WAG: You've written seven works of fiction,
but The Shark Net is your first major foray
into nonfiction. Why did you decide to write a memoir?
Was it something you'd been considering for a long
I didn't really decide to write
a memoir as such; the material was so closely bound
up in personal family matters and sensitive feelings
that for a long while I saw it as somehow out of
bounds. But years, decades, passed and the chaotic
events of those four or five years at the beginning
of the sixties began pressing on me more than ever.
And I thought, "It's now or never."
How did it feel to mull over your childhood
and adolescence—or for that matter, the Perth
of your childhood?
It was both exhilarating and very
emotionally taxing. I enjoyed reliving the childhood
episodes ("the moss-pissing years") and
the whole provincial milieu of the fifties, and
got some wry amusement and bittersweet pleasure
out of writing about my adolescence, especially
my would-be Rottnest Island romances. But writing
about the pregnancy and its dramatic aftermath—inextricably
bound up as it was with multiple murders and domestic
and community recriminations—was very difficult
and gave me many sleepless nights.
Did you have any qualms about revealing so
much private material about your family?
Of course. But many years have passed—and,
as it happened, I was urged on and supported by
my sister, who was anxious to learn about that time
and the parents she hardly had time to know.
Do you think that you would have become a
different sort of writer—one with different
thematic interests, for example—if you had
stayed in Melbourne rather than moving to Perth?
There's no doubt I would be a different
sort of writer if the family hadn't moved from Melbourne.
Of course, I would have absorbed a totally different,
less extreme environment. Those early years really
fix a particular landscape in your mind's eye for
all time. I don't know what would have taken the
place of the beach and the coast in my life. Tennis?
Your use of the Eric Cooke murder material
is novel. Rather than presenting it as a straightforward
true-crime story, you use it more sparingly to advance
and underline more complicated themes in your own
story. Is that how you intended to use the material
from the beginning or did the manuscript develop
in that direction as you worked?
I was always determined not to let
the Eric Cooke material dominate the story. Despite
my knowing the killer and one of the victims, that
would have seemed to be exploiting it rather than
letting it sit naturally, as it actually happened,
within the context of my family's lives and the
lives and times of the community. It was the most
terrible time the community had experienced, but
life--and death--went on. Even today, thirty years
later, the Cooke killings are the source of constant
discussion in Perth.
How does writing nonfiction compare to writing
I guess it depends on the sort of
nonfiction. Writing a memoir is easier in a technical
sense: you know what is going to happen! You know
what your experiences were, what your material is.
The major difficulties are the sensitivities of
others, the selection process and your actual writing
Writing novels is a freer sensation
for me. After writing The Shark Net the next
novel will seem like a holiday. You're God, you
can make characters do what you want; you can make
the story go where you want. But with this freedom
you need a stringent discipline, too.
Do you think you'd work in nonfiction again,
if the right subject came along?
I would definitely work in nonfiction
again. In fact, I've been contracted by Hamish Hamilton
in London and Viking-Penguin in Australia to write
another memoirish book called Mangrove Point
after my present novel.
Finally, two related questions.
a) Many writers have a favorite
'neglected' writer--someone they think has been
unfairly ignored by the general reading public.
Do you have one yourself?
b) And who do you think is
the best under-appreciated writer working today?
a) I admire the work of Barry Hannah,
the Mississippi writer. I think he's hilarious,
very clever and edgy and blackly comic. I've used
his stories in two international short story collections
I've edited, The Picador Book of the Beach
and The Penguin Book of the City.
b) Apart from myself, do