Author and lecturer Dr Rachel Matthews marvels at Dockland’s shifting light at sunset, the diversity of community, and the peaceful communion of urban renewal and open space.
Dr Matthews recently published her third novel, Never Look Desperate, to glowing reviews from critics across the country. Never Look Desperate is a tragicomedy that weds humour and absurdity with vulnerability, and traverses the experience of grief, recovery, and finding new love on Tinder with deft wit and brutal honesty.
Dr Matthews explained to Docklands News that she writes for marginalised people, those who are largely forgotten in the cannon of literature.
“I love to write about subjects that people don’t want to talk about,” Dr Matthews said. “I think often people [who] don’t have a voice are connected to the subjects that we just would rather ignore because it’s too hard. It’s too confronting.”
The novel follows three central protagonists: Bernard, who grapples with the death of his wife and father during Melbourne’s lockdowns; Bernard’s mother, Goldie, and the pair’s stressed bond; and Minh, who meets Bernard on a dating app in a fog of middle-aged isolation.
As a writer, Dr Matthews feeds off the environment she lives in for artistic inspiration and says the beating rhythm of urban environments fuels her creative flow.
“I think everything’s always a construct of what we see and understand, but imagination to me is always fuelled by real people and real ideas and real events.”
Many of these people and ideas Dr Matthews finds in the Docklands.
“One of the reasons I moved to the Docklands was because I love being close to the urban environment because I love the diversity of people.”
“I love the atmosphere of different cultures, different lives. I’ve met people who’ve come to the Docklands because they’re starting a new life, or they’ve had to sell their farm. Sometimes sad stories, but I’ve also met people who live alone, who like to be at the Docklands because they feel that they meet people a lot more.”
Dr Matthews, who grew up in Shepparton, also adores the immediate sense of community in the Docklands and plans to run writing workshops at Library at the Dock in the coming months.
While Dr Matthews has received tremendous professional reviews, the author explains that the most touching response to her novel came from a reader online, who wrote to say, “thank you”.
“Thank you, for allowing me to feel hurt,” the message wrote, to which Dr Matthews said, “[The reader] was saying ‘I’m a woman in mid-life and I’m dating again. Thank you, for representing me.’”
“I hope my book can help people feel less alone, feel represented, and also that the terrible narrow ideas that love and intimacy are only worthy in the early years of life is really challenged and contested. [Love and intimacy] are life-long needs for all of us.” •
Edmund Coleman, Docklands News