Ten Terrifying Questions with Lucy Neave

by |September 17, 2021
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Lucy Neave grew up in Australia, Toronto, London and Kathmandu, and has spent several years living in the United States: first as a Fulbright scholar completing a Master of Fine Arts in writing, then teaching English in universities, and in 2019 as a visiting scholar in the English department at New York University. Lucy’s first novel, Who We Were, was shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year. Her short fiction has been published in a range of Australian and American literary journals and in Best Australian Stories, and she was awarded a Griffith Review novella prize in 2018. She teaches creative writing at the Australian National University, where she is Associate Dean, Student Experience. She is the mother of two children.

Today, to celebrate her new novel Believe in Me, Lucy Neave is on the blog to take on our Ten Terrifying Questions! Read on …


Lucy Neave

Lucy Neave (Photo by Hilary Wardhaugh).

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’ there for a time, although we travelled and moved overseas to Canada for six months when I was three, and then we spent about six months in London when I was nine. When I was fourteen, we moved to Adelaide. I completed a year at university in Melbourne, then relocated to Sydney to finish a veterinary degree.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I always wanted to be a writer, but at twelve I also wanted to live on a farm and be a farmer. At eighteen, I was tossing up between being a doctor and a veterinarian (but I was also intent on writing fiction). And by thirty, I’d decided that I needed to ensure that my day job also allowed me to write.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you don’t have now?

I strongly believed at eighteen that I had a sense of my identity and the kind of life I wanted to lead. As I grew older, I realised how much people and their attitudes change, based on their experiences. Now, I’m less attached to having a particular identity. At the moment, I’m a mum and I work at a university, and these are part of who I am, but although I’ll always be a mum, the time spent thinking and ‘doing’ mothering will change, and my identity will change too.

4. What are three works of art – this could be a book, painting, piece of music, film, etc – that influenced your development as a writer?

Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping for the way the book is written. There is so much in this early novel of Robinson’s that is exceptional, especially in its descriptions of the West, and in its evocation of the characters’ inner lives.

Patrick White’s fiction, especially The Vivisector was important to me when I was beginning to write, because it’s about an Australian artist.

Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, because it critiques a lot of other contemporary fiction.

It’s very hard to stop at three books!

‘The book is about how difficult it is to truly grasp the lives of your parents, and also about the importance of attempting to understand how their experiences might have shaped them.’

5. Considering the many artistic forms out there, what appeals to you about writing a novel?

As the writer of a novel, I have to evoke characters’ actions, thoughts and feelings. No other art form can create another person’s subjectivity—imagine another person’s thoughts and reactions, and communicate them to a reader—to the same extent.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel!

Believe in Me follows the life of Bet, a woman in her late twenties, who is piecing together and imagining the life of her mother, Sarah, who was sent to Australia in 1974 by her family because she was pregnant and unmarried. The book is about how difficult it is to truly grasp the lives of your parents, and also about the importance of attempting to understand how their experiences might have shaped them.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

One of the incredible things that I’ve experienced when talking to readers about my work is that they interpret what they read in ways that –- as the writer of the work — is sometimes unexpected and quite exciting. I hope that when reading my novel, people will think about the act of the imagination, and whether it’s possible to genuinely imagine the life of someone else, but I also hope that they will find a host of other interesting aspects to Believe in Me!

8. Who do you most admire in the writing world and why?

I admire a lot of writers! I have a particular admiration for the work of Evelyn Araluen, Tony Birch, Melissa Lucashenko and Alexis Wright, as well as the work of a lot of other Indigenous Australian novelists and poets. Their work is formally challenging and amazingly innovative and original, and tells stories about the past and present in ways that are vitally important to Australian culture.

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

I hope to write fiction that people love, and which makes them think about who they are in the world.

10. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

I think it’s advice that many other writers have given:

Read a lot of everything, and especially read a tonne of the kind of work that you admire most.

Write every day, for as long as you can. Write the stories that only you can tell. Find readers who can give you honest feedback and support your efforts.

Thank you for playing!

Believe in Me by Lucy Neave (University of Queensland Press) is out now.

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Believe in Meby Lucy Neave

Believe in Me

by Lucy Neave

As a teenager in the 1970s, Sarah is forced to leave her home in upstate New York to accompany a missionary to Idaho. When she falls pregnant, she is despatched to relatives in Sydney, who place her in a home for unmarried mothers.

Years later her daughter, Bet, pieces together her mother's life story, hoping to understand her better. As she learns more about Sarah's past, Bet struggles to come to terms with her own history and identity, yet is determined to make peace with Sarah's choices before it's too late...

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