Why do you write?
Because of a profound love of language and what was once a near addiction to the thrill of opening a dictionary. I would look up a word, then study all the words and their meanings on that double page. Often I would happen upon a word that would assist the ending of whatever it was I’d been working on.
Are you a vivid dreamer?
I used to keep dream notebooks, but now I have more or less abandoned the practice. There is nothing more boring than when a novelist launches into an elaborate description of a character’s dreamlife. After trying ayahuasca brews in Venezuela as a cure for MS, non-stop fluorescent dreams coloured each night for quite some time.
Where are you happiest?
Dancing to music I love, with people I love; but also camping alone in some wild location.
What is your favourite music?
Leonard Cohen has sustained me since I was about thirteen. For his Leconfield winery concert in 2009, I bought a seat so close to the front that I could practically taste his sweat – a wild and holy moment like no other, in the presence of 7000 other rapturous people.
Which human quality do you most admire?
What is your favourite book?
Randolph Stow’s The Merry-go-round in the Sea vies with Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding.
Who is your favourite author?
Just like the weather, this is ever-changing.
And your favourite literary hero and heroine?
Mrs Ramsay, from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse; and Tom Spring from Randolph Stow’s Tourmaline.
How old were you when your first book appeared?
What, if anything, impedes your writing?
A chronic illness.
How do you regard publishers?
With affectionate gratitude.
What do you think of the state of criticism?
I love to tune into its intelligent hum as time allows.
If you had your time over again, would you choose to be a writer?
It seemed my inescapable fate. But I would like to emulate Tukaram (1608–49, India), who wrote, ‘I am looking for a poem that says Everything, so I don’t have to write anymore.’ After some years spent singing and dancing in the streets he walked into the hills, never to be seen again.
What do you think of writers’ festivals?
After refusing invitations to writers’ festivals for many years, I have begun to say yes. This year I made my festival début at Adelaide Writers’ Week. Although I was in anguish afterwards, conscious of all the things I had failed to say, I felt glad to have appeared before such an attentive crowd.
Do you feel artists are valued in our society?
Sometimes I feel astonished by the reverence strangers express when they discover that I am ‘a writer’. To any ardent but unwanted admirer, I used to like quoting Wordsworth: ‘Enough of Science and Art / Close up those barren leaves / Go forth and seek out a heart / that watches and receives.’
What are you working on now?
Escaping the curse that is multiple sclerosis.