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. Her most recent collection is The Water Bearer (Fremantle Press 2018). Claustrophobia her fourth novel was published by Transit Lounge in 2014 and by Newton Compton Editori as Una vita tranquilla in 2015. It was shortlisted for the 2016 Western Australian Premier’s Awards.

I first thought of writing the story that became We Are Not Most People almost a decade ago, when I was part of a small group of writers that met in a university office to share drafts of what we were doing.

With all my novels, I seem to write a couple of chapters, put them aside for a fair while, and then come back to them later in a big way.

What happened was this: we were in southern Germany (my life-partner is the writer John Kinsella, and we were both doing a residency there). Being surrounded by the German language, which I had also studied back when I was young at university, re-triggered my interest in those opening chapters.

That was because of the Swiss-German character, Kurt Stocker – even though it was Germany and not Switzerland, it was like being reimmersed in his thoughts, ways of talking, and past experiences, which were still in my head.

At first I conceived of the book as a novella, but when my publisher Transit Lounge felt (as I did) that there might be a novel there with more material, I went back and expanded and re-wrote it.

Much of the novel is set in Australia, but the backstory for Kurt looks at his Swiss childhood and religious boarding-school years, as well as time in a seminary in Austria. Those sections are imaginary, but I did spend a lot of time researching similar institutions while I was expanding the book. I’m also familiar with the locations.

The book’s other protagonist is a much-younger Australian woman, so for her experiences I was able to draw on the times and places in which I grew up. Especially in the eighties, so many people struggled to find employment, which marked them socially and psychologically, as well as economically, so I had to work with that in mind. It may not sound inspirational but it has to be written about!

I wanted to explore several things. First, what’s it’s like to be someone others consider unusual – the working title in my head was “The Misfits”, though I knew I couldn’t really go with that for publication because of the famous movie. In this case the unusual thing is age-difference, but there are lots of relationships that don’t fit what people think is “the norm”. Since all of us have ways in which we don’t fit “the norm”, maybe it’s not even that real.

Second, I grew up in a period of intense immigration into Western Australia – born in Australia of Australian parents, I was just about the only kid I knew in Year One who didn’t have a vaccination mark from “coming over on the ship”. Many around me had come from elsewhere and their first language wasn’t English. I wanted to trace just some of that experience from one imagined vantage point, because I think non-Aboriginal Australia needs to remember its migrant nature.

Third, I wanted to consider the effects of both schooling and institutions on people’s later relationships. Brought up within the Catholic church, I am no longer a believer; of course that has its influences, positively or negatively, on what gets written. Over the years we’ve seen huge shifts in the formerly unassailable power of such institutions, and that inspired me to try to voice through my characters some of the experiences people have had.

Buy We Are Not Most People here.

BLURB: Kurt Stocker’s Swiss childhood is dominated by strict and god-fearing parents. He enters a seminary with the intent of becoming a priest and making his parents proud of him but struggles to adapt. Leaving this vocation behind, he marries Liesl and they eventually emigrate to Australia.

Decades later in small town Australia, Terry Riley feels drawn to convent life, despite her family’s objections. At the convent, she is haunted by a strange sickness and knows in time that she must return to a more conventional life. It is then she begins a relationship with the now divorced Kurt, who was once her high school teacher.

This is the story of an odd couple, of an older man and a younger woman in love with one another, but so damaged by their past lives that even a regular sexual relationship seems impossible. Beautiful in its frankness but disturbing in its examination of faith and human existence, this is a novel that is affectionate, haunting and ultimately unforgettable.










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