Author of The Love of a Bad Man and The Newcomer Laura Elizabeth Woollett spoke with us about beginnings, endings, and mainlining Johnny Cash.
Woollett is appearing in The Ties That Bind, speaking about sensitively shaping crime novels that depict the relationship between a parent and child.
Tell me one of your first memories connected to writing.
I remember fighting with my sister when we were really little and locking her out of our room, then slipping an I hate you note under the door—but I couldn’t spell very well yet, so it actually said ‘I hat you’. An early lesson in the importance of getting my words right!
Can you speak a little about your creative process? How does your day begin and end?
I like writing in the evenings after work with a glass of wine. I usually have a mid-week writing day and write on weekends, too. Pre-writing cardio stops me from getting too restless at my desk, and I’ll take an afternoon break to go for a walk and watch TV or read. B.C., I was a café writer, but now I work from home—Nescafé Strong Instant Cappuccinos do the job. I have playlists for whatever I’m working on and keep the books that I’m inspired by within reach (currently: David Whish-Wilson’s Perth, Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands and Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica).
What are the most important literary and non-literary forces that shape your writing?
Music is at the heart of my process. It helps me visualise, form associations and tap into the vibes and emotions that I want. What I listen to differs from book-to-book, character-to-character, even scene-to-scene. I’m currently mainlining Johnny Cash and early 2000s dance music like ATB and Groove Coverage, so make of that what you will.
Dreams are also an important force. If there’s been one upside to the pandemic, it’s the number of truly cooked dreams I’ve had. As a writer, dreams are such a windfall—the more vivid and visceral, the better.
Which artists or writers most intrigue you at the moment and why?
Chloe Wilson’s short story collection Hold Your Fire is the most exciting, unexpected thing I’ve read this year. She’s masterful on a sentence level, and has such a wonderfully sharp, dark sense of humour. I can’t wait to see what she does next. I also love Intan Paramaditha’s writing and was really impressed by what she did structurally with The Wandering. Sarah Krasnostein, Olivia Sudjic, and Esmé Weijun Wang all compel me for different reasons, but have a similar combination of empathy and control and beauty in their craft, while dealing with confronting subjects.
How did you know when your latest book The Newcomer was finished?
I knew how I wanted The Newcomer to end long before I got there. The final chapter was written in quite a rush, as I wanted to turn it in to my publisher before flying to Bali for my 30th in December 2019 (those were the days!). We were editing throughout 2020, though, and even made some last-minute changes two days before The Newcomer went to print. I think there’s always an obvious point at which the story is ‘finished’, but line-by-line, things can be tinkered with indefinitely. Thankfully, deadlines make it easier to say, ‘Okay, that’s done now.’
If there is something you never want to see the end of, what would it be?
The Bold and the Beautiful.
And conversely, what is one thing that could end today and you wouldn’t even notice?
Laura Elizabeth Woollett is the author of The Love of a Bad Man (Scribe, 2016) and Beautiful Revolutionary (Scribe, 2018). She was the City of Melbourne’s 2020 Boyd Garret Writer in Residence and is a 2020–22 Marten Bequest Scholar for Prose. Her latest novel is The Newcomer (Scribe, 2021).
Find Laura Elizabeth Woollett at MWF21.