author of Thornwood House
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 Sydney, and spent much of my childhood in the gorgeous little village of Sawtell on the NSW north coast. I grew up in Queanbeyan where we lived in a wonderful house (complete with secret rooms and passageways) on the edge of town.
2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be a vet. When I was a kid Granny used to read me books about ‘animal doctors’ in Africa, and I was always daydreaming about having a pet lion and rescuing elephants from poachers. By eighteen I had decided to be an artist – which was again inspired by Granny as she was a wonderful painter and I thought the world of her. When I got to thirty, my lifelong reading obsession had evolved into a yearning to write stories of my own.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?
At eighteen I believed very strongly in my own limitations. I thought that if you weren’t born with a particular talent, then too bad! Now I believe that if you set your heart and mind to what you want, and resolutely close your ears to negativity (both your own and that of others) – then you will definitely succeed.
1) The poem Kublai Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I loved this mysterious poem about a ‘stately pleasure dome’ (whatever that was!), and was intrigued to learn it had been inspired by an opium dream. I did a painting of it once, and still carry the image in my mind of an idyllic palace hidden in the hills near a river (a bit like where I live now, except in a bungalow instead of a palace). The undercurrent of threat I perceived in the poem stayed with me all my life, and one of my favourite themes to explore even today is the concept of menace lurking unseen beneath a beautiful facade.
2) Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. As a teenager I identified with the poor monster – so misunderstood, so alone! I was always drawn to stories of darkness and mystery, and this book’s themes – relationships and loss, death and the frailty of life, and our emotional connection to the natural world – all really resonated with me. I can still pick up this gothic masterpiece today and find within its pages the echoes of themes I’m exploring now in my own novels.
3) Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. I loved this story for its untameable passions and wild windswept setting, and for the notion that love is not always rosy and goodhearted, but can also be cruel and self-serving. My teenage enthrallment with this novel probably explains why I’m still so drawn to explore obsession and other dark interpretations of love.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Even when painting was my main creative outlet, I was still telling stories. My pictures were full of images I’d brazenly stolen from one fairytale or another – modern Rapunzels trailing their long hair through windows, or sleeping beauties clutching books, or white rabbits darting through shadowy landscapes. Eventually I came to realise that no matter how many stories I depicted, I was only ever scratching the surface of the more complex tale I wanted to tell. Writing a novel has allowed me to dig deeper and explore the story from all angles and through many layers, as well as delving deeply into the psyches of my characters.
Thornwood House is set in rural Queensland, in the fictional town of Magpie Creek. Audrey has inherited a beautiful old homestead where she finds, in a dusty back room, the photo of a handsome World War Two serviceman. She quickly becomes obsessed with him, only to learn that he was accused of murdering a young woman on his return from war.
Driven by her unwillingness to live in the shadow of a murderer, Audrey goes on a quest to understand what really happened that night in 1946. Her fixation with the past stirs up trouble, and she soon realises she’s given the killer good reason to come after her.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
My favourite stories are the ones that leave me pondering and savouring the journey they’ve just taken me on; sometimes there’s even a sense of wonder and revelation and renewed excitement about life. I guess that’s the kind of enjoyment I’d really love readers to take away from my stories.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I’m a devoted fan of Australian fiction; there are so many wonderful home grown authors and I love the freshness and originality of the Australian voice. . . so I’d have to say the person I admire most is my agent Selwa Anthony. She’s a champion for Australian authors and is tireless, fearless, and dedicated. She stuck by me for 10 years, had faith in me (despite the avalanche of rejection letters I got), and always gave me the wisest advice. She knows when to be tough, and when to be kind (both of which I’ve experienced over the years!), and I admire her greatly.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Seeing as it took me more than a decade to get published, I’ve got a swag of embryonic novels that I’m itching to write. If I could write a novel every year, while continuing to improve my storytelling skills, then I’d be a very happy little camper indeed.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Find a theme that gives you the tingles: Reincarnation, forbidden love, sacrifice, a life burdened by guilt etc. Explore this theme by collecting images and newspaper articles that grab you, watching movies, reading. Keep following the trail of your excitement and fascination, keep listening and watching and exploring. . .and pretty soon your story will surface. Then just go for it – immerse yourself, enjoy the process, and write what you love.
Joseph Campbell said, ‘Follow your bliss,’ and that’s probably the best advice for life as well as for art.
Anna, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
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