The Fugue State and the work of Ruth Skilbeck

Ruth Skilbeck

Photo source: Ruth Skilbeck 2015

I first met Ruth Skilbeck when Ruth, Paula Morrow and myself were invited to read at our Booklovers group which often meets at Cooks Hill Books. I have written about Paula’s book Darwin’s Dilemma in an earlier post here. I was immediately drawn to Ruth’s work as we have both written about the same, very fascinating thing – the fugue state.

From wikipedia the fugue state: “is a rare psychiatric disorder characterized by reversible amnesia for personal identity, including the memories, personality, and other identifying characteristics of individuality… Dissociative fugue usually involves unplanned travel or wandering, and is sometimes accompanied by the establishment of a new identity.”

“In music, a fugue is a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and recurs frequently in the course of the composition.”

Ruth’s journey into publishing began in the 1990s when she felt compelled to write her first novel, Australian Fugue whilst living in Newcastle, strangely in the cottage she is living in now. She had been trying to write this novel for years and could not move beyond the first couple of pages and then the idea came to her to use the fugue structure with its two main meanings, musical form and psychological state of amnesia and wandering. Ruth knew about musical fugue as she had played recorder in a choir as a child in the village where she lived in England (and played baroque music).

As Skilbeck says in her own words, the manuscript “…in many ways it just seemed to write itself, from there I have found out about the cultural history of fugue in literature and most fascinating of all perhaps in psychology, and wrote my PhD on this. I am interested to follow this through and write another book of critical theory in the field which develops and advances what I have begun in my PhD, and more novels too of course!”

Ruth has written how strange it is to be back in her cottage in the very spot, in the living room where that idea first came to her, an idea that she has been following and that has been driving her writing and research ever since. I do believe that when we think long and hard enough about certain things, for instance, like the fugue state we attract into our lives more knowledge and people and books that can help us on that journey. It has certainly been that way for me and it sounds as if is has been for Ruth Skilbeck as well.

Australian Fugue: The Antipode Room is first in a forthcoming series by Ruth Skilbeck exploring silencing, trauma, and identity in postcolonial family life, after-effects of unknown hidden histories and mysteries of self in denial, how one appears to self and others, and the need to go beyond disguise, deception, and reinvention, to find truths of lost self-identity. You can buy the book at Amazon here.

In Missing, the unabridged Australian Fugue novel Ruth Skilbeck more shockingly explores the need to remember to acknowledge the past, to find out truths of self-identity, to confront ghosts, and seek a true understanding, through processes of art and writing and justice. It will make you rethink everything you’ve heard by JS Bach.

The book will be Published by Postmistress Press and available next month. Ruth has also written a work of non fiction, The Writer’s Fugue: Musicalization, Trauma and Subjectivity in the Literature of Modernity and will be available soon at Ruth’s new website: Ruth Skilbeck Author. It’s an exciting time for Ruth and I wish her well on her journey.

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About Debbie Robson

Author, booklover, bookcrosser and firm believer in synchronicity. There is no such thing as coincidence! I am currently working on a trilogy set in Sydney and Paris during the 1920s and a screenplay set in Sydney in 1937.
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