Sydney Review of Books – by Peter Pierce
All her fiction presents challenges to the heart and to the inquiring mind.
Peter Pierce at the Sydney Review of Books has written an analysis of my work dating back to my first novel White Heart – published in 1999.
I am a little overwhelmed at this, having worked largely in the hinterland of the literary world. A simple fact made possible by life in Tasmania. But also because I didn’t – as Pierce notes – seek to work in an Australian literary tradition. I have followed my own inspiration to write novels about people, mystery, magic, art, love, pain and the general wonders and perils of the human condition. That’s taken me into adult and children’s literature, and into books that have variously been described as crime, magical realism, fantasy and literary fiction. I have had the privilege of being left alone to pursue my ideas without demands from a publisher to write another book like the last one. Nor from my agent who has simply accepted that this is the way I work (with a little eye rolling from time to time). Most of my novels have been published by Allen & Unwin.
I didn’t set out to be eccentric – as Peter Pierce describes me and which deeply amuses me – by writing in so many story forms. But I did take solace at times from the career of Margaret Atwood which has seen her create books as diverse as Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale – right through to her later works which lean even more heavily into the sci-fi realm but never err from being stories about people and the flaws and wonders of the human experience and the human experiment. I am in no way comparing the quality of my work to Atwood’s, but it has been helpful at times to know that there is at least one writer who has constantly explored new literary realms.
Years ago in Hobart, Margaret Atwood gave me a piece of advice. I was tortured through the challenges of writing The Butterfly Man and she said to me her rule was the one Dickens applied. Dickens said – ‘Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.’ But in considering this, I felt Atwood had added another string to that bow and it was ‘Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait … and make them think.’ So if I’ve had one abiding rule through all my novels, it’s been that.
In terms of the future I would love yet to write a sci-fi novel, and I have an idea swirling about that might become part of the children’s works of Angelica Banks that I co-write with Danielle Wood. However my current novel for adults, generously and miraculously funded by the Australia Council in 2017, is a political satire.
I have been sitting with an historical fiction idea for ten years which I suspect will follow the satire. At least that’s what I can see ahead. The future may divert me in another direction yet.
I am extraordinarily grateful that the Sydney Review of Books allows this long form of literary analysis which is now such a rare thing in Australia. And thank you Peter Pierce for this beautiful, considered and elegant endeavour.