I grew up in the Hunter Valley, near to where the story is set. I had heard of Jessie – ‘the lady bushranger’ as a kid, but it was just fragments of her story really. Years later, I was giving some creative writing workshops up that way and I was reminded of her. So off I went on a research trail.
What was it that attracted you to her story?
Jessie is wild and brave and lived life completely out of the box. She’s a storyteller’s dream and I suppose she collided with some questions that were burning in me at the time – can a woman, or anyone, be free? and what is the price of freedom?
The Burial is your debut novel. Is it thrilling or terrifying to release your first novel?
Thrilling. Terrifying. A spectacular relief.
What significance does the title of the book have?
This story of Jessie Hickman is just one of many untold or ‘buried’ stories in Australia’s history. Some stories are buried with good reason – they might disturb the status quo or certainly the way we think about ourselves. I have an idea of them finding their way out of their shallow graves and revealing a history that is diverse, rich and complex.
In terms of how that was reflected in the form of the book, it is told in layers and I had a good time imagining all of the ways those stories could interact.
Then there is the idea of burying emotions. I won’t bore you with my pop-psychology interpretation of that, only to say I think it is immensely retarding.
Which writer inspired you to write?
There’s the desire to write and the desire to read and I’m not sure which came first. They seem to be in cahoots.
If I had to break it down, I would say my writing path has been marked by a sweet and brilliant person who inspired me to read the classics as a kid, those writers who inspired me to read more and more and then a moment of unabashed confidence where I thought, I reckon I could do that.
Now, I am one of those readers who becomes completely enamoured and intrigued by so many writers. I could fill a page with the literary crushes I have had. But the enduring crushes are Helen Garner, Zora Neale Hurston, Cormac McCarthy, Carson McCullers, Henry Miller, Dorothy Porter and Jeannette Winterson. I keep going back to them and I am freshly inspired every time.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Surround yourself with people who are kind and who will tell you the truth.
My friend Gareth Liddiard from The Drones, (who is known for saying brutal and poignant things) said to me once, ‘Less of the novelist and more of the novel’, meaning stop mooching about talking about writing and just get down and do the thing.
So I would say that too, just get down and do the thing. And celebrate with your friends when it is done.
By Sophia WhitfieldOn March 30, 2016
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