Good Reading : March 2016
GOOD READING MARCH 2016 31 Q&A Did Pen, the protagonist of your novel, inherit any aspects of your own personality or life? I don't think Pen shares my personality but she was given some of my geography. I grew up in a country town like she did and went away to study law at university. Other than that, she is on her own and responsible for her own adventures and misdeeds. Recently you said that you believe that we're all unreliable narrators in our own lives. What did you mean by that? How I view the world will be different from you. At times the differences may be nuanced, but sometimes those differences may be enormous. As much as I'd like to think I'm always objective, the truth is that our own viewpoint will always be partial because we are humans not machines. You could see it as a flaw, but I think it's what makes us so interesting. That's why I began the novel with these words: 'This story could be told a hundred different ways'. It's both a reminder and invitation to those reading it. A reminder that this is not going to be a straightforward story and an invitation to the reader to come up with their own interpretation about what really happened and who bears responsibility for that. Despite the apparent ubiquity of the word 'girl' in the title of recent psychological thrillers, most of those characters are actually middle-aged women well past their university years. Pen, however, is only 18. What's the effect of having a younger protagonist on the cusp of adulthood? I wanted to set my novel in the first year of university. It's such a great mix of excitement, drama, loneliness and self-discovery. People are on the cusp of adulthood, trying to work out who they are without the safety and anchors of home and school. It's a time when everyone is a perfect stranger, even to themselves. The questions my characters, especially Pen, are grappling with -- Who am I? Can I change? Will I escape my past? Is this the way my life will always be? -- are questions we all ask of ourselves periodically throughout our lives, often in times of crisis, such as a divorce, losing a job, mid-life meltdown or a death in the family. It's just that my characters are facing them for the first time and there is something special about that. What are some standout books you've read recently? My two favourite books from last year are We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (who incidentally does a great audio reading of her own memoir). Over Christmas I read Colum McCann's TransAtlantic, Kim Scott's That Deadman Dance, High Dive by Jonathan Lee and on the crime front The Whites by Richard Price. All great novels. I am currently reading Sarah Hall's The Wolf Border and it is brilliant. What has the process of adapting your novel into an audiobook been like? I have always loved audiobooks and listen to them regularly, so it was a thrill when Bolinda, the audio book publisher, acquired the rights to my novel. I was involved in choosing the narrator -- a crucial decision with an audiobook -- and was able to provide some direction as to how I 'heard' the characters' voices. It's been a delight and I can't wait to hear the final product. Could you share with us a favourite snippet from All These Perfect Strangers? I always like to start at the beginning so, 'This is about three deaths. Actually more, if you go back far enough. I say deaths but perhaps all of them were murders. It's a grey area. Murder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So let's just call them deaths and say I was involved. This story could be told a hundred different ways.' All These Perfect Strangers by Aoife Clifford is published by Simon & Schuster, rrp $29.99.