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Bill Gates wants you to read The Rosie Project immediately. Because it’s utterly brilliant. Because it’s profound and hilarious. Because it’s close to fiction perfection and every household needs a copy.

And that’s great Bill, but frankly, you’re a bit late to the party.

I’ve loved The Rosie Project since the moment I read the first page – about a year ago. Author Graeme Simsion (who was technically born in New Zealand, but we claim him as Australian all the time because he’s so good) has been a hero of mine ever since… Which is why it was a particular delight to interview him this week.

We’ll get to that in just a moment.

First, here’s what Bill Gates had to say about The Rosie Project:

“Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages out loud to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning.

Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.)

It’s an extraordinarily clever, funny, and moving book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. This is one of the most profound novels I’ve read in a long time.”

And now, without further ado, let’s hear from Graeme Simsion, author of the now Bill-Gates-endorsed book, The Rosie Project. And upcoming sequel, The Rosie Effect.

GS: It’s always great to have recommendations from respected high-profile people: Mr Gates’s went straight on to the back cover of The Rosie Effect. But I’m particularly pleased with this one, because it may reach three groups who don’t traditionally read their share of fiction: men, professionals outside the arts and executives. It’s interesting that Bill Gates read The Rosie Project because his wife recommended it – that’s often the way that men come to  it. Once they’ve started it, they generally like it.

But they shouldn’t need a female broker to bring them to fiction – or even to fiction that’s about relationships.

MM: Do you think there’s a chance Bill loved it because he identifies with protagonist, Prof. Don Tillman?

GS: I hope so. I want every reader to identify with Don to some extent. We’ve all made social mistakes, obsessed over trying to work out what someone else was thinking and wanted to fit in. And most of us have despaired at some time of finding a partner.

Yes, some people are closer to Don than others. I worked for many years in information technology, and did some time in academe, I’ve met many people who shared traits with Don. In fact that’s where the idea of Don came from.

Many readers know someone who is very much like Don, and they’re probably too busy making that connection to relate directly themselves. I hope they still get a sense of how that person thinks and feels. On average, my female readers are more likely to say ‘hilarious’ (just like my husband / father / brother / co-worker) and my male readers ‘profound’ (just like me)!

I didn’t research Asperger’s but I’m assured by those in the autism community that Don is one of them. Their response has been overwhelmingly positive.


MM: Do you know a Rosie? Is she based on anyone in your life?

GS: I think all my characters are inspired – consciously or otherwise – by people I’ve met. I’ve lived long enough not to have to borrow them from others’ writing (and, in anticipation of the reaction, no, I’ve never watched The Big Bang Theory nor read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time!). Rosie was not consciously based on anyone, and in fact the construction of her character was the most difficult part of the writing process. But later I could see who I’d drawn on – there’s a bit of my daughter, a bit of my partner, a bit of an ex-girlfriend, a bit of a member of my writer’s group… And, as always, a big slice of me.

MM: The Rosie Effect is coming… How do you get into Prof Tillman’s headspace and voice?

Trade secret. But it’s a combination of things. One trick is to imagine myself working on a technical problem – and applying the same principles and logic to the social situation that Don finds himself in. Sometimes it’s harder to get out of his head – I was asked on a US radio program what my favourite place in New York was and out of nowhere said the Museum of Natural History – Don’s favourite place.  For all the follow-up questions that my answer generated, I was Don. Not sure if anyone noticed.

MM: Where do you write? 
What’s your writing space like? 
What time of the day do you write? 

GS: I’ll pick all three questions up together. When I used to design databases for a living, nobody asked me these questions. But there’s a fascination with how writers do these things, as though it might reveal ‘the secret’. Nup. Writing craft comes from answering questions like ‘How do you build empathy for a character?’; ‘How do you avoid a saggy middle?’ ‘When should you use the past perfect tense?’

That said… for many writers who have to fit their writing around regular jobs, some sort of routine is essential, or nothing gets done. My situation was different. I had to share writing with a freelance job, which required irregular hours – irregular days and weeks, in fact. So I learned to write where and when I could. In the morning, in the evening, in short bursts, in all-weekend binges, at home, on holiday, on planes and trains. My writing space is wherever my laptop computer is sitting – right now in an armchair in our country shack, fire burning, dinner in the slow cooker. (And that happens to be my favourite place to write…) Wine only in the last hour for the day!

MM: What can we expect from The Rosie Effect?

GS: I hadn’t planned to write a sequel – The Rosie Project was intended to stand alone. But I found a way in, and am glad I did: I think it’s stronger writing, and so do my early readers.  I’ve chosen to trust in readers’ empathy for Don to take them to some darker places.

What are you reading at the moment? Any of these best sellers? 

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