What’s a good Sydney resident like you (Peter lives on the Central Coast) doing writing a book set in Melbourne?
I was born in Melbourne (it was raining, as I recall) and raised in Richmond. So I remember the area, and the kind of things we used to get up to. However, when I first conceived the book, it was going to be set in the outer burbs somewhere. Then I realised that I was never going to find a setting more moody and dark location than Richmond in the 50s (though other suburbs might rival it: Collingwood and Footscray immediately come to mind.) But it was always going to be a Melbourne novel, as I didn’t become a Sydneysider until 1992.
The Cartographer was started as part of the NaNoWriMo programme in 2009. Can you tell us a little about the programme and how it worked for you?
The idea of the programme is to encourage writers to write 50,000 words in a month (November). When I first heard of the programme, earlier in the year, I was working on another novel, and I realised that if I finished it in time I would be able to tackle the NaNo challenge. I finished the earlier novel on 31 October 2009 and began writing The Cartographer the following day. I wrote one chapter a day for 23 days, and that was the first draft done. In 2010 I added nine another chapters during the writing of the second draft.
Tell us a little about the plot.
The difference between the first draft (worried boy avoids bad guy because he wants to stay alive) and the second draft (grieving boy has to avoid bad guy while trying to assuage guilt) is the difference between a story and a plot. The kid of the story would do anything to have his dead twin brother back, and, as a distant second, would go a long way to forgive himself for what he half believes is his part in his brother’s death (in not trying hard enough to prevent it, or to save him). To make matters worse, he is at real risk of being tracked down by a murderer because, he wrongly believes, he can identify him. In fact he is at risk of being killed for a set of counterfeiting plates he scored at the crime scene, under the Finders Keepers rule. The crushing pressures of his guilt and fear, together with a terrific propensity for getting into trouble regardless of the circumstances, inevitably cause him to seek relief in a world of pretending, with mixed results.
What was the last book you read and what are you currently reading?
The last book I read was Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda. I’m currently reading Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle (HarperVoyager, 2011), and Kirsten Tranter’s A Common Loss (HarperCollins, 2011).
Which fictional character do you most identify with?
That’s a tough question, because I’m pretty impressionable. I remember when I was about fifteen being struck by the character in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, Alex Du Large (who was a particularly nasty young man the same age as me); and when I was in my twenties being very sympathetic to Capt. Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Then there was Brother William in Eco’s The Name of the Rose. I suppose these days I see myself as a character in one of Jorge Luis Borges’s labyrinthine tales, because that’s how life strikes me.
What are you working on next?
Right now I’m rewriting the novel I was writing up to the beginning of The Cartographer. That will be followed by the prequel to The Cartographer, which has the kid’s grandfather, Archie Taggerty as the main character. Actually, that book is now finished (it was my 2010 NaNoWriMo project), so I’ll be writing the second draft this year. I reckon I’ll always have at least two unfinished novels on the production line.