Sue Saliba is the winner of this year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Prize for Young Adult Fiction with her highly original novel Something In the World Called Love.
Something In The World Called Love features three very strong and distinctive characters in share housemates Kara, Esma and Simon. Do you relate to any one of these characters more than the others?
I can relate to aspects of each but as an entire character, it’s Esma I most relate to. It’s Esma who embodies and explores many autobiographical aspects of my life; most particularly, a near-desperate searching for a way to feel more alive in the world. As a younger person I was very shy and really struggled with accepting certain parts of myself. I thought that if I could learn to be like those more extroverted and confident people I knew, then I would be happy. Like Esma, I thought that the way to happiness or love lay in ‘fixing’ myself up. It was actually through Esma and her journey, as I wrote the novel, that I discovered for myself that there may be a different path – a gentler, more compassionate one – to experiencing love.
One of the most striking things about your novel is that it does not use any capitalisation at all. How early in the writing process did you make this decision?
From the very beginning, I wrote the piece without any capitalisation – and it just continued that way. It felt right to me on an instinctual level and I never really thought about it consciously or questioned it rationally as I wrote.
It’s actually been readers who’ve suggested the possible reasons for the absence of capitalisation to me – Esma’s emerging character, the fairy-tale like feel of the novel, the internal world of thoughts and feelings that the novel explores, the expression of a realm without judgement or structure… all kinds of explanations that are really interesting to me.
Your novel has a very strong sense of place, being set in and around the streets, houses and gardens of Carlton and Fitzroy. You currently live on Phillip Island; have you spent a lot of time in Carlton in the past?
Yes, I have. I lived in Carlton while I was a student at RMIT and at Melbourne University. I love Carlton with its sense of community and with lots of people and energy and with its terrace houses and gardens. It makes me feel like I’m inside a fairy tale. I can still see the stairways and balconies of the houses I lived in and I can remember visiting the gardens just before night fall when the sky is that blue-black colour and the bats are beginning to cross overhead and the possums are emerging from their trees. Although I now live on Phillip Island, amongst the penguins, seals and prehistoric-looking lapwings, Carlton is still a very special and magical place to me.
Something In The World Called Love is very poetic; the beautiful language you use inspires re-reading and contemplation. You have published poetry as well. Do you wear a completely different hat when you write prose than when you write poetry?
Not completely different – but a little bit different! Writing poetry, for me, is more like creating a fragment or moment with lots of space around it, that allows it to resonate. When writing prose (and I’m thinking particularly of a novel) I’m much more aware of the various forces in the overall piece that have to work together, the characters and their motivations, the movement of the story and the character’s journey of transformation.