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.