Andrea Goldsmith reveals the stories behind some of her favourites

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Andrea Goldsmith at home in Melbourne. Pictures: Chris Groenhout

Books have always been one of novelist Andrea Goldsmith’s passions.

As one of three children growing up in a crowded house in Caulfield, she used to read for some peace and quiet.

“My mother very much valued reading, so I would be left alone. It was like a cone of silence was down and I’d be in a different place where my book had taken me. It was wonderful,” Goldsmith said.

At eight, she decided she wanted to become an author.

“But my father said, ‘You need to make a living’. And, he was absolutely right. There are very few authors that can actually make enough money through their work to live on.”

So, after university, Goldsmith became a paediatric speech pathologist for 15 years.

“What drew me to speech pathology was that I actually went to one myself, as a little girl. I read but I didn’t talk,” she explained.

But Goldsmith didn’t give up on her dream of becoming a novelist, writing in her spare time.

After two, what she calls, “practice” attempts, her first proper novel, Gracious Living, was published in 1989. Since then, she’s written seven more novels, including The Memory Trap, which won the Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Best Writing Award in 2015.

Her latest novel, Invented Lies (Scribe, $32.99), tells the story of a soviet book illustrator who immigrates to Melbourne in the mid-1980s. As part of her research, Goldsmith got to indulge in another of her passions, travel.

“I went to Saint Petersburg in midwinter. I wanted to get the taste, feel and smell of the place, things that add authenticity to a novel,” she said.

The 69-year-old still lives in the same cottage in Melbourne’s inner-northern suburbs that she shared with her late partner, poet Dorothy Porter, who was also a keen traveller.

Goldsmith’s currently planning her next trip — to see polar bears on the remote Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean — and has started work on her next novel.

“You’ve got to enjoy the writing. You wouldn’t do this job unless you were driven and passionate about it,” she said.

Goldsmith decided, at age eight, that she wanted to be an author.

Typical Saturday morning

I have a digital-free day on Saturday. I don’t use my mobile phone or my computer. Instead, I make my breakfast and take it back to bed. And then I read for most of the morning, both books and a hard copy of the newspaper.

Emergency snack

I love a good blue cheese. I have some Saint Agur in my fridge and every night I’ll have some with a couple of crackers.

Signature dish

My smoky frittata is delicious. It’s made with firm tofu, which I fry in hot oil with sweet smoked paprika, smoked salt and creole seasoning. Everyone swears it’s bacon. I also add capsicum and onion.

On my bedside table

There’s the new Tessa Hadley novel, Late in the Day. And a pen and some paper, because you never know when you might want to scribble something down in the middle of the night.

Fantasy place to live

Newfoundland, Canada. It’s a place I’ve not actually been to yet, although I do plan to. I like cold places that take me out of the ordinary. Newfoundland is just waiting for me.

Chill-out music

A fairly consistent love of mine has been (composer Gustav) Mahler.

Happiness at home

Sitting on the couch with my much-loved dog, Lotte. There’s nothing like a dog’s head on your thigh.

Secret domestic skill

I think I’m trying to control the world by having a pristine linen cupboard. Of course, I know

it’s not going to work like that, but I nonetheless keep trying.

My favourite things

Cushion

This cushion is called a Book Seat and it’s like a bean bag for books. I’ve recently upgraded to a new one in this jazzy material with the periodic table on it. It’s actually an essential item for hands-free reading because it means I can also eat, drink coffee, pat Lotte or whatever I want to do at the same time. I usually have three books going at any one time. I read different books for different times of the day. In the morning, I read nonfiction and then later in the day, fiction. When I’m working on a book, the novels I read are very carefully chosen to, in some way, enhance what I am actually writing. The only time I race through novels is when I’m on holiday.

Cushy job: the Book Seat facilitates hands-free reading.

Photo

This is a photo of my nana, Frances (on the right), with her girlfriends. It was taken in the 1950s on the foreshore at Rosebud, which is where people used to go for their holidays back then. The three of them were each married to what was known in those days as a difficult man. But, just look at them together, all having the best time with their girlfriends, away from their men. Frances was a special woman. She had 10 grandchildren but she made us feel that each of us was her favourite. I discovered this photo when we were clearing out some stuff at my parents’ place. I love the look of delight on their faces.

Look of delight: a treasured photo.

Mosaic

I’ve always been fascinated by mosaics. As I child, I thought it was extraordinary that you could make a continuous picture from fragments of coloured glass or stone. In fact, I have a character in Invented Lies who is a mosaicist. I often give my characters jobs that I find interesting so I don’t get bored while I’m doing the research for the book. I had this fabulous mosaic floor made under my stairs about 10 years ago, by a mosaicist called Nicola McGann. It was a way of bringing nature inside my house — there are water lilies and a white-faced heron, which is a native water bird commonly found along the (nearby) Merri Creek.

Natural beauty: the “fabulous” floor brings nature inside.

Recipe folder

This recipe folder holds my recipes but also handwritten recipes from my mother and nana, which are very special. My mother was a spontaneous sort of cook and knew which flavours went together, and I cook in much the same way. I’m very experimental. I’ll often start with a recipe and then think I can do it better or differently. I love sharing my recipes. Because I improvise as I go, many years ago I decided that I’d better write the recipes down. I love cooking and feeding people with my food.

Chef’s special: the recipe folder is a compilation of family recipes.

Stone

I found this heart-shaped stone on a beach many years ago. I didn’t know then that you weren’t supposed to take things from beaches but it was begging me to pick it up, so I did. It now sits on my desk but often when I’m thinking or reading, I’ll hold it. It gives me a connection with Dorothy because I gave her the stone when she was first diagnosed with cancer. She carried it everywhere for the last five years of her life, and then it came back to me. So, it’s very precious. It’s been 10 years since Dot died and like anyone who has been in this position, you eventually have to make a life by yourself. I’m very fortunate in that I’ve got several friends and family that have helped (me do that). I guess that’s where the cooking (for friends) comes in, as well, in that I bring people into the house in a way I wouldn’t have done when it was Dot and I here.

All heart: the “very precious” stone.

Photo books

Whenever I come back from a trip overseas, I select the best photos and make them into a photo book. I think it’s a real travesty to look at photos from a marvellous trip, on a mobile phone. I love my photo books and keep them within easy reach in my lounge room. When I look at them, they take me back to the original experience, such as when I was walking on a volcano or a snow-clad beach. My travel falls into two camps: travel to cities and travel into nature. I’ve been to places like Iceland, Patagonia and the Atacama Desert — extraordinary landscapes that put us humans in our place. I find being in these vast, natural places truly awesome.

Picture perfect: the photo books capture Goldsmith’s adventurous travels.

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