Laura Elizabeth Woollett is the author of The Love of a Bad Man (Scribe, 2016) and Beautiful Revolutionary (Scribe, 2018). She was the City of Melbourne’s 2020 Boyd Garret writer-in-residence and is a 2020–22 Marten Bequest Scholar for Prose. The Newcomer (Scribe, 2021) is her latest novel.
If you could go anywhere tomorrow, where would it be, and why?
Malta. My mum’s side of the family is Maltese, and I’ve been wanting to return as an adult after visiting as a child. I’d like to set a novel there, someday.
What’s your idea of hell?
Being stuck in an unmoving train after a long workday on zero sleep, wearing dry, scratched contacts and a sweaty polyester shirt, while nearby someone eats tomato-and-onion canned tuna with a loud, wet mouth, and someone else plays Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ on tinny speakers on repeat, and my bladder is ready to burst.
What do you consider the most specious virtue?
Hard work, especially when it’s unpaid. While there is a time and place for hard work, I don’t think it’s inherently more virtuous than play, or rest, or dreaming.
What’s your favourite film?
The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
And your favourite book?
The Collector (1963) by John Fowles.
Name the three people with whom you would most like to dine.
Jeff Bezos, Rupert Murdoch, and Mark Zuckerberg – and by ‘dine’, I mean serve them poison, redistribute their wealth, then take myself out for gelato.
Which word do you most dislike, and which one would you like to see back in public usage?
‘Brewery’ – I can’t pronounce it without choking on my own tongue. I’d be happy to replace it with ‘brauhaus’.
Who is your favourite author?
Dame Iris Murdoch; she’s my cat’s namesake, and my cat is the best. I haven’t actually read Murdoch in years, and her books kind of blur together in my memory, but I love their plottiness, and the way she handles big themes (sex, death, religion, ego) with a sense of absurdity. Also, I admire how prolific she was, and how she was writing from her youth until old age, with Alzheimer’s disease.
And your favourite literary hero or heroine?
Barbara Covett from Zoë Heller’s Notes on a Scandal (2003).
Which quality do you most admire in a writer?
Which book influenced you most in your youth?
I spent my early teens thinking reading was uncool, with a few exceptions. When I was fifteen, I read my dad’s copy of The Beach (1996) by Alex Garland. It was the movie tie-in edition, with Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover, which is probably why I picked it up. I remember having this feeling of absolute shock after finishing it, then buying a notebook and announcing on the first page that I was going to be a writer.
Name an early literary idol or influence whom you no longer admire – or vice versa.
I went through a brief but hardcore Ayn Rand phase when I was about sixteen, to the point of shoehorning Rand quotes into an English essay and getting ‘???’ comments from my teacher.
Do you have a favourite podcast?
Casefile for chills and sleep-aid. Just the Gist for laughs.
What, if anything, impedes your writing?
Capitalism, and everything that comes with it – lack of time and money, thinking about myself and my art as a ‘commodity’, competing with my peers for limited resources, the squickiness of self-promotion, generalised anxiety.
What qualities do you look for in critics, and which ones do you enjoy reading?
The qualities I rate most are diligence and open-mindedness. I’ve had some critical reviews that have made me go, ‘ouch …but fair call’, since the reviewer has made a genuine attempt to engage with the text and my intentions.
How do you find working with editors?
It’s a privilege to be read at all, so working with editors and having them pay close attention to what I’m doing (or attempting to do) is wonderful.
What do you think of writers’ festivals?
They’re a mixed bag, and I have mixed thoughts. Some of my best experiences have been at regional festivals. One of my worst experiences was at a big-city festival, where a panel about ‘Strong Female Characters’ turned into a discussion about domestic violence. There seems to be a trend with major festivals to value issues-based discussions over craft or imagination. I hate the expectation that artists need to be public intellectuals or moral authorities, or that panels need to resemble an episode of Q&A to be interesting.
Are artists valued in our society?
Mythologised, yes. Patronised, yes. Valued? Hard no.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a collection of thirteen interconnected short stories, mostly about girls and women from my hometown (Perth), trying to escape Perth.