Shady Cosgrove has just released What The Ground Can’t Hold with Pan Macmillan on August 1 and we were able to find out a little more about Shady, her career and her processes in this interview.
Hi Shady, Welcome to Beauty and Lace.
Can we ask what brought you to Australia, and more specifically to Wollongong?
I came to the University of Wollongong as an undergraduate study abroad student in the mid-1990s. I had no idea that I’d end up spending the rest of my life here! I love how the Illawarra is nestled between the escarpment and the ocean. I love its proximity to Sydney. And I love my neighbours!
Your latest novel is What The Ground Can’t Hold, can you tell us a little about it?
It’s set in the Andes. There’s been an avalanche and nine people are trapped in a cabin. A couple of Americans have gone missing and are presumed dead. It follows five points of view and each character has a secret that links them to Argentina’s Dirty War. I wanted to write about how we reconcile with the past and what it means to be flawed. I was keen to write something that was both gripping and thoughtful. I read to be entertained so this inspires my writing.
What inspired the story?
The novel was inspired by the actual refugio (cabin) where the story takes place. I hiked up there with my sister and thought ‘Bam! A novel needs to be set here.’ The characters were inspired by actual travelers I saw there (and a singer at the Goulburn Blues Festival, too, randomly!). Themes emerged over the years of writing but after one of my early rewrites, Kevin Rudd apologised to Australia’s Aboriginal Stolen Generation and I thought ‘Wow, what is it that comprises an authentic apology? Maybe that’s what my novel is really about.’ That helped me structure the novel. Having said that, the novel isn’t about Indigenous Australians per se. It’s about what people are capable of and how we reconcile with that.
Do you have a favourite place or time of day to write?
Whenever I can fit it in! Margaret Atwood spoke in Wollongong awhile back and said the trick with writing was doing it – whenever, however – and that schedules didn’t matter. That really stuck with me. I tend to write in bursts when I have deadlines looming as opposed to a regular, daily schedule. Having said that, my best writing usually happens in the morning.
Are you a writer who plots or do you allow the characters to take the story where they will?
I plot – absolutely! The trouble with letting characters take the story where they will is that you add five or six drafts to the writing process when you try to structure the book. I find it easier to let plot determine character. If I start with characters, I get too attached and have trouble letting them be flawed, which translates into boring reading. Conflict and flaws are what prove interesting.
What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
I hope they think about how many viewpoints there are of any situation. I hope they’re entertained. I hope they think about history as something important, that has to be reckoned with.
Can you tell us a little about your pilgrimage across America?
Yeah, it was life-changing. My boyfriend Scott and I rode the Greyhound across the United States to Graceland for the 25th anniversary of Elvis’s death. I busked, playing Elvis songs along the way. It was a pilgrimage to honour Elvis but it resonated much deeper, too: the journey was also about my estranged relationship with my father and my relationship to the States as an ex-pat living in Australia. I documented it in the book She Played Elvis that was shortlisted for the Australian Vogel Prize. It was confronting having such a personal story out in the world.
Is there something new you are working on that you can tell us about?
I’m spending next year living in Freegan communities in the States and Europe to research my next novel. Freegans are people who try to live entirely off of recycled materials (they dumpster dive for food and squat in abandoned buildings). I thought that would be a great backdrop for thinking about capitalism and consumerism in the twenty-first century. I think the novel will be based around a murder.
What does being a woman mean to you?
It informs everything I do – I identify as a feminist. I’m also a mother and this has made me think about the roles for women in modern Australia. It’s been a balance negotiating parenthood, work and creative practice. Sure, you can be organised – but there’s still a lot of work that needs to get done in the day. It’s hard to make writing time a priority but that’s the only way to write a novel. I’m lucky Scott is such a supportive partner.
Thanks for talking to us today Shady.