Welcome to the launch of the Booktopia Blog’s
Ten Terrifying Questions
Over the next few months we will invite authors from a variety of genres to answer, if they dare,
Ten Terrifying Questions.
What’s so scary about the questions? – I hear you ask – They don’t look so tough!
Ah! But you see, they have been designed to look cute and cuddly, they have been designed to invite the attempt, and they have been designed to strike once the writer’s guard is down.
We think readers and fans deserve more than just the heart and soul of an author.
What’s more than their heart and soul?
Ha! We don’t know until we ask, do we?
Brave Kylie Ladd, author of the brilliant After the Fall, has volunteered to be first. (In fact, Kylie inspired the questions, so if authors are looking for someone to blame… well… you can find her on Twitter)
So, with no further ado…
The Booktopia Book Guru Asks
Kylie Ladd, author of After The Fall
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Born, raised and schooled in Melbourne, which is where I live now. I love the city, though I do also love to travel – lived five years in Edinburgh and Montreal for my husband’s work, and am just about to move for one year to Broome, WA, for my husband’s mid-life crisis.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
Nice question! At Twelve: An ambulance driver. Truly. At Eighteen: a journalist. Sadly, I got the marks for medicine instead, so my parents made me do that. I dropped out almost immediately and transferred to psychology (my real-life profession today) because I could do it as part of an Arts degree and study English as well, plus appease my parents because it counted as credit for when I went back to medicine – which of course I never did. At Thirty: a mother, to my great horror (see below). Also a writer… I finished my PhD in neuropsychology at 29 and went straight back to writing.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I grew up in a household of high achievers, and went to a militantly feminist all girls’ school. Between the two, I was raised to believe that I could – and should – do anything. At eighteen, I informed my parents that I would never have children because they would only slow me down, and I genuinely believed that this was the right decision for me… right up until I was twenty-eight, and my biological clock went off so loudly I’m sure it woke people in the next suburb. It was a weird – and humbling – experience, to have something I’d been so sure about turned around like that, and has been a good lesson for me: never say never. A decade and a bit later, I have two fabulous kids. Juggling motherhood, my psych job and writing is hard, and will always be – but having children has made my life so much richer that I will always be grateful that my body had the sense to make the decision for me.
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
I have to confess I have never much been into music or art or sculpture – it’s text every time for me. As such, my choices are three incredible novels: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, and Beloved by Toni Morrison. I very much doubt I will ever produce anything of the ilk, but every time I re-read one (which is quite regularly) I am awed and inspired by the combined power of language and story; by what a word after a word after a word can be.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I’m sure it’s a cliché, but I honestly don’t think anyone chooses to write a novel – it was always a compulsion, and never an option. When I was eight, I filled an exercise book with a story about two dogs that go to boarding school. It was so satisfying, so engrossing (for me anyway- perhaps not so much for my readership) that I remember just knowing, quite clearly, that this was what I would do. I never really stopped writing after that: stories all through school, three separate theses and the obligatory tortured undergraduate poetry at university, two unpublished novels after that, a bit of freelance journalism and two published books of non-fiction next, and then finally – finally – a publishable novel. Then another, and recently I’ve just started my (fingers crossed) third.
After The Fall is the story of an affair told interchangeably by the four main characters involved. Infidelity is a familiar theme in fiction, from Helen of Troy down through Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, and popping up again in Ian McEwan’s latest, Solar, but what I was interested in when writing After The Fall wasn’t so much the affair or the adultery, but what comes afterwards- how people remake their lives after experiencing grand passion or betrayal or the end of something they held dear. As a psychologist, I’m also fascinated by the stories we tell ourselves, the individual ways we try to explain or understand a situation. That was something else I wanted to explore in After The Fall – looking at the same central event from a number of perspectives- and hence the multiple narrators.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
At the most basic level, I just hope that any reader of mine is entertained… I aspire to be a decent writer, but the story comes first and those people who have told me they stayed up late to finish the book or raced through it to find out what happened at the end have paid me the biggest compliment I could possibly have hoped for. I’ve also loved being asked “But what do you think Kate/Cary/Luke/Cressida is doing now?” as if the characters I’d invented were real people. They are to me, but it’s an enormous thrill, and possibly the best part of writing, when they become that real for others too.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Toni Morrison, because every sentence she writes is perfect, and because her themes are universal and personal and so damned important. Tim Winton, for making Breath, like surfing, look so easy, so graceful, when really skill like that is the result of decades of hard, hard work. Lionel Shriver, for the psychological complexity of We Need to Talk About Kevin, and those last few pages, which I simply didn’t see coming. And, closer to home, I’m also incredibly grateful for the time and advice and encouragement I’ve received from my agent and publisher and the editors I’ve worked closely with… these are the people who really make writing happen, and matter.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Simply to keep being published- that feels quite ambitious enough in these somewhat uncertain times for the industry (the Google book settlement, the global financial crisis, the rise of the e-book, etc., etc). At present I write for three days a week. Every single time I sit down at my desk I feel lucky and grateful to be doing something I love so much, for the chance to live my dream, and if I can hold onto that I’d be thrilled. Also, of course, to become a better and stronger writer. All writers judge themselves against others, and I’m no exception, but each of us has our own voice and our own stories to tell. I just want to keep telling mine as well as I can.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write! It sounds stupid, but it’s the only way. Write and write and write, and then write some more. Think about what you’re writing, and why, and how. Read widely, pay attention, and write. Show your writing to people you trust, submit it places if you like, but just keep writing. The Man Booker prize-winning novelist Anne Enright recently advised new authors that “The first twelve years are the hardest.” I’m up to year eleven, and I hope she’s right. Writing can be lonely and horrifically frustrating and disappointing and cruel- it can make you bang your head against your keyboard and question yourself day after day. But if you want to do it, if you have to do it, you just have to persist… and when it works, even if that’s just for a paragraph or even a sentence, it’s the most satisfying thing in the world.
Kylie, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.