The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of Caro Was Here
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 Dunedin, in the cold and romantic South Island of New Zealand, but grew up mostly in Auckland, the only city I know that sits on 48 volcanic cones. We lived in leafy suburbia and walked or cycled to the local primary and grammar schools. There was lots of nature stuff – sailing and rowing and fishing and (what Kiwis call) tramping. To grow up in suburbia, then, meant barefoot after-school rampaging through the back hedges and churchyards and empty lots until well after dark. So for an avid reader of myths, legends and adventure stories, there was endless opportunity for the entanglement of
imagination and landscape. Much of this comes out in Caro Was Here.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be an air hostie. I vividly recall wanting to wear lots of aquamarine eye shadow and travel the world serving drinks on elegant trays. At eighteen I wanted to be a doctor and save the world’s children from terrible
disease. At thirty I gave in and became a writer, because story sits at the heart of everything. Story is what I love.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I believed all you need to change the world was the yearning to do it and the belief that you could. Then I worked out it was a little bit harder than that. Just a little bit.
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?
This is interesting. I see all my nominations are plays. Hmm. TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral affected me profoundly as a teenager, when we studied it at school. I loved the intense play of good and evil, the way the rhythms and imagery resonated with the action, and the sense of a deeply shadowed history. Eliot made me love literature.
When I saw Arthur Miller’s The Crucible performed in London inside the amazing Hawksmoor church at Spitalfields, I wept uncontrollably – hugely uncharacteristic – for an hour. Not because it was sad, but because of the hypocrisy and deceit won over truth, and the way the production realised this conflict inside Hawksmoor’s amazing space, using the cruciform plan to dramatise the tensions.
Shakespeare is kind of obvious but, at school, I didn’t like Shakespeare at all. Yet when I saw King Lear performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican in London, I was moved beyond words. It was that last scene, where Cordelia dies. It all comes home to Lear, just what terrible terrible damage he has done. It is heartbreaking and beautiful.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Anyone who has written one will tell you that writing a novel is less about choosing to write it than losing the fight of resistance! It is so tempting because a novel is the most satisfying form of story. A novel is a world you can inhabit. Even when you’re not actually reading the book, a part of your mind can still dwell there, enjoying the mysteries of place and unexpected twists of character. A novel gives time for change. It allows character to develop, power
relationships to reverse and familiar assumptions to change beyond recognition. A novel takes you on a strange and unexpected journey, like a river-cave ride. It is the ultimate adventure. Novels are cool.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Caro Was Here is a story about naughtiness and freedom, about trust and betrayal, about courage and the cost of courage. I wanted to write a story that captured the magic with which a child sees the world, the real world in particular. I wanted to set the story in Sydney, which I think is breathtakingly beautiful and somewhat under-written, if you’ll forgive the awkward phrase. And I wanted to write an adventure story with a purposeful plot and a girl in the lead; a story where a girl must draw on all her courage and strength and, in the end, intelligence, just to survive.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they will be able to imagine Caro’s island birthday so vividly they can smell it. I hope they remember the emotions – the fear, the thrill, the laughter. I hope they love the characters and want to hear more. I hope they pass the book and the story on to friends.
I read crime. I love crime writers that give depth of character, quirky humour, gorgeous sentence structure and a vivid sense of place. So I love James Lee Burke, James Ellroy, Hilary Mantel, Elmore Leonard and Don Winslow. But when it comes to children’s fiction I love things with vivid word rhythm, intense imagery and conflict: Margaret Mahy (The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate), Roald Dahl (The Witches), Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) and Banjo Paterson (The Man from Iron Bark).
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My ambition is that each of my books should be better and more satisfying than the one before it. I want to become a better writer.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
I want to write stories and keep on writing stories that people love to read. What could be better?
Elizabeth, thank you for playing.
by Elizabeth Farrelly
The bestselling novelist of all time.
The world’s most famous detective.
The literary event of the year.
Since the publication of her first novel in 1920, more than two billion copies of Agatha Christie’s novels have been sold around the world. Now, for the first time ever, the guardians of her legacy have approved a brand-new novel featuring Dame Agatha’s most beloved creation, Hercule Poirot.
In the hands of internationally bestselling author Sophie Hannah, Poirot plunges into a mystery set in 1920s London – a diabolically clever puzzle sure to baffle and delight both Christie’s fans as well as readers who have not yet read her work. Written with the full backing of Christie’s family, and featuring the most iconic detective of all time, this new novel is a major event for mystery lovers the world over.