Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 10, 2012

Meet an Aussie Author: Rodney Hall


Rodney Hall (photo credit: Ross Bird)

Rodney Hall is the acclaimed author of  eleven novels including two Miles Franklin winning titles, Just Relations (1982) and The The Grisly Wife (1993);  14 books of poetry, four non-fiction titles, a memoir and a new book called Silence which is a collection of fiction writings in homage to his favourite writers. (I’ve only browsed a couple of these so far, but enough to be intrigued.  You can read reviews – by Stella Clarke  here and James Ley’s here.)  Hall’s work is published internationally in the US, UK and elsewhere, and is widely translated around the world  into German, French, Danish, Swedish, Dutch, Norwegian, Spanish, Portuguese and Korean.  (In fact I first heard him speak f2f at a forum on translation here in Melbourne; he speaks very highly of the unsung work of translators.)

Just Relations and The The Grisly Wife are out-of-print, I think, but thanks to Abe Books I’ve been able to source first editions of both of them and they are patiently waiting their turn on my Miles Franklin winners shelf.  (I’m reading the ones that I own in chronological order and there are eight ahead of Just Relations. The Irishman  by Elizabeth O’Conner is next but I keep getting distracted by other things!)

But I have read and enjoyed two of  Hall’s more recent novels  The Day We Had Hitler Home which was short-listed for the Miles Franklin in 2001 (read a review here),  and Love without Hope, which was shortlisted in 2008 and also won the ALS ( Australian Literature Society) Gold Medal.  (It’s a wonderful book with one of the most memorable female characters that I know. Read a review here).  I’m still hoping to chase up copies of The Second Bridegroom which also won the ALS medal in 1992 and Captivity Captive which won The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction in 1989.  And as you know if you read my review I was utterly captivated by his memoir of his childhood in rural England during the war, entitled Popeye Never Told You: Childhood Memories of the War(You can listen to Rodney Hall talking about this book with Richard Aedy at ABC Radio National’s Life Matter’s website). 

So yes, I am a fan, and so I was delighted to meet Rodney Hall in person at a Wheeler Centre event last year.  He is one of the nicest writers around, and so it gives me great pleasure to feature him in my Meet an Aussie Author series.

1. I was born in England at Solihull, Warwickshire (between Birmingham and Stratford). We arrived in Australia when I was 13.  All through my childhood this had been the plan. My mother’s determination to return here (her family had had a farm in Kangaroo Valley before the war) was always a powerful factor. Even before arriving in Australia it was already my magic land all through the bombing: Kangaroo Valley was the place I imagined escaping to. All but two of my novels are about understanding Australia and Australian history . . . absorbing and embracing this as home.

2. When I was a child I wrote almost nothing. The subjects I was good at were maths and art.

3. I left school at 16. That’s when I met John Manifold and his wife Kate. Really their encouragement was the beginning of my writing ambitions. I went to their house on the outskirts of Brisbane, armed with my clarinet, to make music. The moment I stepped into that house I knew my life had changed forever. Manifold was an accomplished musician—he introduced me to baroque music, for a start—but he was principally a poet and essayist.

4. I write at a stand up desk.

5. Generally I write in the mornings or late at night. I find my ideas in society and social values, in issues that may arise locally but have wider and deeper implications. I always conceive of my characters in social situations. It’s the interconnections and interactions between people that fascinate me.

6. Research is a minor part of what I do. I work in the imagination and very seldom need to look things up. Realism doesn’t interest me. Nor does non-fiction.

7. My published work belongs on the shelf among books by other writers.

8. On the day my first book was published and for many days after that I carried a copy everywhere with me, but I never saw one in the shops. 

9. At the moment I’m writing two new books, but I never talk about work in progress. My most recent publication is a collection of 29 short prose fictions called Silence (published by Pier 9). These were accumulated over a period of eight years. I wrote individual pieces while engaged on other book projects (Love Without Hope and Popeye never told you). In fact there were 50 of them when I finally called a halt in 2010. I then had the enjoyable task of crafting the sequence—teasing out connections and echoes—and reducing , reducing, reducing till the collection came together as a coherent unit. This coherence is one of ‘feel’ rather than rigid structuring. The decision to settle for two sequences of 14 pieces each with one central piece (about God) only came to me right at the last minute, really.

10. I always have at least two current projects, so I’m never stuck—I just switch between them according to my mood.

I think it’s because Rodney Hall is inspired by ‘society and social values, in issues that may arise locally but have wider and deeper implications’ that I find his books so satisfying.   I like his preoccupation with the individual standing up for him/herself against seemingly insurmountable odds, and I like his adventurous writing style. 

Thanks, Rodney, for participating in Meet an Aussie Author!

The Day We Had Hitler HomeLove without HopePopeye Never Told You: Childhood Memories of the WarSilence


Responses

  1. What a body of work! Terrific answers…helpful to other writers. I’m particularly interested in the fact that he always has at least two current projects on the go. Lisa do you know (or can you ask Rodney?) is a stand-up desk what it sounds like?

  2. Here’s what Wikipedia says about standing desks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing_desk; it sounds like they’re good for crook backs and better blood circulation. It would never work for me, I have BIG desks at sschool and at work, and spread stuff out all over them to work.

    It was sheer synchroncity that makes his answer about society and social values so pertinent. The very same night I came across this article about contemporary writers being ‘gutless’, see http://tinyurl.com/7xh2b7e, and while I don’t want to read political tracts, I do think that more of our writers should be paying attention to contemporary issues and writing about them. Rodney Hall did this and made a great story too in Love Without Hope which works on two levels. There is the rivetting tale about an old lady who escapes from a mental institution but it also made readers think about arbitrary detention with no hope of release as in Guantanamo Bay (even though it is never mentioned).

    I also like the way he’s always doing something different!

  3. Oh, I’m a fan too, Lisa. Read Just relations in the late 1980s and loved its fearlessness. I’ve also read The Day We Had Hitler home several years ago now and liked it too. Like you, I think, I like his themes and his inventive, risk-taking style. I’ve seen him once at a literary event and I recollect an intelligent but unassuming man.

  4. [...] she could with what she had.  Despite lessons with Archie Day and friendships with people like Rodney and Diana Hall, she was ill-equipped for anything less than a gilded cage.  And since my father couldn’t [...]


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