image of a country road


Nights In The Asylum has just been published by Louis Braille Audio as an unabridged audio book, and it was a thrill to receive a copy of the finished work on a series of eight CDs.

This was a first for me as a writer, to curl up in a comfy chair and listen, as the book was read back to me. My first reaction was astonishment, as the text, which I know so well, was reinterpreted for me. It reminded me that reading is anything but passive, and that readers bring to books their own life experience, subtle layers of nuance which seem to permeate the text. For a writer, this can be incredibly exciting, as the work comes full circle, entering the world fully formed at last by the simple completing act of being read out loud.

The audio production is read by Deirdre Rubenstein, who has worked extensively in television, film and theatre, and who also narrated the TDK Australian Audio Book Award winner Dreamtime Alice by Mandy Sayer. In 2001 Deirdre won an Adult Narrator of the Year Award.

I have driven more than a thousand kilometres this past two weeks, talking books, books, books, as if (as my Grandmother used to say) my tongue was hinged in the middle. Up until now, readers have been a concept rather than a reality, alleged, like other situations not yet proven, so meeting reading groups face to face has been both sobering and a thrill.

All the while a novel is still an untidy manuscript, or even a collection of notes in a rainbow of inks, it is tricky to say exactly who it is being written for. Some writers insist they write only for themselves, but that always seems a touch coy, since the moment publication is mooted then readers are automatically implied. Perhaps they mean that they are the first readers of their work after which the world is welcome to it, as if primary creation is both the first and last word on the subject.

While there would be no novel to read without that sustained creative effort, writing for oneself somehow negates the subtle contribution brought to the page by readers. For instance, the structure of alternating viewpoints used in Nights in The Asylum gently compels the reader to hold the text together - in their heads all the stories, all the secrets, gradually knit together into a single thick narrative chord - while each character stumbles towards a climax they will never fully comprehend. Such is real life, too, although unfortunately it passes without the omniscient reader to make sense of it for us.

Other writers enter into different contracts with their readers - see the newly published Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee in which the act of reading becomes an integral part of the creative process, an invitation from the writer to make structural decisions which affect the way the work unfolds into consciousness. The parallel-universe structure of Lionel Shriver's The Post-Birthday World offers another kind of reader participation.

I could go on and on, but I am off to Dublin and Tipperary and yes, the writing life is a hard life, but someone's got to do it.