Smoking With Karen Simpson Nikakis

Read the Story August 15, 2004

“Lovers” is an utterly beautiful tale, Karen. How much does Aboriginal culture influence your storytelling?

I don’t think Aboriginal culture influences my story telling very much, but Aboriginal sacred places certainly do. Uluru (formerly known by the European name of Ayres Rock) and Kata Tjuta (formerly the Olgas) are the most stunning, deeply moving places I’ve ever been to. Uluru is solitary but Kata Tjuta is composed of great dips and curves – very sensuous and definitely female. Whichever one you visit, the other is always brooding in the distance, looking over your shoulder. My advice to anyone planning on coming ‘down under’ is to by-pass Sydney and Melbourne and fly direct to Alice Springs. You won’t regret it.

Do you pursue other art forms besides writing?

I’ve had a few inept attempts at working with stained glass and I’ve done a bit of quilting. I must admit that writing is my passion though, even if it is pretty frustrating. Oh the wondrous things in my head, and oh the dross on the screen!

What inspires you the most?

I’m inspired by the idea of the duality of things and by the notion of time. I have a creek at the bottom of the garden, and when I look at it, I see the surface of the water. Whatever lives in the creek, sees the surface of the water too, but from the other side. The surface of the water is the interface between separate and unique worlds, each going its own way, largely oblivious to the other. This is really a quite extraordinary state of affairs, made more so, because so few people remark on it. I feel the same sense of ‘other’ when my dogs bark at things I can’t see, or bark at me when I’m a long way off, because they’re not able to identify me by voice and scent. When I watch the moon rise, I know that the Aborigines watched the same moon rise, as did the Neanderthals. Our common wonder is like the surface of the water, separating and connecting us.

What are you reading right now?

I read snatches of published fantasy writers, to see how they work words, but I have to confess that I haven’t had time to read a book right through recently, apart from work text books. I read our major daily newspaper and cut out pictures that touch something in me. Some writers have journals, but I have a scrapbook. A person’s face, a snippet about someone’s life, or a picture of a tree can touch off whole story scenes in my head.

You seem to spend a lot of time close to nature. Have you experienced any harrowing adventures in central Australia?

People can and do die in central Australia, it is after all, very dry, and in summer, extremely hot. But you can actually drive from Melbourne to Darwin without leaving the bitumen, and probably in more safety than in the city, as the main highway is straight, and uncrowded. The main danger is the road-trains, great big trucks with three or four trailers. As long as you know that they own the road, there’s no problem. I’ve only been fearful in the outback once, when we were walking on a very overgrown track near a river. Crocodiles can and do kill, especially if you invade their territory. Overall, it is more dangerous here, on the edge of Melbourne, because of the creek that is home to frogs that are the prey of snakes. Australia has highly venomous snakes, and we have two of the deadliest on our property, browns (which can be black or mottled) and tigers (which can be brown!). I avoid walking around at dusk in summer (when they are most active) and always wear long trousers and boots if I’m working outside. I’ve seen a brown in full ‘flight’ down the hill, heading towards the creek, and it’s both a beautiful and terrifying sight. It was certainly moving faster than I can run, and I’m no slouch when I’m terrified!

About the Author:

Karen Simpson Nikakis lives on the western edge of Melbourne on 30 acres of rabbits and rocks. She is fortunate to have a creek at the bottom of the 'garden', a pair of visiting wedge-tail eagles, and an uninterrupted view of the moon rising. She loves visiting central Australia, where the red sands and open spaces provide endless inspiration.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.