Charlotte Wood, author of Animal People, The Children and more, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Charlotte Wood

author of Animal People, The Children and more

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born, like those famous poets AD Hope, John Tranter and Steve Liebmann, in the mighty town of Cooma, Gateway to the Snowy Mountains. I went to primary school at Our Lady Help of Christians (most hurtfully referred to by the public school Proddies as the Old Ladies’ Hockey Club), St Patrick’s and Monaro High Schools, and eventually went to uni at Charles Sturt in Bathurst.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At 12 I thought I would like to be a window-dresser (I still like that idea).

At 18 I thought I wanted to be a journalist.

At 30 I had finally figured out that writing fiction was what I needed to do.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That one day things would become clear. I remain confused.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Brancusi’s Bird in Space was a revelation. It taught me about simplicity, and metaphor, and the human desire for flight. When I finally saw the one in the Peggy Guggenheim collection in Venice I cried.

Not until I met my husband did I understand I had never before really listened to music. Musicians pay attention to the intricacies of sound in a way that other people don’t. He taught me to listen to the layers of music – not just the surface – in everything from Glenn Gould to Michael Jackson to Eddie Palmieri. It taught me to look for layers, counter-rhythms and contrasting melodies in my own writing, and not to worry if people didn’t notice them.

I can’t name just one book, but Patrick White’s writing left me gasping when I finally read him in my thirties because of his ability to capture so sharply but with such compassion the inchoate, grand yearnings of ordinary people.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I think fiction is the only place for me, really, and a novel provides a bigger space to muck around in than a short story. It’s nice to visit other places sometimes – I’m writing non-fiction at the moment – but I’m getting homesick for the novel, and can’t wait to walk through the door again. A novel allows me space to breathe, spread out, and think.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel… Animal People

Animal People follows Stephen, the drifter brother from my last novel, The Children, through one Very Bad Day in the city. I love Stephen but he drives me crazy because he can’t see what’s good for him. The story takes place on the day he has decided to dump his girlfriend Fiona, without really thinking about why, except some vague feelings of being captive, oppressed. But even before he gets to work at his shitty job at the zoo, things start to unravel – he has confrontations with his neighbours, an animal liberationist, a pedestrian who runs into the traffic and an unattended package that may or may not be a bomb – and then must endure the horrors of a workplace teambuilding event and a children’s birthday party that goes horribly wrong. I think the novel is about urban anxiety, the weird ways we behave towards animals, and about the difficulty some of us have in accepting love.

(BBGuru: I loved Animal People. I am now trying to write a review. I’ve read it twice. And may read it again. It is so difficult to review  a book which has so much to offer with each new read. It is as though Charlotte Wood had written an encyclopaedic multi volume chronicle of our times and then had whittled it down to its essentials, before crushing the remnants into a paste, and pressing this essence into an engaging narrative.

The publisher’s synopsis –

A sharply observed, 24-hour urban love story that follows Stephen Connolly – a character from the bestselling novel The Children – through one of the worst days of his life. The day he has decided to dump his girlfriend.

On a stiflingly hot December day, Stephen has decided it’s time to break up with his girlfriend Fiona. He’s 39, aimless and unfulfilled, he’s without a clue working out how to make his life better. All he has are his instincts – and unfortunately they might just be his downfall . . .

As he makes his way through the pitiless city and the hours of a single day, Stephen must fend off his demanding family, endure another shift of his dead-end job at the zoo (including an excruciating teambuilding event), face up to Fiona’s aggressive ex-husband and the hysteria of a children’s birthday party that goes terribly wrong. As an ordinary day develops into an existential crisis, Stephen begins to understand – perhaps too late – that love is not a trap, and only he can free himself.

Hilarious, tender and heartbreaking, Animal People is a portrait of urban life, a meditation on the conflicted nature of human-animal relationships, and a masterpiece of storytelling.

Animal People invites readers to question the way we think about animals – what makes an ‘animal person’? What value do we, as a society, place on the lives of creatures? Do we brutalise our pets even as we love them? What’s wrong with anthropomorphism anyway? Filled with challenging ideas and shocks of recognition and revelation, Animal People shows a writer of great depth and compassion at work.)

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I would love them to have recognised some small truth about their own lives, or to look again at familiar surroundings and see something new because of what I’ve written.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I admire any writer who has the courage to push through the barriers of ambition and vanity to get to the real thing – truth and beauty. Some of the best writers I know are struggling to get published, but they keep going because they are real artists. For the same reasons – truth and beauty – I respect and admire Alice Munro, Helen Garner, Anne Enright, Marilynne Robinson, Kim Scott, Richard Ford, Joan London, William Maxwell and Nina Bawden, among others.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To produce a respectable body of work over a lifetime of writing; to amuse and challenge myself in the process.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Pay attention to sentences, and try to free yourself from your ego.

Charlotte, thank you for playing.

You can follow Charlotte, and I strongly recommend you do, on Twitter – here

And visit Booktopia’s Charlotte Wood author page here

UPDATE:

SHORT REVIEW: Love and Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food By Charlotte Wood (Review by John Purcell)

I have just finished Charlotte Wood’s Love and Hunger and urge everyone to read it, especially those who must cook every night and resent it, or avoids cooking when they can because they consider it a chore. This book has the power to reignite a passion for life, friendship, food and the everyday.

Part memoir and part recipe book, Love and Hunger can be read cover to cover, as I did, just like a novel, or can be dipped into when the moment requires. Charlotte’s unusual cook book is the wise friend many of us do not have ready at hand 24/7.

Love and Hunger is a guide, an encouragement and an inspiration.

(Available in May 2012)

‘A love of food oozes from Charlotte’s every pore in this wonderful book. Her recipes and ideas come with great practical advice but even better her warmth and emotional honesty reflect the generosity of food and continually made me smile (sometimes with nudging tears). ‘So many tidbits shared, so many ‘aha’ moments and things I needed to know!’ – Maggie Beer

Blurb: The award-winning author of The Children and Animal People, explores the solitary and shared pleasures of cooking and eating in an ode to good food, prepared and presented with minimum fuss and maximum love.

‘What’s important is the fact of eating together – the gathering at the table, the conviviality.’

Love & Hunger is a distillation of everything Charlotte Wood has learned over more than twenty years about cooking and the pleasures of simple food well made. In this age of gastro-porn and the fetishisation of food, the pressure to be as expert as the chefs we’ve turned into celebrities can feel overwhelming.

Cooking represents ‘creativity in its purest form’. It is meditation and stimulation, celebration and solace, a gift both offered and received. It can nourish the soul – and the mind – as well as the body. Love & Hunger will make you long to get into the kitchen to try the surprising tips and delicious recipes, and will leave you feeling freshly inspired to cook with joy for the people you love.

Love & Hunger is a gift for all who value the solitary and shared pleasures of cooking and eating. Like a simple but glorious meal, this feast of a book is infused with warmth and generosity.

An instant antidote to such madness is this wise and practical book – an ode to good food, prepared and presented with minimum fuss and maximum love.

Acclaimed and award-winning novelist Charlotte Wood also writes the popular cookery blog How to Shuck an Oyster and is a brilliant home cook and food enthusiast.

An invitation to dinner at Charlotte’s house is always cause for celebration.

Order Love and Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food By Charlotte Wood from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

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