I grew up in Melbourne, the middle child in a middle-class Jewish family. I would describe us as secular Jews, yet our Jewishness was important, culturally and as a source of identity. I attended MLC (Methodist Ladies College – how very quaint that now sounds) from prep to matriculation.
My mother was a reader, books were always available. I started reading very early. If my head was in a book, I was left alone – a great privilege in the crowded world of the family. I would read before school and after school, I would read through entire weekends. If at that time I were to answer honestly what I wanted to be when I grew up, it would have been a character in my favourite novel of the moment. But I would never have answered honestly. Reading was private, reading wrapped itself around your most special desires – too fragile, too precious to be exposed.
It was around the age of 8 that I realised that the books I loved were actually written by a real person. From that time on I wanted to be a novelist.
Music has been another enduring love. I started learning the piano the year I turned 8. Short on both talent and application, I did, however, reach a reasonable standard. It has left me with the ability to play (extremely badly these days), and it has given me a great love of music. I go to concerts – Melbourne’s new Recital Centre has been a gift to this music lover – and I listen to music at home and on the move. Music is cemented to mind and heart, I cannot imagine how to live without it.
I’ve drawn directly on my love of music in two of my novels, FACING THE MUSIC, and most recently in THE MEMORY TRAP. One of the main characters in my latest, Ramsay Blake, is a pianist of world renown. I’ve always believed that if you have to do research for your novels, it may as well be in areas that interest you. For the character of Ramsay, I’ve spent hours immersing myself in the piano repertoire – from Bach, through the romantics, on to Messaien. I’ve had a wonderful few years.
In 1968, I enrolled at Monash University to study science. I threw myself into the politics and I took a far more lakadaisical approach to my studies. It didn’t matter: I was going to be a writer. But I did need to earn a living. It was during that year that I decided to become a speech pathologist. Working in the area of spoken communication seemed entirely compatible with what I wanted to do with the written word.
After graduating as a speech pathologist, I spent the next 15 years working for what was then known as the Spastic Society – now Scope. I worked with children with cerebral palsy, in particular, intelligent children who were severely physically disabled with no functional speech, and no possibility of their gaining the physical ability to speak. These children had great receptive language but no way of expressing themselves. I worked with them closely, helping them acquire a symbolic form of communication, in their case one based on reading and spelling. The written word.
I was involved at this time with the development of electronic communication aids for use by people who were unable to speak. These were pioneering days.
While working as a speech pathologist I was writing at night and on weekends, short stories and two practice novels, and finally GRACIOUS LIVING, which was accepted by Penguin and published in 1989. There have been 6 more novels since then, as well as many articles and long essays.
And I travelled. I lived in London as a 21-year-old and have returned many times since. London features in all my novels. New York is another favourite city. My school friend, Jan, moved there in the early 1970s and I visit there every couple of years. I am very attached to the Upper West Side and this provides one of the locations for my new novel THE MEMORY TRAP. Peru and Bolivia were early travel destinations.
As for a personal life, I’ve always had one: a string of boyfriends from my teenage years, to my first great love, with whom I lived for a number of years. There followed an old school friend who was a passionate fixture in my life for a long time.
In 1993 Dot moved to Melbourne. We lived together, we worked together and we travelled together. We went to Antarctica, to Botswana and Tanzania; we crossed the Canadian Rockies. In Australia we went to Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and the Top End – all of them several times.
In 1998 we bought a house in inner Melbourne. There we lived until Dot’s death in December, 2008. It is where I still live.