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Interview: Favel Parrett, author of Past the Shallows

past the shallows 186x300 Interview: Favel Parrett, author of Past the Shallows


bio pic2 202x300 Interview: Favel Parrett, author of Past the Shallows'When I began Past the Shallows, place came first,' says Favel Parrett, author of the acclaimed Past the Shallows.

And indeed, the setting of the novel is so vivid and real as to almost be a characteran antagonistic onein its own right.

It's a setting drawn from Parrett's own memories and feelings of Tasmania when she lived there as a young child. Though she never lived as far south as the novel is set, she spent some time in a town past Huonville, which is situated south of Hobart.

'It was a place that I found sad and beautiful, ancient and somehow haunted by the past,' she says. Just like so much of Australia, Tasmania has a brutally violent history, and for Parrett it was palpable.

'I felt it as a child and I feel it now when I go back there. It's in the landscape somehow, in the cold water and mist and snow capped peaks. Something beyond time. Something so magnificent, but heartbreaking too.'

This melancholy is omnipresent in Past the Shallows, where the characters seem to exist in a temporal stasis, and all but forgotten by the world. Parrett's creation is one where masculinity meets emasculation: though the novel's cast is almost entirely male, they are battling for relevance.

'In the town I remember, women seemed to be gone or hidden somehow,' says Parrett. 'It was a place for menabalone divers and loggers, truck drivers and farmers, fishermen. I am sure women were there, I just hardly saw them.'

She never set out to write mostly male characters, she adds, but the integrity of the story, which leans so heavily on this context, necessitated it.

'It was the truth of the story. The truth for Harry and Miles.'

Brothers Harry and Miles are the two key viewpoint characters in Past the Shallows, and in many ways represent a breaking away from the past: their strong relationship and lack of ties to the water and the industry of their home town means that they have the potential to strike out and become something more than what they see around them.

'Miles and Harry came to me in a very organic way,' says Parrett. 'They were like some kind of gift, really, and I loved them very much.'

Parrett found that her close relationship with her own brother, with whom she has a lot in common, helped inform the creation of Miles and Harry.

'I know the way I feel about my brother is there in the writing. He was the one who made me to learn to surf and the one who pushed me to become a writer. '

Surfing has been somewhat of an epiphany for Parrettjust as it is for the brothers in the bookand she has found that she is more aware of the water and of 'simple yet powerful' events such as the daily sunrise.

'It has taught me so much. Now I notice the subtle changes that happen as the tides shift, as the direction of wind and swell change.'

However, Parrett is quick to counter that for all its beauty, the power of the ocean can also be extremely confronting.

'This year we have had some massive swells rage along the coast of Victoria. Beaches were eroded, dirt car parks washed away. All the sand at my favourite break was stripped, leaving the gnarly reef exposed and vicious. From my little house all I could hear was the massive swell cracking against the cliffs.'

The storms gave Parrett nightmares about being held under in the dark water of the ocean, she says.

'About being held under until all of my breath was gone. That is something that has happened to me more that once.'

And not so long ago, either: Parrett has recently returned from several weeks spent on the South Ocean, and has found that she is newly appreciative of the water and its capacity to be utterly beautiful and utterly devastating.

'It is so wild, so full of life, so awe-inspiring,' she says. 'In one day it went from flat calm to a massive 6-metre swell that rolled up under the ship and pushed us around like we were nothing. It was exhilarating and I loved every minute of being out there.'

Still, says Parrett, though being on a ship was a tremendous experience, she still feels that her appreciation for the water truly began when she started to learn to surf.

And it is similarly so for Miles and Harry: the ocean becomes so much more complex and multifaceted for them when they see it as something more than something that simply destroysas it does so often in Past the Shallows.

The ocean is key to the book because where Miles and Harry live it is an inextricable part of their lives, says Parrett. 'The sound of it, the smell, the salt that eats through people's cars. It is there in the background even if you don't think about it, even if you try to ignore it.'

It's a comment that makes me reflect on Parrett's writing style, which is pared back and minimalised. Many of the details hover in what isnt said rather than what is said but, like the ocean, can't be ignored.

Partly it's that she writes very simply in the first place, she says, and the rigorous redrafting the book went through saw the prose stripped back even further.

'Every scene in the book was re-shaped and worked ten or more times,' she says. Only after this is the writing down to the raw essence, with the right rhythm and feeling.

'I think that's what I am trying to do when I go through the drafting processget down to the truth, the core. The essence.'

It's an approach to prose that requires a good deal of inference on behalf of the reader, and which turn influences how the book is interpreted and understood.

Rather than fearing 'wrong' interpretations of her book, Parrett is always interested in hearing how her readers have taken her story beyond the pages of the book and somewhere else again.

'I have loved hearing how much detail readers have weaved into the characters' lives. Many readers have really taken the characters into their heart, especially Harry and Miles, and made them their own.'

Parrett describes one woman becoming so lost in the characters that she felt that she was them, not her; one internet reviewer mapped out a whole life for Joe, the older brother who makes only a cameo appearance in the book.

'It was full of incredible detail. It is just such an amazing compliment and it makes me feel great. It makes me feel like I have made Harry and Miles proud ' or at least told their story the right way.'

But it's not just Parrett's readers who are haunted by her characters. She speaks of feeling that they were with her very strongly when, returning from the Sub-Antarctic, she spotted land for the first time: the shadow of southern Tasmania.

'It was lovely to have them with me again. I still think about them a lot.'

See my review of Past the Shallows'

Visit Favel Parretts website, swing by her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter.

Giveaway: I have a copy of Favels stunning debut to give away to one of my Australian readers. To enter, just leave a comment. Ill draw the winner on 9 December.

Update: according to the computer code at the Random Number Generator, the winner of the giveaway is Violet! Ill be in touch shortly for your details, Violet!


  1. Oh I would love to win a copy of this book! I have it reserved at my library, and cant wait to read it! Ive heard nothing but good reports, the reviews are all good!

  2. Carmel Fauth /

    Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of this book Stephanie:)

  3. I really need to read this book now

  4. A great interview, I grew up on the beach and spent almost every day there but now i find the ocean more frightening than enjoyable. Im really intrigued by this book and would love to win it

    Shelleyrae @ Bookd oUt

  5. Stephanie /

    Thanks, Shelleyrae! Im a bit of a fraidy-cat when it comes to the ocean, too :)

  6. Tasmania is a bit like my native NZ, so I feel as though I could relate to that sense of isolation from the mainstream which is a feature of living in an out-of the-way place. I like what Parrett says about the writing process, the drafting of scenes until theyre distilled down to their essence. To me, that is where the true craft of writing lies: to be able to let go of the surface stuff and dig down deeper to what it really important and real. I like the sound of this book! I live by the ocean and cant really imagine not having it there, even if I dont consciously notice the beautiful sunsets or hear the waves pounding on the reef. I know its there, and it does become part of who you are after a while.

  7. Were all a product of the place that we lost.

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