How would you describe Out of Place?
As a rather intense psychological study of trying to live up to expectations — other people’s and one’s own — and the battering of identity in the process. Let’s track back to the Sixties and a group of talented and frustrated women, there to support their husbands and to chase the money dream, on a mixed-gender gated compound in the middle of the Saudi desert. You can draw your own conclusions!
What was the trigger for this book?
This book took a while in creation. It was based on the 18 months or so that I spent in Saudi in the late Seventies — and the experience was dramatic even then. But in addition I wanted to capture some of the emotional and sexual turmoil of the Sixties. Not quite Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, but capturing that particular moment in time when it was all so brand-new for women to have a career of their own and yet all it took was a change in circumstance to fall back into the mode of the traditional stay-at-home wife.
How long after your own Saudi experience did you write it?
After Saudi came Hong Kong where I spent the next five or six years — and in those days I had young children as well as a pretty full-on career as Managing Editor for an American military magazine to think very much about writing my own stuff. And later, after my second husband died, I was too busy keeping my Ridgebacks in bones and food on my own table to indulge in what I still regard as the luck and luxury of writing fiction. The story started as an Honours dissertation at UWA for which Terri-ann White — now publisher of UWA Press — was my supervisor. At our first interview she tossed out my carefully thought-out ideas: ‘Too forced, just write what comes into your head, let the story write itself onto the page’. When I sat down to do just that, I found that the whole experience of the year and a half or so I spent in Saudi Arabia came pouring out and the dissertation went on to score a First Class Honours. Later as “Lines in the Sand” it was shortlisted from 540 other entries in the Penguin-Varuna manuscript competition. When it didn’t make the final cut, I took a Professional Development course at Varuna to work on it — and Carol Major, writing consultant at Varuna, the National Writers House, did a great job of helping me to develop my ideas.
How much work did you have to do to turn the dissertation into a novel.
Untold rewrites! In fact, the published version bears almost no relation to the story shorts that made up the original study. But it gave me a good skeleton on which to build a story.
Something that always interests me. How much of you is in the novel?
I try to identify with all my characters — even those I don’t like! — so there’s definitely something of me in them all, men as well as women. Although I prefer to stay away from people I know — there is so much to draw on as you go through life it’s not necessary — it’s inevitable that things people have said and incidents that have happened have a place in my stories. A good analogy — because for me getting a new book out is always an emotional experience — is one’s own children. They hold a little of our stamp in their genetic make-up and their upbringing, but as they grow up they go on to be completely their own people. Sometimes I see glimpses of myself in my children, but most of the time I am aware that I have to work to keep up with their developing personalities. Similarly with rewrites — what starts out as one thing gains its own personality to live in its own right.
Who is it likely to appeal to?
I’m tempted to say women, both those who have experienced that part of the world and those who haven’t. But it’s generated a fair amount of enthusiasm in the male readers who have been kind enough to read and comment on the manuscript.
How can people get hold of it?
Out of Place is now available at New Edition in Fremantle, the Millpoint Caffe Bookshop in South Perth, the Lane Bookshop in Claremont. Both the print and Kindle versions are now available through Amazon.com or digital only through Smashwords.com (Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo).