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5 minutes with Melissa Bruce
Melissa Bruce is the first winner for Fiction of the Woollahra Digital Literary Award, for her work Picnic at Mount Disappointment.
What was the last good book you read?
I absolutely loved Elena Ferrante’s four part series, the Neapolitan Quartet. I thought her writing style was subtle, intelligent, intimate and bravely female. It’s a beautifully woven epic story that follows two women’s lives and their often challenging friendship, which felt raw, unsentimental and true. The women’s stories are supported by a cast of very three dimensional characters (family/friends/colleagues) and told against a backdrop of a developing city with its changing cultural and social attitudes.
Prior to that, my two most recent favourites were, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
Do you have a favourite Library?
I have TWO favourite libraries - my lovely locals of course!
Watsons Bay Library must win the best library location in the universe – situated on the water’s edge with views over the sea baths, across the Harbour to the Sydney Opera House. It is the most adorable little library I have ever visited and the extra friendly staff are beautifully suited to the location. The new Double Bay Library is the most welcoming, user- friendly library I know. Everything about it encourages reading, and a reading society is one that I want to live in. There are divine green vines and plants growing all over the walls in the natural light. I love the inspired slide for children which makes a library enticing even before the little ones can read! The architectural design and layout is spacious, creative and comfortable. It’s super easy to find everything and the staff are patient, enthusiastic, experienced and helpful. It’s a lovely place to work and read. Even teens consider it a cool ‘hangout’ after school.
Many years ago I actually worked Part Time at Woollahra Library when it was based beside Redleaf Pool. That was a special building too, with an olde worlde feel and a lovely view of the estate garden but the rambling layout was a little impractical for the poor books! I used to enjoy the extra quiet, contemplative job of covering books in the garden room downstairs. That’s where I dreamed I might one day see one of my own books on the library shelf.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever read about yourself or your work?
A rather strange reader once photocopied one of my rather strange short stories, and then underlined all the adverbs in red pen and returned the story to me after logging the tally of adverbs. It has given me an uneasy relationship with adverbs ever since!
What’s been the best piece of advice you have received?
The best piece of writing advice I’ve received is to ‘just keep going’. It’s sometimes the hardest thing to do. I think you need to expect that you will hit many walls in the process of writing a book, or even a simple story. The obstacles might include technical (literary solutions), or practical (external life dramas) or interior (inner demons). I’ve learnt that these walls are not insurmountable… to try to find a way over, around, through… to find some pleasure in the hunt for a solution rather than balking at the walls… and to just keep going. This requires some kind of blind faith in your own capacity to execute an idea and in the idea itself but if an idea keeps calling you, perhaps you have a duty to realize it. That kind of confidence took me a long time but I’ve just kept going and I’m glad of that.
Maybe the best piece of life advice is essentially the same. It’s in the song, That’s Life which I often heard on my mother’s favourite Shirley Bassey album:
…That's life, that's what all the people say
You're riding high in April
Shot down in May
But I know I'm gonna change that tune
When I'm back on top, back on top in June…
(Song by Dean Kay & Kelly Gordon)
And from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If:
…If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;…
Or as they say about my original home town… ‘If you don’t like the weather in Melbourne, just wait five minutes.’ Nothing is permanent. If things aren’t going well, just keep going… ‘This too shall pass’.
What inspired you to write your book?
I carried this story in my psyche for many years. It is inspired by true experience from a time during my teens when I lived on a horse and cattle farm near Mount Disappointment. The story has morphed over the years into different angles and points of view, styles, formats and genres. As time went on, I became interested in the concept of disappointment and the nature of ‘coming of age’; a challenging time often fraught with disillusionment. I am concerned about the way teens can sometimes, quite destructively, turn that disappointment in on themselves. I work with many young people and wanted to reach out in some creative way to comfort, reassure, to share understanding and hope...
One day I was reading D B C Pierre’s Vernon God Little, a story with a teen protagonist, confronted with his loss of innocence in the context of a corroding ‘American Dream’ and the voice of that story fuelled the impetus for my protagonist, Lucy’s voice. Inspiration for the unusual text format is a whole other story but ultimately aimed at bringing a story set in the past into a familiar and accessible format for today’s Text-Message-Twitter generation, who are reading on digital devices.
Want to read more about Picnic at Mount Disappointment?
In this wise, witty and moving story, fifteen-year-old Lucy arrives from inner-city Melbourne to live on a farm in the early 1980s. Wandong hosts the second largest truck and country music festival in the southern hemisphere...and nothing else.
'It is rare to find a story that takes us into that liminal territory of adolescence with such force and such heart. Desire, disappointment, betrayal and forgiveness written in libretto, an ode to the tumult of coming of age.' - Gabrielle Carey, co-author, Puberty Blues
Picnic at Mount Disappointment is available for purchase in paperback and eBook format.