Literature | Aussie Author | Interviews

The Fifth Season: Philip Salom on his inspiration behind new novel

Today we welcome Philip Salom to discuss his new literary novel The Fifth SeasonPlus, thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing we have 2x ebook copies to giveaway.

Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.

The Fifth Season - Philip Salom

The inspiration behind ‘The Fifth Season’ by Philip Salom

As a child I would ride my battered bike for 3 kilometres across shocking gravel roads to the bus stop every day. I began as a 5 year old and rode, both ways, summer and winter, by myself, for 7 years. This was the bookending of every school day. I grew very used to being alone and to living in my imagination. The only traffic was occasional and farm-related: farming vehicles, milk trucks, cattle trucks, hay balers and the rare visit by the council grader as it scraped the unruly gravel down past the corrugations to hard clay.

This was a place almost entirely without people.

Ours was the last farm on the road and quite secluded. My family rarely socialised.

At night, I often listened to radio dramas and series about crimes and detection, and, interestingly, one called Missing Persons Bureau. I heard of murders, murderers, abductions and many cases of missing persons. Bodies found, bodies lost for years. People never seen again. Listening to the radio at night, often in the dark, gets straight into your head as a child.

And it seems to have stayed. A few years ago I wrote a poem called The Anywhere Graves, on the way our minds respond to this ambiguity of the missing.

Each missing person has a back story story, but no accountable drama, so the drama happens in us, in the minds of those left behind.

When a body is found with no identity, the situation is reversed: there is a body but no backstory. In 1948 in South Australia a man was found dead on a Glenelg beach. He was dressed in suit and tie and had almost no possessions on him. The labels had been cut from his clothes, he had no identification and he wasn’t recognised and claimed. He became known as the Somerton Man. To this day no one knows who he was.

I realised before I was far into the writing of The Fifth Season that these issues have been underlying my writing of fiction and poetry for many years.

These cases unsettle us even if we are not directly involved. I think it goes back to deeply universal hopes and doubts concerning who we are and what our fate will be. But if a family member is missing, the anguish is extreme.

The Fifth Season tells the story of Sarah, whose sister has gone missing, and Jack, who is researching the cases of found people such as the Somerton Man.

Families suffer the loss and fear the worst, but they also experience unresolved grief, or what is called ambiguous grief. Because there is no proof their missing ones are alive or dead. Life is something we perceive as continuous, we even have difficulty with it ending naturally, as our religious history shows. But the missing person creates a sudden and awful rift, and then emptiness. The continuity is broken.  There is not even a body to mourn.

After I began my novel I saw a TV profile on Loren O’Keeffe and the Melbourne organisation she founded called Missing Persons Advocacy Network. MPAN is there to support the families of missing persons and to develop ways of trying to contact the missing and portray them to the public, especially their faces and some details from their life. A wonderful organisation.

So my character Sarah does just that: she paints murals of the faces of missing persons. And of her missing sister Alice. She is obsessed with finding her. Hoping somebody will recognise the portrait of her. Or that Alice will see it and make contact.

The Fifth Season - Philip SalomThe Fifth Season Book Synopsis

Jack retreats to an Airbnb cottage in a small coastal town. As a writer he is pre-occupied with the phenomenon of found people: the Somerton Man, the Gippsland Man, the Isdal Woman, people who are found dead – their identities unknown or erased – and the mysterious pull this has on the public mind.

In Blue Bay, as well as encountering the town’s colourful inhabitants, Jack befriends Sarah, whose sister Alice is one of the many thousands of people who go missing every year. Sarah has been painting her sister’s likeness in murals throughout the country, hoping that Alice will be found. Then Jack discovers a book about the people of the town, and about Sarah, which was written by a man who called himself Simon. Who once lived in the same cottage and created a backyard garden comprised of crazy mosaics. Until he too disappeared.

While Sarah’s life seems beholden to an ambiguous grief, Jack’s own condition is unclear. Is he writing or dying? In The Fifth Season Philip Salom brings his virtuoso gifts for storytelling, humour and character to a haunting and unforgettable novel about the tenuousness of life and what it means to be both lost and found.

(Transit Lounge Publishing, November 2020)

Get your copy of The Fifth Season from:

Booktopia AU/NZ Angus & Robertson AU Transit Lounge

You can also read our review of Philip Salom’s previous novel The Returns.

The Returns - Philip Salom - Top Books of 2019About the Author, Philip Salom

Philip Salom lives in North Melbourne, Australia. In 2020 his novel The Returns was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. His novel Waiting was also shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2017 and the Prime Minister’s Award and the Victorian Premiers Prize. Toccata and Rain was shortlisted for the ALS Gold Medal and the WA Premiers Prize for Fiction, and Playback won the WA Premiers Prize for Fiction.

His poetry books have twice won: the Commonwealth Poetry Book Prize in London and the Western Australia Premiers Prize for Poetry. In 2003 he won the Christopher Brennan Award, Australia’s lifetime award for poets, acknowledging ‘poetry of sustained quality and distinction’. His fourteenth collection Alterworld is a trilogy of Sky Poems, The Well Mouth and Alterworld – three imagined worlds. His fifth novel aptly titled The Fifth Season will be released in November 2020.

More intriguing literature:
Animal People by Charlotte Wood  /  The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun  /  Mammoth by Chris Flynn  /  Revenge: A Murder in Three Parts by S L Lim  /  Quotients by Tracy O’Neill

AU/NZ eBook Giveaway

Thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing we have an eBook copy of The Fifth Season by Philip Salom to giveaway to Australian/New Zealand readers. Entries close midnight 28 November 2020.

See entry form below. Ensure you scroll to the bottom of this form and press submit to register your entry. You can improve your chance of winning by:

The lucky winners will be randomly selected and announced on our Facebook Page.

SORRY, ENTRIES CLOSED – Winner announced shortly.