VINCE RUSTON dabbles in writing across all forms. They also dabble in editing, gardening, feminist philosophy, and witchcraft. They live on Wurundjeri land with their feline daughter, Persephone. They have been published in Kill Your Darlings, Scum Mag, Rabbit Poetry Journal, and others. They were a 2020 Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow.
Our Associate Editor and Media Manager, Maya Pilbrow, interviews Vince Ruston about their fiction piece ‘Blood, Salt and Fish Guts’ for #19 ECHO.
‘Blood, Salt and Fish Guts’ really lives up to its name. It’s a beautifully written piece; intimate and real, punctuated by visceral imagery. Is it difficult to describe in words an act as brutal as the gutting of a fish?
First of all, thank you! It’s a pleasure to have it in the pages of The Suburban Review.
I don’t know if it was difficult, exactly… I’m not someone who’s uncomfortable around gore and decay. Very much the opposite, I tend to seek it out! (Exhibit A, the half-rotted mouse corpse processing in my laundry for bone-collecting purposes.) I’m definitely drawn to those dark, visceral things that might make another person’s skin crawl.
With my main medium being poetry, I’m very focussed on imagery and how to render things in language in a way that a reader hasn’t considered before. One of the very first pieces of writing feedback I ever got when I was a very baby poet, maybe thirteen, was to, ‘Experiment with using language in a surprising way’, and that’s something I’ve always remembered and am constantly trying to do, both in poetry and narrative fiction. I love playing around with words in that way, trying to find exactly the right one, so getting the imagery of that act into words was more playful and joyful than difficult.
I had a bit of memory to go on as well, which helped. Unlike the protagonist in the story, I have gutted a fish before and watched my dad closely, albeit probably more than fifteen years ago, and was fascinated by it. I also watched a lot of gutting tutorials on YouTube, which were suitably graphic to provide excellent descriptive inspiration! What was more difficult for me was getting the technical aspects and actions of fishing right, and trying to show that in a way that didn’t visually confuse the reader, so I hope I’ve achieved that! For such a swift motion, casting a fishing line is an oddly intricate process, and I couldn’t just write, ‘He casts the line’, especially since I knew that a major element in the story is the father trying to connect with his kid through teaching them something traditionally ‘masculine’. It made sense for the father to narrate what he was doing in terms of that subtext, as well as a way of getting the action description right.
You work across many different written mediums. How was your experience of writing narrative fiction?
It was blissfully refreshing to have a change of pace and ‘stretch’ creatively. It was good to work on something that gave me a little more breathing space than a poem, especially being able to explore characters in more depth; there’s often only one perspective in poetry, or at least my own, so it was a change to think about the interactions between these two characters and how to convey the emotional subtext through dialogue and action rather than, say, deliberate word choices or inference, or other poetic techniques.
A short story is still quite contained, but a poem is… often like trying to fit a whole story into a locket. But then, I like that containment. I’m also not very good at long-term projects, so poetry feels easier and much more achievable in terms of actually finishing something. Most of my fiction is half-written ideas, scenes or ‘drabbles’ floating around in my folders, or notebooks that I’ve abandoned, probably out of impatience. The skeleton of this story was one of those drabbles. I started it years ago when visiting my parents in Tasmania. I went back to the draft a few months ago when I was thinking about my relationship with my dad, who passed away about four years ago, and picking it up again kind of became a way to connect with him and imagine how our relationship might have changed if we had more of a chance to get to know each other as subjective, adult people rather than father and child. I think in the time that’s passed between when I first wrote the bones of the story and now, I’ve learned more about him as a person, and (I hope) developed the writing skills and experience the story needed in order to be told. It felt like it was the right time, and I had the needed perspective to let the story play out the way it was supposed to. I imagine it would have been a very different story if I’d written it all the way through at any other time. Maybe finding the right time is the case with the other bits and pieces in that folder too? It’d be nice to think I haven’t abandoned them, just somehow know that it’s not their time. I don’t know if that answers your question…
What’s next for you, artistically speaking?
There’s probably something in that folder of drabbles that it might be the right time for.