Interviewer Michael Leonard: Stray Dog Winter is an unusual mix, tying in elements of the espionage thriller with one man’s journey toward self-discovery. What were the circumstances that led you to write such a dark, complex, and multi-dimensional novel?Read the complete Q & A.
David Francis: Back in Australia, I had an Aunt Ruth with whom no one in my family dared speak. Apparently she'd slept with various American soldiers under the cypress hedge when they'd visited the farm during the war. Aunt Ruth ended up in Kenya but returned to Australia in the late sixties. I saw her only once - she lay on a chaise and ordered me: “Boy, get me a gin and tonic.” I was six. My mother's umbrage was obvious but my father seemed secretly fascinated by his glamorous drinking sister-in-law. Decades later, having finished The Great Inland Sea, my first novel, I was in Paris on a fellowship from the Australian Literature Fund. There in my studio, I had a dream that my father had an affair with Aunt Ruth and that together they had a daughter.
The next morning I began writing long-hand about this boy called Darcy who lives outside Melbourne, Australia. An aunt he’s only seen in photos arrives from America with a young girl named Fin, his half-sister. The girl is dumped with Darcy's family unannounced. Scenes of these two children began to emerge, of them together and then separated when Fin gets sent off to boarding school. Re-united at university, they rekindle their unusual consanguinity, an interest in strange art and radical politics, and each other.
Then, unexpectedly, Fin receives a fellowship to paint the industrial landscapes of Soviet Moscow. I imagined Darcy traveling from Prague on a train to join her there (a trip I made in the early '80's), and the story of these characters in an alien winter unfolded, each chapter building on the last until their lust and proclivities revealed them in startling predicaments. I realized I had a suspense novel on my hands, emerging organically and unexpectedly, venturing where I'd never have dreamed of had I been a writer who structures a novel consciously. Stray Dog Winter became the story of what could have become of me had things gone differently when I found myself in Moscow, but I was luckier than Darcy Bright and my half-sister wasn't Fin.
Visit the Stray Dog Winter website.
The Page 69 Test: Stray Dog Winter.