Q & A with Hugh Mackay

Q & A with Hugh Mackay
Authors at the National Library
22 May 2017

Social researcher, Hugh Mackay, author of 17 books and expert in the field of social analysis has finished his seventh novel Selling the Dream. A funny and frighteningly believable satire, Hugh lays bare the machinations of this multi-million-dollar advertising industry, and leaves you wondering just where the line between parody and reality falls.

A fellow of the Australian Psychological Society, Hugh never fails to provide insight to the pscyhe of the human condition. 

Hugh Mackay courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia

Before Hugh launches into discussion with Alex Sloan at the National Library of Australia on Tuesday 6th of June he graciously took five to speak to us about the writing processes behind, Selling the Dream. 

Why do you write?

Writing has been a lifetime urge for me, though I didn’t publish any books until I was well into my fifties.  For most of my working life, my writing consisted of research reports so in some ways my later writing grew out of that. The “why” question is unanswerable, except to say that I hope my work - both fiction and non-fiction - helps explain people to themselves (and me to myself!).

What are you reading right now?

I’m currently working on a major “state-of-the-nation” book for next year, and I tend to read very little when I’m in the throes of writing. But just before I started work on this book, I devoured, with enormous pleasure and admiration, Kent Haruf’s ‘Holt’ trilogy: Plainsong, Eventide and Benediction, and his later novel, Our Souls At Night. 

What three titles should always be on the shelves of any self-respecting bookshop?

Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person; Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays; Richard Ford, The Sportswriter.


Book covers of On Becoming a Person, Sceptical Essays and The Sportswriter.

What was the hardest part of writing Selling the dream?

Knowing where to set the boundary of satire - so much of what we do in our personal and working lives is already so wildly irrational, it’s hard to satirise it without being completely absurd.

What was the best part of writing Selling the dream?

The special sense of liberation that all fiction-writing gives me was but redoubled in the case of this book. Attempting a satirical comic novel gave me a real sense of being let off the leash.


Book cover of Selling the Dream by Hugh Mackay

What was it that prompted you to use your social research to write a novel this time?

Because I’m a researcher at heart, I think all my fiction is, to some extent, a reworking of insights gleaned from my social research - about what makes us tick, what our priorities are, and what frailties can most easily bring us undone.

What do you love about libraries?

Everything - it’s a love affair that started in primary school. I’ve watched libraries grow from being places where books are stored and borrowed to becoming vibrant community hubs - a marketplace for ideas.

(And, in the case of the NLA, the building itself - it has long been my favourite Canberra building.)