Monday, April 8, 2013

Q&A with Anna Goldsworthy, author of Welcome to Your New Life

Anna Goldsworthy speaks to us about her new memoir Welcome to Your New Life.

What’s your new book Welcome to Your New Life about?

It’s a book addressed to my first child, mapping the months of his gestation and the first two years of his life, for which he retains no memory of his own. I hoped to write a small tale and a large one at the same time: nothing and everything happens.

What was the most surprising thing for you about having your first child?

It has been a non-ending sequence of surprises. But perhaps the greatest surprise was how completely my baby was his own person, from the very first moment. I had previously imagined parenthood as a version of self-love, fuelled by narcissism. The surprise was that it is about loving somebody completely other, at a level that transcends self-regard.

Welcome to Your New Life is your second memoir. Did you always plan to write another memoir after Piano Lessons?

Absolutely not. After writing Piano Lessons and then talking about it exhaustively, I was thoroughly bored by ‘Anna Goldsworthy’, and had grander projects in mind. But over the course of my pregnancy and the early months of my son’s life, I jotted things in my notebook, until I realised I was accidentally writing another book.   

As well as being a writer, you’re also a classical pianist. Do you find that there are parallels between writing and music?

Even though one is an interpretative art and one a creative art, the processes feel similar to me. Good writing, when it happens, feels like it was already there, and is best served by the receptivity with which you might front up to a score of Schubert or Beethoven. I used to agonise over dividing the available creative minutes of any day between the two disciplines but now I suspect a daily immersion in deep musical structure can only help your writing. And the details are similar: rhythm and cadence and modulation and texture. More deeply, in both disciplines you’re scratching away at something, trying to find your way to some truth. Of what it is to be human. And they’re both about communication. So even as you’re trying to figure things out, you’re sharing the figuring out, too.

Is memoir a form that you’ve always read a lot of? If so, are there particular memoirists whom you admire or who have inspired your own work?

I’ve read more fiction than memoir, which probably affects my decisions as a memoirist. But some of my favourite fiction sits very close to memoir – Proust’s In Search of Lost Time or, closer to home, Helen Garner’s The Children’s Bach. When I was living the final chapter of this book, I read Alice Pung’s astonishing memoir Her Father’s Daughter. It left my nerve endings frayed for weeks. I also enjoyed Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, for its muscularity, and its mercilessness.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers and musicians?

There is a quote from In Search of Lost Time pinned above my desk, which can probably be applied to either discipline. It is a hymn to artistic stamina:

The writer ‘would have to endure his book like a form of fatigue, to accept it like a discipline, build it up like a church, follow it like a medical regime, vanquish it like an obstacle, win it like a friendship, cosset it like a little child, create it like a new world without neglecting those mysteries whose explanation is to be found probably only within worlds other than our own and the presentiment of which is the thing that moves us most deeply in life and in art.’

Welcome to Your New Life is out now.

(Photo of Anna Goldsworthy by Nicholas Purcell)

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