Interview by Shauna O’Meara.
Adam Browne is 52 and lives in Melbourne. His latest book is an illustrated bestiary called The Tame Animals of Saturn, published by Peggy Bright Books.
You have just teamed up with Peggy Bright Books to release The Tame Animals of Saturn. Can you tell us about this project and what inspired you to create it?
I actually can’t remember starting work on Tame Animals. It’s like I wasn’t working on it; then I was well into it. I was worried about this for a little while, but now I look back on all my projects, I can’t remember the outset of them either. Dunno what that means; something about the way I work, likely – a new file opened, a bit of reading done, some abortive first paras written, then breaking off to do reams of anxious research – though I was comforted recently to read in Bertrand Russell’s Method for Creative Something-or-other that the first step is to steep yourself in research. So I’m as smart as Bertrand Russell. And by the way, with a name like Bertrand, what are you going to be but what he ended up being?
I first heard about Jakob Lorber in Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings. Borges writes drily about one of Lorber’s animals native to Pluto. It stuck with me for at least 30 years. I mention Lorber in a roundabout way in my first novel – his name is part of the name of a fictional nun, also based on Hildegard of Bingen – but where Hildegard’s visions were authentic, in that they were symptoms of migraine, I suspect Lorber was a humbug.
Or perhaps not entirely; he wrote extremely quickly – produced 50000 published pages over his lifetime – almost automatic writing – I don’t believe he was hearing voices, let alone the voice of god, as he claimed, but maybe he thought he was accessing something – something like the Akashic record, a piece of dogma from the theosophists, a group with which he was loosely associated.
Anyway, he’s fun. And what Dr Seuss says about fun is that it’s fun. I enjoyed watching the book evolve from personal notebook to essay to science fiction, all with Lorber as a centre.
When it was finished, it floundered for a publisher. There was a promising lead that died. In the end, I was very happy it went to Peggy Bright. Simon, Edwina and Liz worked closely with the printer to make sure the illustrations were faithfully reproduced. They did a beautiful job, and it was a real pleasure when Simon and Edwina came to Melbourne for the launch.
The artwork for The Tame Animals of Saturn is an amazing explosion of imagination and craziness and every bit as important as the writing. How did you come up with the designs? Did the art spring forth first or the writing?
When I was a young teenager, I’d spend hours and days filling art pads with what were almost comics – halfway between comics and illustrated stories – lots of text, big illustrations; I wasn’t interested in drawing the same characters over and again, as you need to when you’re producing graphic novels etc… What was important to me was that the drawing have some story to it, or some idea, and the drawing itself was never enough to convey that – they always needed some text.
I’m finding more and more these days that what I was doing then is what I’m doing now. I’m at once proud and embarrassed to say this. My adult life has been a process of discovering what I’ve wanted to do all along.
Lorber was a painter. Mediocre, but with vision – his animals and plants are painted with words; they deserve to be illustrated – I felt that I couldn’t really do justice to them, but I had to try. And also, it was fun to do.
Now that The Tame Animals of Saturn is out in the world, what next for you? Are your sights already set on the world of a new historical figure or do you have something completely different in store for us?
I’m working on a space opera. They were my meat and my drink when I was growing up. I don’t know why we had hypodermics in the house when I was v young, but when I found one (sans needle), I’d be delighted – a rocketship! – thrusters firing, zooming through the house…!
Still, I’ve moved away from spaceships in my tastes in recent months; I’m going to try to keep this story on the ground, albeit in a city on another planet – I wrote recently that spaceships don’t solve problems – at most, I might write a few anti-spaceship chapters.
I’m departing from the historical formula too. There are lots of historical refs in this one, but no actual historical characters.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Anna Tambour. As one of the vampires in The Only Lovers Left Alive says of a Moroccan singer, ‘She’s too good to be famous’. I’m not a sophisticated reader. But also, I’m not lowbrow in my tastes. It makes things difficult. I have to admit, some of Anna’s stories are too smart for me. Still, I also had difficulty with Lolita, 2666 and Michel Houellebecq (I managed to read Lolita later in life, after finding an annotated version).
Even so – here’s what William Blake says (I can’t read him either; I got this quote from a friend on Facebook): ‘That which can be made explicit to the idiot is not worth my care.’ I reckon idiots would have trouble with Anna. The thing is, she’s so rich. There’s so much there, there. Her writing is mycological. The sentences are the fruiting bodies, brightly coloured or dull or pretty or grotesque, and even as we sample them, we feel the invisible loamy presence of the hyphae below – the weave of her keen intelligence – her eye, her other senses.
She’s a treasure.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Dr Seuss (Theodor Geisel). Just seems like a lovely guy. I realise, saying this, that I’m giving the lie to the Blake quote, above: Dr Seuss has universal appeal. Doesn’t matter – doesn’t need to be any dichotomy here – there are many ways to be a genius. I love his writing, but also his exuberant paintings. Here’s one called ‘Joyous Leaping of Uncanned Salmon’: http://www.drseussart.com/secretandarchive/joyous-leaping-of-uncanned-salmon