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“Before I Gave Up on Writing, I Did One Last Thing”

Writing by Amanda Creely

It was 2021. Eight years since I’d started writing full time. I thought the passion would sustain me forever without need for feedback or accolades. I loved words and how they fit together and savoured them like chocolate on my tongue.

But suddenly I’d grown tired. Sick of it. Covid had reinforced the isolation of a writer’s life and, although ideas still poured from my brain, I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d written seventeen books, self-published some, but most had been read by only a few family members. Every email from a publisher was a rejection.

So I put my pens down. Closed the laptop. Shut out a wild imagination that was hard to silence. So long words. It was fun, wasn’t it?

But before I said goodbye, I did one final thing: I entered a competition. The last book I’d been writing was a reworking of a fantasy novel I’d completed many years earlier, the first in a series of three, the fourth novel I’d written, a story based on an old fairy tale about a cursed kingdom. This book became Nameless.

I entered Nameless into the Dorothy Hewett Award. It was shortlisted. I was offered a publishing contract. The rest is history, so they say. The rest is a reason to never give up no matter the hundreds of rejections. Publishers are busy. They don’t always have time to sort the chaff from the wheat. But a competition…every piece of wheat is harvested.

Nameless still draws on an old fairy tale. It’s still about a curse. But now it’s the curse of war. It is based in history and I researched meticulously to get the facts right. Then I removed them and left only what war does to people. The lives it destroys. It is a tribute to the heroes that have been forgotten. The nameless.

A major theme in Nameless is war’s impact on women. Women were the ones left behind. The ones who waited for news of husbands and sons killed in the fighting. Women worked behind the lines. Women were taken prisoner. They were violated. It’s a common tactic of war to instil fear.

In WWII, in a bid to stop the Japanese army raping the local women, they kept some as ‘Comfort Women’, enslaved prostitutes. It didn’t work.

Human Rights Watch details the systematic rape and sexual slavery of Sunni Muslim Arab women and Yezidi women by Islamic State in 2014, some as young as twelve. The terrorist group claimed it was not a sin because the women practiced a religion other than Islam.

Natalia Karbowska, Co-Founder and Director of Strategic Development for the Ukrainian Women’s Fund recounts how Russia is using sexual violence and rape as instruments of terror to control civilians, not just against women but against men and boys and people of other gender identities.

These accounts are not easy to read but everyone should, especially those that think going to war is the only way to solve a problem.

But Nameless isn’t only about the horror of war. It’s also about hope. About love and how far we’ll go to save those we bestow it on. To demonstrate that, I’ve used the fairy tale that sparked the original book. It’s about the moon, falling from the sky into a bog, and the determined villagers who rescue it so it can once again light up the night.

A fairy tale. A fantastical element.

Why then is Nameless shelved as literary fiction? Why does it have to creep in under the magical realism banner to be accepted as serious?

Publishers and booksellers like to act as the gatekeepers of the book world. Instead of allowing the reader to decide what they might enjoy based only on the story, they give it a label so everyone knows exactly what they’re getting. And of all the genres, literary fiction is the most esteemed. Win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and you’re someone remarkable. Win the Hugo or Nebula award for fantasy and you’re popular in the fantasy/sci-fi community but you’re written off by everyone else as a trivial writer.

I’ll let you in on a secret – I don’t much like literary fiction. I’ve read a lot of it, studied it, dissected it to see how it works. And all I really discovered was that they are books. Novels.

No different to any other.

When Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was released, it was a novel. Yet it had orcs and hobbits and magicians. Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, was a novel. Yet it had ghosts and time travel. Both authors are considered literary greats. Claiming that literary fiction is the only quality fiction diminishes every other genre. It creates elitism and snobbery. It puts genres, all of them worthy of notice, in boxes. Haven’t we had enough of boxes? You’re a woman, you’re put in a box. You’re black, you’re put in a box. You’re trans, you’re put in a box. Swipe right for literature, swipe left for dragons.

Books should be appreciated for what they are and not bound by rules that stifle imagination and freedom of expression.  A writer should be able to collect the outpourings of their imagination without fear of being told they’re not good enough because some custodian of genre says they don’t conform to the rules. Books, like people of every race and gender, should be equal.

Amanda Creely

Amanda Creely is an Australian writer from Bendigo, Victoria and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Literature.  Nameless, will be released on April 1 and is available online and in all good bookstores.

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