Interview with CRAIG SILVEY
by William Kostakis - June 3rd, 2009
Those who were reading the blog’s coverage of the 2009 Sydney Writers’ Festival know that I went to see Craig Silvey not once, but twice. The first time, I went at the request of e-newsletter subscriber, Jessica, who couldn’t make it to the Coming of Age session herself (click HERE for my thoughts on it). The second time I went to see Craig, however, I went as a fan. A fan of him, not of his work, I hadn’t gotten around to reading Jasper Jones in the twenty-four hours since I’d seen him last. He was one of those authors that seemed quietly confident on stage, who don’t resort to shamelessly plugging themselves by beginning each sentence with, “Well, I’m a successful author” (yes, I’ve heard authors say it), and he was great to watch.
Well, now having read Jasper Jones, I can say I’m a fan of both Craig the person, and Craig the author. That quiet, subtle vibrancy of his personality translates onto the page. It’s definitely worth a read, if just to see what all the fuss is about. Haven’t heard the fuss? Well, in 2005, Craig was named as one of The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Best Young Novelists. His debut, Rhubarb, was selected as the inaugural book for the ‘One Book’ series of events at the 2005 Perth International Arts Festival. He is, in short, a big deal.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to sit down with Craig earlier in the week for an interview. Okay, that’s a lie. Well, technically it’s true… we sat down, just not anywhere near each other (thanks to the joys of email). So, to continue the streak of exclusive author interviews here on the Boomerang Blog, I give you Craig Silvey…
Rhubarb was both a critical and commercial success – as you worked on it, did you ever anticipate that it would be received like it was?
Rhubarb exceeded my expectations by getting published in the first place. I was always aware of how difficult it is to get published, particularly without solicitation, so i felt very very grateful to have been given that opportunity. Everything that happened beyond that has been a real blessing. I’ve been very fortunate to have a wealth of support from a community of readers and industry peers, who have helped give Rhubarb such an amazing shelf life, which has meant, more than anything, I’ve been able to keep writing.
You mentioned at the Sydney Writers’ Festival that you were making notes on Rhubarb back when you were 16 – how long did it take you to write the first draft, and were there any significant changes that you made in the editing process?
When I started Rhubarb, I was so naive about the process that I thought I’d have it finished in a few months. I didnt write the last sentence for another three years – and I still have no idea what im doing. Rhubarb is actually a longer book for having been edited. There were a number of threads that needed more engagement and clarification, so it was more a process of fleshing out, rather than trimming the fat, which was my experience with Jasper Jones.
Speaking of Jasper Jones, how would you pitch it in one sentence?
A regional Southern Gothic Coming-Of-Age story about two boys with a secret, searching for the truth in a town that trades on myth.
What drew you to writing a “Southern Gothic”-style book set in Australia?
Initially it was no more than the fact that I wanted to have a go. I’ve always adored Southern Gothic fiction. There’s something very warm and generous about those regional American writers like Twain and Lee and O’Connor, and it seemed to be a literary ilk that would lend itself well to the Australian condition. It was only after the themes announced themselves, and I realised where the book was headed that it seemed so apt and important to have these literary elements.
Out of Jasper, Charlie and Jeffrey – which one is most like Craig Silvey? Is there anything autobiographical about any of them, or any of your other characters for that matter?
I like to think I’m fairly evenly distributed through the three boys, though Charlie probably bears the larger share of my character, simply because we come to know him so well. Like Charlie, I was a bookish kid who was terrified of girls and insects but like Jeffrey Lu, I was also a cheeky, unflappable little antagoniser. I think, though, as I grow older, I’m evolving more and more into Jasper Jones: a little quieter, a little stronger, and a little more solitary.
So many hypotheticals spring up over the course of Jasper Jones, so, I pose to you one of my favourites: which could you rather live your life with, penises for fingers or a hat on your head made of poisonous spiders?
Spider hat. Hands down.
If you could claim any other writer’s work as your own, whose would it be?
Twain or Vonnegut.
Most annoying thing about being an author?
It’s far less annoying for me than it is for those closest to me. It’s hard being an author, but it’s harder knowing and loving an author. George Orwell said: Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
And it’s unfortunately true. It’s something you’re beset by, it’s like some kind of seductive parasite that takes you over and wont leave you be. It’s not like other jobs where you can leave your woes at the office. It’s a very private battle. A very mild, genial form of schizophrenia. These characters and their story sort of take you over, and you delve further and further into their lives. And soon they’re taking more of your time and your nutrients, and you’re inhabiting this fictional world with a closer focus than the one you’re supposed to be living.
And, of course, that leaves less and less time for the real people in the real world who rightly expect to be an important part of your life. And you hope that they understand, or at the very least stay patient, but all they really know is that you’re absent when it counts. And so you want to tell them that it’s worth it, you want to show them what’s roiling inside your head, but of course you cant. You’ve got to wait it out and see it through. And so there’s this communal faith and patience, and more than enough teeth gritting, and in the end, you present this pound of flesh, and you hope that it might help reward that faith, that it might be worth it, that it might make these precious people proud. Because if it doesn’t, then you’re kinda just a self-centred douchebag.
If you could rid the world of ONE book, which would it be?
The first novel I ever wrote, when I was fourteen years old. It was as hideously and hilariously bad as it was earnestly epic. And it was called The Drug Warden. Enough said.
The last Australian book you read?
Breath, by Tim Winton.
Craig Silvey is one of our Featured Authors of the Month for June, and to celebrate, Boomerang Books is joining forces with our friends at Allen and Unwin to give blog readers the chance to win one of three copies of Craig’s newest release, Jasper Jones, so keep your eyes on the blog for competition details. It will be announced separately to our monthly giveaway, details for which can be found HERE.
As an aside, I’m really loving interviewing authors as part of our new, revitalised Boomerang Blog, and I hope you’re enjoying reading the interviews just as much. That said, do you have a particular Australian author you’d like us to interview? Send me an email, and I’ll see what I can do.