Michelle de Kretser is shortlisted for the 2018 Stella Prize. In this special Stella interview, Michelle shares her favourite Australian women writers from the recent past and what inspired The Life to Come.
Please tell us something about the genesis of The Life to Come
It began with something specific and something vague. The former, a house by the Cooks River that I walked past with my dog; I couldn’t get it out of my mind, and it became the starting point for Part 1. The latter, a disquiet about the way histories (personal, societal, national) are shaped into stories, into narrative. What/who is omitted? Invented? Distorted? Maria Tumarkin wrote a very good essay about this in Griffith Review some years ago; it chimed with my own unease around the imperative to narrativise. ‘Tell us your story!’ – an impertinent demand.
Did you write the book in a chronological fashion? If not, which section did you write last – and why?
The order was 1, 3, 2, 5, 4. Part 4 focuses on Pippa and I left it till last because I wanted to explore Pippa through the eyes of other characters in order to feel that I understood her in the round.
Who are you favourite Australian female writers?
Too many to name among contemporaries, even if I confine myself to fiction. Also, there’s such pressure to keep up with the contemporary: the tyranny of now. So here are my fiction picks from the past: Shirley Hazzard, Christina Stead, Jessica Anderson, Madeleine St John, Elizabeth Jolley, Barbara Hanrahan.
Where do you write?
In my study at home.
Can you tell us what you’re working on next?
I’m writing a 10,000-word essay on Shirley Hazzard for Black Inc’s Writers on Writers series. A joy to pay tribute to The Great Shirley.
Michelle de Kretser was born in Sri Lanka and emigrated to Australia when she was fourteen. Educated in Melbourne and Paris, Michelle has worked as a university tutor, an editor and a book reviewer. She is the award-winning author of The Rose Grower, The Hamilton Case, The Lost Dog and Questions of Travel, which received fourteen honours, including winning the 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award.