Good Reading : March 2006
14 goodreading ı MARCH 2006 readers refused to believe that he didn’t have a baby. The Thompson Gunner was to him, in a sense, a declaration of his Northern Irish beginnings, a statement that ‘that’s where I’m from, that’s part of me, that’s part of my life.’ He feels good about the revelation and is quite open to the idea of using his own life experiences as a migrant in his fiction. He’s unequivo- cal about the effect of the migration experience on his writing, and is convinced that the relocation had a significant impact on his creativity. Firstly, as a young boy in a strange school he read an enormous amount, devouring all the non-fiction books at his state school. He was fascinated by war and weapons, and also read fiction, following ‘The Famous Five’ with ‘Biggles’. ‘All 43 books,’ he grins. And coming to Australia from a different country made him observe things more acutely than the locals. ‘I came here with an outsider’s eyes,’ he says, ‘very useful eyes to have as a novelist.’ On the curious issue of his background as a medical practi- tioner (Earls has an Honours degree in medicine), he explains: ‘Part of my reason for choosing medicine was that my mother was a medical doctor.’ His mother’s stories about Med School and his grandfather’s accounts of being a GP in Yorkshire in the 1920s intrigued him, as did the problem-solving aspect of med- ical practice. The prospect of being able to practise part-time to allow him to write was another motivating factor. ‘Miraculously it all worked out,’ he says. He eventually stopped practising medicine and started writing full time. That he has a humanitarian streak is evident from his hands-on support of charities. As chair man of the apolitical ‘War Child Australia’ charity, Earls has been involved in various fundraising programs. He also represents the Mater Hospitals Trust, the Abused Child Trust in Queensland and ‘Kids Who Make a Difference’ program. ‘War Child Australia’ has published the Girls Night In books (Number 4 came out last year), as well as the Kids Night In book, which caters for 9–12 year olds. ‘The purpose’, he explains, ‘is to make the book as entertaining as possible, but also to make the kids aware of the work “War Child” does.’ He likes the idea of kids becoming involved, ‘and feeling that it’s not hopeless’. Earls has campaigned for a republic in Australia because he believes it makes sense. ‘It’s part of our civic duty to get involved in things [that matter to us] to the extent that we can,’ he says, ‘whether we’re going to win or not. ‘I was no republican in Northern Ireland,’ he smiles. ‘My political views were those of an eight-year-old.’ But he became one in Australia. He says that it makes no sense to him that ‘our Head of State is deter mined by the Act of Settlement passed by the British Parliament in 1701, that settles the Crown on the most senior surviving descendant of the Countess of Hanover, on the other side of the world.’ On a philosophical level, Earls agrees with Alice Hoffman: ‘It is the subconscious of the person that’s in their writing, not the person who is on the book tour.’ When he writes a book, there are a number of things he does consciously. ‘But there is also a lot that goes into a book that cannot be explained, that draws on who we are and what we’ve been through.’ The television broadcast with the body bags was just there when he sat down to write the story, even though he had no conscious memory of it. ‘And beyond those specif- ics, there is a human- ity with which we invest our characters, which taps into our own humanity and our understanding of humanity,’ he observes. ‘On the author tour,’ he explains, ‘you set out to give people the best answers you can to their questions, which often tend to be anecdotes prepared to satisfy and connect with the audience members.’ He realises, however, that book tours are an important part of an author’s work, and emphasises this point to young writers who are newly published. That there is a version of them that sits there, in solitude, and writes the book, and a different version of them that goes out that door, shuts it behind them, and performs. ‘It helps to be able to do both, and to learn to enjoy doing both,’ he says. Earls speaks with sincerity and passion: ‘I believe in the pursuit of happiness, the company of friends and in making the most of straightforward things – mangoes, waves, mountains, mini-golf. I’m not the person I would have been if we’d stayed in Ireland, [but] we can’t escape our childhood, even if we cross the world to start a new one.’ The Thompson Gunner is published by Penguin Australia, r rp $22.95. author profile That he has a humanitarian streak is evident from his hands-on support of charities. As chairman of the apolitical ‘War Child Australia’ charity, Earls has been involved in various fundraising programs.