Peter Carey, two time winner of the Man Booker Prize and three time winner of the Miles Franklin Award, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |February 20, 2012

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Peter Carey

two time winner of the Man Booker Prize and three time winner of the Miles Franklin Award, author of  Parrot and Olivier in America, My Life As A Fake, The Unusual Life Of Tristan Smith, The Tax Inspector, Bliss, Illywhacker, Jack Maggs and many more…

including his new novel
The Chemistry of Tears

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, where I grew up above my parents’ car business and spent many happy hours with my grandfather with whom I shot rabbits and collected cow pats for his manure heap. I went to the local state school and then travelled though time and space to Geelong Grammar. Years later, when I came to write Parrot and Olivier in America, I understood I had received a very good schooling in the class system.

2. Where did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Photo: Andrew Kelly

Photo: Andrew Kelly

I’ll interpret that “where” as being about geography. I’ve always wished to live where I was living. My fate has been to live in many places, many of them, it seems, by accident. Bacchus Marsh, Geelong, Melbourne, London, Melbourne, Sydney, Yandina, Bellingen, Sydney and now New York. I believe my experience of being sent away to boarding school so young (I was 11) made it very easy for me to adapt to totally new environments. You only leave home once.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That the world would last forever

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, The King James Bible, Ulysses by James Joyce

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

It costs nothing but the price of the paper and a pen.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

If it takes a certain talent to write a novel it takes a completely different one to summarise it in in a couple of hundred words. I don’t have the second one. Might I refer you to the back of the very beautiful Penguin Books Australia edition of The Chemistry of Tears?

(BBGuru: Sure thing, Mr Carey… And here is the blurb on the back of the very beautiful Penguin Books Australia edition of The Chemistry of Tears? –

When her lover dies suddenly, all Catherine has left is her work.

The long affair had been kept secret from their colleagues at London’s Swinburne Museum and now she must grieve in private. Or almost. In an act of compassion, the head of her department gives Catherine a very particular project, something to cling onto: a box of intricate clockwork parts that appear to be the remains of a nineteenth-century automaton, a beautiful mechanical bird.

Once she discovers that the box also contains the diary of the man who commissioned the machine, one obsession merges into another. Who was Henry Brandling? Who was the mysterious, visionary clockmaker he hired to make a gift for his ailing son? And what was the end result that now sits in pieces in Catherine’s her studio?

The Chemistry of Tears is a portrait of love and loss that is both wildly entertaining and profoundly moving, simultaneously delicate and anarchic.

At its heart is an image only the masterful Peter Carey could breathe such life into – an object made of equal parts magic, love, madness and science, a delight that contains the seeds of our age’s downfall.)

Click here to buy The Chemistry of Tears from Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

A sense of the sheer wonder of human ingenuity, and all the very intense feelings of love and loss we are prey to.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

The mansion of literature does have so many, many rooms. Perhaps I would look to the foundation and then I would put, on the north side, The King James Bibles, and in the south, The Plays of William Shakespeare. Giants can then dance in the rooms upstairs.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To write a great book.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Don’t take advice from anyone.

Peter, thank you for playing…

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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, 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.

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