The Shallow End
'It was one of the most perfect days, only just warm enough, an ever so slight breeze I could see in the hairs on my arm and in the flutter of the flags across each end of the pool but couldn't feel. It must have been the exact temperature of my blood.'
On a cloudless afternoon, a man dives into a crowded swimming pool and disappears. Is it murder, a staged disappearance or alien abduction?
'The Shallow End' - a steady freestyle commentary on sex, celebrity and sun tanning.
The Shallow End was shortlisted in the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize.
The Shallow End
Author: Ashley Sievwright
Clouds of Magellan
Interview with Ashley Sievwright
You were on the 2009 shortlist for Best First Book, how did this make you feel? Ashley Sievwrigh
: Completely overwhelmed. When it was first announced, I sat there reading the shortlist over and over with my mouth hanging open. Just reading it again and again and loving seeing my name alongside the names: Nam Le and Aravind Adiga, PROPER writers.
Were you motivated to write more often, or write a second book because of this nomination? Ashley Sievwrigh
: Yes, it was a great motivator. I gained a sense of assurance about my writing that I hadn't quite had before - for the first time I felt that the book was 'good', you know, and that I might be a 'good writer'? That might sound a bit arrogant and simplistic, but that's how I felt. It's interesting, but when you write something, well when I write something, I'm never really sure whether it's any good. I might think it's good, sometimes I might think it's great, but I'm never really SURE what other people will get out of it. Even after The Shallow End was published and began getting some OK reviews and I was getting quite good feedback from readers, I still didn't feel really sure of it or myself. What the shortlisting gave me was the confidence that, yes, I could write. Now of course you can't stop me. Sorry.
What is next for you, are you currently writing? Ashley Sievwrigh
: Yes, I had four months off work at the start of this year and wrote the first draft of another book. It's as rough as guts. Some of it is just dot points, I confess. And at one point I got all tongue tied and wrote: "that word ... that word that means ... whatever that is ... find out". I've got no idea what I was on about. It's quite funny to read over actually and see so clearly my thought processes, even the dumb ones. But that's how I work, I guess, just really quickly, dumping everything on the page. It works for me, though, because when I went over the draft there were some wonderful bits in there - some really funny bits and some that really touched me. I think if you work really fast, you can capture some really great, honest, truthful moments, off the cuff almost. As a reader I know I LOVE that, so I'm happy when it happens in my writing.
The next step is to smooth it all out, work out what 'that word' was and get it to a point where it's ready to be read. Then
who knows? There are no promises in publishing and I haven't got a book deal, so I don't know what comes next. I have high hopes though. You have to.
Tell us about The Shallow End, where did the idea for the book come from? Ashley Sievwrigh
: The plot of The Shallow End wasn't difficult to come up with. I just took three of my favourite things: swimming laps, mystery stories and the Prahran Pool in summer, and put them together like this: a lap swimmer mysteriously disappears from the Prahran Pool. Lets face it, not difficult.
So at first it was going to be a pretty basic mystery kind of plot, but as I wrote it, it changed. The character of the narrator, an unnamed observer, watching at the pool, reading all the stories in the newspaper about the missing swimmer - the book became more about him. He's just returned to Melbourne from Barcelona and a failed relationship over there. He has no job to come back to, no house, and he doesn't let his friends and family knows he's back. He's just lazing around at the Prahran Pool and trying not to think about it. There's a very hazy 'lost summer' kind of feeling about the book that I love.
And as we learn more about the narrator, the book does a gentle little belly flop and becomes something else - it's still a mystery story, but it becomes a different mystery. What happened in Spain?
Many people have reviewed your book, what has been the best review of The Shallow End you have read? Ashley Sievwrigh
: My favourite line from a review was in the Australian Book Review, and even though the rest of the review was a stinker, the review said "evocative prose and cynical humour are Sievwright's strengths" ... and I'm sorry, but I totally agree!
The Canberra Times review was great too. The reviewer just got it, got every little bit of it and that was lovely! So lovely we put it on the publisher's website.
How much creative input did you have into the cover of The Shallow End? Ashley Sievwrigh
: A little, but not much. While I was writing The Shallow End I had a postcard of Hockney's A Bigger Splash beside the computer. The blue colours in it, the sky and the water, just got me in the right mood. It's a great picture. And I love the blue of water and a summer sky. I showed this to Gordon, the publisher, and he then went searching for something with a similar blue. He found the picture and created the cover.
The book is set in Melbourne, is it easier to write about a location you know? Ashley Sievwrigh
: Oh much easier, because you have that intimate reaction to the places you're writing about. In fact, The Shallow End is almost a love letter to my favourite pool in Melbourne, the Prahran Pool. I love swimming laps and even though it's frowned on and is dangerous and all that stuff, I don't mind a bit of tanning either. And Prahran pool on a hot day in summer is a feast for the eyes, I tell you. It's a great old-school 60s pool smack bang in the middle of Melbourne's gay ghetto and if you haven't been there it's worth a look.
Are the characters in The Shallow End based on anyone you know? Ashley Sievwrigh
: The book actually turned out to be incredibly personal. It's no accident that the narrator has just returned from Barcelona to Melbourne. It's no accident that he loves swimming laps and perving at the pool. It's no accident that he had a relationship explode in his face in Spain.
Interestingly, I don't write much about the actual time I was in Spain. I write about the aftermath. The first month or so after I returned to Australia from Barcelona. I felt so disconnected from everything. From Australia, from society, from the rut, from the 9-5, from everything. I remember getting to the point when I had no idea what day it was and it began to feel really scary, actually.
And when I eventually tuned back in and got back into circulation, I started talking to people, friends, and telling them about that feeling I had. And everyone knew exactly what I was talking about! They'd all had it at some point too. It's a feeling that's almost universal - that feeling we all get sometimes of being a little bit ... translucent maybe? I think people in the gay community especially feel this. Not all the time but certainly every now and then - there's a real disconnect from the mainstream. It can be a wonderful and liberating feeling, but it can also scare the shit out of you.
Finish this sentence, the best thing about the book is....Ashley Sievwrigh
: its evocative prose and cynical humour.
Where can readers purchase this book?Ashley Sievwrigh
: The book is available at Readings and Borders, gay bookshops have it, and some other odd bookshops.
Or online here: www.cloudsofmagellan.net/The_Shallow_End.htmBuy it now at