Alice recently caught up with Two Flat Whites to discuss life, passions, future endeavours and her new novel ‘The Last Sky’. The Last Sky moves between a love story in wartime Shanghai and a failing marriage in Hong Kong during the handover to China. A very ambitious and resourceful young author. Don’t forget the name Alice Nelson!
Where did you grow up & where do you hang your hat?
I grew up on Cottesloe Beach in WA and always find myself drawn back there, though I’ve lived overseas for extended stints – in New York for the longest. I’m living in Perth at the moment but am just about to head to rural France for several months for a writing sabbatical of sorts.
In your own words, what do you do?
Joan Didion once described writers as lonely, resistant rear rangers of things, people who spend their most absorbed and passionate hours arranging words on pieces of paper. That’s certainly part of it but there’s a tremendous joy in imagining, in telling stories, in entering into the sweet obsession of writing when it feels like there is nothing outside the world of the page. It’s a solitary occupation but you also have to be terribly interested in people.
Where did you learn your craft?
From reading mostly – I think that it’s impossible to be a writer if you are not voraciously, obsessively passionate about reading all kinds of literature. I used to copy out Ernest Hemingway in the vain hope that I might learn how to write the perfect sentence! I’ve studied creative writing at university, both in Australia and in the Masters program at the City University of New York, and while I’m not sure that you can actually teach the craft of writing, I found both experiences incredibly valuable. The discipline of having to produce work constantly, the thick skin you develop from the criticism, the contacts you make, are all so important.
Who and what inspires you?
Writers who are constantly doing new and innovative things with their craft, who aren’t afraid to challenge themselves. People like Anne Michaels, Pablo Neruda, Michael Ondaatje, Joan Didion, Marguerite Duras, Gail Jones, Brian Castro, to name just a few. The African refugees I know through my work with the Coalition for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees – incredible men and woman who have often survived unimaginable violence and loss and still look to a happier future.