We all know you as a recognisable, talented Australian actor, but writing has also been a feature of your career. How do you find writing for the page as opposed to the screen?
From a young age I wanted to be writer. I have hundreds of thousands of words and many many stories that I’ve written over the years. Most are simply unpublishable. But I enjoyed creating those stories as much as anything I’ve written. And it all helps me become a better writer.
Writing screenplays is a very different process to a novel. A screenplay is much more collaborative, whereas writing a novel is a solitary process and perhaps more indulgent and personal. And though they are different, there is still a cinematic influence in how I write for the page. Though I am not conscious of it most of the time, I know I tend to conjure imagery and situations through a cinematic lens. I love doing both because any form of writing to me is a real joy. I’m very lucky I get to write!
What made you set your novel in Darwin?
I lived and spent a lot of time in Darwin in the early 1990s and fell in love with the place and the people. It fascinated me because it had a very different pace and energy than Sydney and even then it still felt like a frontier town. Everything felt more rugged because the heat, the geography and the weather extremes had such an impact on how people lived and how they moved. On how things were done. I was interested in the story of Darwin even then and so when I started to think about this book I researched what Darwin was like back in the early sixties. It seemed it really was the wild west, with a very masculine culture and a big drinking culture. They were still building Darwin and there were opportunities to be had but a lot of that was embedded in the White Australia Policy. It was a harsh environment if you weren’t white or if you were a woman or a man who questioned how things should be done and exploring that informed the characters created for the book. But I think Darwin itself, the landscape and the weather, is also a character in Still and helps emphasise the claustrophobic atmosphere that the main characters, Charlotte Clark and Ned Potter find themselves in.
Matt Nable. Photo by Sally Flegg.
Can you tell us a bit about the officer Ned?
Ned Potter is a young man who has moved around a fair bit in his childhood and then finally settled with his family in Darwin, and it became home. He lost his father at young age and that has helped shape who he is. He looked after his siblings and he does the right thing. Or tries to. But he is also a man who has had his formative years in a place that can be quite oppressive, both in climate and in what is expected of a man in that town. He is a flawed man and Darwin in that era had a big drinking culture and Ned is too easily caught up in that. He is trying to do the right thing by his family, for his wife and daughter, by his career, for the cases he is investigating, but he is struggling because he knows what is right and his superiors don’t hold the same view. Ned gets himself in strife because he is not a man who backs down but he doesn’t realise what could be lost.
Can you tell us a bit about Charlotte?
When I was writing about Charlotte I looked at my mother and the women of her generation who were constrained by the cultural expectations of the times. In the early 1960s, there were limited opportunities to step outside the traditional roles a woman like Charlotte was supposed to follow. She was expected to marry, have children and be the main caregiver for the family. Charlotte was very much of that time and was even more suffocated because she was in Darwin, a frontier town a long way from any hint of social change. Charlotte has an imagination and a curiosity about the world but she doesn’t know how to do things differently, so she is trapped. She wants change but feels smothered by the life she is living, struggling to have a child and in a marriage to a man she realises she doesn’t love. By chance, Charlotte gets to focus on something else and that experience will see her make decisions that widen her world and just might give her the possibility of a different life. But the violence and prejudice that run through her home town mean anything she does comes with risk. I hope readers agree that Charlotte is a very brave woman.
How do you hope people feel when they read the book?
I hope readers come away feeling like Darwin has seeped into their being. That the atmosphere I tried to create, the humidity, the heat, the violence of the storms, feels very real. So much of this story tells a truth about our country not that long ago. The corruption and the prejudice, the expectations of how men and women will live their lives, it is all steeped in some ugly truths. Ned and Charlotte are both good people with a strong moral compass that means they act to help others but the cost of that is great. I hope readers get immersed in the story and lose themselves in Ned and Charolotte’s lives so that they are compelled to keep turning the pages until they know their fates.
Still is available in store and online now. RSVP for our free online Facebook event on Tuesday 1 June and hear more about the book from Matt Nable himself.