Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - UPFRONT - AMANDA DUCKER

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

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