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I recently read The Good Father by Noah Hawley, a book that attracted me because of its focus on parenting and personality development.  The eponymous good father, Dr Paul Allen, is a rheumatologist whose son, Daniel, is accused of murdering a presidential candidate. As a child, Daniel’s parents divorced, and his father moved to another city and started another family: his presence in Daniel’s life was largely distant and sporadic. The novel deals with how this father tries to defend his son and find out the truth about what happened, while he also deals with his own guilt and sense of responsibility for the trajectory Daniel’s life has taken.

Like other books before it, perhaps most obviously ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver, this premise brings the nature-nurture debate to light: are our characters born or made? How important is parenting when it comes to personality development, particularly if that personality is deemed to be disordered, or even criminal? Is a very common occurrence, such as parental separation, enough to make someone commit a crime when thousands of other people who experience the same event do not become criminals? These are the questions that the book wrestles with.

I find in my own work as a psychiatrist that there is an emphasis on motherhood and parenting. There are good reasons for this: mothers are usually the primary caregivers and attachment figures for children, and there is good evidence that maternal mental health has a profound effect on a child’s mental health and security. When a child is taken to see me, it is usually the mother who brings the child along, while the father is often at work. However, I always try to meet the father too as whatever their role, they are a huge part of a child’s life too. When I talk with young people, they talk about their fathers as much as they talk about their mothers, and sometimes it is the fact that fathers aren’t as present as they could be that preoccupies young people – and this is one of the central issues of Hawley’s The Good Father.

While reading the book, I found myself wondering what I would do – as a mother – in this situation. I wondered whether men and women, fathers and mothers, deal with stress and grief differently. We traditionally expect men to externalise their emotions, to need to do something, whereas women tend to internalise more, although these stereotypes are not necessarily true. This novel is interesting because it does focus on the role and emotions of a father: Daniel’s mother plays only a very small role in the book. While Dr Allen does experience many strong emotions, including guilt and denial, he also uses his usual coping mechanisms of intellectualisation and logic – useful in his medical role – to avoid dealing with his true emotional journey as he tries to find out what happened to his son. This is mirrored for the reader by some short chapters which are quite factual with little emotional content. We do however start to see more of the emotional impact on Dr Allen as he has to accept that there is a limit to what he can control, and it is at this point that the book really captured me and was genuinely moving.

I have written before about Donald Winnicot’s concept of the ‘good enough mother‘, a well known concept in psychology. Mothers do not have to perfect, they just have to be good enough at giving their child what he needs, and recognising that this changes over time. At some point, a mother has to stand back and allow their child to become independent, make choices, and learn from the consequences of them. I wonder if this theory is what Hawley had in mind when he chose to call his book The Good Father. Ultimately, Dr Allen is not so much concerned with whether he has been good enough, but in a much more black and white way, whether is he a good father. By inference, if he is not good, then he must have been bad. In the same way, Daniel must be either good or bad. This is what keeps the reader interested: will this father be able to reconcile with himself and accept doubt and shades of grey? Will we find out the truth about whether his son was good or bad? Or is he, like most people, somewhere in between?

You can find out more about the author at http://www.noahhawley.com

*This book was an Advance Reading Copy provided by Random House/DoubleDay (US publisher). The book is published in Australia by Hodder & Stoughton

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I am thrilled today to be interviewing Phillipa Fioretti, author of ‘The Book of Love’ and ‘The Fragment of Dreams’.

Phillipa was born in Sydney and studied Humanities, Visual Arts and Museum Studies and went on to work and exhibit as a printmaker, as well as teaching part time at tertiary level. She currently writes fiction full time and was selected for participation in the 2008 Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre’s Manuscript development programme . (I have blogged about my own experience of this in 2010 here)

Her first novel, The Book of Love, published by Hachette Australia in April 2010 and the sequel, The Fragment of Dreams, has been released in May 2011. When Phillipa is not writing or reading she’s cooking or watching films, cleaning out the chook shed or walking, travelling, looking at other people’s beautiful gardens and enjoying time with family and friends.

1.Your manuscript for ‘The Book of Love’ won you a place on the Hachette/QWC Manuscript Development Programme in 2008. Do you think that ‘The Book of Love’  would have made it to publication without this opportunity?

Now that’s a tricky question! I never submitted it to anyone before entering it in the Development program so I can’t get a feel for whether it would have sunk or swam. It is a good story and it had a very light edit, so it was ready to go into the world at that point, but so much of publishing is subjective. Someone has to love it, really love it, to get it through the acquisitions meetings. I was incredibly fortunate that it fell into the hands of a publisher who did love it, but others – had they seen it – might have loved it but had no room on their lists. There are a thousand other reasons for a mss not getting through to publication so it’s hard to say. What I can say is I think it’s a good story and compares very well to its peers. It’s sold to Germany and Romania and done very well in Australia and I’m quite proud of it.

2. What has been the most enjoyable part of the publication process? Has anything surprised or disappointed you?

The most enjoyable part and the most painful part are one and the same – the structural and copy edits! It’s a rigorous and confronting process, but the thing you have to keep reminding yourself is that the editors want the best for the book, we all do, and that’s what we are working toward. I guess what I love the most is nutting out problems with people who understand and love the characters as much as I do.

3. ‘The Fragment of Dreams’ is a sequel to’ The Book of Love’. Did you find writing a second novel easier or more challenging that the first?

The Book of Love was easy to bring into the world. I adored the little universe I’d made, loved spending time with my characters, took my time with the dialogue, polished and polished and was immersed in it all the way through, it had a very light edit, a beautiful cover, great reviews, sold internationally and then POW! I had to write another one, and I had to do it to a schedule and it had to be good, even better than the first, and I had no idea if I could do it or not. It was as painful as the first was pleasurable.

I had a severe case of Second Book Syndrome and nearly crashed the whole project, but I pulled that damn rabbit out of the hat at the end, with my publisher calling it a ‘beautiful novel’ (and she does not give praise lightly). I really earned my writer’s stripes with this one, but I’m not complacent. Every book is hard to write, every creative endeavour is hard and you start from a position of fear and self doubt, always. When I received my first copy of The Fragment of Dreams in the mail I got a little misty eyed – all that agony and triumph packaged down to a pretty blue package.

4. Do you have any tips for emerging writers?

Another tough question. Read all the time, work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life and cultivate a group of like minded souls as companions for the journey. Only other writers know what it’s like and they can be a great comfort along the way.

5. What does the future hold for you as a writer?

I really want to get better at it! At the craft side, I mean. I want to tool up so I can tell the stories I want to tell without being too handicapped by technical issues. I have three books that are taking shape in my head now, plus some distant projects as well, but let’s face it, this is the leisure/entertainment industry and subject to the vagaries of the market.

I don’t know what the future holds because one is only as good as the last book. It could all go pear-shaped with the next, of course I hope it doesn’t, but you have to be psychologically prepared for it. A writer’s career is not like signing up for a tenured position. Getting published once, twice does not guarantee third and fourth, and I don’t think many unpublished writers really understand that. I’ve tried to learn from and enjoy these publishing experiences as they are. I hope for more, but try to be in the moment!

You can find out more about Phillipa at her website http://www.phillipafioretti.com.au


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I am thrilled today to be interviewing Favel Parrett, author of ‘Past The Shallows’ which will be published in May 2011 by Hachette. In 2008, Favel won a place on the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre’s Manuscript development programme (I have blogged about my own experience of this here), and then she subsequently won an Australian Society of Authors mentorship. ‘Past The Shallows’ is already receving fantastic reviews and Favel has kindly given up some of her time to answer a few questions…

 

Where did the idea for ‘Past The Shallows’ come from?

The south coast of Tasmania had a huge influence on me when I was young. It is isolated and wild – a place I will never forget. The story grew out of my memories and feeling for that place.

Where did Harry and Miles come from? I wish I knew. It feels like they were some kind of wonderful gift. I fell in love with them and they will be in my heart always.

 

Your manuscript won you a place on the Hachette/QWC Manuscript Development Programme and an Australian Society of Authors mentorship. Do you think that ‘Past The Shallows’  would have made it to publication without these opportunities?

I would love to think yes, but it would have be so much harder without these opportunities. The Hachette /QWC Development Programme gave me the confidence to keep going and believe in my writing. It also gave me a very supportive contact at Hachette Australia (Vanessa Radnidge). The ASA mentorship allowed me to work with the wonderful editor Julia Stiles. She has an incredible talent for seeing the big picture. By moving a few scenes around, she gave me a concrete outline to follow.

It is so incredibly hard to get published, but it is possible!

 

What has been the most enjoyable part of the publication process? Has anything surprised you?

Seeing the beautiful cover of my book for the first time is a moment I will never forget. Reading the first reviews and being so surprised that people liked my book – that they found something moving in the words. That has been lovely.

 

Do you have any tips for emerging writers?

Keep going. Keep writing. Be the hardest working writer you know. See yourself as a professional. Say ‘I AM A WRITER’ – because you ARE a writer, published or not.

 

What does the future hold for you as a writer?

I am back at the beginning. I am writing a new novel, finding a new voice. I am at the start, with all the unknowns and all the unanswered questions. I am problem solving.

That is all we can do as writers. Turn up and do the work. I will continue to do that for as long as I can.

 

You can find more information about Favel and ‘Past the Shallows’ at her website (www.favelparrett.com)

Thanks for your time Favel, and I look forward to reading ‘Past The Shallows’!

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