Q & A with Darren Groth, author of Are You Seeing Me?

This may be the single most important blog post I have ever written. I have never interviewed an author before. It was a singularly nerve-wracking experience of which I enjoyed every single second. It all started with this wonderful tweet from the man himself, Darren Groth:
It took me two days to work up the nerve to message him back. Not because I was reluctant. Nope, I was jubilant (yes, jubilant). Not only was an author giving me a chance to talk to him, but he’s an Aussie who happened to live in my hometown of Brisbane. He lives in Canada now, but still. I needed those two days because I had to get the questions just right. See, Are You Seeing Me? is a book that I could talk about for days. There is so much in it that you wouldn’t expect from a book centring on a nineteen-year-old man with a brain condition and his carer, who happens to be his twin sister.

It also kinda felt like my entire Bachelor Degree in Creative and Professional Writing had led me to this point. If I didn’t totally nail the questions, I was letting down my old tutors, lecturers, and the thousands of dollars I’ll eventually have to pay back in HECS debt. (For those of you who don’t live in Australia, we don’t have to pay our student fees up front. We have this thing called HECS which means that we don’t pay back the money we “owe” until we’ve grown up and are earning over a certain amount per year. Our current government is trying to make this process as painful as possible but HECS really is very handy. And our government should be voted out by the next election).

But I’m getting myself sidetracked. I finally came up with the questions (which I edited, rephrased, and edited some more) and this was the end result. I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I did!
Do you ever miss Brisbane? And how similar is the PNE to the Ekka?
I miss lots of things about Brisbane – my family, the weather, the Bangkok Milton restaurant (if it’s still around), the fabulous authors and great writing scene. Vancouver is a beaut city, though. The PNE is pretty much a carbon-copy of the Ekka. It did have the ‘Game of Thrones’ exhibit this year, however, so that probably nudges it ahead.
A writerly question: what was it like trying to break into the literary scene in Brisbane?
From the first days I decided to write seriously, the literary scene in Brisbane was always a nurturing and inspiring environment. I looked up to the trail-blazers: Veny Armanno, Nick Earls, Bec Sparrow, Michael Gerard Bauer, John Birmingham, Andrew McGahan. I learned from them, in person and from afar. The Queensland Writers Centre was also especially influential. It is a mighty organization, and every emerging author today should be a member.
Now for the Are You Seeing Me? questions: Dan, the father, was such an interesting character. He was such a wonderful father, but Leonie tells us (and Justine and Perry) that he was a fairly lousy husband. Why was this distinction important?
I felt it was important we hear Leonie’s voice in the story because, without her having a say, she is a one-dimensional ‘bad guy’. Her side of that relationship needed to be told to give her more substance, more humanity. And Dan, too, for that matter. No one is perfect – in AYSM and in real life.
Marc’s relationship with Justine was a beautiful comparison to the family relationships detailed in AYSM. Any particular reason why he was included in the story?
Marc’s presence is essential in creating the fork in the road the twins have arrived at. He looms large in Justine’s immediate future, and that, along with Perry’s proposed shift to ‘Fair Go’, gives the trip to Canada more importance and gravity. I have to give my publisher, Zoe Walton, a lot of credit with regard to Marc. In editing the book, she pushed me to bring more to his character and better emphasize his place in the narrative. He turned out a lot better than my original conception of him. The Skype scene between Marc and Perry is one of my favourites in the book.
Have you read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime?
If so, what did you think of Haddon’s character, Christopher?
I have read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – I think it’s a modern classic. Having said that, I think Christopher was very much defined by his ‘otherness’ in the story. In my previous novel Kindling, and in AYSM, I wanted to bring a more relateable and empathetic tone to my protagonists than I’d found in Christopher. Less ‘other’, more ‘another’. I actually wrote about this very thing in my blog recently. (http://darrengroth.com/2014/05/15/another-post-about-book-diversity/
Those dreamlike sequences in Perry’s POV during times of intense stress were amazing. How did this concept come to be?
Those scenes were inspired, in part, by real anecdotes ASD people have provided. They have said that their hyper- and hypo-sensitive make-ups can really exaggerate an experience. A touch can feel like fire, a vice-like hug can bring relief, an open window can prompt visions of people falling out. Perry’s tense scenes reflected this and, hopefully, afforded him greater authenticity. It was also a great way to have him see Ogopogo 😀
Justine’s monologue regarding Perry’s “brain condition” is repeated verbatim instead of being summarised. Why was this?
For Justine, that monologue is both a safety net and a rallying point. She only uses it with strangers (who, she assumes, have no clue about individuals like her brother), so it is a consistent response. A summary in these first-time meeting circumstances wouldn’t really make sense. I think the only time Justine didn’t use it verbatim was at Canadian Customs – in that scene, she felt it more appropriate to explain the earthquake equipment rather than do the standard spiel.
I noticed that Perry’s “brain condition” was never named. Was this for a specific reason?
Two reasons Perry’s “brain condition” wasn’t named: one, I hoped leaving it open-ended would keep the focus on the story and prevent it being labelled an ‘autism novel’ (this happened with Kindling); and two, I wanted the reader to see Perry through a lens of humanity, not just disability/neurology. In essence, it gets back to that ‘other’ versus ‘another’ goal I mentioned earlier.    

About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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9 Responses to Q & A with Darren Groth, author of Are You Seeing Me?

  1. bornandread says:

    Check you out – great interview! 🙂

  2. What a great opportunity. Glad you received the chance and took it!

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