Amanda O’Callaghan was born in Brisbane and lived in the southern suburbs for the first two decades of her life. After living in England and Ireland for many years (and being an advertising executive in one incarnation), she returned to her home city, where she writes and teaches. She is an Honorary Research Adviser at the University of Queensland, where she enjoys lecturing and tutoring in English literature. Feeling a little like the gamekeeper turning poacher, she’s hoping to make 2011 her personal ‘year of the writer,’ actively seeking a wider audience for the poems and short stories that she has written for many years. She was a One Book Many Brisbanes winner in 2011.
1. If I didn’t write I would …
Teach. It can occasionally be soul-destroying but mostly I find it inspiring and energising. That said, I can’t imagine my life without writing and story telling. I would be a different person entirely.
2. Five greatest inspirations …
In life: Kindness. Open-heartedness. People without some dastardly agenda tucked in their back pocket.
In writing: Subtlety. Watchfulness.
In general: Green and Black’s chocolate.
3. You get to go anywhere and anywhen: where do you go and what do you do?
To nineteenth-centuryEnglandbecause I’ve long had an interest in that period. Perhaps I would attend one of the shilling days at the Great Exhibition of 1851, in Hyde Park inLondon. I’d follow the crowds of ordinary working people and listen to their comments as they viewed the greatest creations and discoveries of their time. However, I’m conscious of the distinct advantages of living in a world with refrigeration, cars, and anaesthetic (to name just a few) so I’d be happy to pop back to our own mad, anxious, but still amazing era.
4. If you could have written any book, what would it be?
From a past age, I think it would be Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1920). From contemporary novels, it would be a tie between two very different books: Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. Brooklyn is a novel for anyone who has ever lived far from home. It is exquisite, haunting, a thing of quiet beauty. I carry images from that book that I doubt will ever leave me. Disgrace has a terrifying spareness about it, accomplished, subtle, with a marvellous opening line. I guess the common theme is that I’m fascinated by writing that is quietly devastating. For this (somewhat morose) attraction you may blame too much Celtic sap in the family tree.
5. Donuts or danishes?
Danishes. And I don’t mean those leaden tyre retreads with enough animal fat to light the Rockefeller Christmas tree. I’m talking proper danishes: light, glossy, pear or apricot (cherry at a push). I’m prepared to name names. Chouquette in New Farm (and apparently the entire populations ofFrance andBelgium) I bow to you. I cannot speak for the Danes, although I look forward to finding out one day. That said, a warm cinnamon sugar doughnut is good for emergencies of all kinds.