Questions with Natalie Muller (Black Cockie Press)

I’m so thrilled to be sharing my first interview with an author AND publisher! I hope you enjoy these answers, fromtalie Muller of Black Cockie Press!

poisoning the nest

Tell us a bit about your latest book. What was the inspiration for the story?

‘Poisoning the Nest’ began life as a 20,000 word assignment for one of my classes in the Masters degree I was doing at Swinburne University of Technology Melbourne. The finished story is much revised from that early start, but the beginning was there.

The book was published in 2017 in time to align with the centenary of the First World War. In Australia, we have quite a cult around the servicemen who fought in this war, especially those who fought in the first campaign at Gallipoli in 1915. What this does to the national narrative around the war is to simplify the story and sanitise it to stand as a national myth. However, for Australia, the story, the history is much bigger than that. The First World War and our involvement in it as a nation, was divisive to the Australian community as the Vietnam War would be fifty odd years later.

In my story, I wanted to give history back its power. Myth has the power to paper over the cracks, which is why it was developed in the first place, but one hundred years on, it is time to pull back the myth and look at the cracks underneath. They have healed, but we need to learn how to wear our scars. I wanted to give the people not represented in the popular mythology a voice, women, pacifists, anti-war campaigners, injured soldiers, both physically and mentally, Australians with German ancestry, Irish ancestry. People who don’t fit the myth of lions led by donkeys.

Tell us about your main character. Why should we fall in love with them?

Poisoning the Nest doesn’t really have one main character, but three who carry the story. There is Jack Kelly, a young man who signs up at the beginning of the war. He has a young family and the recent death of his father has left him in a state of confusion and stirred up a lot of unprocessed grief from his childhood. So he essentially runs away from his life. A lot of people actually dislike Jack, but I like him, he grows immensely as the book progresses.

Then there is Dottie, Jack’s wife, who in his absence is forced to step up and keep the home running. She becomes a very strong woman, as she organises soldier relief packages within her community, and later becomes a vocal anti-conscription campaigner. She also deals with the loneliness and fear of being a wife with a husband away at war.

The third character is Jack’s older brother Arch. He is a larrikin, a pacifist and an objector. He is fiercely loyal and protective of his family. He and Dottie develop a very strong friendship while Jack is away at war. Dottie offers him the emotional support that has been lacking in his life.

Have you always written, or is writing something you’ve come to in adulthood?

I have always told stories, but I didn’t have the confidence to write until I was at university. So I didn’t really start writing until I was 19. I have written five full length novels since then only the fifth of which was worth publishing. A long apprenticeship, but really no more than most people have. Each manuscript was a stepping stone to writing that one that was finally worth publishing. Though I will be the first to admit that I wouldn’t have got the fifth to that point, were it not for the excellent creative writing Masters degree I did through Swinburne University of Technology.

What motivated you to start an indie publishing company?

A desire to see new and different voices given a chance to reach a reading public. I was also greatly motivated by Virginia and Leonard Woolf and Hogarth press. The 21st-century version of a printing press in the basement is the e-book.

I also think that as a woman it is very important to be in control of the decision making. Women do dominate in the publishing world as employees, but they are not often the ones with the final say. Nor are women writers taken as seriously as male writers, as the Vida and Stella counts prove time and again. Indie writing and publishing is thus a way for me to get my writing in front of a reading public, without it being marketed as a lesser text because I am a woman who writes.

I strongly believe that to be a woman who writes is a political act. Because you are a woman with a voice, a woman who refuses to remain silenced, as women have been silenced over the centuries.

I also find e-books incredibly exciting as a concept. They are a revolution in how we can tell stories, though they have been deliberately under explored. E-books need not be just electronic replicas of physical paper books, but a new form altogether. I would love to publish a book that can only exist in a digital format. I don’t know what it would look like, but I am open to experimentation.

Can you recommend another female author we should read?

 I can recommend tonnes of women you should read. Jeanette Winterson, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Harrower, Dorothy Porter. That’s just fiction writers, Joan Beaumont’s history of Australia in the First World War is a good read, Clare Wright, the historian and her books about the women in the Eureka Stockade and the Australian Suffragettes, Fiona Wright, she annoys me, but her writing is wonderful. Hazel Smith’s ‘The Writing Experiment’ is a must read for writers. I would also suggest just about anything by Linda Hutcheon.

What was the last book you read and loved?

 I’ve been reading a lot of rock biographies and things lately, so the last book I read and really loved was ‘Thanks a lot Mr Kibblewhite’ by Roger Daltrey. It’s not at all literary, but it is like having Roger Daltrey sit next to you and tell you stories. It is just fun.

Do you have a favourite quote by a female author?

 “I’m telling you stories. Trust me.” From ‘The Passion’ by Jeanette Winterson.

It really encapsulates what a fiction writer does, we tell stories and ask the reader to trust us. We both know the story is fiction, that I am telling you lies, but also the truth. The reader trusts us to know what we are doing and to deliver truth within our tangle of lies. It is why a bad book, a story that fails to live up to its promise, or pulls its punches and delivers an obvious or predictable ending is such a betrayal. We the reader trusted you and you failed us.

It’s like acting really, great actors never drop out of character, so that no matter how famous they are we believe in their performance. Bad writing, like bad acting breaks the illusion and spoils the effect.

What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?

The worst piece of writing advice I have received was to “Write what you know” because I automatically understood that as biography. As someone who cannot keep a diary, because I find it too exposing and have destroyed every attempt at one after a few weeks, it was too limiting. I never felt that there was anything interesting in my life that would be worth writing a book about. I also find the idea that women write only what they know, autobiography disguised as fiction verses the freedom of imagination afforded to male writers impossibly sexist. I have since come to a different understanding of what this can mean, as in what you know is more than what you think you know, reminding myself and students of sensual and emotional knowledge when writing, not just actions. That realisation came to me courtesy of the work of Dominique Hecq, at Swinburne university.

The best piece of writing advice I received was, “kill adjectives and adverbs”. With the big obvious adjectives and adverbs dead you are forced to focus on the details, and it is in the details that the story is found.

What is your favourite song by a female singer, and why?

This is a really hard question to answer, because I listen to so few female singers. I really love male voices, especially with virtuosic singing, so for me it doesn’t matter if they are the opera singers like Roberto Alagna or Thomas Hampson or rock singers like Freddie Mercury or Roger Daltrey. I don’t care if they sing in Italian French, Russian or English, the sound is what does it for me.

If I really had to choose, I would say Tori Amos and not a single song, but her album ‘Little Earthquakes.’

Tell us three fun facts about yourself that other people might not know?

I’m a Trekkie, I know! A utopian, in a world that loves dystopias. I just love the optimism that if we follow our better natures, which is so much harder than being greedy, cruel and cowardly, the world would be a better place.

I have a music collection that goes from Bach to Zappa. I love music from the Classical, Blues, Jazz triad which includes the blues based rock of Zeppelin and The Stones, and other British invasion bands. I love great players like singers, so I don’t care if it is Charlie Watts who makes The Stones swing, or Brian May with his fireplace, the Red Special, or The Berlin Philharmonic, great music is great music.

I walk approximately 10km a day, every day.

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You can find more about Natalie at www.blackcockiepress.com.au

 

 

 

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