author of Salt Creek
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Malaysia, where my family lived for several years. My schooling was in Melbourne, England and Sweden, and I went to Melbourne University (Fine Arts) and RMIT (Prof Writing and Editing).
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I realize now that I always wanted to be a writer (I can still recite a horrible poem in rhyming couplets that I wrote at seven or so, which I’ll spare you) but it took me years to find that out. In any job I held I always gravitated towards writing. I love words. How can you not?
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
At eighteen, I believed without even knowing it that the world would continue in much the same way as it always had, with a few technological developments. Life has become more precarious and the world’s fragility better understood in the intervening years. I’m more fearful, I think, partly because I worry about the future for my children.
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?
The hardest question. Only three? The Emigrants – a gripping historical series by a Swedish writer, Vilhelm Moberg, the first really adult books I read; Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse (the first time I saw that books could be about ideas, not only character and plot) and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (I felt as if I’d become a different person after I read it). These books were so much part of my growing up (read between the ages of 11 and 17) and my thinking that I can’t separate them from me. They and the universes of human existence that they contained were like explosions in my life. I longed to be able to do that.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I’m just not very good at other things. I would love to be an artist, but all I can do is appreciate art longingly, enviously from a distance.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel
Salt Creek is the story of Hester Finch, an educated, highly intelligent fifteen-year-old of the 1850s whose family moves from early Adelaide to a remote and spectacular part of South Australia where over several years her father tries (and fails) to improve the family’s fortunes, destroying the indigenous culture as he does it. It’s about love in its many forms, power, and civilization and its failings.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
For people to care and wonder about the world and the people of Salt Creek, even the ones who behaved badly.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
It’s very hard for me to go past Marilynne Robinson. The scope of her fiction is apparently small, yet the range of human emotion and experience that she is able to explore, and the generosity of her understanding, is vast. Cormac McCarthy (especially his Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian) is another writer I read and reread. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is extraordinary. Among writers of historical fiction, Hilary Mantel, Kate Grenville and Geraldine Brooks are the benchmarks for me.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
All I really want is an excuse to keep writing, for my skills to develop, and to continue to be published. That feels wildly ambitious to me.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Getting negative feedback goes with the territory of being a writer. But don’t let that feedback stop you; don’t let anyone else decide for you that you’re not a writer. Let that be your decision. The other piece of advice is from Marilynne Robinson: ‘Forget definition, forget assumption, watch’.
Lucy, thank you for playing.