By Sean RabinFictionGiramondo

Wood Green

Michael, an aspiring writer who has recently finished his PhD, takes a job as the secretary to his literary hero, Lucian Clarke, a reclusive novelist with a mysterious cosmopolitan past, who lives in a cottage in a village on a mountain outside Hobart which gives the book its title, Wood Green.

Peopled by an ensemble cast – the local publican, the single mother who manages the pub’s kitchen, the unhappily married couple that runs the corner store, a newcomer from Johannesburg with a murky past, a snivelling B&B proprietor and a determined ex-girlfriend – Wood Green artfully evokes the claustrophobia of small-town life. While Michael believes he is making a new life for himself, Lucian has other plans. Rabin writes with wit and intelligence – and deftly executes an unsuspected plot twist – in his exploration of the perils of literary ambition and the elusive prospect of artistic legacy.

Portrait of Sean Rabin

Sean Rabin

Born in Hobart, Tasmania, Sean Rabin has worked as a cook, script reader, copy-editor, freelance journalist and librarian. He has lived in Ireland, Italy, London and New York, and now resides in Sydney, Australia. His short stories have been published locally (Best Australian Stories 2012 and Wet Ink) and in the United States (Permafrost, Eleven Eleven, Eyeshot, Toad Suck Review and the Worcester Review).

Judges’ report

Wood Green explores the relationship between art and life, and contains some illuminating passages about what it means to create art. Evoking the insularity of a small town life, it deals with its location and characters with warmth and humour. Suspense-fully plotted and cleverly narrated, Wood Green a book beyond categorisation – covering the domestic and the cosmopolitan, the pedestrian and the sublime, all with equal skill and authenticity.

Extract

Chapter 1

Michael gripped his shins and bent his head towards his knees. The panic in his chest refused to be rationalised or contained, and infiltrated the extremities of his body with every shudder and lurch made by the Boeing 737. He could hear the other passengers laughing, but knew it was just a survival mechanism. If one did not laugh at their impending collision with the coast of Tasmania, and disintegration in a fireball of aviation fuel, then the only other option was to scream with terror.

He tried to curl his body tighter and feared his spine was about to snap; held his breath, swallowed against the pressure inside his ears, and squeezed his eyes closed to avoid glimpsing the rushing approach of land. If only the pilot would turn towards the water where they all had a better chance of survival. A change in direction, however, required time, altitude, and sufficient control over the plane’s steering mechanism, all of which he assumed were no longer available or dwindling fast. He felt himself violently shaken sideways and braced for impact; the clamour of the under­carriage scraping along the tarmac; veering suddenly off the runway; a wing snagging on a patch of grass; cries from passengers as legs were broken, arms shredded and bodies cut in two. Michael was ashamed of the way he had grumbled at check-in about the need to pay an additional twenty-five dollars to secure a bulkhead seat. What was such a paltry sum when compared with the good fortune of sitting in one of the strongest sections of the plane, closest to the exit, with the added protection of a nearby wing? Had he been seated behind someone else it would have proved impossible to bend so far forward. The space between the rows was woefully inadequate, and offered no other option than to brace against the seat in front, leaving the top of his head – as the emergency manual illustrations demonstrated – completely unprotected while the roof of the aircraft was torn away.

Catering trolleys clattered and rattled as the cabin suddenly tilted. Michael interpreted the silence spreading amongst the other passengers as a sign that land was near and it would all soon be over. A smell of fear flooded his nostrils. A sour taste rose to the back of his throat. He would probably feel no pain. One minute consciousness, the next…nothing. The comforting voices of his mother and father, dead more than five years, whispered in his ears until drowned out by the whine of engines making a futile attempt at acceleration. The wheels were lowered next, sounding like a pack of barking dogs let loose in the cargo hold. None of it offered any reassurance as he knew the pilots were required to follow landing procedure irrespective of their chances of survival. If only he had caught a different flight then none of this would be happening – well not to him at least. Michael dispatched mental apologies to everyone he had ever wronged, and wondered if Rachel would cry at his funeral. She had every reason not even to show up after the way he had left without saying goodbye. Though their status as a couple had ended more than three weeks ago, he knew their fourteen-month relationship had been serious enough to warrant greater consideration than disappearing to another state without leaving word. But if Rachel did attend, would she wear that little back dress he found so alluring? He guessed it depended on whether the service was held in the warmth of Sydney or the chill of Hobart. Would there be enough of him left even to conduct a funeral?

Michael wanted to hold the hand of the woman sitting next to him in a gesture of solidarity as they faced their demise together. Except his body was rigid with fear. Fixed into a ball. Isolated from all contact with the world aside from the seatbelt buckle pressing painfully into his stomach and the aeroplane shaking beneath his feet. The anticipation was almost too much to bear. Michael’s breathing quickened; he could sense a scream mounting in his lungs. What did it matter if he exhibited cowardice in the final moments of his life. No one would live to tell the tale. In a few seconds everyone on board was going to die regardless of whether they had been brave or not.

Excuse me Sir.

He felt a hand pressed gently to the middle of his back, and opened his eyes to a flight attendant with ruthlessly plucked eyebrows and a thick coating of make-up that was beginning to crack. Her hair was tied so tightly behind her head that the concern she attempted to express looked closer to a case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Michael then noticed the other passengers glancing in his direction as they retrieved their luggage from the overhead lockers. 

The fasten-seatbelt sign has been turned off, said the attendant. It’s time to leave the aircraft.

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