How do you begin your research? Particularly for such a mammoth undertaking as the story of an Australian legend like Ned Kelly and also for a hoax that is so well known in Australia.
For the Malaysian part of My Life as a Fake, I wrote to a Malyasian writer, and I said, Give me a reading list. I just started reading, and I continued to read obsessively the whole time I was writing. I did research in libraries, and bought books from abe.com, and found weird information about Malay poisons and charm cures and things like that. For checking up on information about Ern Malley, I used Michael Heyward's The Ern Malley Affair.
In the case of Ned Kelly, rather than finding primary material that no one had ever seen before, I would get some cheap paperback about a day in the life of the Victorian farmworker and would discover that, say, they used to stuff their boots with grass and that the sons would inherit the father's boots, and so on. Some little thing I learned from that would end up going into the book.
For both books, I read very widely, voraciously, all around the subject. In both of those cases there was a more or less accepted version of the story which had to be simplified. And, of course, in My Life as a Fake, the true story behind it was just a beginning.
My Life as a Fake brims with literary references. The McCorkle poetry has within it the stolen lines of Ezra Pound. Chubb is at one point compared to the Ancient Mariner and elsewhere to "one of Mallarmé's saved spiders," and there are innumerable other references to poets. Was this also a part of your research?
If you're going to write about the Kellys, you've got to find out about horses. (In my own case I actually detest horses and am terrified of them, but just the same I've got to be able to write about them as if I grew up with them.) In the same way, when one's writing about poets, one has to take on their intellectual and emotional landscape and think about their points of reference and so on.
Part of what's so convincing about your work is the authenticity of its narrative voice. Ned Kelly in particular told his story in a gritty vernacular which reads with the velocity of Joyce or Faulkner. In a different style, I feel you pay close attention to voice in My Life as a Fake; the initial chapters from Wode-Douglass's point of view are written in crisp, literary-journal prose, and as the chapters get further into the McCorkle story, most of which is told by Chubb, there is an almost simultaneous loosening at the hinges and an acceleration of the narration. How do you approach the voice of your narrators?
Voice is something that I've mostly arrived at intuitively. Certainly I arrived at Sarah's voice that way. The Kelly voice has been in my head forever. I didn't have to think about it too much. It's partly the voice of the playgrounds of my childhood. Getting Chubb's voice right involved quite a bit of research and calculation, but even though I've never heard anybody speak quite like that, I could sort of feel it and hear it. I just had to do research to back it up. So there's some calculation, but for the most part it is just a feeling.