Evelyn Juers is the author of House of Exile (2008), The Recluse (2012), and The Dancer: A biography for Philippa Cullen (2021).
If you could go anywhere tomorrow, where would it be, and why?
I’d go to the seaside town of Whitby in North Yorkshire. Stay for a month in a cosy hotel overlooking the ferocious North Sea. Bring a stack of books about, or set in, Whitby, like Elizabeth Gaskell’s least known but wonderful novel Sylvia’s Lovers. Find more books while I’m there. I’d walk a lot. Why? A slowly forming interest in the North Sea rim, its histories and literatures.
What’s your idea of hell?
Wars, camps, borders. Kabul airport, August 2021. The Belarus-Polish border, November 2021.
What do you consider the most specious virtue?
Oppression masquerading as religion.
What’s your favourite film?
The Third Man, Modern Times, Easy Rider, Wings of Desire, Night on Earth, Sisters with Transistors. Anything by Abbas Kiarostami. And recently, Granaz Moussavi’s stunning When Pomegranates Howl.
And your favourite book?
Willa Cather’s My Antonia, Helen Garner’s The Children’s Bach, Joseph Roth’s What I Saw, Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks.
Name the three people with whom you would most like to dine.
The Brontë sisters.
Which word do you most dislike, and which one would you like to see back in public usage?
Usage changes language and that’s fascinating. But we should rescue dangling participles when we can. Try not to split infinitives. Know (should know) when to lay and when to lie. Then there’s that confusing couple ‘I and me’. Nobody can tell them apart. Even the PM hasn’t got a clue. Phrases like ‘it’s a great privilege for Jenny and I to host you here’ trip off his tongue. Me, Scott, it’s Jenny and me. Sheesh!
Who is your favourite author?
Charles Dickens, Franz Kafka, Robert Macfarlane, David Malouf, Dervla Murphy, Nan Shepherd, Virginia Woolf, Alexis Wright.
And your favourite literary hero or heroine?
Maria-Cristina, who sometimes tells people her name is Saudade, the protagonist of Suneeta Peres da Costa’s novella Saudade. As a child, Maria-Cristina sings to herself, not in any language that she had been taught, but a song of her own improvisation. She incorporates aspects of my other fictional favourites, Jane Eyre, Henry James’s Maisie, Lewis Carroll’s Alice, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh.
Which quality do you most admire in a writer?
Humour. A feeling for form, language, and the work of other writers. And above all, a radical edge.
Which book influenced you most in your youth?
Max and Moritz, by Wilhelm Busch. And Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. As a child, I liked to read about children who were badly behaved. And about orphans.
Name an early literary idol or influence whom you no longer admire – or vice versa.
I think I don’t need to revisit Simone de Beauvoir.
What, if anything, impedes your writing?
It’s the other way round. When I concentrate on research or writing, this halts other activities ... like emails, phone calls, window cleaning, dusting.
What qualities do you look for in critics, and which ones do you enjoy reading?
In reading criticism, I want to learn something new, a different way of thinking about a text or author or situation. And I want the critic’s voice to be lively. This happens with Walter Benjamin, Virginia Woolf, Michael Hofmann, and Neal Ascherson.
How do you find working with editors?
I admire the skills of a good editor.
What do you think of writers’ festivals?
They’re a perfect platform for writers who are also spruikers. Not very useful (or indeed, a bit of an agony) for more quiet types.
Are artists valued in our society?
Let’s hope so.
What are you working on now?
A collective biography of Europeans – botanists, artists, travellers – who came to Australia.