Meet Jennifer Down, author of Our Magic Hour

1. Our Magic Hour opens with a party scene but the mood quickly shifts from celebration to heartbreak as the group of friends loses one of their own. Did the idea for the book start with the energy of the opening or the pain of the aftermath? It started off with a few vignettes, character sketch-type stuff, and one of those eventually grew into the party in the backyard at the beginning of the book. But I knew from the outset that the death was the catalyst for everything that would come after. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of that ripple effect.

2. Melbourne and Sydney both figure large in the book. Was it important to you to have that specificity of setting, the very detailed and vivid locations?

Setting is really important to me generally as a writer, whether the story’s set in Melbourne or Toowoomba or Seattle – I need a very clear idea of the geography of a story before I start. It’s not just the physical shapes of landscape and buildings, but also the weather, the smells, the plants, the light. Maybe I started in Melbourne with this novel because it was familiar; the easiest place for me orient myself in a narrative of this length.

3. Audrey, Adam, Emy, Yusra and others seem to fashion families for themselves among their friends where perhaps previous generations were making their own nuclear families at that age. How do you think this tendency affects their relationships with one another?

I think they’re prepared to forgive quite a lot of one another, in the same way as you do with family, but there’s also an emotional generosity that it can be difficult to have with family you don’t choose. In Audrey’s case, those relationships are also about the security and predictability she didn’t have as a child.

4. One of the interesting modes in the bookis the use of flattened affect – a depiction Audrey's grief that is, at times, quiet and restrained. Was it difficult to write in this way or was it a natural consequence of Audrey’s character?

It’s partly in keeping with Audrey’s character – she’s very restrained, and has quite an interior mode of living – but I think it’s also true to life. Depression doesn’t look like one thing, and grief can manifest itself in so many different ways. From a writing perspective, I think if you give those small, quiet moments enough space to breathe, they can be just as devastating as tears or a screaming match.

5. With domestic violence, suicide, childhood cancer and the suffering of grief, there is a lot of dark material in the book. Was it emotionally draining to draft and edit? Was it important to you to show this side of contemporary Australian life? 

It wasn’t a conscious decision. They’re issues that are of my world, so it’s not surprising they ended up in the book, but I’m generally fascinated by darkness, I think, and pressure – how much we can bear. I wouldn’t say it was emotionally draining, but I did spend a lot of time churning all this awful stuff around in your head, and I probably underestimate the effect that has, I think. It’s weird to realise how much emotional energy and compassion you invest, necessarily, in made-up people.

Published by Text Publishing. Available at all discriminating bookstores.