Last month saw the launch of the latest novel by Tasmanian writer Heather Rose. The Museum of Modern Love is one of our Recommended Reads for September, and there’s a chance to win a copy in our monthly competition, so head on over for a look.
We are delighted that Heather was able to take time our of her hectic launch-week schedule to have a chat with us, and answer some questions about the book, the publishing landscape of Australia, and her love for Tasmania.
Can you tell us a bit about the experience of being Writer-in-residence at MONA?
MONA was a world of smells and sounds. For months of my residency the large cloaca installation was in place so coming to and from the studio my senses were vivified by the pungent scent of replicated human guts. Depending on what the artworks had been fed – pizza, steak, muesli – the room smelled like a footballer’s post-game crotch or warm and rancid caramel. The metaphorical possibilities kept my writing in perspective. It was possibly shit, it was certainly shit, I was full of shit.
Beyond the cloaca room was the sound tunnel leading to my room. I was rewarded on days the gallery was open with a ping pong of sound as I hop-scotched the tunnel, attempting to create a variety of new soundscapes each day. This frivolity was dampened somewhat by emergence back into the poo room. I thought of it as re-birth. Escaping the pursuits of my imagination, I slipped down the tunnel into the bare ordinariness of the human condition. It was humbling, but that is a useful part of the creative process.
There was also the dim serenity of the room itself with its view out over the Derwent and the delights of the library to send me down one-hundred rabbit holes into the wonderland of art. I turned off my phone, talked to a minimum of people, had no email. Instead the room was filled with my research. Sheets of white paper stuck to the wall behind my desk plotted the 75 days of The Artist is Present with everything that happened in real life (ie when Isabelle Rosselini sat, James Franco, Sharon Stone) and everything that happened in the fiction of the novel. The room was my way of immersing myself, uninterrupted, in the imaginative process. This was the gift. Time and a room of my own.
What was Marina Abramovic’s response when you read a section of the novel to her? Have you maintained an ongoing relationship with her?
I am not sure that Marina has really taken in that I have written a novel with her in it. Yes, I was given permission, yes I did read an extract to her to a packed house at the Odeon during her show. Yes, we did meet and chatted briefly. She suggested I go and count the rice. I had drunk too much champagne to care about rice. I didn’t really have any desire to meet her – and maybe she didn’t really have any desire to meet me. Writing is a strange enough profession without your characters actually coming to life and wandering about your home town. I also suspect weird and wonderful things happen to Marina all the time, so having a novel written about her may not be of particular significance. Her staff, on the other hand, seem inordinately excited to read it.
You’re currently studying Fine Arts – do you find that academic work complements your more creative work, or is it a struggle to find a balance between the two?
I have discovered a love of painting. And drawing. I’m not very academic about it. It has come rather late in life, after the half-way point, and it’s like being back at kindergarten. Everything is fun. There are no mistakes because the whole thing feels like a happy accident. I’ve started too late to ever be very good, so I get to play. Writing, on the other hand, has become rather serious after seven novels. I will have to go back to my reliable and reassuring relationship with words very soon as a new novel is underway, but meanwhile my mornings throwing paint about, or afternoons getting sooty with charcoal, are bliss.
There is a lot of campaigning going on in the publishing and writing world at the moment – a lot of writers speaking out against arts cuts, the Government’s planned changes to copyright laws and parallel importation – is that something you’re getting involved with at all?
It is absolutely appalling what the government is attempting to do under the guise of productivity. It will destroy careers, cripple income streams and crush a $2billion industry that takes no subsidies and requires no tariffs. The chance of getting published for the first time under these new rules will be radically reduced.
I was buoyed to see so many people at the launch of The Museum of Modern Love take copies of the little white book of essays on this topic – #SaveOzStories. If you don’t have a copy please get one at your bookstore. They’re free and essential reading for writers and all those who love reading Australian stories.
But hurry. The final report is being presented to the Government in September. I’m in the process of writing to all our Tasmanian federal politicians and I urge all writers to do the same. This is one we cannot hope will just sort itself out.
Earlier this year, you interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert in a wonderful event at the Theatre Royal – what words of wisdom have stayed with you from that event?
Better done than good.
You recently published the final book in the Tuesday McGillycuddy series – how does it feel for that project to come to an end?
I’m a bit excited to see what Angelica Banks will come up with next. Our writing partnership is very special. I’m sure we have more to come…
Do you think Tasmania is a good place to be a writer?
If you didn’t live here, where would you live?
I’d do Spring in New York, Summer in Taos, New Mexico, then Autumn on the Isle of Skye and Winter in Grindelwald in Switzerland.
What have you read and enjoyed yourself recently?
Eckhardt Tolle’s vital A New Earth, a riveting biography called Drunk Mum, the new novel by Dominic Smith – The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. But I think the standout for me in the last 12 months is still All the Light We Cannot See.
Can you tell us a little about some of your past jobs – the good and the bad – to inspire people who might be working past time and writing part time?
Wow, well I’ve run advertising agencies and sat on boards. But I’ve also been a goatherd in Greece, a youth hostel manager in Scotland, I’ve worked bars and waited tables, I’ve picked flowers and planted trees, and I’ve mothered three children. The last job was absolutely the best and was probably the most valuable in keeping alive a sense of fun, wonder and a love of creativity.
We hear that you’re a bit of a baker – what’s your favorite cake to make for family?
The family like a very simple chocolate cake I make with a warm chilli ganache. But I really like having enough time to make carrot cake with walnuts and cream cheese icing.
We also have some spare copies of the #SaveOzStories book that Heather mentioned at the Tasmanian Writers Centre office, so if you don’t have one yet please feel free to come and pick one up.