VICTORIA HANNAN is a Melbourne based writer and photographer whose debut novel, Kokomo, won the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award. Her latest novel, Marshmallow is a powerful and moving story about the ripple effect of grief and how quickly the life you thought you had can be shattered forever.
How did the idea of Marshmallow develop?
I knew I wanted to write about a tragic accident and explore how it reshaped the lives of the people who witnessed it, but it took years of plotting, drafting and re-drafting to work out who the central characters were and how the incident was going to affect them. I think I wrote six or seven drafts in the end, just circling and circling these five people and slowly ruining their lives.
How did the process of writing this book compare to that of your 2020 debut Kokomo?
My drafting process was similar in that I’d write a full draft quickly, read it, edit it, cut it up and move it around, and then write it again. But I wrote a lot of Kokomo at artist’s residencies in Brazil, Iceland and Tasmania where I had so much time and space to write, and where I was able to be out in the world. Obviously, travel hasn’t been an option for a few years, so I wrote most of Marshmallow from my house in Brunswick East.
Marshmallow doesn’t shy away from exploring the many ways people deal with loss and grief. How did you navigate writing about a topic that is so personal to you?
I feel like I navigated it by feeling in the dark. Many of the drafts of Marshmallow were produced in a grief-riddled fugue state and I genuinely can’t remember writing them. I remember lots of other things from the year and a half in which I was writing and editing Marshmallow, but the time I spent at the desk doing the work is mostly a blur.
Were any of the characters shaped by people in your own life?
I think every character has a small part of me and my grief within them. Each of them offered a cathartic way to work through some of the feelings I was having after some trauma I experienced in 2020.
Marshmallow unfolds through multiple perspectives – was there a particular character’s perspective that you found more challenging to write from?
There was one point of view that was definitely harder than the others: Annie, the mother. Her loss was so much more pointed and physical than the others and I worked really hard to try and show how small her world had become since the loss of her son. I hope I did her justice.
The relationship between the friends, although fraught, shows a great level of support. What do you hope readers take away from this?
A few years ago a friend of mine lost her husband to cancer. She was only 30 when it happened and chose to grieve quite openly on social media. I’d never seen anyone go through something like that and be so generous and open about how they were feeling. It made me lean into her and her grief, it made me realise all the small things friends can do to show up for each other even if they don’t know the right thing to say.
Al is particularly afflicted with feelings of guilt – can you tell us about him and his character development?
One part of grief we don’t talk about enough is how it is complicated by past trauma and experiences of mental ill-health. All of Al’s actions and reactions are a result of a pile on of the grief and guilt that’s haunted him his whole life. He’s so deep in it, he can’t even see what’s happening. He was hard to write because I like him so much, I felt bad putting so much pain in his life but I think it’s an important thing to represent and I hope seeing it on the page will be helpful to people.
Have you listened to, read or watched anything recently that you found inspiring?
I am obsessed with the podcast Normal Gossip, where host Kelsie McKinney takes stories she’s been told from friends of friends and relays them to strangers. They’re all about the most mundane things but it’s so captivating and shows how big, small stories can feel. I’ve also recently started watching The Rehearsal, an HBO show created by Nathan Fielder. It’s mind-blowingly weird.
Read a review of Marshmallow here.
Follow Victoria Hannan on Instagram here.