I came across Australian indie author Ann Massey last year when I picked up her novel The White Amah. Looking at her diverse output, I’m tempted to ask ‘what’s her angle?’ And where does her latest novel The Little Dog Laughed fit into her body of work? In fact, Ann Massey is a conviction novelist, producing work that barracks for the powerless. If this sounds like the work of a humourless ideologue, it isn’t.
Her latest work The Little Dog Laughed is a sparkling time-travel fantasy that showcases her wit, her deep knowledge of Britain in Roman times, and for good measure her love of dogs. And woven into the whole nutty tale is a deeper theme about the travails of people caring for sick or disabled relatives. I never realised what hilarity could be found in a mobility scooter!
Here’s Ann Massey answering a few searching questions I put to her:
Q – The Little Dog Laughed is impossible to place in a genre. Is this a help or a hindrance in finding readers?
A – I’ve been a square-peg all my life and this is reflected in my writing. I know smart marketeers stick to one genre and write series, but I can’t change who I am. I like hopping all over the place, and writing in many very different genres. The reader I’d like to attract is someone like me who reads everything by authors on my shortlist of favourites, and impatiently wishes they would increase their productivity.
Q – Like me, you’re a Pom who has spent the larger part of your life in Australia. Do you think that having a foot in each culture has influenced your writing?
A – I was born in Bolton and grew up in the tough environment of a council estate in post-war Britain. Both my parents left school at fourteen but I was I was fortunate enough to win a scholarship to a Grammar school. The majority of my contemporaries were first generation grammar school pupils, most of them with parents who by economic circumstance had been deprived of an academic education. I believe the justice for all themes that run through my books sprang from the opportunity to receive an education that had previously been restricted to a privileged minority. The plots and their backgrounds, however, are the offspring of a lifetime spent in Australia
None of my books are autobiographical, but in each I have used my personal knowledge of its unique world to give the story a genuine authenticity. For instance, I was marketing manager of the Daily News when Perth’s afternoon newspaper went the way of afternoon newspapers worldwide. Uncertain what I wanted to do, I applied for the position of governess on Minilya, a sheep and cattle station in the Australian outback. The station was located close to the Carnarvon Tracking Station built for the Gemini Space Program. To entertain my pupils, I invented a story about the International Space Station crash landing on a station very like Minilya. Mo, the jackeroo who found the wreckage in my debut novel, The Biocide Conspiracy, slept on a bed very like the one that was provided for me, pictured here
Q – A Little Dog Laughed and Salvation Jane have strong social justice themes but you manage this with a light touch. What’s the trick?
A – Several readers categorised Salvation Jane as chick lit albeit with a message. This was exactly the reaction I was after. I confess that when I began the tone was darker and more serious. But as the story progressed I thought about my readers. I wanted my book to be read by the masses and if they’re anything like me they don’t want to be preached at. So how do you get readers to read a serious commentary on homelessness in Australia? Take it from me it’s very tricky. In the end, I wrote a plot driven story— funny, a bit sad, a little deep and (I hope) inspiring. The ‘up in the air’ ending I considered—the type that always disappoints me— was dropped in favour of a much more satisfying one.
When it comes to the light touch, I might have succeeded too well in The Little Dog Laughed because all its reviews mention that its unique, refreshing, funny, and wildly creative, none mention its dark theme of carer abuse.