Steve Toltz’s first novel, A Fraction of the Whole, is a rollicking Australian satire. He’s on his way to becoming Australian publishing’s Next Big Thing. Judith Loriente spoke to him for Readings as he toured the US to promote the novel.
I understand you’re a screenwriter. What made you decide to write a novel? Did you have a story you felt was more suited to that format?
The reports that I am a screenwriter have been greatly exaggerated. In my 10 years of writing before commencing A Fraction of the Whole, other than my unproduced screenplays (and stage plays), I have also written cringe-worthy poems, unpublishable short stories, incoherent essays and shoddy first chapters of unfinishable novels. It seems sad not to give them their due.
It’s been mentioned in the media that the book was picked up by Curtis Brown in the UK. Did you try any Australian agents? Or did you feel they might not know what to make of it? On page 167, Harry West jokes about the conservatism of Australian publishers.
In order to get an agent or a publisher to even read a sample of your work, the best thing you can do is to get it to them via someone who knows someone who knows someone in the publishing industry. As it happens, the someone I knew was in L.A., and it was through them the book found its way to London. I didn’t know anything first-hand about the Australian publishing industry. Harry’s jokes about the conservatism of Australian publishers were pure guesswork.
For a criminal, Terry Dean inspires a surprising amount of affection in the Australian public. Is this a sly dig at how we elevate people like Ned Kelly to folk hero status?
A sly dig? I thought it was an obvious dig.
Reynold and Oscar Hobbes are a pretty accurate depiction of a media mogul with his half-hearted son trailing in his wake. Was there any concern from publishers about offending some of the world's most powerful people? Or was it so clearly done in a spirit of fun?
I guess nobody imagined the world’s most powerful people having the time or inclination to read my novel. I doubt that anyone building and running an empire would likely to be easily offended. Thin-skinned tycoons wouldn’t last long.
One of the funniest passages is on page 350, where Martin Dean plays at being Mr Average Australian to get out of a mental hospital. Was this intended as a satire on how the media equates the values he fakes – concerns about jobs, mortgage repayments and sport – with ‘Australianness’, and sidelines people with other priorities?
Strangely, there is an amazingly strong consensus out there about what constitutes Australianness. My personal belief is that if you can think of 500, 000 exceptions to any rule, that pretty much invalidates the rule.
It’s a remarkable achievement to write a 700 page book without a dull page in it. Did it have to go through several drafts to achieve this?
Everything I wrote in the first year eventually got rewritten out of existence. The second draft was wrist-slittingly terrible, but by the third draft I felt I was onto something. The fourth draft is the one I sent out. The fifth draft is the one that has now been published.
Most importantly for those who will be blown away by the book – is there another one in the pipeline?
I am already deep into my second novel, though I haven’t worked out yet who the characters are, or what it’s about.