Author Interview with Inga Simpson, author of "Mr Wigg"

Mr Wigg is a truly wonderful Australian novel due for release later this month.  It is filled with the stuff of rural life and routine, and yet it is suffused with great warmth.  The gentleness of Mr Wigg himself permeates every page making this a memorable must-read.

We asked the author, Inga Simpson, some questions about Mr Wigg.  Take a look.

PP: I laughed when I read that you thought Peter Cundall (of Gardening Australia) would make an excellent Mr Wigg should a movie be made of your book.  I can see it too! Was there anybody in particular who inspired you to write this wonderful character?

IS:  To an extent, my paternal grandfather.  He grew magnificent peaches!  White ones especially, which I've never tasted the like of since.  Wigg is the family name of one of his French ancestors, which really stuck in my head.  When I travelled to rural France and saw the way people live - with their village plots and walled orchards, and so much emphasis on growing and cooking and sharing food - I wondered if my grandfather had been living out of that part of his genetic heritage without having ever been to France.  A character began to take shape, and I was calling the novel Mr Wigg long before I started writing.  Mr Wigg took on his own character as the book evolved - one quite a way from my own grandfather - but some of Mr Wigg's stories about the old days are borrowed from my family.

PP:  Whilst Mr Wigg is an intrinsically Australian novel, we find ourselves dipping into European folklore in some parts.  Where did the story of the Peach King, the Orchard Queen, her gardener and his daughter come from?

IS:  I've read plenty of fairy tales (and reworked fairy tales) and love high fantasy - so it's a natural place for my imagination to wander.  The fairy tale came late in the writing of the first draft, so I already had Mr Wigg's fruit trees' voices and the main elements of the story.  The Peach King appeared in a passage about a peach orchard that Mr Wigg had dreamt up, and the rest almost wrote itself, echoing aspects of the plot, especially Mr Wigg's relationship with his daughter.  I wanted to suggest that European lineage, as you suggest; Mr Wigg's alternate self, perhaps.

PP:  The novel is set in the 1970s and there are some interesting references, such as the Vietnam War and the boycotting of South Africa by the Australian cricket team.  Why did you chose to set the novel in this period in particular?

IS:  Well, that's as far back as I can draw on my own experience, avoiding the need for too much research.  It was also - or so it seems to me - a time of great change for farming, cricket, politics, and the rural Australian way of life.  I was interested in the idea of change, and really wanted to celebrate some things about that period that are now gone.  The reason I ended up beginning with the summer of 1970/71 was all about the opportunities presented by (relatively) dramatic events in the cricket when England toured for the Ashes that season.

PP:  The characters in your book range from very young to old, ocker to foreign.  Did you find it difficult to find any of their voices, particularly that of the elderly Mr Wigg?

IS:  Mr Wigg and the children were probably easiest - certainly the most fun.  At first I had to concentrate a bit on writing from the point of view of an older man, and brought in the cricket to help me try and get his voice, but once I put him in the room with his grandchildren, I had it.  The vernacular of that time and place - and of people his age - is one I know well.

PP:  In 2011 you took part in the Queensland Writer's Centre/Hachette Manuscript Development Program, which lead to Hachette Australia publishing your book.  How invaluable was that experience?

IS:  It was a wonderful experience.  The opportunity to receive feedback on my work face-to-face from a publisher, and current information about the publishing industry from those who know best was, as you suggest, invaluable.  The ongoing support and friendship of the other writers who participated that year has been fantastic as well - developing those peer support groups is so important for writers.
Hachette contracting Mr Wigg as a result was a bonus, and a dream come true.  It didn't happen immediately, though, and was very much a collaborative effort.  I had to go away and rework the manuscript in response to the feedback I received and resubmit the novel.
A high proportion of participants have gone on to be published; I really recommend applying for the program to anyone with a draft manuscript.

PP:  And now, you are the owner of Olvar Wood, a retreat run by writers for writers, which holds masterclasses and workshops in Queensland.  Can you tell us a little about that?

IS:  Olvar Wood has been a really rewarding experience.  We wanted to share a beautiful part of the world - the Sunshine Coast hinterland - with other writers, and try to fill what we saw as a bit of a gap between what writer's centres and universities can offer.  We are great believers in the mentorship model; working on a manuscript over a period of time with personal support from someone more experienced - a bit like an apprenticeship.  We have met so many wonderful writers, some of whom have become good friends - and many of whom have gone on to be published.
Running the retreat didn't leave much room for our own writing.  At the moment, I do some nature writing workshops for government, and focus on one-on-one mentorships, with the option of  residential support at the lovely B&B down the road.  That way one someone else cooks the writer breakfast while I'm at my own desk - where I need to be.

PP:  Are you working on anything new at the moment?

IS:  I'm working on a new novel, set where I live, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.  It's about a wildlife artist returning to the area where she grew up, and the impacts on a community of a child going missing.

Mr Wigg due for release 25 June $26.99