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!
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