Australian psychologist and author Hugh Mackay chats to us about his new novel ‘Infidelity’, visiting Brisbane, and what he loves about writing.
Social researcher Hugh Mackay has authored 15 books – nine in the field of social psychology and ethics and six novels – and says it’s impossible to escape his research background when writing fiction.
“I can’t ever escape from being a social researcher,” he says. “The novel obviously comes out of the imagination but the imagination is fed by the social research. All through my years of social research the relationship breakdowns and the reasons for them have been a constant theme in people talking about their lives.”
His new novel Infidelity follows the story of Tom Harper, a 43-year-old psychologist who enters into a relationship with nursery rhyme academic Sarah Delacour and must navigate the layers of infidelity that emerge.
“It’s kind of a modern moral tale, talking about how actions always have consequences and how sometimes circumstances explain our behaviour but don’t always justify our behaviour,” says Mackay. “It’s a very intense psychological drama. It’s really exploring what happens when people get into a situation where there’s a collision between their biology, or their biological urges, and their moral principles.
“I think this novel in particular is much more intense and personal…this is really focusing right down on the lives of a small number of people.”
He’s an expert at balancing his fiction and non-fiction styles and is later this year releasing a book that is half-and-half.
“It’s about communities and neighbourhoods and the sense of belonging, so half the book is social analysis about what’s happening to community life around Australia, what’s going on in the suburbs, household composition, all that sort of stuff,” says Mackay. “But half the book is glimpses into the lives of people who live in a fictitious suburb which I’ve created, which illustrates and brings the social analysis to life.
“In some ways fiction is more liberating to write because of course I don’t have to rely on research evidence. My purpose is just as serious with fiction – with both genres I really do want to try and help people understand themselves and each other.”
Mackay will be in Brisbane for a conversation session at Avid Reader in March and is looking forward to discussing his work.
“I love Brisbane and I love Brisbane’s bookshops and Avid Reader has always been very supportive of my work,” he says. “With fiction, because you don’t want to tell the story of the book – you don’t want to give the whole thing away – it’s a very good plan to have a conversation.
“On this occasion I’m talking to Inga Simpson who is herself a writer, and I think it’ll be an interesting conversation. There’ll be plenty of opportunites of course for the audience to ask questions as well.”
And as for what else he’ll be doing while visiting Brisbane?
“Walking along the river! I love that strip where you can walk right along on the edge of the city, it’s fantastic, and through the gardens as well,” he says. “When I’m not working, I’m walking.”