This is my interview with Caroline Baum. Portrait photo by Wendy McDougall.
What was the best thing about writing this book? Feeling that in doing so I was explaining myself to myself, my friends and strangers and discovering that total strangers could relate and connect with my story, even if it was totally unlike their own experience. And setting myself free from the power these stories held over me – that was an unexpected bonus.
What was the most interesting thing you discovered when writing this book? That when you write memoir it does not provide you with all the answers, it provides you with more questions to which you may never get an answer. That certain patterns emerge that you can only see when you look at your life through this lens and from this perspective, as if you were flying over the landscape of your life and able to see the rivers, streams and mountains.
What was one of the best things that has happened because of this book? Meeting readers from all walks of life who got it, and connecting with other only children who said ‘yes, that’s me’. Getting fan mail from fellow writers I admire. I got a letter from Shane Maloney that made my day.
Since publication, is there anything that you would now add or delete from your book? Hmmm, well since I wrote the book I have found a cache of very personal papers belonging to both my parents which were quite revealing and confronting. I am glad in a way that I did not have them before as I might have been tempted to use them, but they really are too private and painful. Also, I should have pointed out that my grandfather, who murdered my grandmother, would, had he not committed suicide, have faced the guillotine in punishment for his crime. That’s a juicy detail that I missed.
Which experiences, jobs and personality traits do you think have really helped you to be where you are? I work fast and love a deadline – speed and efficiency traits I get from my father – I like working solo but I also adore collaborating with talented teams. I have a love of logistics that I also get from my father, especially working out itineraries and timetables. But I’m more big picture than details so I can conceptualise how to fill the pages of a magazine, paper or any editorial space, just don’t ask me to do the proof reading! I’m up for a challenge so I am prepared to take on a job even if I’m not entirely sure I know all the components of it, I will have a go. I’ve done some things that scared me rigid at the time, but doing them gave me confidence.
Can you pinpoint some of the turning points of your career? Getting a job with Michael Parkinson at the BBC straight out of uni was an incredible opportunity that really set me up. It helped overcome the setback of not getting into Oxford, as the view still was back then in the 80s that the BBC really only hired researchers from Oxbridge. That changed, but it was still an elitist recruitment system back then. I had a fabulous ride as Arts Editor of the Sunday Herald, a short lived broadsheet for News Ltd in Melbourne where I was there from the time the paper was conceived. There is NOTHING to equal the responsibility of hiring contributors, many of them new talent, and filling pages, week after week, with the best content you can find. It put me at the epicentre of the city’s cultural life and I loved that. Hosting the first serious book show on ABC TV, Between the Lines, for two years was an honour and a privilege and the best job in the country for a book addict like me. Interviewing the very best writers from around the world, week in, week out. Bliss.
What was one of the valuable lessons you learnt from working with Michael Parkinson? Research pays off. It makes your subject feel respected and comfortable and helps you earn their trust. That before a live event you should keep contact with your subject to an absolute minimum so as not to lose the fizz and edge you need for a public conversation.
Career highlight so far? Many! Sydney Opera House interviews to a full house with Elizabeth Gilbert and Edmund de Waal. A magical interview with Colm Toibin at Angel Place that was about as perfect as it will ever get. My first time as an author, not an interviewer, at Adelaide Writers Week this year in front of an audience of ONE THOUSAND PEOPLE!!! Could not believe my eyes. Winning the Hazel Rowley Fellowship in 2015.
What is something that most people might be surprised to know about you? That I design rugs based on photographs I take of sea snails on the rock shelves where I live for Designer Rugs. Taking these pics is my relaxation and almost a meditation. The images go under the name of Sandscript and have their own Facebook page. The rugs are also called the Sandscript Collection.
What are you working on next? A book about Lucie Dreyfus, an enigmatic, real life woman of the 19th/20th centuries in Paris, who was caught up in the enormous scandal of the Dreyfus Affair.