The Courier’s New Bicycle could have been set in an unnamed city, but it is set in Melbourne. Why Melbourne, and what effect do you think that has on the book?
Melbourne—the physical Melbourne—inspired me. The story was born in those atmospheric inner-city alleyways, and every time I go back to there, I feel the possibility of the story all over again. That specificity of site means most of the places in the novel are findable, albeit a tad altered. Inspiration came from the people there too; for instance, the Melbourne bike couriers who tempt fate every day with the traffic and pedestrians. These are elements that ground an imagined near future in the real and immediate. What’s universal, or ‘every city’, is the premise of ordinary life utterly changed from a major event—in this case a pandemic. It’s a scenario that’s just one small step away from what exists now.
With its near future dystopian setting, mass infertility and cultural conservatism, The Courier’s New Bicycle will probably be compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. What are your thoughts on this comparison?
I’d be honoured—chuffed, even. Yippee! She’s a hero of mine, and I’ll never forget the emotional impact that novel had on me.
As a science-fiction reader I put The Courier’s New Bicycle in the Cyberpunk section in my head. How would you define it to someone in terms of genre?
Writing, I never think of genre; I just relay the story that’s demanding to be told. However, I’d agree the novel does have elements of cyberpunk. It’s a dystopian Melbourne with a film noir feel, and the private investigator element is embodied by Salisbury, the main protagonist, who’s an outsider in many ways. Rather than confine itself to any particular genre, the story takes from a number of them. I’d say it belongs on more than one shelf in the bookshop. Let the reader decide—and the writer be amazed!
Much of the book involves what could be seen as extrapolations of current anxieties. What role do you think fiction has in such a nervous world?
For me, ficti0n is both escape from the world and vicarious engagement with it. Sometimes it’s comfort food. Other times, it’s the trepidation and visceral thrill of the roller coaster without the fear of throwing up—which makes it the perfect place to explore all kinds of anxieties. Fictional characters in difficult situations allow readers to litmus test their own mettle: What if this were me? It’s comfort and discomfiture, excitement and safe haven, combined.
What was the last book you read and loved?
I’m currently reading and loving Stephen Fry’s biography, The Fry Chronicles. I’ve just read (and loved) Karin Fossum’s the water’s edge. Another lovely discovery (the illustrations too) is The Dog by Kerstin Ekman.
Originally published in the July Bookseller & Publisher Magazine