Author Interview: Meet Magdalena Ball

My guest this week is Magdalena Ball, novelist, poet, nonfiction writer, and reviewer.  Among the work Magdalena has published is her new novel Black Cow

Black Cow explores the lives of James and Freya Archer, a couple at the ‘top of their game’, earning massive salaries and enjoying exclusive lifestyles with their two beautiful teenage children, but something is rotten under the shining façade of their lives.  A recent survey estimated that close to one quarter of adults worldwide have made a voluntary decision to change their lives in ways that reduce their incomes and spending.

Demographers are predicting up to one million people will downshift during the next three years. Coupled with the worldwide economic downturn, there is clearly an interest in living life in a way that doesn’t involve continually trying to earn, and spend more in an effort to “keep up with the Joneses.” 

Black Cow is a ‘tree-change’ novel that explores these notions in the context of a single ailing Australian family.  Set between New South Wales’ ritzy Double Bay, and a small village outside of Hobart, Tasmania, where the couple decide to radically change their lives and become self-sufficient, the novel follows one family on the brink of collapse, struggling to regain balance and creativity in their lives.  Black Cow explores serious and topical issues, such as the modern dilemma of ever increasing workloads, ‘the rat race’, and the impact of stress on families, and overconsumption on the environment, but it also touches on the psychological development, as the family has to dig deep into both the earth and their selves in order to find out what is ailing them.

Author Lisa Heidke calls the “writing excellent, professional and polished … capturing that claustrophobic feeling of being trapped and not knowing where to turn.  This is a gripping yarn that will appeal to a wide group of readers.”

I asked Magdalena to answer a few questions about her novel.

How did the story come about?

In many ways Black Cow began as a sort of wish fulfillment. My husband and I always had leanings towards self-sufficency — I’d pore through the pages of Earth Garden, Jackie French’s guide to Self Sufficiency and a number of other books, and imagine myself growing all my own fruit and vegetables, making my own fuel, raising chickens, and living simply off the land.  Of course we both knew that dreams were one thing and the reality of self-sufficiency quite another. But the idea stuck with me as one that had rich novelistic pickings.  Also I’ve watched the impact of the Global Financial Crisis and the way in which governments and businesses have encouraged people to work longer hours, spend and consume more, and that has simply struck me as odd and counter-productive.  I wanted to explore that notion more, albeit in fictionalised form.  I do have to say as well that I’ve always been a fan of the BBC show The Good Life, and the idea of picking up a few of those threads was appealing to me.

In addition to your novels, you’ve also published a number of poetry books, and even a non-fiction book.  Why do you choose to work in different genres?

For me the processes of writing poetry and nonfiction are completely different to the processes of writing a novel.  While all of these genres involve analysis and construction, I find that the poetry is more intuitive, symbolic and actually relaxing for me — a way of exploring a notion within the framework of a few stanzas — like a single moment in time.  It’s something I find myself gravitating to it almost as a kind of need. The gratification is usually reasonably fast.

The nonfiction is almost always about teaching, in a purely naturally flowing way that I find reasonably easy and pleasurable.

Fiction on the other hand is always challenging for me. It involves less inspiration and a whole lot more work. There’s world building involved, character development, plotting, stylistics and narrative to map out and keep going over the period of some 90,000 words.  It’s big, slow, and sustained, and yet at the end of it I feel I’ve built something bigger than myself – something reasonably grand.  So I need all three forms in my life I find – working different areas of the brain and producing different types of output.  Of course working in one area feeds the others.  The precision and tightness of thought in poetry and the sheer rhythm and beauty can help write better prose sentences.  The research involved in nonfiction will also feed into fiction.  It’s all connected.

Who are some of your favorite/most inspiring authors?

I get asked this question a lot, and being a big reader, I fear I tend to give different answers each time. I’ve just finished Jane Smiley’s biography of Charles Dickens, and so I’d like to answer, today, Jane Smiley and Charles Dickens (though maybe not all of Dickens – some of his work though is still fresh, even today).  I’d like to say John Steinbeck, because Black Cow, somewhat grandly, has been likened to The Grapes of Wrath (humbling, to say the least).  I almost always say James Joyce, though I have yet to crack Finnegan’s Wake, but Ulysses will keep me inspired for the rest of my life, and I’ve been listening to Frank Delaney’s magnificent ReJoyce podcasts lately which have re-invigorated my love for that great book.  I might stop there, knowing full well, that I’ve left out many of my favourite authors, and that there are new ones I’ve yet to discover as well.

Finally, where can readers get hold of a copy of Black Cow?

Drop by Amazon where the book is available in both the print and Kindle versions.

More information including book club notes (and information on how to score a visit) can be found at Magdalena’s website.

Magdalena Ball is the author of the newly released novel Black Cow. Grab a free mini e-book brochure here:  http://www.bewritebooks.com/mb/BlackCow/BlackCow.html She also runs The Compulsive Reader and is the author of  Repulsion Thrust and Sleep Before Evening.

Thank you for sharing your virtual book tour with us today, Maggie. Best of luck with this new novel!

Her next tour stop will be Tuesday, 20 March: The Dark Phantom

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks so much for hosting me Heidi.

    • Thank you for guest-posting!

  2. Thanks Heidi and Maggie for this insight into the creation of Black Cow and a sneak peek at Maggie’s writing processes. As one who has tried living the Good Life, I know how difficult it is and for that reason loved the realistic feel of the world inhabited by James, Freya and the children. I was very reluctant to finish the book. It was one of those story worlds I wanted to live in forever..

    • Thanks so much for your kind comments Annie. I’d love to hear about your experiences one day (might be a book there!).

  3. Terrific interview, ladies!

    I also find novel writing incredibly challenging, Maggie. There’s a lot of pain and struggle in the writing of a novel, yet at the same time I couldn’t live without it.

    I can only quote George Orwell:

    “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” ~George Orwell, “Why I Write,” 1947

    • I feel the same way Mayra – novel writing is enormously satisfying but not really pleasurable (except in the completion) or relaxing.

  4. Great interview. Black Cow sounds like something I’d like to read. Twice in our 34 years of marriage my husband and I have “quit the rat race” and did something drastically different, including two years in Africa with the Peace Corps and 14 months sailing the South Pacific. We felt our lives were enriched because of it.

    • I’d love you to read it Mary. Please let me know if you get a copy as I’d be happy to send you an autographed bookplate and a few other goodies.

  5. Love this article and your book sounds awesome! Wishing you tons of success with it and thanks for letting us get to know you better.

  6. Thanks Nancy. Appreciate you stopping by!

  7. I loved this book. It is so timely.
    Best,
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Excited about the new edition (expanded! updated! even more helpful for writers!) of The Frugal Book Promoter, now a USA Book News award-winner in its own right (www.budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo)

  8. Thanks for the interview. Can’t wait to read it.


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