A conversation with Tom Williams
Q: Hi Tom, so you're a Blackheathen?
A: Yes, we live in town, although for 20 years we lived on a property in Megalong Valley, where the kids grew up. But Blackheath is 'town' too, when you live in the valley.
Q: Okay. Now there's a strange element of nature writing in your stories, does that mean that your book focuses on just those two, particular places? Judging by 'Raven', which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Prize, and the cover photo of Wheelarrow Ridge, one might assume so.
A: No. Both places are present in spirit, as well as many other locations, but this is a fiction collection: the characters are always very much part of a landscape so the stories are about people contained within their own natural or social environment.
Q: Alright, you've been well known for a long time in bushwalking and climbing circles but you were also a paramedic for 25 years, two very different fields of endeavour: so where does the focus of these stories lie?
A: True, Blue Mountains aside, I was once a recipient of a national 'adventurer of the year award' for climbing a mountain in the jungles of Borneo and won a prize for a story about misadventure in Greenland. Though, one didn't have to look for adventure in ambulance work, it just turned up...
Q: So Wheelbarrow Ridge is an adventure book?
A: No, it's a book about people. There are choices that people make and there are situations that people wish they could unmake, but there are also moments in people's lives when they look around and see how the real world is bearing down on their situation, and find a need to reflect. For sure my own life has brought me close to the natural world, as well as adventure, touching moments, even tragedy, but those things are incidental to the longer-term realities of raising a family and negotiating a working life. So the stories of Wheelbarrow Ridge each inhabit a moment when my characters look around and find solace, or otherwise, within the wider world.
Q: Fine, fiction but experientially based: but how do you set that down on paper in a way that makes people want to read about it? what is your literary or creative inspiration?
A: Well, I've found great pleasure in reading, say, Tim Winton. Likewise the prose of Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road' has great beauty and Annie Proux's characterisations can be endlessly amusing. I loved reading 'Cloud Atlas' too, the way its characters progress from story to story but in different guises. So personally being a lover of literature, I've always aspired to write. And for decades I answered that need with dozens of stories published in outdoor magazines. But in more recent years with a bit of maturity and hindsight I've wanted to hone my writing enough to reflect the poignancy and beauty of life as I've seen it. So I did some creative writing courses at Varuna and met Deb Westbury, who has been a great support and influence. Likewise through thoses courses, I have found some dear, and often published friends with whom I share feedback and inspiration. As a result I've had several stories published in literary magazines such as Southerly and Island, and I've been placed or shortlisted for any of the major Australian short story competitions.
And even one or two international ones.
Wheelbarrow Ridge and other stories is now available from Megalong Books RRP $22.50