Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rob O’Neill on Rosie Scott

The 26th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the August 1996 issue. The photo of Rosie Scott is by Rob O’Neill.

The intro read:
Treasured more in her adopted Australia than at home in New Zealand, Rosie Scott talks to Rob O’Neill.
In the Northern Hemisphere the term mid-Atlantic is used to describe cul­tural crossovers and cross-feeding between the US and Britain. I don’t know if the term mid-Tasman has been coined before, but it seems an apt one for Rosie Scott and her writing.
After success in playwriting and a book of poetry, Scott really broke onto the literary scene in 1988 with a tremendously successful first novel, Glory Days, since published in the US and the UK. She is now based in Sydney, where her latest novel, Movie Dreams, was shortlisted for numerous awards alongside novels by Tim Winton and Booker-winner Peter Carey. “The Australian literary community took me on straight away,” she says. “I found them very welcoming and it’s been good for my writing process because I feel quite treasured.”
She occupies an enviable position for a New Zealand writer, having easy access to the much larger Australian readership (and Australian literary awards). But she feels that this is something that all New Zealand writers should have and regrets the lack of interchange or even interest between the two countries. “We’ve got this country of three million with fabulous writers and they’re nowhere in Australian bookshops,” she says. “Things have improved, but it’s still a terrible shame. It’s actually a cultural impoverishment.”
Scott’s critical reception in the land of her birth, however, has not been as rosy as in her adopted home. Though her books have generally been well reviewed here, there is, she says, “an odd group of rather catty reviewers, especially in Auckland, who are quite malicious in their reviews, often for personal reasons. They feel they are failures or haven’t written books, and they’re particularly threatened, I suspect, by women writers. But it makes me uncomfortable. I hate dealing with malice.”
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that local reviewers may have been motivated by malice, but to my mind Scott’s work has been of varying quality. Glory Days and Movie Dreams are considerable achievements, but in between there has been more doubtful work – particularly the preachy Feral City, one of the rare books I couldn’t force myself to finish.
Scott’s interest in and concern for society’s underdogs is evident in her writing and, in person, her fervency comes to the fore. “I am very political,” she insists. “My writing is fuelled by me as a totality, but also by my political feelings. It’s a delightful reversal that I’ve become more radical as I’ve gotten older. I get so enraged by the kind of social injustice I feel.”
Scott regrets society’s loss of social conscience, “repressed by partisan media owned by people like [Kerry] Packer”. She regrets, too, the “unfortunate feeling among a lot of young people that it’s all too much. Their values are swept over by the idea that money is the bottom line and that’s all that’s worth talking about. I think there is such a thing as political fiction. It’s not propaganda – that would be the worst thing.”
In her writing she hopes for “the sense of possibility, and of the courage of people put into these impossible situations”. Her writing is, in part, a way to address the social imbalances she feels so strongly about. “I like to talk about the kind of things nobody else talks about and a lot of people would avoid,” she says.
This tendency is very much to the fore in Movie Dreams, where Scott set herself a task of tremendous technical difficulty, that of telling the story from the point of view of a dislocated and alienated teenage boy. Adan was her most difficult character – she discarded a quarter of a million words during the writing of the novel. “It would have been much easier for me to do a teenage girl, but somehow Adan just settled in there straight away. It was very difficult to do and I was very pessimistic, but it’s been beyond my wildest dreams. It was technique that saved me.”
The novel has many of the qualities of a mythic journey. It is a coming-of-age story, with Adan leaving the securities of home far behind and venturing out into a world unforgiving of his youth and relative naivety. There is also a timeless quality about it, evoked through the isolation, either physical or moral, of the characters or through the constant theme of drug use.
For Scott, teenagers are a mystery and Movie Dreams was in some way an attempt to solve that mystery. “I started to realise they were living in quite a different world. They are a real sub-culture, a tribe, and some of the things they said made no sense to me. I thought I’d like to go into this world. They are dealing with things that are too dangerous or too ugly for them to deal with.”
Another theme in Scott’s writing, is sex. “New Zealand writing has never been very passionate,” she says. “There’s a real dislike of passion – it’s not real literature. You have to be angst-ridden and live in this sterile environment, and there’s no such thing as sex or exuberance.”
Movie Dreams has been optioned for film and a script is currently being written, but Scott downplays her own work in the film industry, describing herself as a script editor. Currently she is researching and is looking forward to going bush with her film-maker husband in search of the Last Chance mica mine, somewhere in the desert around Alice Springs, where he was brought up. “We may well die up there of snake bite. . .”

No comments: