Robert Hollingsworth is the author of The Colour of the Night. Robert, pop your coffee down for a moment and sum up the book in 105 words or fewer.
“This story is a gentle rumination on the relationship – and distance – between nature and culture. In a wired world, do we need nature anymore; doesn’t technology satisfy all our needs? Do we lose anything if we turn our backs on the living, breathing planet? The story takes place in both the inner city and deep in the forest. Shaun is a bush boy who is suddenly obliged to move to the city. There he meets a host of confused, detached souls, each in some way a product of contemporary culture. How they treat Shaun and how he treats them is the basis of the novel.”
You have direct experience with bushfires having lost your own home to them. Did the idea for the book come from this experience?
“The idea of the book came from my love of two very distinct realms. One is the bush; I have a country retreat on a granite mountain in Central Victoria. The other is the city; I live most of the week close to central Melbourne. But I do have much experience of bushfires, not the least being the loss of a friend who died, along with his wife, in the Black Saturday fires. They left behind three children who had been taken to safety. In this novel, Shaun is suddenly orphaned by a major bushfire.”
How long, from idea through research to finished product, did this book take you?
“The book was completed over a two-year period, interspersed with other writing and art commitments. The manuscript underwent many drafts and re-writes. Upon presentation to the publishers, it was then attacked by the editor, well known poet Alex Skovron, to whom I am indebted.”
You mentioned your art. And you have an extensive background as both an artist and writer – are they both lifelong passions?
“Both writing and art have always interested me and I recall trying to produce a magazine of poems, stories and artworks at the age of 10. With five siblings, it was only the determination of my mother that enabled me to undertake tertiary education, the first family member ever to do this. Even so, I did not pursue fine art until my early thirties and only began writing in earnest in my forties, following a part-time course in professional writing.”
What’s your view on agents? Do you see them as valuable?
“It is extremely difficult to enter the literary world without representation. I would advise new writers to expend their energy securing an agent rather than looking for a publisher. I tried very hard to interest publishers in my book, They Called Me The Wildman, to no avail. An agent took it on and within weeks she had brokered a deal with a top publisher that included a very generous advance. That agent retired and obliged me to find another. My new agent secured a publisher for my next novel before selling the business to yet another agent (it’s a little like jumping lifeboats!).
“Unless you are already a recognised author, a reputable third party is invaluable. Write courteously to every agent you can find, pitching your story. For this you will need a very clear idea of what your book is about, what makes it unique and how it compares to other titles. Can anyone recommend you? The agency will let you know if they are interested. There’s a lot of good material on offer and somehow you have to make yours stand out.”
What's your typical day like?
“The day begins with a walk in the park, towed along by our little dog. By about 8.30am I am at home in front of the PC. Emails come first, then a scan of Facebook before losing myself for several hours in a developing story. I am always surprised at the way fictitious characters come into being, how complex there lives can be and how they often interact in unusual ways. It’s as though I had very little to do with it and these people seem no less real than those one might meet on the street.
“I rarely paint and write in the same day. Although sometimes, while I’m at the art studio (some distance from home), an idea will come, obliging me to make scribbled notes which are then transcribed in the evening.”
And finally, what’s next for you?
“I have completed the first chapter of a new novel that I’m hoping will be a satirical exposé of the modern Australian art scene. It has the working title, A Blank Canvas, and the story, told through three generations of contemporary artists in the one family, probes the complex, funny and farcical depths of an industry that many find puzzling, pompous or contradictory.”
A merry confluence of writing and art – we look forward to it!
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In the meantime, The Colour of the Night by Robert Hollingworth (Hybrid Publishers) is available for purchase by following this link. And you can follow Robert’s art and writing at his website.