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INTERVIEW: Cassandra Golds, author of PUREHEART

Friday, August 30, 2013

Australia has some of the most extraordinary children's writers working in the world today and one of them is Cassandra Golds, whose books have all the deceptive simplicity of a fairy tale. I am very happy to welcome her to the blog today, to talk about her new book Pureheart which left me in tears. 

Here she is:

Are you a daydreamer too?

Yes! When I was about 15 I remember thinking to myself, I MUST try to do something USEFUL with all these DAYDREAMS! I guess I felt they must somehow be my vocation. That was when I started pursuing publication in earnest.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, for just about as long as I can remember. I wrote my first story almost as soon as I could write.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in Sydney — Paddington Royal Women’s Hospital, to be precise — and my first home was in Waterloo, a very old inner city suburb. I grew up in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, and Penrith in the Western suburbs. Then for many years I lived in Manly, near beautiful Manly Beach. Then, just two years ago, I moved to Melbourne for love! I like to read and write and meditate and drink soothing cups of interesting tea. And I like to talk. And listen to other people talk. And I love to laugh!

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

A picture came into my head of a girl or young woman gazing out from an upstairs window in an old building at night and seeing a boy waiting outside next to the streetlight, looking up at her. I knew she remembered this boy from some time in her past, and that he was the most important person in the world  to her, but I also knew that she had never expected to see him again. The story grew from there.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

When I first began to write seriously as a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time just planning. I started out very disciplined and controlled. But then I underwent a personal revolution and got converted to spontaneity! Now I just collect lots of notes, ideas, memories, quotes, pieces of music, bits from movies and books — all kinds of inspirations — and keep looking over them and adding to them as I write. I know where I’m going in a general kind of way but I try to let it blossom as I go. I aspire to a balance between the two — a kind of disciplined spontaneity.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

I have once! The Museum of Mary Child was inspired by the worst nightmare I ever had. The chapter in that book where Heloise is first shown the museum is pretty much a description of it.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

At one point when I was a little bit stuck, my boyfriend  suggested that I reread one of my all-time favourite novels, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Suddenly I realised that I had, to an extent, been retelling it unconsciously. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before! Once I was aware of that, I knew the best model for one particular section of the story I was trying to tell. And for me, models are everything.

Actually, I would say that all of my writing is inspired by serendipitous or paradoxical connections between things that are apparently dissimilar or incongruous. I love the fact that you can retell a fairytale as a hard boiled detective story, or give a great 19th romance like Wuthering Heights a contemporary setting. I love unexpected connections, I love serendipity, I love incongruity and I love paradox! I once named a heroine Serendipity Starr. 

Where do you write, and when?

Most of my actual working time I spend on the floor in the living room, or sitting cross-legged on my bed, with my laptop on a tray. But the most crucial things happen more unpredictably — perhaps early in the morning, or when I'm traveling somewhere, or because of something I've seen or heard, or even while I'm asleep and dreaming. That's when things in my head shift. They feel like seismic shifts. So I make lots of notes, wherever I happen to be. Then I write them properly and revise them later, sometimes much later, at the computer.

What is your favourite part of writing?

Oh, the seismic shifts! They don’t just help me to write. They show me how to live.

What do you do when you get blocked?

I daydream! For me, the best time for inventing something is early in the morning, after I've woken up but before I get up. I try to let a story tell itself to me.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I feed it (to mix a metaphor)! I'm a great believer in cramming yourself with culture — books and films and music and art and poetry and non fiction and anything of interest, really. I read very slowly, on purpose — I like to read every word, and to really drink in the shape of a paragraph. I read prose almost as if it were poetry — which means, unfortunately, that I don't get through as many books as I would like — but when I do get through them I know them off by heart! Lately I've become almost more fascinated by what's NOT there — in a paragraph, I mean, or even a whole story — than by what is. I’m fascinated by how writers achieve their effects — make you love a character, for example, or scare you, or compel you with suspense. I also think deeply, and devote a lot of energy to trying to understand — everything, really.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

I used to, when I first started writing seriously. I was a very disciplined adolescent, and this lasted into my mid-twenties. I used to do everything in exactly the same way — from my daily writing pattern, to the phases of preparing a manuscript. It was all very ordered and organised. But then I went through a long period when I couldn’t write at all, and when eventually I started to write again, I found that the only way I could do it was to be much more free-spirited, even a little chaotic. It’s almost like I pretend not to be writing — just, sort of, playing. Otherwise I seem to start spooking myself. The way I write now is actually much more like the way I wrote as a child in primary school than the way I wrote when my first book was published.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Charlotte Bronte, Nicholas Stuart Gray, Hans Christian Andersen, C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth Goudge, Joan Aiken, Lorna Hill, Elizabeth Coatsworth.


What do you consider to be good writing? 

This is rather a vexed issue for me. I’m keenly aware that much of what is considered to be good writing doesn’t do a thing for me. This does not mean that I believe that, contrary to expert opinion, such writing is bad. 

It’s just that, all my life, I’ve been looking for something in what I read — some kind of an answer to a question that I always seem to be asking, although I couldn’t tell you quite what it is. And unless I find it — this thing I’m looking for — I seem to have little appreciation for the work in question. Or at least, my appreciation is purely academic.

Even if I define good writing as something that has what I’m seeking, it’s still a mystery to me. Ever since I was a child I have tended to read things I like with very intense attention, over and over again. But I still cannot work out how the writers I admire most achieve what they achieve. I always feel myself that I’m writing “blindly” — as if I have no idea whatsoever whether what I’m writing is going to say what I’m trying to say to a reader. I know how I feel about the story and the characters, but how do I go about conveying this to someone else, so that they can feel it too? Similarly, I don’t know how it is that my favourite writers do it to me. It’s frustrating, to an extent, but in a peculiar kind of way it’s also something to live for. 

Pursuing this mystery, I mean.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

I would say read, read, read — also see movies, look at pictures, listen to music, observe what goes on around you, find out about things and people, have adventures. (Studying dance and music and drama has come in very useful to me as a writer even though I never pursued any of those professionally.) Then think, think, think — about the world and people and what matters most to you. Then write, write, write. Write about what you care about — be yourself in your writing — and be patient and persistent. Writing is a life-long apprenticeship...

What are you working on now? 

Would you believe, The Three Loves of Persimmon meets Colditz?

Thank you so much, Cassandra!

I have to say that Cassandra and I share a passionate love for the work of such writers as Elizabeth Goudge, Joan Aiken and Nicholas Stuart Gray - you can read about my own devotion to Nicholas Stuart Gray here 


Pamela Freeman commented on 04-Sep-2013 10:59 AM
When I grow up, I want to write like Cassandra Golds!
Kate Forsyth commented on 08-Sep-2013 06:04 PM
Me too!

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