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Interview

Austin Clarke, Jane Urquhart, and more

Austin Clarke, Posie Graeme-Evans, Jane Urquhart, and more writers at the Brisbane Writers' Festival...

Posie Graeme-Evans is the director of drama at the Nine Network, Australia, and her latest novel is called The Exhiled.

The novel is about political intrigue, lust, and treachery surrounding the English throne in the 15th century.

Ms Graeme-Evans said her favorite books were always about another place in another time. These included Leonard Woolley’s Ur of the Chaldees: a Record of Seven Years of Excavation (1940), about a Mesopatamian dig.

Also she liked myths and fairytales, particularly Norse myths. And she liked the Tuesday Lobsang Rampa books, including The Third Eye (Rampa’s purportedly autobiographical tale of his study and mastery of Tibetan Buddhism). “I found out as an adult that “The Third Eye” was written by an Englishman but I loved it at the time,” Ms Posie-Evans said.

Geraldine Brooks wrote Nine Parts of Desire, Foreign Correspondence, and Year of Wonders. Year of Wonders is historical fiction, set in the time of the plague in 17th century England, and the story concerns the carrying of the plague from London to a small Derbyshire village by an itinerant tailor.

Geraldine Brooks liked the novels Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) by Annie Dillard; Emma by Jane Austen; The Persian Boy by Mary Renault (1973), and Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels (1998). Also she liked Lord of the Rings.

Andrew McGahan, author of The White Earth, said his favorite book was Riddley Walker (1980) by Russell Hoban. He also liked the work of Patricia Wrightson, an Australian science fiction author.

McGahan’s first published novel, Praise, was influenced by Charles Bukowski, but he said Bukowski was more a young man’s author and was not one of his favorites now.

He said Praise wasn’t written from diaries, but just from experiences that he’d shaped into a story form.

He said he learned plotting by reading other novels and seeing structural patterns that would work for him. “As you read you find out ideas which might work for you,” he said.

Larissa Behrendt, who is a lawyer and professor of law and indigenous studies, said her new novel Home played with time a lot. She said that in Home she tried to be true to the indigenous notion that time is circular not linear.

The novel is about the impact of prejudice on indigenous families.

She said her favorite books included Burmese Days by George Orwell, which she said was one of the best books on colonisation; Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad; Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; and Lolita by Nabakov.

Jane Urquhart is the Canadian author of three books of poetry, a collection of short fiction, and five novels including Away (Bloomsbury).

Away begins with the present day and is a narrative spanning three generations of an Irish family that moved to Canada in the 1840s at the time of the Irish famine.

Ms Urquhart told me her favorite books included The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald. A few years ago at another Brisbane Writers’ Festival I asked author Peter Carey what his favorite books of all time were, and he rated The Rings of Saturn as the best.

Also Ms Urquhart liked The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald; Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell, who she said was John Cheever’s editor and a fine fiction writer; and Reading Turgenev by William Trevor.

Fantasy writer Kim Wilkins said she liked The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley; and Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock.

From Canada, Austin Clarke was born in Barbados in 1934 but moved to Toronto in 1955.

He helped set up black studies departments at Yale and Harvard, and was the winner of the 2002 Giller Prize for his novel The Polished Hoe.

The story concerns an elderly West Indian woman who calls the police to confess to a murder. Set on the post-colonial West Indian island of Bimshire in 1952, The Polished Hoe covers twenty-four hours but spans a lifetime, and is on the theme of slavery.

He said his favorite books of all time were The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner; Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky; Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot; and The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon (about Caribbean immigrants in London).

I’ve approached some excellent writers at writer’s festivals. A lot of the time, the better a writer is, the more respectful and helpful they are. But some of the average ones can get a bit rude; it’s like they’re trying to fake greatness. When you meet a great writer you can almost tell by their respectful attitude to you. And you can learn things from them that you’d never learn anywhere else.

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