Stella: What were your favourite books as a child and a teenager? What factors or influences shaped your reading habits?
Jacinta: The Owl Service by Alan Garner always stands out for me. A terrifying, haunting romance that entwines ancient myth and contemporary reality with consummate skill. I re-read it recently and was amazed at Garner’s ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach to the narrative. He launches the reader in the deep end, and expects them to make sense of character and plot, never condescending to explanation. I think this is partly why the book works so well.
And I loved I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (and indeed The Hundred and One Dalmations before that). I loved the narrator, largely because she aspired to be a writer against all odds!
Stella: Did you mostly study books by male or female writers at school? Do any of these still resonate with you today?
Jacinta: I can’t remember being encouraged to read in any particular way at school. We studied the obligatory Shakespeare, fairly superficially I seem to recall, and some Jane Austen, which I was happy to read. I still adore Pride and Prejudice. The only VCE novel I can remember was The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. There was some John Donne poetry somewhere along the way. I’d say we studied mainly male authors, but I can’t be entirely sure.
What I do remember is who we didn’t study: Virginia Woolf, Alice Munro, Toni Morrison, Christina Stead, Patrick White. The Man Who Loved Children tore at my adolescent heart. How I raged against Sam, and how I suffered Lou’s mortification! Such a violently felt reading experience.
Stella: Are there any books you wish you had read when you were younger, but weren’t introduced to?
Jacinta: The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers, which I read only quite recently and so admired for its voice, language and characterisation, and the way that McCullers delivered big themes like war and racism on a small domestic canvas. How? Through pitch-perfect dialogue and the wonderful indirect discourse of the main character, Frankie Addams. I’m pleased to see it’s been on recent VCE booklists.
Stella: How did your interest in reading and writing develop over time? Was this encouraged through particular teachers or mentors?
Jacinta: One of the great pleasures of studying writing at RMIT was being introduced to new writers. My teacher Antoni Jach was especially helpful in this regard. He was a great fan of the Modernists, and on his recommendation I read Woolf, Proust, Musil, Jelinek, Bernhard, Beckett. My first novel was very influenced by the Modernists, particularly J.M. Coetzee, who one could call a contemporary modernist.
More recently I’ve read a lot more women writers: Alice Munro I always come back to, and the sublime work of Marilynne Robinson. With regards to Australian women writers, I very much admire the fiction of Michelle de Kretser, Helen Garner, and Alexis Wright, to name just a few. And Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest is stunning.
Stella: What advice you would give to young aspiring writers?
Jacinta: Read, read and read some more. Challenge yourself – choose books that you’re not sure you’ll like, because you might be surprised and delighted. Learn about voice and characterisation from other authors. Develop a good ear for beautiful sentences and stuff that rings true. Deconstruct, so you can begin to understand how and why a good book works. And be brave in your own writing. Go for it. Think of the zero draft, in which anything and everything goes and nothing needs to be deleted. Be prepared to work hard, very hard, but savour it. Celebrate the creation of something – a poem, a page of prose, a short story – from nothing. It still amazes me.