Tracy Ryan was born in Western Australia and grew up there as part of a large family. She has taught literature, creative writing and film at various universities in Australia and in England, and worked as a bookseller, editor and translator. She has also lived in Ohio in the USA. Her poetry has won many awards. Claustrophobia is her fourth work of fiction.
Monique: Your latest book, Claustrophobia, is about to be released. It’s on my to-review shelf. I’m looking forward to this one … can you tell me what to expect?
Tracy: It’s a novel of psychological suspense, so you should expect the unexpected. Not a political thriller, more a personal one – kind of domestic noir.
Monique: Claustrophobia explores the “disturbing elements that sometimes lurk beneath the surface of a marriage”. What made you decide to explore this? Was the outcome what you expected at the start?
Tracy: I didn’t decide to explore this theme at the beginning – it was more a case of “what if…?” and then the themes grew out of the “what if…?” Some of the outcome was what I planned; other bits took me by surprise!
Monique: How long did it take to write Claustrophobia? What sort of research did you have to do?
Tracy: Several years. I read a lot of traditional novels with some similar themes, such as social climbing and criminality; I also had to do a bit of fact-checking, because even though I come from Western Australia, things have changed a lot over the years.
Tracy: So far, so good – it’s been entirely positive. People like it but find it disturbing – exactly what a suspense novel is supposed to do to you.
Monique: What do you like most about Claustrophobia?
Tracy:That I finished it! Some books will not let you go and it’s a relief when they do; then hopefully they can grip the reader instead.
Monique: Which characters do you like the most in Claustrophobia? Which one did you like least?
Tracy:I have a love-hate relationship with all my characters. Saying any more might give away the plot!
Monique: You’ve published more than nine books, including several poetry collections. What is it about poetry that appeals to you?
Tracy: I’ve always loved it – I can’t exactly explain why, except that I love language, and poetry plays on that level. It gives me something other kinds of writing can’t give. Novels give something else again.
Monique: You’ve taught literature, creative writing and film at various universities in Australia and in England, and worked as a bookseller, editor and translator. What fostered your love of words?
Tracy: My parents, and then some really good teachers – some at school, and some at university.
Monique: You wake in the middle of the night with a brilliant book-ish idea. What do you do?
Tracy: I wish this would happen to me, but my ideas tend to come when I’m wide awake during the day. If an idea did come by night, I would have to jot down at least a word, so I would remember it later!
Monique: Are you a plotter or a pantser (fly by the seat of your pants)?
Tracy: A combination of the two. A plot in hand, and then see where it goes… willing to change along the way, often surprised by what does change.
Monique: One (or more) of your characters is not behaving, or does something unexpected. How do you handle this?
Tracy: Run with it and see where it goes. You can always drop it later if it doesn’t work.
Monique: Are you an emotive writer? Have you ever cried while writing an emotive scene? Or, do you get unsettled by some of the more disturbing scenes?
Tracy: No, I’ve never cried while writing, though I’ve heard some writers do. Yes, I do get disturbed – writers often have to deal with things they find repugnant. But that’s the way it works.
Monique: Where do you write? Do you need complete silence or can you cope with noise? How do you get into the “zone”?
Tracy: Usually in a very small, closed-off area. I don’t like to write in big spaces. I need complete silence, can’t cope with noise at all. I get into writing mode by having order around me (don’t like messy desk; this can turn into procrastination while I tidy it!), but also by jotting in a notebook, or writing a journal entry which breaks off when it becomes an idea or a phrase. Blank notebooks or sheets are very stimulating, as is a good pen. Also (I admit) with strong coffee.
Monique: You’re having trouble writing. What do you do?
Tracy: If it’s really bad, total blockage, allow myself time off (I know when it has become pointless and I need to “reset”). If it’s routine trouble, free-write garbage until the better writing comes back, or do some mapping-and-branching (ideas in bubbles, joined to other ideas or words in bubbles, like a semi-visual spontaneous planning, if that’s not a contradiction). Sometimes take up some translation, as a kind of exercise that is similar to original writing and a good kick start.
Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?
Tracy: Distraction by practical things in life, e.g. bureaucratic tasks that need seeing to.
Monique: Which books have impacted on you in your life?
Tracy: Too many to mention all. In fiction, Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. In non-fiction, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. But this list (like most people’s) could go on forever, and these are only a few from some periods of my life.
Monique: Which authors do you admire the most?
Tracy: Again, a long list. But in addition to those already mentioned, Thomas Hardy, Carson McCullers, and among contemporary writers, Glen Duncan. I am talking fiction here – there’s an even longer list of poets for me!
Monique: Which book are you reading now?
Tracy: Just finished Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing.
Monique: Do you ever skip ahead a few pages or read a book’s ending?
Tracy: Skip a few – yes; read the ending ahead of time — never!
Monique: Where in Western Australia would you take an overseas visitor?
Tracy: Everywhere, if I could – but what I know best outside Perth are the Wheatbelt and the Great Southern.
Thanks for answering my questions, Tracy.