Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2016, Myfanwy Jones is a talented Melbourne author who explores loss in her latest novel, LEAP. We were able to find out a little more about her in this interview.
Hi Myfanwy, welcome to Beauty and Lace and thanks for talking to us.
Hello there, Beauty and Lace!
When did you know you wanted to be a novelist?
I reckon I was about age ten, give or take, when I knew I wanted to be a writer. Somewhere in the attic is a box and inside the box is a journal. In the journal, in a spidery, children’s hand, I express this strong desire (along with a love of Adam Ant, sparkly leg-warmers and golden syrup dumplings). I was already a hungry reader but was lucky to discover quite early on the profound joy and sense in making up stories. It’s been my saving grace ever since.
Can you tell us about your journey to publication?
My first novel – written at about age ten, give or take – was called Piss Weak Tea and Buns, about an elderly woman raging against her loneliness and the dying of the light. Yes, I was ten. The ‘novel’ was bound with pink wool and remains in the bottom drawer. There was another novel I wrote after completing a psychology degree that, again, I didn’t shop around. It’s in a blue satin box in the attic. After a couple of years living in Vietnam in the mid-1990s, where I met the father of my children and seeded my first publishable novel, I found myself landing in a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT and, more specifically, in Olga Lorenzo’s novel-writing class. She became a mentor and is still a dear friend – not to mention wonderful writer. When I had a solid MS she introduced me to an editor at Penguin. They thought it had potential but wasn’t quite there. I went away and kept working – I think that novel had five drafts – and then the MS got long-listed for Allen & Unwin’s Varuna Award. At that stage I got signed up by my top agent, Jacinta Dimase, who took the MS back to Penguin. This time they said yes. The Rainy Season came out in 2009 and was shortlisted for the Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Best Writing Award.
Your latest novel is Leap, can you tell us about it?
LEAP is about the creativity and ingenuity of the human heart in the face of heartbreaking loss. It has a dual narrative… Joe is a twenty-something guy whose girlfriend dies at a party at the end of high school. It’s a few years on when we meet him but he is still loaded with grief and guilt at not being in the right place at the right time. He’s working dead-end jobs and training hard at the street sport parkour that sees him running, climbing and jumping through Melbourne by night. But then a strange girl turns up on his doorstep and seems intent on drawing him out… Meantime, across town, we meet Elise, a middle-aged graphic designer, whose marriage is falling apart after the tragic death of her daughter. The only solace and meaning she can find is the hour she spends each Thursday with the tigers at Melbourne Zoo. There’s great sadness in LEAP (clearly!) but it’s oddly not a sad book. Largely it’s about movement, and the transmogrifying force of grief.
Where did the inspiration come from?
From all over, as with every creative project, but perhaps predominantly from my own experiences of loss… though this wasn’t conscious. Joe and Elise appeared and I went on a wild ride with them; it was only later I could see how many of my own questions and concerns are in the novel. I had a number of dear friends die when I was a young adult. Losing people you love isn’t something you get over, or even want to get over, and I am interested in all the creative ways people find to go on living without leaving their loved ones behind. I hope that makes sense.
Tigers play a large role in the story, can you tell us why you chose that animal?
I’ve always been tiger-mad – a bit like Jen, in LEAP, whose absence takes up so much space. In terms of the narrative, I think the tigers provide solace and inspiration to Elise at several levels. Firstly, and most simply, they stand in for Jen. When she’s with them, she feels like she’s communing with her dead daughter. Secondly, their captivity seems to echo her own feeling of being locked into her grief; she feels a sort of comradeship towards them. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, the tigers are her teachers. They seem to understand something about life and death – holding one in each paw – which Elise is trying to grapple with. Finally, they take her back to her painting, to her art.
Leap was shortlisted for The Miles Franklin Literary Award, do you remember what you were doing and how you felt when you found out?
It was a Wednesday afternoon. I’d been at a gardening bee in the grounds where I have my writing room. I’d been pulling up weeds and planting out seedlings so I had dirt under my nails. I came home and there was an email from my splendid publisher Jane Palfreyman. I wrote back, ‘You are effing kidding me.’ She happened to be in Melbourne that night on other business so I got to drink champagne with her!
Will you be at the Melbourne Writers Festival in August when the winner is announced?
Are you working on anything new you can tell us about?
Sorry – nothing to report at this stage. I am always quiet about stories until I’ve got them safely out.
What do you love to read?
I do manuscript appraisals and mentoring with emerging writers so I’m privileged to read and enter other people’s novels – and creative processes – in this analytical way. But when I read for myself I find it easy to put all that away and read like a child, carried away. If I had to pick a novel I’d most like to have written, it might be Plainsong by Kent Haruf… For various reasons, I’ve recently been immersing myself again in fairy stories collected by the Brothers Grimm. I find fairy stories – their structure, magic and themes – endlessly inspiring.
Am I allowed to ask who you think is the hot favourite to take home the award?
Apparently Sportsbet have odds on…
Good luck and thanks for chatting with us!
Thanks for the questions, B & L.