author of Formaldehyde
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Canberra, Canberra and Canberra: the time-honoured combo of Weetangera Primary, Belconnen High, Hawker College, University of Canberra.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was 12 I wanted to play cricket for Australia. I read Dennis Lillee’s Art of Fast Bowling and practiced bowling bouncers at my brother. My favourite reading was the catalogue from the Greg Chappell Cricket Centre. I was completely obsessed, with cricket and with the blokes who played cricket. Who knows why: 12-year-olds are kind of crazy.
When I was 18 I wanted to be a lawyer or a journalist on Four Corners, because I couldn’t figure out how to be a freedom fighter in Australia and I couldn’t afford to go to Nicaragua and I very much wanted to stand up to injustice.
When I was 30 I wanted to be glamorous and witty and unafraid, the kind of person who says ‘yes’ to everything that comes along, because before I never had been and because I was starting over in a new country where no one knew that.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken
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?
This question is really hard. I think the main influences on my development as a writer have been dreams that I desperately needed to tell in story form, and impressing boys. But that’s not what you asked.
So: Terry Gilliam’s movie Brazil and Vincent Ward’s movie The Navigator: a medieval odyssey, both of which made me feel that the world around me is a precarious, fragile construction hiding profound, electric, more-meaningful, more-alive worlds that we can only barely and occasionally see.
Third place is a tie between Margaret Attwood’s book Life after Man, my first inkling that politics can be told in a story, and the Flaming Lips’ album The Soft Bulletin, which told me you can make something beautiful and ambitious and meticulous without having to be all uppity and earnest about it: excellence can be full of joy and weirdness.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I don’t think I’ve chosen this avenue exclusively. A decent chunk of my heart still pines to be a jazz clarinettist, though years of weekly lessons don’t seem to be getting me much closer. I am also one half of an utterly terrible online-only band called Hilfenhaus – we only record songs about animals, space or Cambodia.
But words are easiest for me, all my thoughts are in words – not in pictures or music – and I’ve been training my brain with decades of intensive reading to never think any way but in sentences and stories. How very dull.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
It’s just a little chap, a novella, called Formaldehyde. I had my first go at writing it when I was that pretend 30-year-old version of myself, who could do things like stay out til 2 in the morning and wear very high heels and play guitar in a band and also write the extremely rough first draft of a novella, it turned out.
In this novella, the government makes a mistake and someone loses their official identity while staying very much their own self; two other people swap arms and one of them becomes someone new while the other can no longer change. A fourth person can’t let go of the past. Their lives get tangled up and everyone pines for the things they could have been.
There are jokes and quite a few revelations. People tend to call it ‘Kafkaesque’.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
If the world feels a little more intriguing and odd to them, if they’re a bit more inclined to speculate and make wild suppositions, then I think I’m happy.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Impossible! OK, what I really admire in the realm of writing is writers who’ve achieved some amount of success and who then make the effort to turn around and help others come up after them. They are generous with their time, support and advice, while still working on getting better themselves. It’s a lot to ask of one person. I can think of two though (and I’m sure there are many more): in Australia, Charlotte Wood; in the US, Chuck Wendig.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I just want to write something really, really, really good. Like seriously really good.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
That depends on what they aspire to do. I can’t advise on being excellent or on being profitable. All I can say is make a serious effort to make time to write, give up other things so you can write and if, after you’ve done that for a while, you find you prefer the other things to writing, that’s OK. There isn’t anything particularly honourable about being a writer, so don’t feel bad if you find you’d rather be a cricketer or a clarinettist or a good friend or fiendishly excellent player of online games. But first, give the writing a red-hot, whole-hearted go.
by Jane Rawson
Lives turned upside down by a bureaucratic error in this Kafkaesque work of neo-absurdism. Formaldehyde pulls off a complex narrative with frequent time and point-of-view shifts without ever losing the reader. For a novella that borders on the Kafkaesque, it has a good deal of heart. The interconnecting stories are handled adroitly – the clever structure never gets in the way of the writing, which is sharply observed, assured and witty. Smart but never showy … Read more