Jasper Jones must be one of the most successful West Australian books of all time. It has sold over 100,000 copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages. Craig Silvey has no doubt addressed audiences of hundreds by now, but this week I had the privilege and pleasure of being part of a very small audience listening to him chat informally with Terri-ann White in the intimate surrounds of the Beaufort Street Bookshop.
Though obviously a private person, he was an incredibly articulate and generous speaker, sharing his writing journey with humility and self-deprecating wit.
Writing is the way he asks his questions and arrives at an abstract sense of the world. He spoke of the thrill of creating something which has never existed before and of having a responsibility to continually improve as a writer. Sharing his idea that a story is a gift you are given and the writer is a conduit for that story, he spoke of making decisions early in the writing process which are ‘funded by instinct’
On the success of Jasper Jones
Though Jasper Jones has been nominated for a slew of literary prizes, they are not on his mind when he ‘reports to his desk’ each day. He views writing as a private, solitary, intimate process, which is divorced entirely from the process of promoting a book. He expressed gratitude for reader responses to his books, but also described the feeling of holding a copy of one of his own books for the first time as ‘bittersweet’ for it is the moment when the book no longer belongs to him, but has become a public object.
On his early writing career
Craig Silvey grew up on an apple orchard, where he lived, apparently in a shed. For his fourteenth birthday he ‘asked for, and received’ a door! The door afforded him the privacy to write his first novel, which was inspired by the ‘exciting world of guns and boobs’ he had discovered in books by writers like Robert Ludlum and Wilbur Smith, and was, in his own words ‘a complete fucking turkey!’ However, he was encouraged to keep writing via a correspondence with Glynn Parry, whose workshop had given Silvey the conviction that he wanted to make writing his career.
On his favourite books
He described Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as a ‘dear friend’ – a book that moves with you through life and that you can learn something from every time you return to it. He also praised Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things as being a novel which gave him a sense of possibility as a writer.
He is currently working on a novel about Western Australia’s ‘Ugly Men’ who held carnivals to raise money for the needy in Perth and Fremantle around the time of the Second World War. He said the novel will be in three parts and is at least three years from publication. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to reading his latest novella, The Amber Amulet, gorgeously illustrated by Sonia Martinez.