At home with Ceridwen Dovey

Ceridwen Dovey writes fiction, creative non-fiction, and in-depth essays and profiles. Born in South Africa, she grew up between South Africa and Australia, went to Harvard University on scholarship as an undergraduate, and did her postgraduate studies in social anthropology at New York University.

Her debut novel, Blood Kin, was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Award and selected for the U.S. National Book Foundation’s prestigious "5 Under 35" honours list.

Her second book, Only the Animals, won the inaugural Readings New Australian Writing Award, the Steele Rudd Award for a short story collection in the Queensland Literary Awards, and was co-winner of the People's Choice Award for Fiction at the NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

Her 2018 novel, In the Garden of the Fugitives was longlisted for the 2019 ABIA Awards. Life After Truth, published in 2020, is her latest work.

Listen to Ceridwen's previous interview on The Garret here.

At home with Ceridwen Dovey


ASTRID: Welcome back to The Garret, Ceridwen.

CERIDWEN: Thank you, Astrid. Thanks for having me.

ASTRID: Now, you have been on The Garret before, way back in 2018 when you had just published, In the Garden of the Fugitives. Now, In the Garden of the Fugitives is a beautiful novel and it remains one of my favourite novels in recent Australian literature.

We've also spoken this year on Anonymous Was A Woman about lust in literature, which I have to say it was a very enlightening and gorgeous chat with you. Unfortunately, we're not going to talk about lust in literature today, we are going to a very different part of life, I guess, and we are going to talk about Life After Truth, which is your latest novel. It is a beautiful work. Congratulations, Ceridwen.

CERIDWEN: Thanks, Astrid. Thank you for reading it with that same generosity and warmth that you always do. It's always such a joy to be read by someone like you, so thanks.

ASTRID: Reading is my favourite thing in life, Ceridwen. And I have so much respect for your writing craft, but also your whole intellect and the interior worlds that you create in your novels. The characters are more fully realised than some people I've met in my real life, Ceridwen. And I don't actually know how you do it. It is, exemplary. But also, the stories in your novels they open up my understanding, they change my perception of how I think about the world or how I think about the stage of life I am currently in because, Ceridwen, we are the same age, and so you gave me all sorts of confronting ideas in Life After Truth. Can you introduce us to your latest work?

CERIDWEN: I'm really pleased that that's the main takeaway that you had from it, because it was so important to me in this novel to feel like a reader might come away with a few more ideas for how they might themselves face midlife. And even though I didn't set out, when I realised I was going to write this novel, I didn't set out to write a midlife novel, but there was just something about that lens of bringing back together a bunch of university friends who many years have passed and then are back on campus for their 15-year reunion. They went to Harvard, so they have a lot further to fall, I suppose, and so to have that sense of who they had been in their youth and then who they are as they're approaching midlife and doing the questioning that seems to suddenly come upon you at this time.

I always used to think the midlife crisis thing was overblown and then you start heading towards it. It's not only a negative thing and I think that's one thing I really wanted to try and show through the novel, is to look at these people who are all in the same time of life, but are all just dealing with it in slightly different ways. And particularly for the women, I wanted to look at their intellectual change and not just the physical and hormonal change which is what most midlife narratives seem to be about for women. I think one of the characters quotes one of her favourite philosophers saying, ‘You can't live the second half of your life in the same way that you've lived the first’. For me actually in writing the novel, I was looking for answers to some of these same questions and I didn't find any, but I got to sort of wallow in the questions at a deeper level, I suppose.

ASTRID: I don't know if I found answers, but I did find thinking. Now, the characters that we are talking about, they're in their late 30s. They haven't hit their 40s yet although it is very, very close. They are also, of course, at Harvard. So, as you alluded to before, they have further to fall. They are no longer in their young glory years where the world is theirs for the taking necessarily. And this is all against a backdrop of a changing world. It is against a backdrop of, a scary person in the White House, President Reese, and his son, Fred Reese, who is part of the cohort who's going back to the reunion.

It all came together for me at once. The idea that allies are so complex. We can be thinking about physical changes, and relationships, and lost youth, but also thinking about artificial intelligence, and what on earth the future looks like, and, oh my goodness, what are we supposed to do about the president, all at once, because that is what life is like. You can't just have a narrative about a child or just have a narrative about a friendship, without the complexities of life which are just so fully realised in this novel that takes place across, what? Three days?

CERIDWEN: Yeah. Well, thank you. I think that is the beauty of the form of the novel, isn't it? And I think that's why readers like you and me keep going back to it, because it lets you do that. It lets you go from the minutia to the kid who's got a phobia of toilets and won't go to the toilet at the reunion all the way up to the most immense power abuse at the highest apex of power.

It's just so wonderful to have a form that lets you range across it like that and to have the characters sort of alternating in that way. It's the first time I've done third person alternating narration and I really loved that. That it could... Even though it's sort of focalized through each of the characters, you could really play in that space of the gap, I suppose, between what people are thinking and then what they are doing or saying, and the way that all of us as humans do from one minute to the next, go from the sublime to the ridiculous in terms of what we're thinking about, all the anxieties that are preoccupying us. I think it was something that surprised me.

The novel was sort of inspired…. I went back for my 15-year reunion, after we had last spoken, so it was around May that year, 2018. And I hadn't been back to America for 10 years. I think for me also, I'd been a foreign student when I was an undergrad so right from the beginning I was an outsider looking in. And then I discovered anthropology while I was there so it was like, oh, I'm doing fieldwork. Living on this campus and trying to figure out the rules of a whole country, let alone just a university. And then I'd left and come back to Australia and sort of disengaged from that American life and so going back in 2018, and I went on my own.

It was one of the first times I'd travelled on my own since having kids and everything and so I just was in this weird twilight zone the whole time I was there. I was also horribly jet lagged and I did not sleep most of the weekend and I just had a wonderful time, but was amazed at how the conversations I was having with these people, some of whom I didn't even remember from college and certainly they didn't remember me, but you'd end up in these very intimate conversations, about their lives and people would share things and overshare things. And then you're going from these funny little social gathering, so they have a barbecue. And so the children's barbecue thing was a real thing although I avoided it like the plague at the actual weekend because I was without my children, I was like, ‘I am not going to the children's barbecue’. So, I had to make that part up, in the book.

But… there's a nostalgia was so thick I could feel it dripping off everybody. I guess as a writer it was... I had not intended to write about that at all. But I got back and I was horribly jet lagged on the other side, back in Sydney, and couldn't sleep and went through a terrible period of insomnia. And this book came out of that experience, and I realised that... One of the things I've always loved is the Seven Up! documentaries, the Michael Apted ones and…

ASTRID: Such a wonderful series.

CERIDWEN: Such a wonderful series. My dad was a educational psychologist so every time they came out we'd all sit down as a family and sort of watch it. And then when I was doing research for the novel and learning more about the Harvard Grant study, which is the longest running longitudinal study of happiness in male students, because at the time they started it only male people were at Harvard. But again, that sense of checking in with people over a lifetime, every five years and just saying, where are you at now? And then gradually... The thing that... There's a tweet in the novel from the AI sort of character who tweets the whole outcome of that Harvard Grant study which is still going although I think many of the men have died now that were in their 90s, is that, happiness is love. It took them 70 years of research to figure that out. But it's profound at another level.

I just suddenly thought, wow, there's this opportunity in this reunion structure of bringing people back together who were once very close and knew everything about each other, really everything, because you live in these dormitories, and you eat together, and you sleep in the same rooms. It's so intimate and then off you go on your own life journeys and then you come back together every five years, and check in and it's confronting. It's not just a positive thing, it was confronting to be back there and to be faced with this youthful self and then to see some people in your class thriving and some people really not thriving. The sadness and the failures and the... I have this idea that I'd like to try and write a new novel after each reunion. Although whether we ever have another reunion in person, who knows. Not the same characters but a new set of characters each time.

ASTRID: That is a fascinating concept. I'm so glad that you just said that. Now I can spend the next five years thinking about this. This novel quite... It really affected me on a number of levels. Can we just maybe start talking about how some of the characters think about and approach motherhood? You mentioned the kids barbecue at the reunion. But one of the central characters is Mariam. She is a mother of two. She is married to another of the central characters. She is very much a... wants to parent the ‘right way’. It's obviously subjective.

And then we have Eloise, who has no intention of becoming a mother but goes through that journey of thinking about, does she want to be a mother? Does she want to give birth? Would she use a surrogate? What is the right thing? Does she even care at some points? They're very different, but they're the same age, went through the same experiences at university, and grappling with ageing and life choices and the consequences of those choices. And I guess my question to you is, this didn't feel like a shitty boring exploration of motherhood in a novel. I've read a few of those, and this one felt real.

CERIDWEN: Thank you. It was scary for me to write about this stuff. I guess in my past work, I've mainly tended to feel safest in a fable or allegorical space. And even in In the Garden of the Fugitives, I was probably inching a little bit closer to some kind of realism but even then had all kinds of structures around it for the distancing. And so this was the first time that I had really given myself permission to just do, I suppose, almost a novel of contemporary life or modern manners. There's humour in there, or I hope it's a bit funny, it's meant to be a bit funny, but also just to try and excavate some of what is going on around me.

Again, I suppose using that ethnographic gaze. I've been doing ethnography among mothers now for nine years, so I had a lot of material. It's not all mine but it's just this observing of what it feels like to be a modern mother for a particular slice of life. So it was very liberating also to channel some of that and then to channel that ambivalence into these two different characters, so that it wasn't just the usual, tried sort of things about the battles that mothers have. And then also to get into some of the savagery around the surveillance of mothers by mothers but also by the culture at large and some of the more structural reasons for why motherhood feels the way it does.

So Mariam was a fabulous character to write because you her internal monologue is just filled with judgement , but she holds tight to this idea that she's not a judgemental person and she's made herself a rule to never speak that judgement and she feels like if she never speaks it, then she's doing her bit as a feminist and a good ally for other women, but it's like a shit show of judgement inside her head.

And then, I think Eloise, was also just a lovely character to write because she is a professor of happiness essentially and is trying to understand it at an intellectual level but then also writes these popular self-help books that she's sort of not that respected for amongst her own peer group but genuinely she feels is doing something valuable. I won't give it away, but for her to really question whether she wants to be a mother and then to follow that through in the narrative was fun and it was engaging for me.

ASTRID: I also really enjoyed and at times was horrified by Rowan. Rowan is the husband of Mariam. And he's in a dialogue, as well as the things he decides to share with anybody in hearing distance, was funny and horrifying at the same time, Ceridwen.

CERIDWEN: Yeah. I have a soft spot for Rowan too because he's a good guy. He's really trying to be a good man. He's a good father, he's a good partner. He has opted out of the whole wealth and power trajectory that many of his classmates have been on, and has become a principal at a public school in Brooklyn, and day-to-day he's fighting the good fight, but what being back on that campus brings up for him is just this terrible feeling of maybe he got it all wrong and maybe money is more important than meaning. So it was fun to put him through the ringer a bit too and to force him to look again, I suppose, at the hypocrisies that we all have but just knitted into us. I don't mean to skewer him at all and it's certainly not a satire. In that sense I think of satire as coming from a place of cruelty, whereas I hope that I was coming from a place of compassion for these characters and then in turn for any human, any reader, who's dealing with any of the same stuff.

At one point I sort of thought, I wonder if I could write this as self-help fiction, if that's ever been done in an explicit way. And I couldn't really think of... There is certain texts that obviously people have, as fiction, but people have taken as texts for how to live. And certainly, I read fiction to know how to live so I think there's this sense underneath it all that anytime I read a novel I'm really trying to read for guidance as to, what is a life and how does anybody navigate this thing. I hope there was an element of that in the book and that maybe you come away just feeling, even if it's nothing more than just a little bit more self-compassion for the things that you're failing at.

ASTRID: Look, we're all failing at multiple things at the same time and that is not a negative statement, it is just an observation that I have of my own life and others. One thing I really enjoyed about Life Truth After, Ceridwen, was, I enjoy multiple point of view narratives but often I find myself liking one character more or secretly being a little bit excited when I know that the point of view of a particular character is coming up. And in this work, I didn't have that feeling and I mean that as a really high compliment. I actually wanted to inhabit the point of view of all of the characters. And I think that is because their inner worlds, as well as the physical stuff that was happening around them, was so compelling and true to life, I think, that I didn't care where I was. They were all fascinating. Well done.

CERIDWEN: Oh, thank you. I think that also was felt. I loved writing this book. I definitely had more fun writing this than any other book. But again, I was aware, I'm creating these characters and all of them are completely fictional, so even though it was inspired by a lot of these emotional experiences I'd had at the reunion and a feeling in the air, I built them up from scratch. Actually, a couple of my roommates who were at the reunion with me I asked them to read it when I had a early draft and they said, ‘Gosh. We were with you the whole reunion and we know everybody that you know and there's nobody in there that we can...’ Other than of course the job descriptions of the two famous characters that these other characters are always hanging around.

So there's a famous actress called Jules, who's sort of inspired by Natalie Portman who was a classmate, and then that infamous, evil character, Fred Reese, who's inspired by Jared Kushner, he was a class member. I was sort of using... You never hear from those characters. They're just sort of, I suppose lightning rods that all the other characters try to arrange themselves around and that was different back when they were 18 and fame meant something quite different to now as they're approaching 40. Sort of a dark and a light side to power and fame and the attractions of it. It was kind of, all the others were built from scratch and then had to inhabit the realities. And I know this is an old debate within literature, like when are you allowed to do that and when are you not and I don't know where I stand on that anymore, but I guess I gave myself permission to sort of just go into these other consciousnesses and maybe because I was inventing all of them from scratch it felt like it would be okay in the end.

ASTRID: I knew one character was tied to Jared Kushner. I did not know the other was Natalie Portman. That has just sent all different cascading bells off in my head. I love it.

CERIDWEN: And neither of them was actually at the 15-year reunion or not that I knew of, I certainly didn't see them. And they didn't feature at all people weren't really... Actually, sorry, Natalie didn't but Jared did because he was already at that point had been nepotistically appointed as a senior advisor to Trump, and so that thing of saying, shame on you, Fred Reese, in the novel actually came from about 10 very brave classmates in their red book entries, which are like the little entries you put in the book before you go to the reunion. They did write, shame on you, Jared Kushner. I wasn't brave enough to do that, I just had to then make up a fake novel afterwards and do it that way.

ASTRID: Look, this is way more public so I feel like you have been braver ultimately. Once I realised that there was a commentary on Trump and Kushner here, I looked up the release date. It's the 3rd of November. And of course this year, the US election is on 3 November, and I feel like asking, was that deliberate or is that the result of the pandemic and books being delayed?

CERIDWEN: Yeah. It wasn't intentional at all. It was actually because this book came out first as an audible original, so it was an audio first novel. And so there was exactly 12 months period that it could not be a print book and so it just happened to fall on the 3rd of November. But I am aware that it's... Gosh, it's next week, and it's pretty full on, isn't it?

ASTRID: It is full on. Can you tell me about the title of Life After Truth? There are so many layers there.

CERIDWEN: The Harvard motto in Latin is Veritas, which means truth. And I think that goes all the way back to the 1600 so that's a very old motto. So that sense of life after Harvard and how you build a life when... A lot of it's going to be downhill after that sort of feeling of being special so early in your life and that's not healthy for anybody, really. It's a cruel thing to do to an 18-year-old, at some level. And then, the sense of the post-truth world and what Trump has done to the discourse around, what is real and what is fake. And there's the enormous damage of sort of tearing apart the social fabric, I think, and the consensus reality. And I think even more than the... more obviously being all things that he's done, I think that is something that I don't know if you can knit that back together once it's been ripped apart like that. I guess, even though it's... The politics is not a huge focus of the book but obviously through the Jared Kushner character and him being killed off right at the beginning. Oh, you learn about it at the beginning.

ASTRID: Oh, Ceridwen, you learn about it from the blurb, so we all know that he's dead.

For the listeners of The Garret, you may or may not know, one of my favourite books of all time is The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and there are many flaws in that book but it's also close to perfection. It can be both in my mind at the same time. And that is a very cloistered, intimate, hothouse story of some very privileged students on a lovely campus, who go into their own heads and their own privilege and do all sorts of things in their glory years of studying without giving away anything. And this is a very different novel, Ceridwen, but I got a little bit of the same feeling of that elite, privileged, Ivy tower type of young people and young middle-aged people, all together on campus, and the attraction, the addiction that a campus can have.

CERIDWEN: Yes. Yes. That's the perfect word for it. Addictive. And yes, I love that novel too. The campus murder mystery. Even though again the murder mystery plot is not a big part of this one, but it's a ring-fenced place that you can... It's a bit like putting a bell jar over a set of people and they almost can't escape because those social bonds are so strong. And obviously in The Secret History it's sort of set in that present, in their youth, where that's even more intense in the intensity of the feelings they have and their sense of being special and that's what makes that book so great. And then also I agree the intellectual content of that and the way that they are processing the past, I think, is what then elevates it to something else.

Whereas here, I guess it's playing with that idea again of the campus and its power over these people but they're also a little bit ashamed of the power that it still holds over them. And that was something I felt, because when you go back for the reunions you can choose to stay in the same dormitories and so I did. I was sleeping in this room that was like exactly what I had slept in when I was 18, and the same little bed, and the same wooden furniture, and the smells are the same, and the light is the same. Two of my old roommates were in the same room. One of them had brought her daughter along so that was a bit different and we're sharing the bathroom. And it was magical. And you have this sense also that maybe you dreamed up that that even happened to you once and the further I get away from that experience, I think especially living so far away now, I feel more and more like I just dreamed it up, that it didn't really happen.

But I think what is different in terms of The Secret History and this one, I had this assumption as well before I went to Harvard on a scholarship. I thought it would be just this hothouse of privilege and all the same kind of privilege, but because for better or worse, these universities have these huge endowments and so they'd give out all this financial aid and work really hard to make every class as diverse as possible. And it's a curated diversity but incredibly diverse. So once I was on campus, that notion of privilege in that sense, it got blown out of the water. There were elements of that, of course. There were the legacy kids and the Jared Kushners who probably got in based on a donation that their parent had made, but you could avoid them very easily and so, most of my college time was not spent around people like that, at all.

And I think in the novel most of the characters that I'm writing about all had some form of financial aid, in order to go there or were middle class students whose parents wiped out their savings in order to send them. I'm also interested in that. For them, it's that classic thing of, this was their big break and their families worked really hard for that to happen for them. And so it's not just the pressure of like, oh, are you going to Harvard but the sense of, don't waste this opportunity. We've all taken a hit for this to be possible for you and you need to represent us going forwards. For that to then play out over time as well, it's a different kind of responsibility.

And then to take on the mantle of privilege when you haven't necessarily been privileged until you get there, but then you've got to be accountable for the privilege afterwards. And so that addictiveness of feeling like you're part of an inner circle, when you felt that, it is very hard to lose it and to let it go and so I think that's why with these reunions. I've realised being back again looking at the years ahead, because at the same time we were having our 15, there's the 20-year going on and the 25th and the 30th. It's quite amazing. So you've got all these different generations wondering around in this campus town all in days of trying to engage and click back into what that felt like.

And I could see for many of them, it was something that they had formed a whole identity around and that they would never grow beyond. And that scared me. That's not something I would want to do, and I think in writing the novel instead of going back to process that again, I was trying to be honest with myself, I suppose, about what parts of that had I climbed to. Which parts were the addictive parts that maybe needed to be let go of in the second half of a life? And part of that is that feeling of being special or having been told you were special, and I think that's... You got to let that go. As you get older, you really do.

ASTRID: I would agree. Ceridwen, obviously, Life After Truth is not your story but you are very open in sharing that you have had this experience and you are drawing on this life experience that you have. I'm interested in how you take this experience and turn it into art. What is your, I guess, process, but the thinking process as well as the nuts and bolts of getting the words onto the page into a beautiful form.

CERIDWEN: I think it's with this book, because it was close to these emotions, I was grateful that in the past, because I have done fables and allegories and made up characters like dead animals. It's what I love to do, to really invent. I felt like I could use that skillset, but then apply it to things I'd actually seen or felt and so, maybe that's why this book felt more enjoyable to write than any of the others. It just felt... For the first time I had that feeling, that fable feeling that other writers have talked about of the characters just telling you what they want to do next. I have never felt that before, and I didn't feel it the whole time with this. There were times I was really struggling but there were moments when I got a glimpse into what that would feel like.

And I think because I was going through this period of insomnia, I have to say I don't really remember in terms of the craft level. I don't know what happened. It just came out. I know that's a weird thing to say but it just sort of did and then, I don't really remember what I was thinking. I don't think I was thinking at a very rational level. You know how when you... I don't know if you've ever gone through a long period of insomnia, but you're living in a in-between world and I think it's actually perfect for writing fiction. I wouldn't recommend it for mental health reasons in other senses, but a friend did tell me after I had emerged from it and was finally sleeping again.

Apparently Barbara Kingsolver wrote The Poisonwood Bible when she was pregnant and she had terrible pregnancy insomnia for the full nine months and that's when she wrote that whole novel in that haze. So that made me feel a little bit better like, oh gosh. If Barbara Kingsolver can come up with that amazing book in that period then, yeah. Because you do emerge from it and you wonder if, you were a bit nuts in that period and then is the book nuts because you wrote it when you were feeling a bit nuts.

ASTRID: I am now even more impressed than I was before, Ceridwen. I have had two very real bouts of insomnia in my life and I was not operating highly and was sent home from work because I was so useless. So the fact that you and Barbara Kingsolver have gone into some, I don't know, flow state and just created these goddamn beautiful novels is, that gives me goals, doesn't it? Next time I have insomnia.

Ceridwen, you have actually written a non-fiction work since we last talked, Inner Worlds Outer Spaces: The Working Lives of Others. And I'm really embarrassed right now because I haven't read it and I normally have a principled approach to these interviews and I read every book an author has written before, and I haven't read this one, so this is just a public apology, but I still have a question about it. And it's also on my reading list. Can you just introduce us to the work briefly before I ask my question?

CERIDWEN: Yeah, sure. Don't worry. Please, don't worry about not having read that. It's a collection of, basically profiles I've done of people in unusual careers over about a eight-year period. It was lovely to put them all together. Again, while I was doing the profiles over the years I hadn't quite realised that that's what I kept doing and that my real fascination was with the world of work. And again, I suppose that's linked to meaning and how for the lucky few among us who find meaning in their work, how do they get there, and then also seeing expertise from the inside out. Often it would be scientists that I would end up writing about because it's a world that's completely foreign and mysterious to me. So to try and get inside of that world is something that I really love to do.

ASTRID: I want to turn that question back to you. We've just been talking about your writing, and I hope I have made it clear to listeners and to you, Ceridwen, that I find a great deal of meaning, as a reader, engaging with your work. But what meaning do you find? What makes you keep going?

CERIDWEN: What a good question. I just love it. It's as simple as that. I feel so lucky that I get to do what I love. And look, it's not... I do think you make you're like at some level, like it's been almost 20 years now that I've been working on the craft of writing, and it certainly hasn't been a full-time gig and still isn't, but I just couldn't survive without it. All the cliches are true about not knowing what you think until you putting it down, I suppose, as a writer. And then, I've been able to embrace as I get a bit older. It used to trouble me the way that I would switch between wanting to write non-fiction and these profiles of people and flex outwards and then retreat back into a private world of fiction and sort of curl up inwards and I used to wonder if that was a problem. I used to feel it was maybe a weakness that I hadn't picked one craft and just stuck at it.

But I guess, one of the great things about getting older is that I've learned to just accept that this is something I'm going to always do, that I need both those modes of working. And then even within the fiction, there's going to be many different modes as well or voices. And so, Life After Truth was, really liberating for me to put out there because it is a slightly... it's just a different voice. It's not a different genre but it's a very hard conversation to have. In the industry terms, no one knows what to do with an author who crosses over like that. It doesn't really serve you well, I think, in terms of... There's no sense that readers will get the same thing every time they come back to you, so it's a bit of a surprise each time. And not everybody wants that. Some people want to stick with the voice that they know and have come to love.

But I'm trying to be more relaxed, I suppose, about all those different voices and just let them come out in the ways that they need to and feel grateful that... A bit like the fallow fields system that, when I'm working on in another mode, I feel like it builds up energy and reserves for when you return to that. At the moment I'm about to start a pretty in-depth long form essay, about satellite constellations and low earth orbit, so it's just a different way of working and then I get to go back on working on some short stories again, back into that other form. I just feel really lucky, I guess, that there's a way to process the world through language, and now I know, actually, that's the only reason that I'm here, if there is a reason at all.

ASTRID: That is a beautiful answer, Ceridwen. I know that the industry does want, authors to do the same thing over and over so it becomes easy to market and easy to place in a bookstore, but I don't think readers want that. And for anyone listening, I would really recommend reading In the Garden of the Fugitives and then Life After Truth. They are two incredibly different novels, and unrelated, but also they mark the progression of life, and your growth as an author and they go really well together.

CERIDWEN: Well, thanks, Astrid. In a way, In the Garden of the Fugitives processed some of my undergraduate experience at Harvard but it's never named or it's done in a different way. So I did wonder when I realised again I was writing this novel that, oh, okay. I'm going back to some of that same material, how strange. I thought I was done with that.

ASTRID: I am very excited about the idea that you raised earlier in this interview, the idea of the Seven Up! series that chronicled lives every seven years, and the idea that you might go back to every reunion or might write a book like this every five years also, exploring ageing, exploring everything else that life unfolds that you and I aren't old enough to have got to yet that... I don't know. You've just stated this idea in my brain and I think that would be a remarkable experience to read, and a phenomenal contribution to Australian literature. I'm very excited.

CERIDWEN: Well, thank you. Gosh, I hope I can pull that off. Again, unfortunately, in terms of asking readers to wait five to six years between each book, it's not exactly a gripping sequel. In the interim years everyone forgets about what had happened in the last one, so just got to trust that someone will want to read it.

ASTRID: Oh, look. The Seven Up! series started, what? Back in the 50s, and we still care. People do care. People aren't marketing cycles.

CERIDWEN: Thank goodness. True.

ASTRID: Ceridwen. One final question. I don't normally ask this, but can you please tell me about your reading life? I really want to know what you've been reading.

CERIDWEN: I think like many people in the lock down and obviously you guys in Melbourne have gone through this in a more intense way, but I got very distracted and I thought I would be able to read more or that I would be seeking it out more and in some ways I did, but the way I found those books was just very unstructured. There was a lending library outside on the street. And with COVID they even put like a hand sanitizer outside the little lending library. It's just a little hole in the wall. But for some reason that just became the source of most of the books that I read during quarantine. And I think there was some old feminist who died in the area, and maybe her kids have been cleaning out her attic or something because, there's just been this treasure trove of like, old, yellowed, often with marginalia written in them. Books have... Some famous ones like Germaine Greer and other ones, and then others I've never heard of like a book called The Mask of Motherhood, and a novel called Spending by Mary Gordon.

I've just been reading those and somehow that just felt right, like the serendipitous way of coming across these books and they're all about mothering, not mothering but just womaning. When I have found the time just to read, which I have to admit has not happened as much as I would have liked it to. That's what I've been just... Maybe because it feels like it came from outside this reality. Something about the old miss of the books, feels like I'm tapping into some previous past person's library and downloading, someone else's experience because they clearly were all in the same collection. I have nothing very enlightening to say.

ASTRID: But that is enlightening. A good book never dates. That is the best thing.

CERIDWEN: It is. And that discovery thing. And I think that's where... If we all just go according to what the book clubs are reading or the reviewers are saying, some of that thrill of the chase, it's a bit like hunting for meat. I feel like that you just get such a kick out of it when you find a novel and it speaks to you and you found it on the street. There's actually... It's such a thrill.

ASTRID: It is a thing of beauty.

CERIDWEN: I have never even heard of Mary Gordon and it's just this amazing novel. It's so erotic but I've never seen sex done so well on the page and it was published in the late 90s. It's a woman who takes on a male muse who happens to also support her but then also inspires her. She's a visual artist. It was just the most extraordinary novel and I couldn't believe I'd never heard of it. And to see sex from a female perspective, I've never seen that done on the page so that blew my mind.

ASTRID: I'm going to have to go and look up some of these books.

CERIDWEN: Yes. Read Spending. I actually would love to know what you think about it. The ending's slightly strange, but the rest of it just was wonderful.

ASTRID: Consider it on my list. Ceridwen, thank you so much for talking to me again.

CERIDWEN: Thanks, Astrid.