Fran Cusworth is an author and freelance journalist who has written for The Age, Herald Sun and The Australian.
What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
I was an early reader and I remember my father growing exasperated at how quickly I would finish books and ask for more. I would wake in the night and read, and my parents finally took the light bulbs out of my room to stop me – it sounds mean now, but I think they were worried I wasn’t sleeping. The first book I ever read was Jaws; after that my family realised I could read chapter books and furnished me with more appropriate reading matter. I loved Enid Blyton, CS Lewis, the poetry of Walter De La Mare, Lewis Carroll, and any Australian books – the Billabong series, Seven Little Australians.
When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
I decided very young I was a writer, and I started keeping a journal at about age eight. The good thing about starting early is that you have a couple of decades to work through the deadly, terrible, self obsessed stuff, and I have all sorts of short stories about favourite hiding places, or my best friend looking at me the wrong way, or who did the best jump on the trampoline. I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel certain I would be a writer, and being a keen reader helped this.
I hope my readers will be absorbed, and escape their every day lives for a while when they read my books. I’m not seeking to change the world through my books, I just want to entertain, and at the most reflect some aspect of the reader’s life back at them in a new way.
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?
I read a great deal for pleasure, but my writer radar is always turned on. I find a lot to inspire me. I just finished Jonathon Franzen’s Freedom, and then read Corrections, and while I absolutely loved them, I was very envious that he could write about family so humourously and cleverly, while pinpointing society so accurately at the same time.
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
I should avoid reading certain types of fiction while I’m writing, but I don’t. I’m always writing, so I would never read if I did that, and reading is too enjoyable to stop. I am very affected by what I read – the last Geraldine Brooks book I read, I decided I had to have a historical thread through my novel and it took a couple of months to realise that was impossible for the novel I was writing. I read Toni Jordan’s second novel Fall Girl, and felt I wanted my book to be more funny. Then I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and just about felt like never bothering to write again, it was so perfect. I certainly should stop reading. But I won’t.
Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way.
Well, as described above, most books I read. Even bad ones inspire me with what I don’t want to do. I would have to say Geraldine Brooks, Anne Tyler, Toni Jordan, Franzen, Jane Austen.
If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
A compendium of Jane Austen’s six novels. Or The Forsyte Saga. Or The Bone People.
What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?
Wondering what will happen next. Providing a world you want to return to. Humour. Likeable characters.
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
Pretension. Boredom. Literary high-falutin’ showing off where nothing happens and the reader is treated with disdain.
Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
I like a lot of English classics: Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Austen – I think I’m drawn to the wordiness of their writing style and the focus on morality.
If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time and why?
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.
The Bone People by Keri Hulme.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.
Middlemarch by George Eliot (or Mary Anne Evans).
Ridley Walker by Russell Hoban.
Mitten Strings For God by Katrina Kenison.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith.
What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I loved the language and I found the fictionalised life of Thomas Cromwell, PA to Henry Eighth, fascinating.
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?
I think eBooks will probably take off in a big way over the next year, and maybe even people I know will be buying them – they’re not yet. I just had floor to ceililng wall to wall bookshelves installed in my home, so I won’t be getting an eBook just yet I don’t think. I think it’s just a medium, I doubt it will change how much people read.
Fran Cusworth is a Melbourne based journalist who has published two novels, The Love Child and Hopetoun Wives, both with Penguin Books.