Perth author Susan Midalia’s path to her latest novel, Everyday Madness, took on a different trajectory involving one of the characters from an earlier short story.
“I had three collections of short stories published between 2007 and 2015, but one of the stories in my third collection is about Bernard. He is a very cynical, arrogant, condescending man who has a kind of contempt for his wife Gloria. But he takes on a different persona in my new book.
“For some reason I went back to that story and started thinking, could I give this man a second chance; is there any possibility he might redeem himself and might become a better person?
“That was the first chapter of my novel and then I thought what am I going to do with this man? I also wanted to give his wife Gloria a voice.”
Born in Perth but raised in the wheatbelt, Susan Midalia has been writing full-time since 2007. She says she doesn’t plan her novels but writes and sees where it takes her.
“Everyday Madness is set in Perth. I wanted to see what might happen if a crisis came. There is one when Gloria suffers a nervous breakdown. The other is when Bernard loses his job.
“This precipitates a change in both of them, Bernard starts to understand how his wife might be feeling devalued with no purpose in life. It also changes when Gloria comes out of the clinic, she is more assertive and has more self-respect.
“I fundamentally left it to Gloria to push things along, to change things. Gloria is a real chatterbox and can be profoundly irritating, but Bernard starts to look beyond that and to recognise that fundamentally she is a good person, she is kind, generous, not highly educated, but smart intuitively and smart about people.
“Bernard looks beyond the surface of her personality to recognise her value as a person and Gloria learns to understand how difficult life has been for him as a working man stuck in a series of fairly unrewarding jobs to support her and a baby.”
Midalia says a couple in a long term marriage like Bernard and Gloria can sometimes overlook the other person; take them for granted and fail to see what is there.
“The word kindness from kindred means family. I was interested in exploring of a couple miserable in their marriage with a former daughter-in-law Meg who had a messy divorce.
“They are estranged from her and there is a granddaughter Ella, so there is four different characters who aren’t a family, but are fractured and broken apart.
“When I first started writing the novel, I thought it would be quite dark and bleak, but as I proceeded, I wanted to have some hope about people understanding one another, reconnecting and ending up as a family.”
Midalia says it took about two years to write the book. A former teacher, she writes almost every day.
“I have an undergraduate degree and PhD in literature which helps enormously when editing my own work.
“I have been a great reader since I was a child. You learn a lot when reading. I wanted to write about Perth where I have lived most of my adult life. A few people have said I don’t put much emphasis on what Perth looks like.
“I am really not a visual writer, I’m a listener to what people say and what they might be thinking. I’m more interested in what a place feels like and how characters live in it. I always put myself in the esteemed company of novelist Jane Austen who rarely describes what places look like, but we do gain a strong sense of place in her novels because of the way characters speak and interact; the rituals and events in society.”
Midalia says the urge to write seriously happened after giving up teaching and the death of her father.
“It made me think about a lot of things, I wanted to sit down and write about my feelings and thoughts.
“That story got published and I ended up winning several short story competitions. My dear husband, Dan, who was working at the time but now retired said: ‘if that is what you want to do, go for it’. He has been a great support emotionally and psychologically.”
Midalia has a new book of short stories coming out next year which she has enjoyed writing after the hard slog of writing a novel.
“I’m very excited about that.”
Everyday Madness by Susan Midalia ($29.99, Fremantle Press) is available from good bookshops.