The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of Skylarking
Ten Terrifying Questions
To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Melbourne, grew up on the green fringe of the city and lived in the mud brick house that we built on the edge of the river. My sister and I went to Eltham High.
I’ve travelled overseas and lived around Melbourne’s North since, but people from our neck of the woods tend to return, as we have.
What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
A writer. An Oscar winning film director. A freelance education writer who got paid exceedingly well for very flexible hours from home (with awesome maternity leave and super). All pipe dreams, except, it turns out, the first.
What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I knew everything. That I could have and do and be anything and everything I wanted, all at the same time. The second came crashing down around the same time as I gave birth – things aren’t as equal for women as my eighteen year old self believed. The first has been incremental.
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?
I recently had cause to revisit Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery which I first read when I was 7. I realise now how profoundly I was influenced by fiery, curious, imaginative Anne and how I continue to be a sucker for passionate friendships and unrequited love (in fiction, of course).
I had the privilege of being in a symphonic band during my high school years, and while music was never my destiny, what I learnt in those years was the extraordinary power music has to express meaning and emotion. That the physical act of creating music with others, or listening to it could force your heart from your chest. It’s not very practical to cry while playing the trombone, however I did, many times.
Just after the birth of my second child, I read Lisa Jacobson’s verse novel The Sunlit Zone during two endless nights of breastfeeding. Her words cracked open something inside me that had been forgotten, and I began to write again. I did not stop.
Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
It forced its way in to my life. Even in my tentative steps toward a writing life, a novel had still always seemed an impossible dream. This one found me and demanded to be written.
Please tell us about your latest novel…
Skylarking is based on a true story. Kate and Harriet are best friends, growing up together at an isolated lighthouse on the coast of Australia in the 1880s. As they approach womanhood, a fisherman, McPhail, arrives in their small community. Kate is torn by her feelings of desire and jealousy, and then, one moment in McPhail’s hut changes everything.
What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
All the feelings! I sobbed writing the end of this book. And I love being moved by the books that I read, love the kaleidoscope of emotions they inspire. I hope readers reflect on the friendships in their own lives, on the people they have loved, and the ones they have lost.
Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
How does one even begin to answer this question? Tim Winton: for the pure beauty of his words that scorched me from the first moment I encountered them. Helen Garner: for being brave and true. Charlotte Wood and Anna Smail for making my mind stretch and my heart hurt. Writers who write exquisitely about writing: Anne Lamott, Flannery O’Connor, Cheryl Strayed, Annie Dillard. So many others, it hurts not to include a library of names here.
Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To begin again and write the next book. To make this life a writing life.
What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read. Read everything and read beyond your comfort zone. Read to be astonished and confronted and appalled and in love. And DO the writing. You have to sit down and do the writing. Even when it’s hard, and horrible. Be brave.
Thank you for playing, Kate!
Kate and Harriet are best friends who are growing up together on an isolated Australian cape in the 1880s. As daughters of the lighthouse keepers, the two girls share everything, until a fisherman, McPhail, arrives in their small commmunity. When Kate witnesses the desire that flares between him and Harriet, she is torn by her feelings of envy and longing. Ultimately, a moment of skylarking in McPhail’s hut will change the course of their lives ...