5 minutes with author Nicole Alexander
In 5 minutes with author, Over60 asks book writers about their literary habits and preferences. Next in this series is Nicole Alexander, a novelist and fourth-generation grazier based in Moree, New South Wales. Her debut novel The Bark Cutters was shortlisted for an Australian Book Industry Award in 2011. Her latest book, The Cedar Tree is out now.
Over60 talked with Alexander about Ernest Hemingway and how being a grazier has influenced her writing.
Over60: What is your best writing tip?
Nicole Alexander: Writing is about redrafting and refining, making that manuscript shine like a pearl.
How has your agricultural background influenced your writing?
As a grazier I’m very aware of my surroundings. Our landscape is a living breathing entity and because of that I treat the land as a character in all of my novels. The setting is the background to the narrative, but it is also the tapestry that the story unfolds upon and getting the detail right ensures that the work has a strong sense of place. It’s a sense of place that defines us and moulds us as individuals and having that reflected in a work of fiction can only make the story stronger and more authentic.
What book are you reading right now?
I’ve just finished Elliot Perlman’s Maybe the Horse Will Talk, a political satire set in Melbourne’s corporate world. Perlman’s take on the #metoo movement is emphasised by the use of overblown characters and a distinct lack of subtlety. Playful and witty.
What was the last book that made you laugh?
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. The sequel to Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Olive Kitteridge takes up from where we left the retired schoolteacher. I love feisty Olive as she struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but also the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. Olive’s community is not so joyful and she herself is in her twilight years, so the narrative is not always uplifting but Olive’s life is a microcosm of our society – murder, inheritance, mayhem, retirement homes and children who should know better. Through it all Olive remains, obstinately, Olive.
Is there any books by other authors you wish you had written?
I think that there are particular works that only certain writers can craft and each of us have our own gifts. One book that stands out for me is Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. It tells the story of W. P. Inman, a wounded soldier from the Confederate army who walks for months to find the love of his life Ada Monroe. It reminds me of Homer’s Odyssey. I don’t think anyone else could have written it.
When it comes to writing, do you plan ahead or go with the flow?
I tend to plot part of the story and then see where the narrative takes me as the characters development. Flexibility is important to the story arc – otherwise as an author you risk limiting narrative possibilities.
Which author, deceased or living, would you most like to have dinner with?
I’ve always been drawn to Ernest Hemingway for his wonderful stories and the sparseness of his prose. His experiences as an ambulance driver during the Spanish Civil War and his larger than life persona would I imagine ensure an intriguing dinner companion.
Is there a cliché that you can’t help but love?
‘The oxen is slow, but the earth is patient.’ Some say the quote is attributed to Buddha but there is no firm reference. Either way it’s a marvellous saying!