First published on 10 Jul 2012. Updated on 30 Jul 2012.
Firstly, Rick, we hear that the writing in A Hoax is very, very naughty. Did you feel naughty writing it? Ha! Well a little naughty. But naughty is a lot of fun, don’t you think? Writing it was like a dare to myself: I dare you to say it – go on – just do it – say it!
Are your writing habits appropriately naughty?
I do my best work in an alcoholic, cigarette, smack-induced haze! Oh if only… Although I do admit to being a late-night tapper. Oh, and I did once make a literary manager’s eyes boggle when I told her that, in order to conjure the muse, I pace my living room in stilettos…
Tell us about the hoax at the centre A Hoax. Who’s hoaxing whom?
A Hoax is about a poor, abused, Indigenous girl, Currah, whose white father used to rape her in a cellar. She releases the details in a tell-all memoir called Nobody’s Girl. And then the agents come crawling, as does her annoying social worker. As for the hoax and who’s hoaxing whom, you’ll have to come watch it all explode.
Is it fair to say that the characters in your play, as well as deceiving others, are sort of deceiving themselves too?
Hmm. I’m not sure I see it like that, but I know what you mean. I think all the characters are doing what they feel they must to get what they want. They, like many of us, live in an amoral world. We’ve all had to make our bargains with the devil, do things that are unpalatable, in order to get ahead, haven’t we? What would you do for success? And, let’s face it, in this competitive world nice guys finish last.
Australia is notorious for its literary hoaxes: Ern Malley, Norma Khouri, Helen Demidenko – even, to a lesser extent, Bryce Courtenay more recently…
And don’t forget Wanda Koolmatrie! I think each of the people you mentioned had very different motivations driving what they did. Ern Malley took a satiric jab at the man, Norma’s a pathological liar, Helen a historical revisionist. It’s not just Australia either – we’re constantly reading about hoaxes: Mike Daisey, the gay Muslim woman in the Middle East, and so on. Who doesn’t want to be relevant, to be vital, in this fast-paced world we live in? I can relate to their actions. But what I really love about a good hoax is it always holds a mirror up, no matter what the hoaxer’s intent, to what society wants to hear. A good hoax successfully taps the zeitgeist and presents what we find interesting.
Have you learned much about how the public reacts when they feel they’ve been duped?
I think when you ingest a supposedly true story, and it touches you, there is an incredible feeling of betrayal finding out it is false. No one likes being duped – it makes people feel stupid. When I am made to feel stupid I turn into a screaming banshee, so I can understand why the public and media get so hysterical. They want blood, they want moral superiority, their pride is hurt. It cuts to the quick. It shows that they are gullible.
During rehearsals at La Boite [Theatre, Brisbane] you wrote that the play had started off as an academic identity politics polemic. How did it turn into a more human story about real characters?
It was in the unlocking of the characters. I spent a lot of time personalising them until they all felt like four very different extensions of me. When you empathise with four people so well, and when they pit themselves against each other, you find really interesting drama.
After all this talk of hoaxes, let’s close with a question on truth. Rick, what importance do you place on truth, artistic or personal, in your own writing?
Ohhh. Well I don’t want to sound like a wanker but I will say I write from the heart. And apparently my heart is a dark and twisted creature. But, contrary to popular opinion, I don’t seek to shock. A deep conviction is vital for writers, otherwise you get generic cookie-cutter platitudes. ("Abuse is bad." Duh). And hopefully if you’re an interesting thinker you’ll have an interesting truth that can make the world think a bit deeper. It takes courage to point out the emperor with no clothes, but I’d rather more profound debate than a world of mutual back-slapping. Living consciously is the most exhilarating thing.
A Hoax plays Griffin’s SBW Stables Theatre Jul 20-Sep 1.