Under His Spell: Q&A with Laura Elizabeth Woollett on her novel Beautiful Revolutionary

Under His Spell: Q&A with Laura Elizabeth Woollett on her novel Beautiful Revolutionary

About the author

Laura Elizabeth Woollett was born and raised in Perth. In 2012, she completed an honours degree in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. In 2014, she was awarded a Wheeler’s Centre/Readings Foundation Hot Desk Fellowship and the John Marsden/Hachette Prize for Fiction. Her short-story collection, The Love of a Bad Man (Scribe, 2016), was shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction and the 2017 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction.

Purchase a copy of Beautiful Revolutionary here 

Read our review of Beautiful Revolutionary here 

Beautiful Revolutionary is your remarkable debut novel. Can you tell us a bit about the story?

The story begins in 1968, with newlyweds Evelyn and Lenny Lynden moving to rural northern California. Evelyn is ambitious and idealistic; Lenny is a dreamy, pot-smoking underachiever. As the isolation of small-town life exacerbates their differences, Evelyn starts looking beyond her marriage for meaning. She finds it with Peoples Temple – a revolutionary church preaching socialist ideals – and its leader, Jim Jones. Evelyn begins a decade-long affair with Jones, during which she rises to power as his right-hand woman, and becomes increasingly detached from her ideals. It’s a story based on real people and events, but more generally, it’s a story about the loss of innocence, and the ways we’re haunted by our former innocence when life turns sour.

Peoples Temple has been the subject of lots of conversation and writing over the years. What drew you personally to write about it?

I first heard about Peoples Temple 10 years ago, after seeing a documentary on TV. Yet it wasn’t until I began working onThe Love of a Bad Man – my collection of stories about the wives and girlfriends of notorious bad men – that I began researching the Temple and the women closest to Jones. I was particularly fascinated by Carolyn Layton, Jones’ most trusted advisor and romantic partner from 1968 until the massacre of 1978. I was struck by how those who knew Layton before the Temple remembered her as a smart, lively young woman, while those who knew her later mostly saw a cold administrator. I was interested in Layton’s seeming absence from herself and how this tied into her fanaticism. Multiple perspectives seemed like the best way of capturing all this, and with multiplicity came an appreciation for the broader story of Peoples Temple.

Following on from this, what kind of research did you do? Did you learn anything new or surprising about Peoples Temple that maybe isn’t in the public consciousness as much?

It’s a common misconception that anyone who joins a group like Peoples Temple does so because of the leader, and is therefore personally duped by this leader’s ‘charisma’. While this was true for some (one man I spoke to described his first conversation with Jones as the most enlightening conversation of his life), others merely tolerated him, and were drawn to the Temple for different reasons; ideology, family, opportunity, desperation. Certainly, Jones had charisma, but no amount of personal magnetism can fully explain the deaths of 900 people. Our tendency to focus on the glamour of a man like Jones not only erases the humanity of his victims, but the complex, flawed, and turbulent society they inhabited. There’s so much more to the story than gullible people falling under the sway of a charismatic leader, yet this is the story that the public most often gets.

Your short-story collection, The Love of a Bad Man, received high praise when it was released in 2016. How did you find the move from writing short stories to writing a novel?

It helped that I had already read up on Peoples Temple/ Jonestown for The Love of a Bad Man, so I wasn’t starting from a totally blank slate. Originally, I conceived of Beautiful Revolutionary as a TV series, and went as far as writing a pilot and plotting out future episodes. By the time I started writing prose, I had a solid foundation of research, as well as a clear picture of the characters and overarching narrative. The novel has 10 main chapters, which I thought of as ‘episodes’ with their own three-act structures. This helped break the novel into manageable parts, and eased the transition from short story writing.

And finally, what was the last book you read that you loved?

The Millstone by Margaret Drabble. Plot-wise, it’s very simple: a young academic gets pregnant the first time she has sex, and decides (against the advice of her friends) to have the baby. It’s set in the Swinging Sixties and there’s a lot in it about class, gender, and education. More than that, though, I was drawn to the narrator, Rosamund Stacey: she was so matter-of-fact, observant, and independent, yet self-questioning in a way that felt very real.

 

Related Articles

I Wrote Misconception to Open up the Conversation About Pregnancy Loss: Q&A with Rebecca Freeborn, Author of Misconception

News

31 July 2019

I Wrote Misconception to Open up the Conversation About Pregnancy Loss: Q&A with Rebecca Freeborn, Author of Misconception

    Entertain, Delight and Tug at the Heartstrings: Q&A with Messy, Wonderful Us Author Catherine Isaac

    News

    28 June 2019

    Entertain, Delight and Tug at the Heartstrings: Q&A with Messy, Wonderful Us Author Catherine Isaac

      A Deeply Personal Project: Q&A with Bradley Trevor Greive about The Blue Day Book

      News

      4 May 2019

      A Deeply Personal Project: Q&A with Bradley Trevor Greive about The Blue Day Book

        Suspenseful Australian Crime: Q&A with Dave Warner, Author of River of Salt

        News

        10 April 2019

        Suspenseful Australian Crime: Q&A with Dave Warner, Author of River of Salt

          Hilarious and Life-Changing: Q&A with Virginia Duigan on writing The Age of Discretion

          News

          19 March 2019

          Hilarious and Life-Changing: Q&A with Virginia Duigan on writing The Age of Discretion

            Sweeping Rural Historical Fiction: Q&A with Nicole Alexander on writing Stone Country

            News

            18 March 2019

            Sweeping Rural Historical Fiction: Q&A with Nicole Alexander on writing Stone Country

              War, Love and Literature: Q&A with J.R. Lonie about his new novel, The Woman from Saint Germain

              News

              11 March 2019

              War, Love and Literature: Q&A with J.R. Lonie about his new novel, The Woman from Saint Germain

                Humour, Romance and Astrology Galore: Read a Q&A with Minnie Darke about her new novel, Star-crossed

                News

                9 March 2019

                Humour, Romance and Astrology Galore: Read a Q&A with Minnie Darke about her new novel, Star-crossed

                  A Healthy Dose of Humour: Q&A with Cassie Hamer on writing After the Party

                  News

                  22 February 2019

                  A Healthy Dose of Humour: Q&A with Cassie Hamer on writing After the Party

                    Ordinary People, Difficult Choices: Q&A with Brandy Scott on her debut novel, Not Bad People

                    News

                    13 February 2019

                    Ordinary People, Difficult Choices: Q&A with Brandy Scott on her debut novel, Not Bad People

                      Synopsis

                      The thrilling new novel, inspired by Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple, from the author of The Love of a Bad Man.It’s the summer of 1968, and Evelyn Lynden is a woman at war with herself. Minister’s daughter. Atheist. Independent woman. Frustrated wife. Bitch with a bleeding heart.Following her conscientious-objector husband Lenny to the rural Eden of Evergreen Valley, California, Evelyn wants to be happy with their new life. Yet as the world is rocked by warfare and political assassinations, by racial discrimination and social upheaval, she finds herself disillusioned with Lenny’s passive ways — and anxious for a saviour.Enter the Reverend Jim Jones, the dynamic leader of a revolutionary church called Peoples Temple. As Evelyn grows closer to Jones, her marriage is just the first casualty of his rise to power.Meticulously researched, elegantly written, and utterly engrossing, Beautiful Revolutionary explores the allure of the real-life charismatic leader who would destroy so many. In masterful prose, Woollett painstakingly examines what happens when Evelyn is pulled into Jones’s orbit — an orbit it would prove impossible for her to leave.
                      Laura Elizabeth Woollett
                      About the author

                      Laura Elizabeth Woollett

                      Laura Elizabeth Woollett was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia. In 2012, she completed an honours degree in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. In 2014, she was awarded a Wheeler Centre/Readings Foundation Hot Desk Fellowship and the John Marsden/Hachette Prize for Fiction, and was chosen as one of the 2015 Melbourne Writers Festival’s ‘30 Under 30’. Her short-story collection, The Love of a Bad Man (Scribe, 2016), was shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction and the 2017 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction.

                      Books by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

                      COMMENTS

                      Leave a Reply

                      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *