Briefly tell us about your book.
All the Broken Places is a sequel to my 2006 novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Readers of the earlier book will remember Gretel, Bruno’s older sister and the daughter of the commandant of a notorious concentration camp. The new novel takes place in 2022. Gretel, aged ninety-one, has lived her life under the shadow of her father’s actions, trying to remain incognito in a world that where anonymity is increasingly difficult. Moving to Paris immediately after the war, she must protect her identity in a country where collaborationists are being brutally punished. In Sydney in the 1950s, she is shocked to encounter an old adversary from the camps. And, when she finally moves to London and falls in love with a Jewish man, it becomes increasingly difficult for her to remain silent about her past.
How does it feel to hold your book in your hands?
Despite having published twenty previous books, it’s still an incredible feeling when a box arrives with copies of a new novel. All the hard work that has gone into it, the good days and the bad days, feel worth it and setting it next to one’s other books on the shelf is a very satisfactory moment. That said, it’s even better when you see it in the shops, or in the hands of readers, or when those same readers tell you how much they’ve enjoyed it or been moved by it. From a very young age, I set out to be a writer and I feel tremendously lucky to have been able to make my dream a reality.
What’s the easiest and most difficult parts of your job as a writer?
The easiest – because it’s the most enjoyable – is the writing itself. I only feel happy when I’m working on a book. I love seeing it take shape before me and becoming more interesting and complex with each draft. Writing is an intrinsic part of my identity. The most difficult is the public element that comes with a successful career, particularly the way one can be portrayed on social media. Complete strangers seem to think they know you or your opinions and write the most toxic and vile things online, presenting their assumptions as facts when they are usually anything but. I don’t know why some people allow their souls to be corroded by putting such poison into the world; it seems like a terribly sad way to live. However, I’ve learned to tune out the naysayers and focus only on the important things: the books themselves.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
It might sound obvious, but I’m always surprised by the number of aspiring writers who don’t read, often because they like the idea of being a writer but aren’t all that interested in books. Be aware of the novels that your peers are publishing and the themes resonating in the contemporary literary world. Join a book group. Discuss books with your friends and family. Have opinions on what you’re reading and be able to articulate them. If you’re a man, read novels by women. If you’re a woman, read novels by men. Read across the centuries. Read books in translation. Read classics that you’ve never got around to before. Discover some small, independent presses and read what they’re publishing. Read bestsellers. Read books you find on the shelves of second-hand stores. Read genres you’ve never bothered with before. Read the best young adult literature, the best crime fiction, the best short story collections. Pay attention to how writers structure their novels, how their chapters are paced, how their characters are formed. Recognise those styles of writing that don’t work for you as a reader and ask yourself why. Fall in love with reading again and you will fall in love with writing.
Who are some of your favourite authors? Or favourite books?
My favourite novel of all is The Go-Between by LP Hartley. Although the narrative voice is that of sixty-year-old Leo Colston, it’s his memories of his thirteenth summer that dominate the story. Staying with his much wealthier friend, Marcus Maudsley, in Norfolk, Leo falls in love with Marcus’ older sister Marian who uses him as a ‘go-between’ to deliver letters back and forth to her farmer lover Ted Burgess. The sense of deepening obsession and Leo’s catastrophic sexual awakening towards the end of the book leave the reader with a devastating sense of innocence corrupted. My favourite of the 21st century (so far) is The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. Its analysis of racism towards the Greek-Australian community, as well as the social divide between the wealthy and the poor, is masterful. The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan remains a favourite. Such a complex narrative structure and yet, Ryan is so control of his writing that the reader is immersed in it. Belinda McKeon’s Tender is a novel I treasure. We’re accustomed to stories of the gay man who falls in love with the straight man and is tortured by the impossibility of a relationship, but what about the straight woman who falls in love with the gay man? What of her pain and her desire to change his very nature? Other writers whose work I always read as soon as it’s published include Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Philip Hensher, Jonathan Coe, Markus Zusak, and Anne Tyler.