‘Anita, Who Knew Everyone’ is an excerpt from the novel ‘Fiume – the Lost River’ written by Branka Čubrilo. The story is read by Iain Wilson and Althea Kuzman, who also performs the piano pieces Gnossienes 1 and 3 by Erik Satie
A note from Iain:
“I met Branka through my job at SBS Radio, where I was working in their resource centre, loaning out audio equipment and sourcing pictures and sound effects for the broadcasters. She was with the Croatian program. But she was also a published writer which I didn’t know, until a few months before I left.
We stayed in touch through Facebook, meeting up for a coffee in town and commiserating partly over job changes; she also shared some of her audio stories with me that she had recorded with her daughter Althea.
She knew that I had an interest in audio story production, and she suggested the idea of coming around one day to record a story with her and Althea.
In the meantime, I read one of her novels, The Lonely Poet and Other Stories.
At first, you don’t always know if you will enjoy a book written by someone you know, as tastes are so particular, it might not be completely to what you usually like – and that’s a hard thing, because you do not want to be judgemental about someone who you are also friends with.
But I was surprised by how quickly I was hooked in, feeling a deep sympathy with her character Otto, the lonely poet referred to in the book’s title.
I was quite amazed by how well she had written this male character, who immediately made me think of Arturo Bandini, the writer hero of John Fante’s legendary novels, who always seemed to engage in this self-defeating behaviour.
It took reading Branka’s book for me to actually realize that Otto was a universal archetype that many writers have grappled with: the sensitive young man, who was impressive, clever, able to see through adult hypocrisy; but also clouded, angry, missing out on life’s deeper truths – unable to understand that being right is not the same thing has having won; and living in fear of his shadow self.
Asking her about him, Branka told me how she had brought Otto to life over a number of years, having written about him in an earlier play that was performed by a Sydney theatre company.
I finally went around to visit her, feeling that I knew what her house would be like, having imagined it from one of her other stories.
Branka had already picked out a section for me and Althea to read from one of her other novels, Fiume – The Lost River, a story spanning from World War II Europe to modern day Australia, that Branka had first written and published in Croatian before translating into English.
The scene involved Vito Del Bianco, a writer searching for people from his past in modern day Vienna, and coming across an eccentric old lady, who knows the people he is seeking from the old days.
Anyway, we had a go at recording it – the three of us standing around a mic on a makeshift stand, laughing and screwing up lines, and I suddenly realised that this is what I had been wanting to achieve for over 20 years in my own personal ambitions: a multi-part audio story, that wasn’t exactly a nostalgic radio drama, but wasn’t a staid audio book either. Something real and original that I could enhance later with a few sound effects. Yet, lo and behold, it was also fun!
We also had a great musical opportunity; one of the great challenges with audio stories is sourcing original music, that you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for. Althea has been playing the piano for most of her life, but is also a gifted guitarist and singer. We were able to all sit down in their sun-room, where the piano is kept, and record Althea playing the wonderful and quixotic Gnossienes by French Composer Erik Satie, which I knew almost straight away was going to fit perfectly with the story.
An interesting note, is that the thing that got me interested in making audio stories was the movie Blue by the experimental British filmmaker Derek Jarman. He had focused almost entirely on the soundtrack, a first person story where the narrator reflects back on his life, filled with pieces by Erik Satie, leaving the screen entirely blue for the duration of the film. It was something I played with a friend on a radio show many years ago, without having seen the film — and I was so greatly impressed with it, that I began to think about how this was a direction I wanted to go in creatively. So recording Gnossienes with Althea felt like a very great, unplanned, full circle.
Anyway, Branka’s selection naturally leant itself to an audio telling, because the descriptions are sparingly written, with strong dialogue between the characters. It also has a ‘detective fiction’ feel about it, with a first-person narrator, which was historically the perfect fit for radio productions where the listener can follow along with a distinctive single character, who leads them through the story.