Grab a cuppa and settle in for the first Mamamia Bookclub review on Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor. Paula Joye from Lifestyled and I discussed the book over breakfast this week and we also asked Susan Carland to give us her thoughts (remotely). I’ve admired Susan for a long time and I’ll be interviewing her for Mamamia in the next few weeks. Susan is a lecturer in sociology and politics at Monash University, where she is also completing her PhD. She was also a panelist on SBS TV’s “Salam Cafe” where I first saw her and exclaimed out loud “who is THAT? She is stunning and brilliant.” Here’s what we all thought of Indelible Ink. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Readings booksellers (where you can buy Indelible Ink for $27.94) had this guest blog by author Fiona McGregor:
“I’ve been working on this book for more than six years, with time taken off between drafts for other projects such as my previous book Strange Museums, and various performance works. The seed for the novel came from the story of a woman on the lower North Shore who after her divorce, when her seven children were grown, began to get extensively tattooed, then died. The notion of such radical change excited me: I grew up on the lower North Shore so I know the milieu well and the drastic implications of such behaviour within it. Also, as a body based performance artist, I was fascinated by the use of the body as vehicle of self-expression by a woman up until then very conventional. Tattooed myself, I have an insider’s understanding of the passion. I had met this woman briefly years earlier and knew one of her daughters but there was so little for me to go by that when I came to write the story I had to start from scratch. As the book evolved, I found myself increasingly drawn to other aspects of the story – the three children all demanded to have their own lives explored, and so grew into main characters who take over the story at various points. I come from a big family and find it difficult to conceive of single voices and solo characters: community is fundamental. Families always imply multiple viewpoints, conflict, and chaos. They’re the places of original tragedy I think, where we enact our first murders and betrayals. They mark us for life. Sydney went through significant changes while I was writing the book: more tunnels and freeways were laid, creating a more stressful mood and pace, segregating the city and pushing up prices. The police force obtained even greater powers and exercised them. Real estate skyrocketed. The latter is a national phenomenom but particularly acute in Sydney, and has meant huge losses to the artistic and left wing community: every year more are forced out. Real estate became one of the main sources of drama in the book, if not the main one. I can’t deny my political feelings about this: I know of no other nation so focussed on home ownership – economically, politically and emotionally. At the same time we have the world’s most ancient civilisation here – a culture whose very basis is its spiritual relationship to the land – which is still being denied its land rights and struggling to survive. I don’t think this is coincidental. The biggest break in writing occurred in 2006, when just as I was due to begin another draft, my mother fell ill. She developed leukemia and died three months later. It was a surreally horrifying situation, and I couldn’t go back to my novel about a mother who dies of a terminal illness for some time. This is why I wrote Strange Museums. Ultimately, however, leaving the novel for that much longer, returning to it after the experience of losing my own mother, enriched the book although the story and characters didn’t change. I began this novel towards the end of the Howard era when years of aggressively conservative policies had well and truly left their mark. I think we have become a more mean-spirited, narrow-minded, materialistic and nationalistic society, but this trajectory goes beyond Howard. Ultimately, what hooked me most was just the story and characters, the constant little question, What happens if … ? More than ever before, I embraced the form of the traditional novel. It amazes me with its potential. It is infinite, like a country, teeming with all sorts of life, familiar in some ways but with much unmapped terrain. I didn’t really feel until I wrote Indelible Ink that I was a novelist. Now that I finally feel I am, the task seems even greater, but more joyful too, and paradoxically much more attainable.”
So, what book is next for the Mamamia Bookclub?