To read the first part of the interview with Caroline Hamilton, author of Consumed, please click here.
In Consumed, you explore and mythologise womanhood as a primal force which can be both creative and destructive, and have not only developed Lilith as a positive and powerful figure, who is both seductive and unyielding (The Book of Vassalissa was a particular highlight for me), but have also created an enduring character in Katarina. What ideas and/or people, if any, inspired the characters and directions you took in this respect?
My grandma was an influence for me, and the Katarina character was (very loosely) based on her – I guess I took some aspects of my grandma, but then extrapolated, developed and finally created a character that – whilst there were elements of my grandma in her – the character was her own unique being.
What is one of your favourite parts of the novel, and why?
I love the opening paragraph – it was the very first thing that I wrote for the novel and it has remained unchanged throughout the entirety of the book’s development.
I intended asking you about that opening paragraph. It's quite unusual to engage the reader through opening with a series of direct questions, but it both establishes the voice of Amelia perfectly and gives the reader notice that this is a story that will challenge convention.
I really heard the opening line in my head “Tell me something…” and I loved the directness of it. I guess coming from a background of performance poetry, my writing reflects that speech / first-person type of narrative. I am used to speaking, talking to the audience, and I love it because it’s very personal: you as the reader are going to enter my world – I am not simply going to describe it to you, I am going to involve you, plonk you right in the middle of it. Whilst I have tried to write in other ways, it never, ever rings true. So that first paragraph I love because it just sets it all up. And it’s interesting that you say it establishes the voice of Amelia – because I agree, totally; yet some of the feedback that I have gotten over the years is that the voice of Amelia isn’t strong enough. So… go figure…!
I believe you’re currently engaged in writing a book about your father, who was deported from Poland to Siberia during World War II. Can you tell us anything about this book?
This is proving to be rather difficult – whilst it is, for the most part, non-fiction, I am also fictionalising it and extrapolating the story. It has been particularly hard because I have to imagine my father’s life (he died when I was very young). Also, I am finding that part of the story is the search for his story. It’s a long process.
Do you have favourite books or authors, and if so what and who are they, and what do you particularly like about them?
Margaret Atwood – not all of her books though, but I love Oryx and Crake.
The Harry Potter series. (Come on! They’re classics! Great stories! Wonderfully executed!)
Italo Calvino: If on a winter’s night a traveller… (a story about a story about a story).
Patrick Suskind: Perfume (beautiful, lyrical, dark and sinister).
There are so many books that I like! I also love non-fiction. All kinds of non-fiction…
Although available in Australian bookshops, through the ABC Shop online and through ABC Books Worldwide, are there plans to publish or directly distribute Consumed overseas?
I would love for it to go overseas. Because the story is sinister yet kooky, I think it would go well. But maybe I’m biassed because I wrote it! I just think that Australia can be a little conservative when it comes to publishing, and that sometimes overseas audiences can be less so.
How do you write? Do you have a particular routine or habit that you’re able to follow? Is there a particular environment you prefer to be in? Do you have a particular process you follow (long-hand followed by word-processing), a patchwork of notes, etc?
I write when I can... which is not nearly often enough! Plus my partner and I now have a baby – so we’ve been kept very, very busy. I have a notebook with me wherever I go and try to write ideas and thoughts down when they first arise. Then, when I do find the time to write, I get all my notes together and just begin the process. I would like to be as disciplined as Sylvia Plath was (didn’t she get up at like 5am and do an hour of writing before getting kids ready for school?!) but I do like my sleep a bit too much! I have been known to take myself away on writing retreats and these have been hugely productive. I guess I just try, as much as I can, to get to the business of writing. Even if I think what I am producing is crap and half (or more) gets chucked away. It’s important to keep going, keep going, keep going. To be honest, about 80% of the words are flushed down the toilet – for a variety of reasons: it doesn’t fit in the story, the characterisation is wrong, etc. Nothing really ever gets fully lost though. These bits might end up in another story, you never know.
Is there any advice you could offer aspiring and emerging writers? Is there a piece of advice you feel you have most benefited from?
The first draft of a story is just that – a first draft. It’s usually the nuts and bolts of the thing, but it is in a really raw state. It’s after the first draft that the hard work comes in, and believe me, writing can be very hard work – it’s not just about producing words, sometimes you have to let go of ideas if they are not working, or two characters might become one. I remember cutting about half the book, getting rid of scenes and re-writing and restructuring. But mostly, the best advice I can give is to keep asking yourself what it is that you are doing:
- Where is the story going? Is it going where you think it’s meant to?
- What is the story about? (This may seem like a stupid question, but if you can’t say in one short sentence what the story is about, then do you really know yourself?)
- Be humble, listen to advice, and keep true to your vision.
Described as 'a sensuous tale of food, madness and revenge', Caroline Hamilton's Consumed can be purchased from ABC Books Worldwide (click here), the ABC Shop (click here) or off-the-shelf in Australian bookshops.