Working with Words: Anna Goldsworthy

Anna Goldsworthy’s first book, the memoir Piano Lessons, has been released in the US and Korea, adapted for the stage, and is currently in development as a film. Anna’s writing has appeared in the Monthly, the Age, the Australian, and Best Australian Essays. Her new memoir Welcome to Your New Life is now available and her Quarterly Essay On Women, Freedom and Misogyny will be released in June 2013. She is a concert pianist who records for the ABC Classics label.

We spoke to Anna about killing your darlings, why good writing is a way of thinking, writing down good ideas, and being in love with Marcel Proust.

Anna Goldsworthy, photograph by Nicholas Purcell.

Anna Goldsworthy, photograph by Nicholas Purcell.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

I think it was a piece about evolutionary psychology for The Adelaide Review. I’d read Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal and taken it very personally. The only way I could see my out of despair was to write about it.

What’s the worst part of your job?

That first draft when you’re operating only on faith, or delusion.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

The publication of my first book, Piano Lessons.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

My father always said ‘it’s the fish John West leaves out that makes John West the best.’ I’m a fish-murdering zealot. I’m sure I get too much pleasure out of killing my darlings.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?

There was a lovely review of Piano Lessons in which the author claimed to have seen me at a function in Melbourne with dashing Italian husband (my partner is Irish) and our bilingual twin boys (at that stage I had one monolingual child), ‘effortlessly seguing from Italian to English’. Someone else tweeted that they had seen me tandem feeding newborn twins while rehearsing a piano concerto (as you do). Still no twins, but a strange pattern emerges.

If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Spending more time with Chopin.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I think the tools of the trade can be taught, but good writing is a way of thinking as well as a way of writing.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Read constantly. Also, don’t imagine the good ideas will visit a second time, if you neglect to write them down.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

I still prefer the physical artifact, but I often lack the patience to make it to the bookshop.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

Marcel from In Search of Lost Time (if he is indeed a fictional character). Because I am in love with him.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Helen Garner’s The Children’s Bach. I heard Helen reading from it at Adelaide Writers’ Week when I was a child, and her voice was so direct that I felt I understood it (though some things perplexed me – why would girls fall to their knees before men in toilets? Was it a type of prayer?). Her voice resonates through a lot of Australian writing, including my own. It is difficult to shake it off: it is so candid and musical and disarming.

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