INTERVIEW: Ray Martin on ‘Ray Martin’s Favourites’ (Victory)

Ray Martin’s Favourites (Victory) is a collection of standout interviews from the TV journalist’s career, as well as a glimpse behind the scenes, revealing how these interviews came together. Martin spoke to Bookseller+Publisher.

You’ve interviewed many of the stars, including Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn and Don Bradman. Have you ever been star struck?
Very rarely. In fact, out of thousands of interviews probably only twice. Sir Donald Bradman and Audrey Hepburn—a strange double, I must admit. I’m a cricket tragic but I never got to see The Don play. When I first met him at his Adelaide suburban house he stood up and stroked an imaginary cover drive, illustrating a point about batting technique. I was absolutely mesmerised. Audrey Hepburn I had fallen in love with when I was about 15 and saw her in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. When I was the ABC’s New York correspondent in the 1970s, I used to walk past the iconic jewellery store and imagine Holly Golightly and her cat, as in the film, just sitting on the steps. Then on The Midday Show I got to meet and interview Audrey. She was still a classic beauty, with sparkling eyes and the best cheekbones in Hollywood. I told her of my teenage love affair, she smiled and purred, ‘It’s never too late …’ So I kissed her on the cheek. How dashing was that?

Which interview was the hardest to secure?
Sir Donald Bradman. How I ended up with that exclusive is almost worth a book in itself. I guess my half-hour interview with Prince Charles after his split with Diana was a coup too. Then the interview with Bob Hawke and Paul Keating together was something quite special. Even 20 years later it’s still my favourite political interview. It’s also a fascinating insight into the two men.

Your book also reveals some of the behind-the-scenes action. Can you share any gossip?
We had an American rock legend stoned off his face when he came on to sing; an Australian movie legend overloaded with chardonnay; a British legend who had a personal water-taster (just in case someone tried to spike his acqua minerale); an English guest who forgot or deliberately decided not to wear knickers on The Midday Show and the TV audience noticed; and a Spanish heartthrob who made sure we didn’t film his bald patch. Then there was Pamela Stephenson who tried to take my trousers off on camera, and Richard Marx, who was too cool to admit that he’d once written a country song for Kenny Rogers. Even after a viewer sent in a copy of the album he still denied it was him. I’m not going to tell you who they were—except for Pamela and Richard. You’ll have to just wonder.

Tell us about some of the ‘ordinary folk’ who made it into this book?
They’re all ordinary in their own kind of way—even Don Bradman, who almost drowned three times because he never learnt to swim. There was the drover who spent an agonising night in the fork of a tree during the high-point of a Queensland flood—with his kelpie dog and a huge snake. Then there was Werner Von Braun, whose rockets put man on the moon but was as enthusiastic as a kid playing with fire crackers; Jane Fonda who wanted to talk about God and Dustin Hoffman who just wanted to talk about sex. Ronnie Biggs, the most celebrated of the Great Train Robbers was an ordinary Cockney bloke, who was one of my favourites. He just wanted to be a carpenter living in Melbourne. Doesn’t get much more ordinary than that.

INTERVIEW: Frank Moorhouse on ‘Cold Light’ (Vintage)

In the conclusion to Frank Moorhouse’s ‘Edith Trilogy’, former League of Nations officer Edith Campbell Berry mixes politics with pleasure in post-war Canberra. Moorhouse spoke to Andrea Hanke in the November issue of Bookseller+Publisher. (See her review here.)

Edith has a glamorous lifestyle in the first two books. She is young, attractive, surrounded by interesting men and women, and working for world peace. Were you tempted to end her story there?
For a while after Dark Palace I thought that Edith’s life ended with the collapse of the League of Nations. She had come through this great disaster in human vision—what some saw as the greatest diplomatic embarrassment of the 20th century—the new UN had rejected her, and some of her friends at the League had suicided because of their failure to stop World War II. In some ways Edith flees back to Australia to find herself. I became excited and went to Jane Palfreyman, my then editor at Random House, and said, ‘the third novel is set in Canberra in the 1950s’. She looked at me and said, ‘do you have a stronger pitch than that?’ I told her that this was a remarkable time in Australia and the world regardless of how we tend to see it—and Edith belonged there. Jane agreed. In Canberra Edith again confronts all the great problems of the human race—and her own personal dilemmas. Wherever we go the existential questions follow us. Edith is a woman in her prime, also a woman still trying to understand her sexuality even if it means crossing the sexual borders or trying to live without borders. She is a woman who wrestles for her say in the world; to find a family life; she wrestles with alcohol, and she strives for a sexual life which fits her personality and she searches for peace of mind.

In Cold Light, Edith takes up a number of causes, including the construction of Canberra, for which she has lofty dreams. How do you think she would feel about Australia’s capital today?
Edith would’ve been pleased to see that the unique and creative hands of Marion and Walter Griffin were still clearly present in the design of the national capital.

She would have seen that the residential neighbourhoods of Canberra had lost their rawness and had become distinctive in design and layout—some with interesting restaurants and their own community activities, and that each is now an archive of the architectural styles of the decade in which they were built.

She would have said now let’s pull down any unsuccessful structures and ugliness.

She would have been disappointed that the buses taking people to and from work did not have visits from wandering minstrels and opera singers and celebrities.

But she would be delighted and thrilled that Australia had manage to create a distinctive city ‘not like any other in the world’ with its ‘temples’ of art, literature, science, music, democracy, law, military history, its parks and gardens, and a national museum—all showing where we came from and what brought us along.

She would probably ask where the Museum of Design, Arts, and Crafts was and why there wasn’t there a great museum of Indigenous culture.

She might be disappointed at the level of political debate in the new parliament house.

You spent some time in Geneva to research the first two books of the trilogy. Did you set up camp in Canberra for this book?
One day in the bus travelling through Canberra in a winter mist I had a dazzling revelation—it was that Canberra may well have evolved into the most aesthetically distinctive and functionally satisfying 20th-century planned city in the world—that Australia had pulled it off. I then had a second realisation, Canberra was now completed in the formal sense—the new parliament house was working and the key cultural institutions were pretty much in place. I even entertained the notion that Canberra might be the most beautiful 20th-century city in the world. While some people who live outside Canberra still hold out-dated memories of the ‘city without soul’ where you couldn’t get a decent coffee, Canberra is now a sophisticated city and it increasingly delights me—architecturally, gastronomically and with its wonderful cultural resources.

The story also delves into the history of the Australian Communist Party, and its role in political espionage during the 1950s (both as a spy and as a party that was heavily spied upon). Did you find many sources to draw on this?
The release of national archival material and the publication of a revealing book by former communist Mark Aarons (The Family File, Black Inc.) may have extinguished any illusions those on the left still have about the nature of the Australian communist party leadership during the immediate post-war years. We now know that the communist party in Australia was substantially funded by the Soviet Union and a section of the membership was engaged in spying for the Soviet Union. Whether this has discredited forever the vision of some sort of a socialistic economic and social system as an alternative to that of American capitalism is, perhaps, still to be resolved.

You write ‘literary novels’ that are funny and sexy, which is less common in this genre. Have you been influenced by any particular authors?
My hero author is George Eliot and she has influenced me throughout my life since school days but I doubt that she has contributed to what you call the ‘sexy’ in my work—I have to take responsibility for that—although, given her own personal life, I do not think she would’ve been in any ways embarrassed by it if she were alive to read it. I think her influence on me was that she showed me that the personal life, the civic life, the life of ideas and social change can be intertwined into an engaging readable novel.

Are there any plans to adapt Edith’s story into a movie or mini-series?
A number of film options have been taken out on the Edith novels over the 20 years that they were written but they still await the right director and producer—Cate Blanchett said in an interview that my character Edith was the one she most wanted to play. I hope that comes to pass.

INTERVIEW: Peter Corris on ‘Mag Dog’ (NewSouth)

Peter Corris considers the case of convicted killer William Cyril ‘Mad Dog’ Moxley in his latest book. He spoke to Paula Grunseit in the September issue of Bookseller+Publisher. (See her review here.)

Mad Dog is told using a combination of facts and fictional reconstructions. Why did you decide on this hybrid form?
Most of the documentation on the case, with the exception of a few letters, was official. There were no interviews with police, family, lawyers, etc. I wanted to bring out the tragedy, which it was, not only for the victims but for Moxley himself, his friends and, in a sense, the legal system, with capital punishment being reintroduced after an eight-year gap. The reconstruction, drawing on hints, tones, remarks, in the official records allowed me to bring a personal and human dimension to the case.

What particular challenges did you encounter when telling this story and how did the writing process differ from your fiction?
After more than 60 books of fiction, many of which involved precisely the same sort of people as in this matter—criminals, police, lawyers, distressed women, etc—I didn’t find it hard to imagine, based on the documents, the words these actors might have used. I had to be careful to ‘stay in period’ but, having written quite a few historical novels, I was used to doing this. As a former academic historian, the social history aspects of the book presented no particular problems to me.

How did your opinion of Moxley change as this book developed?
The public and official hostility to Moxley masked many underlying factors, which helped to explain, though not excuse, his actions. Focussing on these, I believe I reached an understanding of the man which came close, at various points, to sympathy. Moxley’s trial took only two days, brief for even those times. His defence was not vigorous and aspects of his physical and mental health, which today would have carried the possibility of a defence based on ‘diminished responsibility’ played no part at a time when the ability to tell right from wrong was the only test of sanity.

What the last book you read and loved?
The Wilder Shores of Love by Lesley Blanch (Phoenix). It’s about four 19th-century women who defied convention to experience the exoticism of the East.

INTERVIEW: Di Morrissey on 20 years in publishing

Bestselling Australian novelist Di Morrissey has just published her 20th novel in 20 years, The Opal Desert (Macmillan). Andrea Hanke spoke to the author about her career journey, changes in publishing, new media vs ‘pressing the flesh’, and the marginalisation of women’s writing and popular fiction.

Twenty novels in 20 years is an extraordinary achievement. What kind of discipline is required to meet these publishing deadlines, year in and year out?
When you start writing you don’t think past getting that story out and hopefully getting it published, but when you have the commitment of a contract there is an additional motivation. I have a very strong, perhaps old-fashioned, work ethic. I shudder when I hear of people who have a contract or potential interest in their work and diddle around and can’t meet their deadline and never produce anything. I’m there on the day it’s due, manuscript in hand for better or worse. I also understand it’s not just about me but there is a whole team involved, a schedule, a business plan, marketing campaign and people who depend on me producing a publishable book. The writing process may be a solitary endeavour but there is a massive machine involving many dedicated people that take your original scribbles and turn it into a polished, professional product, so it does put considerable pressure on me. And of course, when you have a successful book the expectation is there to do an even better next book.

When you look back over your career, how has the way in which your books are edited, published and promoted changed over the years? Is the publishing industry better at its job today than it was 20 years ago?
Well technology has made it easier in many ways to write. When I first started I mailed hard copy to my editor, so email has certainly speeded things up.  Publishers today don’t like to take risks and have had to adapt, to be more focused, take less of a scatter-gun approach and hope a book on spec does well, as they can’t afford a failure in these more competitive times. So I wouldn’t want to be starting out now! Marketing is even more vital now and traditional media campaigns have changed as social networking and an online presence reaches an audience as quickly and effectively as a print or radio ad. Authors have to be prepared to adapt to the new media but frankly, I still feel that word of mouth and ‘pressing the flesh’ is as powerful as ever. Publishing houses have had to be more savvy as well as cost-conscious, the old conservative days of British publishing dominating the Empire are gone but try telling them that! There’s still a bit of literary snobbishness and parochialism with international publishers believing their books outrank ours.

There has been a lot of talk recently about a gender bias in literary criticism and awards. What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you support the creation of a new women-only book prize? And do you think we need more book prizes for genres outside literary fiction?
There is no question that the bias exists. Women are not reviewed as seriously or in as great a depth or frequency as men. Nor do women receive as many awards as men. But to section ourselves off with women-only prizes and categories is buying into the marginalisation, i.e. ‘Men do art, women do craft’. Besides, I think there are enough specialist categories for a variety of genres. We know literary fiction usually doesn’t sell anywhere near what popular fiction sells, yet the ‘literary’ tag imbues a book with some kind of merit so these ‘serious’ authors content themselves with a badge of assumed quality when most would secretly prefer to have a royalty cheque of quantity. And let’s face it, if a heap of people buy a book, and continue to show loyalty to a particular popular author, then that author must be doing something right.

Of all 20 novels, which is your favourite?
I don’t have a favourite book per se, it is a bit like choosing a favourite child. But I have to confess to a slight affection for Tears of the Moon as it was the book that broke me out in hardback and international sales. And it was a deliberate strategy to find a mainstream and male audience and change the perception of me being a writer of romance fiction.

Which book has been the hardest to write?
The one I’m writing now! I face each new book with trepidation and insecurity, I never feel complacent and the more successful you become and the more you write, the greater the pressure. But equally I do it because of the passion and fulfilment that I only find from writing.

What has inspired your latest novel?
I’ve always loved opals, and I first visited the opal fields in the 1980s and decided I wanted to spend time in this strange word and write about it one day. I’ve been going to Lightning Ridge for many years and I saw how the industry was changing and decided this was the year to explore the lure and obsession that draws people to this different lifestyle and isolated community. It’s also about women’s friendship. The bonds and special connection and emotional support women draw from each other. This book explores the relationship between three women of differing generations who find themselves in the remote and wonderful opal fields.

INTERVIEW: Isobelle Carmody on ‘The Sending’ (Penguin)

Isobelle Carmody is back with book six in the ‘Obernewtyn Chronicles’. Reviewer Stefen Brazulaitis writes, ‘The good news for fans is that it is not the last [Obernewtyn book], although it does manoeuvre the characters into position for what looks to be a fairly dramatic conclusion.’ He spoke to Carmody.

The animal characters in the ‘Obernewtyn Chronicles’ are as fleshed out and integral to the story as any of the humans. Was this always the intent, or did they grow in the telling?
I have felt humans as a race have this weird paradoxical relationship to animals. We revere them when we are not eating them. Put a dog in the worst movie, and it suddenly gains a heart. Many people are nicer to their animals than to other humans. I have trouble with the fact that we use them as commodities. The whole factory farming thing is an abomination. The book I had the most fun in my life writing was Billy Thunder and the Nightgate. I turned all of my dogs and the goat I saved from slaughter (by handing over $20 and driving off with it in my beat-up old sportscar, hanging onto it by one horn so it couldn’t leap out of the car or stab me in the head while I drove it down the Great Ocean Road!) into speaking characters, but animals permeate my books as important thinking feeling characters. When we care for an animal that is when our higher self is activated.

Magic in the ‘Obernewtyn Chronicles’ is firmly grounded in real-world mysticism. What do you think of the ways magic is being used in modern fantasy?
I find magic harder to take now than when I was a child. I loved the Magic Faraway Tree as a little kid, but when I tried to read it to my daughter as an adult, I really could not bear it. That said, I really enjoyed the Harry Potter books and the magic in them was interesting and diverse and wholly enjoyable—maybe it was the darkness in those books that made me like them so much.

How did you conceive the structure of the series?
I always knew I was writing a series. At 14 I had read the Narnia books and other series, and I took in that one wrote more books if there was a larger story to tell than would fit in one book—by that I mean, a story which was not episodic but a number of discrete steps in an overarching story. It is really important to me that each book works in its own right, hence the gaps of time between them. And when the series grew, from The Stone Key onward, I was very careful where the books would end. I could not let one book turn into more until I found the right spot to stop. The structure in the next book is pretty much the same as in the others, despite the size, except that it is the first one where we do not end with Elspeth at Obernewtyn, and the last one, The Red Queen, will be the first that does not begin at Obernewtyn. That is the only change.

INTERVIEW: Matthew Reilly on ‘Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves’ (Macmillan)

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves (Macmillan) is Matthew Reilly’s fifth book in the Scarecrow series (including the spin-off novella Hell Island, produced for Books Alive in 2003). In the latest instalment, Reilly has ‘humanised an often superhero-like character’ while creating his ’most cruel and violent villains yet’, says reviewer Emily Smith. (See her review here.) She spoke to the author.

You’ve featured many different nations and organisations as the villains in your books. To what extent do current affairs and politics affect who you cast as the bad guys?
My books—especially the Scarecrow series—are set in the real world, so current events are very important. In fact, the reason it’s been eight years since the last Scarecrow novel is that I was waiting for the world to change. And around 2008-2009, it did!

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves reveals the characters’ personal lives more than in previous books: we learn more about Schofield’s family and Mother also opens up about married life. What made you decide to explore this?
I put Scarecrow through hell in Scarecrow, and I felt that readers would like to know how he dealt with the horrible things that happened in that book. That meant delving into his personal life, and that of his friend, Mother, as well. I am older now, too—I am 37 now, whereas I was 23 when I wrote Ice Station—and I think as I get older, I like to find out more about my characters. That said, while I wanted to explore Scarecrow’s and Mother’s characters, I wanted to do it in the middle of an absolute rampage of a story!

You set the first Schofield novel, Ice Station, in Antarctica. What made you choose to return to a frozen landscape?
I have always wanted to set a book in the Arctic. It is very different to the Antarctic, with its own dangers (polar bears, extreme cold) and unique features (the sea ice, the leads, old Soviet bases). I also like setting my books in faraway places as they allow readers to escape; they also allow me to escape when I write the books.

Your novels keep getting faster and faster. How do you juggle a fast-paced plot with character development and back story?
My theory is this: try to develop character during big action scenes! I wanted Thieves to be both fast and intense, to be relentless in its relentlessness. And I think I have succeeded in this aim. I want every new book that I write to be somehow better than the one that came before it—with this one, that would be in its intensity. But action and thrills are worthless if readers don’t care about the characters, so I needed to thread character moments and back story into the action. How do I do it? I’m not quite sure. If you’re going to have a character moment, why not have it on a runaway missile train!

What’s in store next for Shane Schofield?
I have an idea for a new Scarecrow story. I now have to decide whether to write a new book about him, or do another Jack West novel. This is the decision I must make.

What was the last book you read and loved?
I am loving Boomerang by Michael Lewis right now. I have loved all of his books, especially Moneyball. Lewis is a gifted nonfiction writer, who writes with clarity and humour about subjects like pro sports and the Global Financial Crisis (in Boomerang he goes to  countries like Iceland, Greece and Ireland to find out why they suffered as they did in the GFC). I read a lot of nonfiction, but Michael Lewis is the man. If I see a new book by him on the shelves, I will buy it without even reading the jacket. I just know it will be good.

INTERVIEW: Andrew McGahan on ‘The Coming of the Whirlpool’ (A&U)

Andrew McGahan (credit Jason Froome)

In November, Miles Franklin Award-winning author Andrew McGahan will publish his first young-adult novel, The Coming of the Whirlpool, book one in his ‘Ship Kings’ series. Reviewer Heath Graham describes it as a ‘classic adventure tale’ which ‘captures the mystery and the romance of the sea’. He asked the author about his sailing background, his favourite adventure stories and the importance of having a map in the front of the book.

Why YA? Was it very different to writing your other novels?
I’ve always loved reading fantasy, and have often promised myself that I would try writing it one day, so it seemed perfectly natural, when I started dwelling on the ideas for ‘Ship Kings’, to give it a go. And no, the work involved is no different really from any of the other novels—a little more lighthearted in the invention, maybe, but no less demanding when it comes to getting it down.

As for YA, I didn’t particularly conceive the series as being that way, it was more that I saw it as belonging to the type of fantasy that’s mostly about the wonder and adventure and mood of its own strange world, and less about say the complexity of its politics or relationships. A classic style of fantasy, in other words, and one which, as it happens, can be pitched at YA readers—but which can be enjoyed by the young at heart too, no matter how old.

You capture the feeling of the ocean brilliantly. Are you a sailor yourself?
Alas, no, I’m strictly a landlubber, with little other than foolish and romantic notions about life at sea. But then maybe that’s the point—who knows, being an experienced sailor might even have proved more of a hindrance than a help when it came to imagining an ocean in fantasy. That said, I’ve read up plenty, and tried to keep the basic sailing details at least minimally authentic.

This is the first book in a series of four. How much detail have you already planned for the series?
For someone who normally launches off into a novel with almost no planning, the series ahead has been fairly well plotted. On the other hand, nothing ever turns out as expected when it comes to the actual writing, so while I’m sure book four will end up roughly as planned, there’ll be surprises in it too, even for me.

Was there much research involved in writing this book? How did you approach it?
I read up enthusiastically on the technical aspects of sailing, but at the same time I didn’t go overboard. The romance of sailing was always the more important thing, and for that I’ve been researching for years anyway—I have a particular hunger for sea tales, the more mythical and fantastic the better. Mind you, given the unusual properties of the ocean in the Ship Kings world (something which becomes more apparent in book two and onwards), I’ve been led into some odd nooks of research—the physical behaviour of non-Newtonian fluids, for one.

What were some of your favourite adventure stories growing up?
Tolkien, of course, anything he wrote. Stephen Donaldson’s ‘Thomas Covenant’ chronicles. Ursula Le Guin’s ‘Earthsea’ series. T H White’s Once and Future King. Monsarrat’s The Cruel Sea. Oodles of others too—but I have to give a special mention here to Poe’s classic short tale of horror, A Descent into the Maelstrom, which transfixed me so profoundly when I read it at about age 10, that even now, more than 30 years later, I’ve felt compelled to try (in vain) to match it with a giant whirlpool of my own.

How important to a fantastic adventure novel is having a map in the front of the book?
It’s all part of the fun. I loved consulting, for instance, the Tolkien or Donaldson maps while reading those books, and used to wistfully draw maps of my own fantasy realms as a kid—so it was a poignant moment indeed when I sat down to sketch the first proper map for the Ship Kings world, not long after I’d finished the first draft of book one. It was one of those dislocating instants when you become aware that your childhood self would be dancing about in utter joy if they could somehow fast-forward to it.

INTERVIEW: Charlotte Wood on ‘Animal People’ (A&U)

In the September issue of Bookseller+Publisher, reviewer Heather Dyer interviewed Charlotte Wood about her new book Animal People. Wood had lots of interesting things to say about writing comedy, revisiting characters from previous novels and conducting book research in zoos. Here is the extended interview.

You’ve said that each new book is both a challenge, and a reaction to the previous book. What was your challenge/reaction with Animal People?
I had several new creative challenges to play with in this novel. The first was to write my way through a thoroughly ordinary day while making it an extraordinary, life-changing one for Stephen, my character. There were also structural challenges involved in the one-day timeframe, in terms of keeping up a lively, naturalistic narrative that revealed things about Stephen without lumping in too much static flashback. And my final big challenge was to embrace an element of comedy in a way I had never done before—that to me was the riskiest element of all. I’ve discovered that for me, and I suspect for many writers, it’s easier to write a sad or violent or tragic scene than a funny or a tender one. It can become banal to keep falling back on misery to propel a story, I think, and so I found the challenge to balance comedy and seriousness, or tenderness, quite an exhilarating task with this book.

The reaction to the last book is probably most apparent in the setting. The Children is set entirely in a country town, whereas Animal People is thoroughly urban—they are, perhaps, companion portraits of city and regional living. Oh, and in point of view—The Children is told from several points of view whereas in Animal People we see everything only through Stephen’s eyes. And I didn’t realise how hard that was going to be until I did it.

What did you see in Stephen that made you decide to develop a book around him?
Not until quite some time after I’d finished The Children did Stephen occur to me as a character—I knew the next book would be set in a city, and I wanted it to be a one-day book. But I kept being drawn back to thinking of him, I think, because he was the only character in The Children I didn’t feel I completely understood by the time I finished writing that novel. He remained unresolved when the others—Mandy especially—I felt I knew, inside out. And in a way—this will sound odd, for a person one has invented—I still worried about him. I wanted to see him through the next stage of his life, and I wanted him not to be so lonely. It is very strange how fictional characters can sort of embed themselves in one’s consciousness almost as if they are real. I think of him as a kind of wayward cousin I’ve always loved, but who inexplicably finds life a bit of a struggle.

Do you plan to write about any of the other siblings from The Children?
I’ve completely done with Mandy, I think I’m certain about that. And I think Cathy is far too sane and well-adjusted to make good fiction out of, really. But who knows what might happen to her in a decade or so? My next novel is knocking at the door of my mind and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Connolly family. But I didn’t plan on writing more about Stephen either, so who knows—never say never. I quite like the symmetry of the idea that a book about Cathy might emerge one day, though I can’t really imagine it in the foreseeable future.

Animals, and human interactions with them, play an important role in the story, but Stephen is, for the most part, mystified by the amount of attention people lavish on them. Do you share his views?
I’ve loved exploring my own bewilderment in this novel. I have come to the conclusion that perhaps I’m a little lacking in the ‘cute response’—a syndrome researchers refer to in describing human responses towards animals. I don’t get, for example, the whole baby-orangutan/elephant/panda-video ‘squee!’ thing. I find it faintly embarrassing (but then I have English heritage). At the same time, I think I have more respect for animals than some baby-orangutan-squealing people do, and writing the novel was a fascinating way for me to explore our contradictory attitudes to animals as a society. We sentimentalise animals to almost exactly the same extent that we brutalise them, and while anthropomorphism can be a good thing (in understanding, for example, when animals might feel pain), it can also be disrespectful and narcissistically human-centred in assuming that what is good for us is good for animals. What I’m interested in is the many kinds and levels of denial we employ in our behaviour towards animals.

Did you do any research in zoos for this book? And did you find them a good study of animal, and human, behaviour?
I certainly spent time in zoos around the country. I highly recommend visiting a zoo to observe human behaviour—it’s really quite enthralling. People are very, very weird. One of the most striking things I noticed was how desperate we seem to be, at zoos, for the animals to look at us. A lot of human behaviour at zoos is kind of depressing, though … many of us seem to treat it as a kind of shopping expedition—there’s an acquisitive vibe about getting photographs, ticking off lists and so on. But of course it’s ripe for comedy too—zoos are so rich in anthropomorphism.

INTERVIEW: Kim Scott on ‘That Deadman Dance’ (Picador)

Last night, Kim Scott won the 2011 Miles Franklin Literary Award for That Deadman Dance (Picador), a story about the early contact between Europeans and Indigenous Australians, set in and around Albany. Reviewer Toni Whitmont spoke to Scott in October 2010 about his novel.

Many readers will be unfamiliar with the history of early contact between the Noongar and the Europeans. Is this a work of fiction, or are the events and characters based on known facts?
That Deadman Dance is a work of fiction, but one that is inspired by, and that draws on, specifics of the early history of a region—in this instance, the area in and around the town today known as Albany, Western Australia. I see the novel as a sort of ‘analogue’, drawing upon a reasonably specific history in order to tease out the possibilities in the interaction between Noongar people and Europeans, and—perhaps—to suggest possibilities still latent today. Crucial to that inspiration is the Noongars’ confidence, innovation and inclusiveness, as well as their willingness and ability to appropriate and use European cultural forms and transform them within their own traditions.

Does the ‘Dead Man Dance’ exist?
Not as described here. It has its origins in a military drill performed by Marines on a beach along the south coast prior to colonisation that was transformed into a Noongar dance. There’s an ambivalence in the name: on the one hand, Noongar people may initially have thought the new arrivals were not fully alive or human—djanaks: devils or ghosts, perhaps—thus, ‘dead men’. On the other hand, the adaption of that dance may have been the ‘beginning of the end’ of a way of life, and thus for the novel’s central character Bobby, and his community, an ending. Bobby may be a ‘dead man’. However, since he does not die, is it only a dance learned from ‘dead men’, and one among other examples—like perhaps this novel—of forms explored and played with as ways of expressing place and identity. New cultural forms always have consequences, sometimes good and sometimes bad.

This book seems to be about forging an identity and finding your place in a changing world. Given your Aboriginal ancestry, does this reflect your own journey?
Given my Aboriginal identity, the novel explores how we can connect an ancient heritage, its strengths and weaknesses, to contemporary existence. I’m interested in finding empowering ways of carrying that past into the present, in ways that are not only reactive and reductionist. I’m not sure that the story is a reflection of a journey, as such, rather it’s about finding possibilities and potential in history—in positing alternatives. I am interested in story rather than polemics, in agency and resilience, and in ways that literature might function politically, but also subtly.

In recent years some exceptional books have been written about early contact between Aboriginal and English people, such as Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and Richard Flanagan’s Wanting. That Deadman Dance is rooted in the soil and sand of coastal south-west Western Australia. How important is the notion of place to our understanding of these stories?
I can’t speak for the others, but I believe and hope it is [important] in the instance of That Deadman Dance.

You have spoken publicly about the Australian neurosis concerning identity, race and history. Are we any closer to laying these ghosts to rest?
Listening to diverse voices and other stories, having courageous conversations and respectful dialogues will help us all heal. I’m not sure we need to ‘lay those ghosts to rest’. Sometime they may need to be listened to also.

That Deadman Dance is published by Picador. This interview first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Read Toni Whitmont’s book review here.

INTERVIEW: Jennifer Rowe on ‘Love, Honour and O’Brien’ (A&U)

Jennifer Rowe, aka Emily Rodda, aka Mary-Anne Dickinson, has written Love, Honour and O’Brien (A&U), a ‘cast-of-quirky-characters mystery’ set in the Blue Mountains. She spoke to Jarrah Moore.

Love, Honour and O’Brien features a host of weird and wonderful characters, including, most memorably, an Elvis-impersonating hearse driver. Do you have a favourite character?
I really value eccentric characters in real life, and loved writing about the eccentrics in the book, but in fact I’d have to say that my favourite character is actually the one who seems the most ordinary—Holly Love, my beleaguered heroine. Like most people, Holly’s in fact not nearly as ‘normal’ as she seems, or as she thinks she is. I very much enjoyed getting to know her.

The Blue Mountains setting is integral to this story. Is an Australian setting important to you in your writing?
I like to write about a place I know very well—whether it be a fantasy world or a place where I’ve actually lived. I could have set the book in the inner city, where my family and I lived for a long time, and which is more of the sort of setting people expect in a ‘crime’ novel. But the Blue Mountains, where we have lived for many years now, seemed a perfect setting for Love, Honour and O’Brien. Not just because I felt at home writing about the area, but because here we have a small enough population to have a sense of community. If you complain to a friend in a cafe about the plumber who didn’t turn up, you’re just as likely to be sitting next to the plumber’s wife, who teaches your child in school. The Blue Mountains is a string of small villages, linked by a highway and a railway line, tiny dots in a vast expanse of National Park. It suffers all the usual problems of semi-rural communities. Its people are diverse—they all live outside the city for a reason, but all the reasons are different. There’s still room to be unselfconsciously eccentric, if you want to. It’s the perfect place to set a mystery.

What can we expect from Holly Love’s future adventures?
Well, Holly has friends in the Mountains now, and she still has very little money and nowhere else to go. I think she’ll stay exactly where she is, and use her newly found detective skills to eke out a living, with the help of Abigail the clairvoyant and Mrs Moss, the lady who keeps late hours in the flat opposite. They seem to have adopted her. Not to mention Martin, the blue-eyed landscaper, who is obviously interested. If I were Abigail, I’d say there are many more mysteries in store for Holly.

You’ve published successfully in both children’s and adult fiction. Which is your favourite to write?
The fact is, I love whatever I’m writing at the time.

How did you choose your pseudonyms?
Emily Rodda was my grandmother’s maiden name, and my greatgrandmother’s married name. I always liked the name, so decided to use it. Mary-Anne Dickinson, which I only used for the first publication of the ‘Fairy Realm’ books, was a sort of joke, a combination of Mary-Anne Evans (George Eliot’s real name), about whom I wrote my BA honours thesis, and Emily Dickinson, who was the subject of my MA thesis.

Love, Honour & O’Brien is published by Allen & Unwin in June. This interview first appeared in the May issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. See the review here.