Rosetta Allan is a poet, novelist, and short fiction writer. She has released two collections of poetry (Little Rock, 2007 and Over Lunch, 2010) as well as three novels Purgatory (2014), The Unreliable People (2019) and Crazy Love (2021). She was the first New Zealander to take up the St Petersburg Art Residency in Russia's Museum of Nonconformist Art and held the position of writer in residence at the University of Waikato in 2019. Rosetta is one of the nine fascinating guest authors featuring in the SPEAKEASY Writers Fest, part of the Taranaki Arts Festival, taking place over Saturday, July 9, and Sunday, July 10, in New Plymouth. Stratford Press editor Ilona Hanne caught up with Rosetta to find out more about her latest book, Crazy Love, and to get a small preview of just some of the fascinating stories and thoughts Rosetta will share with her Speakeasy audience on Saturday, July 9.
Scrawled above the title on the book's front cover are two key words "a novel", yet when we turn to the back cover we read six more key words; "based on the author's own experiences". So is Crazy Love a novel, an autobiography, a piece of non-fiction or something else entirely?
I think I confused everyone with that! The book was written as a novel in the first instance. Then the Muldoon references in the book, that rise and tragic fall of his, the letter I sent him in 1984 and the dollar note he sent me back, writing about that became a way I could distance myself from the reality of my husband's major manic episode. I tricked myself in a way, that I was writing a novel, and then a lot of the Muldoon references I had in the book were taken out and the novel became more about Billy and Vicki's story, which was the story of my husband and myself.
The title, Crazy Love, what made you choose that for the book?
We thought about that a lot before it was decided. Really, it is the idea of that crazy wonderful feel of love. Life is crazy at times and things can go wrong, they fall apart, but it's love, that commitment to each other, that gets us through it. There is a proverb - fall down seven times and get up eight. We live by that proverb my husband and I. Failure isn't what should determine us, it's how we deal with it, and how we lead each other through it. Love is crazy, so is life, but amazing new things can come out of those tough times. I don't know if I would be writing novels today if we hadn't experienced the failure of our business, the loss of our home, all those things.
In the book, the narrator Vicki uses descriptors rather than names for other characters, so through her eyes we meet people like Loser Boyfriend and Surly Daughter. Do you give people descriptors in your own life and, also, what did some of those people, such as Surly Daughter and Eat-and-Run Son, think of their names in the novel?
Yes I do! I am terrible with learning names, so I always mentally describe people to myself to begin with. And I don't really have a surly daughter - so there is one part of the novel that is definitely fiction. We actually have two sons. And I did tell Eat-and-Run Son that was him and he laughed, and said, 'Yes, that's exactly me'.
Instead of another letter to Muldoon, if you were to write a letter to Vicki, as she is in the start of the novel, living in Dire Straits with Loser Boyfriend, what would you tell her?
Everything that Billy tried to tell her at the time, but she wasn't ready to hear. That she is competent. She is smart. She doesn't need to rely on others. She is not framed by her upbringing. She will get her break. It's a big world and the sun can shine on all of us. There is good in the world and she needs to trust those who want to share it with her.
The book is essentially a love story, of Vicki for her Billy, but also Billy for his Vicki, and, of course, it is also your story, of you and your husband. But it's not complete, it is just part of your story, so how did you decide what to include and what to leave out?
During that really big manic episode of Billy's/my husband's that forms a main part of the book, I actually kept a diary. I didn't really have someone to talk to so I wrote in this diary, figuring it out. It was a really big sacrifice for Vicki, for me, to say "I can't deal with this" to seek help for Billy. Because it is really heartbreaking to know you can't fix the person you love, and the action you take, to get them that help, is something you may not be able to ever come back from. People often ask us, what is the secret - to our long marriage, because we have been married now for 38 years, and I always think, there isn't a secret, it is love. So writing about that, about how bipolar is only part of the person you love, about learning to see the beautiful stardust, the brilliance of the person and allowing yourself to be loved by them, well, that is what crazy love is all about. I know I wouldn't be the person I am if it wasn't for my own Billy, my husband James. I would still just be writing my poems in a notebook and not showing anyone.
Win: Thanks to Rosetta Allan and the team at Taranaki Arts Festival, we have a double pass to hear Rosetta talk about her book at the Speakeasy festival on Saturday, July 9, 4pm at the 4th Wall Theatre as well as a copy of Rosetta's latest book, Crazy Love, to give away to a lucky reader. To be in to win, simply email email@example.com with the words crazy love in the subject line. Include your name and contact phone number. Competition closes at noon, Monday, July 4, and the winner will contacted that afternoon.