Fascinated by caves and digging holes since childhood, Manfred discovers a path through to another realm via a Neolithic copper mine at Mount Gabriel in Schull, Ireland. The world of Hollow Earth, while no Utopia, is a sophisticated civilisation. Its genderless inhabitants are respectful of their environment, religious and cultural differences are accommodated without engendering hate or suspicion, and grain, not missile silos are built. Yet Ari and Zest accompany Manfred back to the surface world. 'Come with me and see my world.'
So begins an extraordinary adventure in which the three wander the Earth like Virgil's Aeneas, Ari and Zest seeking re-entry to their own world. The Hollow Earthers are shocked at the cruelty and lies of the surface world, the dieback spreading through the forests. Yet they are seduced by the world's temptations.
Kinsella's parable draws on a rich tradition of Hollow Earth literature and science fiction including Bradshaw's The Goddess of Atavatabar (1892). With strange beauty, its alluring trajectory vividly captures our 21st-century world in crisis. Like Manfred, we are often blindly complicit in the earth's downfall. 'Happiness is under our feet.' sings the narrator in this passionate, layered and compelling new novel.
John Kinsella is the author of over thirty books. His many awards include the Australian Prime Minister's Literary Award for Poetry and the Victorian Premier's Award for Poetry. His most recent works include the poetry volumes Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems (Picador, 2016) and Open Door (UWAP, 2018). Story collections include Crow's Breath (Transit Lounge 2015) and Old Growth (Transit Lounge, 2017). Recent novels are Lucida Intervalla (UWAP, 2018) and Hollow Earth (Transit Lounge, 2019). He often works in collaboration with other poets, artists, musicians, and activists. He is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and Professor of Literature and Environment at Curtin University, Western Australia.
Author: John Kinsella
Question: How did you come up with the idea of Hollow Earth?
John Kinsella: Living on the Mizen in Southwest Ireland and thinking about the late Neolithic early 'Copper Age' diggings on Mount Gabriel... and then thinking back to the 'extinct' volcano near where we lived in the Western Australian wheatbelt... points of entry and departure to/from 'hollow earth'. And thinking of the work of Jules Verne, of course.
Question: How much of your inspiration comes from real life and real people?
John Kinsella: No getting away from real people, but in a speculative work like this, real people become very different people. But then again, I've never believed 'real people' were easily defined or mappable, and I've never believed we're constrained by 'official' categories of gender or family or whatever. We are inevitably strongly part of what we come from, but we're also partly what we make of ourselves in given circumstances (chosen or forced upon us). But more often than not, we are who we are by nature of resisting what is forced on us. I think the characters in Hollow Earth are working these things out, be they from the 'surface' or 'hollow earth'.
Question: What is the best thing about creating a character like Manfred?
John Kinsella: Manfred was always curious and investigative (for want of a better word!), but when he is confronted with difference beyond his experience, he struggles. But I find it interesting that his desire to be more understanding of others, makes his confront the disturbances in himself - his childhood tunnelling is an escape but also a strange entry into his own psyche. He's always trying to learn, even if he doesn't quite know how to go about it. An explorer who doesn't want to claim anything, who doesn't want to take from others, who doesn't want to intrude " a paradox of personality. He is curious, but knows he shouldn't always be so curious.
Question: What do you hope readers get from the book?
John Kinsella: I hope readers will feel they have been able to join the journey " an attempt to find a way through the greed and excesses of the world, to personal and communal fairness, even at times of extreme crisis and oppression. The novel doesn't hide from these, not at all, but individuals and communities need to persist, to find something to keep them going. What the characters go through is confronting, and though they are caught up in addictions and behave in ways that are 'suspect', they are still trying to find answers and justice against forces set on their annihilation. We too easily judge the addicted and not what leads to addiction.
Question: What's next for you?
John Kinsella: I have written the 'follow-up' to Hollow Earth and am revising it now. It's not a 'literal' follow-up, but it is connected in its concerns and has many crossovers... but it goes into literal mazes and labyrinths!
Interview by Brooke Hunter
Author: John Kinsella