In all the creative writing courses and workshops I've attended, the one piece of advice I hear over and over is - read to become a better writer. So, when I want to understand a writing convention or form I scour my book collection for an old favourite - one that I know does it well. This time 'round Tara June Winch's Swallow the Air fulfilled that promise.
This is the third time I've read her book and each time I love that I discover new things hidden beneath her layered text. She delivers crisp, original descriptions and metaphors through the eyes of her central character; May, a teenager searching for her identity. Descriptions such as: 'The house wheezed.'
Swallow the Air is a collection of short stories and it's this form that enhances the story. Each story is self-contained but also works within the text to further the narrative. One of the stories; Cloud Busting was also published in Best Australian Stories 2005.
I love the raw honesty of Winch's writing and the way she wields the power of things unsaid, particularly in My Bleeding Palm. But most of all I love the feeling that stays long after reading Swallow the Air, where I gentle mull over inside May's journey, the characters May meets along the way, my own journey and what it means to belong. It's such a universal theme that stretches far beyond the pages of her book. In fact there is a very real sense of the distance between places - from 'the Block' in Sydney to memories of Thursday Island and the stark contrast between the real and the imagined that Winch portrays so beautifully.
I could keep going on about how she can define a character in a single line of dialogue and much more. Winch employs a number of writing devices to tell a very rich story that earned her the 2006 David Unaipon Award. This will not be the last time I read Swallow the Air.