The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of The Bit in Between
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Born in Geelong, raised on the Bellarine Peninsula and schooled in the art of wit and one-liners that don’t quite deliver. Geelong is great; it is a pilot city of the NDIS and directly elected mayors, and when I was growing up it had a zedonk farm.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I wanted to be fourteen because that’s how old the babysitters of the Babysitter’s Club were. In my head fourteen was a magical age when you were given responsibilities beyond your years and did exciting things like solve pet-napping mysteries and move to California when your parents got divorced and your dad remarried a younger woman named Carol.
When I was eighteen I wanted to be someone who lived in a house with heating because I spent my winter wandering around my sharehouse wearing a doona-muu-muu and feeling sad that I had dragon breath inside the house. But I acknowledged that alongside drowning with a book of Keats’ poems in your pocket, such is the life of a would-be writer.
I am currently 29 and hope, at thirty, to be a) still alive, b) wiser and c) David Sedaris.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That living in a house with heating meant I had made it.
Also, that skirts and dresses would never be a part of my wardrobe. For some reason my brothers and I have a thing about always dressing in a way that is conducive to suddenly having to run away from something. It’s as if we were conditioned from childhood for an imminent zombie apocalypse. Now, having realised I am not particularly agile or swift, I wear skirts a lot more.
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?
Terry Pratchett taught me that laughter is the best teacher of both compassion and sadness. I revisit Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas every year to remind myself what perfection is. And Solveig’s Song by Edvard Grieg is my go to song for when I need to remember the value of stillness and silence within my work. And when I need the confidence to kill my darlings.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Because I legitimately have no talent in any other field. See self-portrait below.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
The Bit In Between is my debut novel. It’s an awkward love story about Oliver and Alison, two young Australians, who have landed in the Solomon Islands looking for their truths. Oliver is writing his second novel and as they settle into island life coincidences start to happen that make him question how much life is influencing his book, and vice versa.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
At its heart it is a story of people, love, life, the paths we choose, and those we don’t. I hope it makes people laugh, then cry, then laugh again and feel guilty for laughing so soon after they cried. As David Foster Wallace said, ‘good writing helps readers become less alone inside’, and I do so hope it does this.
When I sit down at my computer I say to myself, ‘pretend you are the love child of Zadie Smith and Steve Toltz and you have been given the task to write!’ Zadie Smith’s ability to capture people is breathtaking and in A Fraction of the Whole Steve Toltz, to me, created the perfect novel. And reading the first page of Under Milk Wood makes me rage against the genius of Dylan Thomas’s mastery of language.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My bar is so low – see aforementioned home heating goal. Obviously I would like total global literary domination and to see a statue of myself erected outside the Westfield in Geelong in the manner of Hans Christian Anderson in Central Park, but in lieu of this, I’d be perfectly happy to continue to have opportunities to tell stories that make people happy, sad and content.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read books, buy books, love books and never let anyone tell you to stop buying them because you have too many and the house has become a firetrap.
Write lots – for others and for yourself – because like any skill you need to practice.
When people tell you that no one makes a living from writing anymore, point out that no one has ever really made a living from writing, then go home, put on your doona-muu-muu and write until your heart sings.
Claire, thank you for playing.
by Claire Varley
Writing a love story is a lot easier than living one.
There are seven billion people in the world. This is the story of two of them.
After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.
Immediately. Inexplicably. Irrevocably.
With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with; happily ever after.
About the Author
Claire Varley grew up on the Bellarine Peninsula and lives in Melbourne. She has sold blueberries, worked in a haunted cinema, won an encouragement award for being terrible at telemarketing, taught English in rural China, and coordinated community development projects in remote Solomon Islands.
Her short stories and poems have appeared in Australian Love Stories (‘A Greek Tragedy’), Australian Love Poems (‘Beatitude’), Seizure online (‘Poll’, ‘Hallow’), page seventeen (‘Once’, ‘Hamlet, Remus and Two Guys Named Steve’), Sotto (‘in the name of’) and [Untitled] (‘The Nicholas Name’, ‘Behind Tram Lines’). The Bit In Between is her first novel.