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troublemag | February 22, 2019

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Highway Bodies: Alison Evans

Highway Bodies: Alison Evans

A SOCIAL WORK interview

When Alison Evans was ten years old they deliberately ran through a puddle of mud to get dirty, and were told by their cousin: “Girls don’t do that – boys don’t even do that.” “Yes, that’s me,” thought Alison1, who now remembers the moment as their first glimpse into understanding their gender.

That understanding has come a long way since those days. Alison Evans now identifies as nonbinary, is co-editor of Concrete Queers, and their first novel, Ida (Echo, January 2017), was the winner of the People’s Choice at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. They have just released their second novel, Highway Bodies (Echo, February 2019), which is a YA Zombie novel that has been neatly described as “a very Australian apocalypse.”2

‘Are we still doing zombies? Really?’ I hear you ask. Yes, of course we are still doing zombies, I answer, because zombies are so endlessly semiotic. They represent the great fear and desire in us all for the undoing of society’s fabric. They remind us of humanity’s inhumanity, our enormous capacity for violence and ignorance, yet they are not evil3. They are merely mindless, vacant, unintelligible killing and eating machines who, as a community, have taken the lives of many of your loved ones. They are war, poverty, sickness and greed all rolled ito one, and they are good gory fun to kill.

The cool and interesting thing about Highway Bodies is not that it’s an articulate and intelligent read for teens, but that it’s themes are eloquently realised. The characters feel real enough that they can explore issues of gender, or nongender, in a natural way, informed by contemporary queer theory, without surrendering to force. This minority and somewhat politically charged approach to characterisation has a surprisingly strong place in the horror tradition.

Which member of your family influenced you the most?

A.E. My mum – she is hard working, resilient, strong, and so funny.

How similar are your political beliefs to those of your family?

A.E. I feel they’re mostly the same.
 
How do your values differ from those of your family?

A.E. I think I am more aware of queer issues but that is more an awareness thing rather than a values thing.
 
What do you think is your main purpose in life?

A.E. I want to make the world a bit kinder, a bit softer.
 
Do you think its ok to lie?

A.E. I think it depends on the context. 
 
Do you think things happen for a reason?

A.E. Not sure how I feel about this really. Sometimes I do, but most of the time I just think things are chance and luck.
 
What beliefs do you have that you think will never change?

A.E. I don’t like to think of things as unchanging. I think it’s important to never get complacent in what you believe and always question everything.
 
Have you ever come close to dying?

A.E. Not as far as I’m aware!
 
What do you like the best about your body?

A.E. It is how I experience the world, without it I wouldn’t be able to drink coffee or read a book or take a walk in the bush.
 
Who is the best teacher you have ever had?

A.E. Too many to list – the primary school teacher who was incredibly passionate about storytelling, the librarians who showed me the best books, the high school teachers who showed me how to write, and how not to write.
 
Have you ever been lost?

A.E. Constantly.

Why Zombies?

A.E. They’re really an excuse to think about society in general. How the world was before the outbreak, and if characters want to go back to the world, or make something better. How do people react when everything they know is gone? I like to explore stuff like that.

Name your favourite bad movie and why?

A.E. Robot Monster. It’s very silly, and very sincere.
 
Describe how you identify. What is the best thing about that identity?

A.E. I’m a non-binary bi person. The best thing about my identity is meeting all the other people who share it.
 
What do you hope for?

A.E. I’m not sure. I would like to be published overseas, I think that would be very fun.
 
What is stopping you?

A.E. Lots of things: depression, anxiety, being low income, never having enough time. I guess I depends on the particular thing that is being stopped.

Highway Bodies by Alison Evans (Echo $19.99)

FOOTNOTES: 1. ‘My gender didn’t exist in fiction when I was growing up – so I wrote myself into existence’, Alison Evans, The Guardian 28/02/17 – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/28/my-gender-didnt-exist-in-fiction-when-i-was-growing-up-so-i-wrote-myself-into-existence | 2. Marlee Jane Ward | 3. For further discussion of the symbolism of zombies see Zombies in Western Culture, John Vervaeke, Christopher Mastropietro, Filip Miscevic (Open Book Publishers, https://books.openedition.org/obp/4255)