60 secs with Jennifer Down

A  Q + A with the Melbourne-based writer and editor, whose debut novel was (just casually) shortlisted for the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. 
By Mia Abrahams

Name your favourite book (ever!) by an Australian female author, and why:
There are so many truly excellent Australian women writers – Gillian Mears, Ellen Van Neerven, Thea Astley, Alice Pung, Christina Stead – but my all-time favourite is Helen Garner’s The Children’s Bach. I think it’s a perfect novella – so precise and economical with language, and psychologically shrewd. Garner is enormously gifted at [the] sentence level, but also highly emotionally intelligent. I come back to that book again and again to learn how to write.

When writing a book, do you plan out every chapter before you begin, just start and see what happens, or somewhere in between?
I certainly don’t plan, but I usually think about the story for a long time – months, sometimes years – before I start writing, so I generally feel as though I know the characters and their voices by the time I sit down to write. I also usually have a clear idea of exactly where a story finishes even if I’m not sure of what happens before then.

What are you reading now? 
I’m alternating between the new Zadie Smith, Swing Time, and a slim little César Aira book called Dinner, which I just started before work this morning!

What’s been sitting on your bedside table begging to be read, but you haven’t got around to it? 
This French book called Kinderzimmer by Valentine Goby that a lovely Airbnb host gave me in 2015 when I stayed at her place in Nice for a night and we got talking about books! I truly have no idea why it’s taking me so long to crack it open.

You’re two chapters into reading a book and you’re not drawn in. Do you push forward, or put the book down and find something else to read?
I’ll push on past two chapters, but not past the halfway mark. I used to have this weird sense of compunction about not finishing books. Now I just feel like I don’t have time for stuff I don’t like. Life’s too short.

Our Magic Hour (Text Publishing) is out now. Jennifer’s new book, Pulse Points (Text Publishing) comes out July 31st.

Image: @jenniferdown. Digital design: Grace Jennings-Edquist