Ponderers, please focus your eyes on this wonderful creature- an award winning social commentator, journalist for the Courier Mail, author, academic and columnist PLUS she reads Ponderings which makes her a fave, she is the gorgeous Dr. Karen Brooks. Some of you may know that I once ran a candle company, candle making was one of my FAVORITE hobbies which then turned into a lucrative business. I came across a book titled Tallow, and was swept away into a mystical land of magic, candles and fantasy. Who could imagine a candle maker infusing the ability to heal and manoeuvre? (Grin inserted) Karen was responsible for MANY an all nighter as I consumed the Bond Rider Series and more than a few packets of Tim Tams.
K: One of my favourite book series of all time is the Tallow series. I have never met a creative such as yourself that can write such exquisite fiction and then jump over to current news affairs and social commentary- you’re quite extraordinary in this sense. How do you make the switch and what is your secret?
KB: No-one has ever asked that question before. I think writing in the two entirely different modes, even though they’re both creative acts, makes it easier for me to shut out one and focus on the other. One also stimulates the other. You see, when I was an academic and lecturing at university, I was always writing lectures, papers and researching and my newspaper columns were, in a sense a liberating (because I didn’t have to footnote and could write in the first person!) extension of that. With the newspaper columns, I have to work to a strict word limit which is generally quite inflexible, so it’s great discipline for a writer. It teaches you to delete extraneous words. You have to write quickly, to topic, get your points across concisely, entertainingly (you want the reader to keep reading) and lyrically/persuasively. In many ways, both academic writing and the opinion pieces trained me for fiction. I researched the Tallow series very thoroughly (and do even more now with my historical fiction), but I also learned to write in a disciplined way which also meant being able to switch off while at the same time using the skills I’d been taught by great editors. It takes me one to two years to write my books, but every week, I also have to produce an 800 word column on a social or political issue. I look forward to those days (mostly LOL!) and no longer feel they interrupt my novel writing, they are just part of what I do. I don’t think there’s a secret – I simply flick over. I’d never thought about it before. But, after 17 years ( I started writing fiction and newspaper columns at the same time), I’m an old hack – at the column, that is. Still learning so much about writing fiction! So it’s not a secret, but something that I’ve become accustomed to doing and don’t think about anymore.
K: Who is your favourite character you have created and why?
KB: Oh, sheesh… That’s like asking who’s your favourite child! I love them all… however, I adore Tallow and Dante. I also love Anneke Sheldrake (from The Brewer’s Tale), Mallory Bright and Sir Francis Walsingham from The Locksmith’s Daughter (the latter being a real figure in history, he was such a challenge and treat to create from the bones of history, to make him three-dimensional) and, in my current book, The Chocolate Maker’s Wife, I have fallen in love with a few of the characters, including another real historical figure, Samuel Pepys, the great diarist, who features. I will keep the others a secret for now 🙂
K: Who inspires you and why?
KB: My amazing husband (one in a million) and my wonderful adult children. They have always inspired me and will continue to, and not just because I should include my family, but because they are my rocks, terrific, grounded people in their own right, and my loves. My fantastic friends – they inspire me. They’re all honest, good, hard-working, talented and kind people. My grandmother inspired me because of her strength and resilience – despite being such a pragmatic woman, she also had a vivid imagination. I’m also inspired by my beloved friends, Dr Kiarna Brown (obstetrician and gynecologist in Darwin) and Kerry Doyle (CEO of NSW Heart Foundation) who are both incredibly smart, witty, kind, compassionate women who give so much to those around them. Also, my beloved friend Sara Douglass who, even though she died in 2011, still continues to inspire me for all the same reasons. People like Quentin Bryce, our former Governor General, who has always conducted herself with such dignity, intelligence, and grace. Writer Shirley Hazard for the same reason (I had the great privilege of meeting and interviewing her back in 1994). Margaret Atwood – for her powerful writing and politics. My incredible friend Stephen Bender for his integrity, kindness, insight and ethics. And my former colleague and dear pal, Professor Jim McKay for his endless support, wisdom, compassion and generous heart and mind. They’re all sensational people for so many reasons, and I’m so fortunate they’re part of my lives – whether it be in the flesh or from a huge distance or through words. I could list so many more… Makes me realise how lucky I am to have such good people in my life.
K: Tolkien or Austen?
KB: Ha! Can I say both? It’s the brain switch thing… 😉 I still reread them.
K: What advice would you give your 25 year old self if you could meet?
KB: Be kinder to yourself. Life isn’t a competition no matter how many people try and convince you to enter into it or race you to the finish. You will find great love if you open your heart and give it (I did, but it would have been nice to know back then when I was on the cusp of a horrible divorce); as much as it’s a cliche, really do stop and smell the roses.
K: France or London and why?
KB: London – I am an Anglophile – the history, the messiness, the imperfections, the incredible resilience of the people, it’s amazing.
K: What music are you listening to?
KB: Albums of Restoration music – I always listen to music from the period my novels are set in as I write them.
K: What do you like about the Australian art space?
KB: A great deal. We have such variety and talent – across all genres and spectrums. My daughter, Caragh Brooks, is an artist in Melbourne and I love her work (illustration, painting, and sculpture) and the generosity of the art scene and other artists towards her and each other. I also adore the work of Andrew Taylor in QLD. I have the work of Ken Johnston hanging in my home, some of Shaun Tan’s marvellous book covers as well as an Indigenous artist named Muly’s work. Oh, and my daughter’s work – that is proudly displayed everywhere in the home and always attracts great comments. I also like the work of Tom Roberts, Fredrick Drysdale and Jeffrey Smart. Now, I took that literally to mean “art” but if you broaden it to include other aspects, such as writing, music, theatre, film, etc. Then, I like that artists keep giving so much to culture that (and this is what I don’t like) sometimes doesn’t seem to appreciate the enormous contribution they make. Economics may be the bones of a society, infrastructure the flesh, politics etc the mind, but art is the beating heart.
K: If you could have one minute on National TV Prime Time to give a message what would you say?
KB: Please, be more generous in your heart towards others.
K: When is the next book coming out?
KB: In the USA, next year (The Locksmith’s Daughter – which is out here already) and in Australia, October 2018 – The Chocolate Maker’s Wife.
For more information about Karen:
Dr. Karen Brooks
Associate Professor and Honorary Senior Research Fellow IASH, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland.
Columnist for the Courier Mail.
Join Karen for great conversations and sharing on FaceBook: Karen Brooks‘ Official Fan Page – love to have you!
Author of: The Locksmith’s Daughter ,The Brewer’s Tale, Tallow, Votive and Illumination in The Curse of the Bond Riders series.
Consuming Innocence, Rifts Through Quentaris and the Cassandra Klein Quartet
Director: Sara Douglass Enterprises