A long time ago I sent
extraordinary Andrew Harper on an assignment
to talk with author Phil Leask. Neither of us were sure who Phil was
we knew the publisher, Black Pepper press, and we knew that they only
worked with quality writers. Andrew came back from the interview
praising the wit and intelligence of Phil, assuring me that he was an
interesting subject... so I waited for the article.
Issues came and went and then so did Andrew. Tog's most
reliable reporter had left for Japan to be with the love of his life.
where was this Phil Leask article? And who was this Phil Leask guy?...
wanted to know.
...so the other day I get this e-mail...
Andrew Harper (AH): Okay Phil, here goes. This book (Patrick 0'Reilly
is your second
another coming out next year -what motivates you as a writer? Is that
enough for you?
Phil Leask (PL): Yeah. The sheer pleasure. The joy of
than anything else, I mean I just love getting ideas together, I love
the computer and putting it all down, really, and making it work. After
few hours writing, I just feel absolutely exhilarated, so that's what
keeps me going.
AH: Does it pay or do you do it for the sheer passion?
PL I do it for the passion but with a great desire to
able to do it full time, which I don't at the moment. I do a lot of
to buy time to write.
AH: Do you research much? This is sort of an historical
PL: I do a reasonable amount of research. There's always
if you do too much research you donít get around to writing,
alternatively you end up writing history rather than a novel. You need
to stop when you get enough of the ground covered. What I find
interesting is that when you are doing research, you think you are
looking for something and then you discover
something else, and that sets your mind working and then you think, I'm
to follow that up. Curious things: for instance, just walking around
Point again... I was walking along the gardens at the end where the old
were, and I noticed for the first time; a little monument to the
exiles who were brought to Tasmania in 1840. Now I didn't know anything
them and that's something that I think wow! That ties in with a lot of
things; I want to follow that up. I had no idea there where significant
exiles from Canada to "Van Diemen's land," as it then was.
AH: is your work informed much by politics?
PL: Well... it is... without me intending it to be. The
novel, By Way of Water
World War and the Communist Party in Italy and France and Germany. Now
was tied in to a story about two people meeting in North Queensland, so
is an interesting kind of contrast.
AH: Were you member of the International Communist Party?
PL Yes, I was, about thirty years ago.
AH: Not now? Moved on?
PL I've moved on, as so many people have. Iím
left, committed to green politics as well... but yes I suppose I'm a
nice, middle-of-the-road Labour guy in the UK now.
AH: It gets more complex doesn't it?
PL One of things for me about the communist movement of
í40s, and through the war and so on, was that so much of it
genuinely internationalist. The other side of that was that so much of
it was genuinely Stalinist, which was really abhorrent, and the two
clashed. Unfortunately, I suppose tragically, in the late
í50s, it was the people who had been the most committed and
and internationalist, like the people who fought in the Spanish Civil
War, who were then eliminated, one way or another. And again, in 1968,
in Prague, things looked terribly hopeful - I was in Tasmania at the
time, when all that was going on, and I remember I came in one day and
my flatmate said, "the Russians have invaded" and we both stood and
stared at each other in a kind of amazed disgust, really. That had been
an attempt to humanise, liberalise and meet the ideals of communism.
AH: Is that what your first novel grew from?
PL There's a bit behind that, in the first novel -one of
characters, who you never see - one of the characters is looking for
Heís her father. He comes from that kind of internationalist
also there's something more sinister about it and you never quite
AH: That's probably what makes it sinister...
PL One of the interesting things at the time is that
were able to move from Moscow to Berlin to Prague to Florence or
wherever, across boundaries, even though it wasn't possible. They
managed to do so acting on
behalf of the Kominform, and what they had to do to maintain Moscow's
in them was pretty dreadful. Some of them tried to escape from it, and
particularly by the í50s, were got rid of. There's a question
mark in By Way Of Water
over just why my
died, whether he was got rid of in that kind of way... This one is very
different - it takes a number of characters, like the character of
Patrick 0'Reilly himself, who was dreamt up really as a kind of
mythological figure, and who is apparently wandering, or has wandered
for generations, in the mountains
above the Huon Valley, without ever really being seen or known, but
known about; and he comes down and he causes mayhem and vanishes into
mountains again ... we meet him in the first chapter, and it's not
what he's doing there. What we already learn is that his father and his
wandered these mountains before him...
AH: Oh, its The Phantom! That's his trick!
PL (laughs): Yes thatís right! You see what I'm
looking at is
people like to have something that terrifies them; something to blame
for things they don't understand. Patrick 0'Reilly is this convenient
figure for them.
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