Fridays with Featherstone, Part 4: On writing and admired writers

Today, I bring you the final part of Susan Errington’s Wet Ink interview with Nigel Featherstone. In this part Nigel talks primarily about some of the writers he admires or who have inspired him – and how they relate to his writing. I love the fact that many of the writers Nigel admires are also favourites of mine, such as … but no, if I tell you now that will spoil the interview. Read on …


You seem interested in troubled or fractured families, especially in Remnants. Is the family dynamic something you want to expand on in future writing and perhaps bring to the forefront?


Families are both fascinating and frightening.  As a writer I’m asking, what makes up a family?  It’s not just husband and wife and two children.  A family can be a group of people living in a share-house.  It can be a rock band.  It can be three kids on a road-trip.  It can be an old woman and her twenty cats; Eva Hornung explored human-animal relationships as family in her extraordinary novel Dog Boy.  Families can be forces for good, and forces for evil; more often than not, they are both at once – this is what Anne Enright was doing in her Man Booker prize-winning The Gathering.  Whenever I hear someone say that family is ‘the bedrock’ of society I want to reach for my pen and get to writing.  Family might be the traditional bedrock in terms of procreation, but it certainly isn’t the emotional bedrock for many individuals.


Your Australian families lack the hysteria of Patrick White’s and remind me more of the quiet honesty of Randolf Stow’s. What’s important to you in creating a family in your work?


You’re not the first person to mention Randolf Stow in relation to my stories, and it always fills me with a warm inner glow.  I read The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea back in high-school and I was rapt, and that rapture has continued after all these years – and I haven’t read it since, although recently I bought another copy and it’s on the bedside-table pile.  Quiet honesty.  I like that.  Is that what attracted me to Stow?  Who can tell?  In terms of technics, what’s important in creating a fictional family is life, depth of character, and conflict.  It’s also important, I think, for the family to want something, resolution, revelation, salvation, disintegration, even if they don’t know it.


Who are the important novelists for you?


J.M. CoetzeeDisgrace is the perfect contemporary novel.  Colm ToibinThe Blackwater Lightship, a story about three generations of Irish women, is told in the simplest, most direct voice, but it dives so confidently into the depths.  Alan Hollinghurst – the language in The Line of Beauty never ceases to amaze me, and the author is invariably hilarious.  Kazuo IshiguroA Pale View of Hills and The Remains of the Day are two gorgeous novels, both being vast wells of intimacy.  Graham SwiftLast Orders is a novel I return to regularly.  Morris WestEminence is built around a terrific what if (what if the next Pope was agnostic?).  Truman CapoteIn Cold Blood is a book that has had a huge impact on me because it’s the portrait of friendship and family and landscape.  Harper Lee – the burning desire for justice in To Kill A Mockingbird.  The verse-novelist Dorothy Porter – what she could conjure on the page!  Helen Garner – although not fiction, Joe Cinque’s Consolation shows all the hallmarks of what makes a novel.  It may appear odd in this company, but Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman is the most audacious of stories.  The names Tolstoy and Chekhov have to appear in this paragraph.  As does Flaubert’s; Madame Bovary is the truly great novel.


Writing is a tough and often lonely gig.  Where do you draw your inspiration?


From the things that happen around me, or happen around other people.  That makes it sound easy.  You’re right: it’s not.  There are days when I’d like to chuck it all away, but my life would be dreary without writing and reading.  And music.


What are you working on at present?


Nigel Featherstone, I'm ready now

Cover (Courtesy: Blemish Books)

Going back to where we started, the second of those Launceston novellas is being published by Blemish Books in November this year*, so over the coming months I’ll be working on the nips and tucks required by the publisher (it’s already been through quite a few rounds of these), getting the story as perfect as humanly possible.  What can I tell you about it?  Perhaps, after all this talk about men and their trials and tribulations of forming relationships and trying to have meaningful lives, it might be a surprise to tell you that this second novella, which is called I’m Ready Now, is a story about a mother and son.  The mother has reached a fork in her life, and so has the son, and both are in the midst of making decisions that will change the course of their lives and their relationship(s).  It’s told from both points of view, and I enjoyed writing the mother as much as the son, perhaps even more so.  And I’m always working on short stories, and creative journalism.  And, yes, there’s a bigger project but I can’t talk about that because I’ll jinx it.  But for the next few months, much of whatever brain-power I have will be occupied with bringing I’m Ready Now into the world.

* This interview was prepared many months ago for publication in Wet Ink during 2012. Readers of this blog will know that I’m ready now was indeed published in November and reviewed by me that month.

If you missed Part 1, click here, for Part 2 here, and for Part 3 here.

Thanks again to Susan Errington for supporting my running this interview after the demise of Wet Ink. I’m sorry that Wet Ink no longer exists, but it’s been a pleasure to share this great interview with readers here.

Fridays with Featherstone will finish next Friday with my follow-up interview with Nigel…

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