After I finished reading Good Money, Stella, the main character, loomed large in my mind. She is a glorious mess, the kind that makes for just as glorious reading. I didn’t understand before now, though, exactly what inspired JM Green to create Stella until now — her anger at the inequality here in Australia — which in turn explains much of the plot of Good Money.
Read on to learn more about JM Green and Stella.
What do you think would surprise your fans about your writing habits?
Gee, that’s tough. I first have to get my head around the idea of having ‘fans’. And I’m not sure what they might imagine my writing habits would be. I can tell you that I work in two-hour bursts, unless there’s a deadline looming, and depending on other commitments. After a two hour writing session nothing is happening that is of any use. I have been doing two two-hour sessions in a day lately.
Previously I interviewed Todd Alexander, who was a bookseller, and he said that gave him an understanding of readers, and what they look for in blurbs for instance, which essentially sell books – is that the same for you as a librarian? What have you learned about readers working as a librarian?
I think Todd should bottle his knowledge of what makes a good blurb because I know people who’d pay top dollar for that information – me included.
The commercial imperative is less of a factor in public libraries. People take more risks because they’re not putting down cash. I might recommend something and people will simply add the book to their pile to have a look at. They are, usually, very receptive to new authors. I tend to be a gushing fan girl about books I like so my exuberance might influence them too.
When I read the blurb for Good Money, the first thing I thought was: she’s a social worker! I’ve never read that before! Which is hardly enough to describe Stella, but I can’t deny that making her a social worker captivated my interest – why did you choose this for her?
I have quite a few friends who are either social workers or work in a related profession. They are dealing the social problems most of us walk by without a second glance. They have the inside knowledge of the difficulties a considerable chunk of the population are facing. I come into contact with that demographic too in the western suburbs libraries. I wanted to champion the people who work at the coalface. I also wanted to draw the comparison with the mining magnates, just ask some questions about the two.
Stella is a complicated mess, but riveting to read about. What inspired her and in turn Good Money?
It is quite difficult to say what inspired her. Hanif Kureishi says the imagination is dangerous. I suspect he means, among other things, that we can’t know what our imaginings reveal about ourselves. In 2010 when I started Good Money, the mining industry was awash in money. I wrote Stella thinking about inequality, I was feeling angry at vast disparity between the richest and the poorest in Australia. At the time I had just given up on a five-year battle with a work of literary fiction that wasn’t working. Then I immediately started working on Good Money.
She isn’t easy to like, but often times I think the best books have characters who aren’t easy to like, who stumble and fall and pick themselves up: what characters like that stick in your mind? What are you hoping readers see when they meet Stella?
I agree she isn’t easy to like. I describe her as burnt-out. And she’s angry and disruptive. I hope readers see beyond the cranky tired and emotional middle-aged woman to the gutsy independent woman with the moxie to solves crimes! The old crime trope of the hard-bitten, yet honourable detective is there, albeit in modern form, in Stella.
When Good Money begins, Stella is adrift, alienated from those that were once closest to her, especially Phuong Nguyen, but through the book she makes and re-makes connections (some of which might not be good for her) – how do you see this journey of Stella’s?
There is a redemptive element in her journey. She is (still) trying to process her father’s death and what he has meant to her. She has difficulty with relationships and friendships. I think she comes to accept herself and that allows her to reconnect with Phuong and make a connection to the artist Brophy.
Something that stood out to me, was that from the beginning of the book to the end, you expanded Stella’s world and her involvement in the case/s of the novel — I wondered what made you decide to move into a bigger storyline for her, exposing her to people of a different circle entirely to where she normally is?
Well, again, that was an attempt to draw a comparison with the wealth of the mining magnates. But she moves through many worlds, the refugees communities living in the commission flats, the strange and surreal mining town of Laverton WA, and the town of her childhood, the one she left behind and is still trying to move on from. By expanding her world more can be revealed about her life and her motives. We see who Stella is, and how she responds to the other characters.
Good Money has also been praised for showing Melbourne off to readers – tell us about the Melbourne Stella inhabits? What was essential for you to get right to draw readers in?
I have a deep fondness for the western suburbs of Melbourne, despite its many problems and failings. Footscray don’t give a damn. But who knows how long that will last? Gentrification like entropy gets us all in the end. I tried to capture something of the character of the setting but I don’t really know if have drawn readers in. I hope that readers who are not familiar with the area can get a sense of it, and those who are can recognise it.
You’ve studied writing at RMIT – what is the most essential thing you learned from that study about being a writer?
There was a lot going on and I picked up things in classrooms and by osmosis from other students. But I think the most essential thing I gained was the ability to take criticism. I couldn’t bear for anyone to read my work before I went to RMIT, which is a big problem for a writer.
What’s next for you in 2016?
More writing. The sequel is well underway. I think it is due out in 2017 but these things are fluid and subject to change.
Jennifer is currently writing the sequel to Good Money, and I’m so excited at the thought of more Stella! What about you? What do you think of Good Money and Stella?