By Gillian Dooley
Three years ago I sent a fan email to a writer I’d just discovered. She had written an amazing novel and I was reviewing it for Radio Adelaide’s Writers’ Radio program. But I wasn’t content with just writing a rave review. I had questions. I wanted answers. So I invited her to speak at my library; I suggested we do a Q & A session. I also suggested that we do an interview for the Adelaide Review. Then, because that interview had to be a mere 800 words, I said I wanted to publish an expanded version in Transnational Literature. She was happy to fall in with my plans, and so all these things happened.
By this time I’d been reviewing regularly around the traps for about 10 years, and had done a small amount of interviewing, usually of authors, fiction and non-fiction, whose work had particularly appealed. I loved being able to burrow in behind the scenes of a book. Obviously I’m a great believer in the author interview – after finishing my PhD I edited a collection of interviews with Iris Murdoch, rather than revising my thesis for publication. Of course what the author says is not the beginning and end of interpreting literature, but I love the jolt you can get from an unexpected answer to what might seem like a routine question. My interview with Amy was valuable source material when I came to write an article on her, now published in an Adelaide University Press book.
So for the critic or reviewer, interviews can give unique insights into the creative process. For the writer, both interviewing and being interviewed can help work through all sorts of issues, and just being able to compare notes with a fellow writer can be constructive. But the main beneficiary is the reader, who will learn more about the writing life – the hard work, the uncertainties, the difficult choices authors make, but also the sheer pleasure when writing is going well. And a good, readable interview will obviously be excellent publicity, the kind that money can’t buy.
And now I’m the co-editor of a new e-journal, Writers in Conversation, which specialises in author interviews. And I’m taking a SAWC workshop this weekend with that awesome writer I sent fan mail to back in 2011, my friend and colleague Amy T. Matthews, author of End of the Night Girl. Pretty cool, yes?