Matilda: Sounds to me more like the trial-and-error methodology you ended up with worked for the best. Though it probably didn't feel like it at the time. Did you ever think the whole thing wouldn't come together at all?
Wendy James: Oh, yes! In the end it was really the necessary evil of getting dates straight, of tying the two narratives together chronologically, that forced me to get it together. I had to do a great deal of literal cutting and pasting (actually, cutting and stapling) to get the narrative into a sensible shape. Even then I ended up with some odd things -- like a pregnancy that lasted 18 months or so...
M: I hope the 18 month pregnancy was the literary one.
Do you see parallels between what Maggie suffered though and what happens today with the abortion/adoption debates, and the whole fertility arguments that erupt?
WJ: Ah - you might have something there: perhaps I transferred my two to Maggie's one - I hadn't considered that....
The parallels are quite startling, aren't they? Obviously, the emphases aren't quite the same, but it seems many of the dilemmas confronting women haven't changed as much as you'd imagine, and I guess this is because we're still struggling to work out what equality actually entails. I think we're still experimenting: trying to work out how the raising of children and careers can be combined... & without one compromising the other. And no matter how laws are changed, as well as societal expectations, our biology - the fact that women are the ones who physically bear children - hasn't. I think the expectation of greater paternal involvement in childrearing is one very positive change ... In terms of political similarities, at around this period there was a pretty significant decrease in the birth-rate -- one of the conclusions (as stated in the NSW commission, and by many other interested parties) was that the selfishness of the 'New Woman" was to blame...naturally.
M: Did you have a contract in place when you finished the novel or did you have to shop it around agents and publishers?
WJ: I sent it to an agent as soon as it was in reasonable shape, and I was pretty lucky -- there were a couple of rejections, but Random were only the 3rd of fourth publisher to read it! So I've really had a bit of a dream run.
M: And what was it like, selling that first novel?
WJ: The stuff of dreams!! The advance was good - not huge, but it meant I didn't have to scrounge up bits of work for the next few months - and they contracted me for a second novel as well. So I was VERY fortunate.
M: What are you working on now? Is there anything you feel you can tell us?
WJ: The second novel's nearly ready to be sent off. My editor's yet to work her magic, so I won't say finished... I'd actually started it while I was researching OOTS (in a bid to enter the Vogel before it was too late, before I got too old) and after rereading - and at the insistence of my sister, who'd read and enjoyed the initial drafts - I decided it was worth reworking. The characters were still bugging me, anyway, obviously desperate for me to resolve their situation. It's very different to OOTS - much lighter - a contemporary domestic drama/mystery - maybe a little farcical. And no first person! A missing sister returns to claim an inheritance ... and if I say any more I'll spoil it. It's due out early 2007, and I think will be titled: THE RETURN.
The third novel is in the planning stages - it'll be heavier, darker, partly historical - and back to that abandoned child/motherhood trope, I'm afraid.
M: To finish up, you've been writing a lot lately, but what is the best you've read over the past twelve months?
WJ: The best I've read..? It's hard to choose, really. My big discovery has been the US writer Richard Yates -- his novel of domestic strife, Revolutionary Road, is quite a revelation, as is Easter Parade, and his short stories are mostly very fine. But I've read some other great stuff, all worth mentioning: John Harwood's The Ghost Writer; Susan Johnson's Broken Book; Carrie Tiffany's debut, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living; Andrew McGahan's White Earth; Gail Jones's Sixty Lights. Barry Maitland's detective fiction. Anne Manne's Motherhood should be read by all parents - though it can be quite confronting.... oh, and I've just come across UK writer Kate Atkinson (a little late) - her Case Histories is thrilling & moving, and I'm currently reading her first novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which is somehow making me laugh AND cry simultaneously. I have to mention Alice Monroe's latest volume of short stories Runaway - she's said that this might be her last, and that's making me cry, too....
M: Thanks for your time, Wendy, and good luck with the upcoming book.