Charlotte is the author of novels Pieces of a Girl, The Submerged Cathedral, The Children and Animal People. Her latest book is a collection of non-fiction writing on food and cooking: Love & Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food. Animal People won the People’s Choice medal in the 2013 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and was long-listed for the 2012 Miles Franklin Literary Award. Charlotte created and edits The Writer’s Room Interviews magazine. She has lived in Sydney for the past twenty-five years.
The Source of Fiction
“I write slowly and at the moment have a routine of two full days a week; I’m doing a PhD on the psychology of creativity as well as writing a novel for its creative component. I edit The Writer’s Room Interviews magazine, which gives me a great deal of pleasure, as well as a sizeable workload every two months.
“Like most writers, I was an obsessive reader when young, and loved English at school and writing essays and that kind of thing. I began tooling around with writing fiction at university, but not until my mother died when I was in my late 20s (my father had already died when I was nineteen) did I feel an urgent desire to try writing seriously.
“Now I look back at that time, I think their deaths gave me an understanding of my own extremes of existence, and provoked some need in me to understand myself through writing. Without being too dramatic about it, I think I understand what Flaubert meant when he talked about the source of fiction being ‘a deep and hidden wound’.”
Telling the Truth
“In the first phase, my use of words while writing is entirely instinctive. And often quite banal. In redrafting and revisions and even proofreading, I work very hard to be precise, to choose exactly the right word. It might often be a very simple one, but it must earn its place. Often it’s a matter of whether I feel I am ‘telling the truth’ with the word – do I really mean it, or does it feel fake in some way?
“I think we are trapped by our limitations with language in our lives, all the time. Writing fiction is a way of removing that limitation for me; it frees me to play with words and therefore make discoveries about myself and my world in a much slower, more reflective – and more effective – way than I ever could in the normal daily use of language.”
An Urgent Flicker of Energy
“The most important book for me to read is always the one that gives me an urgent flicker of energy for my own work – that loosens the straps for me in some way. It’s usually a matter of voice – lately the writing that’s doing this for me are Joyce Carol Oates’ creepy stories in The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares and some George Saunders stories, too. The voice in Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower has been an essential guide during the past year.
“Every book I love has a thrilling way of using words, otherwise I can’t love it.
“I for Isobel by Amy Witting has an urgent density I have very much enjoyed recently.
“What is meaningful is the right word at the right time. I recently loved Tim Winton’s phrase “the clothy air” to describe the exhausting humid heat in Eyrie.”
Eighth Exaltation – Philip Wolfhagen, 2013
(Interview first published on Pieced Work – December 13th 2013)