A conversation with Mark O'Flynn - The Last Days of Ava Langdon
Who was Ava Langdon?
Ava Langdon was a Blue Mountains resident for the last fifteen years of her life. She was an eccentric, idiosyncratic writer who lived in an isolated hut in North Leura. She used to dress up as a man, even to the point of wearing false whiskers and go around Katoomba wearing a pith helmet, brandishing a machete. She also changed her name by deed poll to Oscar Wilde… Now the astute reader may think that sounds familiar, that is because Ava Langdon is my thinly disguised, fictional version of the marvellous Australian writer Eve Langley.
What kind of research did you do?
In 2002 I wrote a play about a meeting between Langley and her peer Eleanor Dark, a meeting which never took place, as they never actually met. I read Langley’s writing, a very interesting biography and several academic articles about Langley’s life and work. However I did not want to be constrained by new research, so I used only what I could remember, what percolated to the surface of the grey matter. Broad, sweeping brush strokes, outlining some facts of her biography and characteristics of her personality. As Peter Carey says of research, I probably did less than you’d think and more than I’d like.
How much is fact and how much fiction?
Nothing is known, certainly not documented of Langley’s last days, weeks, months or even longer. I was therefore free, if not compelled to make it up. Using what I understood of her character, and using what I felt was her ‘voice’ I imagined how a character loosely based on those traits and attitudes might respond in certain situations. So I made up certain incidents and what I thought might be her reactions to them.
What was your writing background before this novel?
I began my writing life in the theatre, although I have gradually drifted away from play writing. Ava Langdon is my fourth novel, although the first one was closer to a novella. I’ve also published five collections of poetry, a book of short stories, a play and a memoir. You can see I spread myself far too thinly. I’m not a purist. That’s because I’m interested in words in what ever form they come. Sometimes an idea that takes the form of a poem may work better as a story, or even a novel, or vice versa. Sometimes it takes me a long time to work out what is the best form. I will sometimes try out the same idea in poetry as well as prose.
What do you hope readers will get from Ava Langdon?
Well I hope they like her as much as I do. I hope they feel some empathy for her plight. I also hope they have a laugh along the way, and are entertained and moved by her story. I hope they ask, and this is the point, who will be there for us at the end?
The Last Days of Ava Langdon is now available from Megalong Books RRP $29.99
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