Interviews

I have a recurring dream about discovering an enticing space in my own home – a basement or garden – always just out of reach. Its residue is an elated sense of creative possibility. I like the sign the symbolist poet Saint-Pol-Roux put on his door before sleep: Poet at work.

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I admire everyone who puts their heart and soul into creating something beautiful with words. But in no particular order, a by no means comprehensive list: Gillian Mears, Gail Jones, Joan London, Helen Garner, Kate Grenville, Cate Kennedy, Charlotte Wood, Brenda Walker, David Malouf, Luke Davies, Kim Scott, Amanda Curtin ... I'm currently utterly absorbed in Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan stories. In my fantasy writing life, like her I'd remain anonymous to everyone but my publisher.

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Though I doubt a critic ever improved a writer's work, a good one makes a difference to a culture. They are rare and valuable. Bad critics are worse than bad writers, but I know from trying years ago that they have an equally good excuse. It is for this reason that I have avoided answering the question.

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Influence can be overt, deliberate imitation, or more subtle, an absorption one is hardly aware of. I deliberately imitated Dylan Thomas in my adolescence and learned, along with some bad habits, much about formal technique from him – as from Donne, Herbert, Milton, Keats, Yeats, Hardy, Auden, Larkin, Hecht. In the writing of blank verse there is a long line from (dare I say it?) Shakespeare to Wordsworth, Browning, Stevens, Frost. Among Australians, Shaw Neilson, Slessor, Hope, Wright, Harwood, Campbell, Peter Porter.

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The best thing I can do here is quote lines of criticism that I've never forgotten. Terry Eagleton on Wuthering Heights: 'the institution of the family is founded upon a potentially anarchic force – sexual desire itself – which it must nevertheless strictly regulate.' This is a bit of insight that can be helpfully applied not only to Wuthering Heights but to most fiction, films, and theatre, to say nothing of daily life.

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I always felt I had urgent news to deliver. I wanted to do that more than anything else.

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For me, writing is the beginning of so much. It’s how I methodise my thoughts. How I explore issues. My books really are co-explorations with my readers.

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I hate the words ‘bitch’ and ‘pimp’ and ‘porn’ used – even ironically – for everything from cookery to cars to home décor. I think we should all say ‘thrice’ again.

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I studied creative writing at UTS. Yes, it was worth it, mainly because I encountered some brilliant teachers – Martin Harrison in particular. Martin’s courses didn’t simply ‘teach’ me about writing; they changed the way I saw the world. Then I went on to do a conventional PhD at Cambridge, partly due to a strong belief that you learn to write by reading closely, and by immersing yourself in the work of others. I have taken to thinking of this PhD as a kind of apprenticeship in style.

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I mostly review theatre, and yes, I am selective, mostly from a sense of self-preservation. I have cut back my theatre-going to once or twice a week, and Melbourne’s performance arts culture produces much more work than that. I feel a bit guilty, since I am less in touch with emerging work than I once was, but a girl can only do so much.

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