The next author in the ‘Few of my favourite things…’ 2015 HNSA Conference interview series is Toni Jordan. She will be appearing in Personal Histories: In Conversation with Toni Jordan and Posie Graeme-Evan on on the 22 March and War-torn Worlds: Historical Fiction in Times of Conflict on 21 March.
Toni Jordan was born in Brisbane and graduated from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Science. She has worked as a sales assistant, molecular biologist, quality control chemist and marketing manager. Her debut novel, ‘Addition’, was shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award and long-listed for the Miles Franklin in 2009, and has been published in sixteen countries. Her second novel, ‘Fall Girl’, was published in 2010 and her latest, Nine Days, in 2012. Toni lives in Melbourne.
Here are a few of her favourite things:
Book as a child and as a teenager?
For my thirteenth or fourteenth birthday, or maybe it was Christmas, my mother gave me a gift-wrapped cardboard box so large she couldn’t move it from the middle of the lounge room floor, where she’d wrapped it. The reason I don’t remember the specifics of the occasion is because, when I opened it, my brain melted. It was full of books. I mean full, packed to the top. My mother wasn’t a big reader, though she kept a rotating pile of historical romances on her bedside table. I suspect some clever bookstore staffer helped her choose the books for me. Inside the box was my first Complete Sherlock Holmes, my first Austen, my first copy of Middlemarch and my first Jane Eyre. There were many others: I remember especially a collection of ghost stories that remains on my shelf today, and also a number of Ian Flemings, whom I still consider scandalously underrated. I loved some more than others (the Holmes became an obsession, quickly), but mostly I remember the utter thrill, the indulgence of putting my hand in that big box and pulling out a ticket to another world.
I love all kinds of novels, provided they are very, very good examples of their kind. My all-time favourite is probably Zadie Smith--I find the playfulness of her novels, her use of light and shade, to be amazing. Among the Australians, I love Michelle de Kretser. If I ever manage to write sentences half as good as hers, I’d die happy. (I’ve met her a few times around the traps and she is always gracious despite my fan-girl blithering.) I’m also a big fan of Sarah Waters, Hilary Mantel (of course), early Peter Carey, and some AS Byatt. I read about two novels a week and the last ones I’ve loved have been: Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, and Clade by James Bradley.
Period of History?
I’m not fussed. It’s all about entering another world for me, and I don’t care if that ‘other world’ is chronological, geographical, fantastical or just plain experiential. If you can show me life from the perspective of someone else who isn’t me, I’m there. I can’t bear anything heavy-handed that shows off its research. Bleh.
Character in one of your own books?
I’m fondest of Kip Westaway, from my latest novel, Nine Days. When we first meet him in the first chapter, he’s just a teenager. It’s the late 1930s and he’s working as a stablehand. He’s just adorable: a bit of a larrikin, cheeky and delightful. There are a lot of jumps in time in this book, and we see him at various ages over the course of the story, including as an old man. I loved building his character in this way. Of course, if you meet someone at 15, and then meet them again at 85, they’re the same person--kind of. Lots of things can change in a person over a lifetime--and they should, because life changes people--but there must be an essence that remains true to someone’s heart. To convey this, I needed to understand Kip in a deeper way than with any other character I’ve ever written.
Scene you enjoyed writing?
I’m a sucker for two things: laughter and sex. These are always my favourite scenes. I love reading and writing humour in fiction and think it’s not used often enough, and not respected enough by critics. It’s incredibly difficult to make a reader laugh, just by reading ink on a page. The rhythm of the sentences must be perfect and the characters must be perfect: believable without becoming a parody of themselves. And the sex scenes? Who doesn’t love sex scenes? The sex scene in Nine Days is probably my favourite scene, because it’s the climax (!!) of the whole book.
Place to write?
I need to be at my desk, with my assistant (Myron the Wonderwhippet, photo attached) next to me. I find it very difficult to write away from home. No music. I don’t answer the phone.
Steps in the process of writing?
I’m a big believer in sitting your bum on your chair and writing to work stuff out. I am incredibly disciplined: I work Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and I don’t get up out of the chair until I’ve done 1250 words for the day. I’ve been known to be sitting there at 2am. (OK, I’m allowed to go to the toilet and have lunch, but that’s it.) Once I bang out a first draft, then I sit back and try to impose a bit more intelligence on it. I move bits around and scraps bits and write new bits, I try to be analytical about what’s working and what’s not working. This is the stage I do my research, also: I refuse to do research first and risk getting bogged down in fascinating little diversions. I write the first draft, and that allows me to figure out what I need to know. Then I go and find stuff out in a very targeted fashion.
Method of writing i.e. longhand or typing?
Typing. I can’t even think unless my fingers are moving across a keyboard. (Thank you, dear departed Sister Elizabeth, who insisted I learn to touch type 70 words a minute at High School so I would have something to ‘fall back on’ should I fail at becoming a scientist. I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you.)
TV program /movie?
Cooking shows, by proper cooks. I love watching people whip up something sensational. I can’t bear reality television in any of its forms. If I am in the mood for television, I’m generally fairly happy with anything that has a script, story and actors.
I am of peasant stock. I would marry potatoes if it was legal.
One family. Nine momentous days. An unforgettable novel of love and folly and heartbreak.
It is 1939 and although Australia is about to go to war, it doesn’t quite realise yet that the situation is serious. Deep in the working-class Melbourne suburb of Richmond it is business—your own and everyone else’s—as usual. And young Kip Westaway, failed scholar and stablehand, is living the most important day of his life.
Kip’s momentous day is one of nine that will set the course for each member of the Westaway clan in the years that follow. Kip’s mother, his brother Francis and, eventually, Kip’s wife Annabel and their daughters and grandson: all find their own turning points, their triumphs and catastrophes, in days to come.
But at the heart of all their stories is Kip, and at the centre of Kip’s fifteen-year-old heart is his adored sister Connie. They hold the threads that will weave a family.
In Nine Days Toni Jordan has harnessed all the spiky wit, compassion and lust for life that drew readers in droves to Addition and Fall Girl. Ambitious in scope and structure, triumphantly realised, this is a novel about one family and every family. It is about dreams and fights and sacrifices. And finally, of course, it is—as it must be—about love.
Toni Jordan will be appearing in the following panels at the 2015 HNSA Conference:
21 March 2.15-3.15 pm Session Five
War-torn Worlds: Historical Fiction in Times of Conflict
Vashti Farrer joins Nicole Alexander, Toni Jordan, Kim Kelly and Sophie Masson in discussing why World Wars I and II inspire their fiction, and the challenge of depicting characters who must either overcome, or succumb to, the turbulence of war.
22 March 9.00-9.45 am Session One
Personal Histories: In Conversation with Toni Jordan and Posie Graeme-Evans
What attracted Toni Jordan to historical fiction after writing acclaimed contemporary novels? And why did Posie Graeme-Evans change careers from being an enormously successful television director, producer and executive to an historical novelist immersed in distant times? Join Kelly Gardiner in learning these story tellers’ own histories.
For more information on all our panels, please visit our site for program details. And you can buy your tickets here.
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The first 30 ticketholders to purchase a ‘Standard’ Whole Conference Ticket will receive a free copy of either The Lace Balcony by Johanna Nicholls, The King’s Shadow by Barbara Gaskell Denvil or The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans.
All ticket holders will receive a Momentum ebook bundle in celebration of Felicity Pulman’s launch of Unholy Murder.
The first 50 fully paid ticket holders will receive a copy of Sherryl Clark’s new book Do You Dare – Jimmy’s War in celebration of her launch.