Photo: Alison Booth
I think of these little towns as a stage on which a few actors play out universal stories
Reader's Digest interviews Alison Booth, author of Stillwater Creek, which appears in Select Editions this month
RD: Can you tell us how a professor of economics ends up writing a novel?
AB: I began writing fiction as a child, and abandoned it as an adult, returning in the late 1990s to writing short—and infrequent—stories, some of which were published. Then in 2005 I started to write Stillwater Creek.
RD: Has reading fiction always been an interest? Is it an escape from the world of economics?
AB: Reading fiction has always been a great delight, from the time I learnt to read. Is fiction writing an escape? I find it relaxing to write creatively because in many ways it’s so very different from my day job. You can let the intuition that you normally suppress come pouring out, so that the act of writing is a release from the confines of a fairly technical discipline. Sometimes it’s actually an escape; for example after a stressful meeting that’s lasted for far too long and left you wrung out. But while the fictional world allows the imagination a free rein, it does have a structure to it.
RD: How, if at all, has your work informed your writing?
AB: I used to think they were unrelated but now I recognise that the logic of economics has been hugely helpful to me in weaving together the various stories in Stillwater Creek. Also the socioeconomic issues that I’ve worked on for years do bob up in the fiction, in ways that are often unexpected.
RD: Have you studied writing through university or other courses?
AB: Not at university. I spent a week on a creative writing course in France. I arrived there with a very early manuscript of Stillwater Creek. The tutor was the wonderful Maggie Hamand, who has written a book on creative writing. Maggie gave lots of good advice, especially on plotting issues, which was where I needed the most assistance.
RD: When did you start writing Stillwater Creek? Had the idea for the story been germinating long before you began writing it?
AB: Yes. Although I began the actual writing on the first of January 2005, before then I spent a lot of time working out its shape. This was essential, as it’s written from the viewpoint of six characters, each with their own story. It would have been very easy to lose track of each of their narratives without some sort of a road-map. When I began thinking of Stillwater Creek, the first scene that presented itself to me was the ending, which takes place on Jingera Beach. I’d had that last set of scenes in my head for ages before starting to write the novel.
RD: What sort of support did you have from family / friends / other writers while you were engaged in writing Stillwater Creek?
AB: My husband Tim Hatton has been unfailingly supportive in this adventure. So too has my friend and mentor, Maggie Hamand. Once I’d finished the novel (it took four years), I had fantastic support from my agents at Australian Literary Management and my publisher at Random House Australia, Bev Cousins, who together persuaded me to write the sequel, The Indigo Sky. I’m currently worked on the final volume of the trilogy.
RD: Your descriptions of landscape in Stillwater Creek are highly evocative. Did you grow up in the country? Have you always been drawn to the beauty of the natural world?
AB: Thank you. I didn’t grow up in the country but in Sydney, in a leafy suburb penetrated by bush that we played in endlessly. When I was very young, we sometimes travelled with my grandfather, a stock and station agent, as he and my grandmother drove about eastern Australia. And nearly every year my sister and I drove with our parents from Sydney to Melbourne over the Christmas holidays. Sometimes we went on the Hume Highway, sometimes on the Princes Highway. Those trips made a huge impression and developed my love of the landscape and small country towns. Yet you certainly wouldn’t want to idealise these towns. Each is likely to have its own secrets, many unpleasant, lying just below the surface. I like to think of these little towns as a microcosm, or perhaps as a stage on which a few actors play out the universal stories. It’s easier to observe these actors in small towns, and tell a story about them, and that’s partly why I wanted to set Stillwater Creek in fictitious Jingera rather in a city.
RD: Stillwater Creek explores issues of racism and prejudice in Australian society. Do you feel it was easier to be more explicit about these issues because the story is set in the past?
AB: Yes, and that’s because we have more and better information about past events and social issues than about current ones. For instance, I wasn’t aware of the Stolen Generations until 1997, when I heard, on BBC Radio 4 in the UK where we were living at the time, a deeply shocking program about the Bringing them Home Report. Nor was I aware when I was young of the deep racism of a few major towns in New South Wales, including one not all that far away from fictional Jingera.
|Nandalal Alley on 19 September 2011 ,17:19 |
Hi, Your book just landed on my lap. Let me read and talk about it... You are interesting author. I teach economics too.
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