Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Thank you, Fiona. It’s wonderful to be with you and your followers. I’m Stephen Crabbe and I’ve recently stepped over the septuagenarian threshold. I came into the world on the leading edge of the baby boom.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I live in Perth, Western Australia these days. I moved here twenty-four years ago from my birthplace, Adelaide in South Australia.
Fiona: A little about yourself (i.e. your education, family life, etc.).
I grew up in a stable household that was quite comfortable financially, due to the hard work and business acumen of my father. We weren’t rich, but I was encouraged to succeed in our chosen fields. I always had access to a wide range of books and from the age of five I had regular piano lessons with an excellent teacher. I went to state schools and eventually into tertiary education to become a school teacher, which was my principal career for forty-five years. For much of that time I specialised in teaching music. Now I’m completely retired from teaching—except that I give piano lessons to one of my grandchildren.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
Not a lot to tell just yet, except that I’m working on my next novel. It was on the backburner for more than two years, because I decided another book must be published first. I made some progress late last year, but then I changed residence with utter chaos and fell out of the routine of backing up my writing. So, when my PC hard-drive suddenly popped its clogs, I lost a lot of the draft and research notes. Right now, I’m battling to write again what was lost—with daily back-up!
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I was so young I can’t pinpoint any beginning. And I don’t think ‘reason’ came into it: it was just me being me. I wrote little playlets, stories that were never finished … I just loved to write.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
‘A writer’? In my mid-teens. Using the word in the professional sense began in my thirties, I think, when I sold scripts to screen producers. Being an ‘author’—having at least one published book—came in 2013.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Certain themes and characters had danced around my mind for years, demanding that I put them into story-form. They came out of family and personal history mainly, and they were so insistent I couldn’t ignore them. Circumstances allowed me to give time to all that material in about 2011, and that led to the publication of Song of Australia, my first book.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Song of Australia is the title of a patriotic song, written in the 19th century. The composer and lyricist were both South Australian, and their song became in effect the anthem of that colony, which later became aState of Australia. It was taught in all schools and sung as a companion to God Save the King—or ‘Queen’, as it became when I was at school in the 1950s. (It’s not well-known today, however.) My book, set in the 1914-18 period in South Australia, devoted much attention to the song. As the power of music was a central theme of the narrative, it was fitting to take the song title as the book title also.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I must leave it to my readers to describe my style. I think it varies somewhat, according to what I’m writing, but I’m always quite fastidious about how I express myself in words. The final version must be easy to read, concise, but in language that I feel is mine. I also think writing style changesas the writer grows, not just as a writer but as a person. As with any genre, literary historical fiction, which I write, has a few challenges of its own. One is the need to be true to the period and place in which the story is set, but simultaneouslyto enable the contemporary reader to engage with the characters.For example, if the story’s setting is one of prevalent derision of dark-skinned people, many of today’s readers will find it hard to accept. So,how can I draw my readers into that world to live in the story? Another challenge to the historical fiction author is to build the world of the story without writing ‘info-dumps’—i.e. facts and explanationsgiven in the manner of a history textbook. I want the characters to be central, not information.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The two published books and the third in progress are all based on verifiable facts—such as the way ethnic Germans were treated by other Australians during the First World War, the importance of certain unique South Australian plants for manufacture, and so on. The lives of people I have known—oneor two teachers in my childhood, for example—also fired my imagination. And then there were my ancestors, many of whom are still alive to me. None of those people, of course, become characters in the stories; rather, they’re triggers thatdevelop characters for whom I feel some passion.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
Because I was born in South Australia and lived most of my life there, I know the setting for my novels very well. I’ve been able to do ample research on historical details quite easily with books or the internet. So, travelling has not been necessary so far. That may change one day. Who knows?
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My work is published under an imprint, Yellow Teapot Books, which also designed the covers and the rest of the book. I’m very pleased with the job YTB does!
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Fiction is not the medium for being didactic. I want my readers to share the world-view of the characters, to experience life as those people did in the past. If I can help readers to do that, there’s a chance they will then reflect with a new perspective on their own lives and the human condition. If I wanted to preach ‘a message’, I’d write a non-fiction book. On the other hand, if readers believe they find ‘a message’ in my stories, then that’s fine by me. I just hope they’ll think for themselves about that message—even reject it if they see fit!
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favourite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
Oh, I’ve read so many wonderful books! I couldn’t narrow down my favourites to even a handful. Of course, one comes across many authors who have simply not mastered essentials of good fiction—succinct prose that is easy to read, narrating with a clear and consistent point of view, and so on.Outstanding authors, however, are each unique: they write withtheir own special themes and settings, and in their own distinct styles. If I name now one or two as my most favourite, a few weeks into the future I will have changed my mind. But I’ll tell you that not long ago I read work by C.W. Lovatt, a Canadian novelist—superb writing!His The Siege of St Louisbourg moved me deeply. The sequel is being published about now, I think, so I’ll certainly be reading that. And I’m profoundly impressed by some books by Margaret Sutherland, one of our great living Australian authors. But, as I said, there are many others whose work I love.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Certainly! It’s not the only thing I do, but I am committed to producing more fiction for as long as I can. I don’t need to do it for financial survival, but my soul demands it!
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I told the story I had to tell, in the best way I could at the time. It is what it is. It is for the reader to decide whether one should be ranked above others.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
The research for Conflict on Kangaroo Islandled to some fascinating discoveries—especially about the history and botany of South Australia and the culture of the aborigines of the Adelaide Plains and FleurieuPensinsula. That’s the region where I spent most of my life, but I obviously have much more to learn about it! I also learnt more about the process of constructing a good story.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I must admit to rather poor knowledge of today’s cinematic world. I do enjoy good films, but I simply don’t get around to seeing them often. I’m sure, however, that anyone looking for an actor to play the role of Pansy Pearce (from my latest novel) would need a special type of lady. My guess is that it would have to be a relatively unknown person. Sounds like a chance for one of our Aussie women to launch a career!
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Most people can be ‘writers’. To have books published—i.e. to be an author—these days is easy to do if you take the route of independent publishing. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be read; your books will probably not even be noticed. The same applies even when you go through a traditional publishing house. There are millions of books on Amazon, and only a very few are being bought. So, if your aim is to be a best-selling author, I suggest you think again! To slowly build a list of books with some fans who keep wanting more from you—this is possible. And it’s also possible to make a little money from your books. But it’s hard work over a long, long time and the knocks can be brutal.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Apart from various texts in research for my work in progress, there’s The Sea Between, by Margaret Sutherland. I’ve been greatly impressed by some of her other books, stories set in Australia and New Zealand, past and present. She has such a deep understanding of the factors that make people tick in different ways, and yet she tells their stories with quiet compassion in a prose which never gets in the way of the narrative. Some people might consider her authorial voice old-fashioned, but I think it’s very honest and very intelligent. And, at the same time, unpretentious.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
My firstschool reader! You know … ‘Look, Dick, here is Spot. Jump, Spot, jump!’ I can still see the pictures in primary colours. But once I’d got past that stage I was very quickly into Enid Blyton and W.E. Johns’ Biggles, and then to R.M. Ballantyne’s Coral Island, Seven Little Australians, Little Men, Tom Brown’s Schooldays … Oh, I devoured them all as a youngster!
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
People tell me I have a weird sense of humour. I get belly laughs from clever word-play on the one hand and slap-stick films on the other, while people around me don’t even smile. I’ve been caught guffawing to small kid’s TV cartoons. Tears come to my eyes with both joy and grief. As a musician and music teacher, I used to listen to young people sing very well technically but with such purity, gut-felt sincerity and passion that I’d be stifling sobs at the sheer beauty of it. Then again, in different contexts, I’ve been branded as ‘dry’ or ‘very intellectual’. Am I really that complex? I don’t know.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Music, for one. I’ve always been a musician, not professionally these days but for enjoyment. I took classical piano lessons from the age of five and did the examinations with the Adelaide Conservatorium. I took up singing in mid-life and performed on stage quite a few times, but just for pleasure.While I do hardly any performing now, I like to grab a few minutes whenever I can to run through my vocal warm-ups. (That’s usually in the car. People get free concerts at the traffic lights!)Feeling my voice in form makes me more confident in everyday life. And I compose a song now and then. Sport—I’ve always been very keen on it, and I still run and do regular work-outs. In 2016, I competed in the 100 Metres at the World Masters Athletics Championships here in Western Australia. The result wasn’t a personal best—I was recovering from an injury—but it was very satisfying just to race on the track sixty years after my first competition. Other hobbies? Languages are a perennial interest; I dabble in many. Mandarin Chinese has interested me for some years. I’m not fluent in any but English though.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Mainly good drama on television. Foyle’s War is a good example of what I like. The ABC, our Aussie equivalent of the BBC, screens some excellent series. They don’t have to be historical to engage me, as long as they have great scripts, fine acting and production.
Fiona: Favourite foods, colours, music?
Love food of many types! But for the last few years I’ve restricted my diet to exclude grains and grain-products. I include a lot of fruit and vegetables. It’s worked wonders for my health and fitness. The colours I prefer in dress and personal presentation tend towards the blues and turquoise. Sometimes, though, I have an urge to dress in very bright and varied colours with wild exotic patterns—my wife is always ready to pounce on me at the first hint of this! And good music for me can be ina host of genres, ranging from medieval and folk, through Bach/Mozart/Beethoven and the Romantics, all the way to jazz/blues and some pop.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
You know, I have sometimes thought about this! I would have to be able to create with language somehow. Could I do it orally, with some sort of recording device that would allow new drafts and editing? Maybe the technology will allow us to write on a voice-activated screen? But I hope I neverneed to deal with the problem.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
Oh! I’ve never considered a headstone. I’m not sure …. Perhaps I’ll let my books be my headstone.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Facebook Author Page:https://www.facebook.com/StephenCrabbeAuthor/
Goodreads page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7239411.Stephen_Crabbe