Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.
Alison Booth has a PhD from the London School of Economics, and is the author of several books, including The Philosopher’s Daughter, which came out in early April. Like many of my participants, she had events and launches cancelled. With some of these moving online, my series is one aspect of how these authors are getting the word about their books out there, and in some cases, I am reviewing them – these reviews will appear in separate posts as close to the interview date as possible – or as soon as I can get them up – I am hoping to stick to keeping them close together, otherwise will link them to each other in the posts when I am able to.
Hi Alison, and welcome to The Book Muse!
- Your novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters, came out on the second of April, 2020. To begin, can you tell my readers a bit about your latest book?
The Philosopher’s Daughters is a tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession.
- What inspired this book in particular, and what genre do you usually write in?
For years the idea for The Philosopher’s Daughters just wouldn’t let me alone. I kept imagining 1890s London and two strong but very different young women, the daughters of a widowed moral philosopher. Someone like John Stuart Mill, a great advocate for the emancipation of women. Someone who gives the girls a relatively modern upbringing. Then I wanted to introduce an alteration in the sisters’ circumstances so that they separately choose to journey into remote and wild Australia. What might happen to them? How might they see life at the ‘frontier’ once they are confronted with the brutal dispossession of the Indigenous population? How would their characters develop as they faced danger?
The second half of The Philosopher’s Daughters mostly takes place in the Northern Territory of South Australia, one of the last areas of the continent to be appropriated by British colonisers. At that time and in that part of Australia, the frontier wars were still being fought, largely over the establishment of the cattle industry, although they weren’t recognised as frontier wars back then.
I’ve long been fascinated by how children are shaped by the preferences and attitudes of their parents; they can react against them, agree with them, or be crushed by them. The closer we are to a parent, the harder it can be to move away from their influence and develop in one’s own right. This is the burden that Harriet, the older of the two sisters, carries.
- What events did you have to cancel due to the pandemic, and where were these events going to take place?
We’d planned events in the UK, which is where the novel is published. Needless to say, these have had to be cancelled and my trip to the UK had to be shelved too. To make things more complicated, the London warehouse went into lockdown some weeks ago so book distribution halted. However, the publisher organised a British book bloggers tour that began before the lockdown, and I’m thrilled with the responses.
Amazon has the kindle version of the book on its UK and Australian websites, and once the UK lockdown ends and the paperback version of the book is mobile again and arrives in Australia, we have plans for events in Australia.
I’ve been very impressed with the outreach from the book community to authors whose releases have been affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns. I’m very grateful to you and all the others who have offered coverage on their blogs.
- Other than The Philosopher’s Daughters, what other works have you written, and what genre are they in, or are they all different genres?
My previous novels include A Perfect Marriage (2018), a work of contemporary fiction, while my first three novels (Stillwater Creek (2010), The Indigo Sky (2011), and A Distant Land (2012),) are historical fiction spanning the period from the late 1950s through to the early 1970s. More details can be seen at my fiction website: http:// http://www.alisonbooth.net
- Have any of your books won any awards?
Stillwater Creek was Highly Commended in the ACT Book of the Year Award in 2011 and A Perfect Marriage was Highly Commended in the 2019 ACT Writing and Publishing Awards.
- You’re also a professor at ANU in Canberra – what is your PhD in, and what do you teach?
My PhD is from the London School of Economics and is in economics. During my teaching career, I taught a variety of courses and my favourites were graduate labour economics and public economics. I am Emeritus Professor now and I no longer teach but I’m continuing with research projects.
- What is your area of interest, and why did you choose this area in particular?
My research interest is behavioural economics, which studies the effects of psychological and cultural factors and the like on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions. I chose this area because of my interest in the links between cultural factors, economics and psychology.
- Does this area of study and research inform your fiction writing, or do you find they are completely separate?
There is some overlap to the extent that fiction involves human psychology and I’ve always been interested in this. But also my research is concerned with inequalities, both in terms of racial and gender issues, and this comes across in the fiction.
- When not teaching and writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Reading, bush walking, visits to art galleries and the cinema, and dining with friends.
- Do you have a favourite book or comfort read, and why this one in particular?
My father introduced me to the novels of Patrick White. I love reading and rereading them. While at each stage of my life I’ve noticed different things about these books, I particularly appreciate the landscapes White describes and his acute psychological insights.
I don’t have a comfort read but I do have a comfort TV programme, and that is the complete set of episodes of Dad’s Army. The characters in this series are superb.
- How do you switch between academic writing and fiction writing, or do you have a schedule and process to do this easily?
When I’m writing the first draft of a novel, I work very regularly and aim for 300 words a day. This is not many words and I can fit this in with other things happening in my life. Once a draft is finished, I put it away for a while and then block off a chunk of time when I can work on revising it. I don’t mind the actual switching between the different forms of writing any more, though I did find that shift between heart and head difficult to begin with. I write many drafts; for each novel there are typically well over twenty.
- What do you have planned next for your fictional worlds?
I’m working on two book drafts. Both are historical although not in the purists’ definition of historical as being set more than fifty years ago. I’m at the redraft stage for both projects, so would prefer to keep them under wraps until I work out what needs doing to each of them.
- Books are important in these trying times – what booksellers are you trying to support and purchase books from?
Local bookstores and for some purchases Booktopia and Fishpond.
- With many festivals and launches heading online at the moment, do you think this will continue after the pandemic, making access to these easier for those who can’t attend in any capacity?
My guess is that online events will continue for a while, but with time – assuming the pandemic goes and the associated fears fade – we will return to the physical form, perhaps modified in some way and there may well be hybrid events. If we do return to where we were before the pandemic, I think it is very important for organisers of book events and festivals to provide podcasts for those who are unable to attend for whatever reason. Maybe this lockdown will have provided us all with more skills so this can be achieved.
- Do you have a favourite book or author?
That’s a difficult question! I admire a great many authors and read widely. My favourite authors include Patrick White, Toni Morrison, Peter Carey, Kate Grenville, Rose Tremain, and Anna Burns. This year I’ve read some wonderful books including Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Anna Burns’ Milkman.
- What were your favourite books to read when you were younger?
When I was very young my favourite books were by authors Arthur Ransome and Enid Blyton, and I also loved the children’s encyclopedias on my parents’ bookshelves.
Thank you, Alison,
Thank you so much, Ashleigh. If anyone reading this interview likes my books, I’d be delighted if they could post a review on the website of their favourite bookstore and on Amazon. Online feedback is really important to authors and particularly so in this pandemic period.