(ques­tion­ing)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Stephen Dando-Collins Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

Unan­swered ques­tions are the bane of my life. They’re also why I write.

Re­cently, I was at Ade­laide Writ­ers Week. At an au­thors’ party, I found my­self in con­ver­sa­tion with Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Sara Tay­lor, with whom I share the same pub­lisher.

Sara, a teacher in her other life, is young, fresh-faced. You would will­ingly en­trust your chil­dren into her care. Yet her nov­els of­ten have a dark side.

We dis­cuss the fac­tual ba­sis for el­e­ments of her fic­tion. An­other party guest is, like Sara, from Amer­ica’s south. She has de­voured Sara’s books and tries un­suc­cess­fully to guess which sto­ries in her novel The Lauras are true.

Sara smiles. “No, the story about my grand­fa­ther shoot­ing my grand­mother to make her marry him, that’s true.”

I want to ask where he shot her. Were the in­juries se­ri­ous? But I’m whisked away. My ques­tion is left on pause.

At an au­thors’ break­fast the next day there’s no sign of Sara, no op­por­tu­nity to pose the unan­swered ques­tion.

I’m seated next to shiny-headed English crime nov­el­ist Peter Robin­son, au­thor of 23 books and creator of DCI Banks. I ask if Stephen Tomp­kin­son, the ac­tor who por­trays Banks on tele­vi­sion, was Peter’s choice.

Peter shakes his head. “The pro­duc­ers said the se­ries would only go ahead if Stephen played the part.” The au­thor sees his cre­ation as shorter, warmer.

When I ask if, when he be­gins writ­ing a new crime novel, Peter knows how it will end, he says, “No, never.” There’s an unan­swered ques­tion Peter faces ev­ery time he sets to work cre­at­ing and solv­ing a mur­der: How the hell am I go­ing to end this?

There’s no sign of Sara un­til the even­ing of the fes­ti­val’s clos­ing party, when we end up shar­ing a cour­tesy car from our ho­tel with Sara and her hus­band, David. I can pose my unan­swered ques­tion. “Sara, where did your grand­fa­ther shoot your grand­mother? And don’t say, ‘In the kitchen’!”

Sara an­swers with a wicked smile, “In Si­cily.” I’m not let­ting her get away with that and press for med­i­cal de­tails. “Ac­tu­ally, he shot her in the leg,” she re­veals.

And when you know that Sara’s next novel will be based on her “cultish” Chris­tian fun­da­men­tal­ist fam­ily, propos­ing mar­riage with a bul­let al­most sounds rea­son­able.

As we’re leav­ing the clos­ing party, the head waiter whis­pers to me, “My grand­fa­ther won the No­bel prize for lit­er­a­ture, you know.”

Be­fore I can ask him who his grand­fa­ther was, I’m whisked away. Yet an­other unan­swered ques­tion!

wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 450 and 500 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to In 1960, which Bri­tish prime min­is­ter made the “Wind of Change” speech? The novel in­tro­duced which fa­mous fic­tional de­tec­tive? In which year was Mo­han­das Gandhi as­sas­si­nated? Which pop­u­lar 1951 mu­si­cal fea­tured the song Richard Feyn­man re­ceived the No­bel Prize in Physics dur­ing which decade?

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