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Murder and Memory

I’m delighted to be able to say my essay ‘The Element of Need’ has just been released as one of Penguin’s new digital-only Specials. Originally published in 2008 in Heat, and republished in Best Australian Essays 2009, it’s a work that matters very much to me, not just because I’m very proud of it as a piece of writing, but because I’ve lived with the material in it for a long time.

As you’ll probably guess if you read it, it was a very personal and quite confronting piece to write, not just because the material in it about the various murders and abductions that have taken place in Adelaide over the past four and a half decades is so unsettling, but because it’s very much about trying to tease out some things about my own past and identity that aren’t easy to talk about.

You can read the blurb for it on the Penguin website, but in case you’d like a sample here are the opening paragraphs:

“At night, in summer, gully winds push down out of the hills encircling Adelaide and swirl across the plain towards the sea. Produced by the weight of the cooling atmosphere above pressing down and forcing the warmer air trapped in the valleys outwards, they build through the evening and into the small hours, moving restlessly through the suburbs and parks with a sound that seems to belong somewhere else, somewhere far from human habitation.

“No doubt winds of this sort are a common enough phenomenon, but for me they are inextricably connected with the city of my birth, its peculiar geography and isolation. When I think back to my adolescence and the disrupted, disconnected years that followed, my memories are almost exclusively of the city at night, my own restless movement through its empty streets, the way the winds could make it seem a place of ghosts, its carefully planned grid of streets uninhabited.

“I suspect every adolescent knows this feeling, this need for motion, the restless search for something ill-defined. Sex, or desire, is part of it. But it’s not just about sex, it’s about the need for something to happen, something large enough, powerful enough to answer the need within.

“Of course this is not how it was, or not entirely. But memory deceives us, decomposing into textures, feelings, images. We remember who we were as much as what was, each of us carrying other versions of ourselves inside, things and thoughts we do not speak, or sometimes even fully understand.”

‘The Element of Need’ is available for KindleiBooksKobo, and Google Play in the next day or two. Sadly it’s only available in Australia for the time being, but international versions will be released soon.

You should feel very free to pick up the Penguin Special edition of my Rapunzel novelette, ‘Beauty’s Sister’, which is also available for KindleiBooksKobo and Google Play) at the same time. Or if you want to go really crazy, you can grab my short story ‘Visitors’, which was published in the Review of Australian Fiction in May). You might also want to read my 2009 piece ‘On Novels and Place’, which touches on some of the material explored in ‘The Element of Need’.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. If you’re interested in the story of the Beaumonts you might also want to take a look at Beth Spencer’s piece about them, ‘Who’s watching the children?’. It’s curious to me that both Beth and I should find ourselves fascinated by the case, especially given we both published our first books as part of the same New Poets series back in 1994.

    August 16, 2012
  2. GAH, James, how did I miss that in the original? That flew totally under my radar, and I think 2009 is the only Best Aust Essays volume for years that I don’t own. Presumably this means that I have to finally stop digging my heels in and get an e-reader, so if you have any recommendations …

    August 16, 2012
  3. I probably should have sent it to you when you were working on the book but it seemed a bit pushy. I’ve got a Kindle Touch which I like very much, but you can read on-screen with both the Kindle App and Google Play (which has a really terrific browser interface), so you don’t actually need a reader.

    August 16, 2012
  4. anne myers #

    Hi there. Subconsciously, I think we always end up gravitating back to the place of our childhood/adolescence. It is a place deep within us. The opening of The Element of Need is very evocative, and I reread On Novels and Place and it was perfect timing for me. It reinforces that the landscape of my suburban childhood is a magical landscape filled with stories. Thank you.

    August 16, 2012
  5. Michael Hyams #

    James, this was a great essay. I found my anxiety growing with every finger swipe across the iPad screen. It’s so random, one person the victim, the other a survivor. We’re all relived you are the latter.

    August 22, 2012
  6. Lee #

    How soon will it be available in Germany (Amazon Kindle)? I’m very keen to read the essay, and it’s terribly frustrating that an e-edition is not available worldwide at the moment. Grr…

    August 23, 2012
    • I can’t give you a definite date but since Penguin say they’re working on sorting out the international rights situation hopefully it’ll be soon. I’ll post something when it happens (and thanks for the interest!).

      August 24, 2012

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