Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living (2005) won the Dobbie Award for Best First Book (2006) and the 2006 Western Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction. It was shortlisted for major awards both in Australia and overseas:
- the Miles Franklin Literary Award
- the Orange Prize,
- the Guardian First Book Award and
- the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize.
I reviewed Mateship with Birds when it was released at the beginning of this year so I wasn’t at all surprised when Carrie was nominated for the Best Writing Award for the Melbourne Prize for Literature, the winner to be announced on 23 November 2012. Mateship with Birds has also been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, winners to be announced on Tuesday 16 October 2012. With a CV like this after only two slim novels, Carrie Tiffany is clearly on her way to becoming one of our major writers.
So of course I went along to hear her when she was featured in an Author Talk at my local library!
I liked the format of this session: after a brief introduction with a reading from Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living, the librarian let Carrie speak for herself.
A relaxed and confident raconteur, Carrie spoke mainly about the genesis of her writing. She says that a novel is always a personal story – all any author has is herself, the way she relates to the world, and her own experience of emotions. That is what she ’pushes’ into her characters. However, from what she told us about some of the real people who inspired her writing, I think that empathy plays a part too. I noticed that she listened carefully to audience questions, and reflected on what was said.
She has a delightful self-deprecating sense of humour. Cued in by the librarian’s comment that reading Everyman’s Rules had driven her to an atlas to locate the places mentioned, Carrie told us a droll anecdote about how she’d been complimented by an American publisher for the imaginative names she’d ‘thought up’ for the towns in Everyman’s Rules: Rainbow, Dimboola, and so on…
In fact, most of the quirkiness in her writing comes from real life. She has been intrigued by animals and birds since childhood, and she believes that even though she has a background in science it is the instincts that drive us as children that come back in adulthood. As a child migrant from Yorkshire she was fascinated by the sense of spaciousness in Australia - even though she didn’t get the opportunity to go bush until she dropped out of university and became a park ranger in the Red Centre. Learning about the bush in primary school consisted of learning the mythology that gives us all a sense of Australian identity: singing Aussie folk songs; projects about wheat and wool; viewing Tom Roberts’ Shearing the Rams on the classroom wall; colouring in gum trees with grey not green and swans in black not white.
Perhaps her empathy for lonely people derives from her sense, as a six-year-old ‘Ten Pound Pom‘, of being an outsider, even though she spoke the language here. The stuff her mother brought with them from the UK mostly felt irrelevant to their new lives, and there were playground rituals which excluded her. She has felt since then that there is a ‘secret, hidden Australian language’ which is important in her writing. So is her science background, as well as her understanding of Aboriginal lore about the environment. When her stint in the Red Centre came to an end she became a ranger in Toolangi, Vic, and undertook a Masters in Writing at RMIT. These days she works as a freelance agricultural journalist..
With full-time work and a family as well, Carrie doesn’t find time for writing easy to find, but there is another book in progress to look forward to!
In the meantime, enjoy the two novels that she has in the marketplace:)