Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Anatomy of a Novel: Loving Richard Feynman

Anatomy of a Novel: Loving Richard Feynman
Guest post by Penny Tangey


Washington DC
I wrote Loving Richard Feynman while I was unemployed in Washington DC for nine months. I spent my days visiting every tourist attraction in DC (I love revolutionary musketry) and writing. If I hadn’t been so lonely there, I never would have written this book.

Footballer’s Wives
I lie of course. I didn’t spend all my time writing and visiting cultural attractions. I also watched a hell of a lot of television. Including Footballers’ Wives almost every afternoon. I like to think this gave me balance.

Maths Camp

I did a Melbourne Comedy Festival show called Kathy Smith Goes to Maths Camp. I played a very over-excited nerdy character wigging off her nut at Maths camp and saying things like “If I can’t get in the top 1% of the Westpac Maths competition, how am I ever going to kiss a boy?” I originally based Loving Richard Feynman on the show but in the end the book turned into something completely different because it was hard to maintain that kind of enthusiasm for every day school life.

Books about Richard Feynman
Because I had so much time on my hands in DC, I read a lot about Richard Feynman and drew ideas for the plot from Feynman’s life. For example, the letter format came out of reading the very personal letter Feynman wrote to his dead wife, which is published in Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track.

Maths
The main character in Loving Richard Feynman, Catherine, is initially somewhat unlikeable because she looks down on people who aren’t as smart as her. Then she meets Felix who is as good, or better, at Maths and Catherine has to adjust her attitude. I did a lot of Maths at school and university. I loved maths but at uni I was insecure about it because I found it really hard.  I thought people who were confident of their maths abilities were snobs.  Now I realise that it was my insecurity that was the problem. At some point, almost everyone realises that they aren’t the best and I’m very interested in how people react to that.

 http://www.pennytangey.com.au/

Anatomy of a Novel is an occasional series where authors dissect their books for your delight. Enjoy!

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