In the tone of The Dressmaker, Richard Anderson’s debut novel, ‘The Good Teacher’ takes a tongue-in-cheek look at how one mistake can snowball into a scandal that will embroil a whole town. The Coonabarabran Times caught up with the Blackville-based author to learn more about the inspiration behind his book.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I live in hill country on the Liverpool Ranges (which turn into the Warrumbungles) 70 kilometres west of Quirindi, 100km east of Coonabarabran, near the village of Blackville. I run a cattle place with my wife, Sue, who is also a teacher in the local area. Our daughter, Issie, and son, Matt, are both working and studying in Sydney. We have a strong, good-fun community and we love living where we live...except it’s so dry at the moment.
Do you have any connection to Coonabarabran or the wider Warrumbungle Shire area?
We have friends in the Coonabarabran area and when our kids were younger we went for school excursions to the Warrumbungles and to various pony camp events.
For how long have you been writing?
I’m 55 and I have been writing creatively, on and off, all my life. But I have only been having a serious crack at it for about 10 years.
What is your favourite and least favourite thing about the writing process?
For me, there is nothing like writing a story that someone genuinely enjoys. When a person you don’t know and have never heard of sends you a message saying they enjoyed what you wrote it is very special. I like editing my work, but when a professional editor gives their ‘suggestions’ it is particularly painful.
How did you come to publish your first novel?
I submitted the first part of a novel to an agent in Sydney in an attempt to get representation. She kind of liked it, but was not convinced she should take it on. I sent her some more and we talked it over, but she was still not certain. When I prepared to send her the full manuscript I figured that if she decided she didn’t like it enough I would be back to square one - no representation and no obvious possibilities. So when I sent the manuscript I added the first chapters of another manuscript to kind of hedge my bets. She wrote back and said she was still in two minds about the first manuscript, but she really, really liked the manuscript I had added. That manuscript was The Good Teacher. She offered to represent me and we took the book around the publishers and eventually found one who wanted to take it on.
How does it make you feel to know your work is for sale on book-shelves and online?
It is a great thrill to see your book in a bookstore. But, of course, once you get to that long- hoped-for day, you begin worrying about new problems. Will anyone buy it? Will anyone like it? Will they remove it from the shelf after 24 hours? Have I written a book of complete rubbish that will only be used to line birdcages and start fires? It is also very daunting to see your book on a shelf with big names and big sellers and you wonder, ‘Why would anyone buy my book?’
How much inspiration have you taken from your life in the country?
My story is set in a farming community, not unlike my own, so a great deal of inspiration comes from my life but, I can assure you, nothing is directly taken from that life.
How would you describe your novel?
My novel is a slightly tongue-in-cheek, page turner about an affair that happens at an isolated primary school between the principal and the head of the P&C and the problems that tryst creates for the whole community. I think Coonabarabran people will recognise personality types and situations that occur in the book.
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I have a follow up for The Good Teacher and a completely different novel called ‘Retribution’ with a publisher at the moment.
What advice would you give to other country-based writers looking to getting published?
I don’t know that I’m really in a position to give anyone else advice. My main advice for creative people generally is to persist. Publishing in particular moves very, very slowly based on subjective assessments, which change with the wind. Some people are successful on their first outing and celebrities seem to get book deals whenever they want them, but for most of us it only comes when you are at the absolute end of your tether and everyone else has given up on you. It’s like the gods are saying to you, ‘We’re not letting you get published until you show how badly you want it’. So, persist!
Richard Anderson’s novel, ‘The Good Teacher’ hit shelves in June.