A Critical Life: An Interview with Laurie Clancy

By Trikha, Pradeep | Antipodes, June 2012 | Go to article overview

A Critical Life: An Interview with Laurie Clancy


Trikha, Pradeep, Antipodes


Laurie Clancy (1942-2010) was a leading, too unheralded, Australian writer and academic. Clancy's first novel was A Collapsible Man (1975), which was followed by Perfect Love (1983), The Wild Life Reserve (1994)- an admirable attempt at an Australian campus comedy- and Night Parking (1999). He was also a regular contributor of short stories to Australian journals and papers. Many of these stories have been anthologized, and a number were collected as The Wife Specialist (1979), City to City (1989), and Loyalties (2007). Several of his works of fiction were awarded prizes, including a National Book Council Award for A Cottapsible Man, and a Fellowship of Australian Writers ANA Literature Award for Perfect Love.

Clancy had a lengthy academic appointment at LaTrobe University (1967-1996) and later taught creative writing at RMIT. He developed a reputation as a critic, reviewer and enthusiastic supporter of Australian literature, and in particular of 20th century Australian fiction. His critical publications include monographs on Xavier Herbert and Christina Stead, and he also wrote an excellent introductory handbook, A Reader's Guide to Austraiian Fiction (OUP, 1992), as well as contributing, often wittily, to many journals and anthologies. His entry on Dal Stivens in Benson and Conolly's 1994 encyclopedia of post-colonial literature in English remains a favorite of the editor of Antipodes.

This interview was conducted on 11 November 2009.

Pradeep Trikha: It was with Night Parking that you started your journey in the writing of fiction and now you have offered your readers The Wild Life Reserve. How things have changed now, twenty years later! How do you feel when you look back?

Laurie Clancy: Not exactly. Night Parking is my most recent novel, though it came out a while ago. The actual sequence of novels is A Collapsible Man (1975), Perfect Love (1983), The Wild Life Reserve (1994) and Night Parking (1996). There are also three collections of short stories, and a few books of criticism.

PT: Your work, both fiction and non-fiction, is shot through with a fine dry wit, while your writing and reviews reveal a keen critical acumen, a fine eye for detail and carefully modulated prose. How do you react to such observations made lry your readers?

LC: Thank you, that's very flattering, though I don't know how many of my readers would agree with you. I think I'd probably react like Basil Fawlty in "Fawlty Towers" when someone for once praises his establishment and he says, "Satisfied customer, eh? Must have him stuffed."

PT: You have often been engaged with history and its reconstruction in your novels. Any specific reasons for that?

LC: I don't think that's so true. In fact, I have gone down on record more than once as deploring what I think is Australian writers' obsessive preoccupation with the past and with questions of identity. I did write one more or less historical fiction, Perfect Love, which was loosely based on the life of my mother, but most of my work is set in contemporary times. For instance, the novel I finished recently is about the gangland wars in Melbourne three or four years ago. You wouldn't have heard of them but they did make the papers day after day in Melbourne and a very successful television series was made about them recently. I think there is a lot to write about in present day Australia but too many of our novelists leave it to crime novel writers like Shane Maloney, J. R. Carroll and Peter Corris.

PT: To what extent do Australian rn^ths, customs and allusions figure in your creative work?

LC: I'd refer you in part back to my answer to the previous question. I think too many Australian novelists are over-concerned with Australian myths and the historical past. If there is a distinctly Australian element in my work it may be a certain melancholy fatalism, or resignation. Much has been made of the fact that "Australia" rhymes with "failure" and that many of our most potent myths- the Eureka Stockade, Ned Kelly, Gallipoli, Phar Lap- are closely associated with failure. …

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