Asylum – the story behind the story

Asylum is my first novel. It began life as a story with a number of enticing elements bound together in truth. Like protagonist Yvette Grimm, I was an English-born visa overstayer and I really did invest my hopes in a palm reader’s prophecy that I would meet the father of my children before I was thirty!

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In about six months I produced a first draft. I was pleased with the achievement, producing 80,000 words of fiction is no easy thing, yet the story seemed to meander on, reaching a conclusion that felt flat. So I set aside the draft, reasonably happy never to look at it again.

Yet the title nagged me. ‘Asylum,’ with its double meaning, seemed well worth exploring, but how?

Months later a friend and blogger, Colin Penter,  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. Profits of Doom led me to explore the plight of asylum seekers and I soon found 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 over 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 because I wanted her to be as different from me as possible and I can only paint walls. 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.

I could now call Asylum a manuscript and I needed a reader. I was thrilled when writer, feminist and activist Jasmina Brankovich put up her hand. I had to wait weeks for her feedback and when she told me she loved it I knew I could publish with some confidence.

At first I serialised the story in weekly parts on my blog but demand grew for a whole book, so I took the indie path and with the help of Cohesion Press converted Asylum into epub and Kindle editions.

Asylum explores the theme of seeking asylum, Yvette juxtaposing her experiences with those of asylum seekers being held in detention. It is my sincerest wish that Asylum both entertains and contributes to the larger dialogue on the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia.

You can read my non-fiction writing on asylum seekers in On Line Opinion or here on my blog.
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Welcome to Australia

I woke this morning at about five o’clock to the sound of cock crows and magpie chortles, knowing that my third piece, Welcome to Australia, would appear in On Line Opinion  today.

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It’s a controversial piece and in the pre-dawn darkness I feared some would misread it and accuse me of being anti-Australian. Then I thought that if they did, it would only serve to strengthen one of the themes.

My thoughts wandered on to all the different sorts of people who are against our treatment of asylum seekers. From human rights lawyers such as Julian Burnside, to doctors, actors, musicians, writers, teachers, religious groups and social advocates, Liberal voters, Labor voters, Greens voters, all sorts of people motivated by all sorts of factors.

The bottom line for all of us is that we care.

Why do I care? What motivates me? Before the break of dawn I recalled my relatively late entry into the asylum-seeker cause. It was entirely the result of investigative journalist Antony Loewenstein’s book, Profits of Doom. A fast-paced read taking the reader from Curtin to Christmas Island, then on to PNG and beyond. Of concern to Loewenstein is the role that transnational corporations such as Serco and G4S and Transfield play in the detention of asylum seekers. He calls them vulture capitalists. I think that’s an apt description.

And such corporations don’t restrict themselves to running detention centres. They run our railways, our hospitals, our courts, our prisons, our defence services, anything in fact that governments outsource. Even, if our government has its way, Medicare.

I can only conclude that asylum seekers held in indefinite detention are profiting these vulture corps in exactly the same way as we profit the very same corporations the moment we hop on a train. Corporations who also profit from our taxes, which our governments hand over in payment for their services.

Asylum seekers are the ultimate victims of this system. Like prisoners, the longer they are there, and the more of them there are, the greater the corporate profit.

Yet there is no separation here. We are all victims of the same system.

I think that is why I am so passionate about the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. They are lambs, sacrificed in the name of a dollar god.

Reality Check

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I was troubled this morning to read of the 10,000 people who lost their lives in the UK in 2013 as a result of fuel poverty. Fuel Poverty Action is taking action. ”They’re targeting Energy UK, the lobbyists for the tax dodging, huge profit making, Big Six energy companies.” http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/guest-blog-no-more-deaths-from-fuel-poverty/ And  I was troubled for a second time in the face of the injustice that has caused citizens to take to the streets of Ferguson; in a nation where the police are in service of corporations and not the citizenry. https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=482387718569407 And at risk of bathos, here in Australia, our government has just axed the budget of our much loved and non-commercial ABC and it’s sister television station SBS, both known for their cutting edge news and documentaries, their efforts to present balanced and alternative views, and their coverage of serious issues.

All this news caused me to pause. I knew instinctively that all three dreadful bits of news were connected. I needed to do a reality check. I had to remind myself of why these things are happening and happening in Western democracies. I thought again of that fabulous book Democracy Inc by Sheldon S Wolin. I share with Chris Hedges a passion for Democracy Inc. for it explains what is happening to democracy and why. It isn’t a light read. But sometimes things are too damn important to treat lightly. The more of us who take the trouble to give the book a go the better, for it does more than offer an explanation. The book occupies the ground otherwise too easily labelled conspiracy theory and what is going on behind the scenes is in fact a conspiracy and not theoretical at all!!

Here’s the way I see the con.

Reality check:

1/ The Sting. The GFC was caused by the banks who were then bailed out by governments with tax payers’ money. Government is now in debt to the banks. Citizens pay the banks (again) via austerity measures. Bankers are laughing all the way to their own front doors. Read Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia for a punchy and entertaining portrayal of what went on.

2/ The Second Sting. Behind the veil of budget deficit every small fragment of social democracy that can be privatised is being privatised. Once privatised the operating systems will be corporatised (asset stripped and so on) and services rendered both expensive and inadequate. The minimum will be provided, for the maximum profit. For an insight into how corporations operate as vulture capitalists read Antony Loewenstein’s Profits of Doom.

In the corporatised scenario citizens often pay for services that used to be provided for by government. Citizens also pay for the same services through their taxes, which go into the government outsourcing coffers to pay the new corporate service providers. So we pay for the same service twice. And the corporations are dizzy with delight.

3/ The Third Sting is the corporatisation of government itself. Imagine that our elected representatives are not representing us at all. They have been swallowed by the corporate sector. They have been bought, groomed, placed or otherwise corrupted to serve the interests of Capital and not the people. They wear false cloaks and false smiles. They hold our babies and steal our wallets. The best encapsulation of this sting is the revolving door, where individuals move back and forth from plum jobs in government to plum jobs in the corporate sector.

Studies have shown that the Corporation is psychopathic The hallmark of a psychopath is a distinct lack of empathy. As an entity a corporation is also a breeding ground for psychopaths. For people who lie, who deceive, who con, who cheat; heartless bastards whose capacity for cruelty is vast, whose capacity for blithe indifference equally vast.

It’s been six years since the GFC turned the screws on social democracy and created this latest horror show. Dystopia is upon us and many are accusing their governments of blatant fascism. We can and we must fight this beast. Not by following the ruthless cruelty of organisations like Islamic State, which are both corporate democracy’s nemesis and mirror, ( in effect a Fourth Sting fomented by corporate democracy to engender widespread fear and tighten security and surveillance laws). Instead, we must protest and campaign and educate and keep on shining a spotlight on reality. To that end I will from time to time hold up my own thin candle and shout.

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.)