Asylum – the Story behind the Story

My serialised novel, Asylum, started life as a sequel to my memoir, Lovesick. I hadn’t wanted to write a sequel but many readers were demanding to know what happened next. About three chapters in I decided to fictionalise the story. This meant creating plotlines based on, but not strictly tied to, reality. It took about a year to produce a draft and I thought of submitting but then started to have deep misgivings. My protagonist Yvette Grimm was a bit too much like me and the story seemed to meander on, reaching a conclusion that felt flat. So I set the draft aside, reasonably happy never to look at it again. Yet the draft nagged me. Asylum seemed a good title, with its double meaning well worth exploring, but how?

Months later a friend from Perth posted on facebook a link to a book. It was Profits of Doom by Antony Loewenstein. I borrowed a copy from the library and read it from cover to cover in two days, then promptly bought a copy for my mum. Profits of Doom led me to explore the plight of asylum seekers and I soon found many facebook groups, pages and friends, a plethora of online commentary, and much activism around the country. I began to wonder how I could contribute.

It was a gnawing sense of injustice that caused me to return to that draft of Asylum. I axed half the text, ripping into the narrative scene upon scene until the barest bones were left. I set about making visa overstayer Yvette Grimm an artist. I managed to work Profits of Doom into a scene. Things were progressing well but towards the end the narrative still lacked intensity.

That was when a friend, Georgia Matthey came round for dinner and after I had outlined how things were in the fictional land of Asylum, she began to describe a recent event in her life. Seeing the potential straight away, I grabbed paper and pen and wrote down her vignette and with her permission used it to shape the climax of Asylum.

The resulting story still contains much that has its basis in my own life, yet now carrying the theme of seeking asylum, Yvette juxtaposing her experiences with those of asylum seekers being held in detention. It is my sincerest wish that the story both entertains and contributes to the larger dialogue on the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia.

(I also co-ordinate homestay respite holidays for asylum seekers on bridging visas under the auspices of Home Among the Gum Trees.)

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