The Booktopia Book Guru Asks
The Patron Saint of Eels, Ron McCoy’s Sea of Diamonds and now The Grand Hotel,
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 on Shakespeare’s birthday, in Cotham Road Kew, and undoubtedly that was my greatest moment. After being expelled from an atheist kindergarten in the suburbs of Melbourne I was fortunate to be taught by Carmelite priests and brothers in a bush setting.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I wanted to be Joe Strummer from The Clash, when I was eighteen I wanted to be stoned, and when I was thirty I wanted to be a swagman. Although others might doubt it, in my own way I feel I’ve achieved all of these ambitions.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That the earth was round. I know now that it’s a lot bumpier than that. I must admit also that back then I thought writers were particularly interesting people.
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Such Is Life by Tom Collins, which is Australia’s great neglected literary masterpiece; La Route Montante by Paul Cezanne, which hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria, and Music For Airports by Brian Eno, which I first heard as a teenager in a black church in the Otways.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
To me reading is an almost sacred activity and the great novel is its high mass. The novel is so deeply powerful as an art form because of the investment of time and faith it demands. A good novel can sweep you up, quarry you out, illuminate you and truly inhabit your life. And, of course, although the writer composes the sentences of the novel the reader is a full participant in the imaginative process and far from a mere voyeur.
In a crazy world, so brutal and so beautiful, I wanted to express my version of a heartland in the liveliest way. And so, The Grand Hotel was written with the cork out and is essentially a story about the fine line between laughter and tears. It’s set in an unlikely, artistic, iconoclastic and uproarious hotel in the coastal bush of Victoria. Like Australia itself the book is full of colourful, confronting, and hopefully entertaining juxtapositions, and as the story unfolds and the characters deepen, the borders between the colonial past and the global present, the strictures of reality and the freedom of the imagination, really begin to blur.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I’d love my readers to feel more in touch with the natural world, more at home in their own skin, and to smile at the mere thought of The Grand Hotel.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I admire Joseph Furphy (alias Tom Collins) for his incredibly gifted local eloquence and humour, and W.B.Yeats for his incomparably cosmic and fine crafted poetry.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To write what the heart and mind demand rather than from any notion of a career.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
The horse of the mind must submit to the harness of the word.
Gregory, thank you for playing.
Note from Booktopia Buzz’s Toni Whtmont:
Gregory Day holed up at the Bundanon (Arthur and Yvonne Boyd’s inspirational property) to write the first draft of The Grand Hotel and you can feel the landscape breathe through this story from its opening scenes. The novel starts with Noel emerging from weeks of self-enforced exile, living in fact as a swagman, to gradually re-connect with the town of his youth. Noel eventually becomes the unlikely publican of an even more unlikely hotel. There is a lot to recognise about ourselves in The Grand Hotel, although I defy anyone to name another pub where random dadaist recordings are played as musak in the men’s loos!