Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The languid throwing of a line

(This post is part of the One Shot World Tour organized by Colleen Mondor--follow that link for other interviews with Australian writers. Through inattentiveness I only realized after the fact that the tour is oriented towards children's and young-adult authors--Peter Temple is not a young-adult writer--on the other hand I believe that the category is largely a function of publishers' needs rather than anything about the books themselves, and certainly like all the best books Temple's books should be read by everyone and will be edifying to people of all ages, David Copperfield for instance might be thought of as a young-adult novel...)

Peter Temple's one of those novelists whose language and imagination actually reshape your own experience of life in the world. His books have haunted me since I've read them (here's the anthology of past Light Reading rhapsodies), partly because I'd give up ten years of my life in order to be able to write prose this good.

A few links:

Here's another interview that concentrates more heavily on his Jack Irish books.

The first four books at this Amazon link are the novels of his available in the US, and frankly if you are a bit of a book-splurger and regardless of what genre of fiction you prefer to read (this is crime, conventionally speaking, though the books stand up to any of the requirements of so-called literary fiction) I defy you not to just buy them and feel like it's the best literary Amazon purchase you ever made. You can't go wrong starting with any of them, but the new one's The Broken Shore, and it has my highest recommendation, as indeed do all of his others.

In any case, Peter Temple kindly agreed to respond to a few questions. Here are his answers.

You have a ridiculously and blissfully perfect prose style. Tell me, would you say that in general you get this by grace or by works? Does it pretty much come out that way the first time, and is it comfortable or agonizing? Or do you edit a lot to get that quality, and is there a lot of invisible work that goes into it?

I can only imagine what it would be like to write well without effort. My writing is a process of rejection and amendment, of recasting and truncating, of despair tempered by mild elation.

In the years when I was trying to improve students’ prose, my mantra was that style was what remained when you had removed everything that delayed getting to the point. I got this from the hard men who taught me how to edit news stories. It doesn’t really apply to fiction, but it’s a good starting point. Being economical with words most of the time creates space for the occasional languid throwing of a line that snakes and hovers and falls.

Carpentry. Horse-racing. Australian Rules Football. Obviously you love these things--any further thoughts? For instance, on why carpentry is like writing, or on the novels of Dick Francis?

My father allowed me to hinder him when he made things. I thank him for that, as I hope my son will thank me. I wish I’d had a proper training as a cabinetmaker, but I came to it too late. There are similarities with writing. You need to learn how to use the tools. You need to forgive your failures and learn from them. You need to cultivate some aesthetic judgement – many skilled joiners make hideous objects.

I like horses and horse racing. The animals are beautiful, their nobility shames the often tawdry humans who surround them. I am a gambler too, so racing is a source of pleasure, smugness, pain, and chagrin. What else in life offers so much? Australian Rules football, that’s what. It’s a game of beauty, elegance and physical danger. Then there is the casual brutality and the bravery and the endurance. And I am speaking only of what it takes to be a fan.

You were born in South Africa. Would you consider writing a novel set there, and do you have any speculative remarks (assuming it does not horrify you to talk about future projects) as to what the book might look like? I'm especially curious about time period/setting--I would love to read a Peter Temple novel that had some points in common with "In the Evil Day"/"Identity Theory" only set in 1970s South Africa. (As a teenager, I had a passion for the novels of Robert Ludlum, and "The Bourne Identity" seems to me much his best--you've captured all the best things about that kind of book in yours...)

It is only in recent years that I’ve thought about writing a novel set in South Africa. Like many whites who left, I carry my guilt everywhere. The great distance that separates me from my young life only serves to magnify my memories of moral and physical cowardice and, what is perhaps worst, my callousness. Still, I’m drawn to attempt a book. If only I wasn’t drawn to doing so many other things.

30 comments:

  1. Thanks for the interview, Jenny. I love a good mystery, especially one with a great sense of place (odd, how mysteries seem to do this best). Ian Rankin, Henning Mankell...now let me add Peter Temple to my list.

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  2. This is great Jenny and I'm so glad to hear more about him. I do have that new book of Peter's and I am so psyched to get reading it now.

    Thanks a lot for joining the tour - it was really all about good books from Aussie authors - regardless of age range!!!!

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  3. Oops- that comment was from Colleen, of course! ha!

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  4. Thanks. Hadn't heard of this one before! I'm not a big mystery person, but this look check-outable.

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  5. While I hadn't heard of this author, and I only occasionally pick up mysteries, his answers are so thoughtful and well-spoken that I'm going to have to give him a try. Thanks for a great interview!

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  10. This is great Jenny and I'm so glad to hear more about him.
    --------------------------------------
    I do have that new book of Peter's and I am so psyched to get reading it now.

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  11. In the years when I was trying to improve students’ prose,
    --------------------------------------
    my mantra was that style was what remained when you had removed everything that delayed getting to the point.

    ReplyDelete
  12. You were born in South Africa. Would you consider writing a novel set there, and do you have any speculative remarks (assuming it does not horrify you to talk about future projects) as to what the book might look like? I'm especially curious about time period/setting--I would love to read a Peter Temple novel that had some points in common with "In the Evil Day"/"Identity Theory" only set in 1970s South Africa.
    --------------------------------------
    (As a teenager, I had a passion for the novels of Robert Ludlum, and "The Bourne Identity" seems to me much his best--you've captured all the best things about that kind of book in yours...)

    ReplyDelete
  13. My father allowed me to hinder him when he made things. I thank him for that, as I hope my son will thank me.
    --------------------------------------
    I wish I’d had a proper training as a cabinetmaker, but I came to it too late. There are similarities with writing.

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