Graeme Simsion had lots of inspiration he could draw upon for the socially-challenged professor character (Don Tillman) in his novel, The Rosie Project. Simsion is a self-confessed “escapee” from the world of IT. For over 30 years he worked with computers and he’s also studied and taught science at University. These experiences have all helped shape his books, even if this is sometimes in an inadvertent way.
His latest novel, The Best of Adam Sharp looks poised to take a slightly different direction. This book is a first person narrative about a man grappling with the girl that got away. It’s a reflection on love, life and regrets and it even has its own Spotify playlist to help set the tone for the reader. We sat down with Simsion to have a chat about music, his work with his wife and fellow author (Anne Buist) and how Adam Sharp is being realised as an audiobook.
Can you briefly describe yourself and tell us how long you’ve been working as a writer?
I’m an escapee from the IT industry, where I spent 30 years and I wrote a couple of books on database specification. I didn’t start writing fiction ‘til ten years ago, when I enrolled in a screenwriting course, which led to a novel-writing course… My first novel, The Rosie Project, was published in 2013.
Your novel The Rosie Project was a big success. Where did you get the inspiration for the socially-challenged professor, Don Tillman?
I told you, I spent 30 years working in IT. And before that, I studied physics. I have a PhD in a science faculty and have taught at universities. I had plenty of inspiration for a socially-challenged scientist.
Your latest novel is called The Best of Adam Sharp. Can you briefly describe this book for us?
It’s about a love affair rekindled. Adam Sharp has never truly let go of the “one that got away”, the Great Love of his Life. So when she gets in touch 22 years after they met, he has some decisions to make. Like what to do about the 20-year relationship he’s in.
It’s about the nature of love and how we deal with the past. And it’s full of classic rock music – because Adam’s a pianist and rock-music lover.
The Best of Adam Sharp is about love, life and regrets in middle age. Why do you think readers should read this book?
Because they care about love, life and the things they might have done. My early readers tell me it’s compelling reading (which I’m always aiming for), moving and funny, and leaves them thinking. And the music references will bring back memories.
The Best Of Adam Sharp sounds like it has a few things in common with Alain de Botton’s work. Are you influenced by other writers and if so, who are they?
Well, in his latest book, he looks at the nature of love, and so do I, through Adam, who has to choose between what the psychologist Robert Sternberg would call “companionate” love with his long-term partner and passionate love with his old flame.
I’m influenced by many, many writers, every writer I’ve read, I suppose, and I’ve read a few! I don’t want to mislead readers though – to say I’ve been influenced by Albert Camus is not to say that reading Adam Sharp is like reading Camus. It’s more John Irving, John Fowles, Nick Hornby…
Can you please explain how the audiobook of The Best of Adam Sharp was important in bringing the characters to life?
Well, Adam Sharp’s Northern England accent was an important feature of his characterisation, so it was important that the reader could manage that! An Aussie accent (for him) would have been all wrong. But his Great Love is Australian and the reader had to get that right too without overplaying it.
It’s a first person narrative, and reader David Barker makes us feel as if we’re sitting at the dinner table or in the bar and he’s telling us a story – it’s a lovely way to experience the book and totally in line with what I was reaching for. A lot of women (my wife included) find Northern accents pretty sexy, so that may be a bonus!
You are a fellow of the Australian Computer Society and you have a PhD in data modelling. How difficult was it to transition away from your work in analytics to writing fiction?
And you’ve been looking at my Wikipedia entry. My ACS fellowship has expired!
It wasn’t any more difficult than any transition to another profession is going to be, and I took more with me than you might imagine. I studied creativity in my PhD – really useful stuff for a writer – I learned how to manage complex writing projects and I developed working practices that have stood me in good stead. The most important thing I learned from working in another profession was how long it takes to become expert. I tackled the transition with that in mind.
Who are some of your favourite authors? and Why?
My wife, Anne Buist, author of Medea’s Curse and Dangerous to Know and a swag of erotic fiction under the name Simone Sinna.
Seriously, this is such a hard question. I used to follow individual authors, reading all they wrote, but these days I tend to go from book to book – and I don’t have as much time for reading as I’d like.
Some authors have been important in my past (as a teen I read the leading science fiction authors) but I wouldn’t read them today. The last three books I read were Music and Freedom by Zoe Morrison, Love Life by Zeruya Shalev and The Original Ginny Moon in proof by Benjamin Ludwig – a real mixed bag.
The Sydney Morning Herald said that you are planning to write a novel with your wife Anne Buist about a man and a woman who meet on a famous pilgrim work through France and Spain. How is this coming along and can you tell us any more about it?
The SMH was correct. It’s coming along really well – and I’m working on it right now. The working title is Left Right and it will be alternating chapters from the male and female protagonists’ points of view. Anne is writing the female part and I’m writing the male – we thought we’d keep it simple! It’s a romantic comedy, but hopefully, like The Rosie Project, there will be more to it if people want to look. Publication late 2017, we’re thinking.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Expect to put in the amount and type of effort that would be required if you were learning any other profession: architecture, neurosurgery… database design.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers of The AU Review about The Best of Adam Sharp or your other projects?
Get hold of the Spotify playlist for The Best of Adam Sharp and listen to it before you read or listen to the book.
I tried to do something unusual by creating a soundtrack to the novel and this will give you the best chance of experiencing what I was aiming for.
The Best of Adam Sharp is available now as Audiobook through Audible.com.au. You can also get a print version of the book, which is available now through Text Publishing.