Why do you write?
Because you have to do something, and I’m no great shakes at anything else.
Are you a vivid dreamer?
No. A poor sleeper.
Where are you happiest?
With my eight-year-old daughter.
What is your favourite film?
Sweet Smell of Success. ‘My right hand hasn’t seen my left hand in thirty years.’
And your favourite book?
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann. ‘Often, the outward and visible material signs and symbols of happiness and success only show themselves when the process of decline has already set in. The outer manifestations take time – like the light of that star up there, which may in reality be already quenched, when it looks to us to be shining its brightest.’
Name the three people with whom you would most like to dine.
Bernie Madoff, Ivar Kreuger, Charles Ponzi. I would love to see them splitting the bill, each trying to cheat the others.
Which word do you most dislike, and which would you like to see back in public usage?
I most dislike ‘like’, in its modern role as ersatz punctuation. ‘Risible’, however, seems to have a lot of potential, especially in politics.
Who is your favourite author?
Tony Judt, especially for Postwar and The Memory Chalet.
And your favourite literary hero and heroine?
Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome and Richard Yates’s April Wheeler. I’d also happily have read Edward Casaubon’s The Key to All Mythologies. I think he’s unfairly maligned.
Which quality do you most admire in a writer?
Self-sufficiency. I love that line of Sinclair Lewis’s when asked if he had any advice for a young writer. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Learn to type.’
Name an early literary idol or influence whom you no longer admire – or vice versa.
When young, I was smitten with the cricket writing of Neville Cardus. I’m bound to say that his sickly sentimentality and special pleading have not aged well.
What, if anything, impedes your writing?
I’m a journalist. I don’t muck around. There’s no point.
How do you regard publishers?
I’ve had a dozen in Australia, so maybe the right word is interchangeable.
What do you think of the state of criticism?
In Australia, timid and uninspiring. It’s as though the arts feel so embattled that anything other than celebration is letting the side down.
Do you read reviews of your own books?
Sure. Seldom with the expectation of learning much, but I sometimes do about the reviewer.
And writers’ festivals?
Can be a bit of a circle jerk, but better than nothing. Regional festivals are fun, and the efforts to mount them often uplifting.
Are artists valued in our society?
By themselves, quite highly.
What are you working on now?
This questionnaire. After that, my tax return. That will be enough glamour for the day.