Australian author Author Interviews

An interview with Julie Keys – Compulsive Reader

Interview by Samuel Elliott

What have been the origins of The Artist’s Portrait?

The thought for the ebook got here at some extent in my life once I just didn’t have time to put in writing. I was working full-time in a demanding job and somewhere between the deadlines I began to see a vision, a bit like a daydream, of a lady, standing in front of a shack, waving a purple material above her head as a biplane flew over the paddocks in the direction of her.

Instinctively, I knew the lady was an artist, however I didn’t know anything about artwork or artists or biplanes for that matter and I was too busy to do something about it, but the more I ignored this picture the extra I saw it . Then something occurred that modified the whole lot.

I was driving between Wollongong and Campbelltown for work someday and was hit by a B-Double truck. It sent me spinning throughout 4 lanes in front of oncoming visitors. The automotive got here to a halt. It was bashed in on the driving force’s aspect and dealing with the improper method, but I used to be uninjured. I seemed across the four lanes and thought, perhaps it’s time to give up your job and write full-time, like you’ve all the time needed to.

That’s the place it started. I already had the picture in my head, but that’s once I began to pursue it. I’ve to confess there were occasions once I questioned why I’d chosen to write down about artwork – I used to be involved that I wouldn’t do Muriel Kemp justice.

In the long run, I couldn’t let go of it. I felt just like the story had chosen me. The yr after I started writing the novel, I enrolled in a PhD and as part of that I began to put in writing a thesis on gender and prestige- evaluating Australian ladies writers from the 1920s/30s (Muriel’s period) to the modern. The research for this highlighted the obstacles that confronted artistic ladies (in any area), who selected to pursue their art.

The story is advised via totally different timelines, at some sixty-or so years plus apart. Furthermore, you introduced it by way of totally different characters views. What challenges and difficulties did telling the story in such a means current?

Initially, I had no concept how I might tell this story. I began by researching the biplanes from the picture, to offer me a date. This led me to Australia in the 1920s which was an interesting period. I learn extensively; history, biographies, a couple of manuals on the right way to fly a biplane. Themes started to emerge on how alternatives are shaped by gender. My subsequent step was to discover what it was wish to be a lady in Australia in the course of the interwar years, then what it was wish to be a lady who had ambitions to be an artist.

It required a variety of analysis; books, articles, previous newspapers and documents, oral histories, documentaries. I also did arms on analysis; flying in a biplane, wandering around Sydney with bits of previous maps, taking a look at artefacts, exploring the settings in the narrative.

The second timeline encapsulates the 1990’s and introduces the character Jane. Muriel just isn’t a dependable narrator and I assumed she wanted a foil, someone who might maintain tabs on what she was saying. I felt like I was auditioning characters for the part. I tried a number of totally different individuals out before I made a decision on Jane. She appeared to suit.

I’m an analogous age to, Jane. We both worked as registered nurses, had a toddler in the identical yr and have been aspiring writers. Jane’s life although, is just not the same as mine and regardless of my familiarity with the situation and the era she lived in, I found myself doing lots of reality checking.

Art is one other necessary space within the story, and it was a serious problem. I knew, primarily that if I used to be going to put in writing this guide, I wanted to know the visceral response individuals need to artwork. I didn’t have a background in visible art and wasn’t uncovered to plenty of artwork growing up. So, I immersed myself. I looked at art in books, on-line, exhibitions, painted. Listened to artists, talked to artists, learn histories, critiques, biographies, opinions, watched documentaries.

I keep in mind taking a look at a painting by Mark Rothko – bands of horizontal color – and considering, I’m not getting this. Then I turned to certainly one of his earlier works; individuals standing on a subway. They have been streamlined, some with curved necks. A robust feeling hit me. I keep in mind considering I might be in that image – that might be me. That was the first time I felt something like that. The subsequent time was in response to a portray by Australian artist Vida Lahey, Monday Morning,(1912), which exhibits ladies at their work, an unusual matter for these occasions. However it was the same thing. It felt physical. It happened more typically after that and it wasn’t dissimilar, I realised, to the feeling writing provokes in me or the eagerness individuals describe in response to their own artistic bent, whatever that is. That’s once I started to know the visual and tangible nature of Muriel’s drive.

One will get the impression that you simply’ve exhaustively researched Sydney of the period. How did you stability, all of what you discovered, which was essential to the story, with out drowning in all this fascinating, however probably irrelevant material?

I did get caught up in it a bit. And to put in writing the narrative with the sort of familiarity I needed, I wanted to know what went on past the story.
You never really feel such as you’re going to know enough but in the long run there’s solely so much you are able to do. Sooner or later, it’s a must to just sit down and write it.

Throughout one of many first conversations shared between Muriel and Jane, the latter requesting the previous write her life story, Jane questions – ‘what if I stuff it up?’ – this looks like a query that pertains not solely to Jane herself, however all writers generally. Was this virtually a question you had posed to yourself? How did, or how do you overcome such pernicious self-doubt when it arises and by extension what recommendation would you give to fledgling authors who could be asking themselves that very query?

I did really feel self-doubt, especially at first. I’d give up my job to write down this guide. And while I had come to terms with the truth that it’d never be revealed, I still needed to write down one thing I was comfortable with. I wrote about 80,000 phrases within the first 9 months . Once I went back and skim it, I realised it was complete rubbish. I don’t mean, first draft – I can go back and fix it, kind of garbage. I imply, it really wasn’t excellent.

On reflection I used to be rusty. I hadn’t written for a while and I’d also developed numerous preconceived concepts about what good writing was. These ideas jarred with my natural type and got here throughout as stilted. That’s once I decided that if I used to be going to fail, I ought to at the very least fail in my very own voice. I threw out 75,000 phrases. The 5,000 phrases that survived are the beginning of the e-book as it’s now. Muriel was the only character that survived that draft.
Another similarity between me and the character Jane in The Artist’s Portrait is that we have been equally making an attempt to determine who Muriel Kemp was and both considering, am I going to stuff this up?

I’ve the identical thoughts now as I work on my next e-book. On dangerous days I exploit the – return to the story- strategy. Ie I sink myself into the story’s world and whereas I’m in there I’m not allowed to question whether or not I’m capable of writing it or not

To different aspiring writers I might say – persist. Write what you are feeling captivated with and the place you are feeling the power. Once you discover that power, pursue it. Anticipate that you simply’re going to have dangerous days, that’s normal, and hold going.

Beyond that I’d say ignore any advice that doesn’t be just right for you, together with mine, and develop strategies that do.

You mention at one point, I’m paraphrasing the quote right here a bit, but this notion of ‘legend rather than skill’ in securing a spot in historical past, is among the defining notions explored all through the novel. Muriel’s legend appears shaped and perpetuated by spurned men and the declarations of Claudine. Do you assume that what Muriel was subjected to by many real-life feminine artists and is this the crux of what you needed to explore?

Muriel is inspired by what life was like for ladies artists’ through the interwar years . We now usually acknowledge that the perfect of the early modernist painters have been ladies in Australia- artists reminiscent of Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith. However that’s in hindsight. The truth is ladies weren’t provided that respect in their very own period.

The conservative and very masculine artwork establishment of the time thought-about ladies artists inferior and second greatest and thought nothing of blocking their progress. Ladies artists have been typically pushed into the background and written out of history. The phrase ‘genius,’ was a time period related with males slightly than females, just as men have been thought-about the intense artists.

I got here across some pretty scathing feedback that have been written about ladies artist’s basically. For Muriel, it’s not only gender she has to contend with but her working-class background – one other strike. Regardless of how gifted, I don’t consider she would have been supported by the artwork establishment or the well-known male artists of the time. My goal in writing her character was to re-imagine her life, as an formidable and gifted artist who’s given a chance. This opportunity comes within the form of one other lady, Claudine, who not solely sponsors Muriel however believes in her capability.
I didn’t come across any female artists in Australia who have been supported in the same method Muriel was by Claudine. In reality, I consider Muriel would have been lost to history, not given a chance and disappeared. If Claudine had existed, she would not have had any female position fashions previous her. As a robust, outspoken lady, she additionally would have attracted her personal criticisms and limitations, as she does within the ebook. In The Artist’s Portrait Claudine is subjected to the acutely aware and unconscious biases of her era. Her relationship with Muriel was never going to be infallible.

One chapter opens with a quote from Adam Black, calling Muriel ‘a leech’, happening to say he moved on from her before she might suck him dry. I truly found that to be a effective description of nearly all of males that revolve by way of Muriel’s life, is that a truthful reading? Is Muriel emblematic of girls of the time that have been exploited by such varieties?

I don’t know that these males would have seen themselves as leeching on Muriel so much a Muriel usurping her place. The most typical profession path for ladies, at the moment, was marriage and raising a family. As a lady you have been anticipated to set aside another ambitions in favour of the lads around you. Most of the men throughout that point would have found it unattainable to see Muriel as something beyond an assistant to their very own wants.

Muriel not solely defies social expectations by portray however she’s excessive with it, unconventional by probably the most tolerant requirements. She additionally has a fierce character, a robust survival instinct, and she or he retains going. She would have irritated lots of people.

Even in this era, the extra a lady speaks out, voices her opinions and advocates for her rights, the extra criticism she attracts. In that very same method, Muriel would have drawn more than the standard amount of backlash because she did not succumb to the conventions.

To discussing your craft now, a lot of your revealed work before this novel has been brief tales and short-form fiction, was there any distinction between your artistic process between these writing endeavours and your debut novel?

Whereas there are obvious differences between a brief story and a novel, my artistic course of is far the identical for both. My concepts often start as a feeling or an image. I’ll research that as wanted then let it stew in my head for a bit. When it comes to being a pantser (winging it) vs a planner (writing and sticking to a plan), I’m undoubtedly a pantser.

I do have a tendency to stay to a plan when it comes to my routine though. On writing days, I rise up within the morning, stroll the canine, have breakfast then sit down on the pc and work. I choose to do artistic work in the morning and analysis or admin within the afternoon.

The first draft is probably the most gruelling part of the method for me. I are likely to rewrite as I’m going along, rewrite once I’ve finished the entire thing then I hold rewriting. I really like rewriting however typically I overdo it.

I know The Artist’s Portrait has just come out, but are you at present engaged on anything?

I’m! It’s very a lot initially levels. Just like The Artist’s Portrait, it began with a imaginative and prescient. I’m still finding my method in in the mean time, making an attempt to work out the characters and their voices. Nevertheless it’s been good, as in it feels good to be working on something again.

The Artist’s Portrait is obtainable from Hachette right here:

Concerning the interviewer: Samuel Elliott is a Sydney-based writer that has been revealed in Antic, The Southerly, Compulsive Reader, MoviePilot, Writer’s Bloc, Vertigo, Good Reading, FilmInk, Veranadah, The Massive Challenge and The Unbiased. He is presently working on his novel collection, ‘Milan Milton: Heiress’ in between completing a degree and dealing two jobs inside the tv business. Discover him at:

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