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Dina Davis

DARWIN AUTHOR DINA DAVIS has published stories, articles and poems in journals and anthologies. Her debut novel, Capriccio, was shortlisted in the Fiction category for last year’s Chief Minister’s NT Book Awards. Her latest book, A Dangerous Daughter, draws from her own experiences to tackle the complex subject of eating disorders. NT Writers’ Centre caught up with Dina for a chat.

Congratulations on your new book! Tell us about A Dangerous Daughter?
Basically, it’s a story of survival against all odds. 13-year-old Ivy is suffering from an undiagnosed illness. After several unsuccessful treatments, she is exiled from her family in NSW and sent to live with relatives in WA. The book details her daily struggle with an entity she calls The Voice, which won’t let her eat. Ultimately, Ivy is diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, which was almost unknown in the 1950s, when the story takes place.

What inspired the novel?
I was inspired by two synchronistic events – the first was being invited to take part in an international study on anorexia, which proved that it is an illness with a largely genetic component. This knowledge freed me a lot from the self-blame that had plagued my life. The second was the discovery of a letter from over 50 years ago, written by the psychoanalyst who had treated me. I wanted to honour her all these years later, by telling my story.

A Dangerous Daughter draws from more personal experiences than your first novel. Did that make it more challenging to write?
Definitely. Rather than being cathartic, it was painful to revisit the lost years of my childhood. I needed to take a lot of breaks in order to distance myself. Because I lost some memories due to having ECT (shock treatment) as a child, I had to rely on my imagination to fill the gaps.

With my first novel, Capriccio, I also used imagination to breathe life into the story of Assia Gutmann Wevill, the woman who came between famous poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Because Capriccio wasn’t about me, it was much more enjoyable to write.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m thinking of a possible sequel to A Dangerous Daughter. Another long-term project is to rewrite Capriccio with Ted Hughes’ poems included. I’m waiting for copyright to be lifted, so it might have to be published posthumously!

If we were to take a peek at your bookshelf, what kind books would we find there?
A mixture of poetry, fiction and some anthologies. I love the work of Helen Garner and other wonderful Australian women writers, such as Charlotte Wood, Amanda Lohrey and Ceridwen Dovey. For comfort reading, I go back to the classics – Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the Brontës, and of course Jane Austen. And for pure escapism, anything by Ian MacEwan, Kate Atkinson or Paul Auster.

Any Territory authors you’re enjoying at the moment?
I’m reading Tanya Heaslip’s latest memoir, Beyond Alice, and finding so many parallels to my own story. I want to read Joanne van Os’ latest novel. Ditto the prolific Sean Guy, who pours out a novel every year. I love Mary Ann Butler’s playwriting, and Kaye Aldenhoven’s poetry.

Author Talk with Dina Davis
WHEN WED 15 SEP | 5.30PM

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