Recent Interview in NT’s leading magazine, “Off the Leash”, September 2021
Dina Davis Q&A
I was recently interviewed by Rita Horanyi from the NT Writers’ Centre. Here’s what we had to say:
Rita: Darwin-based author Dina Davis has published stories, articles and poems in journals and anthologies, and her debut novel, Capriccio, was shortlisted for last year’s NT Chief Minister’s Fiction Award. Her latest book, A Dangerous Daughter, draws from her own experiences to tackle the complex subject of eating disorders. NT Writers’ Centre caught up with Dina to chat about her new work.
Congratulations on your new book! Tell us quickly, what’s A Dangerous Daughter all about?
Dina: Basically, it’s a story of survival against all odds. Thirteen year old Ivy is suffering from an undiagnosed illness. After several unsuccessful treatments she is exiled from her family in NSW and sent to live with relatives in WA. The book details her daily struggle with an entity she calls ‘The Voice’ which won’t let her eat. Ultimately Ivy is diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, which was almost unknown in the 1950s, when the story takes place.
What inspired the novel?
Dina: I was inspired by two synchronistic events: the first was being invited to take part in an international study on anorexia, which proved that it is an illness with a largely genetic component. This knowledge freed me a lot from the self-blame that had plagued my life. The second was the discovery of a letter from over 50 years ago, written by the psychoanalyst who had treated me. I wanted to honour her all these years later, by telling my story.
A Dangerous Daughter is your second novel, but it draws from more personal experiences than your first. Did that make it more challenging to write?
Dina: Definitely. Rather than being cathartic, it was painful to revisit the lost years of my childhood. I needed to take a lot of breaks, in order to distance myself. Because I lost some memories due to having ECT (shock treatment) as a child, I had to rely on my imagination to fill the gaps. With my first novel, Capriccio I also used imagination to breathe life into the story of Assia Gutmann Wevill, the woman who came between famous poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Because Capriccio wasn’t about me, it was much more enjoyable to write.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
Dina: I’m extremely busy getting my book out there, and preparing for the NTWriters’ Festival in Alice Springs at the end of August. When that’s over, I’m thinking of a possible sequel to A Dangerous Daughter. Another long term project is to rewrite Capricciowith Ted Hughes’ poems included. I’m waiting for copyright to be lifted, so it might have to be published posthumously!
If we were to take a peek at your bookshelf, what kind books would we find there?
Dina: A mixture of poetry, fiction and some anthologies. I love the work of Helen Garner and some other wonderful Australian women writers such as Charlotte Wood, Amanda Lohrey and Ceridwen Dovey. For comfort reading I love to go back to the classics: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the Brontës and of course Jane Austen. And for pure escapism, anything by Ian MacEwan, Kate Atkinson or Paul Auster.
Any Territory authors you’re enjoying at the moment?
Dina: Well, I’m reading Tanya Heaslip’s latest memoir, Beyond Alice, and finding so many parallels to my own story, so of course it’s fascinating. I want to read Joanne Van Os’s latest novel when I stop being so busy. Ditto the prolific Sean Guy, who pours out a novel every year. I love Mary Ann Butler’s playwriting, and Kaye Aldenhoven’s poetry. I’m sure there are more Territory authors to discover, hopefully at the upcoming Festival!
POSTSCRIPT: THE NT WRITERS’ FESTIVAL 2021 WAS CANCELLED DUE TO COVID.