READ CLOSE: Your debut novel, Victory Park, began as your MA thesis at the IIML at Victoria University. Tell us about how that year impacted your writing and this novel in particular?
RACHEL KERR: Well I was incredibly lucky to have Emily Perkins as my supervisor. From the start, she emphasized the importance of depth and imagination over surface things like everything flowing nicely, which can be fixed later. There were practical suggestions such as that it’s a good idea to keep writing forwards in a first draft rather than to be tempted to keep going back and fixing things – which meant I actually got somewhere. We did a lot of work at sentence level, looking at ways of organising words and phrases. The class extensively discussed different approaches taken by authors we loved, both at a philosophical level, and at a practical craft level. It was also very useful if quite painful at times to have my work read and discussed by the group as it helped me get a clear picture of my strengths and weaknesses. One of the challenges I had was that in writing about children, it’s easy for the prose to pick up a whiff of childishness, and I had to work hard against that.
Kara, a bereaved mother of two, forges an unlikely friendship with Bridget, her new neighbour and wife of a disgraced fund investor – and it’s this relationship, and not a love story, that drives the novel. Are you interested in the potential for more novels to interrogate female friendship like you have done here?
I’m certainly interested in novels by other women which do this – I’m not sure my own next book will though. Sarah Moss’ Ghost Wall springs to mind as a stunning recentish example. Pip Adam’s Nothing to See. Some of the stories in the epic Sport 47. Female friendships form such a bulwark for women in tough times but can go horribly wrong.
We’d love to hear about the research you did for this novel – meeting people, walking around Wellington, understanding the dynamics of life for many different people. Please tell us about it.
Sure. At the start I read a lot about Ponzi schemes, including about Bernie Madoff, but also various court cases. Almost none of that ended up in the book, and I’d be more focussed about it next time, or maybe hold off on doing so much research until I had a clearer idea how I was going to approach the book. The most useful research I did was spending quite a lot of time in the suburb where the book is set, getting a close up idea of the look and feel. Very broadly, I think much of the ‘research’ for a book is the way you live your life, which can’t help but filter into the work.
Do you have writers, books, art, music or film that you consider influential or inspirational for your writing?
A couple of writers who I find directly inspirational are Penelope Fitzgerald and Doris Lessing. Not exactly obscure choices but it’s hard to go past them! Both of them have a surface simplicity and accessibility, while doing some fine moral calibration underneath. Both balance the full range of experience in terms of highs and lows, with authenticity and some joy and humour.
In terms of films, I particularly enjoy a well-made documentary. My favourite last year was The Silence of Others by Almudena Carrucedo and Robert Bahar.
I Iike to think of novels sitting in conversation with each other. Could you tell us two or three other books you would like Victory Park to be in conversation with, books that would augment and inform a reader’s appreciation for your novel?
Emily Perkins recently compared my work to that of Barbara Trapido, so I’ll run with that! In terms of local writers, I felt a real connection with Kirsten McDougall’s first book, The Invisible Rider, in its gentle depiction of characters struggling with the normal difficulties of being decent.
If Victory Park were to be made in a film, or TV show, who would like to be cast?
I’d love to see Rachael Brown, the woman on the cover of the book, given a screen test. Siobhan Marshall (Pascalle from Outrageous Fortune) for Bridget.
What are you reading right now? What is on your TBR pile?
I’m reading Moetū, by Witi Ihimaera, at one page a day. It has each page in te reo, then English, so I’m trying to understand the reo first.
Half read or TBR includes:
-Clarice Lispector, Collected Stories
-David Coventry, The Invisible Mile
-Sarah Moss, Summerwater
-Kate Camp, How to be Happy though Human
-Chloe Lane, The Swimmers
-Xanthe White, The Good Dirt.