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Jacqueline Winn is the author of two collections of award-winning short stories published by Ginninderra Press.
Jacqui lives with her husband Brian on a farm at Possum Brush on the east coast of Australia, where they have planted dozens of fruit and nut trees as well as a thriving vegetable garden. They also have a motley assortment of chickens, a fine herd of Hereford cattle, some Boer goats and an alpaca called Big Al.
Jacqui has two children, Paul and Lisa, and three grandsons, Joel, Nathan and Luke.
In 1999, Jacqui began writing short stories. Many of her stories have won awards and have been published in anthologies and literary magazines in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and UK.
As well as acting and writing scripts for stage, television and short film, Jacqui has produced several of her own plays for the stage and has been involved in the production of short films. Over the past ten years she has trained several drama groups and has run workshops on acting and scriptwriting.
Jacqui also gives seminars on short story and writing to community and writing groups.
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one of Jacqui's short stories to read
Jacqueline Winn's short story In Flames won the Henry Lawson Short Story Award (Australia) in 2008 and was also shortlisted by New Millenium Writings in the US.
It was published in Award Winning Australian Writing in 2009 and appears in her collection of stories Salt & Pepper.
My father’s hair went up in flames on a regular basis. We all knew when it was about to happen. His face would stiffen, his eyes widen, his mouth shrink to a tight-pressed slash. Then the top of his head would start to smoulder. Just a little at first. You’d notice the smoke curling up from somewhere deep underneath his thick wiry hair, building in ever-increasing billows until rich orange flames shot up into an inferno worthy of Etna. If you were stupid enough to stay in the room, you’d get to see the flames reach heights enough to scorch the ceiling. By that time, his whole face would be the torrid colour of a blast furnace. And then his mouth would explode.
Not literally, of course. Though it never fails to surprise me that it didn’t actually happen. His temper was so fierce that I’m sure we all saw the same thing. It was like a constant aura that hovered around him. Most of the time under control but when it went off…well, it was better to have got out of that room before then.
He left when I was about ten and it was like a cool change had swept through the whole house. Light showers dampening down the embers. We all breathed deeply, eating up the newly opened space and drinking gratefully on the silence.
I heard him leave. Late at night. His motorbike skidding down the driveway, screaming away into the distance. He took the machete he always kept under the bed. He took his gun and all the ammo from the laundry. It was the only way we knew he was gone for good. After a few days, our Nan insisted we report him missing. But that would have implied we wanted him back.
Anyway, a whole new routine was up and running in no time and there just wasn’t a spot for him anymore. The little kids could creep into bed with Mum and not have to worry about him startling and leaping out of bed, screaming at them, lashing out with his fists like they were nasty little demons from Hell. Us bigger kids could bring our friends home and not have to worry about him bursting in on us in his underpants, reeking of drink, filthy with curses and heavy hands. And even though the money was tight, we muddled through, content enough.
Today’s Anzac Day and it’s the first time in years that it’s even occurred to me to think about my father. I’ve scored the long shift at the hotel, double time and a half. Worth it when you’re on a student allowance that’s forever running short. It’ll be a hard slog though, all hands on deck. The Wellington Arms is right in the thick of the action, old fellas with their medals, young blokes in uniforms and a few families bustling around the fringes. All the way on the train, I’ve been thinking about my father. Not that I want to see him. Necessarily. But I saw on the news last night that there’s going to be a whole heap of Vietnam Vets riding on their bikes, tailing up the Anzac march. If he’s anywhere, he’ll be there.
It’s as quiet as death until midday and I’m fossicking out the odd empty glass missed by last night’s clean up, wiping down tables, straightening chairs. Then the doors open and it’s like a tsunami. Every table is packed and they’re three deep at the bar. You’d think it was forever since the last beer. I’m hardly looking up between pumping the drinks and fiddling with the money. Anyway, the faces, the voices, they’re all the same. Better to keep your eyes on what your hands are doing. I’m in the swing of it, two glasses under the pumps, hand reaching out for money, two fulls on the counter, slide the change across the bar. Suddenly, my rhythm is caught out by the sight of a leather-jacketed arm and I look up, terrified I might see my father’s face. But it’s nothing like him and the man disappears into the crowd.
From that moment, I’m all over the place. The boss notices and tells me to get out the back and do a swap with Jason on the glass washing. Normally I’d hate to be off the bar but it’s a relief right now. There’s something calming about the orderly placement of the glasses in the rack, the rush of water from the rinsing shower. It feels good to push the heavy rack into the washer and pull it out steaming the other side. And so it goes until late afternoon when the flow of dirty glasses into the kitchen starts to slow and I know the pub is emptying. The boss brings me back out onto the bar and asks if I’m all right. I hate feeling so exposed and I laugh off the stupidity of my earlier flustering.
I’m wiping down tables when I notice the dark city skyline against the early evening sky. A jumble of knife-edged skyscrapers, like crispy burnt ruins defiant against a blaze-red dusk. I’ve seen the old Vietnam War footage from the sixties and it looks exactly like that. After the bombing, after the fire. There’s one piece of film that stands out, once seen never forgotten: a girl running along the road, completely naked. Even her skin is falling off. Her mouth is open, but there’s no sound coming out. Behind her the billowing smoke obscures the dark red inferno of her village. On either side of the road, young soldiers walk, guns slung casually at hip level. None of them seems to be looking at the girl. But they could hardly miss her.
I was born while my father was in Vietnam. He came home to a new baby girl untouched by what he had seen. And suddenly I’m thinking I might report him missing.
. . .