author of The Torch
Six Sharp Questions
1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?
The Torch is about a boy who is inspired to help another boy, who is a firebug, to avoid capture, in an attempt to assuage the helplessness he felt, and the grief he feels following the death of his twin just over a year earlier. But as his story unfolds he discovers that he has become trapped in a morass of deceit and secrecy that he first attempts to pass off as coincidence, but later discovers is really the complex world of adults.
The Torch has for me been a wonderful opportunity to plunge the reader (and myself) back into the life of the main character of The Cartographer. It has also been strengthening experience as a writer: actually to be asked to write a book, especially one about an established character. Although The Cartographer was not my first novel, it was the first to be published. I therefore feel a sense that that initial accomplishment has now developed into an accomplishment of more mature proportions, and that is very satisfying.
2. Times pass. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?
The best moment has been completing the structural edit of The Torch. It’s very satisfying to work with editors who appreciate the characters and story so much that their suggestions enable you to rethink the whole work again, despite already having written a complete revision. Once they have granted their imprimatur, I’m a happy little Vegemite. Worst moments: none to speak of.
3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.
The main character, a twelve-year old, occasionally gives us his understanding about something or other, making the best of (very) limited information: it’s in his nature to be helpful in that way. Here is one such example.
I knew all about pregnancy. When Johnno Johnson’s cat got pregnant, it became very lumpy; basically, it ended up being one big lump. And when Douggie Quirk’s big sister, Maureen, got pregnant (except she wasn’t so much pregnant as ‘having a baby’), she was put in a special home for girls who are having babies. Mum’s couldn’t get pregnant, of course, but they could be ‘expecting’, which was slightly different, as it meant that they were expecting to get lumpy, not expecting to go to Hell, which is what being pregnant meant (unless you were a cat or a dog). So I couldn’t understand why Mum said she was pregnant when she was actually expecting, as I knew that mothers could not be sent to Hell. I decided that she must have made a mistake. That is something that girls tend to do when they’re upset, which is the reason why it is that it always the magician who gets to saw the girl in half, and not the other way round. But call it what you will, it’s always bad news.
It’s not that the passage itself has meaning: it’s functions are to let us hear the narrator’s voice and to hear him telling his story. But it’s an endearing voice.
4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.
I would say that I’m an easy person to live with, requiring only writing equipment (my Mac and some top software) and coffee (which I sometimes forget to drink for long periods). I always start writing first thing in the morning, even before breakfast, or my first cuppa. After I’ve done some work, I’ll get brekky, which I take back to the computer. Ditto lunch. No dinner. Occasionally, I’ll go for a long walk or jump on my motorbike and take off. That’s it. I sleep for eight hours per night. Often I dream of a good idea, so I’ll wake up and go back to the computer for a minute. The other night, I dreamt of the opening line of my next novel. How easy is that!
5. Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).
The marketplace doesn’t affect my writing at all. I know I’m going to sell books, and that’s that. I write books for sheer enjoyment, knowing that it will shine through the writing, though I didn’t realise that until I began to get feedback from readers. So what’s left? Technical excellence, and that’s what I aim for. But even those aspects of writing – grammar, punctuation, diction, the rhythms and structures of fiction, poetic effects, the music of voice – I’m passionate about. The way I look at it, the characters appear out of nowhere, they tell me their story, and I write it down. All I have to do is get it down faithfully.
6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only a few books with you. What do you take and why?
Ill-educated and uncivilised? Then I’ll start with a story about an ill-educated, uncivilised character, Huckleberry Finn. Then I’ll graduate to another streetwise but uneducated character, whose mastery of his idiom, and his problem, is deeply touching and exciting: Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban. Next, A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, a devastating critique of modern social values, starring Alex Du Large, a fifteen-year-old psychopath with a gifted ear for slang. Having shed a tear for Alex (or not, if they’re hard bitten types), I would introduce them to DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little. If that doesn’t give them a rounded introduction to literature, they’re beyond help. By this time they’ll probably need something completely different, so, as a segue to world of adult main characters, I’d take along a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (though any Vonnegut would do). Hey, I’m nothing if not subversive.
Peter, thank you for playing.
by Peter Twohig
Melbourne, 1960: Mrs Blayney and her twelve year old son live in South Richmond. At least, they did, until their house burnt down. The prime suspect – one Keith Aloysius Gonzaga Kavanagh, also aged 12 – has mysteriously disappeared. Our narrator, the Blayney kid, sets off on a covert mission to find young Keith, who he privately dubs ‘Flame Boy’, to save him from the small army of irate locals – not to mention his mother – who want to see him put away.
Flame Boy has not only made himself scarce, but he’s done so with a very important briefcase of secrets, which the kid is keen to get hold of for his grandfather, a shady character who has some secrets of his own. But the kid has got a lot going on: he’s also organising a new gang of kids; coping with the ups and downs of having a girl friend (who likes to kiss – a lot); trying to avoid Keith’s dangerous prison-escapee father, Fergus Kavanagh, also an arsonist, who is suspected of selling secrets to the Russians; and all the while wondering how he can get his hands on the most beautiful object in the world: the Melbourne Olympic Torch.
A madcap, brilliantly shambolic and irresistibly fun novel about loss, discovery and living life to the full, The Torch is a ripper of a ride.
About the Author
Peter Twohig was born in Melbourne in 1948. As a boy he became one of Australia’s youngest Queen Scouts and in his mid-teens he took up guitar which led him to becoming a member of a rock band that played around Melbourne. Peter had a long career in various government departments (including the army) and as a management consultant before training in naturopathy and homoeopathy and setting up Sydney’s largest natural medicine practice in Crow’s Nest in 1995. He has a BA in Professional Writing and a BA (Hons) in Philosophy. He now lives on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and is a full-time writer.