About the author:
Catherine Cole is a writer and academic who has published novels, memoir, poetry and short fiction as well as critical and nonfiction work. Her work has been published in Australia and internationally and broadcast on BBC Radio. She has been awarded writers residencies in France, China, Vietnam and Australia and has mentored or supervised the writing of some of Australia’s leading writers. She currently divides her time between Australia, UK and France.
This is an abridged version of an interview between Catherine Cole and Jaydeep Sarangi. The full version can be read here:
Would you please tell us about your early childhood days and parentage?
My parents are British migrants and they and my older brother and sister, travelled to Australia after the Second World War. I was the first child born in Sydney. I had a very happy childhood. I had many cousins and we were always making up very imaginative games. We were ruffians and our parents left us alone all day to climb trees, make cubby houses and generally get into mischief. I loved to read and devoured books, which my little sister and I often acted out. I also started writing my own stories very young – my father helped this along when he gave me an old typewriter. My parents always gave us books as gifts and had brought lots of books from the UK so our house was a reader’s paradise and the local library was very good too. I remain of the view that reading shaped my life and my future passion for being a writer. To paraphrase from George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, we all live a thousand lives through the books we read and people who don’t read live only one. Nothing charges the imagination more actively than a good book, with great characters and story line. I am grateful for my early introduction into the world of books and especially the young adult fiction by Australian writers like Ivan Southall, Nan Chauncy, and Ethel Turner who showed me how exciting my own country was.
You are multi-faceted. An academic, a prominent critic, reviewer, biographer, editor, fictionist, novelist and poet. How do you manage so many genres and streams?
I like to write in all forms because a single approach never seems to serve my ideas. A poem is often the most appropriate form of expression for an idea whereas a long novel offers a more meandering and reflective opportunity. I feel I move well through these different approaches, including my academic essays. Publishers don’t always like it though – it’s an expectation these days that you fit a single angle. I resist that. Writing is its own director as far as I’m concerned and I like to let the idea take shape in whichever form suits it best. To date I have written lots of poetry, crime fiction (Dry Dock, Skin Deep, memoir (The Poet Who Forgot), literary fiction (The Grave at Thu Le) and academic writing (Private Dicks and Feisty Chicks). I have edited a couple of books (The Perfume River: Writing from Vietnam and Fashion in Fiction). My next book is a short story collection, Sea Birds Crying in the Harbour Dark, which will be published by UWA Press in 2017.
What are your enduring themes; issues and concerns that pre-occupy you constantly?
Always – home and the need for refuge, memory and loss, the role the older and wiser play with shaping youthful imaginations. I suspect these ideas come from being the child of migrants who were often homesick. I write about imagined places where someone is an outsider … the outsider theme infuses my work.
What can the function of literature be said to be? Is literature a by-product of literary movements these days?
For me literature has always been a portal into another place – that quote I mentioned earlier – that a reader lives a thousand lives. It offers knowledge, shared experiences and new ones, characters, places, ethical conundrums, historical reflection. I also think those moments are very special when the words open to you like a mystery, so you read them out loud and ponder their beauty and complexity and you marvel and how the writer managed to construct them so perfectly, side by side. I think writers love to share ideas, with themselves, with others, in a kind of collegial space. There is nothing more wonderful than the anticipation of a good book, especially the comfort of it at the end of the day. It seems books are even more important than ever now. The world seems to be going crazy so a book can reach out and pull as away from the edge. That to me is a wonderful social function. Ideas are important in shaping how we articulate these anxieties and books are full of them, perhaps that’s why they’re the first things bad people want to destroy.