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Interview: Tracy Sorensen talks about The Lucky Galah

Tell us a little about The Lucky Galah.

This is a story about the 1969 moon landing narrated by a pink and grey galah called Lucky. Lucky watches people coming and going from her spot in a cage between the back door and the toilet and tries to work out what’s going on. What’s going on is this: Evan Johnson, radar technician, takes a job at a tracking station in a remote red-dust town between the outback and the sea on the north west coast of Australia. His wife Linda is frustrated and bored with the smallness of her life and gets very interested in a visiting entomologist.

What inspired you to write this book?

I grew up in Carnarvon in Western Australia, a town very much like the fictional Port Badminton. There’s a decommissioned radio telescope on the red sand dune just out of town. As a kid, we had a galah in the cage just outside the back door. It was a matter of joining some dots. Also: the Moon landing has been written often and well from the point of the dudes involved. What about women, children, Aboriginal people, animals? I was interested in finding a way to give voice to the “everyone and everything else” that is often no more than a backdrop to tales of masculine derring-do.

What research was involved?

The events in this novel are set just a little earlier than my own 1970s childhood, but it wasn’t much of a stretch to draw on my own memories of red dust and boredom combined with the sheer joy of doing things in an extraordinary landscape. I was fortunate to be writing this book post-Google, because so much was just a quick search away: What role did camels transport play in the early twentieth century? Ta-da! Here’s a pic. What were astronauts saying to each other as they headed for the Moon? Bing! Here’s the NASA transcript.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I did this in desperate little slabs and spurts over many years around everything else that was going on in my life, including major illness. I amassed piles and piles of titled sections (like “The Wooden Salad Bowl”) that had no particular rhyme or reason. Then in 2015 I went through and ditched about half of it and bashed the other half into shape. As a writer I don’t do anything sensible like get up at 5am and work until 9am each day.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

It would include “The Royal Telephone” performed by Jimmy Little and “We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are” by that fabulous New Zealander Fred Dagg aka John Clarke.

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

LIZZIE: Betty Sumner

MARJE: Sacha Horler

LUCKY: I’m having some trouble casting Lucky. I see there was a galah in Napoleon but he was a male, so that’s no good to me. So here’s a fantastic opportunity for a female pink and grey actor!

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

The most enjoyable moment was when I realised (after a conversation with a friend) that the galahs of Port Badminton were all tuned in to the Dish on the hill, and that Lucky could understand the Dish’s data dumps and reverse-engineer them into stories. But I also loved including little pieces of my own life like the Brownies wearing felt berets in searing summer heat, the plastic toys in cereal boxes and the neatly ordered sock drawer (this is based on my partner’s sock drawer). I also enjoyed stealing some true stories such as the town’s shooters aiming their rifles at the television showing the moon landing at the Memorial Theatre (they were using their rifle sights to get a better view) and the way flocks of galahs kept unravelling important cables being rigged up by tracking station staff.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I had a nap on the couch.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I loved Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions. It starts with an old man in a retirement village surrounded by all the furniture and knick-knacks of a lifetime and gradually unfurls into a powerful story about the past, the present and the near future.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m writing a memoir of my Stage 3C ovarian cancer diagnosis and treatment from the point of view of my abdominal organs: spleen, pancreas, stomach, colon – all the bits that were threatened by oncoming cancer. If I can write a galah narrator I can write a colon narrator. It will be a little bit like the 1970s Readers Digest pieces (“I am Joe’s ear”) but more literary. So far this story has a happy ending.


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