on our last morning at Varuna, are you kidding?!).