Sep 20, 2011

Amy T Matthews - Author Interview: Debut Novelist

What kinds of fiction did you read as a child and teenager, and did you have some favourites?

I read everything I could get my hands on when I was a child. During the school holidays when I was a teenager I would read a book a day and would be down at the library every week. For a while I was addicted to Fantasy, and for a while to Historical Romance, but I also discovered literature like The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and Orlando. I would read anything Historical (and probably still would), but I didn’t really have any prejudices. I was indiscriminate in my tastes.

Would you say your childhood and teenage reading has had a distinct influence on how you write fiction now, and why?

What I’ve found is that my fiction mashes genres together, which I suppose is a direct reflection of my childhood/teenage reading pattern. End of the Night Girl is a hybrid of historical fiction, ‘chick lit’, and postmodern literary fiction and my latest novel explores realism, magic realism, and fantasy in a contemporary Australian setting. I think my early reading influenced my denial of generic restriction.

What did you do before you became a published novelist, and how did you come to write your first novel and get it published?

I did two degrees in my twenties and worked as a waitress during my study and afterwards. I kept working in hospitality as I wrote my first novel. I had always written but it was only during this period of working a menial job without studying that I found I had the creative/intellectual space to write seriously. In 2002 I began my Honours in Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide and did my PhD in Creative Writing 2003-2007. During that time I wrote the first six drafts of End of the Night Girl. I worked as a tutor and lecturer as I tried to get the novel published and commenced work on my next novel. Although the book received attention from agents and publishers they all deemed it a ‘hard sell’, and it wasn’t until I won the 2010 Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award (with draft thirteen of the novel) that I received a publishing contract.

How would you describe your style of fiction or your approach to writing fiction?

I would describe my style as contemporary, page-turning literary fiction. It straddles a line between commercial fiction and literary fiction, which is a line I enjoy exploring. I’m interested in representing and mythologising the landscapes I inhabit, which have been neglected in fiction.

Is your first published novel standalone or part of a series, and what advantages or disadvantages does this present for you?

My first novel is standalone, which is fairly standard for literary fiction. I like having the freedom to venture into something completely different with the next book, although I’ve found the two books contain similar patterns and themes. Both are ‘Adelaide’ novels and both intertwine two stories; both also contain ‘non-realist’ elements.

Have you found writing your second novel easier or more challenging than writing your first novel and why?

The second novel was far easier. But I think a lot of that had to do with having the luxury of time and anonymity, because I was still unpublished. There were no expectations of me, which was enormously liberating. I tackled a very challenging subject for my first novel and it took me nine years and thirteen drafts to complete, as I was always working at the limits of my skill set. But it also taught me a great deal, so by the time I began work on the second novel, my skill set was quite developed.

Who is another novelist whose fiction writing you admire and why?

There are so many novelists I admire: I admire Gail Jones for her spectacularly muscular and tightly controlled sentences; I admire Stephen King for his robust storytelling; I admire Virginia Woolf for her daring experiments and luscious language; I admire Henry James for his playing with point of view; I admire Jean Rhys for her biting commentary; Jonathan Safran Foer for his sensitivity; Amy Tan for her warmth; Edith Wharton for her pathos; George RR Martin for his finely wrought worlds – I could go on and on and on.

How would you summarise your debut novel in one paragraph?

Molly is an Adelaide waitress who is haunted by the ghost of a woman who has been dead for more than sixty years: Gienia, a Polish Jew, a victim of the Holocaust. As Molly’s life grows more complicated (she falls into an affair with a married chef, and her pregnant step-sister takes up residence on her couch) Gienia’s ghost gains substance, until she threatens to overwhelm Molly completely. End of the Night Girl weaves together the stories of two women, separated by time and experience, but inextricably tangled by the horrific legacy of the Holocaust.

How would you describe the appeal of this novel to readers?

First and foremost it’s a gripping read. Two compelling stories – contemporary and historical; trivial and deeply moving – circle one another, raising questions about our moral lives and our rights to happiness and unhappiness.

How would you summarise a chapter from your debut novel in one paragraph?

Molly suffers through a long night at work, waitressing a wedding, where the groom and his mates are drunk at the bar and the bride has disappeared into the bathroom with her bridesmaids and a bag of magic white powder. She has hours to go before she can rest and even when she can finally knock off and go home there’s no peace. When she goes home, there’s a ghost waiting for her. Gienia, a Polish Jew who has been dead for more than sixty years.

How would you describe the contribution this chapter makes to the novel?

It establishes Molly’s character, the world she inhabits, and also the inescapable presence of the past. It shows the tangible embodiment of Molly’s relationship to her obsession with the Holocaust.

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1 comment:

  1. Great interview, Amy. I just finished End Of The Night girl and loved it. A very thought provoking and amazing story.