May 20, 2009
Addition (Text, Aus/Polebridge, US) is a sexy, smart, funny and totally refreshing read. It’s the story of numerical-obsessive Grace, and her unique navigation of life. When Grace meets Seamus, her lifestyle comes into question – the counting, the obsession with dead mathematician Nicola Tesla, the careful structures of her daily life. Can she fall messily in love and maintain her unique self? Addition embraces individuality, it enhances the way each of us finds a path – a way of coping with everyday stressors and overwhelming situations and stimulations. And best of all, it’s both meaningful, and hugely, addictively sexy fun. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Toni Jordan a few times around the literary traps in Melbourne, and was stoked when she agreed to answer a few questions about the novel.
Grace is a truly memorable protagonist. Can you tell us a bit about how she came to you and developed?
Grace was a gift from the heavens. I was struggling with the novel I was writing for my novel class in RMIT’s professional writing and editing course when one day she just popped into my head. I think she served as therapy for me: thinking about the world in her maniacally ordered fashion was respite from my own lack of organisation. Also she manages to say the right thing at the right time, which I never do. (I do think of the perfect come-back eventually, but it’s always in the middle of the night, hours after I should have said it.) Grace appeared while I was flying home from work overseas and I sometimes wonder what would have happened to me if I had chosen to ignore her. It was late. I was tired. I didn’t have to get my laptop down from the overhead compartment and start writing. I could have just watched the movie. It’s on these small decisions that life hinges.
Addition has found success not only in Australia, but in the UK. Does this affect how you think about your career from now on, and your writing decisions?
I’ve been blessed that UK readers have been so positive about the book. It hasn’t changed my writing style, though, because I wrote Addition without the slightest eye to an overseas market: it’s very Australian in setting, with the suburb names, footie, lifestyle of Grace’s family etc. This doesn’t seem to have excluded any readers so far–rights have been sold in around 15 countries including Serbia, Taiwan and Russia. As to my career decisions: well, I’ve learnt a novelist might as well not make a plan. If my next novel is good, I’ll have a career for the next couple of years. If it isn’t, I won’t.
What about you… can you tell us one way Toni Jordan keeps a handle (and keeps her humour) in a complex and often frightening world?
This is vital. I consider cheering people up to be a revolutionary act. We’ve finally grasped the link between what we put in our body (e.g. junk food) with the result (e.g. obesity). We seem to vaguely understand that what we put in our minds has a direct result on our mood (e.g. watching/reading porn makes you randy). Yet we seem slow to impose the vaguest mental health hygiene standards on our sensory inputs. (I’m not talking about a Pollyanna-ish existence. Feeling too sad stops people engaging in fixing real problems.) I know exactly what cheers me up (e.g. yoga, watching Jon Stewart and Boston Legal, reading Zadie Smith, Dorothy Sayers and Shane Maloney) and I make sure I do enough of it. Frankly Cormac McCarthy makes me want to throw myself under a bus.
Who or what has been inspirational to you on your writing journey thus far?
Something I didn’t expect has been the kindnesses shown to me by many wonderful and more experienced writers. People like Alex Miller, Michelle de Kretser and Charlotte Wood have taken so much time and effort to offer advice, answer my questions and generally explain how this weird business works. I don’t know why I was expecting a bitchier, more competitive environment, but 95% of the time it hasn’t been like that at all. Also, my own work history has been inspirational. I’ve had proper jobs with 9amstarts and properbosses and performancereviews and managementmeetings and bottomlines and leaveapplicationforms and percentagemarketshares for 19 years. Now I work from home making up stories for a living. I am blessed blessed blessed.
You told me recently you’re working on a new novel. Can you tell us anything about it yet?
It’s still early days, but it’s another romantic comedy. I just love them. I’m especially inspired by the 1930s films. Audiences back then understood that ‘romantic comedy’ didn’t mean light and fluffy; in fact it’s the perfect genre to discuss serious issues. The writing, especially the dialogue, was sharp and funny, the characters were believable and a bit difficult and the themes were important. ‘It happened one night’ won 5 oscars in 1934 including best picture and best adaptation, and was about class, society, money and freedom (all of which are incredibly relevant right now). I’m aiming for a Cary Grant/Rosalind Russell feel. No pressure.
If you could be any fictional or historical character, who would you be?
Sorry to be so predictable, but Lizzy Bennet. I also would love to be Harriet Vane (from Dorothy Sayers’ brilliant Whimsey detective series), Harry Morgan (from Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not) or Sherlock Holmes. Sadly, in my younger years I was actually closer to Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch.
Toni Jordan and I will both be appearing on the ‘Hypothetical’ panel (alongside The Age‘s Jason Steger, comedian/writer Justin Heazlewood, multi-hat wearing person now associated with the Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas Michael Williams, Hardie Grant’s Sandy Grant and poet Pi O) at the Emerging Writers’ Festival opening night – The First Word – this Friday. The lovely Josephine Rowe is also performing. Be there.