The Booktopia Book Guru asks
Six Sharp Questions
1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?
Last Summer is about what happens to a close group of friends when the man at their centre, Rory Buchanan, dies unexpectedly… it’s about loss and grief and desire and, uh, cricket. As I was writing it, it also occurred to me that Last Summer is about mid-life, about coming to terms with who you are and the choices you’ve made, though I do fear that describing it as a book about middle-aged cricketers is going to have readers expecting Warwick Todd’s Ashes diary.
If so, I’m afraid they’ll be disappointed. Last Summer is dedicated to Geoff Williams, one of my husband’s closest mates, who died unexpectedly at the age of only 39. The novel is a work of fiction- as far as I know, none of the events that befall the characters in the book after Rory’s death happened to any of our own group of friends- but Geoff was as well loved as Rory is, and I hope that in some small way Last Summer pays tribute to this, to the man that he was.
2. Time passes. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?
This is an easy one: Broome. In early 2010 my family (husband Craig and two primary school aged children) moved from our home in Melbourne to spend a year in Broome, in the remote north of Western Australia. The decision was prompted by Craig’s long service leave, but also, it has to be said, by Geoff’s death too- by a determination to do something we had always wanted to do before it was too late. Our time in Broome was quite simply amazing. I have hundreds of wonderful memories, but chief amongst these are the turquoise water and red cliffs of Roebuck Bay, of my son rescuing a turtle trapped in mangroves at James Price Point, where they want to build a gas hub (NO!), of snorkelling with my daughter at Cape Leveque surrounded by a school of easily a thousand fish, of Nippers and barbeques and watching whales roll just offshore at Cable Beach, of a year of summer and off the treadmill. The worst moment was undoubtedly saying goodbye as we flew home again over Gantheaume point…. but we still have a home in Broome, in both senses of the word, and I know we’ll be back.
3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.
There are two quotes stuck to my laptop at present, to catch my eye should it ever wander. The first is from Goethe:
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute!
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated.
BEGIN, and then the work will be completed.
The capitals are Goethe’s, not mine- and boy, does he get it. I find beginnings hell- not just a book, or a chapter, but actually beginning work each day, agonising anew each time over whether I can write, whether I have anything worth saying, whether I can get the thoughts in my head to make sense on paper… As a result, I could faff for Australia. I have made putting- off writing into an art form, but Goethe never fails to get me back on track. “Only engage- and the mind grows heated”… I know he’s right, so I do.
The other quote is the epigraph to what I hope will be my next novel, the first draft of which is nearly finished. This one comes from one of my all time favourite books, The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje:
A love story is not about those who lose their heart but about those who find that sullen inhabitant who, when it is stumbled upon, means the body can fool no one, can fool nothing- not the wisdom of sleep or the habit of social graces. It is a consuming of oneself and the past.
I can’t say anything more about that one for now, but like the Goethe, it keeps me on track. Those two are my port and my starboard. I couldn’t write without them there.
4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.
I write for three days a week while my kids are at school- theoretically from 9:30-3:30, but in all honesty it’s closer to 11 by the time I finished faffing. As such, my family don’t actually often see me writing (and if they did they’d wonder what the hell I was doing for so long before I finally put a word on the page), but my daughter has recently starting asking warily “Are you going to put that in a book?” when I laugh at something she says, and my son frequently bemoans the fact that he loaned me his laptop in March 2010, when mine broke, and is yet to get it back. What can I say? My need to write novels (and, ah, check Twitter) is greater than his to watch SurfTube.
5. Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).
There is absolutely no use even thinking about the marketplace- if I did, I’d be writing vampire stories set in outback Australia and involving some form of cooking/weight loss/dancing competition- yet I’m not. For one, publishing moves too slowly and there’s no guarantee that what’s hot still will be when you’ve finished your book- you have to write it, for a start, but then there’s also at least another year or so of submission and approval, of structural and copy edits, of the cover design, the blurb, the marketing department, the proofing and the printing… Even more importantly, though, I know I simply can’t write to order- I can only write with any sort of conviction about what engages and interests me. I am a huge fan of ABC Radio National’s The Book Show, and listen to it daily. Way back in December 2009, host Ramona Koval interviewed Dennis Palumbo, a LA-based psychotherapist who specialises in working with blocked or insecure writers (yes, he has a waiting list). At first I thought he would be a bit of a joke, but then he said something that continues to resonate with me:
“The marketplace has its own agenda… All you can do is write something that is unique to you. The writer’s job is to just keep giving them you until you is what they want.”
Bugger the marketplace. That’s what I’m going to do.
6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?
If they’re uneducated and we’re miles from civilisation (which I’m assuming we are, given I only have access to five books) it would have to be something easy, yet immediately engaging to begin with lest they grow bored and decide to eat me instead… I’m going to be a bit controversial and suggest Suzanne Collins’s bestselling YA novel The Hunger Games as my first pick. It’s not literature, but it *is* brilliant storytelling, and the premise is utterly applicable to this sort of situation. On top of that it’s an incredibly vivid book- I’m a grown woman and I had nightmares for a week after I finished it. With any luck The Hunger Games will hook them into reading and reveal the power of words (and not just have them wanting to kill each other, as the tributes do in the arena), so I can introduce them to some other works.
Given they haven’t read much I’m going to stick with an adolescent theme, in the hope they’ll relate to the books: The Catcher in the Rye, Jasper Jones, The World According to Garp, Breath, Jane Eyre, Dog Boy, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Life, To Kill a Mockingbird, even Romeo and Juliet. All of these books are at least partially about growing up and discovering who you are and your place in the world- and sure, that’s way more than five, but hopefully they’re so ill-educated they haven’t yet learned to count.
Kylie, thank you for playing.
You can follow Kylie Ladd on Twitter here
Last year Kylie inspired the creation of the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
About the Contributor
John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French, Korean and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for over twenty-five years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au.