Thursday, February 21, 2019

Mark Amery on Laura Solomon

The writer Laura Solomon died on Monday, aged 44, of brain cancer. Her first novel, Black Light, was published in 1996; her second, Nothing Lasting, in 1997. Since then she was incredibly prolific in fiction, poems and essays: the last book I have is the 2017 short-story collection Alternative Medicine but there is much more listed at, where the first two novels are available as free downloads.
She was on the March 1997 cover (photograph by Bruce Connew) for winning a Denis Edwards comedy writers-as-league players competition (the previous year’s winner was Vincent O’Sullivan). But in the September 1996 issue there was a proper interview. The intro read:
Mark Amery talks to Laura Solomon, the new Wellington writer who makes Emily Perkins look like a grande dame.
“I don’t want to be easily digestible,” says Laura Solomon. “I want to go down like a cup of cold sick, and I think I’m achieving my aim. Now, next question?”
No more questions. Solomon (whom the press is enjoying describing in bold type as “only 21”) is speaking about been seen and read about in the media since her first novel, Black Light, was published by Tandem last month. You couldn’t say, in this sort of situation, that she’s reserved.
“In interviews I just say anything. To be honest I don’t care. I don’t say anything important in an interview, I just hope that it will make people read the book, because that’s what I’ve put a lot of effort into saying. But then, for someone who declared three weeks ago, quote: ‘she had nothing to say for herself,’ I’ve certainly managed to blather on to every Tom, Dick and Harry!”
Solomon says she doesn’t see the point of paying too much attention to what’s written about her. Besides, she says, there are almost always mistakes. For instance, she notes, the stained threadbare carpet in the living room of her flat was described in one story as shagpile.
“As Joan Armatrading said, why use your army to fight a losing battle? Fighting the media and the way you come across is a losing battle. Just get it over and done with, and write another book.”
Someone called Barry from Timaru, she says, called Black Light “a little cracker”. “I’d love Tandem to put that on the reprints: ‘A little cracker. Barry from Timaru.’ That’s much better to me than the height of Quote Unquote or the Listener. It’s much better to me that Barry from Timaru liked it than the chief editor of the Listener.”
Black Light was written while Solomon was completing a degree in English Lit at Otago last year. She’s written two books since, one of which, Nothing Lasts, will be published by Tandem early next year.
The day we talk she’s all packed to move to Melbourne, where, she says, she’ll wash dishes if she has to in order to keep writing. “I’ve always written and I’ll continue to write. I wrote my name when I was three and never looked back. In fact, I’ll tell you my little story about my taste for the macabre,” she adds, starting to show her mastery of the interview game.
“People have always said I’m a little black. Apparently, when I’d been at school for about two days the dental nurse handed us out pictures of nice little bunny rabbits and said, ‘Now kids, colour in the bunny rabbit,’ and I grabbed a black crayon and went ‘eghhhh’ on its teeth. She said, ‘What have you done?’, and I said, ‘Bunny rabbit’s got fillings.’ I was just like that.”
Solomon, however, didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. She wanted (“seriously”, she says) to be a fighter pilot. “Then I did sixth-form physics and that was the end of that. I was better at maths than English at school. But I think that comes into play, because when you write a novel you have to structure it.”
Solomon may have a black side to her (as the title of her book suggests), have the ability to write well and the motivation to do lots of it, but she doesn’t want to be seen as anything but ordinary. She got published, she says, quite simply by writing a book, sending it away and getting it accepted.
“If there’s some 14-year-old looking through a magazine, I just want to appear normal. If among the over-glossed anorexic Amazons there’s one decent-looking normal woman there, that’s a healthy way to appear. No make up, no silly poses. I’m just not doing it.
“No one’s making me up into some trumped-up dolly bird!” she dramatises. “Ideally I would be just sitting at my computer in my jammy top with my coffee cup. That’s what I’m like — crusty as! Why can’t you just be there looking grotesque?”
Grotesque, maybe. But like a cup of cold sick? The things people say in interviews.

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