The Booktopia Book Guru asks
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 Kerang, Victoria, to a band of wild gypsies who taught me to embrace change and adventure. By the time I was seven we’d moved six times (my dad worked for the State Electricity Commission in the days when governments still owned utilities). I spent my primary school years in very gorgeous Benalla where I spent summers challenging myself to billy-goat hop across the rocks of the breakwater without stopping or slipping. At fourteen we moved to Geelong. I was grumpy about it for years. When I arrived in Melbourne to study I followed the whispering of my gypsy blood and moved every six months – mostly because what we learn in childhood we can’t help but repeat as adults.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be an amazing, famous, loved writer. I used to mock up my own magazines, including the ads.
At eighteen I wanted to study journalism at RMIT but ended up studying Applied Chemistry instead. Because it was expected of me. Because I was smart enough to do it. It made me utterly miserable.
At thirty I wanted to be free of the nine to five grind so I decided to become an astrologer. It never took off. It was about then I started secretly writing again.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That all of us are meant to find a soul mate and once we do our lives will be perfect. Soul mates are not necessarily destined to be in our lives forever. And if they arrive, they are not there to make us happy. They are there to help us learn and grow. The only person responsible for your happiness is you.
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 central Australian desert, while not a human made work of art, is a natural work of art that had an incredibly powerful effect on me. I lived in Alice Springs for three months in the late eighties. The light, the colours, the acres of sky and the deep, ancient thrum of the land has stayed with me. The stories of our First People, I could feel them in the landscape, running like rivers beneath my feet. Whenever I hit a tough spot in my life I long to go back.
Oddly, a profound work of literary non-fiction by Rian Milan, My Traitor’s Heart, had a big impact. He is an Afrikaner who returns to South Africa after eight years of exile. The sharp edged honesty of the writing, the depth to which he was willing to explore his own innate racism, struck me to the core. It made me realise the power of the word, its ability to bear witness to things that can’t otherwise be named.
All music inspires me as a writer. All my novels have a soundtrack. The music and the writing are intrinsically linked. Melodies carry words on their backs.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Writing is like breathing to me, I can’t not do it. From the moment I discovered crayons I’ve been writing. I have written a diary since I was eight (yes, I still have them all).
I also have a tendency to catastrophise. I discovered pouring my personal melodrama into stories was a far healthier way to express it. I no longer think I’m going to walk into a public toilet and discover a blood-smeared body in the cubicle (you can’t imagine the relief). Besides, I can’t draw.
Being Jade was frightening and tough to write. Not just because it’s written from the point of view of Banjo in death, watching his family fall apart after his untimely demise and wondering if his wife, Jade, ever really loved him, but because of its big themes. It’s about unconditional love and the internal sacrifices we are willing to make to so we can keep our relationships going. It questions the restrictions and expectations we place on women as mothers, lovers and wives. It explores how much of ourselves we chose to hide in order to be accepted, why we make those choices and what they cost us personally.
Being Jade is part mystery, part love story, part family drama. It begs the question, if you were to die today, what would you leave behind?
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Something to talk about. Some new ideas. A few questions. Some new insights. An after-shadow of revelation that stays with them for a while. And, of course, a deeply satisfying and pleasurable reading experience.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
There are too many writers, both know and unknown, I admire to list them all. I guess I am most impressed by those who have stayed the course and offered something back to the world from their success. Writers like Alice Walker, Tim Winton, Tara Moss, and so many others, who are so generous with their knowledge, wisdom and time and who use their skill to have a positive influence on our thinking and attitudes. People like Anita Heiss and Arnold Zable who bring our attention to unheard voices and educate the world through story. Writers who bravely ask the difficult questions, who take personal risks in pursuit of truth, who bare their own wounds so the rest of us might learn and heal, these are the people I most admire.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Pulitzer Prize? (Kidding.)
My main aim is to be making a modest living through the realm of writing in the next few years, which is notoriously difficult to do in Australia.
There are three more complicated novels I want to write. I’d like to dip a toe into self-publishing and have a go at a children’s book and maybe young adult too. I want to teach. It would be nice to win a modest novel prize someday. I’d also like to stop biting my nails. Awful darned habit.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Hold your nerve. Self-doubt, self-criticism and ego will try to bring you undone, but don’t let them. Prove to your subconscious that you’re serious about this writing game. Let it know that you intend to sit and write, no matter what crap it throws at you, no matter how it tries to distract you. Don’t let negativity have its way, be prepared to work long and hard and show all that internal negative babble who’s boss.
Kate, thank you for playing.