An interview with the late great Colleen McCullough

by |January 29, 2015

One of Australia’s most popular authors, Colleen McCullough, has passed away aged 77.

035399-colleen-mcculloughHer novel The Thorn Birds is still the highest selling Australian novel ever written. Her popularity remained immense for the duration of her career, only last week being voted one of Australia’s 50 Favourite Authors in our nationwide readers poll.

In 2012 we were lucky enough to interview Colleen about her remarkable career, where she shared some wonderful tips to aspiring writers. We thought we’d share some of the most memorable parts of the chat.

Vale Colleen McCullough. Thanks for sharing your stories with us.

Where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Wellington, NSW, on June 1st of 1937, which makes me 75 next birthday. I was raised in rural NSW and then Sydney, and received my secondary and tertiary education in Sydney.

the-thorn-birdsWhat strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

At eighteen I was an ardent socialist. Now I think socialism is as malign as it is destructive of the individual.

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?

I can’t remember any standing out above the flood. I was omnivorous and totally eclectic in my choice of books, which, in a time of acute paper shortage, were seized upon eagerly as something to read in a desert. Classical music was a revelation to me, but again, no particular composer stands out in memory.

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

I can write in any literary form- that ability is simply the result of professionalism. That I write novels is my choice of a literary form; writing novels is satisfying and enjoyable to me. The writer has the necessary length to develop character while not neglecting environment or plot. The art lies in keeping all the threads from tangling and resisting the lure of tangential themes.

bittersweetWhat do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

Like any writer, I hope my readers take a feeling of pleasure away from my book. Books can expand the intellect, but most books are aimed at entertaining. That means closing the book with regret when it’s finished, and occasionally thinking of it afterward.

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

Oh, so many! Shakespeare, the Restoration novelists, David Storey, Toni Morrison, Faulkner, Hemingway, de Maupassant, Zola, Goethe, Sir Arthur Sherrington, Marquez, Llosa, Allende, Cervantes, Homer – the list is far too long to nominate, and I am a pan-reader.

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

My goal is to give pleasure to my readers. After that, to obtain as many readers as I can, of both sexes. In other words, I try not to write boring books.

What advice do you give aspiring writers?

life-without-the-boring-bitsAdvice for aspiring writers? That’s difficult, as all writers are individuals who write differing books.

First and foremost, avoid giving your manuscripts to emotionally connected people to read. Anyone emotionally connected has an axe of their own to grind, and cannot be relied on to give honest opinions.

Give manuscripts to detached outsiders to read. Don’t go thinking you’ve written the world’s best book, but don’t think you’ve written the worst one either.

Don’t give up trying to find a publisher. Some huge bestsellers were refused by literally dozens of houses before finding a niche. Look at Harry Potter.

And remember, that there is always an element of luck about writing.

Click here to go to Colleen McCullough’s author page

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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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  • January 30, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Firstly, I would like to send my condolences to Colleen’s family and friends. Hopefully she will rest in peace..
    Finally, Colleen, you given my so many hours, weeks of reading enjoyment; I thank you for that..
    Anna Smith

  • January 30, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    *you have*

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