Carrie Tiffany was one of the international authors attending the Writers and Readers Festival in Auckland last month. Her debut novel Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living is set during an intriguing byway of Australian history – in the 1930s when the government ‘better farming train’ travelled through the wheat fields and small towns of Australia, bringing city experts and advice to local farmers and their families. Carrie focuses on the relationship between soil scientist Robert and seamstress Jean, and the ancient and fragile landscape they travel through.
Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living has propelled Carrie into the literary limelight. In 2006 her novel was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Orange Prize for Fiction, and the Guardian First Book Award, and was the winner of the Western Australian Premier’s Fiction Prize.
I asked Carrie some questions about her writing and inspirations:
Did you find doing your Masters in Creative Writing gave you a natural progression to writing a novel?
The masters degree put me in touch with a group of likeminded people; that was very worthwhile. But in fact a lot of my novel got a negative response from teachers and fellow students when I read sections as work in progress. They felt the science, the experiments, the lists… really didn’t work and that I should ditch them. Somewhere along the line you have to listen to yourself and trust your instincts.
Do you have a favourite author?
Too many to list but here’ s few: E.L Doctorow, Alice Munro, Richard Ford, David Malouf, Marilynne Robinson, Marianne Wiggins, Lloyd Jones, Ian McEwan.
What did/do you think when you realise people are loving your book, and that it is also gaining critical acclaim?
Well it is lovely, of course. It is especially wonderful to imagine people in far away places; New Zealand, the UK, the US, Germany, Holland…reading a book set in a small Australian country town.
I read that you have done research at the British Library in London. What are your favourite library memories?
The British Library is wonderful. You get the sense the reader really comes first. Some of my Australian library memories aren’t so positive. I think librarians can get confounded when they are trying to help somone who can’t really express what it is they are looking for — the experience of the fiction writer.
Australia’s landscape and natural environment seem to resonate with you. I think everyone has a place or a landscape that is almost a “spiritual home”. For me it is the West Coast – the rivers, the pounding rain, the mines, the old places where every family is known. Do you feel that way about Australia?
I was very moved by living in Central Australia — a flat spinifex landscape with red soil and huge deep blue skies. I think this is why I was drawn to writing about the wheat country. I live in Melbourne now but I don’t have very strong feelings about it. I like to get out a lot, either to farming country or to the bush.