Q&A with Niamh Schofield

A photo of contributor Niamh Schofield against a light turquoise and yellow wave-pattern background. To the left are three images of the magazine’s cover in a column. Text above the photo reads “THE SUBURBAN REVIEW magazine, issue: #21, theme: SALT”. To the right of the photo is the contributor’s name. Along the bottom of the image the magazine’s website “thesuburbanreview.com” is repeated three times.

NIAMH SCHOFIELD is 22-year-old goatherd from Tasmania in a round-about way. She recently started working at an office, has stress warts, and lives in a weatherboard house with her family and six geese, next to what used to be an old dump, somewhere in the Murray. There, she has found kangaroo tail bones and an ancient Chico roll. She has also been published in Voiceworks and RedThread Mag. You can find more of their work at niamhyswango.wordpress.com 

Our Associate Editor, Maya Pilbrow, talks to Niamh about ‘Pulsar’, published in #21: Salt.

Your fiction piece ‘Pulsar’ captures the essence of SALT. It’s sharp, poignant, stinging. Tell me about your process when exploring and responding to a theme.

Some may call it the Stephanie Meyer method, it came to me in a dream. (Hahaha) Usually when I am responding to a theme, I obsess over it while my mind is resting.

When I wrote ‘Pulsar’, I was working on a dairy farm, so there was lots of time to fully dive into a fantasy world while my hands were busy. I think about all the ways a theme could go, and what it means to me and others—the gut feeling a theme evokes. When it came to SALT, I kept coming back to the ocean. But more than that—salt itself is honest, and blunt. It’s overwhelming and charismatic. It is unmistakable and strong. It can be deadly. Its history is bloody. I wanted to capture this feeling that salt brings me as well as tell a story about the ocean.

I was also going through a real space disaster obsession when I was trying to think up the story—which is probably really obvious.

I try to use an interesting plot (or at least hopefully interesting) to guide a theme and show a new face of it. I thought through the story and all the ways it could go heaps before I actually put pen to paper. When I was finally ready, the story was there, because it had been running around in my mind for so long it seemed real.  

Your writing is instantly evocative, but very concise. Within the first few sentences I feel like I can smell Mollymook Beach. There’s a knowing naturalism on display here that suggests a familiarity with the NSW coast. Have you spent time in and around Ulladulla, and how do you take inspiration from the world around you and transform it into art?

My family and I lived with our friend’s farm in Milton, which is 6 ks or so out of Ulladulla, for around a year. I worked one job in Ulladulla and another in Milton, and I’d walk across the highway almost every day, so I got to know the layout of town really well. In coastal towns, almost everything comes back to the beach, whether you like it or not.

I take inspiration from the world around me by getting to know the people in it and trying to see it through their eyes, as twee as that might sound. When I lived in Ulladulla, my friend Nick made the town seem like their playground—they knew every person and drinking spot in the area, and they were kind enough to share that real community heart with me.

Of course, Coastal NSW is a beautiful place, and it’s not hard to take physical, scenic inspiration from it, but it was the great people there like my mate Nick who really put spirit into the town and make it stick in my mind. Nick isn’t in the story, nor is anybody like them, but they showed me so much of what makes Ulladulla unique, harsh, and beautiful, in fiction and life.

I think it’s important however for all artists to remember to take inspiration in an ethical way, something that gets lost and blurry for everybody in the creative process at times. I struggle with this—I think it’s important to remember: is this truly my, or a fictional character’s story, and will my story do more harm than the benefit it will bring?

Honesty is key for me.

What’s next for you, creatively-speaking?

I don’t know! At the moment, I’m in a town that is just dominated by sport. I’ve never been into sport until this year—but I hope my next story will explore the psychological whiplash of country football or netball clubs, or something along those lines. Probably more netball, because I think it’s just a killer sport psychologically. Those girls are hardcore, and the sport is inherently feminine, but the attitudes behind it stray so close to the toxic masculinity that dominates football, which makes it super interesting to me.

I think more fiction is definitely on the cards—fantasy and everyday mysticism is a massive part of my everyday life, and it is fun for me to bring such a dominant part of my mind to life.