The author of Names for Nothingness talks about the writing of her fourth novel, her characters, the impact of parenthood on the writing process, the PhD she is working towards, her other business – Screenrights, her research, her next book, and lots more.
Magdalena: At what point did the concept for Names for Nothingness to crystallise?
Georgia: I had the idea for the book at least six or seven years or so ago. I tend to carry around ideas for a long time. I started writing it about three years ago. This book was written much more quickly than my other books. It usually takes me a couple of years.
Magdalena: Tell me about Caitlin. Is she damaged, or as Satya Deva says, truly blessed?
Georgia: Caitlin is someone who has decided that she doesn’t want to participate in this world. This was one of the ideas that interested me. To see what happens with that kind of person. It is very easy from the outside to see their choices and decisions as ludicrous, but it is equally possible to look at what happens in the world as ludicrous and insane. I didn’t want to come down either way, but rather, to let it speak for itself. The Satya Deva cult has corruption – and unfortunately in most cults that happens – there is corruption there, but Caitlin’s choice is a pure one. And one in which the desire for renunciation is taken to an extreme.
Magdalena: A lot is left open at the end of the book. As a writer, do you plot what will happen to your characters past the book’s ending, or is it as unknown to you as it is to them?
Georgia: It is unknown to me! I tried to leave it up in the air. I didn’t feel that these were characters with an easy resolution. Caitlin made her choice and it is a clear one, and Liam is forced on the brink of making a decision. I don’t know about the relationship with Sharn or what will happen there. What I like to do is to present a slice of a certain life – I don’t know what goes on, even though I know the characters well enough.
Magdalena: Do the characters stay with you? Do you think you might revisit them one day?
Georgia: They stay with you in the sense that you think about them yes, and wonder about them occasionally – they seem in a way to be real people that you once knew, but I don’t think I would go back to their stories. Once I finish writing about characters I prefer to leave them.
Magdalena: Names for Nothingness is your fourth book. The first, Closed for Winter, was written in between other work. Has having a few bestsellers made the writing process easier for you?
Georgia: Not really. Each book presents different challenges. I still work as well as write – as most writers will attest, it is hard to live off writing novels, and I think every book presents its own challenges – is hard for different reasons, although Names for Nothingness was a little easier than some of the others. No matter how many books you publish successfully, you still have to battle the same old things – losing faith, wondering whether you’re wasting time. It is always a combination of a twist of faith and luck that gets you through.
Magdalena: Parenthood and its many forms is a major theme of Names for Nothingness. Has having a child given you the impetus for new directions in your work?
Georgia: I don’t know if it changed the direction in a direct sense, although of course parenthood changes you as a person in ways that may influence your work. You become less self-focused, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing for your writing as you have less time and less energy, but of course you can be less selfish which may change the way you view your characters or the world, and you learn new things. In Names for Nothing I explore a very different aspect of parenthood than the kind I practice! There are two characters who are very ambivalent and live uneasily with their roles, and I don’t think that was a product of my becoming a parent.
Magdalena: Tell me about the PhD.
Georgia: Really, that you do what you’re doing anyway. For the PhD I have to write a major work which can be a novel, and then produce an accompanying thesis. The novel is similar to what I’d be doing anyone – it is my next book. The accompanying thesis will naturally be much more academic in its focus which I will probably find challenging – I don’t really have an academic background. But it is interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with it.
Magdalena: Tell me about the Screenrights work.
Georgia: That involves putting together website brochures. I’ve been doing that for years – it is how I earn a living to support my writing. Many writers write reviews and articles, but I’ve specifically chosen not to do that. It was important to me to keep my creative writing separate – and I fear that if i was doing articles and reviews it would sap my energy. You have to be creative in the Screenrights work, but it is fairly cut and dry.
Magdalena: Do you worry as you’re working on a novel that each page you write could have earned you x amount of dollars if you were doing Screenrights work?
Georgia: I think you just have to put that behind you. If you are writing a novel for money, quite frankly, you are an idiot. That was something I learnt a while ago – you can’t do it for money and for outside approval. You just do it, you write, because you enjoy it.
Magdalena: Are you thinking of writing the screenplays for Closed for Winter and Candelo?
Georgia: I don’t want to write the screenplays. Once I’ve finished the work I feel I’ve done what I can do. Writing a screenplay requires different skills to the ones you need to write a novel. Both books have been optioned, but the script for Closed for Winter is being written by James Vogel who got selected for Equinox last year, which is a huge international workshop, and I think that is fairly close to fruition. Candelo is being written by Elizabeth Mars, the author of Mars new coat CHECK! a short SBS film which was directed by Rachel Ward. I like to take a hands off approach to my books once they are done. A film is quite a different medium, and I don’t have any inclination to get involved actively. Of course I’m always available to answer questions, but otherwise I let them go for it.
Magdalena: Is the setting for Names for Nothingness an Australian one?
Georgia:I suppose in my mental picture the story takes place way up north in Queensland and in Sydney. I didn’t want to name the places or pin it down to a particular locale. It was important to me that the area, and the “religion” came primarily out of my own imagination.
Magdalena: Did you do much research?
Georgia: Not really. I can’t remember the name of an American creative writing instructor who recently said that writers shouldn’t bother too much with research, but should just write, I talked to a lot of people who had chosen a different path through life, but the rest I did just by feel. I did do quite a lot of research for my novel The Blind Eye, about Homeopathy which I was interested in and wanted to look at that in much more detail than I usually do, but I tend to do very little research in general.
Magdalena: Is there something you really want to write about? Can you give us a hint about your next book?
Georgia: I think I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had the opportunity to work on all of the things that interest me. I just want to be able to continue along the same lines. I have several ideas about things which I want to write about in the future. So far the book I’m working on is a series of autobiographical stories – essay and fictions snippets of life and people I’ve known, with a rough theme around births and deaths and marriages. It is all very loose and woolly though at this point.