The 2015 Ray Mathew Lecture and Q & A with Andrea Goldsmith
Authors at the National Library
1 May 2015
Writer and novelist Andrea Goldsmith arrives at the National Library this month—Thursday 14 May—to present this year's Ray Mathew Lecture, supported by the Ray Mathew and Eva Kollsman Trust. Below, Andrea gives us a little sneak peek into her research and shares what she's currently reading and the experience of writing her latest novel.
Ray Mathew Lecture
I have chosen the mysterious workings of the imagination as my subject for the 2015 Ray Mathew Lecture. Since childhood, I have been fascinated by the strange alchemy whereby the private and ephemeral meanderings of a freely-ranging, borderless mind transmogrify into tangible, observable behaviours—whether it be a decision to marry or move house, or an artwork such as a novel or a painting.
In my lecture, I show how an imagination fuelled by reading can help a child through the bewildering thicket of childhood; how music can provide solace and respite from grief over the death of a beloved; how mental travelling can remove a person from a life grown too hard and lead to a new novel about memory. I take a walk across the vast landscape of Kilauea, the longest continually active volcano on the face of the earth, a landscape that might well be a 3D version of the imagination. I explore how Brueghel’s painting, The Fall of Icarus, inspired Auden’s great poem, Musée des Beaux Arts, and how this poem in turn shaped a novel of my own.
In all these excursions into the boundless imagination, the demanding, look-at-me, like-me, connect-with-me self is quiet. It is this muting of self, more than any other single factor, that allows the imagination to range freely and creatively.
The digital world in which we now live undermines the solitude and contemplation, the unfettered and self-less time that the imagination needs to stretch its wings. I suggest that the self—promoting it, modifying it, pleasing it, sharing it—has become the paramount creative project in the modern world.
I embrace the digital world and I thrive on the imagination’s power. In this lecture, Private Passions and Public Exposures, I show that if mindful and selective of what each of these two powerful human spheres can provide, we can have the best of both worlds.
Q & A
What are you reading right now?
I read several books at once—different reading for different times of the day.
My morning reading is St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past by Catriona Kelly. When I’m fresh—Collected Poems by Osip Mandelstam, New York Review of Books. Online version.
Lunch-time reading is Red Princess bySofka Zinovieff, London Review of Books in hard copy.
Bedtime reading is The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.
The Russian emphasis in these books relates to my novel-in-progress.
What three titles should always be on the shelves of any self-respecting book shop?
I take it you mean titles apart from my own …
Okay, a selection of Patrick White, the complete Shakespeare, the latest Norton Anthology of Poetry, the complete works of Jane Austen, a selection of Iris Murdoch’s novels, Dante’s Divine Comedy (Ciardi, Musa or Pinsky translations), Peter Watson’s A Terrible Beauty: the People and Ideas That Shaped the Modern Mind. Whoops, best I stop.
How would you describe your latest book?
The Memory Trap—a novel of marriage, memory and music.
What was the hardest part of writing your latest book?
There are some books that make you want to tear your hair out, others seem to know themselves from the beginning. The Memory Trap was of the latter kind. Of all my novels it was the most enjoyable to write. Characters led to other characters, events to other events, chapters to new chapters, and 2+ years later the book was finished.
What was the best part of writing your latest book?
One of the characters in The Memory Trap is Nina Jameson. She is an international consultant on memorial projects—she helps groups around the world define, refine and bring to fruition their monument projects. I loved researching monuments—have an album in my photo library containing 655 photos of monuments. Another character, Ramsay Blake, is a pianist of world reknown. His character meant I could indulge my own love of music. And a third, Eliot, writes biographies of famous literary women—he loves these women yet is a brute to his wife. He turned out to be my favourite character.
What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked about your writing?
‘Are you still writing?’
Do people ask doctors: are you still doctoring? Or Lawyers: are you still lawyering?
What are you working on now?
My new novel is called The Science of Departures. The narrative centres around Galina Kogan, born in Leningrad in 1959 who comes to Australia in 1987. It’s a novel that explores exile and belonging against the break-up of the USSR, the spread of AIDS, and on the cusp of the digital age.
Why do you write?
I cannot NOT write. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I’ll die with a pen in my hand. I have several very attractive fountain pens, so it will be quite a fetching death scene.
What do you love about libraries?
Sanctuary, solitude, the smell of old books, infinite stimulation, abundant satisfactions. I find a home in libraries wherever in the world I happen to be.