Thursday, 19 April 2012

A Morning With Elliot Perlman

This morning Shearer's very happily played host to one of our favourite Australian authors, Elliot Perlman.  

Having recently found out that Elliot Perlman's The Street Sweeper has made onto the Miles Franklin Longlist, we were poised to ask him all about how he had got to this most recent significant point in his career. And we certainly weren't disappointed. Elliot is a natural speaker who left the audience feeling like they'd had a real insight into this talented local author's perspective on life. Over the space of an hour and a half he regaled us all with a multitude of entertaining stories that spanned from his original motivation for becoming a writer through to some rather interesting key research moments, all conducted in the name of business.

One of these, for his 2003 Miles Franklin Shortlisted novel Seven Types of Ambiguity, culminated in Elliot becoming possibly the only man in history to demand that his payment for a room in a brothel show up on his credit card for tax purposes. As was pointed out by an audience member this morning, Elliot is a great observer of people, which you can see in the astute rendering of his characters. Even as a solicitor, he quipped, he was always watching the body language of his clients as they left his office, looking for representations of their disappointment or otherwise. And despite knowing he couldn't bill for this time.

So when Elliot was living in New York writing Seven Types of Ambiguity it became obvious to both him and his girlfriend of the time that he was going to have to interview some prostitutes, to get a real insight into their thought patterns and the reasoning behind their unusual work choice. After being pestered by his girlfriend to 'go and visit some whores already' Elliot got past his initial awkwardness and found a brothel with women willing to tell their tales, only to find that the only space available for individual interviews was in one of the working bedrooms. And that to use one you had to pay for one. After weighing it up, Elliot called his accountant to check on the viability of writing off an hour in a brothel as work expenses on tax. 'As long as it comes up on your credit card' was the answer, and so Elliot found himself in the unusual situation of having both his girlfriend and accountant sanction his spending of money in a brothel. For interview purposes only of course.

Although people's focus has very naturally been on the success of The Street Sweeper recently, the conversation this morning swung towards Elliot's backlist of titles, which are varied and definitely worth getting into, for those of you who have only recently discovered his work. The well-researched and deeply moving Seven Types of Ambiguity mentioned above blew so many people away, from critics to judges to members of our own staff, with everyone pulling something different out of this multi-layered work. Our own Barbara managed to surprise Elliot by skipping over the prostitutes, corruption, empty marriages and gambling to ask him about what was to her the most significantly moving scene, in which a mother takes away her daughter's night-light, leaving the child haunted by the fear she's done something to upset her mother and bring on this punishment.

The conversation then swung to discuss what inspired Elliot to become an author, something which dates back to his disdain for the Enid Blyton-esque books his sister loved, but he felt just 'weren't my business'. What did he care for 'English children going up and then down trees and drinking lemonade'? It took instead the illicit lure of the books beside his mother's bed, which were reserved for her teaching and hence out of bounds, to capture Elliot's interest. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, about the Soviet concentration camp system, succeeded where The Famous Five couldn't, and Elliot never looked back. Elliot talked about how books were an escape for him as a child at a time when his parent's divorce and his moving school meant he was particularly lonely saying, 'If I can give the kind of comfort to one person that I got from books, I'll be content'.

Elliot still believes that the 19th century was one of the historical peaks of literature, a period of writing including authors like Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and George Eliot that he says really shaped his view on literature. But he also mentioned that as a student in the 80s, he was strongly affected by Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, of which he kept he kept three copies, one for each parent's house and one well-thumbed one in the glove box of his car, all bought at independent bookstores, of course.

It was a great morning for all involved, so make sure you don't miss Elliot next time he swings by for a chat, which he's promised will be sooner rather than later. Click here to read about when Elliot visited us to talk about The Street Sweeper in October last year.

No comments:

Post a Comment