|Lily Brett won the NSW Premier's Literary Award for Fiction in 1995 for her novel Just Like That, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, South East Asia and South Pacific Region, Best Book award in 2000 for Too Many Men. She recently published her fourth novel, Lola Bensky, and spoke to Jessica Au for "Readings"|
Lola Bensky follows a 19-year-old rock journalist as she traverses the music scene from London to LA in 1967. You also began your career writing for Australian rock newspaper Go-Set at 18. Do you think that writing from or of ourselves allows for greater depth or truth?
I think that one way or another we all write from our own experience. No-one else is creating the characters or the stories. Whether the facts or the storylines match our real lives is irrelevant. I think it is important to write about what you know. What you care about. What matters.
I try to be as honest as I can when I write. I try not to flinch or to disguise or shy away from something that might feel very painful to me. I want people to know who they are reading about, whether the character is a rock journalist or a private detective.
Lola shares several contemplative moments with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and co. - music icons that you also interviewed over the years. There's a charisma and vulnerability to each of these characters as we see them through Lola's eyes. How do you approach writing these real-life personalities in fiction?
When I write about real-life personalities in fiction, I want to make those portraits as accurate as I can. I want to portray the people I am writing about as real people, which they are. I did this in my novel, Too Many Men, with Rudolph Hoess, the commandant of the death camp Auschwitz. I wanted to show Rudolph Hoess as a real person - a husband, a father, a hard worker, someone we could all identify with, not as someone you could easily dismiss as just a monster.
I thought about Lola Bensky and that period of time in the mid to late 1960s for many years before I wrote the book. I made a lot of notes. When I did start writing it was very intense. I worked seven days a week for 11 months. I barely went outside. I was certain that I must be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency because of the lack of sunlight.
I love the feeling of being immersed in a novel. Being so steeped in another world that that world becomes your reality. For the entire time I was writing Lola Bensky I was in 1967. The fact that it was 2011 barely registered. One of the surprising things about writing is that if you are still enough, memories and feelings that have been buried for decades can emerge with great clarity.