Rocks in the Belly (Scribe) is the story of a young boy who is overcome by jealously after his mother fosters another child, and the man he becomes as he returns to face his now chronically ill mother. The book was officially launched last night by Cate Kennedy.
Bookseller+Publisher Reviewer B Owen Baxter interviewed first-time novelist Bauer for our July issue.
What inspired you to write this book?
This book began as far back as 1998, way before I began writing. I was visiting family friends in England with my mum at a time when she was showing the first signs of her illness. I saw a photograph on the mantelpiece of a wonderful 13-year-old girl with an intellectual disability. I asked about her and it was clear that this girl meant a lot to the family, that they’d fostered her but she’d died. I must have carried that image because in 2007 it returned in the form of a first line: I used to tell people I was a foster child.
To what extent did you draw on real-life experiences (whether they’re your own or from somebody you know)?
This is fiction but of course there are parallels with my own life. My mother dying of brain cancer is the clearest link although her illness is more a cameo than a central feature of the book. But I made sure I put real emotion into the fiction so that the book’s heart is my heart, even if the events are not mine. If you want to move people you have to risk your own truth. If you want to do anything well I think you have to give of yourself.
The main character (particularly as a child) has quite a disturbing combination of naivety and sociopathy. What (if any) research did you do in order to portray this?
I researched fostering through a friend who works in the field, but I’ve long been an avid observer of the human condition. I believe that we all contain every element of humanity, which is why history is so repetitive. None of us is all good or all bad. We’re often simultaneously both.
What is the significance of not revealing the main character’s real name?
This was an instinctive choice but I struggled with it during editing because it made things hard at times—to avoid the name without if being a conspicuous avoidance. I think a nameless character can add power. It’s more personal for the reader somehow, and the writer. Perhaps it was also about my own need to keep the character inside of me. I’d tremble sometimes while he was up to his ‘sociopathy’. Especially because, in my mind, he was doing it to the memory of my dying mother.
Do you have any plans for a sequel/prequel? If not, what do you think your next project will be?
I am returning to a novel I wrote prior to this—The Prophet of Loss, a story I spent 18 months researching in Morocco. I’ve also started looking into blindness (including plans to be blind myself for two weeks) for another book I want to write about an older man losing his sight: Winter Solstice. Continue reading