Tossing between feelings

Tossing between feelings
Rhonda Dredge

Ronnie Scott is a novelist and lecturer at RMIT’s city campus. He talks to CBD News about his latest bittersweet novel.

The only sun still left in Bowen St by 3.30pm is reflected off Building 9 onto the seats of a student rectangle nearby.

Ronnie Scott has been sitting at his computer working at academic duties in creative writing.

By the time he emerges the sun has disappeared in the western sky.

All of the student cafés have closed and it’s a case of getting to the crux of the matter as quickly as possible.

Scott’s second novel Shirley was released in February, and everyone wants to talk about it, which is just fine by him.

The novel has three very Melbourne themes – the affectations of the inner north, the microscopic attention to food preferences, and the gender issue.

“I wanted to make a glossy, entertaining surface with hidden depths,” Scott said about his approach to writing the book.

Shirley is first and foremost a satire, arguably the most difficult genre to write, but this one has a soft centre.

“Sadness is highlighted by satire,” Scott said. “It surprises readers. I would rather pose a question for a reader not tell it the way it should be.”

Scott has been teaching creative writing at RMIT for nine years, and although fiction is his prime interest, academic research informs his work and teaching.

 

"When you are writing you see it as a part of research,” he said. “You’re testing out ideas and experimenting with form."

 

Scott’s field of academic interest is the narratology of comics, particularly the French thinker Thierry Groensteen, and there is a storyboard feel to Shirley, in the secret house with the strange cellar next to the railway line in Collingwood and the pathos of the characters.

There’s David who likes men and loves an old shabby cat called Meanie, the distant mother who cruises around the world as a celebrity chef, and the various residents of a renovated block of flats where the narrator lives.

There’s a cartoonish feel to the adventures of this crew as they look after Meanie and get to know each other during the lockdown.

The female narrator has none of the sense of entitlement young females generally adopt in chick lit or more established ones in Aussie realism.

Shirley’s narrator works in internal communications for an insurance company and her modest position suits her.

“I wanted her to be a writer,” Scott said. “I didn’t want her to be creative but to like language.”

Basically, she’s a chronicler of her neighbourhood and isn’t trying to fight any ideological battles. She’s generally trying to figure things out.

Scott says he’s proud of the tone of Shirley and it is quite laidback in an amusing cartoonish kind of way as the narrator tosses between feelings of being happy and unhappy. •

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