This is Part One of what will most likely be a three-part post of an interview with the Darwin-based writer Marie Munkara in early October.
The publishers blurb says that in Every Secret Thing:
When culture and faith collide…nothing is sacred. In the Aboriginal missions of far northern Australia, it was a battle between saving souls and saving traditional culture. Every Secret Thing is a rough, tough, hilarious portrayal of the Bush Mob and the Mission Mob, and the hapless clergy trying to convert them. In these tales, everyone is fair game. At once playful and sharp, Marie Munkara’s wonderfully original stories cast a taunting new light on the mission era in Australia.
Told with biting wit and riotous humour’ – Judges’ comments, Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards (2008)
For mine Every Secret Thing is one of the best books written about life in the Northern Territory since Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia – that’s a pretty big call but I reckon this book is just as funny, brave and deadly serious as that grumpy old curmudgeon’s masterpiece.
And I’m more than happy for you to disagree – but first read what Marie has to say here – and then go and buy her book.
In this first part of the interview we talk about how she came to write Every Secret Thing, her thoughts about what for me is the fine line of humour that runs through the book and her thoughts on the process of writing.
The Northern Myth – You were born in Arnhem Land but grew up on the Tiwi islands?
Marie Munkara – Yes, I was born on the banks of the Mainoru River in central Arnhem Land and then went to Nguiu on the Tiwi islands when I was about 18 months old. I was sent down south when I was 3 years old and went back to Tiwi when I was 28.
TNM – In September 2008 you won the David Unaipon Award for best unpublished manuscript by an Aboriginal writer person.
MM – Yes and “Every Secret Thing” was published by the University of Queensland Press in early September 2009 and was first launched in Brisbane, where UQP is based, and the Darwin launch was held in early October.
TNM – This is your first book? Are there any more coming? From reading it seems like you’ve got a lot more stories to tell.
MM – Oh, yeah!. There are a few more stories and books coming, don’t you worry about that!
TNM – How does it feel to have that book in your hands after all this time and effort?
MM – It was really amazing (laughs)…it was like giving birth to a child. There it is!
TNM – When people talk to you about it how do you feel?
MM – I’m quite pleased with myself and I’m quite intrigued. Everyone has different impressions about the book. I thought everyone would react the same to the same passages – you know, “That was funny” etc and there are some parts that I didn’t even think twice about. But people come up and say “Oh, that was my favourite part of the book”.
TNM – Do you re-read it or just put it out there and say – its gone now…
MM – No, it is out there, it is done. There are always things you would change – but you just have to put those things to rest and be happy with what you’ve done and move on to the next one.
TNM – When did you start writing and what did you write about when you started?
MM – Well, I’ve always written stories since I was a kid. This was just going to be a short story entry – based on the first chapter of the book – for the NT Literary Awards and it didn’t make it – it wasn’t shortlisted. So I just thought I could add a bit because it didn’t really say all that I wanted to say. Every Secret Thing took me 12 months to write and it was just a fantastic thing – I enjoyed every moment of it.
TNM – What do you do when you write – block out a few hours at a time or just bang away on the keys when you find time?
MM – For me it just becomes a routine – my daughters would go off to school, I’d do a bit of cleaning for half an hour and then sit down and off I go until they come home. Sometimes a bit of an idea would come into my head in the middle of the night but I’m lucky in that I can wake up in the morning and get into it – I don’t forget those ideas.
TNM – Do you show work to other people? Do you talk to other writers about what you are writing?
MM – No, mostly I just go off and do it. Occasionally I’ll get a good friend to read a chapter so that I can get a good idea of where it is going. No-one has ever been negative about it so that has been one good thing. I just get into it.
TNM – What about countrymen and family? You write about some fairly sensitive issues here, have people talked to you about that side of things?
MM – No, no-one in my family has read it yet! I’m just waiting for the responses to the book from them. Initially the material in Every Secret Thing came from things I would hear my family talk about while we were sitting around yarning. We would be laughing about what so and so did and remember when this or that happened. That is where it all started from and those ideas get a life of their own.
TNM – Someone said to me that you were very brave to talk about the personal and sexual issues in Every Secret Thing the way that you do. Do you feel brave?
MM – No, not really. It wasn’t even planned that way. If I had sat down and said “I’ve got to write a story about this business” I wouldn’t be able to do it. I really only wanted to write down some of the funny stuff so that one day my daughters would be able to know what happened and how things were for their mother, grandmother and other people. I didn’t write Every Secret Thing to be brave or funny. It is just something that came out of my head and I had a great lot of fun doing it!
TNM – You take no prisoners with your humour – everyone is up for it. Where does that deep funny side come from?
MM – Well, some of it is probably genetic! (laughs) I didn’t actually set out to make it funny – I just wanted to be sarcastic. Someone said to me recently “It is so hard to write humour, how do you do it?” and I could only respond that “I’m not actually writing to be funny, I’m just writing what is in my head and to be sarcastic.”
TNM – When you write about the anthropologist, for example, and the piss-taking that you have people inflicting on him, that is certainly sarcastic!
MM – That was actually based upon a true set of events. I won’t mention the anthropologist’s name but I’m sure if people put two and five together they will be able to work it out. My grandfather told me that story – and he is one of the characters in there of course.
TNM – Tell me about the writing process. Did you ever feel blocked?
MM – No, never! It just…it was almost like someone else was writing it through me. I never felt blocked and every moment was a joy – it was a really, really wonderful thing. And when I wrote the last sentence I knew that it was the last sentence.
In the next part of the Interview Marie and I will talk about her take on the sexual politics – and related issues – that she writes about in her book. Stay tuned for that because what she has to say about those issues is as interesting as her words and thoughts in Every Secret Thing.
Have you read Every Secret Thing? Have any thoughts or comments you’d like to make about Marie’s words or her book?
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