Six Sharp Questions
1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?
The President’s Lunch was an absolute joy to research and write. I began researching the novel at the same time I discovered I was pregnant with my second child. He celebrated his first birthday when I delivered the first draft of the manuscript. I came to know the characters so intimately during that time and it was extremely difficult saying goodbye once the manuscript and editing process were completed. In fact, it took some urging from my husband to press ‘Send’ on the day the first draft was due. In a weird melodramatic way, it was like giving up a child.
So what’s it all about? Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and World War II, The President’s Lunch tells the story of Iris McIntosh, an enigmatic young woman rendered homeless by the Depression. When she has a random encounter with Eleanor Roosevelt in a rural gas station her life veers in a remarkable and unexpected direction. A First Lady with a social conscience, the tireless and fiercely compassionate Mrs Roosevelt employs Iris as her secretary. Under Eleanor’s guidance Iris, a woman of natural wit, beauty and intelligence, is introduced to the dynamic and complex inner world of the President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Along the way, for better or for worse, she wins the heart of more than one man. But as she recreates herself into a woman of the modern world, a world that has America at its centre, Iris comes to understand that nothing is ever simple – not affairs of state, not matters of the heart and certainly not the hankerings of a person’s appetite.
2. Times pass. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?
The best and worst moments came during a research trip I took to the US with my family. I had researched the Roosevelts from afar for nine months and to find myself walking around their homes and chatting with people who knew them was thrilling. But spending thirty hours travelling from Canberra to Washington DC in order to do that, with an energetic but frustrated six-month-old and a mildly grumpy seven-year-old, was absolutely soul destroying.
3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.
My favourite passage from a novel has been the same throughout my life. It is the final paragraph from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird:
‘He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.’
When I was a younger I viewed the paragraph from a child’s perspective. It filled me with a great feeling of comfort and safety. Now I am a parent, I read the lines from Atticus’s viewpoint and I understand his motivations clearly.
4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.
I can be difficult to live with when I’m in the process of editing a book. Becoming angered at cuts and criticisms from editors, I tend to take my frustration out on my husband. However, while I am in the process of writing a novel I am extremely content and agreeable.
My writing week revolves around my children. I work three days a week (school hours) when my two-year-old is in child care and at other times when I can fit it in. However, because I have such an abbreviated work week, I find I have to use my time judiciously to meet deadlines. Fortunately, I can write anywhere and at any time.
5. Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).
I write books that I would love to read and, as a 43-year-old woman, I am probably representative of much of the marketplace. So that’s lucky!
6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: I taught this novel for many years to unruly teenagers. I have not met any adolescent this book has not failed to move.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding: Such a unique and perceptive critique on society. It shows children how meaningful and relevant literature can be.
The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver: Everyone should know how to cook and the recipes in Jamie’s first cook book are upbeat, fast and simple. Following a recipe teaches people discipline and patience, and it’s fun and tasty!
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen: They might not want to read it, but when they get to the end of P&P those twenty uncouth youths will know how to behave in civilised society!
The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux: This is a powerful allegorical novel, heavy with symbolism, that criticises society. In my teaching experience I have found it resonates strongly with teenagers. It’s an anti coming-of-age tale in a way, and is told from the viewpoint of fourteen-year-old Charlie Fox.
Jenny, thank you for playing.
Set in Roosevelt’s White House, this is a compelling story of politics, personalities and love that spans one of the most turbulent decades of the twentieth century.
Robbed of her home and job by the Great Depression, the future looks bleak for Iris McIntosh – until a chance encounter with America’s indefatigable First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Propelled into the White House’s brilliant inner circle, Iris finds herself at the centre of momentous change … and her heart torn between two men. But her loyalty lies with a third: the complicated and charismatic President Roosevelt, who will ultimately force her to question everything she believes in. A compelling story of politics and power, love and loss, set in one of the most exciting and cataclysmic periods of history.