Author Interview with Michelle De Kretser, author of "Springtime: A Ghost Story"

Springtime by award winning author Michelle de Kretser is a rare, beguiling and brilliant ghost story set in Sydney.  At 85 pages, it is the perfect antidote for any post Christmas reading slump you may be feeling and a brilliant way to bring in your 2015 Year of Reading.
Michelle de Kretser very kindly agreed to answer some questions we had for her about Springtime and here is what she had to say.

PPB: When I think of a ghost story, I usually imagine gothic architecture and cooler climates.  Your novella Springtime is set in sunny Sydney, but your towering oaks, creeping tropical plants and inner-city suburban streets provide a setting almost as dark and brooding.  Can you tell us a little about writing a modern ghost story in a modern setting?

MDK:  As you point out, in setting Springtime in sunny Sydney I was going against the gothic conventions of the traditional ghost story.  I've long been interested in playing with generic conventions; my novel The Hamilton Case simultaneously draws on and undoes the "rules" of the whodunnit.  Unsettling formal expectations is a way of creating tension, surprise and - with luck! - pleasure for the reader.
There is no resolution at the end of Springtime - the presence of the ghost is not explained, nor is it exorcised - because I wanted to write a story that would linger in the mind of the reader.  When it comes to the purely gothic, film does scary far more effectively than fiction.  I hope that what a modern ghost story can do, however, is haunt the reader by not providing closure; a lingering eeriness is the effect I was after.

"Discovering Sydney was a way of exchanging information about each other" p22

PPB:  You are well known for your masterful descriptions of place and there is a wonderful line in your novella - "Discovering Sydney was a way of exchanging information about each other." (p22) - that I think speaks to your larger body of work.  Why do you place such importance on place in your writing?

MDK:  Possibly because place matters to me.  that might be a consequence of migration.  An outsider can never take place and all that it implies - a sociology, a history - for granted in the way a local can.  I'm conscious of being alert to the way behaviour and psychology - character, if you like - is marked by place.

"It's a story about being haunted: by the past, by one's actions, by the unknowability of other people and of the future."

PPB:  Like yourself, the main character Frances, has recently moved to Sydney from Melbourne.  She finds the city compelling yet never seems at home there.  Do you feel like a Sydneysider these days?  And do you believe like Frances does that certain places seem to attract certain types of people?

MDK:  I do feel at home here, and have done so from the start, unlike Frances.  Place, in the sense of climate, is very much bound up with that.  Sydney in Summer reminds me forcefully of Sri Lanka, where I grew up:  the vegetation, the humidity, the raucous birds, the downpours.  The light here is golden as it is in Sri Lanka, whereas the light in Melbourne, where I loved for over thirty years is blue; the nature of the light makes a tremendous difference to one's unconscious sense of wellbeing in a place.
When I moved from Melbourne to Sydney, I noticed the difference in the people here: in Melbourne it's predominantly dark, tailored clothes, in Sydney it's bright colours and floaty fabrics, and there's much more flesh on display.  The difference in climate explains all of this, of course, but a dyed-in-the-wool Melbournian will draw the conclusion that Sydneysiders are flashy and superficial.  Frances inclines to that view at times while remained charmed by the gorgeousness of Sydney.

PPB:  I love describing this book by saying it is about unexplainable things - yes, it is a ghost story, but it is also about human behaviour and interaction, which can be just as inexplicable.  There are also many references to invisible threats in the story.  Can you tell us a little about the darker threads of Springtime?

MDK:  Oh, "unexplainable things" is wonderful - I'm going to borrow that phrase!   The answer to this question is related to my first answer.  If film does scary better than fiction, what fiction does better than film is interiority.  So this is really a story about Frances.  I think the question "Who sees ghosts" is an interesting one that Springtime attempts to answer.  It's a story about being haunted: by the past, by one's actions, by the unknowability of other people and of the future.

"I'd never spend the night alone in a haunted house!"

PPB:  Do you believe in ghosts?

MDK:  I'm going to have a bet each way:  no, I don't, but I'd never spend the night alone in a haunted house!

PPB:  Your last book was the Miles Franklin winner Questions of Travel, which was over 500 pages long.  This gorgeous novella is under 100 pages.  How much does your process change when writing a short story rather than a novel?

MDK:  Well, the process is obviously on a reduced scale when writing a story:  there are fewer characters, the story unfolds over a shorter period of time, there is much less research involved and so on.  But the daily practice of sitting in front of a work-processor and trying to write accurate and interesting sentences doesn't change - it just doesn't go on for as long.

PPB:  Are you working on anything new that you can tell us about?

MDK:  I can tell you that it won't be a very long novel like Questions of Travel or a very short book like Springtime - something in between!

Springtime is published by Allen & Unwin and is in store now!  rrp $15