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This Book was a Journey of Discovery: Q&A with Storytime Author, Jane Sullivan

August 12, 2019

About Jane Sullivan

Jane Sullivan is a Melbourne-based writer specialising in literary journalism. She has worked for The Age as a reporter, feature writer and editor. Jane won the inaugural Australian Human Rights Award for journalism. She has previously published two novels, The White Star (Penguin Australia) and Little People (Scribe Publications), which was shortlisted for the Encore Award for a second novel. Jane currently writes ‘Turning Pages’, a Saturday column on books and writing, for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and contributes to occasional features, essays and interviews in numerous publications, including Australian Book Review.

Buy a copy of Storytime here. // Read a review of Storytime here.

Storytime is a bibliomemoir that lures us deep into the literary world. You take us from Wonderland to Narnia, Moomintroll to Mr Toad and from Winnie the Pooh to the Magic Pudding, on a journey to discover why your favourite childhood books were so vitally important, and how they shaped the woman you are today. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?

 

This book was a journey of discovery for me. It had all the pleasures of nostalgia, but it also woke me up to the fact that my childhood reading wasn’t quite as I remembered, and I wasn’t quite the girl I thought I was. I became both ashamed and proud of myself as a child – mostly proud, I think. I never thought what I was supposed to think about these books, and that was a good thing.

I also discovered that for all the intellect and analysis that goes into books I read today, the primary response is a deeply emotional one – and that goes back to the way I reacted to books as a child. I felt about them more intensely than anything I’ve read since, and many of those feelings came back when I reread them.

How did your column on books and writing, “Turning Pages”, for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald influence or help shape this latest book?

I don’t think there was direct influence from the column, but both the column and Storytime have come from the same place: my long and abiding fascination with books and reading, and my urge to share it with other readers. At first I thought I would write a newspaper feature about my childhood reading. But once I started, I soon realised the subject was much bigger and more complex than I’d thought and a book was the best way to cover it.

What was your research process like for this book?

It was such fun! First I selected about 12 books I could remember particularly well from my childhood reading. Then, one book at a time, I wrote down everything I could remember about each book. Then I got hold of copies of each book and read it again, noting my reactions and how it differed from my memory. Then I researched more widely, looking at author biographies and the way critics and readers had responded to each book. Finally I wrote an essay on each journey of discovery… and then attempted to link them together into a coherent whole, which was perhaps the most difficult part.

It sounds very methodical, but I was constantly surprised, charmed and sometimes disturbed by the emotions that arose when I revisited these books.

What book from your childhood had the greatest influence on you and why?

Oh that’s an impossible question! I deliberately avoided answering it in Storytime, because all these books influenced me in different ways and I can’t say which way was the most important.

I can tell you which one I most enjoyed rereading: The Wind in the Willows. It’s a wonderful, quite extraordinary book.

What’s your daily writing routine like and what are you working on at the moment?

I try to write most mornings, weekends included. I’m a very good procrastinator, and if I don’t get at least some writing done in the morning, I probably won’t do any for the rest of the day.

Apart from the weekly column and occasional features and reviews, I’m about to go back and take another look at a novel I’ve been working on for years: a murder mystery set in 19th Century Melbourne. And possibly a sequel.

 


Comments

  1. Steve Evans

    Looking forward to the launch in Adelaide!

  2. Ms S Lancaster

    Wonderful method to question the past. Looking forward to reading this (and, regrettably, your murder in Melbourne even more…)

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