Krissy Kneen made her name as a fearless writer with her 2010 erotic memoir. The Australian Literary Review described Affection as “an authentic expression of feminine salaciousness [with Kneen] refusing to primp either herself or her story into stereotypical palatability”.
“Sex comes easily to me and writing about sex comes easily to me,” says the Brisbane author on a trip to Hobart to promote her new novel, which is quite a departure.
“People really know me for the sex writing because it’s so different to what other people do in Australia … there’s lots of people writing erotic fiction, but not many write about it in a literary way.”
Though risking an anticlimactic response from readers after offering up such juicy material, Kneen, 50, likes to keep things interesting for herself in more ways than one.
That is why she leapt into various genres including psychological drama before genrebending again for her new fiction. The author defines Wintering, which is set in Tasmania’s far South, as gothic fiction.
PhD candidate Jessica, a taciturn young woman who works as a guide at Hastings Caves, is keeping old demons at bay and swimming in a passionate live-in relationship with a Dover local named Matthew.
Her life takes a creepy turn when her man disappears. Matthew’s car is found deserted on a forest road, the driver’s door ajar. A clue to his vanishing is a strange image recorded on his abandoned mobile phone.
As investigations get under way Jessica begins to wonder if she really knew him. Alone in his town, where she knows few people, Jessica has no idea who or what to trust.
She is befriended by a group of women whose men also appear to have been “taken by the forest” and turned into monstrous emaciated creatures with more than a passing resemblance to Tasmanian tigers.
And so it goes. The mood and setting are quite Kettering Incident, with strange happenings in chilling places and a disconnected female protagonist.
With its supernatural horror element, Wintering may surprise a literary readership choosing the book based on the rivetingly readable reputation of some of the former Stella Prize finalist’s previous books and the prestige of her long-term publisher, Text Publishing.
Kneen, pronounced “Neen”, says the creative puzzle she was determined to crack was the marriage of the strange with the ordinary. “The challenge for me as a writer was trying to keep the real world exactly as I see it and to have the supernatural world just bubbling under the surface and perhaps breaking through occasionally.”
She had no serious reservations about including the thylacine, given its literary ubiquity in Tasmanian stories. “Certainly I knew there were certain tropes used a lot and I knew I was using some of those, but the Tasmanian tiger is such a hook to the imagination: to think that something we think is extinct could possibly still exist.”
Tasmania fascinates the author, who works part-time at a Brisbane bookshop and visits the state regularly to spend time with her father, who lives at Dover.
Their Tasmanian story began 12 years ago when the pair rode motorbikes down from Queensland and camped around the state.
“We had a wonderful time and had no creepy experiences at all,” she says, “though it rained all the time”.
Within two months of going home, her father had found his Tassie bolthole and moved down. Since, Kneen has made regular trips to spend time with him, fish and write at the Southport shack she used as inspiration for Jessica and Matthew’s home. It was the landscape, though, that fired her imagination.
“On the drive between that shack and Dover — which I’d do at night for dinner with Dad — there’s an area of road where you are watching your phone and the bars are going down until it’s SOS only, then no service. The forest is so thick. I thought, ‘If you get into trouble here, if you are stuck, what would happen? You couldn’t call for help’.”
With that uneasy thought, Wintering was born.
Wintering, Text Publishing, $29.99