Simone Lazaroo is a Fremantle author who has gained recognition and accolades for her remarkable work; three of her four published novels have won the WA Premier's Prize for Fiction.
A senior lecturer in creative writing at Murdoch University, her latest novel is Lost River, an exploration of loss and the capacity of the human spirit for endurance told in the form of four photographic albums, testament to a mother's love.
"I was struck by how alone people feel when they lose someone or something significant, and I wanted to write about loss in the hope that it might help readers facing loss to feel less alone," she says.
Quoting Lazaroo's own explanations of her work, Lost River explores a wide range of themes ranging from "small-town society in Australia to individuals' struggles to reconcile life and death — essentially what it is to be human".
"For me there are always multiple inspirations for writing a novel but it's probably fair to say I began writing Lost River with strong feelings of love, and sometimes grief, for friends, family, eras and places lost in some way," she says.
Lazaroo explains how the cathartic fused with the altruistic.
"In a sense, this novel allowed me to memorialise, albeit fictionally, individuals I'd known and their struggles for meaning, dignity and identity, sometimes in the face of death," she says.
"I was struck by how alone individuals often feel when they face death and grief, and I wanted to write something that might help people feel less alone during such times."
Terminally ill and poverty-stricken mother Ruth compiles the only thing within her means to give — a collection of photographs — to her daughter Dewi as a legacy of her love. Beginning with photographs taken by the father Dewi never knew, Ruth painstakingly tries to provide Dewi the sense of identity and past that Ruth had never known.
As her life draws to a close, Ruth fills the albums with precious memories and landmarks in Dewi's childhood as a source of comfort for her daughter.
Materially, the albums were all she had to leave behind, but they were everything Dewi needed to have the emotional security denied to her mother.
"I've always been fascinated by the ways in which family photograph albums trigger the narratives we tell about ourselves and others; narratives which are important to our sense of identity," Lazaroo says.
"In my own childhood, the family photographs from the Singapore and Malacca I left behind were central to me developing a sense of personal and familial identity and continuity after we migrated to Perth.
"My novel reflects these observations about the relationship between personal photographs and personal narratives."
Ruth's pitiful existence is beset with tragedy, crisis after crisis culminating in the breast cancer which eventually claims her short and difficult life. Her helpless suffering, and the mental and physical pain she endures are acutely moving and portrayed without Dickensian sentimentality.
Ruth does everything possible to ensure that Dewi will be cared for after her death but is too ill to exert any influence over either of their destinies. Ruth's despair is countered by the optimism and practicality of Dewi's personality.
Even at a young age, Dewi is strong enough to claim entitlement to the happiness her mother had not been able to feel she deserved.
"I've known people who've had more tormented lives than Ruth's and have marvelled at their heroism despite being dealt such a bad hand," Lazaroo says.
"Ruth's life is tough partly because I wanted this novel to both explore and applaud that kind of human courage in the face of adversity."