Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar, won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlett Stiletto Award and has twice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her latest crime novel set in Thailand, featuring ex-pat Australian private investigator Jayne Keeney, is The Dying Beach.
We spoke to Angela about getting away with murder as a ten-year-old birdwatcher, her writing advice from Christos Tsiolkas (‘Just get the story down’) and her fantasy of drinking in an all-night Bangkok bar with Philip Marlowe.
What was the first piece of writing you had published?
It was a letter in a Gould League magazine in which I described seeing a flock of Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos – exotic pink birds with flame-like crest feathers – roosting in the pine trees near our family home. They were actually the ordinary Sulphur Crested variety, but I wasn’t one to let the facts stand in the way of a good story. That no one at the Gould League of Bird Lovers questioned how parrots native to Australia’s arid zone came to be spotted in Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs by a precocious ten-year-old taught me if your story is good enough, you can get away with murder.
What’s the best part of your job?
The juggling act: writing and sustaining an artistic life in the midst of other demands and passions is exhilarating.
What’s the worst part of your job?
The juggling act: writing and sustaining an artistic life in the midst of other demands and passions is exhausting.
What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?
It would be a toss-up between winning the Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2004, and having David Malouf congratulate me on my acceptance speech.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
‘Just get the story down.’ This from my friend and mentor Christos Tsiolkas. I hadn’t got my head around the purpose of a first draft and was stuck scouring the thesaurus, trying to craft the perfect opening line. I’ve since learned you’re much better placed to write the perfect opening line once you’ve actually got the story down.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?
Years ago I was interviewed by a young Vietnamese journalist in Saigon about my work on HIV/AIDS. It was towards the end of a six-year stint in Southeast Asia and I was obviously more tired and emotional than I’d realised as the published article concluded with the line, ‘A tear rolls down her round, white face.’
If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I’ll always be a writer, regardless of whatever else I’m doing to make a living. It’s a compulsion.
There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?
I could be taught to play football, learn the rules and techniques, practice hard. But without the passion and aptitude, there’s no guarantee I’d be any good at it. Likewise with creative writing.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?
Read. Write. Persevere. Maintain your sense of humour. Love that you write.
As Ray Bradbury once said it, ‘Focus on your passion – burn it with your glance.’
Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?
Both. I have an e-reader for travelling, which necessitates shopping online. I tend to shop for paperbacks in independent bookshops close to home and my office, unless what I’m looking for is only available online – most recently, Stephen Volk’s novella Whitstable, a tribute to the late Peter Cushing.
If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?
Fuck dinner! I’d go out drinking in an all-night bar in Bangkok with Philip Marlowe and grill him until he explained what the hell happened in The Big Sleep.
What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is the kind of book I aspire to write: one that transports you to a place you’ve never been and teaches you something you didn’t know about the world, all in the context of a captivating story.
I’m also greatly encouraged by the author’s note to the novel, in which Kingsolver admits, ‘I spent nearly thirty years waiting for the wisdom and maturity to write this book.’
I continue working on that requisite wisdom and maturity.
Angela Savage’s latest novel is The Dying Beach (Text Publishing).
Angela will be a guest of the Bendigo Writers Festival this weekend. The Wheeler Centre will also be in Bendigo this weekend, with actor/writer/comedian Denise Scott.