The Booktopia Book Guru asks
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 Melbourne and raised on a small farm in the Dandenong Ranges where I spent many hours playing with cows and pretending to be the Silver Brumby. When I was eleven I was given a horse of my own. From then on my life was consumed by all things horsey, including Pony Club, jumping and plaiting horses for my brother and sister whenever we had an event. I was Chief Controller and Organiser, a trait which I am still trying to rid myself of today. I was schooled at Preston Tyler St Primary, MLC and then MacRobertson Girls High.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I wanted to be a writer. At eighteen I wanted to be a veterinarian because I had been told at age twelve that it was impossible for a girl to make a living out of being a writer. At thirty, having just finished a PhD in wildlife health, I was confused and didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I went to Antarctica as a volunteer veterinarian to work on seals. It was down in that great white wilderness that I decided I must start writing again.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
This is an embarrassing one. When I was eighteen I was fiercely convinced that women should never wear lacy, provocative lingerie because it cheapened a woman’s image and advertised her as a sex object rather than as a thinking being with an intelligent mind. I think I’ve mellowed a little since that time.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influences you in your career path
- Having my second child and realising that my ambitions to be a great scientist had suddenly dissolved.
- My lovely husband telling me that I could work part time and that he would support me to write, so long as I did a bit of veterinary work to pay the food bills.
- Approaching forty years of age and realising that if I didn’t start writing, I would suddenly be eighty looking back over my life and talking about the books I might have written if I’d had the courage to do it.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
Books are companions and friends and they will never be obsolete. I’m a big picture person. I’m just no good at short stories because it feels like they finish just as they are getting started. I write novels because I want to go on a longer journey with my characters and I can immerse myself in another world and explore what it’s like to live in someone else’s head.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
The Grass Castle is about a friendship between two lovely women. Daphne, in her eighties, grew up in the Brindabella Ranges where her family ran cattle and captured brumbies. It is in her beloved mountain valley that she meets Abby, a young woman in her early twenties who has moved away from home to study kangaroos. Both women have experienced sadness and loss, and through this they find an unexpected connection.
The story weaves the present with the past, stretching from indigenous habitation of the high country and the history of white settlement, to the space race in the 1960s and the development of a new national park. The idea for the book came from my time exploring the mountains as a bushwalker and also from my work with kangaroos as part of my university studies. I was drawn to the history of the region as well as the annual controversy surrounding kangaroo culling in Canberra- this issue is also explored in the book.
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
To remind people that we live in a beautiful world on which we are completely dependent and that we should look after our natural places and each other and be kind.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Tim Winton for his landscapes. Christos Tsiolkas for his confronting and searing dissection of our society. Norwegian writer Per Petterson, author of Out Stealing Horses for his spare beautiful prose.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read the work of great writers and hope some of it rubs off.
Write what you feel passionate about and give your heart and soul to it.
Enjoy the process of writing, because that is where the real joy exists.
Don’t find excuses, just sit down and write.
Karen, thank you for playing.