Peggy Frew

Posted on Posted in Interview, Literary fiction, Peggy Frew, Writer

Peggy Frew's fiction is startling and evocative. Her first novel, House of Sticks (2011), won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer, and was shortlisted for the UTS Glenda Adams Prize for New Writing. Hope Farm (2015), her second novel, won the Barbara Jefferis Award, was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award. Islands (2019) is her third novel.

Her short works have been published in Kill Your DarlingsMeanjin and The Big Issue. In 2008, her short story 'Home Visit' won The Age Short Story Award.

Peggy is also a member of the-winning Melbourne band Art of Fighting.

Peggy Frew_The Garret

TRANSCRIPT

ASTRID: Peggy Frew's first novel, House of Sticks, won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. Her second novel, Hope Farm, was shortlisted for both the Stella Prize and Miles Franklin. And in 2019 she has just published her third novel, Islands.

Peggy, welcome to The Garret.

PEGGY: Thanks Astrid. It's nice to be here.

ASTRID: What is it like to publish your third novel in a decade?

PEGGY: Surprising! I still feel sort of... I can't quite believe that this has ended up being my career. I actually did want to be an author when I was a child, and so... But then probably if you'd asked me when I was 20 I would have thought it was the last thing that I would end up doing, so it feels unreal and it feels like an incredible period of good fortune that I've had over the last ten years.

I'm not going to do that thing that women do where they act as if their successes are just good luck, but just good fortune that I feel like I've stumbled across my thing that I love to do, and foundthe strength and the place myself that I know it can come from. And at the same time I also feel like I've only just got started.

ASTRID: Tell me about that strength that you refer to.

PEGGY: I think it's probably confidence and discipline as well. I think... I definitely was always writing throughout my childhood and my adolescence and my early adult life. But I didn't really have any discipline or much confidence, and I think that without those two you can't push yourself to where you need to go to really make something a better piece of work, I guess.

ASTRID: Now, I hope people don't ask you this all the time although I do imagine that they might. Islands is your third novel. Your previous two are highly awarded, you know, a shortlisting for the Stella and the Miles is no mean feat. Did that create expectation or pressure for you when you're putting Islands out into the world?

PEGGY: You know those books, those really big books - and I think it's called The Birthday Book or something - that yousee in shops or people own them. I looked myself up in one of those once. I certainly didn't own it, because it's one of those very expensive things. But you know, you look up your actual birth date and it tells you all of this, it's all based on astrology, which I'm not a believer in but it tells you what your day is meant to be about, the day of your birth. And mine is called The Day of Career Concerns, and I have just been laughing to myself ever since because I am the least career concerned person that I know. You know, I just... I'm not strategic, I don't have expectations or, in terms of how something is going to go and be received out in the world, I just... I don't know if that's a self protective thing or if I'm just a little bit of a blinkered person by nature. I actually think I'm not a very high functioning person and I don't cope with a lot of stimulus, so I keep my life very quiet and very contained. So maybe I have to shut that stuff out because it would just explode my mind if I started to engage with it.

But I really didn't go into writing Islands thinking, 'Wow, Hope Farm did so well. And, you know, am I going to be able to write a book as good as that?' If anything, I think I actually just felt... Whenever I got to a place with Islands where I thought, 'Am I asking too much of the reader with this book?, that was the only time that I would really reflect on Hope Farm's success. And I would think, you know, I reckon I've bought myself a little bit of room here to write a book that's is maybe going to make the reader work a little bit more, because hopefully people will have the faith that it's worth it and stick with the book. And so if anything I suppose in a way that is an expectation about how the book is going to be received, but it was a positive experience of it, not like, 'Oh shit, is this going to be alright? You know, is this going to fly? Will it do as well as what came before?' Instead, it was just like, 'I can be a bit more, I can take a few more risks this time'.

ASTRID: I have quite a lot of questions for you about Islands, but before we get there, can you tell us how you prepare yourself emotionally or psychologically to put a creative work out there, and then I guess let it go?

PEGGY: That's a great question. I think that's something that I've had to learn on the go. I can't really remember now. I don't think there was all that much that happened when my first novel came out. So, it wasn't like it came out and I realised that I wasn't really equipped to cope with releasing it into the world.

But definitely with Hope Farm I don't think I was ready. I mean in terms of... Are you talking about going public and talking about a book and the sense of that other people are reading it.

ASTRID: Yes very much, like how you are publicly exposed - if you feel that, and not all writers do.

PEGGY: Yeah. So you're not talking about letting go of the writing process? Because I think that's a different thing.

ASTRID: I think I want to know about both. Thank you for defining them for me.

PEGGY: All right. Well, maybe I'll talk first about letting go of the writing process. That's a hard one, because I think my favourite part is the editing and the refining. So I enjoy the writing process more and more as it goes on and as I get closer to the book being published. So, it is something that I don't particularly like to finish doing. And I do often feel... Yeah, I think I could probably fiddle with something forever and not and not let go of it.

But I think publishers are very good at managing that, because they just give you a deadline and you don't really have a say. So yes, being a part of a system is very helpful. If I was writing something... So I suppose I might struggle a bit with sending out a manuscript in the first place, because that's something that I decide when the time is to send it to my agent. But it's like there's these competing impulses - the impulse to keep working and keep refining, but then I think I get to the point where I've been alone with the manuscript for so long that I am just desperate to share it with someone. And so that eventually overrides that perfectionistic part of me.

And also, I do think that I get to the point where I've sort of run out of steam with working on it and the only way to tear myself away from it and give myself the space that will allow me to return to it with a fresh eye is actually to send it to someone, so that I know that I have to wait for them to read it and then I just have to go and find other things to do.

And so the other half about preparing for it to go out. So, when Hope Farm came out, somehow - and it was before it, you know, it had a couple of good reviews maybe but before it got sort of shortlisted for any prizes or anything - I just somehow got all these writers festivals. And the publicist at Scribe who published that book would just send me an email saying, 'Wow, another day, another writers festival invitation'. I think, somehow I just got lucky that year.

And so I went off to Perth to the writers festival there and that was my first public speaking. I mean, I'd probably done an interview but not in a public context, and I got up on stage and I just thought, 'You know I've done this before, this is my second novel and I've got a background in performance. I've played in a band for many years, I can do this'. I didn't really do any preparation. I got up on stage and just had the most awful panic attack... ASTRID: Oh no.

PEGGY: ... in front of the live audience. You know, heart pounding, thinking 'I am I'm going to have to get up and run off the stage, I can't do this, I can't do this'. And of course, it wasn't evident from the outside. And I think I managed to coherently answer the questions and got through the session. And then had another session perhaps a day or two later t hat was a little bit better. But I realised that I wasn't prepared for talking about the book, and it might seem blindingly obvious to people who have published lots of books and talked about them, but it's almost like a second creative act in itself, coming up with the story about the story and the things that people want to hear. You know, if you're on a panel with three other authors and it's only a 40 minute session or something, you're not going to go really deep. So you have to come up with things that they're intelligent, they're interesting, but they're also very engaging in the moment. And so there's a real skill to doing that, and I'm a slow thinker and I'm a slow articulator, and that's probably why I've ended up being drawn to long form fiction. So that is so not my scene, you know, doing little sound bites. So basically, I really had to work on the anxiety thing for public speaking, and that was a whole sort of separate process.

But this time around with Islands coming out, basically I just practiced talking about it. You know, I would go for a walk by myself and ask myself questions and try and say what the book was about, because it can be really hard to concisely say what a book is about.

ASTRID: It's often incredibly hard, and so important for an author to be able to do, particularly on a writer stage at a writers festival. Can you tell me... So you published three novels, have you only written three? Did you publish in the order that you wrote or not?

PEGGY: Well, good question. I wrote... My first thing that I wrote long form was what I for years called my practice novel, which I wrote very slowly throughout my 20s, with never any expectation of showing it to anybody. It was a very private personal project. And then towards the end of... what year was it? 2008, I think, I won the The Age's Short Story Award. And I got interest from publishers and I thought, 'Oh perhaps I'll drag this manuscript out'. And then somehow I just I knew it wasn't quite right. And I think I got a bit of feedback just saying, 'Is this really, you know, is there enough in this book?

And in the meantime my first published novel, House of Sticks, just zoomed up on me and I wrote that very quickly and that was a very intense kind of visceral experience, because it's a book about early motherhood and I wrote it basically while my youngest child was a baby. I mean, there are manuscript pages of that book with this crazy writing on it from me making notes left handed because I was breastfeeding holding it over my right hand, so it was a very intense and claustrophobic experience writing that book, and it probably feels like it to read it, I hope. So, the first one got shelved, the first manuscript. And then Hope Farm was there in the back of my mind waiting when I finished writing House of Sticks. But then when I came to the end of Hope Farm I thought... I don't know, I can't really think what it was, it's like I'm really focused on a book and I can feel this other thing in the back of my mind but I can't turn my attention to it fully. And so then when I did turn my attention to it after Hope Farm I realised that it was all of the material that I'd written about in that practice novel, and that's what I revisited for Islands.

But when I say revisited, I didn't ever look at the manuscript or open the files, which I'm not even sure if they exist - they might be on a floppy disk, it was so long ago. But it was all there in my mind. So yes, I've managed to go back and use something that I thought was never going to see the light of day. And I can see now why I did sit on it for so long, because it is a book about a family and I think I needed to stop. I needed to have more experience of family life than just that of a child, so I needed to have grown up and had my own children in order to do it justice.

ASTRID: That does make sense. Can you tell me about your writing process?

PEGGY: So the ideal is that I... Well, just that I sit down to the desk every day really, five days a week between about 9am and 3pm. I've only had it for a couple of years so it's still very exciting to me, but I have a tiny, tiny studio down the back of our garden at the house that I live with with my family. And that's just works really well for me, because I leave the house and walk, you know, about 15 steps from the back door to the door of the studio, but I no longer have to look at piles of dishes or the laundry, any of the things that otherwise I might use as a distraction. And I leave my phone inside, the wifi doesn't really reach to the studio but I switch it off on my laptop anyway. So there's a real sense of that being a place where I only work, that's all I do in there. And I don't even tend to do things like, oh, you know, if I have to fill in a questionnaire for a writers festival. Basically I only work on my own writing project in there, so if it's some sort of admin thing, even that's related to writing or anything that I might do writing for, that's another part of my life. I do that inside the house, so it sort of becomes the place where when I enter that studio I enter the world of the book that I'm trying to work on.

But having said that, I'm not precious either. So, I guess I'm only precious because I can afford to be because of my current set up. But I have worked in all kinds of contexts over over time. And then ideally, I would also go on some kind of a retreat.

ASTRID: I wanted to ask you about retreats. So you've been on a few. What do they mean to you?

PEGGY: So much. I have been really lucky with getting a couple of residencies at Varuna in the Blue Mountains, which I think is really one of a kind in Australia because it's catered, it's a place that's set up specifically for writers. And it's there's a sort of magic about the house. Have you ever been there?

ASTRID: No I haven't.

PEGGY: It's just... Yeah, it's this beautiful old house, and it's on the outskirts of Katoomba. So you can walk, go on a morning walk and look out over the Three Sisters and that amazing valley and see the Blue Mountains. I think the longest time that I went there was two weeks, but I've done that a few times, and I've also been there for a one week period.

And I also, as part of being short listed for the Stella Prize with Hope Farm, I got three weeks at the Stella Grasstrees writers retreat, which is also just amazing, although it's a different experience because it's completely solitary. So, I had this whole house to myself again in a beautiful - this time coastal Victoria - setting. You know, I'd walk on this beach every day and there was just no one there. Amazing views from the house. So, the funny thing is it's like a dream. You've been given nothing but time and space in a beautiful place to work on your writing. But I often don't love it while I'm there, because I have to work and I have to work hard and I like avoiding that if I can.

ASTRID: Don't we all.

PEGGY: Yeah. And so, and also I think because there's something official about a writer's retreat, you know, there's this expectation - or I put an expectation on myself - to use the time really effectively. And so I get the guilts if I just wander around going for a walk, which is kind of silly because actually that's all part of the process, and that space to just dream and read and even sleep during the daytime... you know, it's all of those things. That's what those places are for, because you don't get that in your daily writing life if you're sort of clocking on and clocking off at your desk.

ASTRID: A luxury and a gift.

PEGGY: It really is. It's funny, I dream about going there, and when I get there I often feel quite edgy and unsettled and I never sleep well and... You know, I do a lot of sort of sitting down at my desk and getting up and walking around and then sitting down again and having to really force myself to knuckle down. But then invariably at the end of the time I realise that I've done some stuff that's really useful, done some work that's good and useful.

ASTRID: So if I can ask, Peggy, how much of you is in your novels?

PEGGY: A lot. Yeah, I think it's similar to the question before, my answer before, about the bizarre fact that I was born on the day of Career Concerns. I don't think I'm smart about protecting myself or those around me when I write. I I'm very... I just try to get into a state in which things rise up out of the parts of myself that I don't know or understand. And then I start writing. So that means I think that I write... I draw very directly from my own lived emotional experience, and relationships that I've had with people.

But it is fiction. And it's almost like while I'm writing I'm able to step back and observe where the real stuff that I'm using turns into fiction. And to me, it's really quite obvious. And so of course I would always be very mindful of how the real stuff that I've used might be read by others and how it might make them feel. And I would like to think that I do protect people in my life. So, to answer the question there's a lot. But at the same time, even though what I'm using feels very real to me and comes out of my real and lived experience, it's been moulded into something that isn't real.

ASTRID: Into fiction.

PEGGY: Yeah that's right. And so I think that's probably why I'm drawn to fiction.

ASTRID: You write about family, particularly women and all that happens inside a family. In Islands, as a reader loss is an inescapable feeling, not just of one of the characters, Anna, who we know from the blurb that she disappears, but throughout all of the characters lose something. And I'm interested for the writers listening, how do you as a writer create that feeling of loss in the reader?

PEGGY: That's a really good question. I think loss is something... Just for the record, while I was just saying that I do really draw on my own experiences in my writing I, unlike the main character Junie in Islands, I actually have three sisters who are all present and accounted for. So I haven't experienced that kind of dreadful loss that that my characters had. But I also... I think what Jonathan Franzen would call my hot material that I just can't seem to leave alone in my writing is does really stem from my experience of my family breaking up when I was around 10. And so I think that, somehow, I mean I think that age of 9, 10, 11 is so formative, and I think having something, really a major change in your life and the way that you see your parents, happening at that time for whatever reason had a very profound effect on me. And it really I think is the material that I may use for my entire writing career, maybe because I don't have anything better! But I just think that that is where my experience of loss, my greatest experience of loss has been in my own life.

And so how did I evoke it for readers? I think I just tried to get it down to... I don't know if I understand is the right word or or maybe somewhere between understanding and documenting? And also because Islands is a book with multiple narrators, to try and sort of... what's the right word? I keep thinking of all these terrible musical words like riffing on a theme, but, you know, to extrapolate it in various different directions, and some of them being people's experience of loss that obviously weren't my exact one, or maybe trying to look at it from the other side of an interaction between two characters. You know, like I might know one half of a particular experience but to try and be inside the other the person who is the other half. So I think I was just trying to get inside different aspects of the experience of loss as a form of self excavation. And so perhaps in doing that that might be what invites a reader to engage with that same experience.

ASTRID: As a reader, I'm also so very impressed with how you create character. So in Hope From there's Ishtar and there's Silver. Elsewhere in Islands there is Junie, who you just mentioned, but also her mum Helen. These characters feel very real for me. How do you write them? How do you create them?

PEGGY: They sort of just arrive, which is sounds so trite but they really do. They just kind of... I don't rip them off from... When I see them in my mind I don't see them as people that I know you know, like Helen's not my mum, Ishtar's not my mum, Silver and Junie aren't me. So I'm not just... observing. I wish I had a good answer for it. I do.

I do know that they change, you know, during the writing and they grow and they develop. So I suppose what what you would see when you read the finished book is someone that I've spent maybe three or four years getting to know, and finding things out about them, and testing out them doing something and then thinking, 'No, no, no, she wouldn't do that. That's not the kind of thing she would do'.

I've got this horrible image in my head of like a child playing with dolls or something, but that kind of is what it's like. You know, you make them do things like puppets or something, and then you think, 'Oh no that's not right'. So it is sort of through a kind of - not play but manipulation - that I find out about them. But the other great thing about characters is when they surprise me as the author, and that is usually when I know that they're going to that they're going to work as a character is when they do something unexpected.

ASTRID: That's lovely. Your books aren't sequels, they are standalone novels. Have you ever felt like revisiting a character?

PEGGY: No I haven't, no not at all. And it's funny, when new characters sort of show up so I'm thinking now about the manuscript that I'm working on at the moment, which is also about a family. And when the parents in that family showed up and I'd written you know maybe a couple of chapters and they'd sort of started taking shape and I started seeing what they were going to be like, I remember I went back in from my studio one day and had a moment in the kitchen by myself where I thought... I just felt so happy because I just thought, 'I haven't run out of characters. They just keep coming and they're not like the other people from the other books, they are their own selves. And so no, no I wouldn't. And I mean, I'd certainly revisit them in my mind when I think about them. But no, not not to write again. I think I feel like because they belong to one particular book in that book has its sort of arc that it's finished, and so they're finished.

ASTRID: In terms of you writing, the other thing I'd like to talk to you about Peggy is writing place. Now, I can see Hope Farm, which of course is the place in in Hope Farm, and I can see the island which - while not all of the action takes place there in Islands a great deal of it does - is a central point for all of the characters. How do you write place, and do you feel the need to have a particular location in mind for your books?

PEGGY: I think I do have the need, but it's so closely integrated with my writing process and the impetus for writing that it's not like I sit down and go, 'Now, what is the place?' It's just usually where I start. it's just there. So place and atmosphere, and then the characters are generally there as well. So, I think it's everything for me. I don't think I'd start a book if I didn't have that sense.

And I'm always so relieved when it feels really solid, you know, because I feel like right I've got that, I've got the ground now and the stage is set. Because I think that place and mood and the tone and the atmosphere of the book - they're really connected. I keep - this is terrible, I keep talking about my new project - but I guess that's good.

ASTRID: It means it's top of mind.

PEGGY: So the thing I'm writing at the moment is well, you know, if it comes to anything, a big chunk of it is set in far north Queensland where my family and I went on a holiday last winter. So we stayed in this amazing place right on the edge of the Daintree, and I just... I mean, I have been up there before but not for a long time, and I'd forgotten just how incredibly exotic and removed it feels from a life down south in Melbourne. And so, I had sort of been thinking about where where I might set this idea that I've got, and I came back and suddenly I thought, 'Of course, that's that's where they have to go'. And just the confidence that I get from feeling, 'Okay I've got this'. I think ground is a really good word for it. I've got this kind of ground on which to start building.

Especially for somewhere that... I mean, I certainly don't know that part of the world well, but I had this very intense... We were there for 10 days, and I just felt thoroughly kind of saturated in the atmosphere of that place, which is very atmospheric very spooky as well, that kind of Queensland Gothic feeling.

ASTRID: I was struck by a use of time in both Hope Farm and Islands. So you do weave between past and present, and there are multiple narrators, as such. In Hope Farm maybe not multiple narrators, but a narrator and then also a diary that we read as we go through. At the beginning of Hope Farm you actually have a quote from Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye, and that's about time and the shape of time. So, when I read this - and it's a beautiful experience for me as a reader - but technically how do you do that? You have multiple points of view over different periods of time. How do you make it work?

PEGGY: Well Hope Farm, I actually I wrote it in a very linear fashion the first time, the first few drafts it was just from Silver's point of view starting at the beginning going all the way through. And then I realised that because that book was so much about the secrets of Ishtar's earlier life that I just... there wasn't enough scope within Silver's point of view to convey what the book really needed to give to the reader, because there was only so many times that Silver could be overhearing a conversation that the adults have, or finding a letter that her mother had hidden or something. And so just as an experiment I started writing Ishtar's voice, and that voice just had its own power and it really took off. But that just is chronological... Well actually that voice, it just kind of goes back and forth between the two, so actually it's really quite a simple structure now that I think about it.

Oh no, but that is the one thing that I did end up changing as well, which made the Silver voice work better, was that... I think very early drafts might have been in the third person, but a very close third person to the child Silver character, and at some point I switched to the first person retrospective. And that is just such a versatile voice, because you can have a character, you can go right into a scene and be very close and you know, say, 'I walked into the kitchen and I saw Ishtar there and she was talking to so-and-so and I felt this and then this happened'. Or you can pull right back and say, 'It might have been two or three months later that I began to realise that something was going on between Ishtar and Miller'. So, you just have this... you can zoom in and zoom out really well, and you can skip over time and then you can go deeply into scenes. And so that was a very... I just had to get the right voice in order to handle time in the way that I wanted to.

And Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye is a real touchstone for me in terms of how she does that. I think the voice is... I think it's the retrospective first person voice. And she handles time so well in that book.

And then with Islands, that was always going to be bitsy from the beginning. You know, I actually thought it was going to be a collection of short stories, and so I always knew it was going to have this very splintered, choppy narrative. And that does jump around in time. And I really did want... I really wanted the reader to not know where they were. Every time they turned a page to a new section and started a new voice I wanted them to have to figure it out. But I wanted them to be able figure it out. So, it was a matter of trying to give the clues as to how old is the character here? Which character is it? What's their relationship to the other characters that the reader has already met? And I think just moving around in time made sense, not too much, not moving around in time too much, but some moving around in time made sense to help convey that sense of it being a kaleidoscopic experience.

ASTRID: It certainly does from the reader's point of view. And it also, I think, it reinforces that sense of loss, because obviously you go back and think - we all go back and think about things previously - which is the feeling that I was left with, that, you know, the older Junie with all this life experience is still remembering what happened when she was 10 and 12 and 18 et cetera.

So taking a step back from all of your books, how do you feel about reviews?

PEGGY: Oh, I do read them. I'd like to be one of those people who doesn't, but I do. I think you probably have to get quite specific in talking about how you feel about reviews. It's a hard question to answer generally. I mean, like everyone I'll always remember just the one little bit of criticism that was in an otherwise very glowing review. When I think back of all the reviews - I was just thinking about it this morning, actually - for some reason something reminded me of a review of my first novel that was quite a bad review. And I guess just that very perverse human kind of tendency to focus on the bad.

ASTRID: Well, stepping aside from how you feel about them... I mean, as a writer who was published Islands with Alan & Unwin, when do your publishers care about the reviews? Do they try to get them placed? What does it mean for your next book contract?

PEGGY: That's a really good question. And again, going back to the non-existent career concerns, I don't really know. I haven't really paid attention. I think they probably do. I think that they, yeah, I mean they definitely send the novel out, and try and make sure that it's going to get reviewed in as many places as they can. And they, I think they call and they keep them and they probably put bits - the good bits - of them on their website. I probably should have a look and check that.

ASTRID: Well, I can tell you that Islands was reviewed by both the Age and The Monthly.

PEGGY: Yes yes. Oh and I know, I know that the publicist is keeping tabs, because she sends me, you know, she'll say, 'Here's a good...' She'll send it to me, my agent and the publisher and say, you know, 'Look at this great review'. Or there might be a bit of a discussion about whether we thought they really got the book or not and things like that. So definitely they're paying attention. Yeah, because I guess it is another tool, publicity tool. And also, everyone's put work in, you know, everybody wants to see how it's been received.

But I am quite... I don't know, I am a pretty hard person to please. But I do notice that a lot of reviews do seem to be a description of the book, and I don't find that very interesting.

ASTRID: It's not interesting.

PEGGY: No. So I do love it when... I did think that the - I always get The Saturday Paper and The Monthly mixed up - but Islands was reviewed in both of them, and I actually thought they both excellent reviews in that they were excellent pieces of writing in their own right, and didn't just try and say what the plot was...

ASTRID: Redo the blurb with the spoiler.

PEGGY: Yeah, that's right.

ASTRID: You've published three books. The first two to great acclaim I'm going to say. What do you recommend other writers do? How can they follow in your footsteps?

PEGGY: Well, don't think about the audience.

ASTRID: Have no career concerns.

PEGGY: Have no career concerns. I really do think that in the very early stages of getting going on a book, thinking about the audience is dangerous. I actually had a really tricky experience with Hope Farm, where I wrote an early draft and then showed it to a trusted reader whose response was, 'Well, there's no market for this kind of writing. You know, there's no audience for this kind of writing. People aren't going to buy this book'. And that was, you know, it took me six months to start writing again after that. And I don't think that person was trying to shoot me down, it wasn't in their interests, so I think that person was trying to help me and believed what they were saying. But I did have to go back into myself and forget about whether or not anybody would ever like this book. I had to return to my obsessions that was what I wanted to write about. And so I really think that...

And I do... I remember saying to myself, 'If I'm interested in this somebody else will be interested in it'. So, I think trying to imagine what other people might be interested in and then write something to that, well it would never work for me. You know, maybe it's different for other people. Sure, it might be right at the end during the editing process where you might just look at something and think, 'Ah, this might alienate someone or it might offend someone. I'll take that out'. Although I can't really say I've ever done that either.

But I certainly do think about the reader more and more as I go on. You know, I think, 'Well okay, if somebody starts reading this book here, am I giving them enough to make them want to keep reading? You know, are they going to be able to connect these dots and is this going to make sense?' But early on I don't think about that at all, because I just want it to stay alive. And it's all about my own... the stuff I can't leave alone, you know, the things that I'm trying to figure out. And you have to be very selfish to really give that the energy that it needs.

ASTRID: Tell me what you mean by 'stay alive'.

PEGGY: I think just that I have to maintain an interest in it. You know, I never want to feel like I'm dragging things around in order to build, to give it a shape just for the sake of it or finishing it, I guess. Like I... Yeah, it's hard to describe, but my experience of working on a book is actually, you know, I don't love it. I don't love every moment of it. But at the same time I can't leave it alone. So, it needs to just be asserting itself into my every waking thought. So I suppose that's what I mean by being alive is that it's something that I just can't help engaging with.

ASTRID: So we're now in 2019 and you've just published Islands. Do you have any idea when your next work will be published?

PEGGY: No I've got a terrible feeling that I've written about half of the first draft and I'm a bit stuck right now. And I've got a terrible feeling that every word I've written probably won't be in whatever the final published product is, if there is one. So, there's still a lot of work ahead of me, but it's looking a bit like it takes me about three years, between three and four years per book. So I've been working on this one for nearly a year now, so another few years.

ASTRID: Peggy, I can't wait to read it. Thank you very much.

PEGGY: Oh thank you Astrid. It's been a pleasure.