After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.
With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with ‘happily ever after’.
How did you come up with the ideas for The Bit In Between?
The initial idea for the book came as I lay on the jetty of my friend’s family’s island in Marovo Lagoon, in Solomon Island’s Western Province. We had taken the slow ship from Isabel Province where I was working at the time to the capital Honiara, then another slow ship from Honiara, so there’d been plenty of time to ponder. I had read the autobiography of Sir Peter Kenilorea, the Solomon’s first Prime Minister, and I guess this planted the seed for wanting to write something that in some way attempted to explore the complexity and beauty of this country that is so close to Australia yet no one really knows anything about. To preface this, I had previously written a manuscript about an island in the middle of the Pacific that was plagued by the disgruntled ghosts of historical figures trapped in limbo and wreaking havoc on the local’s food production, and had immediately decided this was a fairly crap love letter to the country.
Solomon Islanders are stori people with a vibrant tradition of oral history and remembrance. Being immersed in so much living history, I became intrigued by the idea of fate and choice and how we become who we become. The book is a musing on these things; life, choice and the little decisions we do or don’t get to make that lead us through our lives.
Describe your writing process? Are you a planner or do you write by the seam of your pants?
I used to pretend I had a process but it’s more like Mr Squiggle – a whole assortment of seemingly disconnected things that I then sit down and work out how to make tell a story. I hoard precious little things. Sometimes it is a scene or a conversation or a character name or the whimsical things I see out the window of the tram, then I pile them all into a Word document and work out how it all goes together. Oftentimes I will write something and completely stump myself on how to make it fit, but I rarely discard things and I like to think I’m a cunning patch worker. I find, much like a gassy infant, lying on my stomach helps. Often I fall asleep like this, notebook wedged against my cheek, which is probably the only consistent part of my process. I’m still waiting to wake up Paul McCartney-style with the tune to Yesterday fully formed in my head.
What makes you happy?
Pretty much everything. And since I turned 29 I’ve also added the excessive production of happy tears to this. It’s very disconcerting for my partner and quite possibly I’m overproducing some vital hormone. Currently the list includes: my book (both reading and cradling it); a particular brand of soft cheese we’ve nicknamed ‘friendship cheese’; my god daughters; the sound of my friends laughing; and, rare rainy Sundays with nothing scheduled but reading. And my own jokes. Again, it’s probably a hormone thing, but I KILL me.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
I take far more advice than I give because I am part of the generation for whom Oprah was the guiding midday light throughout the five years it took me to complete a humanities degree. But I would say, if you write you are a writer, no matter how published, so be confident to call yourself one. In Oprah-istic aphorism, that would be: Naming yourself means knowing yourself. Now, everyone gets a car!
Also, people will tell you that you can’t make money writing. To them you should say ‘and unless you’re Oprah, you can’t make money giving free advice so can it, dream-stabber.’ I have naught said this to someone outside of my head, so if you do, let me know how it goes.
And finally, read. Oh my god – read. How good is reading? It’s training for writing. There are so many books and so little time and one day we will all be dead with rotted out eyes, so READ now. (You: I am reading, Claire. I am reading your guest post. Me: Well-played, padawan.)
What are your writing goals?
Equal parts total literary world domination and pretty much content to have had a book published. David Foster Wallace once wrote that good writing should help readers feel less alone inside and that is pretty much all I aspire to do.
When you aren’t writing, what do you get up to?
As mentioned before, I am sleeping with the spiral binding of my notebook creasing crenulations into the flesh of my cheek as I dream-compose generation-defining Brit-rock hits. I work in community development, specifically in the prevention of violence against women sector, and I am very lucky that my two passions can co-exist. While I partially dream about being able to write full time I don’t know what I would write about without a day job. I also suspect that left to my own devices all day I would go certifiably crazy and my partner would come home to find the furniture sorted by colour and all the spoons bent into Uri Geller-esque crop circle patterns.
What are your favourite books?
When asked this question I feel like a parent dragged before a stadium full of people and asked to nominate which of my many children I love the most. I sense, on the shelves, all my books peeping out anxiously, their little spines shivering as they hold their little breaths and pray to their individual deities. Of all the books in this world, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has been in my life the longest. I read my first when I was nine or so and read the last a month ago, so of all my friends I have known them the longest. They have probably shaped me the most as a writer and as a person. More recently it has been Zadie Smith, Steve Toltz and Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi.
What is the most important thing you’ve learnt in your writing journey?
Write to make yourself happy, don’t keep accidentally naming your most moronic characters after people you know, and don’t expect your journey to look like anyone else’s. Also, eating all the cheese won’t help you write better.