Bellingen-based artist Elisa Hall, a relative newcomer to the world of fiction writing, has been recognised for her debut short story ‘Radiance’ in this year’s Hope Prize short story competition. “Radiance explores the finding of strength and resilience in the face of adversity,” says Elisa. This powerful short story captured the hearts of judges Cate Blanchett, Kate Grenville and the Honourable Quentin Bryce and is now published as one of the prize-winning and shortlisted stories from the Hope Prize in a collection called ‘Hope Shines’.
The ‘Hope Prize’ short story competition, an initiative of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, encourages an exploration of fresh approaches in the search for hope and resilience in the face of poverty and disadvantage. “The competition encourages both writers and readers to contemplate and appreciate the many forms that hope takes in our lives,” the Honourable Quentin Bryce, competition judge.
The Brotherhood of St Laurence is a not-for-profit organisation that works in communities across Australia to alleviate and prevent poverty. The Brotherhood aims to have a voice on issues that affect the most disadvantaged and to this end developed the ‘Hope Prize’, this being the second year that the prize has run. Elisa’s story was selected as one of only ten of the 900+ entries from across Australia to be published. What an achievement!
We thought this a story worth exploring.
What drew you to start writing fiction Elisa?“
Two years ago a small group of Bellingen locals created a writing group- ‘Write Club’. I always wanted to write, but it took until I was 55 years old to get started. There is a sense of beautiful trust in our group. We realize we are part of something special.
How does a ‘Write Club’ work?
We meet monthly. Each month we set a theme to explore through our writing for the following month. When we meet we listen to each other’s work, offering suggestions, work-shopping ideas.
We also have ‘10 minute Tuesday’- each Tuesday we each compose a piece in 10 minutes and share our work on-line.
When we meet “Marnie”, the protagonist in Radiance – she is 17 years old, living in a shared house and studying art. Is this character autobiographical in any way?
Only that I went to art school and learned printmaking and lived in share houses. Her personality is very different from mine, and her initial lack of worldliness. The situation and the housemates are made up. I survived financially by doing life modelling but I knew people who went into sex work. Obviously we have some ‘shared’ experiences, but the character is not ‘me’.
Marnie’s works of art are so beautifully detailed in the story that the reader could be there. Are these actual works that you have produced during your life -time as an artist, or possibly plan to produce?
My favourite part of the writing was inventing all of the artworks. I really wanted them to fit in with the character and match her in terms of mood, where her head would have been at that age, what her life experience was. I’m actually really tempted now to have a go at some of them as they’re sitting so strongly within me.
Coupled with a strong sense of hope, there is also heartache, darkness and loss in Radiance. I’m wondering where you found your inspiration in writing this story?
I think I was led somewhat by the theme. The brightest joy, what I think of as radiance, will shine more strongly from the darkness. I wanted to have her internal strength shining through and show the things that matter- community, friendship, how love from surprising sources can uplift us. I also wanted to show the casual difficulties and hardships young people navigate through to follow their dreams.
Radiance is very dense and covers a lot of territory. Is there potentially a novel in the making?
When I finished writing it and sent it off I definitely felt like it could be fleshed out into a novel. I feel very close to all of the characters and their story, and I’m also aware that it’s set in a particularly historic time period, with the onset of the AIDS epidemic, and I’d like to explore that further.
Any further plans for our newest published author?
I’m currently working on writing an essay, which I’m wrangling into shape. I haven’t done that since high school! It’s also quite dense, so maybe that is my style. And continuing on with Write Club.