It’s no secret that the column inches devoted to books, authors and writing have shrunk considerably in recent years. It has now become almost impossible to read in-depth interviews with Australian authors, no matter how interesting they are or how rich and fascinating their careers.
Novelist Charlotte Wood has bravely stepped into this great gaping hole and established her own electronic literary magazine called The Writer’s Room Interviews. Published bi-monthly, it is sent in PDF format to subscribers. For more information, and to subscribe, click here.
It is actually quite exciting to see someone energetic and daring enough to establish a new literary magazine in Australia, and I believe that such derring-do should be rewarded. Particularly when the result is as entertaining, stimulating and inspiring as the first issue of The Writers Room Interviews.
The long-form interview is the whole basis of the magazine, and for the first number Charlotte Wood has chosen Amanda Lohrey, long one of the most fascinating people on the Australian literary scene, and a great favourite of mine. Amanda makes a delightful interview subject, and all that she says about writing is interesting, recognisably relevant and unpretentious.
Amanda Lohrey and I have something of an histoire, though she is completely unaware of it. I was, for a large chunk of my life, a bookseller, and, no matter where I worked, Amanda would pop up. I’m not just talking about on the shelves, where I made sure she was always present, but as a customer. She must be a voracious reader, and she was always as charming and warm as her books.
Now, being a bookseller is something like being a doctor or a pharmacist – it really isn’t good form to betray the buying habits of your customers, no matter how long ago it was you served them. You see, book buying is an intimate and at times vulnerable act, and the books that people choose to buy can tell whole stories about their lives. That is why booksellers are so often important figures in the cultural life of a city – everyone confesses to them.
But what I do feel comfortable in telling – no, what I want to tell – is that Amanda Lohrey recommended that I read what was to become one of my favourite books: Christopher Isherwood’s long and utterly compelling spiritual memoir My Guru and His Disciple. With this in mind, it was no surprise when I read in her Writer’s Room interview that meditation was a very important part of her life, and helped her to control her mind and create better books. Charlotte Wood rightly identifies in Lohrey an “interest in mystery that also flourish[es] within her sharply critical mind.”
|Christopher Isherwood, cited by Lohrey as an influence|
In the interview Lohrey really talks up writers, claiming that they are a great group of people to be around and surprisingly free of bitchiness. This has been my own observation, and it is a truth that seems truer and truer when I investigate other creative milieux, where people seem much less willing to be generous with one another.
I gloried, too, in recognising some of the anti-social characteristics I share with this great Australian writer. “I never answer the phone and I never answer the door,” she confesses, and I breathed a sigh of relief. At last my own most pronounced anti-social instincts are validated. You can expect never to receive another call from me!
I came away from reading this fascinating interview desperate to catch up on the books of Lohrey’s that I haven’t read, principally Reading Madame Bovary, which apparently contains a story about meditation which I feel I must read. I want to re-read, too, her fascinating long essay on Christianity and politics in Australia which was a Quarterly Essay in 2006, and which I remember reading while I was in Vietnam. Lohrey is quite unique in Australian letters now, being one of the few left who seriously explores issues of religion and spirituality in her writing. This interview could easily have been twice the length and I still would have wanted more.