Sofie Laguna -The Eye of the Sheep – Podcast

Winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2015, The Eye of the Sheep is told from the mesmerising point of view and in the inimitable voice of the child Jimmy Flick.

The Eye of the Sheep is an extraordinary novel about a poor family who is struggling to cope with a different and difficult child.

http://www.coop.com.au/the-eye-of-the-sheep/9781743319598


Speaker 1:
You’re listening to the Co-op Book podcast.

 

Rob:
I’d like to welcome Sofie Laguna to the Co-op chat. Hello, Sofie.

 

Sofie:
Hi, Rob. Nice to speak with you.

 

Rob:
Now, as everyone can probably hear, we’re using cutting-edge technology to speak over the phone, because Sofie’s based in the southern port of Melbourne. Sofie, the main reason we’re talking is about your book The Eye of the Sheep. It’s an amazing multifaceted journey. I suppose it got a bit of publicity with winning the Miles Franklin award. What did that award mean to you?

 

Sofie:
An enormous amount. I think it’s taken months to actually believe it happened, really, because it’s got the highest profile of all the literary awards. I was just stunned to receive it, to be honest. I was honoured to be in that short list of five fantastic authors, and I wasn’t prepared to win. It’s taken months to get my head around the fact that it happened, and it has meant an enormous amount of publicity for my book, and of course significantly increased sales. It’s now been optioned for films …theatrical rights have been optioned … and people are talking about it and reading it. It’s had a huge effect on the life of the book, and probably the future of the book.

 

Rob:
It’s obviously a dream, also, when you start reading the previous winners, like Michelle de Kretser, Tim Winton, just to name a couple of recent-ish ones. How do you think the book will translate into a film?

 

Sofie:
That’s an interesting question. My first book is also being translated in to film, and both of the characters have very rich inner lives, so it will be a matter of discovering the best way to translate that inner world onto the screen. It will have to be the point of view of… the boy will have to be very well-cast, and the whole story will have to be told consistently from his point of view. I think it will be an interesting and not impossible challenge.

 

Rob:
The boy, or the protagonist, that you’re alluding to … Jimmy Flick. Who’s Jimmy Flick?

 

Sofie:
Jimmy Flick, when the story begins, is a six-year-old boy who lives with his parents, Gavin and Paula Flick, in the industrial suburb of Altona, where I, myself, actually rented for a couple of years, which is what inspired that choice of setting. Jimmy is an original sort of a person. He’s unconventional, he’s manic, he’s speedy. I think he’s a visionary in his own way, but he’s difficult for his father to manage. I’m sure, today, he would receive some sort of diagnosis of being somewhere on the spectrum, probably autistic, although I’m really resistant to using a label like that, because labels are limiting, and he’s not his symptoms. He’s a human being, in my mind, anyway … in my crazy author’s mind. That’s Jimmy. The book is very much about Jimmy, more than it is about anything else. It tackles, I guess, some challenging things. Jimmy’s dad is highland. He drinks in the story. It’s constantly fed back to me that it is a book about those challenges, but to me, it’s always, consistently, a book about this character. I’m driven by character. Character is what drew me to writing in the first place, I think. I trained originally as an actor, so it’s a love of character that, I think, is also driving my work as a writer.

Rob:
Why did you portray the story through Jimmy’s eyes?

 

Sofie:
It’s partly a mystery to me why I continue to be drawn to these younger voices, but I’ve had a long history of writing for children, and writing in the voice of a young person I find to be a liberating and pleasurable way to write. The children’s voice does not play by the rules or follow the same convention, so it’s really freeing, and you can be really playful with language, and they’re vulnerable, too, which raises the stakes in the story. As soon as you’ve got a character who’s vulnerable, if they’re well-written, the audience is going to care. If you care, you want to read it or you want to watch it. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about falling for your protagonist. A well-drawn young character is easy to love.  
I love them, I guess. Maybe if I look at it on some unconscious level, am I trying to … ? I don’t know. Why am I playing in the voice of a child? It’s enjoyable. Maybe it’s the child in me. I don’t want to ask too many questions. I just know I love it. Really, it’s a way of exploring an adult world. Don’t be deceived. It’s not a book about the innocent world of the child. It’s a reflection of an adult world. That’s why I’m doing it, I guess. I’m making a comment on or I’m exploring the adult world, though I’m using the artifice of a younger voice. That make sense?

 

Rob:
No, no, absolutely. Where I especially related to is … The nature of a child’s thought is that they’re non-judgmental. They just say what they see.

 

Sofie:
Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. They’re also experiencing everything for the first time, so it’s got a freshness, because they take nothing for granted. They don’t take an adult world for granted, which allows us to see it in a fresh sort of way.

 

Rob:
Absolutely. Now, not to underplay the subject matter, but it’s quite confronting. How is it to write scenes about alcohol abuse and domestic violence for you?

 

Sofie:
How was it? I feel like the right answer should be that it was really … a harrowing writing experience, but it wasn’t, because it’s all the time through his eyes. I’m identifying with him. He is traumatized by it, but he doesn’t understand it in ordinary adult terms, and there’s always a poetry to the way he sees it in the darkest moment. He sees the ship on the [Caddyshack 00:07:01] bottle of scotch coming down from the cupboard, and he sees ices in the glass as calling out for help. I’d always intended that the father was going to drink too much, so it wasn’t a shock for me. 
 
It’s going to sound like I’m trivializing my own work, but it’s liberating and it’s enjoyable to go to the places we don’t get to go, or we don’t … how do I put it? It’s an exploration, so it’s a release to explore that sort of stuff, to cross that sort of territory, because I know I’m safe writing these stories. I’m not an alcoholic, and the family’s well, and yet I get to go and cover all sorts of darker territory. 
 
It’s not a trial to me. I care very much about the sufferings of my characters, and I need to rescue them at some point, but I like to test them at the same time.

Rob:
Let’s explore your writing process a bit further. What’s a Sofie Laguna writing day look like?

 

Sofie:
Before kids or after? (laughs). Before children or after children? There are two worlds here.

 

Rob:
We’ll go in the now, so how does it look now?

 

Sofie:
The way the book was written … often in chaos. All my working, studying, writing life, I’ve thought that a successful book required an entire work day and a really firm routine, and I’ve discovered that it doesn’t have to work that way at all, which is pretty good. It can work between the cracks of a child’s needs. It can happen in short and concentrated bursts. I think it does need to happen consistently, but it actually suits me to write very quickly and sometimes for only forty-five minutes, if that’s what I’ve got.

 

Rob:
How does it compare, writing an adult’s book versus a kids’ book?

 

Sofie:
Is it different, did you ask?

 

Rob:
Yeah. How …

 

Sofie:
No, no, the only difference is that you go to darker places. Again, you don’t want to stay in those dark places for too long, so perhaps writing in short bursts is good for that, too, because it allows you to sort of go there and come out. You can allow the writing … the writing is quite distilled, it seems. 
 
The creative mind is a funny thing. I think it knows … if it knows it only has fifteen minutes, it’ll allow itself … it can have twenty while I’m talking about it … One will allow oneself to go different places that it might not if you had a lot longer, because it’s … Lots of times, it’s intimidating. I don’t want pages of blank space, and the blank page. I like short bursts.

 

Rob:
As you know, many of our listeners are either at university or recently finished university. What was uni like for you, Sofie?

 

Sofie:
I started a law degree a long time ago at New South Wales University. I began that degree only because I had the marks and it seemed to me the sort of next step to take, but I always knew I wanted to be an actor. It was the dream of acting that was sort of the most important thing. I’d had that dream since I was about five, and I think … as I was saying before … that comes from this love of character, of pretending, and of inhabiting other worlds, seeing the world through different eyes other than my own. I always wanted to act, so after a year, I left that degree and I went to acting school, Victorian College of the Arts. Acting school is very different to ot her kinds of university experiences. It’s very physical. It’s about making theater. It was very intense. Five days a week from eight thirty ’til four thirty, I think, every day. You live and [bread 00:11:20] with sixteen other students’ acting experience. 
 
Then, I ended up studying professional writing and editing at RMIT while working as an actor, so I sort of mixed it all up. Doing that diploma on the side of an acting … it was an acting struggle, really, because I was unemployed a lot of the time and doing all sorts of things to make a living … it was a terrific mix. Beginning to study writing at RMIT really saved me, I think. It gave me a structure and ultimately, it nudged me towards my true calling, without wanting to sound too romantic or poetic about it. I was very grateful for the part that RMIT played, really, in my writing life.

Rob:
You had a broad experience across a few different university experiences.

 

Sofie:
Yes, yeah, and all very different experiences.

 

Rob:
Who do you like to read, Sofie?

 

Sofie:
It depends, of course, where I’m at a bit. Again, children have changed that, because … and I’m sure this is boring to hear unless you’ve got a child or you’re doing the early parenting thing … you’re much more tired, so you can’t concentrate in the same way. There’s a saying that writers read the kind of books they like to write, and I think there’s some truth in that, because I do like character-driven fiction … literary fiction … but character-driven. I am drawn to the first-person narrative, although of course I can love a third-person narrative. 
 
I love Catcher in the Rye, for example. That’s a great example. I loved The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe. I think that was either shortlisted or won the Booker in the early nineties. There’s an amazing trilogy by Marilynne Robinson that she won the Pulitzer for called Gilead. Strong characters … strong characters. I like musical language. I like a lot of Irish writing. I read Colm Toibin recently, and I like Roddy Doyle. I’m scared I’m saying all male writers. 
 
I re-read Tim Winton’s That Eye, the Sky the other day, and I really love that. That is another example of the sort of writing that I like, and the sort of writ ing that I’m in the same area as, I think, because that was a very young protagonist on kind of a spiritual search. That was very raw, literal sort of Australian writing … very Australian writing. I think probably [Iris Idbis 00:13:56] is very Australian writing, too. The setting plays a real part in Eye of the Sheep, as it does in Tim Winton’s book, That Eye, the Sky. 
 
I like a huge range. I like a huge range. I’m having a look at I Can Jump Puddles, Alan Marshall’s memoir. That’s a fantastic book. I love Helen Garner. I love lots of women’s writing, as well. I’m embarrassed because I keep mentioning men writers today, don’t I? I don’t know what that’s about. [My mind 00:14:30] has slipped.

Rob:
Absolutely. Well, listen, before you have your next coffee for the day, what’s in store for you? Are there any books on the horizon?

 

Sofie:
There are. I’m probably a third of the way into a draft of a new adult book, but the Miles Franklin has made all sorts of other responsibilities for me … various articles, and justdealing with media … and that’s just going to have to be enough. I think that will take me through to the end of the year, and the baby will be a little bit older. I’ve got two now … babies, that is. Then I’ll return to that draft.
 
I find I’m someone who … I’m either on and involved in a book, or I’m off. I always think of writing a book as getting on a train, and a train that doesn’t stop at many stations. Once you’re on the train, there’s a slight stretch to it … the responsibility of finishing it … and you can’t get off, so you don’t want to get on until you know you’re going to be able to make the journey. That’s the only time I’ve ever described it that way, but that’s how it feels. 
 
It’ll be a little while. I’ve got another picture book coming out, because I can sort of write them very quickly between doing other things, and then I’ll take Christmas out and regroup.


Rob:
Sofie, I appreciate your time in your busy schedule. Well done, again, on the Miles Franklin Award. We look forward to seeing what happens next for you.


Sofie:
Thank you so much. It’s been really, really nice talking to you.


Rob:
Thanks, Sofie.
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