Interview with Anna Couani by Anne Brewster

By Brewster, Anne | Hecate, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Interview with Anna Couani by Anne Brewster


Brewster, Anne, Hecate


AB: Let's start by asking you some questions about Italy. One of the things that interested me in that book was that you seem to be engaging directly with the tradition of novel writing. Would you like to say something about your thoughts about the novel then and now?

AC: Although I had wanted to be a writer, up until the time I wrote Italy I had written a lot of stuff which I had destroyed when I was younger; I didn't like it. I felt I couldn't escape from the conventions that I was writing out of, which were similar to the kind of reading I was doing. I grew up reading a lot of nineteenth century novels which I loved but I didn't want to write like. I was exposed to new writing, not just the nouvelle roman, but the American new writing that was French-influenced as well. So it was like suddenly a different kind of world was open and I felt like that was the kind of thing I wanted to do. For me it just took off from there. It wasn't that I invented those things but that I felt there was an alternative tradition.

AB: Did you want to write a novel?

AC: I was intending to write a novel almost every time I wrote a short prose piece; then it seemed that I finished in two pages. I wasn't actually against the idea of writing a novel-length piece but I did fairly quickly get into this frame of mind of not wanting to write a conventional novel, that is with character and plot. When I wrote Were All Women Sex-Mad? I was intending it to be a full-length novel. I started writing dialogue and then I thought, well... for it to be like a novel I need to insert descriptions, linking pieces. But, I thought, that's extraneous. There were other models. The Lesbian Body by Monique Wittig, for example, consists entirely of dialogue.

AB: And what sort of work you think the dialogue was doing? Why did you choose to work mainly with dialogue in Were All Women Sex-Mad?

AC: I was travelling at that time, meeting people and when you travel and meet people you have intense conversations. You know you are going to see them only briefly and sometimes you reveal things to complete strangers that you may not reveal to people you know better because you are not going to see them again. So there were these intense conversations; and that was what I was doing in that story. I also met people from Australia over there whom I was having intense conversations with. I met people in England that I had been recommended to by some writers here and got to know a couple of really interesting people.

AB: Who did you meet up with there?

AC: The person I had the strongest connection with in London was Philip Jenkins. An interesting prose writer with Welsh background. And a guy called David Miller, who's Australian. He's a poet who lives in London. I met Jenkins through him. And we were having intense and interesting literary discussions. And I met some people who were running the Compendium Bookshop. Tom Thomson was over there at the same time and we spent some time, about a couple of weeks, in each other's company, chewing over the whole literary scene in Australia and Sydney. I met this amazing guy called Robert Lax when I went to stay on a Greek island called Kalymnos which is close to Kastellorizo. I didn't visit Kastellorizo at that time. Robert Lax was an American minimalist poet and he used to write amazing poems like: 'white sea, white sea, white sea, black rock, white sea, white sea, white sea.' They are so visual. He read the whole manuscript of Were All Women Sex-Mad?, and I had this fantastic opportunity to workshop the manuscript with him. He made suggestions, especially concerning the woman who suicided. He kept on saying, I'd like to see more of her; he felt there was not enough of her. He was 63 at that time and had a long experience with literary stuff and was closely connected with American writers, in fact people I have been influenced by.

Anyway, that story was intended to be a novel and the dialogue thing happened because I decided not to put all the other things in. …

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