Adrian Hyland won the Ned Kelley Award for Best First Novel in 2007 for his excellent debut DIAMOND DOVE, set in the Australian outback. Hyland has had the usual writers' litany of jobs, from community worker with the indigenous population, to teaching English as a foreign language in China, with a bit of mining thrown in for good luck. He still spends a lot of time going walkabout with his favourite mobs (he's just back from a 20 day walk across the Tanami Desert with the Warlpiri), and his love of aboriginal culture, the people, and their sense of humour oozes from every page of DIAMOND DOVE. I've been pimping his book since I first read it, and in a shameless attempt to badger more people into buying it I managed to talk him into what's probably the most unprofessional interview he's ever had to suffer through…
SM: Before we get into the book -- which I thoroughly enjoyed, by the way -- let's get a flavour of Adrian Hyland: what's the most scared you've ever been?
AH: I'm a panophobic -- I'm scared of everything, all the time -- it's a labour-saving strategy -- saves having to pick and choose.
SM: Who was the first person you kissed because you wanted to? And I don't mean a peck on the cheek, we're talking knee-trembling passion here.
AH: Yoiks. Is this the Aberdonian version of the Liverpool kiss? You shape up a la Queensberry, then go for the goolies? I thought we were here to talk about my book.
Okay, if you insist...
The time: somewhere in the throes of early puberty. The location: a beautiful Australian beach. There were fleets of magnificent bronzed surfers displaying their skills and wares, and one milk-white neophyte who kept falling off his boogy-board and having his swimmers torn off by perverted killer-waves. In the audience, thankfully, was a young female whose resemblance to Audrey Tatou may have grown in the mind's eye with the passing of the years and who was presumably more into Woody Allen than Blue Crush. Whatever the reason, she seemed to find my aquatic incompetence amusing, and by sunset we were sharing a beach fire, a bag of marshmallows and a soft towel. (Thank Christ you didn't ask me about my first f..#%&! - an altogether messier affair)
SM: Breakfast: toast, cereal, or fry-up?
AH: Aw, come on! Where's the fuckin book? Okay –you asked for it: Prairie oysters! A nice segue, since:
A) You'll have to read my book to find what they are
B) be careful, you may not like what you find, and
C) it's bullshit anyway -- actually I'm a muesli man, but for the purposes of my international debut I'm trying to cultivate that rugged outback image
SM: All right, all right, I’ll ask you about the fuckin’ book. Diamond Dove is one of those wonderful novels that really envelops the reader in a culture that they probably never get to experience first hand. What made you decide to set the story in the world of the outback?
AH: I lived for many years in the outback -- went there straight after Uni, and the place kind of crept -- well, roared like a wildfire into my soul.
I did a bit of mining and station work, then ended up working in Aboriginal community development -- which sounds impressive, but in fact meant bouncing around the Tanami Desert with a Toyota full of Aboriginal people -- sometimes taking them back to places they'd walked out of thirty years before.
I've travelled pretty well everywhere, lived in a lot of far-flung places, but Central Australia remains the most fascinating place I've ever seen. All of the big questions -- development vs. environment, the spiritual vs. the material, toast vs. cereal or fry-up -- are there, in your face. The human comedy unravels before your eyes: you've got hippies and rednecks, superannuated commies, grey nomads, miners, pastoralists, boozers, bruisers, substance-abusers and some really weird people -- have you seen Wolf Creek? - living cheek by jowl.
Most importantly, of course, there were the Aboriginal people: they were the touchstone for me.
SM: Well, it certainly comes across. Emily Tempest is a great central character, someone who's got a foot in both camps -- the settler and the aboriginal -- but as a middle-aged white bloke did you get any stick for writing from the point of view of a young black girl?
AH: Not yet, but there's still plenty of time, if anybody's interested.
I was writing about people I knew and loved. I've never met anyone quite like em. They're beautiful people, rich in spirit of place and the funniest buggers you could ever hope to meet -- I spent many a night by a camp fire rocking with laughter. I wanted to bring that world to life, and I'd like to think that my intentions were honourable.
SM: You paint a wonderfully vivid picture of Emily's mob and the country they inhabit (Moonlight Downs). There seems to be a joy to their lifestyle that's lacking in the predominantly white settlement of Bluebush Emily’s forced to go back to.
AH: You said it. There's a richness, a sense of knowing who they are, especially when they're on their own country, that's sadly missing from Western society. Small groups of traditionally-minded people are still struggling bravely to maintain their traditions. God love em.
As for the whitefeller town of Bluebush ? What can I say? A rugged outback mining and meatworks town with a population of about a million: a thousand whites, a thousand black, the rest cockroaches. The only thing developing out there are melanomas and salt-pans. A shithole -- but one of which I grew surprisingly fond.
SM: The language of the book is magnificently, uncompromisingly Australian, especially the dialogue:
He turns around and yelled at the milling masses: 'Hey you mob o' lazy myalls, come say ello to li'l h'Emily.' I smiled at the heavily aspirated pronunciation of my name. 'H'Emily Tempest! That Nangali belong ol Motor Jack. Get over an make 'er welcome! She come home!'
Did you get any pressure from your publishers to make it less outback and
AH: Outback? I thought everybody spoke that way.
Seriously, this from the man who gave to the world -- from a random glance - : "Hud oana mintie", "What a munt she was!" and "Get that intae your fat thick heid." ? Flinging the odd bit of Strine back into your face is the least I can do.
SM: Aha – touché.
AH: I might add that I grew up with lines like:
I met ayont the carney
A lass wi' tousie hair
Singin' till a bairnie
That was nae langer there
- not to mention
- "Fair fa' your honest sonsie face,
- Great chieftain o' the puddin'-race
ringing through my head. Because we're a tiny nation at the arse-end of the world, we tend to absorb everybody else's English.
Is it a Celtic thing? I'm of Irish descent, and a lot of the writers I like best -- in crime, yourself, Bruen, Brookmyre -- more generally Yeats, MacDiarmid, Joyce, Jones - seem to come from that colourful corner of the language.
SM: You've taught English as a foreign language, been a community worker with indigenous people, a linguist, songwriter, mine worker, station worker... So when it comes to 'writing what you know', I guess you've got a lot of options?
AH: I dunno about this. Been asked it on several occasions. I tell myself, yep, write what you know. Then I think 'Shakespeare' -- if he only wrote what he knew, he must have known everything. Somewhere the imagination has to kick in. I can imagine how it works: as a child, young Will's amused by a feisty fishwife, and twenty years later she reappears in The Taming of the Shrew. Ditto a conniving town councillor, and Richard III.
Language, even more than experience, is the fuel that runs these motors.
At the moment I'm toying with the idea of writing a comedy/romance set in medieval China . Maybe I'll be able to give a better answer after that.
SM: What's next? Will there be another Emily Tempest book?
AH: Another one due with the publishers at the end of 2008. Any tips on how to meet deadlines? I've spent too long in Aboriginal Australia to be able to work fast. Can envisage a short-ish series -- maybe three Emily Tempests, max. Will be ready for the knackery after that. Dunno how you pros manage to write so many.
Emily II is plodding along nicely, thank you. In Emily Mk. III, I'm considering sending her off to China (no, not the medieval Middle Kingdom -- I don't do sci-fi). I've spent quite a bit of time living in China over the years, and am shipping Emily off to the Silk Road -- mainly because I think she'll have some fun sorting out those Chinese autocrats.
Stuart MacBride isn't a professional interviewer (which is pretty bloody obvious), instead he writes gruesome police procedurals set in the Northeast of Scotland. www.StuartMacBride.com
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Diamond Dove is published by Quercus pbk £7.99 August 2008