Author Interview: Deborah Pike

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One of our upcoming book club titles is The Players by Deborah Pike. While waiting (impatiently) to read the new release, we got to know the author.

You can learn more about Deborah Pike in this interview:

Tell us about your book

The Players is an Australian coming-of-age story about the lives and loves of six 20-somethings, across ten years and six countries, who meet in a university theatre group and never quite leave the drama behind.

There’s Veronika, an aspiring actress, her boyfriend, the ambitious Sebastian, her friend, Cassie, Gloria, originally a refugee from Timor-Leste, and Joshua, a labourer on the orchard. These amateur actors put on a play, The Marriage of Figaro, rehearsing in an orchard in the hills of Perth. The play becomes a turning point for each of the characters as the novel traces their journeys beyond the final performance, as they fall in and out with one another.

The Players takes us to the heady experimental theatre world of Paris, to a foreign office in London, to the streets of Berlin, and to a school in post-independent Timor-Leste, as we become immersed in the tangled lives of these six characters. It’s a novel about desire, ambition, disappointment and fulfilment.

Which of your characters do you most relate to and why?

I relate to them all in different ways. I relate to Veronika’s ambivalence and scepticism, to her occasional ironic distance, and to Cassie’s over-the-top-ness. I can relate to Sebastian’s fastidiousness, but also Felix’s emotionality, Josh’s innocence and melancholy, Gloria’s pragmatism and do-good attitude.

Why? I don’t know. It’s curious, the novel is not in any sense autobiographical in that what happens to these characters has never happened to me, but each of the main characters is a little bit of me and absolutely nothing like me. They are very much themselves – as strangers to me – and at the same time, perhaps a hundred different combinations and echoes of people I’ve known, including myself

What does your schedule look like when writing?

I am an all-or-nothing kind of writer. Give me a good four days in the bush in total solitude (which I adore) and I’ll produce ten thousand words, but if you ask me to write every day for a couple of hours while doing other things with my day, I’ll be lucky to write a paragraph.

So for me, a ‘schedule’ means scheduling time away. Once I am away, it’s early mornings and mixing up the research and writing with running, walking, swimming and meditation and, perhaps, communing with the birds and clouds.

It is a luxury to go away, no doubt. Although it actually means giving up weekends, recreational leave periods from work and devoting my holidays to writing. I usually go to friends’ places if they’re away, rent shabby shacks, stay at nunneries, that sort of thing. Or, if I am stuck in Sydney, I abscond to the local library. 

It has something to do with identity, with having to dissolve my present-day identity – so that I can disappear into other people.

Going away also facilitates an immersion into the intricate world of the characters; entering into that world during daily life can be tricky for me. It’s not so much the writing that’s difficult but accessing the rich woven world of the narrative. It means I am an itinerant, fundamentally, in order to deeply inhabit other worlds.

How do you celebrate when you finish your book?

I just finished my first novel in September last year. What did I do? I danced around the apartment and then swam in the ocean, sliding under the waves to let it all go – the characters, their dilemmas, the whole bit. It felt wonderful to do that.

It’s very nerve-wracking – putting a novel into the world. It’s a privilege, of course, to be published in this day and age, when it’s all so hard – but it’s more than a little bit terrifying too. 

Are you a plotter or a pantser, and has that changed over the course of your writing career?

When I began drafting this novel, my wilful need for artistic liberty overtook my common sense. I began as a complete and utterly shameless pantser. That was far too chaotic, and this approach culminated in extraordinary narrative problems of near-catastrophic proportions.

Panstering has its pleasures – it invited novelty and suspense into my work. However, I don’t really recommend it as a sole approach. My first draft was a nightmare to unravel, as the plot went in so many directions, as if there were twenty different novels pushing their way out. 

That said, in terms of planning, I did a lot of research and worked with two rigorous and excellent sensitivity readers in my depiction of the character Gloria. I also read many books on plotting while I was writing and before I began the novel. I wanted the pages to be turned.

The interesting thing is, while I read all of these ‘how-to’ books, in reality, I just did what I felt was right.

I believe the great unconscious is at work in any piece of art, an ‘unconscious’ structure – or as Anton Ehrenzweig would say – ‘the hidden order of art.’ That order may be part of a cosmic order that is independent of us that comes into the art, or it may be an order that is produced after years of observing and reading and experiencing, that is then reconfigured as a work of art that comes from within. But a bit of ‘consciousness’ helps too. It’s like being a narrative architect.

I ended up doing some plotting around scenes. When developing parts and re-writing, I ‘rehearsed’ each scene on a sketch pad before I wrote it. Like an actor might run exercises to warm up or deepen their connection to a character. I benefited from a good structural edit. I also plotted the narrative arc of each character. Probably quite late in the process to be honest.

In future, I will be more of a planster. Well, at least I hope I will be. But then again, I sort of have to religiously plan so that I can then go and abandon all of my plans. Oh well. We don’t want to psychoanalyse it too much, lest all the magic disappear!

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Alexis Wright’s Praiseworthy. It is astonishing and quite unlike anything I have read before; having long been wedded to narratives of realism, this has taken me so far into another realm and on a thought-provoking journey.

I’ve just finished Slipstream, by Catherine Cole. Next, I am very much looking forward to reading Sharlene Allsop’s The Great Undoing

What is your favourite part of publishing?

The drafting process can be exhilarating. Working with a good editor is even more so. Connecting with readers is the best.

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