Graham Perrett answers questions from Sally Cummins
A.L. McCann claims that novels don’t ‘need to be about hope in that restricted sense of things working out for the character.’ What hope, if any, do you think there is for Lawrence at the conclusion of The Twelfth Fish?
Lawrence is quite optimistic and can hopefully learn from the darkness encountered in Lawson. But it will require much more introspection then he demonstrates throughout the text. Moreover, without a development of his sense of responsibility and ability to commit he will continue to wander through life without contributing much at all to humanity.
Having had such a strong background in politics and also law, why did you choose to write a fictional novel despite it being such an unusual and brave choice for a politician?
Is ‘a brave choice’ code for stupid choice? I was an English teacher for eleven years, so the reality is that most of The Twelfth Fish was finished years before I even starting attending Labor Party meetings back in 1996. So I was writing long before I started down the road that ended up with me sitting in Canberra representing the good people of Moreton. Even the sequel was finished before I ran for office. However, I am working very intermittently on the trilogy’s conclusion whilst in office.
The Twelfth Fish does deal in passing with the Mabo decision. However, it also deals in detail with many unethical aspects of human nature. Do you think the novel will appeal to the political world?
As all of the politicians I have met largely reflect the world outside the doors of Parliament House I am sure that many will be drawn to the text’s exploration of the age old conflict between doing what is good and right and doing what is expedient and selfish. Undoubtedly there will be an element of curiosity for some political players, but I am reliably informed that a lot of backbenchers are working on texts at the moment – particularly on the other side of the House. I’ll leave it to the experienced political commentators to comment on the fiction writing credentials of my fellow parliamentarians.
What kind of audience do you think will be attracted to this novel?
I have been a member of a book-club for many years – The Libertine’s Library. Hopefully, The Twelfth Fish is the sort of read that will provoke a bit of a discussion and a little controversy amongst similar book-clubs. It should appeal to anybody who has wondered about the ironies and injustices in Australia’s past and wondered about what lies ahead for this nation.
Upon reading the book, people may see several similarities between yourself and your protagonist Lawrence. How do you respond to claims that the novel is to some extent autobiographical?
Initially I tried to remove Lawrence from me as much as possible. However, in the same way that a dead beat dad might produce a child with good parenting skills (i.e. via bad example), I attempted to draw Lawrence with the worst of me. Thus Lawrence provided an ideal opportunity to explore the flaws, failings and foibles that I have tried to avoid, usually successfully, in my life. There are certainly a lot of characters based on real people that I have worked with – or at least some of their quirkier personal traits. However, my legal background would suggest that any discussions about real life similarities would best occur whilst I had the protection of parliamentary privilege
Your protagonist in Lawrence resembles John Grant in Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright, which was published almost fifty years ago. Do you think this kind of character is a generic representation of a certain kind of Australian? Why do you think the character of Lawrence maintains its relevance almost half a century after it was penned by Kenneth Cook?
I have always loved Kenneth Cook’s work and the film. Wake in Fright was one of the first books I studied when I first left the bush and started at teachers’ college. It was also referenced by one of my favourite bands – Weddings, Parties, Anything – in the song ‘By Tomorrow’ on their first album. However, that notion of a stranger in a strange land has much deeper roots. It is a common theme in many of my favourite works by American authors. Nevetheless, I do acknowledge a big debt to Kenneth Cook and think that the continuing relevence comes from Australians’ continuing exploration of identity and direction. For me, the Mabo decision crystallized that notion of confronting the bleeding obvious truth that lurks behind half a lie.