Some of our members have been reading The Brother’s Wolfe by Steve Hawke. The author took time out to chat with Beauty and Lace, and you can learn more about him in this interview.
Tell us how this book came about. What inspired it, how long did it take you, and what was the process?
This is my ninth book, and my third adult novel, but its roots go way, way back. It was the end of the 80s when I published my first – a non-fiction work called Noonkanbah – and I got the writing bug. I began fantasising about writing novels.
And an early, different variant of The Brothers Wolfe is where my thoughts turned. I am old enough to remember the WA Inc. era – Perth in the 1980s.
I always thought it was crying out for a novelist to poke and pry, to dig beneath the surface, and try to understand just what the hell was going on, and to try to understand the motivations of the mad, bad, insanely greedy entrepreneurs who we venerated, and then eviscerated. I began doodling with the ideas and the characters that became this book way back then.
But it all took a back seat to earning a living through my other career working with the Indigenous mob in the Kimberley, and to other writing projects that seemed to take precedence.
It’s only taken me thirty-odd years to get it done! Maybe it is because I needed the practice; I like to think that the craft I have learned and acquired during the previous eight has all been poured into this one.
I got started on it seriously in 2020 I think, after my second novel Out of Time was completed, and it took up most of the next two years. As for process, the truth is that it is first making the commitment, and then the hard slog; interminable hours at the desk. That said, the hard slog also involves exquisite joy; the magic of creation, and finding unlikely characters coming to life.
When I submitted the manuscript to Fremantle Press, the response that came back from publisher Georgia Richter, was, “It’s grand!”, complete with an exclamation mark. I was seriously pleased by this response, as I’d set out to write something large and ambitious.
It’s a big book, with a plethora of characters, plot and locations; but as the title suggests, it is in essence a family saga that unfolds against the backdrop of WA Inc, and examines the impacts of an entrepreneur’s self-obsession on his family and some random casualties.
Your book is about entrepreneurship and ambition as it relates to relationships and family. But why use a menswear store as the family business, in particular?
I don’t think I can actually give you an answer to that, this far down the track. As mentioned above the ideas and characters in this book have been floating around odd corners of mybrain for a long, long time, and Wolfe’s Menswear with its logo of a snazzily dressed, top-hatted wolf has been there from the beginning, more or less.
It is not because I am into the world of fashion and clothing at any level, I must confess. I think essentially I wanted a staid and conservative family business that suited the character of the brothers’ father, Alfred, and would be anathema to Elliot when he wants to make his mark in the business world; the world of retail, and a gentleman’s clothing store seemed to fit the bill.
Tell us about the relationship between Mitzi and the brothers.
That is the story of the book, at one level. Though it is titled The Brothers Wolfe, Mitzi shares equal billing in my mind; she is the third set of eyes, the third voice that we hear in the book. She is Elliot’s lover and wife.
They are “bound” as she is prone to say, by the extraordinary circumstances of their meeting, and their belief that each saved the other’s life. But she does not share his obsessive passion for the world of business. Though they remain bound throughout, their passions and their paths diverge.
Mitzi and her young brother-in-law Athol? Wow! Complicated. Within her first year in Perth, they have become true friends. She is critical in his life as he finishes school, and contemplates the emergence into adulthood.
He reminds Mitzi of her estranged young brother, and is the catalyst for her search to reunite with him. But their friendship is shattered when Athol and Elliot fall out. For thirty years they dance around each other, with their divergent feelings about Elliot creating an obstacle to their deep liking for each other. In fact, the book opens and closes with Athol and Mitzi, talking about Elliot, his fate and his legacy.
The irony is that Mitzi, the French peasant girl, finishes up living a fuller, richer life than either of the two brothers.
We’re curious about the Aunt. She’s a wonderful character. What inspired the writing of her?
Like Wolfe’s Menswear, Great-Aunt Ida has been a part of the story from the beginning. In fact, my first published piece of fiction, back in 1993, was a short story called ‘Promises of the Past’, about Ida’s adventures in the Kimberley in the early 1900s. This grew out of my very early ponderings about the idea that became the novel thirty years later.
Ida is the keeper of the Wolfe family’s dark secret, and this is why she came into being because that secret is central to my imagining of the book. That meant there had to be a character that knew, and eventually revealed the secret.
But Ida took on a life of her own, as characters are wont to do in a novelist’s mind, and became an altogether different creature to the one I first imagined. I was delighted with the worlds she took me to. I actually have no idea whether there was a scene of genteel Perth lesbians back in the 1920s and 30s, but I assume there probably was, and I had great fun inventing it. Ida might observe the proprieties, but she is also a feisty teller of truths. I love her.
You seem to be a master of the sweeping family saga and of writing believable and multi-generational characters. What attracts you to this kind of story?
Good question. Maybe I just like the challenge.
In a sense, the stories choose me more than the other way around. Some stories, once the seed is planted, just won’t let go of you. That has certainly been the case with my two saga-type novels, The Valley, and this one. I think I am attracted to complexity, and to rendering the big and the complex in a palatable and entertaining way.
That’s life, isn’t it? It is very rarely straightforward, beyond the love of family – and doesn’t even love for partners, parents and children get complicated sometimes, when it should be just natural! It is what the best storytelling has been, down the ages; finding ways to tell the big stories in a relatable fashion.
I think what I like most about the question is your statement that my characters are believable. For that is where it starts. Be it a French peasant girl, an eighty-year-old lesbian widow, or a pair of very different rich boys from Perth’s western suburbs, your task is to make the characters in your book real to the reader.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Not really. I do hope that readers enjoy the ride, and perhaps find some food for thought along the way.
Hi, I’m Anna the Editor of Beauty and Lace. This website was my first baby and since its launch, I’ve gained three kids, a husband, and a puppy! We want to keep this space positive, we are all about sharing the things we love – and avoiding the things we don’t. Happy reading x