Carrie Tiffany was born in West Yorkshire and grew up in Western Australia. She spent her early twenties working as a park ranger in the Red Centre and now lives in Melbourne, where she works as an agricultural journalist.
Carrie's first novel, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living (2005) was shortlisted for numerous awards including the Orange Prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Guardian First Book Award and the Commonwealth Writer's Prize, and won the Dobbie Award for Best First Book (2006) and the 2006 Western Australian Premier's Award for Fiction. Mateship with Birds is Carrie's second novel.
Growing up, who were some of your favourite authors?
My family was more of a television household than a book household. We migrated from the UK to Australia in the early 1970s. My parents brought a set of leather bound Charles Dickens with us. They arrived in a shipping container wrapped in our winter sheets and smelling of England – of gravy. I was ten or eleven when I started reading them – not reading like an adult – I’d skip large chunks, but I still found them enchanting. By my early twenties I’d developed a serious book habit. When I was working as a park ranger in Central Australia I ordered books from the library in Alice Springs and they arrived by Grey Hound bus. These are a few of my favourite authors: Flaubert, George Eliot, Chekhov, Nabokov, Marquez, Eudora Welty, James Baldwin, William Maxwell, Patrick White, Carver, E.L. Doctorow, Richard Ford, Shirley Hazzard, Marilynne Robinson, Brian Castro, JM Coetzee, Gerald Murnane, David Malouf, Alice Munro…(I could fill several pages…)
How did your passion for the land arise?
When we arrived from the UK we lived on a housing estate in Perth, WA. I was very taken with the nature strip at the front of the house. It was remarkable to me that this new country had so much space every house had a strip of dirt and straggly gum tree in front of it. I developed a childish notion that the nature strips linked up and if you followed them they would take you out to the bush. Spinning out at 18 I left uni and went travelling – I followed the nature strip inland to the bush.
After starting out life as a park ranger in Central Australia, what led you to pursuing a career as an author?
I’m not sure what prompted me to start writing. I’ve always read a lot. I don’t think there is such a thing as a career as an author. I have a day job and I have my writing too. The writing is something special that is often frustrating and occasionally thrilling. I’m not interested in industrial authorship – writing to schedule or publishing just because you are (evidently) a writer.
Your works have been shortlisted for various awards in the past, including the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Guardian First Book Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. How does this recognition make you feel?
It’s lovely. But when you are sitting at the table struggling with a sentence it doesn’t exist.
What can you tell us about your new book, Mateship with Birds?
I’m not the best person to ask as it is too close to me. I’ve been telling people it is about sex and birdwatching, but that’s a bit glib. I think it’s about love and loneliness and families. It is also about our relationships with animals. I really enjoy writing about animals. This novel features a whippet, a cat, numerous cows and birds and an unfortunate sheep.
What was the inspiration behind Mateship with Birds?
I did some technical freelance writing for the state government a few years ago on biodiversity. The language of biodiversity is really depressing. Landscapes have ‘amenity value,’ rather than beauty. The work was science based and I was struck by how science has removed the ‘subject’ from the landscape. I also stumbled across some lovely books by early Australian nature writers including Alec Chisholm’s Mateship with Birds (1922). In these books there was some honour in being an amateur lover of nature and no hesitation about anthropomorphising animals. Mix this with an interest in sex, some Freud and some Havelock Ellis and the novel was born.
Do you have any quirky habits that appear when you’re writing?
In the winter I get very cold from sitting still. Blankets, furry boots and woolly hats are in order – Mawson making an assault on the polar sentence…
What would you like your readers to take away from Mateship with Birds?
The book is an accumulation of details. An acknowledgement that novels can be small and intimate and still rich in feeling would be lovely.
Do you have any words of advice that you would like to offer to aspiring authors?
It is the writing that matters. Nothing else.
When can your readers expect to see another of your novels?
When I’m happy enough with it to let it go.
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